Sub-fonds NCR 1 - City Court rolls and registers of acknowledged and enrolled charters, wills and other instruments

Identity area

Reference code

NCR 1

Title

City Court rolls and registers of acknowledged and enrolled charters, wills and other instruments

Date(s)

  • 1285-1846 (Creation)

Level of description

Sub-fonds

Extent and medium

202 parchment rolls and volumes in 70 boxes

Context area

Name of creator

([? 13th century]-1835)

Administrative history

The full court of the City. Held at the Tolhouse before the city bailiffs in the Marketplace in Norwich until the bailiffs were replaced (in 1403) by a mayor and two sheriffs and the Tolhouse replaced with the newly-erected Guildhall in c 1415. Dealt with pleas of all kinds (apart from those involving murder or accidental death), tried issues, heard appeals from complainants and enrolled deeds and wills acknowledged before the court.
The City Court was a court of record, described in the early rolls as being, '... the full court of the City', and appears to have been, at first, held before the city bailiffs in the Marketplace Tolhouse. From 1403 onwards, the bailiffs were replaced by a mayor and two sheriffs, and it was these officers who together presided over the court thereafter. Soon after this, the Tolhouse was itself replaced by the newly erected Guildhall, and this court, and all others, met in this larger, purpose-built building. The Court itself, having been established at an unknown date (but see NCR 4a/52/13-14, among others, for grants annotated as having been read before the court in the 44th year of Henry III's reign, i.e. 1260), sat to hear pleas of any sort (except for those concerning murder or accidental death-these cases were reserved for the coroners' hearings), to try issues, to hear appeals from injured complainants and for all other business. It is, however, the acknowledgement of deeds and of those wills relating to the devising of lay properties within the city walls and suburbs that is recorded in the rolls of NCR 1. The surviving City archive does not include any compendium series of records for the government or administration of the city, such as, for example the borough court rolls of Great Yarmouth. There, we have a series of rolls surviving from the mid-13th century forming the core record of the borough's administrative and judicial functions for several centuries, and which only from the later 17th century onwards declined into merely rolls of deed acknowledgments. In Norwich's case, the full Court of the City (representing the ultimate authority in Norwich) is represented by several distinct, though sometimes unacknowledged (as such), series of records, each representing a different function of the court.

Archival history

The copies of the Custumal in the Book of Customs and in the Book of Pleas both refer to the 'common roll of deeds or charters of the City' in which the clauses of wills devising lay tenements should be enrolled so that the, 'devise may remain steadfast'. Probate was to be endorsed on the testament by the clerk to the city bailiffs in the same manner as occurred with charters. The [common] clerk was to receive 4d for endorsing deeds and 2s for enrolling them. 'Chapter' 25 of the Custumal states that the rolls of such acknowledgements were to be placed in the common chest each year at Michaelmas (29 September). Deeds that were only endorsed but not enrolled were to be kept in the City's treasury, but the bailiffs were not to endorse any such deed unless a wife had appeared in court and had been examined as to her will in the matter. The Common Clerk (or clerk to the bailiffs/mayor) was responsible for the creation and safe-keeping of the rolls.

In the mid 1840s, the City Court rolls were arranged, wrapped and labelled by Goddard Johnson under the supervision of the newly formed Records Committee of the Corporation. Some work must still have been needed, for a later city archivist, Frederick Johnson, appears to have been responsible for compiling or re-filing at least the later rolls in this series. Roll 198 bears a pencilled note initialled by Frederick Johnson stating that he could not find one rotulet, implying that the constituent rotulets were then loose and probably, were in some disorder. It seems probable then, that the string or red tape with which the later rolls are now filed was the work of Frederick Johnson at some point around or after his appointment as Tingey's deputy in 1912.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Introduction
The City Court was a court of record, described in the early rolls as being, '...the full court of the City', and appears to have been, at first, held before the city bailiffs in the Marketplace Tolhouse. From 1403 onwards, the bailiffs were replaced by a mayor and two sheriffs, and it was these officers who together presided over the court thereafter. Soon after this, the Tolhouse was itself replaced by the newly erected Guildhall, and this court, and all others, met in this larger, purpose-built building. The Court itself, having been established at an unknown date (but see NCR 4a/52/13-14, among others, for grants annotated as having been read before the court in the 44th year of Henry III's reign, i.e. 1260), sat to hear pleas of any sort (except for those concerning murder or accidental death-these cases were reserved for the coroners' hearings), to try issues, to hear appeals from injured complainants and for all other business. It is, however, the acknowledgement of deeds and of those wills relating to the devising of lay properties within the city walls and suburbs that is recorded in the rolls of NCR 1. The surviving City archive does not include any compendium series of records for the government or administration of the city, such as, for example the borough court rolls of Great Yarmouth. There, we have a series of rolls surviving from the mid-13th century forming the core record of the borough's administrative and judicial functions for several centuries, and which only from the later 17th century onwards declined into merely rolls of deed acknowledgments. In Norwich's case, the full Court of the City (representing the ultimate authority in Norwich) is represented by several distinct, though sometimes unacknowledged (as such), series of records, each representing a different function of the court.

