The Court Rolls of the Manor of Chalfont St Peter, Bucks

This website contains translations and transcriptions of the surviving court rolls and court books for the manor of Chalfont St Peter, Bucks, from 1308 to 1936.[1] These are an invaluable source for the history of Chalfont St Peter and especially the lands within the said manor or parish, and one of the best sources for understanding the medieval life of the inhabitants of Chalfont St Peter.

Coverage of the records

There survives a set of manorial records covering over 600 years. There are gaps where we have no court rolls, namely 1365 to 1400, 1470 to 1478, 1481 to 1494, 1503 to 1518, 1619 to 1640 and 1727 to 1737, but in total these gaps cover just over 100 years, meaning we have over 500 years with surviving court rolls or books.

History of the manor

The manor of Chalfont St Peter at the time, at which the records begin, namely 1308, belonged to Missenden Abbey. After the dissolution it was sold in 1540 to Robert Drury.[2] In 1626 William Drury sold the manor to Henry Bulstrode.[3] In 1645 Henry’s son Thomas sold the manor to Thomas Gower,[4] who subsequently sold it to Richard Whitchurch in 1650.[ 5] The manor remained in the hands of the Whitchurch family until 1809, when Anne Whitchurch, the last survivor of the family, died. It then passed to her cousin William Jones passing on his death in 1837 to his son Willliam who died in 1850. It then passed to his sister Mary who had married Edward Moore and they owned it jointly passing on his death in 1877 to their son Charles. On his death in 1914 it passed to his nephew Cyril Moore who died in 1940 leaving it to his nephew Peter Moore. He sold it to Basil Baldwin in 1962 and it passed on his death in 1985 to his son David who is the present lord.

Types of manorial courts

There were two kinds of manorial court, namely the court baron, and the court leet with view of frankpledge.

The main manorial court was the court baron, which outlined and regulated the customs of the manor and punished any offences. It also handled any business to do with copyhold land held of the manor, recording the surrenders and admissions to such lands, and in addition dealt with many matters concerning the local community such as the control of agricultural affairs, the handing out of punishments for minor offences and the election of manorial officials.

The court leet with view of frankpledge dealt more with the enforcement of law and order within the manor. The view of frankpledge acted as a system of mutual responsibility for the maintenance of law and order. Such offences that would be dealt with in this court are assaults, nuisances such as obstructions of highways, watercourses and ditches, and the breaking of the assizes of bread and ale.

Physical nature of the records

Up to 1757 the surviving records were court rolls written on pieces of parchment, stitched together. From 1757 the records are in court books, large volumes, containing hundreds of pages.

Structure of the rolls

The court rolls for the manor of Chalfont St Peter were divided into different sections, as follows:

• The heading, giving the date and type of court and usually name the steward of the court.

• Essoins, where members of the community would give excuses for not turning up at the courts.

• List of jurors, usually listing about 15 names.

• List of people making default of suit of court.

• Elections of officers within the manor.

• Orders and presentations, outlining laws that the members of the manor had to obey.

• Common fine. The inhabitants of the manor owed a common fine to the lord of the manor.

• The above-said items concerned the view of frankpledge, and then the rolls appear to move on to the court baron, which had similar sections, as follows:

• List of those tenants making default.

• The names of the homage jurors, usually containing about eight names.

• Surrenders and admissions of copyhold lands.

• List of orders, similar to those contained in the view of frankpledge.

The court books also contain the same sort of structure, when they record the manorial courts, although as the centuries progress, some of the sections begin to disappear. The later court books also tend to record individual land conveyances. By the late 19th century and early 20th century a few plans begin to appear for certain properties.

Language of the rolls

Until 1733 the rolls were generally written in Latin, although this was not always the case. After this point the language used was English.

Physical condition of the rolls

The rolls vary in their physical condition, but generally they have survived in good condition and are mostly legible. Certainly the later court books are all very well preserved. However, some of the earlier court rolls are not in great condition, and some are incomplete. Some areas on the surviving rolls are also dirty or faded, making them illegible. Therefore there are gaps in the translations, and these have been indicted by the use of dots and square brackets, such as […].

Information contained in the court rolls

Generally manorial court rolls contain information not just about the upper classes, but also the ordinary members of the community. A large number of the inhabitants of the parish of Chalfont St Peter would have held their lands by copyhold tenure, and those who held by freehold tenure tended to be wealthier. Therefore the passing over or conveyances of the properties of the ordinary people occur in these documents.

