A Guide to Tracing the History of Your House in the Somerset Record Office

By Derek Shorrocks

First published 1988

Revised edition published January 1998

Copyright © 1998 Somerset Archive and Record Service

ISBN 0 86183 1330

Published by

Somerset Archive and Record Service

Obridge Road

Taunton, Somerset, TA2 7PU

Cover illustration: View of Nettlecombe Court by S.G. Tovey, c. 1845

(Courtesy of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society)


Any work dealing with or based on archive sources in a record office must inevitably draw on the combined knowledge and experience of all its professional archivists. This work is no exception and I acknowledge the assistance given by my colleagues, Robin Bush, Sue Berry, Steven Hobbs and Tom Mayberry, directly in the form of comments and suggestions and indirectly through the catalogues and indexes they have compiled over the years of their service.

It is true to say that no two archivists will approach the same task in the same way, whether it be the production of a catalogue, the selection of items for an exhibition or whatever. If I had asked them all independently to draft a guide such as this we would have had five varying interpretations. This, then, is my interpretation: its errors and inevitable omissions are mine. New discoveries will continue to be made as new records are received or as existing holdings are researched more fully, and to that extent it cannot claim to be comprehensive. In writing it, however, I have not concealed the difficulties or the shortcomings of available record sources, but at the same time I have tried to show where progress can be made.

By way of encouragement I have concluded with a small selection of case histories and a simplified statement of the stages to be followed in tracing the history of a house. The success of this publication will be measured in the number of successful studies it encourages.

Finally, my especial thanks are due to Liz Park who over the years has learned to decipher my handwriting.


1. General Introduction 5

2. Printed and Manuscript Maps 6

3. Taxation and Rating Records 9

4. Privately Deposited Records 10

5. Other Record Sources 13

6. Particular Categories of Houses 14

7. Printed Sources 17

8. A Special Case: Taunton Deane 17

Appendix A. Some Successful Case Studies 21

Appendix B. Summary of Steps to be Followed 22



These days, when a quarter of the country's housing stock is said to date from before the First World War and thus can lay an increasing claim to antiquity, it is not surprising that interest in tracing the history of older houses has been aroused in their possessors. Such interest was perhaps generated initially by the creation at national level of lists of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest (lists which are now in the course of complete revision by the Department of the Environment, hereafter DoE) and by the publication of Pevsner's mammoth series entitled The Buildings of England, within which the two Somerset volumes were published in 1958. In recent years interest has been sustained by the appearance of such general guides as D. Iredale's Discovering Your Old House (1977), and J.H. Harvey's Sources for the History of Houses (1974). Much of the evidence cited in these general works will have to be sought in local record offices, but sources and the range of records will vary from repository to repository. It seems appropriate, therefore, to supplement the general treatments by describing in more detail, and in practical terms, sources available or (almost equally importantly) not available in the Somerset Record Office. In effect, the present guide begins where the general guides end and it assumes that the prospective searcher will have abstracted relevant information relating to property description, map reference and former owners from title deeds possessed.

All that remains by way of introduction is to give some general warnings: that the survival of record sources is uneven from place to place and cannot be guaranteed; that even where documentary evidence survives in profusion it may not be possible easily or conclusively to link it with a particular property; that the larger, more isolated or more individual in use or name the premises are the easier they will be to trace; that small independent freeholds present more difficulties than tenanted properties under a major county landowner; that present-day dwellings which have been created by conversion from ancillary buildings of the past are unlikely to have generated record sources capable of being distinguished from those of the house with which they were originally associated; and, finally, that only rarely will information of an architectural nature be forthcoming or a precise building date be discoverable.

That is not to say, however, that architectural information will always be totally lacking. Present-day descriptions, sometimes with plans, will be found for a growing number of properties in a variety of published and unpublished sources. All of those which follow are available for reference in the Somerset Record Office. Thus, the DoE's schedules of 'listed buildings' give descriptions of appearance and construction and assign an approximate building date. In addition, there are two active and energetic groups with an interest in 'vernacular architecture' (that is to say smaller domestic dwellings built before l750): the Vernacular Architecture Group and the Somerset Vernacular Building Research Group have between them surveyed and described, often with plans and photographs, over 1,650 houses in the pre-1974 county of Somerset and are continually adding to their number. Furthermore, the second-named group has published in-depth studies of buildings in seven villages (Long Load and Knole, Long Sutton in 1982, West and Middle Chinnock in 1984, Alford and Lovington in 1986, Batcombe in 1988, Chiselborough in 1993, Haselbury Plucknett in 1994, and Shapwick in 1996), and the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society includes some architectural descriptions in its series of Parish Surveys, of which five have been published (Wambrook, Luxborough, Carhampton, Whitestaunton and Minehead Without). The office topographical index indicates those parishes for which revised DoE schedules have been received, and there is a separate card index by parishes of individual houses for which Vernacular Architecture reports are held.


Maps constitute the primary source material, not only to pinpoint the site of a house in relation to its environs, but also to act as terminal points in time between or before which a house was built.

(a) Ordnance Survey maps are always necessary for the former purpose, and may be so for the latter where 19th century buildings are involved. The larger scale (1:10,560, or 6", and 1:2,500, or 25") Ordnance Survey maps came late to Somerset; the 1st edition was surveyed in 1882-1888 and published between 1884 and 1890; the 2nd edition was revised in 1900-1903 and published between 1901 and 1906. The Somerset Record Office has complete sets of both editions of the 6" survey, near complete coverage of the 2nd edition 25" survey, but only limited numbers of sheets from the 1st edition 25" survey. (A full set of the 1st edition is held on microfiche at the Somerset Studies Library, Taunton.) Full coverage is also held, either in the form of original maps or fiche, of the very large scale (1:500, or 10.56':1 mile) maps of urban areas, namely Bath, Bridgwater, Clevedon, Crewkerne, Frome, Shepton Mallet, Taunton, Wellington, Weston super Mare and Yeovil: these maps were produced at the same time as the 1st edition surveys. Nothing larger than the 1st edition 1" survey appeared before 1884: this survey, published in 1809-17, is held as a modern reprint, and the office also possesses a revised edition of 1853, which is identical except for the addition of railway lines then existing. Photocopies and fiche of the original surveyor's drawings for the 1st edition, at scales of 2, 3 or 6 inches to the mile, are also held.

(b) Other printed maps. Of county maps, only the Greenwoods' map of 1822 and Day and Masters' map of 1782 are on a scale comparable to the 1" Ordnance Survey map, and thus capable of showing individual properties; the Greenwoods' map is the more reliable and proves itself not to be a blind copy of the Ordnance Survey map. A copy of Greenwood is on display in the Somerset Record Office and Day and Masters is available there on request. Both have been published also as Somerset Record Society volume 76 (1981). Comparable detail is provided by Thomas Thorpe's map of 1742 showing a five-mile radius around Bath and by B. Donn's map of 1769 showing an eleven-mile radius around Bristol. Donn's map distinguishes parsonage houses, but is less reliable than Thorpe for village properties, which are presented in a stylized manner.

(c) Tithe commutation maps and awards. For properties over 150 years old, tithe maps and their accompanying awards form the primary source of information on ownership, occupancy and status. Indeed, too often in Somerset, tithe maps are the only old map source available for a parish. They were prepared parish by parish in consequence of the Tithe Commutation Act, 1836, and are generally on scales of 3, 4 or 6 chains to one inch (26.6", 20" or 13.3" to 1 mile respectively). 70% of the 482 Somerset parishes were mapped between 1838 and 1842 and only 40 (8%) after 1844. The maps were produced in triplicate, one set being held nationally, one being distributed individually to parishes and one set being held by the appropriate diocesan authority. The Somerset Record Office, as Diocesan Record Office for the diocese of Bath and Wells, holds the last-named set together with a substantial number of parish copies. It also holds the national set in the form of microfiche copies. Happily, with the solitary exception of Abbots Leigh, the diocese and the 19th century county of Somerset were identical and photocopies of the Abbots Leigh map and award, together with those for parishes subsequently involved in boundary changes, have been purchased from the national series.