Deed enrolment
The rolls in NCR 1 survive from the period directly after the restitution of the City's chartered liberties in 1285 (these having been confiscated because of the citizens' involvement with the sack of the Priory of Norwich in 1272). The first surviving roll was entitled, 'Rotulus Cartarum Recognitarum in plena curia Norwici Traditarum et in eadem curia indorsatarum...', (the Roll of Charters acknowledged in the full court of Norwich, handed over [to the court] and in the same court, endorsed) though headings varied through the years from that date. From the 14th century onwards, the rolls were mainly (later still, almost exclusively) concerned with enrolled deeds with which the consent of a wife was necessary (in instances where a husband and wife were conveying freehold property over which the wife had some specific claim, or, more probably, to bar any future claims of dower) and for which, the wife was separately examined by the mayor and sheriffs, apart from her husband. Under an Act of 3 and 4 William IV [1833, entitled, an 'Act for the Abolition of Fines and Recoveries, and for the Substitution of more simple modes of Assurance'], commissioners were appointed in each county for taking acknowledgments of deeds by married women, and this process occurred under the cognisance of the City Court. The entries are in the form of memoranda of the attendance in court of the vending parties and their acknowledgement of their deeds of grant, and usually, their requests for the deeds' enrolment in the records of the court. The deeds themselves are extracted at first, but from the 15th century onwards, are copied in full onto the rolls. As the text of deeds tended to grow fuller as time progressed, so their copies took more space on the rolls, and by the 17th century, it was common for a single entry to occupy the whole side, or more, of a constituent rotulet (often, of up to four feet in length). The entries were written in Latin until the later 17th century, after which the memoranda preambles remained in Latin (until 1733) but the texts of the copied deeds were written in the same language as the original deed, usually English. From 1733 onwards, the entire entries were in English. Marginal references to entries (frequent until the later 18th century) indicate the parish in which the properties concerned were situated.

Wills
The will enrolments in the rolls seldom relate to those wills in their entirety. Presumably, in the same way that original deeds were produced to the Court for endorsement and summarised in the court records, so copies of wills would be produced and endorsed as having been acknowledged before the city bailiffs. Actually, though these testaments would have been proved, as was then normal, by the ecclesiastical courts as far as personal property was concerned, the city bailiffs exercised the right of probate over those parts of the wills relating to the devising of lay tenements in the City. It was only those sections of the wills concerned with city properties that were then extracted in the court's rolls for permanent record.

Pleas of Land
In addition, the rolls also included copies of legal proceedings relating to the supposed deforcement of citizens from their tenements in the city, leading to the 'suffering' of common recoveries to bar entails, and which were instigated by writs of right patent ('droit patent') issuing latterly from Chancery, being addressed firstly to the bailiffs, or later to the mayor and sheriffs as presidents of the Court. Such writs, sometimes still with (usually damaged) seals hanging from pendant tags, were often sewn to the left-hand edges of the rolls adjacent to copies of the relevant proceedings in court, described as pleas of land, or 'pleas terre'. Occasionally also sewn to the edge of the roll, are copies of the mayor's precepts to their serjeants at mace to cause disseisors to appear in court. Many, if not all, of the rolls contain such pleas of land, usually enrolled as a defined sub-section of the rolls' entries, often (though not always) after the entries relating to acknowledgements, whatever their date within the period represented by each roll. Some rolls record that the pleas of land were held at special sittings, often on Saturdays, of the Court of Pleas, held at the Guildhall before the mayor and sheriffs. Just how distinct this court was from that concerned with the acknowledgement of deeds is uncertain. Pleas of land were among the causes also dealt with at sittings of another court of record at the Guildhall, presided over by the city sheriffs and which later came to be known as the Guildhall, or Sheriffs', Court. The precise nature of the necessarily close relationship between the two courts (sharing the same roll series and presidents) is uncertain.

