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Help and advice for Devon Manors

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Introduction

Compiled by Ian Mortimer, PhD FRHistS

This guide is an attempt to list all the manors of Devon from the making of Domesday Book in 1086 to the abolition of copyhold tenure in 1922, and to identify the parishes and hundreds in which they were situated.On the whole, a manor appears here if

  1. A number of manorial court documents suvive, i.e. court rolls, noted on the Manorial Documents Register maintained at the National Archives.
  2. It is a manor mentioned in Domesday Book (1086)
  3. It is a manor or fee mentioned in OJ Reichel's work on the early manors of Devon in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association, which draws heavily in turn from entries in the Book of Fees (1242), the Hundred Rolls (1274), Feudal Aids (1284, 1303, 1346 and 1428) and the two volumes of Devon feet of fines published by the Devonshire Association.
  4. It is described as a manor in Valor Ecclesiaticus (1535)
  5. It is described as a manor in one of the three published early seventeenth century antiquaries' works, by Westcote, Pole and Risdon
  6. It is described as a manor in Lysons' Magna Britannia, volume six: Devon (1822) or Polwhele's History of Devonshire (1791, 1797, 1805)
  7. It is described as a manor in White's (1850) and Kelly's directories (1893, 1897, or 1939)
  8. Other contemporary official documents, e.g. fines, describe it as a manor
  9. Other reliable secondary works based on original source material suggest its manorial status.

What was a manor?

It is not possible to define what a manor was in any but the broadest terms: i.e. that it was a unit of estate administration. In some cases it was nothing more than that, being a small section of waste ground held by a feudal lord from the king or one of the king's tenants-in-chief, or being a small parcel of land owned by an eighteenth century gentleman. Some writers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are careful about using the word 'manor', meaning something specific by it, but their specific meanings are not necessarily consistent with each other or the traditional view that a manor had a court. The earl of Devon, for example, had eight manors in the parish of Malborough in 1822: one court served them all. This could be termed one manor or eight, depending on your interpretation of the word 'manor'. Consistency of standards of description across time, of course, is even more difficult. These eight manors may have had eight or even more courts in the middle ages. All one can say for certain is that it is the differences between manors which is the striking feature, not any particular similarity which could serve as a definition.

Names of manors are equally problematic. They resemble theoretical bodies in quantum mechanics in that one manor can have two or three names at once, and then cease to be known as anything at all while remaining unchanged in every other respect. It may be possible to identify a place with the same name as a manor, but it is equally possible that no place today retains the name. Most confusingly a manor is occasionally known by the places within it, chosen at random, it seems, by a clerk. Over the course of several hundred years a manor can shift location, shrink, grow, change name, change ownership or tenure, and become utterly unrecognisable.

Another confusing fact about manorial names is that manors merge and split, sometimes only temporarily, and it is difficult to know whether one has a document which is dealing with two manors or one. For example, by 1822 the manor of Rake and Sorley was a single manor, but that was not always the case: originally it was two. This complicates things; looking for records relating to Sorley does one look under Sorley, or Rake and Sorley? What then if the combined manor name is shortened to Rake? Complications increase further. Many manors split into moieties or parts on inheritance between two or more daughters. Separate moieties might might take on separate additions to distinguish them from each other: Brixton English and Brixton Reigny are an example. Sometimes further splits happen, and sometimes parts of the manor come back together again. It is not at all unusual for a manor to split, then for one part to split again, and half of the second split (i.e. a quarter of the manor) to be acquired by the family inheriting the opposite original half of the manor. Thus one manor can be in several people's ownership, in varying proportions, through varying descents, and still function as a unit. A manor in fact can still function even when all its land has been sold off, since certain rights might still be retained by the lord.

This last fact – that a manor is not necessarily a place – is most important. Not all the entries in Domesday Book and the Book of Fees appear in the Place Names of Devon. A manor can be a stretch of water (e.g. Dartmouth Water, owned by the Duchy of Cornwall), a series of mineral rights with no land, a house, or a vast area of territory (e.g. Werrington on the Cornish border. At certain times in history it might might or might not have held a court. As one would expect, over the course of eight hundred and fifty years great variations have deveoped in the nature and extent of units of administration: units which were parcelled out by an invading king amongst his fighting men and clerics, usually according to patterns of tenure which were then already very old.

Standards employed

There is no standard work on the manors of Devon. The basic reference works are the articles by OJ Reichel published in various transactions and supplements by the Devonshire Association. In addition - but far less useful - there are the three published seventeenth century histories of Risdon, Pole and Westcote, and the two eighteenth century histories of Polwhele and Lysons. The editors of the Domesday Book are the principal late 20th century sources for the early manorial descents of the county, correcting many of Reichel's errors. Hoskin's Devon is also useful for clarifying a number of errors and ommissions made by the earlier writers.

The EPNS volumes for Devon have been used as a standard for parochial and hundredal boundaries. No attempt has been made to record all the changes in parish boundaries and names which have taken place over the last thousand years: the notes volume of the Devon Domesday Book contains an appendix listing many of these. Regarding the county boundary, the year 1800 has been selected, i.e. when Maker (transferred to Cornwall in 1844) was within Devon but Hawkchurch and Chardstock (tranferred to Devon in 1896) were still in Dorset.

Where possible manor names have been given the same spelling as in the Devon EPNS volumes. Where the manor does not appear in these, Lysons has usually been used. In some cases a manorial name given in Lysons or a medieval source has been tagged on to the EPNS spelling of the name; in other cases a pragmatic decision has been made, to use the most usual spelling throughout the manor's history, for example. The words 'manor', 'barton', 'hall' and 'court' have been dropped throughout, except where these actually constitute the manor name, e.g. the manor of Hall in Petrockstowe or the manor of Barton in Morchard Bishop.