Manor of Parson's Borough - Cliffe History

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The Manor of Parson's Borough
The Manor of Parson’s Borough was positioned in the ancient village of Cliffe which comprised mainly of the modern-day Reed Street, northern part of Church Street and marshland up to the Thames. At its centre lay the church of St. Helen’s together with the Manor House and court on the site of Courtsole Farm.

It is first referred to in the Domesday survey where it shows that Cliffe was held by the Archbishop of Canterbury:

The archbishop himself holds CLIFFE. It is assessed at 3½ sulungs. There is land for 6 ploughs. In demesne are 1½ ploughs; and 20 villeins with 18 bordars have 5½ ploughs.  There is a church, and 2 slaves, and 36 acres of meadow and woodland rendering 12d. TRE (at the time of King Edward), the whole manor was worth £6; and afterwards £7; and now £16.’

Another part of the parish of Cliffe was held by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, which was later known as the Manor of Cliffe or Manor of Westcliffe.

Although there is no surviving map of the Manor there are many court and manorial records in existence which help to paint a picture of the Manor. These would include: court fee lists which detailed fees owed by various persons; presentments which were submitted by laymen, usually the churchwarden, who noted any wrongdoings in the parish, acts of appointment of surrogate and bonds, transcripts of parish registers and court minutes.

A Court Baron was likely held at the manor house, probably on the site of Courtsole Farm. The court usually met every three weeks and considered personal actions between its suitors. The lord had considerable power over his bound tenants. Much of the business of the court was to administer the “custom of the manor” and to admit copyhold tenants; the proceedings were recorded on the court roll.

The lands belonging to the Manor, the lord’s domain or demesne, should be enough to support himself and his family. Later in the medieval period it was assessed as being enough to support not only the lord’s family but weapons, armour, horses and equipment to support a cavalryman. This ‘tax’ or ‘levy’ was known as a Knight’s Fee.

Any surplus land was then divided up into small strips and offered to the village peasants and they   became his tenants. The land rented by the tenant was often in small sections in various areas of the manor. In one of these small pieces of land the tenant/peasant would build a home for himself. Some land was left for all to make use of and this was known as ‘common land’ where all the tenants could use to graze animals and cut hay. There was also land belonging to the lord of the manor that was not available to the freeman or villein which was neither cultivated nor enclosed: this was known as manorial waste land. The ‘waste land’ of the manor was an active part of  the lord’s manor and would be looked after.

Not all tenants were the same – there were two main types: the freeman and the villein.
The freeman was as it sounds, a man who paid a fixed sum of money as rent and held land by deed. The villein on the other hand worked on the lord’s land for an agreed number of days in payment for his land.
All tenants, regardless of their status, had to attend the manorial court, held usually in the manor house and, from 1270 onwards, the dealings of these courts were recorded on court rolls. The names of Berry Court, West Court, Court Sole are reminders of these manorial courts.

As it became usual for the villein to be given a copy of the entry in the court roll relating to his holding, such tenure became known as copyhold. In the 16th century copyholds began to be replaced by leaseholds. The 1922 Law of Property Act finally abolished copyhold tenure.
Another peasant, who often lived at or by the manor, was a Yeoman. A yeoman quite often owned his own land and often farmed it himself. His land would not be as vast as that of the lord and would cover only a few acres: not any larger than 150 acres in general. A yeoman of the medieval period was required to be armed and trained with a bow and those that could afford would be expected to be trained and armed with a sword, dagger and the longbow. These yeomen were often sought after to aid in the protection of the nobility.

Another type of court, whose records relate to the Manor of Parson’s Borough, was the ecclesiastical court that had jurisdiction over sacramental matters that included anything having to do with marriage, such as separation and legitimacy. They also had exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving wills; in England, the ecclesiastical courts, which became Anglican in the 16th century, had complete jurisdiction in matters of succession to personal property until the 16th century and then, in competition with the courts of chancery, until 1857. The courts also claimed jurisdiction over clergy accused of most types of crimes. In St. Helen's Church here in Cliffe the North Transept (the Lady Chapel) was used for important ecclesiastical meetings and as a place there the Rectors of Cliffe held court (until 1845).

The surviving records paint a vivid picture of life in the Manor which include:
letters of administration granted to the next of kin or creditors when a person died without making a will (intestate) and original wills.

Wills are a valuable source and the following information can be found:
  • ·         Name, occupation and residence of the testator.
  • ·         Indication is often made as to the health of the testator.
  • ·         Instruction may be given as to where the testator wishes to be buried.
  • ·         Mention of family and friends, named either as beneficiaries to the estate or as executors or trustees.
  • ·         Details of property and domestic possessions.

Some wills include additions or extra instructions known as codicils made to the document in the intervening time before the death.

Another interesting set of records that help to give an insight of what life was like for the ordinary villager in the 17th and 18th Centuries are the those that were prepared and presented in court as part of the probate process. This set of records contain inventories which detail the deceased's goods and chattels (often room by room) and any debts owing to him or her.
These records can be viewed at the Kent Archives in Maidstone under the section: Records of the Peculiar of Cliffe.
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