Wakefield Court Rolls

Wakefield Court RollsThe Wakefield court rolls are an almost complete series of manorial rolls documenting the business of the manor of Wakefield from 1274 to the dissolution of the manor in 1925. The manor was one of the largest in England and covered not just Wakefield, but a huge area of the West Riding from Holmfirth to Halifax, Heptonstall, Dewsbury and Normanton. The court rolls are probably the longest and most complete set of English court rolls to survive.

The court rolls are written in ink on parchment and after 1737 on paper, bound together at the top “exchequer style”. In some cases a paper draft is also preserved along with the final official parchment copy of the court roll. Originally all the rolls were stored rolled up (hence the name “court rolls”). Until 1733 the rolls are written in Latin (with the exception of the Commonwealth period), and thereafter are in English.

The rolls are annual, but their year begins at Michaelmas (29 September). They record the business of the court baron (held three times a year at Wakefield) which dealt with enforcing manorial dues and tranfers of land, and the court leet or tourn (held twice yearly at Wakefield, Halifax, Brighouse or Rastrick and Kirkburton) which dealt with law and order and common agriculture.

The court rolls are an important source for both local history and for legal, social and economic history in general. They touch on many themes including: law-keeping, commerce, taxation, debt, customs, the English legal system, agriculture, textile industry, food-production, climate change, social structure, industry,crime, poverty, landscape, inheritance, record-keeping, vernacular architecture, women's rights and population.

These rolls are a vital source of detailed local information about the inhabitants of Wakefield manor and the way that they lived from the 13th to the 20th century: their family structures, occupations, wealth, living conditions, transport routes, customs, and rights. But equally, the rolls are important because they document the development of English society in general over a long period of time.

The majority of the Wakefield court rolls were given to the Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society by the last Lord of the Manor of Wakefield, the Earl of Yarborough, in 1943 along with other historical documents relating to the administration of the manor (collection reference MD225). Some 670 parchment and paper rolls survive in this collection, making up a fragmentary series from 1274 to 1326 and an almost uninterupted run from thence until the latest record in 1925.

Kirsty McHugh, Archivist