Manors. Witham (Chipping) and Newland.

When I was preparing the Post about the Town Hall, I started to write about  manorial records, and their value in local history. But this was breaking up the Town Hall story too much, and so I started this separate Post instead.

The customs of the “twin” manors of Witham (Chipping) and Newland were  unusual, in a way that is especially useful to us. The 18th-century historian Philip Morant wrote that they were “very extraordinary”. I began trying to explain why, but it was taking too big a bite out of the Town Hall. So I’ve started a separate post about those manors instead.

This was because of the role of those superior tenants who were known as freeholders. In most manors they really were free, and didn’t owe the lord of the manor anything, and so were not often mentioned in the Court records. where we look for our information. But in our two manors they often had to pay an entry fine for a “First Purchase”. You only escaped if you already belonged to the manor, either by being born in it, or having another freehold already. You can read the satisfaction of the Steward when he could firmly write “First purchase” into the Court Book, and claim the fine. Once you were a freeholder you would also be noted in the regular rentals or surveys of the whole manor.

This means that we can often trace the history of a plot of land or a building, back from the 1920s right back to medieval times. The Town Hall site is a good example, and most of the rest of Newland Street was freehold too. After 1680 the plots were numbered, which helped the process. Just note that other manors in Witham like Powershall and Blunts hall did not have this custom. And that a few parts of Newland Street, like Batsford, were in manors of their own.

Nearly all the relevant manorial documents are in the Essex Record Office, . I would like to put more about them on this website, but I could say that about many subjects.

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