Below are some notes that Allan has written to help you appreciate what our documents are about.  The notes are in the form of a glossary and relate to terms used in property transactions between about 1700 and 1925.  There was considerable new legislation relating to property transactions in 1925, particularly involving the abolition of copyhold tenure and manorial courts.

*   Abstract of Title

*   Fee Tail

*   Administration

*   Freehold

*   Admittance

*   Lease & Release

*   Attested Copy

*   Manorial Courts

*   Building Societies

*   Mortgage

*   Copies

*   Parchment

*   Copyhold

*   Pendant Seal

*   Counterpart Lease

*   Probate

*   Enclosure

*   Quitclaim

*   Enfeoffment

*   Surrender

*   Entail

*   Vellum




Abstract of Title

An ‘Abstract of Title’ is a document prepared by a solicitor summarising the contracts, wills and other events which lead up to the owner’s present title to a property.  They are usually undated, but it seems a fair guess that such an abstract was prepared fairly shortly after the last event listed in it.  A watermark in the paper will sometimes give an approximate date.

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When a person dies without leaving a will, a ‘Grant of Administration’ will appoint an administrator to sort out his/her affairs.  Administrations’were granted by the Bishop’s courts up until 1858 after which it became a secular matter.

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Admittance and Surrender are procedures which relate to Manorial courts whenever copyhold land changes hands, an event which would generally allow the Lord of the Manor to charge a fine.  The powers of manorial courts declined over the centuries but were not finally abolished until 1925.

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Attested Copy

Solicitors often make copies of contracts, usually on paper and many are undated.  An ‘Attested Copy’ is one where someone has verified that it is a true copy, and will have signed and dated it accordingly.

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Building Societies

The first Building Societies were formed c.1775 and by the mid 1800’s were appearing regularly in mortgage contracts.  At first such contracts would be made in the names of the trustees of the society, who would all be listed as parties to the indenture. Later the Building Societies Act  of 1874 allowed such societies to become legal entities in their own right.

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Many documents are copied, usually on paper, and the copy is often difficult to date.  Much legal stationery has a date in the watermark, which gives a rough idea, but this isn’t always present.  Some are ‘attested copies’ which will be signed and dated.  A special case is when probate is granted on a will.  Here a copy of the will is made, usually on parchment, and the grant of probate attached to the copy.

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Copyhold land could not be disposed of without the consent of the Lord of the Manor (as opposed to Freehold land).  When such land changed hands it had to be surrendered to the Lord of the Manor, and then the new occupier would be admitted.  It was possible to lease copyhold land, or to mortgage it, but these were all recorded in the rolls of the manor court.  From 1841 onwards there was a procedure of Enfranchisement by which Copyhold land could be converted to Freehold, and finally in 1925 Copyhold tenure was abolished.

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Counterpart Lease

Two copies of a lease are usually made, one labelled the Counterpart Lease.  The two copies are word-for-word identical, but being hand written, will differ slightly in layout.

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This is the process of dividing up the common fields in a manor into private ownership.  Originally each enclosure required a private Act of parliament, but from 1836 onwards various General Enclosure Acts made this a more routine process.  Any such enclosure began with the appointment of an Enclosure Commissioner to oversee the process and ensure that all those with rights to the common received compensation.

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Enfeoffment was the term used to describe the conveyance of land held in fee simple from one party to another.  The Statute of Frauds in 1677 required that there should be written evidence of the transaction, resulting in a deed of Feoffment.  This had lapsed as a form of conveyance by the mid 19th century.

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See Fee Tail

Fee Simple

In English law, for many centuries, no one except the King actually owns any land.  The best title that anyone could have is ‘to hold it in fee simple’.

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Fee Tail

Entailed land, or land held ‘in fee tail’ had to pass to future issue of the recipient without any possibility of alienation.  If all future issue died out the land would revert to the original grantor or his heirs.

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Land that could be disposed of without requiring the consent of the Lord of the Manor was Freehold (see Copyhold for the alternative).  The main categories of freehold property were Fee Simple and Fee Tail. 

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Lease & Release

This was a form of land sale that began in the 17th century and lasted up until 1841.  Its object was to bypass the procedures of the manorial courts.  In its standard form the contract began with a ‘Lease for a year’, usually on payment of a sum such as 10 shillings, and a rent of a peppercorn.  The following day, under an Indenture of ‘Release’ the owner would release his rights to the reversion of the property.  The Lease is usually a very simple indenture; the release is often much longer and more complicated, involving someone acting as a trustee.  Changes in the law in 1841 made this form of contract obsolete. 

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Manorial Courts

The Manor was the basic unit of organisation of the feudal system with much of its administration taking place in regular meetings of the Manorial Court.  Copyhold land was subject to the procedures of this court and when such land changed hands records of Surrender and Admission would result.  Manorial customs varied across the country giving rise to a wide variety of manorial documents.

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It has been common to borrow money against the security of land in the form of a mortgage for centuries.  Any form of land could be mortgaged, including copyhold and leasehold land.  Wealthy individuals would lend money in this way before (and after) the advent of Building Societies.

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Parchment is the material used for the large majority of legal documents listed on this site.  At first sight it has the appearance of paper with a waxy surface, but is normally sheep or goat skin duly processed.  The best quality is made from calf skin and is called Vellum.  On this site I have not attempted to distinguish the two, and both types are listed as ‘Parchment’. 

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Pendant Seal

A pendant seal is much larger than an ordinary wax seal and is attached to the document by separate thongs.  It consists of two layers of paper containing an inner layer of wax.  This type of seal is mainly used by ecclesiastical authorities and is most commonly found on grants of probate or administration.

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A probate document usually consists of a manuscript copy of the will of the deceased, written on parchment, together with a grant of probate.  This latter will often be a printed document with various blanks filled in by hand, and will have a pendant seal attached.  Probate was granted by ecclesiastical courts until 1858, after which it became a secular matter.


A deed renouncing any possible right to a property.

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When Copyhold land changed hands, the original occupier would first Surrender the land to the Lord of the Manor, following which the new occupier would be Admitted.

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'Uses' is a very important and common term which became popular following the Statute of Uses in the 16th century. The idea behind the word is that of placing property in the hands of a trustee for the benefit of another. As the simplest example a document might 'convey property to X to the use of Y' which implies that X is a trustee holding the property but Y is the beneficiary. This became a popular legal device because laws which might apply to Y if he owned the property directly might not apply to the trustee X and were thereby circumvented. It was regularly used to avoid the rules on dower, entail, and a husband's right to his wife's property.


See parchment

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The British Records Association has a more extensive glossary at