This glossary gives definitions for the less easily understood terms to be found in old deeds and other documents relating to property in Devon. Many of the terms were used throughout England; some, however, were specific to Devon.

This is still work in progress. If anyone has suggestions for additions or corrections, please contact me.








ACRE: originally an area that could be ploughed in a day. It was used in the Domesday Book to describe area, and there is much argument on how big a Domesday Book area was – probably it varied from area to area. The modern acre is 4840 square yards or 0.405 of a hectare. Acres were divided into 4 roods; and roods into 40 perches (also known as rods or poles), i.e. about 30 square yards. Roods and perches were still used in the 19th century to designate part of an acre. The 20th century saw the introduction of decimal fractions of acres instead of roods and perches. Acres were legally replaced by hectares in 1995. See also HIDE and VIRGATE.


ADVOWSON: the right to nominate the clergyman (or incumbent) to a parish or benefice. Many churches were built originally by the lord of the manor, who naturally then had the right (as ‘patron’) to appoint whomever he wished as the parson, provided the man was ordained. Where there had not been an estate church, the advowson usually belonged to the bishop or the monarch. Advowsons could be bought and sold and were highly valued property. By the 19th century the sale of advowsons for large sums by rival supporters of high and low church ideas was leading to scandal and legislation was passed that effectively banned the sale of advowsons except in conjunction with a landed estate. Legislation in 1986 banned their sale completely.


ALDER: “1 messuage, 200 acres of land, 5 acres of meadow and 4 acres of alder” (description in 15th century Devon deed in the National Archives – CP 25/1/45/78). Areas of alder tree, albus glutinosa, are common in Devon as alder grows on stream and river banks and on marshy ground and is the tree most found in “bottoms”. The wood does not rot when damp so is used in watery situations, for instance to shore up river-banks.


ALIEN or ALIENATE: to transfer (land or property) to the ownership of another. It was one of many synonyms used to pad out conveyances – e.g. “alien, confirm, convey and release”.


AMERCEMENT, AMERCIAMENT: a financial penalty fixed by a manor court. If a tenant did something wrong, for instance not attending court when he should, or not keeping his house in repair, he was ‘in mercy’. The matter would be brought before the manor court which would fix a suitable amercement. The money went to the lord. In some cases, amercements became like fixed penalties for frequent minor offences and effectively became charges.


ANNUITY: it was common in wills and marriage settlements to confer on a beneficiary an annuity of a specified amount, “chargeable on” – ie payable out of the revenues from – a specified property. The property itself could then be bequeathed or given or sold to somebody else, with the obligation to pay the annuity during the life of the beneficiary passing to the new owner.


APPRENTICE: it was common in Devon for parishes to apprentice orphans and other children thrown into their care to apprentice these children to farmers and tradesmen. They would mostly live with the family, often along with the farmer’s or tradesman’s own children, and the parish would pay an allowance for board and lodging. When apprentices were placed with farmers, it was usually “for” a particular property, and any tenant of that property would be expected to take the apprentice on. “[The tenant] will take care of and provide for any parish apprentices that shall be placed or bound on him in respect of the premises” (lease of Westwood, Drewsteignton, 5.5.1769).


APPURTENANCES: the appurtenances, sometimes written “thappurtenances”, were originally rights belonging to a manor, such as advowsons. Later, the word just came to mean general rights associated with the property. Conveyances  would spell out that the property came with the appurtenances – although this did not prevent the inclusion in addition of a detailed list of what was included in the sale and the rights associated with the property. This, taken from a 1784 conveyance of some farms in Drewsteignton, is typical:  “messuage or tenement” was transferred “together with all outhouses, edifices, buildings, courtlages [curtileges], gardens, orchards, lands, meadows, pastures, feedings, woods, underwoods, commons and common of pasture, moors, marshes, waters, watercourse, wastes, ways, paths, passages, profits, liberties, easements, privileges, advantages, benefits, rights, members  and appurtenances whatsoever.”  For manors the formulation was even lengthier. Such verbiage had a long history and was already being used in Saxon times, although it probably reached its most extreme form in the 18th century. No doubt the continuation of these lengthy formulations was encouraged by lawyers’ clerks who were paid by the number of words transcribed.  Parliament finally had to legislate (in 1881) to make clear that for the conveyance of manors certain general words would do.


ARRISH, ARISH, ERRISH: the stubble left when corn has been cut or a field with such stubble. A tenant might be required to plough (or to allow the landowner to plough) the arrishes in the last year of a tenancy in preparation for the landowner’s return.





BAILIFF, BAYLIFF: originally the deputy to the steward of a manor or hundred. Later it came to be used generally of a person managing an estate or a farm on behalf of its owner.


BARGAIN: a small farm-holding (a term not much used after the 16th and 17th centuries).


BARGAIN AND SALE:  a method of conveying title to land that was introduced by the 1535 Statute of Uses (before then, all transfers of freehold title were by means of a public ceremony called feoffment with livery of seisin.). Bargain and sale involved the seller or bargainor promising to deliver the land in exchange for a payment, and a written document (that could be signed in private) recorded the transaction. It did, however, have the disadvantage of requiring the transaction to be ‘enrolled’ in a public registry, and was often avoided for that reason; instead, the system of lease and release was used.

The words bargain and sale nevertheless continued to be used in documents, for the sale of leasehold and life interests in land as well as freehold ones.  If land was transferred as a freehold, the formulation would have added wording like “ alien, confirm, convey and release...to have and to hold unto [name of purchaser] and his heirs forever”. For a leasehold, words like “demise, lease” would be used with no reference to heirs but only to assignees and executors, and instead of “forever” the length of the leasehold would be stated. See also FEOFFMENT, GRANT; and LEASE AND RELEASE.






BARTON: originally used of the home farm or demesne farm of the lord of the manor, so a farm that now has Barton in its name was probably the demesne farm in times gone by. A “Capital Barton” would be the main home farm of somebody who owned several manors. When a farm was called a barton in deeds, it usually meant that it was larger than average.  The phrase “barton and farm”, however, may sometimes have used in deeds by lawyers’ clerks simply to maximise their pay by padding out documents with endless synonyms, or to flatter the landowner.




BEHOOF: usually “use and behoof”. A synonym of use (qv).


BENEFICE: the position occupied by a clergyman in a parish. As he received a stipend, it had a value and was treated as a property which the owner of the benefice (usually the lord of the manor) could confer. Also known as a living. See also ADVOWSON.


BIND: a flexible shoot from a tree or bush - see HEDGES


BINGHAY: an obscure term used in mediaeval West Country charters apparently to denote a part of a common that has been fenced off, possibly for the use of the lord of the manor, e.g.“1 messuage, 100 acres of land, 3 acres of meadow and common of pasture for all kinds of animals on Blakedoune and Brademore, in Norton' Sydenham, excepting corn and meadows and reasonable binghays in the same vill” (14th century foot of fine in National Archives CP 25/1/44/66). The term survives in the names of fields. The etymology may be Old English binnan + haeg (within an enclosure).  


BLACK BOOK OF THE EXCHEQUER (or LIBER NIGER): a list of the tenants-in-chief (i.e. those holding land directly of the King) made in 1166, together with the names of those holding land under them by military service. See also KNIGHT'S FEE.. The original is in the National Archives; the Latin text was transcribed by T. Hearne and published in a two-volume book in 1728.


BOND: it was common, especially in the 17th and 18th century to require people with whom one was doing financial or property business to sign a bond in parallel, undertaking to perform whatever it was that they were required to do in the main transaction, and committing themselves to make an extra payment should they fail to do so.


BONDSMAN: in feudal times an unfree tenant, i.e. he was bound to occupy a particular plot of land (which he cultivated) in exchange for services to the lord of the manor (free tenants or villeins also had to perform services, but were free to leave and go elsewhere). There were various sorts of bondsmen: the Domesday Book refers to villeins, bordars and cottars. The villeins were the most prosperous and had the most rights. Bordars were smallholders and cottars (or cottagers) were at the bottom of the heap with nothing but a cottage and a tiny plot. See also cottager.  In medieval legal language bondsmen were known as “nativi”. In English they were referred to as “rustics”.




BOOT, BOTE, BOOTE (noun): a tenant’s right to take timber for necessary purposes, such as firewood and wood for repairs to the premises, eg fire-boot, house-boot, fold-boot , hay-boot (probably for the wooden sticks that were put under stored hay to keep it dry), hedgeboot etc.


BORDAR: a term used in the Domesday Book to designate a smallholder or cottager, one of the lowest form of bondsmen. See also BONDSMAN.


