Like so many other stories concerned with land, the story of the Courtleet of Bulwell begins with the famous Domesday Book of William the Conqueror. In this it is listed as the land of William Peveril, containing two carucates and two acres of meadow. As a carucate, according to the historian Maitland, was equal to 120 acres, the Manor of William Peveril was, in extent, 242 acres. Its value in 1086 was five shillings a year, reduced recently from twelve shillings a year.

When the Bulwell Hall Estate was acquired by the Corporation of Nottingham in the year 1908, it was described as "574 acres including the timber and the Manorial rights of the Manor of Bulwell", and it was bought by the Corporation for the sum of £35,000. The estate bought by the Corporation included little of the lands of the ancient Manor, but did include the manorial rights, including the Courdeet. The price paid provides interesting inform­ation as to the rise of land values.

Between the years of our earliest knowledge and our latest knowledge of the Manor, therefore, the estate in the hands of the Lord of the Manor had more than doubled in size, how and when we can do little more than speculate. Some, we know, was acquired by purchase. Of the rest, we may suppose that the original borders of manors were easily distinguishable, and the yearly check of them became subsequendy a ritual. The manors, in feudal times, were cultivated partly by freemen and partly by villeins, a portion being reserved as the Lord of the Manor's demesne, or the part that he reserved for his own use; but, in addition to the "arable" or cultivable portion there was usually the "waste" which might conceivably adjoin wasteland outside the borders of the manor. Now, the waste of a manor was sometimes brought under cultivation in small portions by villeins whose holdings were not enough to provide a living for their households, and who received permission from their Lords to cultivate these extra portions of land in order to provide them with the necessities of their households; and this activity, known as "assarting", may easily have extended beyond the manor borders, and, in process of time, to a considerable extent. One thing is well known, and that is that "encroachment" or taking in extra bits of land was a common fault, punishable at the Courtleet by a fine.

However it may be, the area of Bulwell Manor did extend in process of time from 242 acres to more than double this area; and, as we shall see, consid­erable growth may have taken place before the year 1400.

The next point that calls for consideration is the difficult one of ownership. We have seen that the earliest mentioned owner was William Peveril, who was not a resident owner, having, in addition to Bulwell Manor, several others in different parts of the country; and this matter of non-resident owner­ship is an important feature of the Manor of Bulwell, as it continued through the years. There is no historic manor house as there is on many manors; no detailed family records of association with it; few only of the aids to study which have been found for other manors, such as "Extents" and "Customals", and no record of the manorial court, the Courtleet, until the year 1723. From the year 1723 we have a full record of holdings, transfers, customs and other matters, but it is a grave disadvantage to study that our documentary evidence for the hundreds of years before 1723 is so scanty and so scattered. It is possible, however, to trace descent with a few gaps—some, unfortunately, considerable— from Pipe Rolls, Patent Rolls, and other aids to historical research; but, as we shall see, there are many problems in the records of apparently dual ownership which led to lawsuits.

We have seen that William Peveril, reputed natural son of Norman William, is the first recorded owner. Quarrels between his descendants and the King led to the confiscation of all Peveril lands—known as the Honor of Peveril—in 1155, and the Manor of Bulwell from then onwards became an escheat of the Crown. Escheat meant that the King granted the manor to an individual for his lifetime, and on his death the manor "escheated", or reverted to the Crown and was available for further disposal.

From 1155 until the reign of Charles I there is a fairly complete record of ownership by grant for life from the King, but little record of tenantry. In 1212 the grantee was Roger Rastall; in 1219 it was Philip Marc, a sinister figure in the records of Bulwell who, true to his character, made himself, as usual, very unpopular by exactions on his tenants which caused the Brethren of Grosmont to obtain a licence to remove their houses and chapel, and led to Philip being instructed to cease making undue exactions on his tenants and to allow them their customary "estover" or leave to take wood "by hook or by crook" to repair their houses. A later writ to Philip Marc, of 1230, granted the Manor to his wife Alina for her lifetime should she survive her husband; and, as the next record of a King's grant was dated 1248*, the Philip Marc ownership appears to have endured for nearly thirty heavy-handed years.