With the exceptions noted below, it may be assumed that the entire county is covered and that in each case the whole parish is mapped to show and number all plots (fields and houses, etc.) and that the accompanying books of reference (the apportionments) will give owners and occupiers of every numbered property. The standard of accuracy appears to be generally good, but cannot be expected to be uniformly high in the face of the nationwide demand for surveyors' services over a limited period.

The following six groups contain all those parishes which do not conform to the above normal pattern.

(1) Parishes for which no tithe maps were produced and for which there are no available alternative sources:

The three city parishes of Bath (St James, St Michael, SS Peter and Paul), Exmoor, Rodden, Witham Friary and its detached member, Charterhouse on Mendip. The Somerset Record Office, however, possesses an 1812 map of Witham Friary with reference book of 1845-6 (DD/X/MGR) and an 1842 map of Charterhouse on Mendip (DD/STL) without reference book.

(2) Parishes where only limited areas are mapped:

Bruton (635 acres), Hinton Charterhouse (68 acres), Lilstock (54 acres), Pitcombe (8 acres).

(3) Parishes where urban areas are excluded or, if mapped, are unnumbered and, therefore, omitted from the apportionment:

Bathwick, Beckington, Bridgwater, Chard, Easton-in-Gordano (part of Pill), Frome, Ilchester, Lyncombe and Widcombe, Shepton Mallet, Taunton (St Mary and St James), Walcot, Wells and Yeovil. For Bridgwater there exists a 20th century redrawing of a copy of a plan purporting to be a borough tithe map of c. 1806; corporation-owned properties are described in an existing survey of 1836.

(4) Parishes where all tithes had been merged under an earlier enclosure award and for which no tithe maps were produced or, if produced, covered only small areas:

Charlton Adam, Charlton Mackrell, Churchstanton, Huish Episcopi, Keinton Mandeville, West Lydford, Middlezoy and Pitney. For all these the enclosure maps and awards, which date between 1799 and 1826 and which cover the whole parish in each case, should be consulted in preference to the tithe map. Pitney has the added bonus of having also a complete tithe map, but of exceptionally late date (1876).

(5) Parishes for which urban or other areas are missing from the diocesan copy, but which are shown on alternative maps using the same reference numbers:

Lyng (1833), Norton St Philip (parish copy of tithe map).

(6) Parishes for which only outline maps, lacking the normal detail, were prepared:

Closworth, Corton Denham, Orchard Portman, Puckington, Pylle, Staple Fitzpaine, Thurlbear (all Portman owned or dominated) and Ashington, East Cranmore and Goathill. In the case of Thurlbear and Staple Fitzpaine this short-coming is counteracted by the existence of parish maps of 1828 and 1829 respectively.

(d) Enclosure maps and awards. The enclosure of common land by Act of Parliament (in Somerset sometimes of open arable fields, more often of moorland or upland waste, smaller areas of heathland or scattered pieces of roadside waste) called for the deposit in the county records of copies of the Commissioners' maps and awards. The 170 maps thus created extend in date from 1720 to 1913, but most fall between 1780 and 1830. A handlist, W.E. Tate's Somerset Enclosure Acts and Awards, was published in 1948, and the Somerset Record Office has plotted the areas covered on to its set of 1st edition 6" Ordnance Survey maps. All enclosure maps will possess the obvious merit, for those whose houses stand on land previously unenclosed, that they will give a date after which building must have taken place. Many, however, will show additional areas of the parish as a result of the Commissioners' powers to authorise exchanges, not only of the newly-enclosed allotments but also of old enclosures, and thus may mark, if not describe, houses in the vicinity. Finally, a limited number of maps cover the whole parish; these include the eight listed under paragraph 2(c)(4) above and the following, on which all houses are probably mapped, but not necessarily always numbered or included in the books of reference:

Alford, Backwell, Queen Camel, Charlton Horethorne, Cheddar, Compton Dundon, Creech St Michael, High Ham, Locking, Milborne Port, Portishead, Somerton, Long Sutton, Tickenham, Weston-in-Gordano and Weston-super-Mare. Much land was also enclosed by local, private, agreement, but this has rarely left surviving map evidence behind. Any such instances will be found listed in the office typescript Catalogue of Maps (for which see (g) below).

(e) Deposited plans of public undertakings. As with records of enclosure, plans and books of reference for projected public works such as railways, canals and turnpike roads were required to be deposited with the county records; these deposited plans date from 1791. Houses close to the line of any developments, therefore, are likely to be shown and their owners and occupiers named in books of reference. Many of the railway plans, in particular, offer the advantage that they fall between the dates of the tithe and 1st edition large scale Ordnance Survey maps. A typescript list is available, but it should be remembered that this will only give the title of the project and not necessarily all the parishes through which it ran and that it will include schemes which were never brought to fruition. The office set of 1st edition 6" Ordnance Survey maps has been annotated with plan numbers for those railways which had been constructed to that date.

(f) Maps of highway diversions or closures. Highway diversions or closures were settled locally by two Justices of the Peace and subject to confirmation at Quarter Sessions. Maps and certificates relating to old and new roads are filed with the Sessions papers (ref. Q/SR) and are indexed on to the general topographical index in the Search Room. They exist from c. 1790 and within the limited areas covered will mark houses, but not always name owners.

(g) Estate and parish maps. Apart from enclosure maps, estate and parish maps provide the only map source before 1790. Unfortunately, Somerset lacked the early tradition of private map-making so widespread in other counties, particularly those nearer London, and comparatively few exist. The office typescript Catalogue of Maps lists all maps, including sale catalogue maps of pre-tithe map date, to a standard pattern, giving the extent and location of the area mapped, together with the 6" Ordnance Survey sheet numbers involved. Entries also note where buildings are drawn in elevation or perspective view; otherwise it may be assumed that they are in simple block plan. The existence (or absence) of a table of owners or occupiers or of a separate book of reference is invariably indicated. Occasional later maps are included if they differ from the tithe survey. Pre-1800 estate maps covering the whole or virtually the whole parish exist as follows:

Chapel Allerton 1787, Berrow 1773, Biddisham 1787, Bleadon 1658, Buckland Dinham 1737, Burnett 1736, Cameley 1766, 1794, Castle Cary and Ansford c. 1650-70, Charterhouse on Mendip 1761, Chelwood 1766, Chewton Mendip 1740, Chillington 1796, Chilthorne Domer 1766, Clatworthy 1780, Compton Dando 1758, Crewkerne 1772, Cudworth 1798, Dinnington 1796, Dodington 1764, Donyatt c. 1750, Dunkerton c. 1763, East Quantoxhead 1687, Edington 1794, Emborough ?1764, Englishcombe 1792, Evercreech 1775, Farmborough 1759, Farrington Gurney 1795, Goathurst 1756, Greinton 1742, High Littleton 1799, Hinton St George 1796, Kingstone 1796, Laverton 1794, Lilstock 1764, Lopen 1774, 1796, Lyncombe and Widcombe 1799, Marksbury 1759, Middlezoy 1787, Midsomer Norton 1789, Milborne Port 1782, Misterton 1700, Nettlecombe 1796, North Curry 1787, Pawlett 1658, Pendomer 1797, Portishead 1740, Publow 1776, Queen Camel 1795, Radstock 1759, Shapwick 1754, Shepton Beauchamp 1755, Stockland Bristol 1741, Stocklinch Magdalen ?1792, Stoke Lane c. 1760, Stoke St Gregory 1787, Stoke sub Hamdon 1776, 1799, Ston Easton ?1779, Nether Stowey c. 1750, Stratton on the Fosse 1772, Sutton Bingham 1699, Thorn Falcon 1780, Timsbury 1784, Treborough 1780, Walton in Gordano 1783, Wedmore 1791, West Hatch 1787, Weston in Gordano 1741, Wick St Lawrence 1738, Winscombe and Shipham 1792, Woolavington c. 1775.