BOROUGH: although Devon was mainly divided up in medieval times into hundreds and tithings, Exeter, Barnstaple, Lydford and Totnes have been boroughs since the Anglo-Saxon period. However, most Devon boroughs were post-Conquest creations (there were 19 boroughs in Devon at the time of the 1334 lay subsidy). Boroughs were essentially an urban phenomenon. They belonged to a hundred but were akin to tithings and enjoyed a degree of self-government.






Tait, James 1936, The  Medieval English Borough (Manchester University Press)

Haslam, Jeremy 1984, ‘The towns of Devon’, in J Haslam (ed.) Anglo-Saxon Towns in Southern England (Phillimore)

BRAKE (noun): bracken. From a 1750s court case about properties in Spreyton and Drewsteignton: “Hath good husbandry been used thereon or hath it been rackt and overrun with brake and furze?”.


BREAK (verb): a synonym of “plough up”. It was common in 18th and 19th century short-term tenancy agreements for the tenant not to “break” or plough up pastureland without the landlord’s permission, and if he did so without permission, he was required to pay extra rent based on the acreage ploughed.


BROWSE (noun): the young shoots and twigs in a wood that can be browsed by livestock. This could be reserved in leases; for instance an 1863 Spreyton lease reserves to the landlord the “browse, frith and furze in all the coppices and plantations” of the property.




CAPITAL MESSUAGE: the main dwelling of the holder of a manor or several manors.


CAPON: many landlords required each of their tenants to supply them with one or more capons (castrated cocks) at Michaelmas or Christmas, as one of the conditions of their lease. From the 18th century, leases almost invariably provided for an alternative monetary payment, usually 1s or 2s per bird.


CARUCATE: a mediaeval unit of land, representing the area that could be ploughed by one plough-team of eight oxen in a single annual ploughing season, so only applied to arable land. Equivalent to  a hide or four virgates and generally around 120 acres, although it could vary locally. Used in documents mainly from the 11th to the 15th century, e.g. 9 messuages, 1 carucate of land, 20 acres of meadow, 100 acres of pasture and 12 acres of wood” (from 1377 foot of fine in the National Archives CP 25/1/44/62).


CATTLE:  at least until the late nineteenth century, a word used to refer to all farm livestock and not just bovines.


CHARTER: a term used to describe documents by which the monarch granted rights, e.g. for a market to be held. It was also used generally from about the 13th century to describe a document conveying land from one person to another, although by the 17th century this usage ceased to be common.


CHATTEL: property that is not real estate. Chattels included livestock (the word comes originally from “cattle”), farm equipment, furniture, jewellery and personal effects, but also intangible assets such as leaseholds (“chattel lease” is a term used in wills when bequeathing a leasehold) and debts owing to the person.


CHIEF LORD: the lord above the holder of the land that is the subject of the deed.


CHIEF RENT: the rent payable for a property to the lord of the Manor by freeholders under old manorial arrangements. Some lords continued to claim these usually very small rents into the late 19th century. See also COPYHOLD.


CHURCH RATE or CHURCH TAX:  this was a tax formerly levied in each parish in England and Ireland to meet the costs of running the parish church, including repairs. The church rates were set by the church wardens, together with the parishioners duly assembled after proper notice. It was payable by the occupiers of land or houses in the parish. In the 19th century it was strongly opposed by non-conformists and others and, in 1868, the Compulsory Church Rates Abolition Act removed the requirement to pay this tax. It became merely voluntary, and those who were not willing to pay them were excluded from inquiring into, objecting to, or voting in respect of the church rate. The Act is still on the statute books and rates under it are still being levied today.

When property was let, it was common for the lease to contain a provision making the tenant responsible for paying the church rate associated with the property.  “[the tenant] will pay the Church Rates, Poor Rates, House Tax, Window Tax, Tythes and all other taxes charged on the premises (except the land tax, high rents and heriots)…” (lease of Westwood, Drewsteignton,1769).


CHURCHWARDEN:  the office of churchwarden goes back to the 13th century, each parish having two churchwardens.  Their original responsibilities were to take care of the church building and its contents. Over the century other responsibilities were added, such as keeping order in the church and churchyard. Although churchwardens were elected at meetings or parishioners, in practice in rural parishes the main landholders (freeholders or tenant farmers) took it in turns to perform the role. Churchwardens kept detailed accounts of their activities and expenditure, which contain much fascinating material. Many Devon churchwardens’ accounts have survived and are in the Devon Heritage Centre.


CLOSE: a field or enclosed piece of land, as opposed to common land.


CLOSED VILLAGE OR MANOR: a village or manor tightly controlled by a dominant landowner.


COMMON: common land was originally land belonging to the lord of the manor but over which the tenants of the manor had certain rights. There were six “rights of common”: pasture (the right to pasture animals on the common); piscary (the right to take fish); pannage (the right to put pigs on a wooded common to eat acorns); estovers (the right to take wood, gorse or furze and other living plants from the common); turbary (the right to cut turf); and rights in the soil (digging for sand, stone, gravel etc). Over the years, common land often changed ownership but the rights of common continued (and continue) to exist for people living in dwellings around the common in question. The most important right was and is pasture. The number and in some cases the type of animals allowed on the common were and are strictly regulated – “common of pasture for 50 oxen, cows and bullocks and 200 sheep in Chaggeford” (from a 1443 Foot of Fine – National Archives CP 25/1/46/86).

Dartmoor and Exmoor are the two main areas of common land in Devon, but there are many smaller commons (although far fewer than in most areas of the country, as land was enclosed very early in Devon). Voluminous and complicated legislation has grown up over the years, applying both to commons generally and to specific commons (including Dartmoor).


COMMON RECOVERY: a “common recovery” was a device for transferring title to a property to another person despite the existence of an entail (see “fee tail” above) or other restriction. Deeds on the sale of an entailed property often record an agreement to effect a common recovery of the property within a certain period (usually by one of the three law terms). It was effectively a fictitious court action in which everybody colluded, including the courts, given the absence of any other way of selling the freehold of an entailed property. A friendly plaintiff (the “demandant”) would bring an action against the tenant in tail (ie the current owner of the property who wished to sell it) claiming that he had wrongully been deprived of possession of the property. The tenant in tail would not defend the action himself, but would call on another person, usually called the vouchee, who is supposed to have warranted the title, to do so (sometimes there were two vouchees or “double voucher”). The demandant then asks leave of the court to confer in private with the vouchee, which is granted. But the vouchee would then disappear, and the demandant would come back into court and be given judgement by default.  The device began to be used in the reign of Edward IV and continued until 1833 when a simpler system was introduced. It was mainly used when the current owner of an entailed property wished to dispose of it to somebody other than the person on whom the property was entailed; or when the current holder of a property which formed part of a marriage settlement wished to dispose of it against the terms of the marriage settlement; or when the owner of a property had conveyed it to a third party as part of a mortgage agreement and wished to recover it after paying back the sum borrowed. All recoveries were recorded centrally on rolls that are kept in the  National Archives (reference CP 43).


CONSTABLE: an officer appointed to keep the peace. Also known as “tithingman”. Originally they were unpaid officials, appointed by the manor courts and sworn in by the Justices of the Peace. But as the manor courts became increasingly ineffective in the later Middle Ages, the constable became a servant of the parish. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the appointment was normally made by the parish on a yearly basis, with local landholders in rural parishes often taking it in turn to supply the constable.  Deeds sometimes required tenants to fulfil the obligation associated with the property of providing a constable (the office was unpopular because the constable received no wages). The constables had a range of duties from apprehending offenders and vagrants to serving writs and summonses, collecting levies and checking weights and measures. They disappeared with the creation of county constabularies in the 19th century (the decision to form a Devon County Constabulary was taken in 1857).


CONVENTIONARY TENANT: a tenant who held his property by a contractual lease setting out the term, etc., rather than as a “customary” or copyhold tenant of the Manor.


COPPICE, COPSE, HOLT, PLANTATION, SPINNEY, SHAW, WOOD: these are all overlapping or synonymous terms used in property deeds to describe small wooded areas. A coppice is normally a wood with small trees or undergrowth that are regularly cut for use. To coppice is to cut such wood. Copse is another form of the word coppice and is commonly used to refer to a small wood. Holt is an archaic term for a wood and is now mostly found in place-names. Plantation is an area that has been planted with trees as opposed to the ancient woodland of which so many Devon woods are the remnants. Spinney and Shaw both denote a small copse or thicket of trees. Wood is usually a slightly larger area of woodland.