In 1248 the grantee was Alda de Boeles, damsel to the Queen—i.e. Queen Eleanor, wife of Henry III—and this lady held the Manor without paying anything to the Sheriff of the County, though previously the King's yearly acknowledgment had been "a rouncey and a halter" or, a horse and bridle. Alda received by a further writ the right to assign the Manor for three years after her death to pay her debts; which brings the story of the Manor to the year 1255, and the first tangle of ownership. In the year 1255 a person named Stephen Cut had died, apparently recently (although, as we shall see, this happened over 100 years before), possessed of the Manor, and it is reasonable to suppose at first sight that he was the assign and creditor of Alda de Boeles. But, in this same year of 1255, the Barons of the King's Exchequer were a little vague as to ownership, so a writ was served on the Sheriff to enquire whether the lands late of Stephen Cut were the King's escheat, and as to their value. The subsequent inquisition revealed that Stephen Cut gave the lands as dowry with his daughter to Raimond de Burgerville, with the condition that Raimond should provide Cut with the necessities of life for the remainder of his lifetime. The value of the Manor was placed at £7/11/0 a year.

After considering the report of this inquisition, the Barons of the Exchequer were apparently dissatisfied and ordered a new and fuller inquisition which complicates all previous records, and seems, in analysis, to mix up inextricably King's grantees and tenants. The result of this second inquisition sets out that the Manor is of 40 bovates, and, as a bovate was 15 acres, this makes the area of the Manor 600 acres, more than double its previously recorded extent, and greater than the estate purchased by the Corporation of Nottingham in 1907. Its value is given as £7/19/0 a year, not very much different from that of the previous inquisition; but from then on the results of this enquiry are devastating in their effect on what we have found. In brief, the story that went up from the Sheriff of Nottingham to the Exchequer was that Stephen Cut held of William Peveril—which William Peveril is not stated—paying by service by providing a horse sack and pin for forty days "in Host in Wales when the King goes into Wales in the Host". That is to say that when the King journeyed to Wales with an army of attendants and followers, Stephen Cut was under obligation to provide one horse and its furniture and food. It may be assumed also that the horse must have a rider so that, in effect, the service was to provide and keep one mounted attendant on the King for forty days.

The report of the Sheriff goes on to say that Stephen Cut gave the Manor to Raymond de Burgenvile (probably a variation for Burgerville), Constable of Nottingham Castle—here is a connection with Peveril—who had to keep Stephen Cut for life. Raymond died, and the King seized the lands. King Richard held it. King John gave it to Roger Rastall his huntsman. When Rastall died, Henry III gave the Manor to Philip Marc, then to Walter Engayne, and afterwards to Henry Lovel who was responsible for the service provision of a horse when the King visited Wales. Lovel exchanged the Manor with Auda deBales (? Alda de Boeles) for lands at Abovcnheythe near Windsor. On the death of Auda the Manor reverted to the King. The King's ferme for which the Sheriff was responsible to him was £7.

This enquiry answered satisfactorily the King's claim to the escheat of the Manor, though leaving for us considerable doubts about the progression of holders and tenants, and the relative claims of the £7 of annual value between the King himself and his grantees. After the enquiry, the King appears to have kept the Manor in his own hands until 1271, during which period the Sheriff would be the nominal Lord of the Manor, responsible to the King for the £7 yearly of its value which he would collect from the tenants, pocketing any surplus —though equally responsible for any deficiency; a state which continued until February, 1271, when a further settlement of the Manor was made for their lives to two other servants of Queen Eleanor, William le Sauser and John le Caretter (or carter). William evidently died soon after, and his place was granted in June of the same year to Richard Monsell. John the Carter died in or about 1285. and a deed of that year gives sole ownership for his lifetime to Richard Monsell.