When we turn from map to written sources, records relating to taxation and rating are the only ones guaranteed to provide comprehensive cover for a particular parish. Taxation records are confined to the duplicate land tax assessments for the whole county, excluding the city of Bath and the borough of Bridgwater, which were deposited with the county records between 1781 and 1832 to serve as evidence of property qualification for voting purposes at county parliamentary elections. Assessments for 1766 and 1767 were received in 1823 from the representative of a former Clerk of the Peace and were incorporated in the same series. The assessments give names of owners and occupiers and often no more than a single word description of the property held and a (generally) constant assessment figure. They do not always make it clear if a house is involved. They are arranged alphabetically by hundreds and similarly within each hundred by parish and this is reflected in the office catalogue (ref. Q/REl); thus, Q/REl 1 refers to the hundred of Abdick and Bulstone and Q/REl 1/1 to the parish of Ashill in that hundred. Parishes are sometimes sub-divided further into tithings, but where these all lie in the same hundred they are grouped together under the appropriate parish. Sometimes, however, the tithings of a parish will be found to be in different hundreds. Any edition of Kelly's Directory of Somerset will indicate the hundred to which each parish was assigned in the land tax period.

The successful use of this class of record in the present context depends upon two factors: the bridging of the gap between 1832 (latest assessment) and c. 1840 (tithe map); and the satisfactory identification of the property concerned with its land tax description, not always an easy matter. If these difficulties can be overcome, the land tax assessments will provide a succession of owners and occupiers over a 50-year unbroken period and thus offer supporting evidence to other primary title deed sources. The gap between 1832 and tithe map may be filled by rate books (see below) or by the series of registers of electors, which take over from land tax duplicates in 1832. But the restriction of the franchise means that the value of this source for present purposes will be equally limited. Post-1832 land tax assessments survive both within and beyond this gap for the Wells and Ilminster Divisions, comprising all or most of the hundreds of Abdick and Bulstone, Crewkerne, Glaston 12 Hides, Kingsbury East, South Petherton and Wells Forum.

For the single date 1910, the office possesses Inland Revenue valuation books for the whole county (ref. DD/IR), originally held in three offices in Bath, Weston-super-Mare and Taunton, and some 400 working sheets of the 2nd edition 25" Ordnance Survey map from the two first named offices covering much of the north and east of the county; these maps are annotated with numbers linking them to the hereditament numbers in the valuation books. An explanatory article on these records generally and on the associated records in the Public Record Office and in district valuation offices will be found in the Journal of the Society of Archivists, vol. 8, no. 2 (October 1986), 'An Edwardian land survey: the Finance (1909-10) Act 1910 records' by B. Short and M. Reed.

Parish records have now been received for over 98% of the parishes in the county/diocese, and rating records, whether as separate entities or incorporated in account books of churchwarden, overseer or highway surveyor, will be found in varying degrees of completeness in most collections deposited. These may date in isolated cases from the early 17th century but are likely to be at their fullest from the mid-18th century onwards. The office typescript catalogues (ref. D/...) give full dates for all separate rate books and an indication of cover when found as subsidiary parts of account books (e.g. 'throughout', 'occasional', 'from...', 'to...'). Sometimes rating (and associated) valuation records will be found to have passed legitimately into the hands of successor local authorities, for example, parish councils (ref. D/PC/...), boards of guardians (ref. D/G...) or pre-l974 borough, urban and rural district councils (refs. D/B..., D/U..., D/R..., respectively). By contrast with land tax assessments, which exist for the same period of years in a virtually unbroken series for the whole county, the office's holdings of rating records will be found to be incomplete geographically and uneven in extent. Where they exist, however, they do offer compensatory advantages in that they are liable to survive for longer periods, are likely to extend both forwards and backwards from the tithe map watershed and can be relied upon more regularly to indicate the existence of a house on a given property. Where rating and taxation records overlap or exist side by side in the pre-l840 period it can often prove beneficial to take them along in tandem and particularly so at changes of ownership or tenancy. Additionally, the fact that revisions of rating assessments were rarely made before the first quarter of the 19th century means that the amount paid (or, strictly speaking, the relative multiplier of a basic 1d rate) will remain unchanged and can offer a virtually sure means of identifying a holding at changes of ownership. Furthermore, the sudden appearance of a property at the foot of a rate or at the end of a section of a rate can often be taken as a clue to the date of building, particularly if this can be reinforced by architectural evidence. On the debit side, rates cannot be relied upon to name occupiers in addition to owners prior to c. 1837 when printed rate books were introduced according to the form laid down by the Poor Law Commissioners. One final warning is necessary when using these taxation and rating sources: there can be no guarantee that the same property will necessarily always be described in the same terms, either in the same category of record or in contemporary records in different classes. Thus, I have found the same house called 'Poyers', and 'Bullers' and 'Kibbys' (various spellings) in near contemporary churchwardens' and overseers' rates and land tax assessments, each adopting as its reference a different family of former owners.


The previous section has rightly concentrated on the merits of rating and taxation records and the ways in which they can be used for house histories; but it will have become apparent that they can have only a restricted value, supplementing primary record source material elsewhere or providing a second-best solution in its absence. Generally speaking, with limited exceptions where particular categories of buildings are concerned (for which see 6 below), the Somerset Record Office's vast and ever-growing holdings of deeds and manorial and estate management records will supply the only source of primary material after map sources have been exhausted. Yet again, however, some preliminary warnings must be sounded. Older title deeds lack the precision of detail we take for granted in those of the present century and only rarely are maps added to the deeds. Likewise the near universal practice of numbering and/or naming houses is a comparatively recent phenomenon. So it may be that even the fullest source will not permit an immediate association of deeds with property, unless the surviving records straddle the tithe map date and at the same time prove to be an original bundle. In such cases post tithe map deeds often make use of the authentic measurements and plot numbers from the tithe records as offering an indisputable record of title for the future. Holdings range from a single document or bundle to the vast accumulation over several centuries by a major landed proprietor. Many will relate to the acquisition of pieces of land without buildings and others to houses no longer standing.

The following are the major deposits of estate and family records held: Acland-Hood of Fairfield and Butleigh Wootton; Church Commissioners (estates of Bishop, Chapter, Dean, Vicars Choral, Archdeacon of Wells, Prebends, etc., in many parishes); Combe of Earnshill; Dickinson of Kingweston; Grenville of Butleigh; Harbin of Newton Surmaville; Helyar of East Coker; Henley of Winsham; Hippisley of Ston Easton; Hylton of Ammerdown; Kemeys-Tynte of Goathurst; Luttrell of Dunster; Medlycott of Milborne Port; Merchant Venturers of Bristol, Mildmay of Queen Camel; Phelips of Montacute; Popham of Hunstrete; Portman of Orchard Portman; Poulett of Hinton St George; Sanford of Nynehead; Sexey's Hospital; Strachey of Sutton Court; Trollope-Bellew (Carew) of Crowcombe; Tudway of Wells; Vaughan-Lee of Dillington; Waldegrave of Chewton Mendip; Warre of Hestercombe; Wolseley (Trevelyan) of Nettlecombe; Wyndham of Orchard Wyndham. The records of Taunton Deane are a special case and are treated separately below (chapter 8).

The range and quality of records accruing from these estates will vary widely, from as few as 20 boxes to the 300 of the Luttrell MSS. Perhaps their most distinctive feature insofar as present needs are concerned is that in addition to deeds of individual freeholds acquired by the family by purchase or inheritance, sometimes over several centuries, there will also be records of the holdings of their manorial tenants. These may take the form, as in other parts of the country, of court rolls or books recording the surrenders and admissions by copyholders (i.e. those whose title was based on their copy of the court roll), but increasingly in Somerset from the mid 16th century an alternative form of tenancy was created. This was by lease for (generally 99) years determinable upon (generally 3) lives, and the bulk of copyholds were converted to this type of leasehold. The earliest example of a lease in this form so far discovered is dated 1546, but they do not become widespread until c. 1600. The last leases date from the middle years of the 19th century, but the nominated lives in some cases survived into the early years of the present century.

Surveys and rentals with varying degrees of detail are likely to be found in support of both copyhold and leasehold tenancies, and among these the Parliamentary surveys of c. 1649, when church estates were forfeited to the state, are perhaps most worthy of note. The leases will be found to have been kept either in chronological bundles, each having perhaps 2-3 dozen documents, but covering a range of properties, or in small groups each relating to individual properties over a longer time spread. It will be obvious that the latter arrangement is particularly well suited to present needs and the prime example is to be found in the Wyndham archives where the estate agents not only kept the leases by properties but annotated them all with distinguishing reference marks and for good measure linked this reference to the map and book of reference of 1801 (DD/WY, St Decuman's, etc.). Perhaps because these leasehold and copyhold properties tended to be smaller, descriptions tend to be less detailed or precise than those in bundles of freehold title deeds and an association with a tenant or previous tenant is often as much as one can expect.