In a statement by Revd William Hudson to the Town Clerk in 1896, the rolls of acknowledgement of charters contain approximately 4300 membranes and extracts or summaries of at least 25,000 deeds.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling

Accruals

System of arrangement

The City Court rolls formerly had the reference NCR Case 1 shelf a-o, Case 2 shelf a-o and Case 3 shelf a-d. This has been superseded and the City Court rolls now have simply the reference NCR 1.

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Conditions governing access

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

  • Latin
  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

The first roll comprises three rotulets sewn together at their heads. Two of the three, however, are themselves composite, consisting of several membranes sewn together head to tail in Chancery-style. All the subsequent rolls are, however, simpler in construction, being filed rotulets or membranes, sewn or strung together at the head or later, merely at the top left corner of each rotulet, and then rolled together, Exchequer-style. Rotulets vary both in width and length (some being up to four feet long) and consequently, the length and thickness of the rolls varys considerably. Each rotulet is nomally headed as the nth 'roll' (rotulet) in the time of the current mayoralty, and usually, the rotulets are filed in chronological order, with first rotulet being the top one when the file is unrolled. Some have been conserved at unknown dates in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, and in these cases, they have usually been sewn into a linen roll-wrap.
Many of the parchment rolls are stained, darkened and cockled with old water-damage, especially so along their right-hand edges as the roll is unrolled, and some are unfit for production. All are worn in varying degrees, especially on their outer rotulets, and many are dirty and have lost text at the centre of the rolled parchments. Consequently, the headings and first entries on the 'top' or first rotulet are often the most illegible. In many cases, the rotulets are numbered near or at the foot of each.

Finding aids

'Walter Rye (ed.), 'A Short Calendar of the Deeds relating to Norwich Enrolled in the Court Rolls of that City, 1285-1306' (Norwich, 1903).

Walter Rye (ed.), 'A Calendar of Norwich Deeds Enrolled in the Court Rolls of that City, 1307-1341' (Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, 1915).

Frederic Johnson, City Archivist, 'Calendar of Norwich Deeds Enrolled in the City Court, 1377-1405 (Rolls 14-16)'. Manuscript volume giving full details of parties, early 20th century, at NCR 3e.

Frederic Johnson, City Archivist, 'Calendar of Norwich Deeds Enrolled in the City Court, 1413-21, 1424-35, 1457-8, 1461-1508 (Rolls 17-20)'. Manuscript volume giving full details of parties, early 20th century, at NCR 3e.

Walter Rye, 'Calendar of Norwich Deeds Enrolled, etc., etc.' (Norwich, 1910). Includes: calendar giving surnames of parties only and index of deeds enrolled, 1377-1509, with manuscript emendations by Frederic Johnson; and index to Docket Books, 1509-1855, with manuscript emendations by Frederic Johnson.

Docket Books 1 and 2 relating to deeds enrolled 1509-1855. Contemporary manuscript volumes at NCR 3e, available on microfilm MF/RO 397/3: see NCR 3e for more detail.

Index to Docket Books, 1509-1855. Included in typescript volume, early 20th century, at NCR 3e, available on microfilm MF/RO 397/3: see NCR 3e for more detail.

M. A. Farrow (ed.), 'Index of Wills Proved in the Consistory Court of Norwich … and Wills among the Norwich Enrolled Deeds, 1286-1508', Norfolk Record Society, xvi, part iii (Norwich, 1945).

The documentary research of the Norwich Survey (MC 146) includes indexes to the enrolled deeds and 137 maps showing property ownership, 1285-1341, based on information obtained from the rolls.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

See also NCR 8a for other Bailiff's Court. records, 1307-1350 and NCR 16a/1 for early 15th century records of the Court in the mayor's register of 1415-1557.

Related descriptions

Publication note

For an introduction to the City Court rolls, see Ursula Priestley (ed.), Men of Property. An analysis of the Norwich enrolled deeds, 1285-1311 (Centre of East Anglian Studies, Norwich, 1983).

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Description identifier

dbb7c366-a0f3-4de2-a963-7a7a22de6406

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Status

Catalogued

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Dates of creation revision deletion

Created 05/11/2003 by Droip. Modified 25/02/2020 by Drott.

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