There is here a gap of ninety-five years in the available records, as the next grantee of the King, in 1380, was Richard de Howes, who had been a clerk in the Exchequer for upwards of thirty years; but his tenure was of the briefest order, as, in the following January, there was a further King's grant to Walter Rauf of the Manor "lately held for life by Richard Howes"; and two months later, another grant by the King of "a rent of £7payable by the King's tenants at Bulwell", for life, to Laurence de Allerthorp*, a Baron of the Exchequer. What the relative positions of Walter Rauf and Laurence de Allerthorp then became we are left to conjecture; but, in 1401, a further writ grants to Rauf the £7 lately payable to Richard Howes, with arrears from 1399. There is no further mention of Allerthorp; but in 1404 Walter Rauf is excused from further personal service to the King because of his great age.

The next record is thirty-four years later, when the Town of Bulwell and other manors to a total value of 100 marks yearly were granted by the King to Ralph, Lord of Cromwell, Bulwell being again affirmed as of £7yearly value. Two years later this grant was confirmed; and two years later still it was ratified.

During the next thirty years there were three grantees—first, William** Petyte, whose holding was for a year only, 1462-3; then George, Duke of Clarence, the King's brother, as part of a large grant, 1463-71 next, James, Earl of Douglas, 1471. In 1474 Thomas Bingham, King's Servitor, was granted the office of Receiver of the King's Castles, Manors or Lordships of Bulwell and many other places; and in 1477 there was a like grant to Gervase Clifton. These two grants probably did not affect ownership.

At this point there is a gap of 150 years in the information to be derived from the public records so far as these have been published, and we may pause to consider just what we have discovered, and what conclusions may be derived from our discoveries.

We have found in the beginning an impoverished rural setdement, no larger than a comparatively small farm, being in area about 240 acres. On it were settled a tenant farmer, Godric, who had one villein (or who himself was the villein) with the few privileges that fealty to his lord ensured to the villein; and one bordar or serf, who had no rights or privileges whatever. To cultivate this land there was one plough, and value had declined from 12/- to 5/- a year. During the next two hundred years there was considerable improvement, as the value increased from five shillings yearly to £7,at which value it remained for several hundred years.

We have seen also that, so far as the Lord of the Manor existed at all, he existed solely as a charge on the land of so much yearly. The grantees, nominal lords of the manor, possibly never saw it, being satisfied so long as they received their income from it; and, in the various intervals between successive owners for life, the income went to the King's exchequer, and the county sheriff was responsible for its collection.

In the absence of documents, we are left to speculate on the day to day life of those whose lives were spent working the land, growing their food, tending their livestock, marrying and being given in marriage, raising families and enjoying together social and religious communion. What part in these things was played by the Courtleet? And, first of all, what was the Courtleet?

The Courtleet was usually joined to the Court of the Baron and the View of Frankpledge, comprising the Court of the Lord of the Manor, at which all questions were dealt with that concerned the relations of the Lord to his tenants, bond and free, and with the regulation of their relations with each other. No community can exist without leadership and customs; and the Courtleet gave the one and settled the other. Some customs were general to all manors; some were special to one or a few. The Court was held at settled intervals, and usually in the hall of the manor house; but, as Bulwell had no manor house in the accepted sense of the term, though there is mention of a manor house in Hempshill in the early 18th century, it may have been held on the open common, or in an inn or house. It was presided over by the Lord of the Manor himself or his Steward.

It is necessary to draw some distinction between these archaic terms and what they include; but it must be understood that there was no observation of hard and fast rules of differences. The chief point was that a local court was held to setde local questions, and though there were general conventions or conditions to be observed, these might vary considerably even among neighbouring manors. Locally they formed the "Custom of the Manor". The first convention was concerned with the View of Frankpledge. This ruled that when a Court was called every male person of twelve years of age and upwards must attend. No one whose name or affairs came up for consideration or judgment was specially summoned to the meeting, as all were assumed to be present.

