Catalogue description Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts: Manorial Documents Correspondence and Papers

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Details of HMC 5
Reference: HMC 5
Title: Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts: Manorial Documents Correspondence and Papers

This series contains correspondence with private individuals, solicitors, record repositories, local authorities and societies regarding documents associated with manors, and includes registers of correspondence for 1930-1952. It also includes minutes of meetings of the Manorial Documents Committee.

In later years the files include requests for information regarding the whereabouts of manorial documents mainly from genealogists and local historians.

A selective subject index of the manorial correspondence up to 1951 is included in HMC 5/9

Date: 1924-1980

Correspondence with record repositories, local authorities and societies regarding records in their custody is grouped separately and is arranged by repository within counties.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English
Physical description: 283 file(s)
Access conditions: Subject to 30 year closure
Publication note:

Further information regarding the provisions of the rules and the Manorial Documents Register, which is still maintained by the Commission, can be found in Mary Ellis, Using Manorial Documents (PRO Publications, 1994, revised 1997).

Administrative / biographical background:

In 1922 the Law of Property Act brought to an end the form of land tenure known as 'copyhold'. The distinguishing feature of copyhold was that any transfer between persons of land held by this form of tenure had to be conducted by the process known as 'surrender and admission' in the court of the appropriate manor. By the nineteenth century this process had become an anachronism and the Copyhold Acts 1841-1894 allowed for the voluntary conversion - or 'enfranchisement' - of copyhold land to freehold. The Law of Propery Act 1922 finally abolished the process of surrender and admission and, in one go, enfranchised all remaining copyhold land with effect from 1 January 1926.

However, for holders of former copyhold land proof of title could still depend upon the account of the surrender and subsequent admission recorded in a manor court roll or book. It was, therefore, essential that these records should not be lost or destroyed. To ensure their survival Section 144A of the Law of Property (Amendment) Act 1924 placed manorial documents under the charge and superintendence of the Master of the Rolls, entrusting him with the responsibility for ensuring that all such documents were preserved.

To achieve the aims of the 1924 Act the Master of the Rolls established a Manorial Documents Committee, based at the Public Record Office. The Committee's brief was to draw up guidelines or rules to facilitate the location and preservation of manorial documents, to record on a register the whereabouts of such documents and to approve a network of local repositories capable of providing suitable accommodation for manorial documents should an owner or custodian wish to deposit any records in his or her possession for their better preservation. A set of Manorial Documents Rules was issued by the Committee in 1926 (Statutory Rules and Orders 1925/10).

In order to facilitate their work the Committee requested the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to supply details of known manors from its files under the Copyhold Acts. A similar request was made to the Board of the Inland Revenue, and the Chief Inspector of Taxes requested local tax inspectors to supply similar information to the Committee. They derived this information mainly from income tax schedules.

The Committee also appealed for information by means of advertising in the press and by writing directly to likely owners or custodians, and began to compile a list of all the manors in England and Wales. The response to these initial enquiries generated an enormous amount of information regarding the existence of manors. More detailed information concerning manorial documents was then requested on standard forms which were sent out to owners or custodians. These returns formed the basis of the Manorial Documents Register and they are preserved in the Public Record Office in the series HMC 9.

Until 1959 the duties of the Master of the Rolls in respect of manorial documents were discharged by the Public Record Office. In 1959 these duties were transferred to the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts when revised rules were also issued (Statutory Instument 1963/1399). The rules have subsequently been revised twice since this date (Statutory Instruments 1963/976, 1967/963).

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