Catalogue entries for the category where the arrangement is by properties will give individual descriptions, however vague and general these may be, but in the case of the chronological bundles usually only distinctive property descriptions are recorded, but note that this may also be a reference to a adjoining property ('messuage next to the Red Lion'). When a positive identification has been made with a particular leasehold or copyhold, the fact that the (quit) rent payable to the lessor was unchanged over centuries can be a useful aid in tracing a property backwards, particularly in bridging a gap which may exist between, for example, a 16th or 17th century survey and a later series of leases. Note, however, that this does not apply to leases for short, fixed terms at rack (full economic) rent, which exist, although in fewer numbers, side by side.

Virtually all major landowning families which live or lived in Somerset and are known to have records which have been preserved to the present day have placed records in the Somerset Record Office, the only known notable exception being the Horner of Mells MSS. The Duchy of Cornwall, naturally, also retains records of its Somerset properties with those of all its other estates in the Duchy Office in London.

By convention among archivists the location of the family seat is the determining factor in deciding where the whole family archive should be held. Thus, for example, Somerset will be found to hold records of Devon, Dorset and Wiltshire properties of the Luttrell, Wyndham or Trevelyan families, while the converse is true in the cases of Hoare in Wiltshire, Acland in Devon, the Earl of Ilchester in Dorset, Smyth (of Long Ashton) in Bristol, Blathwayt in Gloucestershire and occasional others further afield. For properties in Bath and Bristol or their immediate environs searchers should also consult the two city record offices (The Guildhall, Bath, BAl 5AW; 'B' Bond Warehouse, Smeaton Road, Bristol, BS1 6XN), and the Bath Reference Library (18 Queen Square, Bath, BAl 2HN). Editions of Kelly's Directory of Somerset, which were published at intervals between 1861 and 1939, usually name lords of manors and principal landowners under each parish where these can be identified and this information can often provide a useful clue to a likely record office deposit. Editions from around the turn of the century are perhaps the most useful in that they will catch the position before the dismemberment of many of the estates in the present century. If all local enquiries fail, the Historical Manuscripts Commission (Quality House, Quality Court, Chancery Lane, London, WC2A 1HP) through its National Register of Archives may be able to supply a lead from its nationwide indexes of manorial and estate records.

At a level below the major estates there are at least as many substantial land holders whose property was restricted to a single parish or a limited area. Their records may have come either directly from the family or its heirs or indirectly from one of the many long-established firms of solicitors based in virtually all urban areas in the county now represented by deposits in the Somerset Record Office. These have been similarly catalogued and indexed, but will generally consist of an accumulation of deeds of freehold properties and will rarely include series of leases or manorial records. The range of other archives produced is also restricted because of the absence of any need for a permanent agent or full-scale administration.

Finally, the office's topographical index will show the seemingly vast array of bundles, miscellaneous groups or isolated documents received from a variety of sources for every parish in the county. More detailed study, however, will show what a small percentage of properties are in fact covered in this way and the chances of an immediate identification with documents in this category are slim.

To sum up this section, it will have become obvious that if the searcher's own title deeds, a sale catalogue upon the break-up of an estate or the tithe map indicate former possession by one of the major landowners or by a minor landowner identified through trade directories and the office indexes of personal names and depositors, then the chances of survival of records and their identification with the present-day property will both be enhanced. Conversely, the odds against the survival and positive identification of records of properties falling into the third category - small independent freeholds or urban or village street properties - are much greater and would call for more general and time consuming research without guarantee of success.

With the repeated caveat that most bundles of deeds and their catalogue entries will not provide outright identification, the most obviously useful will be those which give a distinctive house or farm name which survives to modern times. The only pitfalls to be wary of here are of the possible transfer of the same name to, or assumption by, another or a total rebuilding on a nearby site (e.g. North Cheriton Manor). Not all documents will be as careful as those, for example, which distinguish between the 'ancient messuage called Woodland Farm and the capital "modern" [1810] messuage called Woodland House' in Kilton. Beware, too, of the use of the term 'manor'. In deeds, if not followed by such words as 'capital messuage', 'chief mansion house', or some such, it will be referring only to the lordship of the manor. For a lordship can exist without necessarily having a manor house attached to it. It can exist also independently of its manor house and follow a separate ownership (Creech St Michael is a case in point). In the more recent past some houses have appropriated the name manor to themselves without any grounds or title simply because of the age or size of the house or the standing of the owner at the time in the particular community. Several examples of this occur for houses in parishes around Taunton which were part of the manor of Taunton Deane (Chapter 8) and thus had no separate claim to manorial status. Almost as helpful are those bundles which include map references at some period. Generally this will be by the use of tithe map numbers and descriptions for deeds continuing after c. l840, but sometimes an earlier sketch map will help to identify an otherwise anonymous 'messuage and lands belonging to the X family'. The third most valuable category will consist of those which give precise topographical details, linked, if possible, to a fixed feature as with Vineys House in Northover 'at the upper end of the west side of the street adjoining the churchyard'.

If such detail is rare, then dates of building are rarer still. Only when deeds begin with a title to land on which a house was later built will information be given. In such cases, dates between which development occurred can be established either from the two deeds concerned or sometimes within a single deed between a dated preliminary clause recited and the main text. Other sources (rates, maps, etc.) may help reduce the period, and an awareness of family circumstances may also support a particular date. As a variant to this, title may begin with an allotment of a piece of land under an enclosure award, which will thus provide a first terminal date. Care, however, should be taken in the interpretation of references in the earliest surviving deed to a house as 'lately built'. If this goes on to add 'by X' and 'X' can be identified (for example, by a known relationship to a party to the deed), then a period for building can be suggested with confidence. Without this qualification 'lately built' can mean precisely what it says or it could have been copied from deed to deed over a period of years by a conveyancing clerk taking the line of least resistance; a house at Vellow, for example, was described as 'new built' in 1692 (the earliest deed in the bundle) and was still so described in the bundle's latest deed of 1733.

As deeds and leases are exclusively concerned with ownership and title, architectural evidence is an even rarer bird than a building date. Only very occasionally will plans survive as a feature in a bundle of deeds. Narrative detail describing the building within the body of text of a deed will normally only occur when a property has to be divided, possibly between two heirs, or extended to provide accommodation by one generation for another (upon marriage or in old age). Thus in 1724 John Seamer of Barton St David divided his house between his two married daughters - 'one having a stable and stall at the west end and the room in the house called the hall with the chambers over it, the other, the kitchen and milkhouse and the chambers over the same'.

Manorial surveys of leaseholds and copyholds have a particular value in that they bring together entries relating to all the properties within the manor with no question of any omissions or losses as may be the case where the individual leases are concerned. But only occasionally will they also carry architectural detail alongside the property description, and the Nettlecombe survey of 1619 (DD/WO 43/1), which names all rooms for each tenement, is very much the exception. Estate management papers and surveys of the 18th and 19th centuries, however, are more likely to carry observations and reports on the state of buildings as a necessary ingredient for a proper valuation of the estate, and estate accounts will reflect a different stage of the same proceedings. But even so these will relate to a very small proportion of properties in a county of some 480 ancient parishes. It can also happen that one family's MSS will include documents relating to properties outside its ownership - particulars, for example, of an acquisition which was never completed or was subsequently disposed of or copies of rates and assessments, perhaps no longer surviving in official sources, taken in connection with some local dispute.