Conventions with regard to local procedure varied, as did the number of times yearly that the Court met; but an analysis of meetings of the Court at Bulwell reveals a fairly settled procedure, in spite of a variety of headings to the various entries in the Court Rolls. Between 1723 and 1769 the Court met 94 times—i.e., in 47 years, an average of twice a year; and in most of these years the Court did in fact meet twice, though in a few years once only, and, on the other hand, in one year it met four times. The usual months of meetings were April and October. At various times tliere were mixed combinations of the four titles—Court Leet, Court Baron, Customary Court and View of Frank­pledge; but gradually this settled down into a combination of all four in this form—

Manor of Bulwell

To wit

The View of Frank Pledge with the Great Court




said Manor holden  at Bulwell   ...................    The Court


Leet before A.B., Esq., Steward thereof and the said


Court Baron and Customary Court before CD., and


E.F., Gentlemen, Suitors to the said Court Baron in


the presence of the said A.B., Steward.

Let us examine the terms a little closer to obtain the full sense of their significance. First, "View of Frank Pledge": this was the obligatory attendance of all males of 12 years of age and over, and non-attendance was punished by a fine. Unavoidable absence might be pleaded by one of those present on behalf of one who was not by presenting an "essoin" or excuse which, if satisfactory to the Court, was registered and no fine was levied. View of Frankpledge was essential as a preliminary to the Courdeet which, under the presidency of the Lord of the Manor himself or his Steward—invariably the Steward at Bulwell—(a) levied fines on absentees; (b) appointed the manor officers who included the Bailiff, the Constable, and the Pinder or Tithingman; (c) "laid pains" on villeins and later on copyholders, which simply meant that they were put under penalty to do such things as clear ditches, abate nuisances or carry out necessary works on their holdings which were essential for the common good; and (d) dealt with public nuisances or encroachments and ordered what must be done in connection with them. The Courtleet was, therefore, for the Manor, a sort of combination of Public Health and Works and Ways Committee with, in addition, the power to penalise by fining without having to go through a court of law.

The "Court Baron" was usually associated with the "Customary Court", and dealt with the relations of the Lord of the Manor with his copyhold tenants in its later existence; with the Lord's villeins in earlier times. Property on a manor ceased at an early date to be an escheat of the Lord of the Manor; or, in other words, on the death of a tenant, that tenant's holdings did not pass back to the Lord of the Manor for further disposal, but descended to the heirs or assigns of the holder; and, in Bulwell, descent from intestates was in the form known as Borough English, with which I will deal shordy. It was customary for a widow to have the full use of her late husband's holding for her lifetime should she outlive him; but he had the power of disposing of his property by his last will and testament, or by sale or mortgage. If he died without making a will, Borough English operated, by which his property descended


To the youngest son, or his youngest son or daughter;


To the youngest daughter  or her youngest son or daughter;


To the youngest brother, or his youngest son or daughter, the youngest of the whole blood in preference to the youngest of the half blood;


To the youngest sister or her youngest son or daughter;


To the father;


To the youngest paternal uncle.

Failing all these, it appears to have been left to the Court to decide who came next, following the same train of reasoning.

All these things were known as the "Custom of the Manor", a phrase that appears over and over again in the records; sometimes, to give it greater body and substance, being followed by the words "whereof the memory of man is not to the contrary"; or, as a variant, "prescriptive rights", a reminder in itself of the fact that landholders of a manor had the right of settled forms of inheritance and knew the method to be adopted in asserting that right. It was a right that had not been easily won as, in the early records of villeinage, the forerunner of copyhold, a villein was completely his lord's man, to the extent of owning nothing in his own right but only on behalf of his lord. If, then, the lord "tallaged" his villeins—that is levied an arbitrary tax on them—he was not taking anything from the tenant, but only claiming a portion of what was his own. From this stage of complete subservience to the position of owning rights and privileges which could be defended in court was a slow process but a sure one, and though the Lord of the Manor also retained rights and privileges, he could not act in an arbitrary fashion from about the fifteenth century onwards, but must act according to the established custom of the manor. If he acted in opposition to this, he might be "presented" for his offence to his own court, though, it must be confessed it is difficult to see how any penalty levied on him could be enforced. Penalties were all by fines, as no Courtleet had power of imprisonment.