This means that the history of various properties is recorded in these records, and therefore some of these properties can be traced back several hundred years.

The rolls also provide information about how land was managed and cultivated, sometimes mentioning the crops that were being grown, giving references to enclosures of land and animals or livestock, as well giving clues about changes in agricultural practices.

They also contain a wealth of financial detail, giving an idea about the economy and way of life in Chalfont St Peter. They show how the values of the properties and lands have changed over the centuries. Also information about economic hardship can be found.

The rolls contain a huge number of names and are therefore an invaluable source for the genealogist. If a person held lands within the manor, then there are likely to be several references to him or her within the rolls. Sometimes different relationships are outlined within individual families, enabling the family historian to trace certain families back further than in the parish registers. Sometimes the wills of certain people are recited, especially in the later rolls.

The rolls are also a tremendous source for local historians and contain a wealth of minor place and field names. Occasionally it is possible to work out how a particular property gained its name. Sometimes there are also references to minerals and mineral rights.

Examples of subject matter in the manorial court rolls of Chalfont St Peter

1. Land

Some copyhold properties can be traced back hundreds of year. For instance:

• The messuage known as Aditors or Auditors, which was enfranchised in 1881, can be traced back to 1454, when Roger Hawkin conveyed a tenement and three crofts to Simon Auditor. Presumably the messuage then became known as Auditors, as the family with this name appeared to have held it at least until the end of the 15th century. Interestingly Simon Auditor appears on an alien subsidy roll, showing that he had been born abroad, and is an example of an alien coming to England and acquiring copyhold property.

• The Rose and Crown Public House with three cottages (demolished in 1963), enfranchised in 1868, also traces back to a similar date. For in 1455 John Molder conveyed a cottage to the use of himself and Joan his wife.

• The White Hart public house, which was enfranchised in 1886, has a history in the records dating back at least to 1744, when Hester Clarke transferred a property to Sarah Hawkins, wife of Robert Hawkins. This shows that this property was then known as The Three Horseshoes.

• The site of the old workhouse can be traced back to a transfer in 1761 by Anne Penn to John Hatch.

The rolls do not just provide details about copyhold lands, but also mention some freehold lands which were held of the manor, such as:

• Roberts Farm can be found mentioned in 1551, when John Butterfield death is recorded, stating that he held a messuage and lands called Robards freely at the rent of 2s.

• Skippings Farm appears to be mentioned in the first court roll. In 1308 the tenement of Adam Cuppyng is stated as being in the lord’s hands for waste.

• Brawlings Farm is also referred to in 1594, when William Ewer is presented to have died, holding freely a messuage and land called Rawlins at 23s a year.

The rolls also contain references to freehold lands, which are no longer held of the manor, such as:

• Ashwells Farm is referred to in an undated schedule, when John de Asschewelle is stated to hold one virgate of land.

• Mumfords (now called the Manor House) appears in 1351, when the death of Robert Mountford is presented, who held one messuage and one carrucate of land.

The rolls also mention demesne lands of the manor such as:

• The Grange or The Rectory. In 1540 the kitchen and other buildings of the rectory are reported as being in disrepair.

• Newlands Park is mentioned in 1346, when John Raulyn made a trespass with 12 pigs at Newlond.

The rolls also contain other information about land, such as references to enclosure or the enclosing of lands, and also encroachments made upon the lord’s land.
In the later court books many deeds of enfranchisements are enrolled, these being deeds by which the tenants purchased their copyhold tenements from the lord of the manor.

2. Offences

Examples of different types of offences committed within the manor are, as follows:

• Assault. In the court dated 8 Oct 1594 Robert Butterfield of Robertes is presented for drawing blood upon Robert Butterfelde the elder and he is fined 3s 4d.

• The felling and carrying away of trees. For instance Thomas le Maresscal is distrained in 1308 for felling and carrying off two oaks at Redlond.

• Theft. For instance John the Clerk is amerced for carrying off a beehive from the lord’s tenement in 1309. The feloniously stealing of a mare is mentioned in 1557.

• The breaking of hedges and fences. John the Clerk is also amerced in 1309 for breaking the hedge of William Cuppyng.

• Trespasses in the lord’s warren. John Roberd is stated to have taken a hare of the lord in the lord’s warren in 1312.