In most counties the records of pre-l858 probate courts would figure prominently at this stage, for wills can often provide an essential link with deeds in the chain of title, and inventories of the household goods and possessions of the deceased, which tend from convenience to be set out room by room, form what is probably the largest individual documentary source for reconstructing the architectural use of properties. Sadly, in Somerset's case virtually all probate records, dating from the early 16th century, were lost in the 1942 air raid on Exeter. The only near complete substitute series is that of 13,000 copy wills in the Estate Duty series, which exist between 1812 and 1857 (see David T. Hawkings (ed.) Index of Somerset Estate Duty Office Wills 1812-1857; see also David T. Hawkings (ed.), Index of Somerset Estate Duty Office Wills and Letters of Administration 1805-1811); otherwise small numbers of stray wills between the 16th and 18th centuries were left behind at Wells and Taunton before the transfer to Exeter and have now come to the Somerset Record Office; these and any other probate or other copies of wills which have reached the office in any form have all been indexed under the testators' names (see Sir Mervyn Medlycott, Bt, Somerset Wills Index: Printed & Manuscript Copies). If a known owner of the relevant property can thus be identified, further information on its descent may be discovered, but generally speaking the amount of descriptive detail tends to be even smaller than that given in contemporary deeds. In the present context the loss of the probate inventories is more serious and here again there are only stray survivals: perhaps 300 relating to all parts of the diocese, c. 1580-c. 1630, mixed with the wills overlooked at Wells; approximately 2,500, 1630-1755, similarly left at Taunton and restricted to that archdeaconry, roughly the part of the county west of a line drawn from Crewkerne to Bridgwater; and isolated copies found in privately deposited collections and identified in the office subject index. The last-named offer the best chance of being linked with an identifiable house; those for Taunton Archdeaconry are unlikely to be helpful unless or until a property has been traced back to the 17th century. A single index also exists for all inventories, irrespective of provenance, by parish and by personal name. It seems likely, anyway, that by the middle of the 18th century the courts were no longer insisting on the submission of an inventory (see Adrian J. Webb (ed.), Index of Somerset Probate Inventories, which includes information on inventories in the Somerset Record Office and elsewhere).

The losses in 1942 were restricted to probate records dealt with locally at archdeaconry or diocesan level: it was possible to have a will proved at a higher level - in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury - and this practice was followed by most people of note and was, indeed, necessary if property in any shape or form was held in more than one diocese. The records of this court, formerly at Somerset House, are now housed in the Public Record Office. The Somerset wills to 1558 have been published in Somerset Record Society volumes 16, 19 and 21, and select abstracts from the same source (plus limited other public records), but carried forward to c. 1750, were made by the Revd Frederick Brown. Many of Brown's abstracts were subsequently printed by F.A. Crisp in six volumes as Abstracts of Somersetshire Wills (1887-1890). Both manuscript and printed versions are available, with their own indexes, in the Somerset Record Office, but property information is often omitted or condensed, making consultation of the originals unavoidable.

Apart from probate records, there are a few particular cases, each with limited numbers of documents likely to be dispersed over the entire county, which deserve a brief note. A series of conveyances and settlements, etc., of properties, restricted originally to the single category of deeds of bargain and sale, but later extended to include other documents of a more miscellaneous nature, was required to be registered with the court of Quarter Sessions (ref. Q/RDd). The deeds date from 1537 and the 471 documents down to 1828 have been published or abstracted in Somerset Record Society vol. 51 and Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries vols XI and XXI. Papists similarly were required to register their estates with the same court under an Act of 1715. Rolls giving deed or survey-type information for 70 holdings exist between 1717 and 1788, mostly for the first ten years (ref. Q/RRp). These are all separately listed in the office typescript catalogue, which gives name of owner and brief property descriptions. They can range from single properties, as, for example, Joseph Pearce's leasehold interest in the Swan Inn, Sadler Street, Wells, to Lord Petre's manor of Tatworth.

Following the passing of the Toleration Act in 1689 Protestant Dissenters were allowed to worship openly, but had to register their places of worship either with Quarter Sessions or with the bishop. Thus two parallel series exist and it was not until the 19th century that any exchange of information was called for. Such meetings were often held in private houses. Records of registration at Quarter Sessions date from 1689 and entries will be found in the court books and also in a convenient abstract which lists all 1200 entries to 1845 in chronological order by the date of the court at which registered. Registrations with the bishop survive from 1736 to 1852 and consist of some 600 original certificates arranged also in chronological order; the latter have all been indexed on to the office topographical index in the search room. Reproductions of the Ecclesiastical Census, 1851 (originals in PRO) are held for most registration districts and these give dates of erection of chapels where known.

No original Hearth Tax survives locally, but that held in the Public Record Office has been published by E. Dwelly in his National Records vol. 1 (1916). This is sadly incomplete and only covers approximately 30% of Somerset parishes (by hundreds). As it consists only of a name and a number (of hearths) under parish or tithing headings its value is restricted to some indication of the size of a property when the trail of ownership has been followed back to the 1660 period.


(a) Former parsonage houses. Such houses can prove something of a disappointment to those trying to trace their history; initial expectations are high, in view of the generally unbroken continuity of ownership by the church. It is this very factor, however, which makes normal title sources unavailable, because they were unnecessary as long as the house remained in the church's hands. Even the question of identification of a present-day 'Old Rectory' or 'Old Vicarage' with an original documentary reference to the Rectory or Vicarage can be less straightforward than at first imagined, for many have changed their sites - sometimes more than once - particularly over the last 200 years. There was much rebuilding or new building from the late 18th to the mid 19th century and many of the resulting houses have in turn been disposed of in more recent years either because they were too large or because of the amalgamation of livings. It cannot, therefore, be immediately assumed that all references necessarily relate to the same house. It must be remembered, finally, that a reference to a Rectory/Old Rectory does not necessarily relate to the house in which the incumbent was living.

There are compensations, however, in that there is rather more architectural evidence surviving than for private dwellings, although such evidence tends to belong to a comparatively recent date. As is to be expected, church records provide almost the only sources, and the oldest general source is the series of glebe terriers in the diocesan records (ref. D/D/Rg). Glebe terriers exist for 400 parishes (out of some 480 in the diocese) which possessed glebe lands of varying quantities; most such parishes, but not all, also possessed a glebe house. Terriers were called for on limited occasions between 1606 and 1638, with a few dating back to 1571. No post-Restoration terriers have survived and it seems highly probable that none were taken, as any parish subsequently requesting a certified copy from the Diocesan Registry was always provided with one of the known early 17th century versions. The terrier or survey usually begins with a description of the parsonage house and in about 40% of cases itemises the rooms; in one instance only (Hardington Mandeville, 1606) a block plan of the house is provided. A card index is available in the Search Room, which indicates the degree of architectural detail contained.

Most other sources date from the active building period from the late 18th century. The most comprehensive cover is provided by the series of annual benefice returns made by incumbents for every year between 1814 and 1837. These returns were particularly concerned with the existence of glebe houses and questions of residence or non-residence and reasons for the latter. They can be helpful in dating new buildings in this period, especially where the dilapidated condition of the existing house called for its replacement. The benefice returns are presently unlisted and are kept chronologically, one box per year. They are generally in alphabetical order of parishes.

The exchange of glebe was often the precursor to the building of a new parsonage and there are two complementary series to be found among the diocesan records: 70 deeds or packets specifically of exchanges dating between 1694 and 1873, but mostly between 1800 and 1840 (ref. D/D/Bg); and in parallel with these a series of petitions for faculties either for exchange or to remove and rebuild parsonage houses (ref. D/D/Cf). It must be stressed, however, that records of the latter activity and particularly building plans are on a severely restricted scale. Both series have been indexed directly on to the office general topographical index. Under two Acts of George III, glebe and tithe could be mortgaged to raise money for the purchase, building or repair of parsonage houses and a series of some 350 such mortgages exists from 1780 to 1918. Plans exist intermittently from the outset and become general from 1815. There is a list of the parishes involved, which indicates where plans exist (ref. D/D/Bbm). Plans and files of more recent date relating to most, but again not all, parsonage houses sold have reached the office from two church sources. The Church Commissioners have deposited 70 files of architectural papers, most of which include plans, relating to building works carried out between 1823 and 1946. These, too, are listed (by parish and date only) in the catalogue of the Commissioners' records (ref. DD/CC) and are noted on the office index.

Four further groups of records have come recently from the Diocesan Board of Finance: 140 files and plans of fairly recent date relating to parsonage houses sold from c. 1950; 200 plans, generally post World War II, but including a few from c. 1900; c. 1500 photographic negatives of parsonage houses, c. 1920-35; and a great number of quinquennial reports on parsonage houses and benefice property, generally dating between 1871 and 1955. All these groups are listed separately in alphabetical order of parishes, but without individual descriptive detail other than the brief general introductory note to each section of the catalogue (DD/WBF).