What were the rights and privileges of the Lord of the Manor? First and foremost was his receipt of rents from the tenants, rents that were agreed and settled in the manorial courts. Secondly, he had the right—in early times, as part of the obligation laid on the holders of his land—of services from his tenants, such as the farming of his own demesne lands, services which were gradually replaced by the imposition of higher rents which helped to pay for hired labour. He had, in the early days of villeinage, other rights over his tenants, including that of heriot, the name which covered the taking by the Lord of the Manor, when one of his tenants died, of that tenant's best animal or chattel; also the right to grant or forbid the marriage of a tenant's daughter, and, if he granted permission, to stipulate the paying of a fine to him; and the right to allow or forbid a tenant to have his son educated, and to levy a fine in return should he grant his permission. These rights over the person, which must have been more than irksome, gradually died out, or were given up in individual cases in return for a money payment—all but heriot, which continued for centuries.

The later form of copyhold ownership of land continued some of the older customs, but not those that took away personal freedom, the revolt against which was one of the features of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.

We find, then, in the annals of the Bulwell Courdeet, as described in the so-called Court Rolls, records of a mixture of feudalism, vassalage and privilege, which, in part, endured until the last vestiges were swept away by the Law of Property Act which came into force on January 1st, 1926.

We may now take up the story of ownership of the Manor of Bulwell which we left at the year 1477. There is, at this point, a long gap in the ascertainable records, a gap of over 150 years. In 1633 the Manor was granted by the King to Thomas Aston and Henry Harriman, at the supplication of the Countess of Anglesey to be held by fealty only, and free of common soccage, not in chief and not by knight's service; which means, simply, that they were to hold the manor without paying anything for it either in money, products or services. In the following year the Countess of Anglesey, Aston and Harriman "bargained and sold the manor to John Northall and Thomas Beeston", who were acting probably for Jane Rossell, as will appear. Then comes a further tangle of ownership, as four years later the King granted the manor to George Anton and Thomas Holder "to be held as of our Manor of East Greenwich, at the request of Edward Ayscough, in perpetual lease for £7 annually and 8/2 for Bulwell Moor or Rise", and though this would appear to supplant the grant to Aston and Harriman transferred by purchase to Northall and Beeston, it did not do so, as, in 1664, Northall and Beeston, who, we are told were Jane Rossell's trustees, sold the manor to the Hon. William Byron and Robert Pierrepont, including everything that, in 1633, Charles I had granted to Aston and Harriman. This is complication enough; but nine years later there was worse to come for, in March 1673, we are informed by an indenture that, Jane Rossell having died, the owners of the Manor are now, as to one third each, her three daughters Elizabeth, Katherine and Mary, and that the Hon. William Byron and Robert Pierrepont declare that their names were used in trust in the deed of 1664 to take the estate for the use and benefit of Jane Rossell and her heirs. To complicate things still further, in the following month, April 10th, 1673, Thomas Rossell of Radchffe on Trent and Christopher Newton of Bulwell released the Manors of Bulwell and Basford to Elizabeth, Katherine and Mary Rossell, which Manor Michael and Catalena Coleman had or claimed tinder Edward Ayscough deceased, together with all other premises which Michael and Catalena Coleman had sold to Thomas Rossell and Christopher Newton at a peppercorn rent.

What are we to make of this legal jumble? I suggest that the fault lay in the King's grant to Anton and Holder of 1638 when he had already disposed of it five years earlier to Aston and Harriman. The obvious owners by descent in 1673 were the three Rossells, and Thomas Rossell and Christopher Newton had come to an understanding with the Colemans to buy out their rights, if any, to the property.

* But see page 12.
** Richard de Howes, Walter Rauf, Laurence de Allerthorp, William Petyte, Clarence, and Douglas were granted the rent only, not the Manor.