COPYHOLD: a form of tenure that emerged in the later 14th century (see villeinage). Copyholders held their land of the Lord of the manor, paying an annual rent. When they wished to dispose of their holding or pass it to a member of their family, they would surrender the land to the lord, who would then grant it to the new tenant, whose name would be inscribed on the court roll of the manor, so he held it “by copy of the court roll at the will of the lord”. Customs varied between manors. Copyholders by inheritance were in much the same position as freeholders, as the property would pass to their heirs subject to a fixed entry fine and a small annual rent. But in other manors entry fines were set by the lord of the day, and the hopeful son trying to take over his dead father’s farm might find himself outbid by others. In practice, this soon became a pretty secure form of tenure akin to freehold, although it technically survived the 1660 abolition of most other forms of feudal tenure and was not formally transformed into freehold until the Law of Property Act 1922. Copyhold was not a term much used in Devon.


COTTAGER or COTTAR: a term used in medieval times to describe a smallholder; somebody who lived in a cottage and cultivated probably no more that a few acres. The bottom of the scale in terms of those getting their living from the land, below husbandman.


COURT BARON: in the early middle ages, all lords of the manor had a “court baron” responsible for the internal regulation of local affairs within the manor – property rights and transfers, the organisation of common fields or pastures, hedging and ditching obligations, straying beasts, etc. These courts would meet every few weeks and were administered by the Steward of the manor. It was normally a condition of free tenants of the manor that they should attend these courts. Many if not most manorial courts baron in Devon had ceased meeting by the 18th century and property transfers etc. were dealt with through local solicitors, often doubling as estate officials. Nevertheless, 18th century leases and conveyances often still contained an obligation on the person taking on the land to attend the manorial courts; and when manors were sold, one of the rights described in the conveyance was the right of courts baron and leet.


COURT LEET: many lords of the manor were also granted jurisdiction over petty criminal offences that would otherwise have been dealt with by the Hundred court (qv). These were dealt with in the lord’s “court leet”, which was thus effectively an arm of the national criminal justice system. They were assisted by a jury and could impose fines. These courts began to fall into disuse from Tudor times, although they continued to be mentioned in deeds into the 19th century. See also FRANKPLEDGE.


COURTHOLDER: a 16th century term describing the person (usually the steward) who presided over the court baron or court leet.


COVENANT: “to covenant” was often used in deeds meaning to undertake in a legally binding way to do something, such as produce documents or make payments.


CUSTOMARY TENANTS: a synonym for copyholders, or those who held their land by ‘custom of the manor’. See COPYHOLD.


CUSTUMALS: lists of rents payable by customary tenants.




DEED: “deeds, evidences, writings”, ie the documents showing title to a property – leases, conveyances, wills showing inheritances, the agreements reached in court cases, mortgages etc. Until land registration was introduced in the 19th and early 20th century, possession of the deeds was necessary to prove ownership, and when a property was sold, all the deeds were handed on with it. When deeds were not handed on, for instance because they concerned more than one property, an obligation on the seller to produce the deeds if required was often written into the conveyance.



DEMESNE: in feudal times the land kept by the lord for his own use as distinguished from land granted to tenants. Still occasionally used in 17th century documents and later meaning the part of an estate occupied by the owner and not let.


DEMISE: to grant a lease (of a property to someone).


DEPASTURE (verb): to graze or put cattle to graze (on land).


DETERMINATION, DETERMINABLE: the determination was the ending of a lease. When the lease came to an end on somebody’s death, the lease was said to be “determinable” on that event.  See also LEASEHOLDS AND LIVES.


DISTRAIN: leases and annuities usually included a provision enabling the landowner or beneficiary of the annuity to “distrain and distress”, i.e. to enter the property and seize and sell chattels from it if the rent or annuity was not paid or was overdue by a specified time.


DOWER: the third of her husband’s estate to which a widow was entitled under English law on her husband’s death. This arrangement was sometimes referred to as “thirds”.  “Jointure” is the money, annuity or land settled on the bride by her husband before their marriage to provide for her if she is widowed. Landowners, especially canny Devon farmers, being keen to prevent the break-up of their property, often ensured that, as part of the jointure settlement, the wife renounced her right to dower – pre-marital settlements were made “in lieu and barr of all dower”.Portion is the sum of money or land paid by the family of the bride to the bridegroom on the marriage.portion of an estate that a widow is entitled to on her husband’s death.





EIVOR: Devon eivor is a type of rye grass (probably Lolium perenne), outside Devon more commonly spelt

eaver). It was often specified in leases for planting at the end of 18th and 19th century tenancies


ENFEOFF, ENFEOFFE (verb): “granted, aliened, bargained, sold, enfeoffed and confirmed by these presents” (1677 Spreyton deed). This term dates back to the 15th century meaning to invest someone with a fief or freehold interest in property, but by the 17th century was mainly used by lawyers as a synonym to pad out deeds, as above.


ENJOY,  ENJOYMENT: the right to occupy land or take produce or revenues from it.


ENROLLED DEEDS: records of changes in land ownership that were registered at the central law courts. It was not compulsory to register title to land, but from 1227 those purchasing property could do so by paying a fee to have the conveyance “enrolled” with the court records. Such enrolled deeds contain the details of the buyer and seller, a description of the land, the purchase price and details about previous owners. From 1536, transfers of ownership through “bargain and sale (q.v.) had to be enrolled either with a court or with a Justice of the Peace. Many people avoided paying the fee to enrol their conveyances by going for transfer through “final concord” or “common recovery” (q.v.). Until the 18th century, the enrolled deeds tended to be in Latin. When the Land Registry was set up in 1862, enrolment of deeds with the courts largely stopped. The National Archives has a large collection of enrolled deeds. The Devon Heritage Centre has a typescript Calendar and Introduction of Devon enrolled deeds by J.C. Tingley with brief details for each deed.


ENTAIL: a system, usually laid down in a will, of restricting future ownership of land to members of a particular family, usually in the senior male line. See also FEE.


ENTRY FINE: a payment made by a lessee on taking over a lease – ie effectively to purchase the leasehold. Such payments varied widely in amount. Sometimes a large entry fine was charged and only a small annual rent; sometimes the reverse.


ESCHEAT: land escheated or came back to the monarch or landlord in feudal times, for instance if a tenant died without heirs or had committed a serious crime that meant that his land was forfeit. The escheating of land to the lord when a tenant ran out of heirs was only formally abolished in by the Administration of Estates Act 1925. Escheating for a crime and forfeiture to the Crown for treason were formally abolished by the Forfeiture Act 1870. An escheat was also a term used for an inquisition post mortem..


ESQUIRE or SQUIRE: the highest order of rural society below knights and peers. Below squires came gentlemen; then yeomen; then husbandmen; and finally cottagers. These terms were used routinely in legal documents to describe a person’s status; a tradesman, however, would normally be described by his trade (tailor, cooper, etc.). The distinctions between these different categories were never very exact; W. G. Hoskins, writing about the 16th century, suggests that the best distinction between an esquire and a gentleman was that an esquire tended to own at least one manor, and often several, while the gentleman merely owned lands and enjoyed a lower average income.


ESSOIN: an excuse for non-appearance in court at the appointed time (n); to offer an excuse for non-appearance (v).


ESTATE: title or right to a property. Deeds conveying property often contained an assurance the seller was “lawfully seized thereof of a good and indefeasible estate of inheritance” of the property.




FARLEU, FARLIEW, FARLIEU, FARLEY: similar to a herriot: a payment that a tenant had to make to his lord on the death of one of the people on whose lives the tenancy was determined (see “leaseholds and lives”). The distinction between a  herriot and a farleu is unclear. Some claim that the farleu was originally the tenant’s “best good” whereas a herriot was his “best beast”. W.G. Hoskins and H.P.R. Finberg (Devonshire Studies, 1952) argue that until at least the 15th century a farleu was payable on expiry of a lease or when a tenant gave up a lease, whereas a herriot was payable on a death.


FARM SERVANT: country lad entering service by verbal contract for a fixed period, usually a year, unlike apprentices in respect of whom there was a formal agreement for a long period, with the farmer being paid by the parents (or the parish) for board and lodging. Labourers were married men who lived elsewhere.


FARM (as a noun): the word originally meant a lease; it then came to mean the land covered by the lease; and from that an agricultural landholding.


FARM (as a verb): to lease or let land to a tenant (from the 16th to the 19th century). Often used in the expression demise, grant, farm, lett and sett” when lawyers were padding out deeds with synonyms, all these terms meaning the same thing.


