Manor of Slaidburn Court Rolls

The Manor of Slaidburn was part of the Honor of Clitheroe from 1661 but has always had a completely separate series of court rolls due to it being in Yorkshire and originally part of the Duchy of Lancaster. For a general introduction to the Honor of Clitheroe, see Farrer's three volumes of court rolls of the Tudor period, transcribed and printed from 1897 onwards (copies in the Lancashire Archives, Clitheroe Public Library and elsewhere.)

The courts held at Slaidburn before 1649 are usually headed 'Court of the Lord King of Bowland', thus describing the monarch as lord of the Liberty of Bowland, which comprised the townships of Slaidburn, Newton, Mitton, Waddington, Easington, Grindleton and West Bradford. The woodmote and swainmote courts held at Whitewell for the Forest of Bowland had a jurisdiction which included the townships of Bowland Forest Lower and Higher Divisions, as well as Harrop but in the main only dealt with forest matters such as trespass, cutting trees, killing deer, etc unlike the Manor of Slaidburn rolls which record thousands upon thousands of conveyances of lands, farms, and houses.

The Manor of Slaidburn (as it is usually known post-1649) covered a wide area, not equivalent to the Slaidburn parish boundaries, but comprising: the villages and town fields of Slaidburn and Newton, including: Ingbreak, a town field to the west of Slaidburn village; Raw Moor, part of the enclosed land of 1619 north of Slaidburn village in the Croasdale area; Brunghill Moor, Burn Moor and Dunsop, also enclosed in 1619 and near Back Lane and Burn Hill; Champion, also enclosed in 1619 and to the east of Slaidburn village; Woodhouse, to the north west of Slaidburn village; Youlstone Wood, also enclosed in 1619, and to the south of Newton village; and most of West Bradford and Grindleton villages and their town fields. The townships of Easington and Bowland Forest had been sold in early times and the land here did not fall under the jurisdiction of the Manor of Slaidburn - the Bannister family held the Manor of Easington in Tudor times, for instance.

The court rolls for the Manor of Slaidburn survive with a single roll for 1392/93 and then from 1519 onwards in an almost continuous sequence and are deposited at the Lancashire Record Office, Preston. A single roll for 1515 survives in the National Archives at Kew. The rolls are parchment membranes, stitched together at the top and then rolled up, and vary in size. They are written in heavily abbreviated, anglicised, legal Latin up to 1732, making it difficult for most researchers to glean much from them, but thereafter they are in English.

According to Alice Peel in her 'History of Slaidburn', the Slaidburn Courts originally met in the old court house in the village of Slaidburn on the site of the former girls' school opposite the war memorial, but in the nineteenth century transferred to the Hark to Bounty, where upstairs the old court room and its furnishings can still be seen. Miss Peel was mistaken and this is not true, since there is documentation available in the National Archives at Kew which suggests the court house was the right hand portion of what is now the Hark to Bounty inn from 1577. The inn (the left hand portion) was added later, probably in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and hence the flight of stairs was then added to gain access to the Court Room from the street (see postcard photo below). The Court of the View of Frankpledge and the Head Court Baron for the Manor of Slaidburn met here twice yearly, once near Easter and once near Michaelmas, but extra, special courts were occasionally convened.

The early court rolls up to about the time of the Civil War furnish us with a wealth of information about the people living in the Manor. Suits for reclamation of debt, cattle and pigs straying into neighbours' land and damaging crops, affrays and assaults, illegal fishing for salmon in the River Hodder, etc all abound.

A box of Manor of Slaidburn court rolls from the mid 1600s (Lancashire Archives, ref DDHCl 5)

The later court rolls for the period 1700 onwards generally only deal with conveyances of copyhold land. Tenants of the Lady of the Manor held land and other premises by copy of the court roll, that is, they paid for a parchment copy of their entry in the manorial court rolls. The steward of the court admitted a tenant upon payment of a 'fine', normally one year's rent. Old land (rodland, bovate land and oxgang land enclosed in mediaeval times or before) was charged at the yearly rent of 4d. per acre, whereas land on the new improvements of Champion, Raw Moor, Burn Moor and Dunsop, West Bradford Moor - all enclosed in 1619, and Smalden or Grindleton Moor - enclosed in 1587 - was charged at 6d. per acre. These rates did not change for centuries, thus making the tenancy of copyhold lands a valuable commodity as time passed.

After 1782, the recording of transactions in the Manor Court ceased to be recorded on rolls, and instead they were entered into very large books called 'libers'. These are incredibly heavy and require the searchroom staff at the Lancashire Archives to use trolleys to transport them from the stacks into the searchroom.

The information on copyhold transactions found in the rolls is invaluable to local and family historians. Holdings of land often stayed in the same families for generations and hence genealogies can be worked out. It is also possible to see how some wealthier farmers and gentry gradually acquired large copyhold holdings by buying out smaller holdings. The Wiglesworths of Town Head in Slaidburn are typical of this latter category in the early 18th century. Some tenants lived outside the Manor, as far afield as Manchester and London. The information contained in the rolls for genealogists and local historians of West Bradford, Grindleton, Newton and Slaidburn is immense and adds considerably to that found in other sources such as parish registers and probate documents.

I have translated all the rolls for the period 1703-1734 and published them in three volumes. Copies are available for purchase. Click on 'Publications' on the menu for further details, plus on-line copies of the indexes. A fourth volume covering the period 1694-1703 has also been transcribed and translated, and is currently awaiting indexing, prior to publication. I have also many other transcripts of earlier and some later rolls. As of March 2014, I have fully transcribed all the rolls from 1637 to 1782 inclusive and, for a fee, I can offer a search service through all of these for other researchers. Please email me with details of your requirements.

For further reading and very useful background information, not repeated here, see:

The Reclamation and Settlement of Bowland, 1500-1650, by John Porter, an unpublished thesis, a copy of which is in the Lancashire Archives, Bow Lane, Preston.

The Court Roll of the Honor of Clitheroe, 1567-68, by John Simpson, ISBN 0906881080

Life on the English Manor - A Study of Peasant Conditions - 1150-1400 by H S Bennett, ISBN 0862993229

The Medieval Manor Court of Wakefield by Mary O'Regan ISBN 090760403X

1689 Surrender

A copyhold surrender of 1689 by Thomas Braddyll of Portfield esq and Jane his wife of 61 acres 3 roods and 16 falls of land upon Brunghill Moor and the Mountain of Burn, then in the occupation of William Stokoe, to the use of Leonard Leigh of Oxenhursthey gent and James Leigh his youngest son. Fine 30s. 11d. (document from the private collection of C J Spencer)

[Click the image to enlarge]