(b) Inns. References to inns may be found in deed sources either because an inn is directly involved in a transaction or because it is given as an adjoining property; in either case the inn name is invariably stated. Signs, however, tended to change over the years and the same sign could be adopted by different premises at different dates (see, for example, A.J. Scrase 'Wells Inns' in SDNQ, XXXI, 378, and XXXII, 573). In addition, licensing of alehouses was a function of Quarter Sessions to 1829 and the resulting recognizances (bonds), arranged by divisions, exist from c. 1730 and intermittently before that date, together with a useful general register which covers the period 1822-9 (ref. Q/RLa). Unfortunately, inn signs are rarely given in this series before 1800. Licensing later passed to the Justices in Petty Sessions Divisions, but few 19th century records have survived. As hotbeds of local gossip, inns are likely to be referred to incidentally in the course of examinations of witnesses or persons charged before local magistrates. Such references may occur anywhere in the court papers ('rolls') of Quarter Sessions (Q/SR), but are only readily accessible for the limited periods where the rolls have been indexed or published (principally 1656-1730) and, to a lesser extent, in the published Somerset Record Society volumes of administrative orders down to 1676. They may also feature as meeting places for official or unofficial bodies, such as Justices or Friendly Societies.

(c) Schools. The Somerset Record Office holds log books and minutes, etc., for most schools in the county closed since the 1902 Education Act (ref. C/E) and a wider range of records, received with parish records, for a very limited number of church schools. There are also plans for the building or alteration of 150 19th century schools, submitted for central grant aid purposes, dating from c. 1840 (ref. DD/EDS). Returns to questionnaires sent to all schools in the county area after the 1902 Act give information on the date of erection of school buildings and the existence of a school house.

(d) Parish (poor) houses. Most poor houses were sold shortly after the creation of Poor Law Unions in 1836 and the ensuing building of Union workhouses. Identification is not helped by the fact that the majority of sales pre-dated the tithe map. Information on sales, with names of purchasers, will be found in the minute books of the Boards of Guardians and this may lead to a tithe map identification; in addition, descriptions of a large number of poor houses in the south and west of the county will be found in the series of Poor Law Commissioners' sealed orders for sale among the llminster Petty Sessions records (ref. D/PS/ilm). These are indexed on the office place names index. Pre-l836 references are likely to occur in individual parish collections in the form of deeds or leases or by way of entries in minutes or accounts of the Vestry or of parish officers. These latter sources are also useful for tracing church houses, many of which were converted into poor houses. Where deeds or leases are found in private archives these will have been noted in catalogues and in the place names index (e.g. DD/HI for Emborough).

(e) Charity properties. Houses which formed part of the endowment of a charity may be referred to in classification section 17 in any catalogue of parish records deposited and will certainly be described in the Reports of the Charity Commissioners 1819-1837 (copy in office library).

(f) Toll houses. Most toll houses will have been demolished or by virtue of their position will have fallen victim to road improvement, but any which remain can generally be recognised for what they are. The lines of all former turnpike roads have been plotted on a set of modern 1 in. Ordnance Survey maps and all records have been catalogued (ref. D/T). Specific records relating to toll houses will have been noted, but in most cases information will have to be sought in the trust minute books on their location and to whom sold when trusts were wound up in the 1870s. Those which still exist are recorded (with good references) in J.B. Bentley and B.J. Murless, Somerset Roads: the Legacy of the Turnpikes (2 vols, 1985, 1987).

(g) Mills. Mills feature in deeds in their own right, and the use to which they were then put is normally indicated. They may also be referred to in manorial records. There will, however, always be a need to distinguish between a site used as a mill, which may go back for centuries, and the mill building which exists today. For windmills see also the papers of the late Dr Shove relating to his researches in the county in the early 1970s (DD/SHO) and A.J. Coulthard and M. Watts, Windmills of Somerset (1978).


The house historian should consider printed sources both before and after exploring record sources: before to establish whether a local history has been written or a topographical volume of the Victoria County History produced in case duplication of effort can be avoided; afterwards - and generally this will apply to the more substantial or significant properties traced back to the 17th or 16th centuries -in case there is anything helpful to be gained from one or other of the on-going countywide publications of the Somerset Record Society, Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society or Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries. In addition to volumes already cited, the Record Society has published texts or calendars of wills, feet of fines, cartularies (deed registers) of religious houses and chantry properties to the 16th century and of Sales of Wards and Liveries (major estates inherited by minors), 1603-41. The Archaeological Society's Proceedings have extensive articles on the histories of religious houses and both it and Notes and Queries have occasional articles on individual houses with particular historical or architectural features.

If an owner or occupier supported the Crown during the Civil War, the property may be listed in the printed Calendars of the Committee for Compounding (1643- 1660), or the Calendars of the Committee for the Advance of Money (1642-1656). Earlier references, again largely to more significant properties, may be found in the Calendars of Patent, Close, Fine and Charter Rolls, the Inquisitions Post Mortem and the Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII.

Finally, local newspapers, although disappointing in their coverage of local events, carry many advertisements for the sale or letting of houses, farms, inns, mills etc., and these usually carry more useful information for present purposes than that found in legal documents. The Somerset Record Office has significant files of the Western Flying Post, Taunton Courier, Somerset County Gazette, Somerset County Herald, Western Gazette and Pulman's Weekly News for most years from the middle of the 18th to the end of the 19th centuries, but their areas of influence are almost exclusively in the south and west of the county. In the absence of a comprehensive index, however, their full exploitation is impossible and their interest and worth can only be estimated by reference to the index which has been produced to the Taunton Courier for the limited period 1808-1831 for Taunton itself and places in its immediate vicinity, to and including Wellington. There is an index on microfiche to the Sherborne Mercury, 1737-40. Fuller coverage of Somerset newspapers is held on microfilm by the Somerset Studies Library, Taunton. It is to the microfilms that researchers will normally be directed.


There remains one area of the county which was unique in having its own form of comprehensive land registration. Records have survived in abundance between 1550 and 1845 and, in more limited form, for a century or so before the earlier date.

The area concerned is the great manor of Taunton Deane, which belonged to the Bishop of Winchester for many centuries and in which the same systems continued to operate after his disposal of the manor in 1822. Put simply, the manor was originally a tripartite affair, consisting of jurisdictions over the borough of Taunton, a wide ring of rural parishes called the Liberty or Outfaring and an inner ring between the two known as the Infaring. Only over the latter were the comprehensive powers of land registration exercised. The area covered comprised most or all of the parishes of Kingston St Mary, Staplegrove, Bishops Hull, Trull, Pitminster, Corfe, Stoke St Mary, Ruishton, the parts of Taunton St Mary outside the borough, those parts of Taunton St James which had not formed part of the estate of Taunton Priory, and Otterford and Rimpton (but see below). Perhaps in imitation of this, a like system of registration was applied to the Priory Manor and to Wilton (Fons George), but the surviving record sources are less comprehensive, as will appear at the end of this chapter.

It is unfortunate from the point of view of modern researchers that the manorial divisions did not always coincide with later parish boundaries. The manor was divided into five so-called hundreds - Nailsbourne, Staplegrove, Hull, Poundisford and Holway - and these were each sub-divided into tithings. The task of establishing precise boundaries of hundreds, let alone tithings, remains to be done - although the general pattern is fairly clear - and it does not always follow that all properties in a tithing lie within the parish of the same name. Maps were produced in connection with the Taunton Deane Enclosure Award of 1851, but these followed parish (tithe map) boundaries and their main merit is in distinguishing lands held under the different tenures of 'bondland' and 'overland'. The maps also exclude estates which had been enfranchised (redeemed from manorial obligations) earlier in the century. Basically, Nailsbourne lay within the parish of Kingston St Mary, but may have extended slightly into Cothelstone (for Cushuish); Staplegrove hundred included the whole parish, a part of Kingston, most of Taunton St James north of the River Tone, and property at Holford in Combe Florey and Lydeard St Lawrence; Hull included Bishops Hull and part of Trull; Poundisford further parts of Trull and most of Pitminster and Corfe; and Holway, the largest hundred, included the non-borough part of Taunton St Mary, Stoke St Mary, Ruishton, parts of Wilton (including Galmington) and Trull, a small part of Nynehead at Chipley, and the hill lands of Corfe. In addition, Otterford is sometimes treated under Holway and is sometimes given a separate existence. The manorial mills throughout all five hundreds are dealt with under a separate section for Taunton Castle and a very limited number of properties in the North Street area and/or built on the lord's waste appear under Taunton Borough. Finally, the manor of Rimpton in the extreme south-east of the county was a part of Taunton Deane hundred as also belonging to the Bishop of Winchester and was subject to the same registration procedures at Taunton Castle, although with diminished series of records after 1712. R.G. Hedworth Whitty's The Court of Taunton in the l6th and 17th Centuries (1934) has a useful sketch map roughly identifying tithings with hundreds.