FEALTY: land was held in the Middle Ages “by fealty”. The tenant on taking a holding had to swear an oath of fealty: i.e. to promise to conform to the customary practices, services and payments of the manor. The term continued to be used in deeds long after the feudal system had effectively disappeared. Fealty was similar to HOMAGE, but whereas as fealty could be sworn to several different lords from whom a tenant held property, homage was a more solemn vow to a feudal lord that the tenant was his man.


FEE: this word developed a number of meanings. Originally, under the feudal system, the lord of the manor owed a military duty to the king and had to provide a certain number mounted soldiers. He made provision for his knights by giving his tenants a feodum or fee in the form of a grant of land and a house, producing sufficient revenues to supply a mounted soldier (see also KNIGHT'S FEE).  The term can also refer to the area of jurisdiction of the Lord of the Manor. The “High and Chief Lord of the Fee” was the Lord of the Manor of whom a property was held. But it also meant the land that the villein received from the lord in return for his services (and when services began to be recompensed through money rather than land, the word developed the meanings below).


  • Fee simple: to be seized “in fee simple” of a property was to effectively to own the freehold. The owner could do as he wished with the land and in particular could bequeath it to his heirs or sell it. Deeds conveying land in fee simple use phraseology such as “ alien, confirm, convey and release...to have and to hold unto [name of purchaser] and his heirs, executors, administrators  and assigns forever’, whereas a deed of lease would not mention heirs or use the word ‘forever’. A person owning land in fee simple (sometimes just in fee for short) might still have to pay a small annual sum (see ‘homage’ and ‘chief rent’) to the lord of the manor in which the property lay and do duty at the manorial courts. By the 18th century, the manorial system had almost disappeared, but a reference to the purchaser of the property being ‘beholden to the High and Chief Lord of the Fee by the rents and services thereof and of right accustomed (if any)’ was often still included in conveyances.
  • Fee tail: refers to title to an entailed property – i.e. it descended always to the heirs of the body of the original owner, and so belonged to the current owner only for his lifetime as “tenant for life” or “tenant in tail”. He could let the property, but not sell it or bequeath it to anybody. This form of title was usually created in a will, when the testator bequeathed land to e.g. his son and thereafter to the heirs of his body, or heirs male of his body, or heirs of the body begotten on the body of his wife X (i.e. his legitimate children by that wife). This form of title lasted only so long as there were qualifying lineal descendants of the original owner. Thereafter, the land could – depending on the terms of the original entail – be bequeathed by the last heir to whom he wished; or it might go back to the legal or ‘right heirs’ of the original owner.


FEE FARM (n): a type of tenure whereby the land is held in perpetuity (so effectively a freehold) but subject to a fixed annual rent payable in perpetuity to the grantor or his heirs (which would include anybody who had purchased the right to the rent). Not much used as a term in Devon documents, although it was quite common in the 18th century, when parts of manors were being sold off, for the owner of the manor to convey the land subject to a “reserved rent”. Inflation meant that by the later 19th century these rents were worth very little and most landlords ceased bothering to collect them.


FEET OF FINES: plural of foot of fine. From the late 12th century, when there was a dispute over land that was decided by a lawsuit in the Royal Courts, the agreement or “fine” reached in court was recorded in triplicate on a single piece of parchment. The parchment was then cut into three, the two copies from the top of the parchment going to the two litigants and the bottom copy or “foot” of the fine being filed in the Treasury records. Fines were finally abolished by the Fines and Recoveries Act 1833. Many of these Feet of Fines survive in the National Archives and in local record offices, the earlier ones in Latin. A two-volume work, Devon Feet of Fines, listing and summarising Devon feet of fines, was published many years ago by the Devon and Cornwall Record Office. Volume I covers fines from 1196 to1272 (1912, edited by the Rev Oswald J. Reichel). Volume II covers fines from 1272 to 1369 (1939, O.J. Reichel, F.B. Prideaux, H. Tapley-Soper). The Mediaeval Genealogy website has abstracts of Devon Feet of Fines from 1369 to 1509 with links to images of the actual documents - www.medievalgenealogy.org.uk/fines/devon.shtml


FEOFFMENT: in medieval England title to land was conveyed by a feoffment with livery de seisin. The transfer of title was achieved through a public ceremony, called a ‘livery de seisin’, in the presence of witnesses (livery being an archaic form of the word ‘delivery’; and seisin or seizin meaning ‘possession’, so ‘delivery of possession’). The seller or feoffer and the buyer or feoffee held a meeting on the land, and the feoffer would make an oral statement formally transferring the land; and would also mark the transfer by handing to the feoffee something symbolic of the land like a handful of earth. No documentary evidence of the transfer was required until the 1677 the Statute of Frauds. However, witnesses to sometimes signed statements affirming that they had witnessed the feoffment. In 1535, an alternative method of conveying title was introduced, the bargain and sale (qv). This was a more convenient system as it did not require the parties to meet on the land itself, and effectively took over from feoffment.


FERLING: a fourth of a virgate; probably about 6-7 acres.


FEUDAL AID:  the legal term for certain financial dues that vassals owed to their feudal lords in mediaeval times. The main one was a traditional tax the king could demand from his tenants to finance the knighting of his eldest son or the marriage of his eldest daughter. Feudal aids continued to be levied until the beginning of the 15th century. Records were kept of such aids and who held what estates. They are invaluable to show names and ownership of estates and to give an idea of what they were worth. There are two main printed collection of such records:


  • Book of Fees (Liber Feodorum) or Testa de Nevill (after the caricatured head of a medieval civil servant that adorned the container), which contains 13th century data on the tenants-in-chief and under-tenants from 1198-1293. A modern transcript (using the original Latin) was made in the 1920s. It is in three volumes (the third being an index) and Devon is covered in some detail in Volume I, showing who held which manor and of whom. The original Latin version is available online. The Latin is fairly basic and easy to read.
  • Feudal Aids, or more properly Inquisitions and Assessments relating to Feudal Aids and other analogous documents preserved in the Public Record Office, AD 1284-1431, published by the Public Record Office in 1899. It is in six volumes and the material on Devon is scattered throughout the set. Again it is in fairly easy-to-read Latin and is available online.


FINE:  this word (from the Latin finis) was used in a number of senses:


  • Final agreement on the transfer of land. From about the late 12th century, the fine was the finishing off of a suit brought in a court to determine in whom an estate was vested (an estate could include any type of interest in land, for instance the right to rents from land). Such suits were common to record officially (and thus grant the best possible title) both the sale of land and the transfer of land within a family, for instance as part of a marriage settlement. The party to whom the land was to be transferred would “levy a fine” or start an action at law against the seller or transferer, alleging that the latter had agreed to grant him the land, and make an application to the appropriate court to come to terms.  The document recording the proceedings was in three parts. The first two parts recorded the “pleadings” of the two parties; and the third or final part   recorded the agreement reached between them. Because this was at the bottom of the indenture, it was called the “Foot of Fine”.  The system of fines was not finally abolished until 1834 But ceased being used regularly in the 18th century.

The Foot of Fine contained the following elements:

    • The date and place of the proceedings and the names of the members of the court;
    • The names of the person to whom the land was being transferred, (the “claimant” or  “applicant” or “plaintiff”); and the person who was disposing of the land (the “deforciant” or “defendant”);
    • Any conditions or limitations applying to the transfer;
    • The consideration for the transfer paid by the acquirer of the land. This was usually a monetary sum, but particularly in the earlier fines where land was being transferred within a family check, it could be something in kind – Devon fines include payments of  “a sore goshawk”; iron spurs or 3d.; a pair of gloves or 1d; a leash or three greyhound’s collars; 1 lb of cumin .


  • The initial payment for a lease, so-called because it was “final” and only had to be paid once by that person. Also called entry fine.
  • A fixed sum payable in a manorial court to put an end to an offence (i.e close to the current usage);

Abstracts of Devon feet of fines have been published by the Devon and Cornwall Record Society in two volumes:

Devon Feet of Fines. Volume 1. Richard I-Henry III. 1196-1272.
Edited by the Rev. Oswald J. Reichel.
(Devon and Cornwall Record Society; Exeter, 1912)

Devon Feet of Fines. Volume 2. 1 Edward I-43 Edward III. 1272-1369.
Rev. Oswald J. Reichel, Lieut.-Colonel F. B. Prideaux and H. Tapley-Soper.
(Devon and Cornwall Record Society; Exeter, 1939)


FRANKALMOIGN:   A feudal tenure by which a religious body was granted land in perpetuity  in return for the performance of religious duties, most commonly the saying of masses or prayers for the soul of the donor and his descendants. A practice that disappeared with the Reformation.