• Poaching. Nicholas Plomer and Nicholas his nephew in 1326 made a trespass against the lord by hunting and fishing. In 1540 John Swynfeld is amerced 2d for being a common poacher in the lord’s warren with dogs, fish nets and ferrets.

• Ruin and decay of houses. In 1327 William Hoggeprest is in trouble for not repairing his houses and allowing them to fall into ruin and decay.

• Trespasses with animals. In 1328 John the Smith is amerced 2d for a trespass with two cows in le Birchette, and he is also amerced 2d for a trespass there with five pigs.

• Trespasses in the lord’s cornfields. In 1351 John Edward is amerced 2d for reaping the lord’s corn.

• Nuisances in the lord’s warren. In 1415 Stephen Gode is presented for taking his dogs into the lord’s warren.

• Unringed pigs. The tenants of the manor are presented in 1540 for not ringing their pigs.

• Breaking of assizes. People were amerced for breaking certain assizes, usually the assize of bread and the assize of ale. For instance John Fox and others were presented in 1547 for being common brewers and bakers and breaking the assize of bread and ale.

• Enclosing of lands. In 1564 Edward Shrinpton is presented for unjustly enclosing a parcel of meadow in Highmede, a place where the tenants are accustomed to have common of pasture.

• Encroachment of lands. In 1415 John Clere is amerced 2d for encroaching upon the lord’s ground in le Tymberhawe, namely ground containing 12 feet in length and one foot in width.

• Failure to scour rivers, ditches and watercourses. In 1571 the tenants were ordered to sufficiently scour Chalfont Brooke, under pain of 12d for each perch unscoured.

• Failure to remove dung or compost. There are often orders for the tenants to carry away their dung, lying in the street, such as in the court dated 1614.

• Illegal playing of games. In 1549 John Tomson and John Randall are presented for playing games contrary to the form of the statute thereupon issued, and each is amerced 4d.

• Illegally taking in foreigners as tenants. In 1612 Thomas Noble was amerced 10s for this offence.

3. Trades and occupations

The rolls frequently refer to people’s trades or occupations and over 120 different ones appear throughout the records. Some of the surnames in the earliest rolls appear to be occupations and suggest that the people with those surnames were doing the jobs that their names denoted, such as wheelwright, clerk, draper, shoemaker and plasterer. The most frequently referenced occupations, such as yeoman, husbandman and farmer, denote the importance of agriculture, but others suggest other industries being practiced, such as bricklayer, brick maker and brick manufacturer. Other perhaps more unusual trades can be found, especially in the later rolls, such as tea merchant, sugar-ware potter and peruke-maker.

4. Place-names

The rolls contain a huge number of place-names, as follows:

• Most of the place-names refer to names of properties or fields in the parish of Chalfont St Peter. Some of them can be found on a modern map or on the tithe map for Chalfont St Peter, but many no longer survive and have become obsolete.

• By the 1900s several names of houses, cottages and roads in Chalfont St Peter begin to appear in the court books.

• Some names of properties in neighboring or nearby parishes can be found, such as places in Chalfont St Giles, Chorleywood and Uxbridge.

• Towards the end of the records the later courts books even contain references to people living abroad, who own properties within the manor. Agnes Emily Rooke of Dehli, India, appears in 1895. Agnes Harriss and Kate Harriss of Brisbane, Australia, were involved with property at Waterhall in Chalfont St Peter in 1893.

5. People

There are a huge number of people referred to in the rolls.

• Some of these appear to have taken their surname from minor places possibly within the parish such as Ashwell, Birch, Bord, Dell, Field, Grove, Hecche, Hern, Marsh and Nash.

• Some people’s surnames were adopted as names of places, such as the Auditor family, who appear to have given their name to Auditors or Aditors, and possibly Campion gave its name to a property which became known as Campions.

• One of the most common surnames in the parish was Butterfield, which appears in the earliest roll, but whether this name derives from an obsolete place name in Chalfont St Peter is not known.

With records covering over 500 years, a genealogist researching a family name in Chalfont St Peter may be able to discover when a particular surname first appeared in the parish.

6. Animals

• A very large amount of animals can be discovered in the court rolls, especially the earlier ones, with cows, sheep, horses and pigs being the most common. Trespasses or offences involving animals such as these are very common in the early rolls.