All owners of property held of the manor within the above areas were required to register any transaction or change of tenancy involving them with the manor's officers at the Castle, where the records of these transactions continued to be preserved until their transfer to the Somerset Record Office: a typescript catalogue (ref. DD/SP) is available. Such registered entries, in effect, replace the property's title deeds and explain the general absence of bundles of parchment title deeds for these parishes in privately deposited collections. Registration applied not only to property sold, but also to settlements, gifts and inheritance within the family and even extended to mortgages. In all such cases the owner was required to execute one of several forms of surrender into the hands of the lord depending upon the purpose in view, and a set 'fine' (or fee) was payable upon entry. The principal categories of present concern are the absolute surrenders, for disposal by sale, conditional surrenders, for both settlements and mortgages, and dormant surrenders or surrenders in peril of death, for testamentary purposes. The fine, like the manorial quit rent referred to in a previous chapter, did not change unless the property itself changed (for example, by division) and can be helpful in distinguishing properties which might otherwise appear to have identical descriptions.

An organisation of this complexity called for record keeping of a high order and fortunately this always seems to have been the case; fortunately, too, records have survived in abundance. The account which follows concentrates upon those sources most obviously useful for present purposes. The primary source through which a property's descent can be traced is that of the absolute and conditional surrenders. These date from 1567 and between that date and 1712 are kept in general volumes for the whole manor with separate sections for each hundred in the order Holway, Hull, Poundisford, Staplegrove and Nailsbourne. Complementing and sometimes supplementing the surrenders are the books of fines which survive from the slightly earlier date of 1550 and continue into the 17th century. These are arranged chronologically by the twice yearly Lawday Courts and within each year by hundreds in the traditional order. Mortgage surrenders are included with the main surrenders to 1583 and thereafter have a parallel series of volumes to 1712, but they will perhaps play a secondary role, only coming into their own where there is a breakdown in the trail being followed elsewhere. Limited entries for the other smaller jurisdictions (Otterford, Rimpton, Taunton Castle and Taunton Borough) will generally be found in all three series after the Nailsbourne section. The system of record keeping changed in 1712 and thereafter to 1845 the absolute and conditional surrenders for the five hundreds, plus the Castle and Borough, are kept on individual lose sheets in separate chronological series. For all, plus Rimpton and Otterford, there are also smaller groups of mortgage and other miscellaneous surrenders and discharges and for most of them files of surrenders brought together at the subsequent enfranchisement of limited numbers of properties. A detailed survey of the whole manor was taken in 1566 and there are occasional later surveys and a few (generally 19th century) rentals for individual hundreds. Finally, within this post-1510 period, there is a group of some 310 trust and settlement deeds, presumably deposited with the Castle authorities as a precautionary measure to ensure that any intended disposition did not run counter to the manor customs. These date from 1654, but with few before 1700, and continue to 1857. They are listed individually in date order in the office catalogue, with details of parties, property and nature of transaction. Not surprisingly, they tend to relate to the more significant holdings within the manor. For those wishing or able to progress back beyond 1550 there is only one source available: the series of annual compotus (account) rolls and within them the section dealing with entry fines. These survive locally in original parchment form in a broken series from 1408, but have been augmented by the purchase of photostat copies from the master series in the Bishop's own central administrative records, now in the Hampshire Record Office, which date (also in broken series) from 1208 (T/PH/win). Between the two sources, cover is fairly complete from c. 1425, but if a vital entry occurred in a later, lost, roll then the trail will inevitably run cold.

Access to the post-1660 records has been eased considerably by the chance discovery in a Taunton solicitor's office of a series of index volumes covering the years 1660 to 1822 to the surrenders for four of the five hundreds (Staplegrove being the missing one), plus Taunton Borough and Castle, and Rimpton and Otterford (ref DD/DP). These indexes are arranged in chronological order by date of transaction under the initial letter of the surname of the person (or first person if several) admitted to the property, with a brief indication of the nature of the transaction and the name of the grantor or person succeeded. The Otterford and Rimpton volume contains references to surrenders post 1712 now lost. For Staplegrove there is a draft index for the limited period, 1776-1810 (DD/SP). Two sources assist use of records before 1660: the Steward for his own information usually annotated entries in the books of surrenders or fines with the year of the next previous transaction involving the same property, latterly the sovereign's regnal year, but unhelpfully in the earlier period the year of the bishop's tenure of office; and there is an index or calendar of tenants admitted to properties in 'fine' entries from 1450. These are arranged by years with separate sections for each hundred, but give no property detail. So there is a voluminous series of records, kept in a business-like and orderly fashion, with various aids to promote accessibility, and the reader will rightly feel that there is little to prevent the patient accumulation of the succession of entries for any particular property description. Only the inevitable loss or misplacement of some of the records in the intervening centuries can halt progress. This is undoubtedly true, but the problem comes in trying to equate a description in the old manorial terms, which was transmitted unchanged literally for centuries (see Appendix 5), with reality on the ground in more recent times. A typical document will record simply the entry of A.B. to one messuage and one five acre tenement of bondland in the tithing of X and hundred of Y, heretofore of G.H., afterwards of E.F. and late of C.D., where C.D., E.F. and G.H. are in order working backwards the last three holders. The next previous entry (of C.D.) will describe the property in identical terms, will move G.H. and E.F. forward one place in the text and add I.J. as the earliest holder in the sequence; the next succeeding entry will do the same in reverse, introducing a new holder, adding A.B. as 'late' and discarding G.H. from the entry. Only rarely will a precise property name be incorporated in the description - 'a messuage and two half yardlands of bondland in the tithing of Burland and hundred of Staplegrove called Edgebury' [Edgeborough] - to give immediate identification.

It is perhaps opportune to stress here, and with more emphasis than previously, that these records are concerned with changes of title affecting the site and not with the building of the actual house, however old it may be, now standing there. Thus, a property description may refer simply to land long after other sources have shown a house to have been built and, conversely, a site description implying the existence of a house will be unchanged before and after a known date or period of building deduced from other evidence (architectural and/or datestone, for example). Such other evidence must be kept in mind when using these records for house history purposes, for together they may suggest a building date and a family or individual to be associated with the act of building.

Apart from the limited instances of particular identification noted above, 19th century surrenders sometimes carry double descriptions - the old style manorial entry and a revision on the lines of normal title deeds (for example, 'four acres of overland at Fairwater whereon a mansion house called Fairwater House was many years since erected'); sometimes details of abuttals and adjoining properties or features are given, and occasionally marginal plans, particularly in cases of division of holdings leading to suburban development. Taken altogether, however, these account for a minority of properties, and the only detail left to be exploited if any progress is to be made by way of these records is the succession of previous holders. Evens so, a list of holders cannot stand in isolation and will require cross bearings to be taken from other sources which do permit on the ground identification. Thus, progression initially will have to follow the general lines described in earlier sections, from tithe maps to parallel investigations in land tax and parish rating sources to produce approximate dates for several changes of ownership. These can then be set alongside the Taunton Deane entries to establish matching changes for the same persons and dates. This process may well prove to be the most time-consuming element in the search and, however irksome, the records must be checked and re-checked until the searcher is satisfied that one particular manorial description does indeed relate to the element of the holding containing the house in question. Success at this stage cannot be guaranteed, for, as with the normal run of properties elsewhere in the county, the investigation may fall at the first fence because transition from tithe to rating records cannot be made. It may also not prove possible to divorce the history of a subordinate property (former farm cottage, for example) from the main holding to which it belonged. Finally, and perhaps most frustratingly, documents which occur in the index volumes may not now be in place. Conceivably, these could have been handed away to a later purchaser as proof of title, but it is always worth checking the files of surrenders accumulated within each hundredal section for purposes of enfranchisement and retained with the manorial records.