FRANKPLEDGE: a system of mutual responsibility in Saxon times by which the free (frank) men of a tithing were collectively responsible (through a pledge) for peacekeeping in the tithing. It was taken over by the Normans in their own inimitable way, so that if any follower of King William was found dead in an area and his killer was not known, the entire tithing was held responsible. When the sheriff asserted the King’s responsibility, he held a meeting or view of frankpledge twice a year to check that men of the hundred were suitably enrolled in a frankpledge and could therefore be held mutually accountable.


Frankpledge also continued to operate at the level of the tithing or vill, and a dominant lord in a tithing often obtained from the King a franchise of view of frankpledge so that he could operate that tithing through his own manorial courts free from interference from the sheriff.


Some manorial lords also had the right to hold a court leet with view of frankpledge, which was required to meet twice a year and had a wider remit as an arm of royal justice dealing with minor breaches of the peace and public order and administering the provisions of a series of Tudor statutes.  The term 'view of frankpledge' (Latin: visus franciplegii) harked back to the Anglo-Saxon system of peace-keeping where groups of ten men undertook to be responsible for each other's behaviour.  In the context of the court leet, the phrase 'view of frankpledge' was short-hand for the additional judicial rights held by the court.  Courts leet upheld the 'assize of bread and ale' by appointing ale-tasters to ensure that standards were maintained, and also had the right to appoint township constables.


FREE TENANTS, FREEHOLDERS: tenants of the manor who enjoyed absolute security, but paid a token annual rent to the lord of the manor, usually known as a chief rent or quit rent. These rents had usually been fixed in medieval times and then remained unchanged over the centuries. No doubt because they were so small, most lords of the manor had ceased bothering to collect them by the early 19th century, but there are examples of such rents being collected up until near the end of the century. Freeholders could sell their properties, and the next owner then took over the obligation to pay the chief rent. 

Freeholders’ books. In the 18th century, eligibility to serve as a juror depended largely on being a freeholder of land worth more than £10 (or from 1730 a long leaseholder of land more than £20). Books of eligible freeholders were compiled by the authorities and the Devon freeholders books from 1711 to approximately 1816 have survived and are in the Devon Heritage Centre. Some of the lists have been transcribed by the Friends of Devon Archives and indexed by name and parish – see www.foda.org.uk


FRITH: as in “frith and stake”, referring to a tenant’s right to take timber for making friths or hurdles for hedges.


FURZE: gorse, or land mainly covered by gorse. Descriptions of farms in deeds or legal documents, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, often break down the land by acreage into “pasture, land [i.e arable land], moor, furze and heath”.





GLEBE, GLEBELAND: unconsecrated land belonging to a parish (excluding the churchyard). When a medieval landowner established a church, he would provide some land for the parson to live off, usually no more than a smallholding of 15-30 acres. The glebe land was normally farmed by the parson, or else let to another to farm with the rent going to the parson. In 1978 all English glebeland was taken over by the local Diocesan Board of Finance and mostly sold off.


GRANT (noun or verb): transfer of land from one person to another. Until 1535, due to a peculiarity of the law, a deed of grant could not be used to transfer a current interest in the land, so grants were transactions whereby a future interest in the land was transferred. Thereafter, the term ‘to grant’ was used for all sorts of transfers, including conveyances, leases, etc, and only the accompanying terminology - particularly the use of the term "for ever" - e.g. ‘grant and convey for ever’, indicates the type of transaction.


GRIBBLE: as in ‘apple trees and gribbles’: a young apple or crab apple tree. This seems to have been either a crab apple or a young apple tree raised from seed.



HALF-CREASE: a system whereby a farmer took over the care and keep of another person’s sheep in exchange for half the lambs and all the wool. For a farmer without capital, this was a useful way of getting started in sheep-farming.


HALFENDEAL: half share of a property or inheritance; synonym of moiety.


HEAL, HELE: cover seed with earth. When tenancies were for a short period, the landlord sometimes reserved a right to sow grass seed in the fields in which corn was grown in the last year of the tenancy, and a condition of the lease might be that the tenant should “brush in, heal and cover” the grass seed.


HEDGES: had a particular importance in most parts of Devon, and leases often had provisions requiring the tenant to keep them up. A 10-year lease of a Spreyton property in 1863, for instance, required the tenant to “cut the hedges at the proper season and when cut make the same in a proper manner and will not cut any binds or spars from the hedges without new-making the hedges in the following winter”. There were a number of dialect terms concerning the management of hedges, eg “load a hedge”; “peath a hedge”; “stretch a hedge”; new make, cast, dyke, stretch and plash” the hedge (Hittisleigh lease of 1857).


HEIR AT LAW: the legal heir or the person to whom property passed on the death of the owner if not bequeathed elsewhere (e.g. in the case of intestacy) or in cases where the law required that type of property to pass to a particular individual (see below).


HEREDITAMENT: strictly property that, on the death of its owner, passed to a legal heir, as distinct from a chattel, which could be bequeathed to others. Until the 1540 Statute of Wills, hereditaments could not be bequeathed in a will but automatically went to the legal heir, normally the eldest son or person in the senior male line. Hereditaments included land and buildings, but also “incorporeal” items like advowsons, rights of common, hereditary offices. By the 18th century the term was often used in deeds as a synonym for real estate, as in “messuages, tenements and hereditaments.”


HERRIOT, HERRIOTT, HERIOT, HERYOT: a payment that a tenant was required to make on the death of one of the people on whose lives the length of the tenancy depended (see “life”). The herriot was usually the “best beast” of the occupier of the premises or a monetary sum in lieu (usually around 10s-40s), at the election of the landlord. Although the system of heriots survived well into the 18th century, the “best beast” had by then been commuted into a cash sum.


HIDE: an area of arable land with associated pasture. The area of a hide differed from region to region, but in Devon it was typically about 120 acres. 10 hides made a tithing. The hide was a Saxon concept; it was used as a measure used in the Domesday book, but became obsolete shortly thereafter.


HIND: a bailiff or steward on a farm. In use from 15th to 19th century.


HOGSHEAD: a large cask or barrel, of a capacity of around 50 gallons or 240 litres, that could be used either for liquids or solids such as lime manure lime, as in used eg for lime -- for instance a 1748 Spreyton lease for 7 years requires the tenant to dress each acre that is ploughed with ‘10 hogsheads of good hot well-burnt stone lime or 160 horseloads or seams of good black dung’; and ‘to take no more than 3 crops after each dressing’.  




HONOUR: after 1066, manors were not necessarily granted individually; instead many manors were granted together as an ‘honour’ to an earl or baron. Sometimes also known as a barony. The Baron would then grant out individual manors to others. The honours in Devon are described in the Devonshire volume of the Victoria County History (available online).


HUNDRED: a sub-division of a shire in Saxon times consisting of 10 tithings or 100 hides. Hundreds seem to have come into existence in the 9th or 10th century. The Code of Colyton in the reign of the Saxon King Edmund (promulgated c. 945 when Edmund was visiting Colyton) has one of the earliest mentions: it enacted that anyone who refused to come forward and lend his assistance in the capture of a thief should pay 120 marks to the king and 30 marks to the hundred. The name may have come from groupings of a hundred men, possibly for defence purposes. Their functions were, however, judicial rather than administrative, and the meetings of a hundred were akin to courts. The hundred court consisted of representatives from all its manors and had jurisdiction over petty offences and civil affairs. Codes dating from the mid-10th century enacted that the hundred should meet every four weeks, the main business being to deal with the theft and of livestock and the oversight of markets (hence the meeting-place of a hundred was usually established as a market centre).  The measure was taken over by the Normans and the term was still in use for some purposes until the fifteenth century.


HUNT, HUNTING: it was normal in leases of farms for the landlord to reserve rights of hunting etc. Thus for instance a typical lease from the Manor of Drewsteignton in 1766 reserved to the landlord “all manner of Game and Wildfowl, with free liberty in or upon the said premises or any part thereof , to hawk, hunt, fish and fowl”.


HUSBANDMAN: one who cultivated the land. Traditionally the husbandman came below the yeoman on the social scale, with a smaller landholding, usually rented rather than owned. But the distinction was never clearcut, and the same man was often called yeoman and husbandman in different records.