• Poaching is occasionally referred to. As mentioned above, in 1540 John Swynfeld got into trouble for poaching in the lord’s warren with dogs and ferrets.

• Rabbits and hares are sometimes found, usually in connection to the lord’s warren.

Birds are also sometimes mentioned.

• For instance in 1540 the tenants are amerced 10s for not using, according to the form of the statute, their common net to take choughs, crows and rooks.

• In 1325 there is a reference to partridges being taken from the lord’s warren by Nicholas le Plomer.

• Similarly in 1565 John Diche is amerced 6s 8d for breaking the lord’s warren and taking pheasants therefrom.

7. Violence and death

There are numerous examples of violence in the rolls, and these normally appear as offences for which people were fined. Examples include:

• In 1548 George Carpenter is presented for assaulting John Baldwyn and drawing blood against the king’s peace.

• In 1615 Giles Randall was amerced 5s for abusing Goodwife Tyby by pulling off her kercher and pulling her by the hair on her head.

• In 1641 John Chaseley entered the church house and abused Anne Hunt by kicking her.

• In 1549 there is a reference to the fact that Thomas Pykman was feloniously killed and murdered within the lordship of Chalfont St Peter, but the perpetrator was not known. The goods of the murdered man, namely a horse and saddle came into the lord’s hands as abandoned chattels.

• In 1550 the accidental death of Henry Hyll is stated, which involved a horse and cart, and discussion was to be taken as whether his goods should be taken into the lord’s hands as deodands.

• Also in this year there was similar discussion about the goods and chattels of Thomas Haddon and Christopher Dey, who had been hung for committing felonies.

• In 1554 there is a reference to the killing in self-defence of Thomas Alen of Chalfont St Peter by John Tirrall at Uxbridge, whereby Thomas’s goods came into the lord’s hands.

8. Recreations and pastimes.

The rolls occasionally give a glimpse into recreational activities which were undertaken by the tenants of the manor. For instance:

• Richard Curraunt, John Butterfild, William Monke and Henry Hulle are amerced 6d each for playing bowls in 1577.

• In 1612 an order was made that no artificer, craftsman, husbandman or servant of artificer should play at cards, tables, dice or shovelboard except at Christmas.

• In 1569 the constables presented that certain inhabitants of Chalfont St Peter unlawfully played football, but they did not know the names of the perpetrators, so an order was made to the inhabitants to do this no more.

9. Houses and buildings:

There are numerous references to houses and buildings throughout the rolls. Sometimes individual types of buildings are described, such as beer-houses, brew-houses, cart-houses, chaise-houses, coach-houses, kiln-houses, malt-houses and poultry-houses. There is also one reference to the workhouse in Chalfont St Peter. Often the earlier rolls refer to the ruin and decay of houses and failure to repair them, and so tenants are often ordered to repair their habitations. Other buildings such as barns, inns, mills, shops and stables are frequently mentioned.

10. Minerals and natural resources:

The earlier rolls have references to clay and gravel, whereas the later records mention brick, chalk, gas and sand. The deeds of enfranchisement, which appear in the final court books, often mention whether the mines and minerals rights were reserved to the lord of the manor, or if these rights were granted along with the lands.

11. Manorial officials:

The rolls contain countless references to the officials of the manor, the most common being the bailiffs, constables and stewards. Other prominent officials, whose power was less than those already mentioned, include the aletasters, headboroughs, heywards or reap-reeves and tithingmen.

12. Punishments

The punishments for committing offences within the manor were usually monetary, and most people were fined small amounts for their misdemeanors. However, there are references to other forms of punishments, as follows:

• Richard Curraunt, John Butterfild, William Monke and Henry Hulle are amerced 6d each for playing bowls in 1577.

• In 1612 an order was made that no artificer, craftsman, husbandman or servant of artificer should play at cards, tables, dice or shovelboard except at Christmas.

• In 1569 the constables presented that certain inhabitants of Chalfont St Peter unlawfully played football, but they did not know the names of the perpetrators, so an order was made to the inhabitants to do this no more.

Simon Neal
245 Elmwood Avenue
TW13 7QA


[1] Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies (CBS): D/BASM/15/1-23.

[2] The National Archives (TNA): C 66/691, m. 25.

[3] TNA: CP 25/2/397/2CHASIMICH.

[4] TNA: CP 25/2/399/21CHASIMICH.

[5] TNA: CP 25/2/536/1650MICH.