These pitfalls avoided and problems overcome, steady progress backwards can be made from transaction to transaction by way of the surrenders, indexes, etc., defined above; only in the case of Staplegrove will a more complete search have to be conducted through the files of surrenders in the absence of an index volume.

Records for two other local manors, Taunton late Priory, and another former Priory manor, the Wilton manor of Fons George, have survived with the records of Taunton Deane. Presumably they took advantage of its administrative and record-keeping capacity locally to make use of the same officers and to adopt the same patterns of property control and registration. The same techniques should be followed in researching properties in either manor.

The Taunton late Priory manor comprised the rest of the parish of St James not described under Staplegrove hundred above, that is the area south of the Tone, excluding the Priory itself. It was divided into two tithings, namely Canon Street, which included also the St James Street area, and Extra Portam, the part of the parish along and to the north of East Reach. It too has similar classes of surrenders and books of fines with a similar change in format at 1712, dating from 1563 and continuing to 1879 (but few after 1813). Many surrenders have been withdrawn and are to be found in the series of enfranchisement files made up in the 19th century. There is an index to transactions, 1712-1828, and several rentals and detailed surveys at intermittent dates between c. 1625 and 1887, one area where the records are superior to those of Taunton Deane. For Fons George there is a broken series of surrenders, 1679-1842, with a partial index. There is, incidentally, a useful map of the whole parish, 1821, held with the parish records. Both manors, Fons George and the late Priory, were acquired by the Kinglake family at different times in the 19th century and some records bearing on their title will be found in the office catalogues under reference DD/AY.

Although totally outside the manorial system and thus dependent on general records sources applicable to the county at large, it is perhaps worthwhile rounding off the Taunton area by looking briefly at the borough itself. There is no helpful tithe map (see section 2(c3) above), but the boundaries are delineated on a map of 1832 (ref. DD/SAS C/1540/1) and there is an excellent run of rate books from 1740 to the recent past. These are arranged by main streets and follow a logical progression up and down either side. Wood's map of the town published in 1840 is so detailed that it is possible to pinpoint many of the individual properties in the contemporary rate books and trace ownership backwards and forwards from there. Limited numbers of bundles of title deeds have survived and the office catalogue entries will usually define which side of which street is represented. Because the deeds usually give details of adjacent owners this information is useful for the histories of two to three properties and not merely the one directly represented.


Notes on Some Successful Case Histories3

1. House built in the 19th century, but before the date of the tithe map

The Elms, Taunton St James

Identified on tithe map, but not marked on Greenwood's county map of 1822. Owned and occupied by one Richard Ball, whose occupation is given as merchant both in the land tax assessments and jurors' lists. Parish rate books trace ownership back to 1828, when the building is described as a 'new house' in the rate of 6 September; it is missing from the next previous rate of 17 June. Corroborative evidence is supplied by Manor of Taunton Deane records in the form of a document recording the purchase by Ball of a piece of land, 'on which a mansion house is now erected', by division from a larger holding, 18 February 1828.

2. House built on land subject to an enclosure award

The Miners Arms, Priddy, Chewton Mendip

House shown on tithe map of 1840 and a map of c. 1807, but not on two earlier parish maps of Chewton Mendip dated 1740 and c. 1766, nor on Day and Masters' county map of 1782. The area was part of the common lands in the parish enclosed in 1800 and the site on which the house was built was part of an allotment sold to defray expenses of the enclosure. The evidence, therefore, is for a building date between 1800 and 1807 and the probability is that it was nearer the earlier date. The tenant of the house at 1840 had the same name as the innkeeper of the Sugar Loaf in 1828 and it is possible that this was an earlier name for the Miners Arms (which does not appear). Innkeepers for the Sugar Loaf can be traced through the ale house recognizances to 1810.

3. House formerly belonging to a major estate

Catford Cottage, Stogumber

The owner in a helpful letter gave precise location details and expressed the belief that the house had been part of the Nettlecombe estate and had possibly gone with Rowdon or Escott. The house was located on the 6 in. Ordnance Survey map, where it was identified simply as 'Catford', and then on the tithe map. The award confirmed the owner's two suggestions. The manor leases were checked and four were found at intervals from 1720 through the 18th century when fortunately it was held independently of Rowdon. The fixed quit rent was 10s and, although no 17th century leases were identified, only a single property in the Rowdon and Escott section of the 1619 Nettlecombe survey carried this rent. It was also of a comparable acreage, and it seems reasonable to assume that the same property was involved. As stated in a previous chapter, this survey lists the rooms in the house.

4. Former church property

The Old Rectory, Lovington

In this case the owner was suspicious of the name and thought that it had been given in the comparatively recent past. In reality the name was properly claimed as this had been the house belonging to the Dean and Chapter's rectorial glebe land. As such it has to be distinguished from whatever house the actual incumbent of the day might have occupied. The earliest references are the glebe terrier of 1636, where rooms are named, and the Parliamentary Survey of 1650, which recites the lease of 1618 which was still in being. The family of the tenant farmer there named were to continue in occupation until the late 18th century. Its descent can be traced through leases and surveys until 1871 when the Ecclesiastical Commissioners finally released their remaining interest in the house.

The house is among those described in Vernacular Houses with Farms and Farmsteads of Alford and Lovington (SSVBRG, 1986).

5. A Taunton Deane property

The White House, Staplegrove (called Powells on 20th century 6" OS maps)

The tithe award gives Sarah Horsey as owner, and through rate books and land tax assessments her succession to Powells from her husband, William, and his previous purchase from Catherine Minifie can be assigned to 1830-1 and 1801-2 respectively. A search in the Staplegrove hundred surrenders established identical transfers in 1830 and 1802 for a property described as '2 messuages and 2 farthinglands of bondland'. This property (now part of Taunton School) had belonged to the Minifie family of Fairwater from the early 18th century. They had purchased from Marmaduke Powell, who had inherited the property from his father in 1697. According to an owner from the period before alterations were carried out after the Second World War the initials 'MP' and date '1697' appear on a former outside wall, now covered, and this agrees with the approximate period of building assigned by the Department of the Environment List. The Powell family had owned the property for at least 50 years and the same description as in 1830 (though in Latin rather than English) appears in the manor survey of 1566. The presumption is that Marmaduke Powell built a new house or added considerably to an existing house on the site with the result that his name became firmly attached to it.


Summary of Steps to be Followed

It is assumed at every stage below that all details of date, parties, property description, map references, etc., will be recorded.

A. Before tackling record sources

(i) Abstract details from own deeds.

(ii) Form an opinion as to approximate age of house.

(iii) Be prepared to identify the house on map sources.

B. At Record Office

(i) As A(iii) from OS to tithe map, if appropriate (Chapter 2).

(a) If older than tithe map, then move on to (ii) etc. below.

(b) If later than tithe map, check place names index/office catalogues for title deeds; check if particular category of building involved (Chapter 6) and in default of these proceed by way of rating and valuation records, registers of electors, census records, printed directories.

(ii) Check map catalogues for possible earlier maps (Chapter 2).

(iii) Check if owner can be identified

(a) with a major estate owner (Chapter 4) or

(b) a lesser landowner (search personal names index or consult Search Room Archivist) or

(c) a non-Somerset owner (Chapter 4; Kelly's Directory).

(iv) If yes to (iii) (a), (b) move directly to appropriate catalogue (DD/-) and try to identify property either as a freehold purchase or as leasehold or copyhold by way of rentals, surveys, leases, admissions.

(v) If yes to (iii) (c) proceed by way of tax and rating records (Chapter 3) and write to appropriate county record office (Chapter 4) with full details.

(vi) If no to (iii) (a), (b) or if (iv) does not provide an immediate answer, proceed as in (v) and re-consult office catalogues as in (iv) or refer to place and personal names indexes in all other cases.

(vii) If property in the Taunton area, read Chapter 8 and proceed along the lines laid out there

(a) by identifying particular jurisdiction involved and appropriate division and subdivision

(b) by abstracting as much information from tax and rating records as possible

(c) by setting changes produced under (b) against relevant records identified under (a)

(d) if successful identification made under (c), progress backwards by way of court records and indexes as described in Chapter 8.