HUSBANDRY, HUSBANDLIKE: where leases were only for a short period, at the end of which the landlord expected to be taking over the property, detailed conditions were often laid down in the 18th and 19th centuries as to how the land should be cared for by the tenant. Thus for instance an 1863 Spreyton lease for 10 years required the tenant to cultivate the land “in the most proper and husbandlike manner and according to the custom of the country”; and a 21-year Cullompton lease in 1864 required the tenant to “manage, cultivate and manure the lands in the most approved and husbandlike manner and according to the custom of the country”. An 1843 Drewsteignton lease for 10 years required the tenant to dress each acre ploughed up with 6 hogshead of lime; and to take no more than 2 crops of grain or pulse and 1 of turnips to be taken after such dressing; the last crop to be barley or oats and thereafter the land to be seeded with clover and other grass seeds at the rate of 5 lb clover and 3 pecks eivor per acre; the land not to be ploughed again for 3 years. The tenant had to sow and consume on the premises at least 5 acres of turnips each year; but could not grow more than 5 acres of potatoes in any one year. Meadow and pastureland had to be manured after every second cutting and before the third cutting with 4 hogshead of lime or 120 horseloads of dung properly mixed with earth. The tenant was forbidden from carrying away any unthreshed grain, hay, straw, halm, manure etc but had use it on the premises to improve the soil, except for 30 seams of hay that had to be left on the premises at the end of the term.





INCUMBENT: the holder of an ecclesiastical benefice.


INDENTURE: agreements between two parties were normally written out twice on the same long piece of vellum or paper. This was then cut through the middle so that there were two copies of the agreement. Each party signed one and gave it to the other party. The cut was done in an irregular or indented manner, so that in case of dispute it could be shown that the two parts fitted together and neither was a forgery. Leases and conveyances were invariably in the form of indentures, and went on being called indentures into the 20th century when they were merely paper copies.


INQUISITION POST MORTEM: from around 1240 to 1660 (when feudal tenure was abolished), when a significant landowner died, a local jury was summoned to ascertain his landholdings; whether he owed anything to the Monarch; and who should succeed him. These post-death enquiries (sometimes known as “escheats”) resulted in written reports, normally written in Latin. A collection of IPMs is held in the National Archives and there are indexes showing name, date and county. For Devon IPMs, see:

A calendar of Inquisitiones Post Mortem for Cornwall and Devon from Henry III to Charles I (1216-1649), Edward Alexander Fry, published by the Devon and Cornwall Record Society in 1906. It has been digitised by Google Books - see https://archive.org/details/acalendarinquis00socigoog .

The Tapley-Soper collection of Inquisitions Post Mortem, consisting of sixteen volumes of typescript abstracts of 13th to 17th century Inquisitions Post Mortem, made by H. Tapley-Soper (1876-1951), City Librarian of Exeter for almost 40 years, and held in the Devon Heritage Centre.





JOINTURE: the provision made for a wife after the death of her husband, usually as part of a settlement made at the time of the marriage. See DOWER.


JUSTMENT: the pasturing of another person's cattle on one's land for payment; also a name for the payment itself. (16th to 19th centuries).




KNIGHT’S FEE: originally (in Norman times) the unit of land that a knight would need to hold in order to keep himself and his squires and also provide the necessary horses and armour if he were called to fight for his over-lord.


KNIGHT’S SERVICE: land held by knight’s service originally meant that the holder had to supply one fully armed horseman for 40 days each year if called upon to do so by his lord of the manor. The system was introduced by the Normans. Manors were subdivided into “fiefs” or “fees” large enough to support the cost of one knight. Over time knight’s fees could be commuted into a cash payment of scutage.  When estates were divided the holders would owe a corresponding fraction of the knight’s fee. Where a magnate held his land directly from the king as tenant-in-chief, certain mediaeval taxes were calculated on the number of knight’s fees that he held.




LAND: agricultural land was categorised as “land” (i.e. arable land); “meadow” or “pasture” (grassland that was not normally ploughed up); “furze and heath” and “moor”. Leases sometimes contained a clause requiring the tenant to pay extra rent if he ploughed up and cultivated meadow or pasture.


LEASE AND RELEASE:  from 1536 to 1841, in order to avoid the bureaucracy of “enrolling” the sale of a freehold property (i.e. getting the sale recorded on a Westminster court roll), it was common for the property first to be leased by the vendor to the purchaser, with the freehold being “released” to the purchaser at the end of the lease, as enrolment was not required for leasehold or copyhold land. The norm was for the seller to grant a one-year lease purchaser (the “deed of lease”) for a token up-front payment of 5s. and a token rent of a peppercorn or a grain of wheat or barley. The following day, a deed of sale (“deed of release”) would be signed.


LEASEHOLDS AND LIVES: the normal form of tenancy for Devon farms from the late 16th century up until the 19th century was for them to be let on a 99-year lease for an entry payment or fine and a small annual rent “determinable” on the lives of up to three named people. The lease came to an end when all the named people had died, if that was sooner than 99 years (as it invariably was). Normally, the tenant would name his children or other people of young age as the lives. When a life died, the tenant would often renegotiate the lease, adding a new life in exchange for a payment, so as to keep the tenancy going as long as possible. In this way, leasehold premises would often remain in the hands of the same family for several generations. See also HERRIOT. The 99-year lease determinable on specified lives fell into disuse as the 19th century advanced, and was replaced by 10 or 20 year leases and eventually by tenancies “by the year”, although with some protection from the law for agricultural tenants.




LINHAY, LINNEY: a two-storey farm building, usually open in front and used to house livestock, with a hay-loft above.






LORDSHIP: sometimes a synonym for a manor.




MANOR: England was divided into manors in Anglo-Saxon times and the system was taken over by the Normans after the Conquest. Under the feudal system, all land belonged to the monarch. Manors were parcels of land granted to individuals in exchange for services – originally an obligation to provide fighting men for the king’s wars. The holder of the manor then usually granted out individual farms on the manor, while reserving part of the manor (the demesne) for his own use. Manors were to a considerable  extent self-governing units with their own courts (see courts baron and courts leet). The manorial system began to break down from about the 15th century, although elements of it remained into the 19th century. Manors were variable in size, but most Devon manors were probably between about 200 and 1000 acres.  The main Devon historian of the early descent of Devon Manors was the Rev. Oswald J. Reichel who, F.B. Prideaux, wrote an exhaustive account in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association 1894-1935 (“Domesday Manors of Devon”). There is a comprehesive list of Devon manors showing what parish they are in, compiled by Ian Mortimer, on the Genuki website at http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/DEV/DevonManors

See also HONOUR..


MANORIAL DOCUMENTS: old manorial records are protected by law (Law of Property Act 1922) and may not be exported. The Act defines the protected documents as “court rolls, maps, surveys, terriers, documents, and books of every description relating to the boundaries, franchises, wates, customs or courts of a manor”. Title deeds are not included. The National Archives maintain a list of manorial documents and those in the Devon Heritage Centre are separately catalogued.


MANURANCE: a synonym of “tenure”, as in the formula “tenure, manurance and occupation”.


MESNE: an adjective meaning intermediate –  a mesne landlord in mediaeval times was one who held land of somebody but also himself had granted land to tenants. A writ of mesne was a writ by which a tenant could recover damages from an immediate over-lord or mesne lord if the failure of the former to perform services owed to a superior lord had led the latter to distrain chattels on the tenant's land. 15th to 17th centuries.


MESSUAGE: a dwelling house and the land on which it stands. Deeds regularly refer to properties with dwellings as “messuages and tenements”.


MILL, GRIST MILL: a mill for grinding grain, mostly wheat (grist is the name for the grain once its outer husk or chaff has been removed and it is ready for grinding). Villages on a river or stream almost invariably had a watermill on a nearby stream for grinding corn, and they were valuable properties for the income they could bring. Landlords would often make it a condition of leases that the tenant should use the landlord’s mill for grinding his corn.


MINERAL RIGHTS: in leases of land, it was normal for the landlord to retain the mineral rights. Thus, for instance, in 1766 a standard 99-year lease of a farm that was part of the Manor of Drewsteignton reserved to the landlord “all quarries of Blue Slate and Healing-stones, and Limestones, and all Manner of Tin and Toll-tin, Copper and all other Mines, Minerals and Metals”. The lease also gives the freeholder the right to enter and extract the minerals during the period of the leasehold.


MOIETY, MOYETY: half share of a property or inheritance.


MOOR: uncultivated, usually marshy land.





NITCH, NICH: a bundle (Devon dialect). A tenant might be required to thatch the buildings with a certain number of bundles of reed (ie thatching) as in a Drewsteignton lease of 1843 which required “50 nitches of good reed to be laid annually on the houses”.




OCCUPATION OR POSSESSION: when a property was described as being in the occupation, possession or tenure of someone, this meant that that person had a lease or formal tenure of the property; it did not necessarily mean that he lived there himself, as leasehold properties were often sublet or used to house members of the leaseholder’s family or his employees.


