August 10, 2022, by Kathryn Steenson

All Manor of People: everyday life in Newark Court Rolls

It’s very common to dismiss manorial documents as only relating to the lords and ladies of the manor, with very little to do with the lives of ordinary men and women. In fact the documents are often packed full of information about the daily goings-on in villages and small towns, much of which was reported back to the lord of the manor by his estate staff.

Parchment front cover of Ne M 218.

This post is going to focus on two court rolls, Ne M 216 and Ne M 218, Courts roll for the manor of Newark in Nottinghamshire covering 1575-1585 and 1632-1644. Newark is a market town, roughly an equal distance from Lincoln and Nottingham, situated on the River Trent, and the manorial lands included many of the nearby smaller settlements. The lords of the manor were the Dukes of Newcastle at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, and this roll is one of many from their extensive family and estate archive. The court wasn’t a criminal one as such, but one where people were brought (or ‘presented’) for breaching local customs of the manor, or not pulling their weight in the collective responsibilities of the community, and if found guilty, punished. It was also the place where transactions involving land and property belonging to the lord and his tenants was formally recorded, for example when tenants died and their heirs took over the tenancy, showing us family connections in a time when other records don’t always exist.

4 October 1575 

Spalford – That Jane Cope and [illegible] the wife of William Kirkman are common brewers and they refuse to sell to their neighbours in times of necessity having sufficient for their own needs. Fined 4d each. 

30th April 1576

Girton – John Jervys because he made an assault on and affray in and upon John Gabites and drew blood of him. Fined 3s 4d. John Gabites because he made an assault and an affray on the aforesaid John Jervis. Fined 20d.

18 December 1576 

Girton – William Gabites on 12th December last and on divers days and times as before as after shot with a certain crossbow called ‘a hande gunne’ wildfowl called ‘teles et mollores’ [teals and mallards] without licence [from the Lady of the Manor]. Fined 3s 4d. 

28 May 1583 

Farndon – John Hefelde presented for removing the common boat called the Ferry boat . To replace it before the next Court under a penalty of 40s.

6th October 1578

Balderton – Giles Forster presented because he usurped the office of Steward and sat in the place ofthe Steward, the Clerk of the Court being there, and afterwards assumed the office of a judge without authority, therefore he is in mercy for contempt of court. Fined £5.

27 April 1579

Girton – It is ordered that everyone in he township do his part in making a causeway lying above the Bowmerce, under a penalty of 12d for everyone not doing  so within six days of the Feast called “Witsonday”.

2 October 1581 

Farndon – We present the wives of Henry Smithe and John Meriwether because they were scolding to the annoyance of their neighbours. Each fined 20s, Penalty imposed that they cease to do so before Sunday next under a penalty of 40s. Also a penalty is placed on the town of Farndon that they provide a Scolding carte or Cuckstole before the Feast of All Saints under a penalty of 40s. 

The entry for the two scolds (i.e. argumentative women) begins here, although the lack of paragraphs can make the pages difficult to read. You can see the edge where the volume has been rebound.

10th May 1584

Northgate – Surrender by William Marshall of a cottage with a fore-yard adjoining in Northgate, to the use of John Marshall for seven years, if he should so long live, at the rent of one penny, in consideration of his teaching James Marshall his trade.

31 March 1635

Winthorpe – A piece of timber which came as a wreck from the Trent seized that day and afterwards claimed by Robert Sutton.

19 January 1635/6

Besthorpe – Jurors to inquire concerning a way leading from ye town of Beisthorpe to the Kinges street leading from Newark….George Taylor speaks to 40 years that it hath been a way, Richard Wilson that for 60 years that it hath been used as a foot way, William Ellat for almost 60 years that it was used as a footway…and that his Fathers Carriages were stopped for going that way in hemptyme.

2 April 1638

Northgate – Michael Clipsham of Newarke presented for committing waste by cutting down ten trees, hedges and fences on the customary lands of the lady of the Manor.

15 January 1638/9

Richard Poole had died seised of a messuage and land in Farndon, late the land of Robert Poole deceased, and that his daughter Helen Lucas wife of Bryan Lucas was his heir.

17 December 1639

Farndon – Eleanor the wife of Bryan Lucas had died seised of the above premises and that her son Timothy, aged two weeks, was her heir, and that custody of his body and lands be granted to his father.


Entry for 15 January 1638/9, recording the first of two deaths and a birth in the Poole/Lucas family this year, by way of the land inheritance they involve.

From this you get a picture of what life was like in pre-Civil War Nottinghamshire, the petty squabbles that sometimes broke out between neighbours, and the way life was structured around the changing of the seasons. When you consider that each settlement was home to a few dozen or a couple of hundred people, then the court rolls would have mentioned a significant number of them – as witnesses, heirs, or jurors, even if they were model citizens!

These Court rolls are in Latin but there are various extracts, in English, that have been published as pamphlets and are part of the East Midlands Collection. They are all available to view in the Reading Room on King’s Meadow Campus by contacting us and making an appointment.

In September The National Archives and the University of Nottingham are jointly hosting the Manorial Documents Register Conference.  This year marks the centenary of the Law of Property Act that dissolved the manorial system and laid the groundwork for giving the Master of the Rolls jurisdiction over manorial records. The National Archives administers these responsibilities on behalf of the Master of the Rolls. This centenary is an occasion to look back on a century of work protecting and promoting access to manorial records, as well as an opportunity to mark the completion of 30 years of work to computerise the Manorial Documents Register for England and Wales.

Posted in From the collections