OPEN VILLAGE OR MANOR: a village or manor where control was weak because there was no dominant landowner.


ORCHARD: orchards were an important part of many Devon farms as they provided the apples for the cider which was part of the family’s provisions and also of the wages of farm labourers. Short term tenancy agreements in the 18th and 19th centuries often contained provisions on the maintenance of orchards. Thus, a 10-year lease in 1863 of a Spreyton farm specified that the tenant  “will keep the orchards in good condition and not depasture the same with any kind of cattle (except sheep or pigs), and keep the apple trees where needful properly fenced, and every year will fill up the orchards by planting a thriving young apple tree in the place of every apple tree that may be injured, die or fall, and use proper and sufficient compost in the planting of each tree”. A lease of Westwood in Drewsteignton of 5.5.1769 required the tenant not “to suffer or permit any bullocks or other cattle to eat the fruit trees on the premises”.


OUTLIER: land that is legally part of a manor (or parish) but is physically separate from the main land of the manor.




PARCEL: synonym of part, as in “part or parcel”; a plot or small piece of land as in “parcel of land”.


PARK: a large enclosed area held by a lord for the private hunting of deer.


PERAMBULATION: a review and inspection of boundaries.


PERCH: a measurement of area commonly used until the 20th century: a fortieth of a rood or a 160th of an acre. There were 40 perches to a rood and 4 roods to an acre.


PLASH A HEDGE: to lay a hedge, ie to bend and interweave branches to create a hedge that is stock-proof. See HEDGES.


PLOUGH: in Domesday times it meant a plough-team with eight oxen; the term was also used of the measure of land that a plough-team could plough in a day. (Oxen rather than horses were used for ploughing and continued to be used into the mid-19th century in some areas of Devon.)


POOR RATE: a tax levied on property by the parish to provide relief to the poor. Under the Poor Relief Act 1601, the parish authorities had to meet once a year to set the poor rate. The landholders (whether owners or leaseholders) in the parish then took it in turns to be Overseers of the Poor administering the poor rate. Many Devon parishes have good records of the Overseers' activities. The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 changed the system, and the Overseers were replaced by Poor Law Guardians. The Poor rate was finally subsumed into the general rates with the Rating and Valuation ACT 1925.





QUARTER DAYS: rents were normally payable on the quarter-days: Lady Day or the Feast of the Annunciation (25 March); Midsummer Day or the Feast of St John the Baptist (24 June); Michaelmas or the Feast of St Michael the Archangel (29 September); and Christmas (25 December).


QUIA EMPTORES: the name given to a law passed in 1290 that changed the basis on which manors were granted. Before, the King made the original grant; the person to who he had granted the manor (A) could then grant it in turn to somebody else (B), who could in turn grant it to C and so on. So C held it of B, who held it of A, who held it of the King, each owing some service or pecuniary amount to the person further up the chain. From 1290, the act provided that “the feoffee shall hold his land of the same capital lord of whom the vendor sold it”. So anybody to whom the current holder (say C) made a grant stepped into the current holder’s  shoes and owed service to the person to whom C owed service and not to C, thus preventing any further lengthening of the chains of holders.


QUILLETT, QUILLET: a small plot or narrow strip of land.


QUITCLAIM: to give up all claims to land or other asset. A quitclaim deed was one by which the owner of a piece of real estate transferred his rights in the property to another person, but without making any guarantee as to ownership (normal conveyances tended to contain a warranty that the person conveying the property had a freehold interst in it). It was one of the terms that tended to be rather needlessly used in a list of synonyms to pad out the conveyances of estates in the 17th-19th centuries, as in "quitclaim, warranty, fine and agreement; remised and quitclaimed".


QUITRENT: see rent.




RECOVERY: a “common recovery” was a device for transferring title to a property to another person despite the existence of an entail (see “fee tail” above) or other restriction. Deeds on the sale of an entailed property often record an agreement to effect a common recovery of the property within a certain period (usually by one of the three law terms). It was effectively a fictitious court action in which everybody colluded, including the courts, given the absence of any other way of selling the freehold of an entailed property. A friendly plaintiff (the “demandant”) would bring an action against the tenant in tail (ie the current owner of the property who wished to sell it) claiming that he had wrongully been deprived of possession of the property. The tenant in tail would not defend the action himself, but would call on another person, usually called the vouchee, who is supposed to have warranted the title, to do so (sometimes there were two vouchees or “double voucher”). The demandant then asks leave of the court to confer in private with the vouchee, which is granted. But the vouchee would then disappear, and the demandant would come back into court and be given judgement by default.  The device began to be used in the reign of Edward IV and continued until the early 19th century when a simpler system was introduced. mainly when the current owner of an entailed property wished to dispose of it to somebody other than the person on whom the property was entailed; or when the current holder of a property which formed part of a marriage settlement wished to dispose of it against the terms of the marriage settlement; or when the owner of a property had conveyed it to a third party as part of a mortgage agreement and wished to recover it after paying back the sum borrowed. The method was in use from the 15th century until 1833. All recoveries were recorded centrally on rolls that are kept in the National Archives (reference CP 43).



RECTOR: originally the incumbent of a parish where the great tithes were retained by the incumbent (larger parishes could have a rector; a vicar (who retained the lesser tithes); and a perpetual curate).


RE-ENTER: to claim back property from a tenant who has defaulted on his rent. It was standard practice for leases to provide for the lessor to "re-enter" the property if the rent was not paid.


REMISE (noun or verb):  The action of transferring or surrendering property. One of the many terms or near synoyms used to pad out deeds - e.g. "quitclaim, warranty, fine and agreement; remised and quitclaimed"



RENT: rents were normally calculated on an annual basis, and were payable on the four quarter-days, Lady Day; Midsummer; Michaelmas; and Christmas.   The amount of the rent could vary considerably; in some cases a very low annual rent was set, but a large sum was paid up-front when the lease (usually for 99 years – see under “lives” above) was signed; in other cases, no upfront payment was made and a larger annual rent charged. The main sorts of rent were:

  • chief rent: the rent payable in perpetuity to the lord of the manor by a freeholder. It was a legal device to allow the lord of the manor to continue levying a charge on freehold property that has passed out of his control and is theoretically payable in perpetuity. The device has existed since the 1290 Statute of Quia Emptores. The right to a chief rent could itself be bought and sold, and could also be bought out by the freeholder of the relevant property. Although some lords continued to collect chief rents into the 19th century, by then most had been so eroded by inflation as to be tiny amounts - usually a few shillings - and most landlords stopped bothering with them.
  • conventionary or conventional rent: normally an annual rent agreed with the tenant in the case of a tenant at will.
  • high rent: used as another term for chief rent.
  • peppercorn rent: when land was rented to someone free of charge, a token rent of one peppercorn (or sometimes one grain of wheat or barley) a year was nevertheless specified in the deed, to make clear that it was a rental agreement rather than a gift. In mediaeval times there was a fashion for whimsy in setting notional rents. Examples of annual rents in Feet of Fines include 1 iron nail; a sore [immature] goshawk; 1 pair of gloves; and 1 rose (payable conveniently on midsummer's day when roses were abundant in the hedgerows). Sometimes these mediaeval rents survive into later deeds, usually commuted to a small cash payment.
  • quitrent: a - usually very small - rent paid by a freeholder in lieu of services that he would otherwise owed to the lord of the manor. By the 16th century, almost all feudal services had been replaced by monetary payments.
  • rack rent: a negotiable rent for an annual tenancy.
  • reserved rent: especially in the 18th century when the big landowners began to sell many of their farms, they would sell the property subject to an annual "reserved rent", usually very small, payable in perpetuity by whoever owned the property.



REVERSION:  reversion in fee


RIGHT HEIR: legal heir; the person to whom an estate would go in default of any provision for it to be left to someone else. In entails it was normally specified that if the specified heirs ran out, the estate would go to the person’s ‘right heirs’. The right heir was normally the eldest son (or the oldest son of an oldest son who died before his father); then any younger sons; then all the man’s daughters who inherited as co-heiresses (qv); then the man’s father; then his brothers in order of seniority and their sons and daughters etc.



ROOD: quarter of an acre. There were 40 perches to a rood.



ROYAL FOREST: a legal concept: a tract of land, not necessarily wooded, subject to forest laws and rights introduced by William I and subsequently confirmed in a charter by Henry III. The Plantagenets sold to the men of Devon in 1204 the right to deforest the Royal Forest. Much clearance followed, and many farms date from this period.


ROOD: an area of measurement: a quarter of an acre. Roods were divided into 40 perches.





SCUTAGE: see Knight’s service.


SEAM: a pack-horse load, as in “8 score seams of good well rotten dung per acre”. A cartload. Not a precise measurement but about three hundredweight or 150 kilos when applied to dung or hay; and two hundredweight or 100 kilos when applied to straw (see 1856,  J. C. Morton, A Cyclopaedia of Agriculture II. 1126)




SERF: The Domesday Book listed the number of “servi” (singular servus) in each manor, usually translated as serf or slave. Serfs were the lowest category of inhabitant of a manor. We do not know precisely under what restrictions they operated, but they would generally have had had no land; they would have been required to work for the lord; and they would have required his permission to move away from the manor. The system of serfs seems to have disappeared within a generation of the Norman Conquest.


SERJEANTY: a form of mediaeval tenure whereby a tenant held his land by a non-standard personal service to his lord, other that knight’s service. For instance, William I granted to the ancestor of Richard de Droscomb (who held the land in 1212) the liberty to cultivate a certain area of land, consisting of what became the farms of Tarhill, Redlake, Hobhouse, Gnatenhill and Budbrooke in Drewsteignton, upon condition of finding and carrying a bow and 3 arrows behind the King whenever he came to hunt on Dartmoor (Transactions of the Devonshire Association. xxxviii 418).


SET, SETT:  “set and let” “farm set”


SHEAF: a specified part of the annual crop to be paid to the lord or the church: "tenth sheaf", "great sheaf". See also TITHES.


SHERIFF: originally shire-reeve: the officer appointed by the monarch to administer the shire.


SHINDLE: a roofing tile of wood or thin stone. Local variant of the more common “shingle”.


SHIPPEN, SHIPPON: cattle-shed.


SHIRE: originally a Saxon administrative area. Shires existed in the Saxon kingdom of Wessex as early as the seventh century. Hampshire, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset are mentioned in the Laws of the Saxon king Ine, c.690; and by the time of King Cynewulf (756-786) there were two others at least, one of which was almost certainly Devonshire. Shires were sub-divided into hundreds (qv). TDA LXV p 140


SLAVE: many Devon manors are recorded in the Domesday Book as containing slaves, but slavery seems to have been on its last legs in 1086 and disappeared soon afterwards. See SERF.


SOCAGE: a medieval term for the tenure of land in exchange for services (other than knight's service). It was distiguished from serjeanty as it was usually a fixed payment in cash or kind.


SOKEMAN: a tenant holding land in socage.


SORE SPARROW HAWK or GOSHAWK: a hawk that still had its first year’s plumage (sore refers to the colour of the plumage). In the 13th and 14th centuries, when falconry was still a favourite sport of the landowning class, land transactions might include a requirement on the purchaser of the land to pay 1 sore goshawk every year to the seller. See also under “Fine”.


SPAR: a narrow timber stem - see HEDGES.


STEEP (verb): to lay a hedge and bank it up with earth, or to bend the wood in the hedge as part of the laying process.


STEWARD (of a Hundred or manor): the main official running the manor on behalf of the Lord. He organised the farmworkers and kept all the records; and presided at the manor courts if the Lord was absent. His deputy was the bailiff.


STICK: 1863 Spreyton lease and 1843 Drewsteignton (Trayhill) reserves “all timber and other trees and sticks likely to become timber”.


STONES: were collected from fields and used for roads. In an 1843 lease of Trayhill, Drewsteignton, the landlord reserved the right “to carry away all the stones now gathered in heaps or scattered about on the said premises”.


STRETCH A HEDGE: probably to lay branches flat as part of the process of laying a hedge. See HEDGES.







TAX [list different sorts of tax including extant records of eg hearth and window]


TENANT PARAVAIL: a tenant who holds land of someone who is himself a tenant of the land.


TENANT AT WILL: a tenant who occupies property without a lease of specified length so that either side can terminate the tenancy at any time.


TENEMENT: any rented land or accommodation; a holding.


TERM: the period for which a lease lasted. The word was also sometimes used in 18th and 19th century documents to mean the lease itself.


TERRE TENANT: one who has actual possession of the land.


TERRIER, TERRA: a list of tenements, usually with details of their areas, tenants and the rents payable. Terriers were usually prepared for large landowners and for glebeland..


TESTA DE NEVILL: A document compiled in the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) for Exchequer purposes showing what dues or “knight’s fees” were owing on properties throughout the land and by whom. See FEUDAL AIDS.




THANE: one who in Anglo-Saxon times held land of the king or other superior in exchange for providing military service. Later, it referred to those below an earl, but above an ordinary freeman. The term was however superseded by baron and knight in the 12th century.


THIRDS: the third of the personal property of a deceased husband allowed to his widow.


TIMBER: timber (the trees standing on the estate) was a valuable asset. Landlords would often reserve the right to the timber to themselves (with a right of ingress and egress to allow them to come in to the land and fell and remove trees), and tenants were forbidden to fell any trees except as far as was needed to provide wood to repair the house or farm buildings. When properties were sold, it was not uncommon for the price to exclude the timber and for an independent valuation of the timber to be made, and for the purchaser to agree to pay the agreed value of the timber in addition to the price of the house.


TITHES:   tithes and truths of corn and grain, great tithe; tithe commutation rent charge


The tithe was an annual payment of an agreed proportion (originally one-tenth) of the yearly produce of

the land, which was payable by parishioners to the parish church, to support it and its clergyman.

Originally tithes were paid ‘in kind’ (wool, milk, honey, fish, barley etc). By 1836 tithes were still payable

in most of the parishes in England and Wales, but the Government had decided on the commutation of

tithes—in other words, the substitution of money payments for payment ‘in kind’ all over the country—

and the Tithe Commutation Act was passed in 1836.



A survey of the whole of England and Wales was undertaken in the decade or so after 1836, to establish

boundaries of land, acreage of fields, and states of cultivation, and parish or district tithe maps showing

all plots subject to tithe were produced. When an overall value for the tithe in a parish or district had

been determined, the tithe rent-charge had to be apportioned fairly among the lands of differing quality

and various uses in the parish, and for this purpose a tithe apportionment listing who should pay what linked to the map was drawn up. The tithe apportionment lists and maps (which were done on a parish basis) are an invaluable source as they show who owned and occupied every property in a parish and where that property was. But they are tedious to decode. Each field and parcel of land was given a number ("the tithe number"), and these numbers appear on the map for the parish, allowing cross-reference with the tithe apportionment list of owners and occupiers. But the map is physically enormous (eight or more feet long) and contains no place-names whatsoever. The Devon maps are being digitised.







TITHING: A tithing (or tything), sometimes known as a township, was an administrative sub-division of a hundred (qv). Tithings dated back to Saxon times, probably originating like hundreds in the 9th or 10th centuries. Their functions were judicial rather than administrative, and the meetings of a tithing were akin to courts.  A tithing originally consisted of ten householders in the old English system of frankpledge (qv) wherein each of the ten householders in the tithing was responsible for the conduct of all – i.e. they policed themselves (a household was the residence and holding of a freeholder with his servants and dependents – TDA LXXII p109). In practice, in Devon where many areas were sparsely populated, the 10 household rule probably did not always apply.  The system of tithings was taken over by the Normans.




TOFT: a homestead, together with the land on which it stood.


TOWNSHIP: another name for a tithing.




USE: use and behoof




VAVASSOUR: a feudal tenant ranking immediately below a baron.


VILL: a territorial unit under the feudal system, equivalent to a tithing.


VILLEIN, VILLAIN, VILLANUS: in the Domesday Book: a villager, free peasant. The Anglo-Saxon form was ceorl or churl.


VILLEINAGE: a form of land tenure that was transformed into copyhold in the 14th century. Originally, villeins were required to provide labour services like so many days ploughing on the land of the lord of the manor. But following the depopulation caused by the Black Death, the social status of villeins improved; the service requirement was commuted into an annual rental payment and their tenure into copyhold.


VIRGATE: a quarter of a hide.






WAIFS: the right to unclaimed property dropped by a thief in flight. “Waifs and strays”




WASTE: uncultivated, unoccupied land, often subject to rights of common. Manors originally consisted of  impeachment of waste (except voluntary waste in houses and buildings). waste, destruction, strip or spoil.  All tenants for life can be impeached for waste if they commit waste unless they hold the property without impeachment for waste.


waste or encroachment” (1864 Cullompton lease 21 years)






WINDOW TAX: see tax:



YEOMAN:  [insert]

In parishes where there was no resident squire, two or three yeoman families could dominate the place as effectively.