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More written evidence gradually becomes available from the 11th century, more than most local historians expect. However, it can seem daunting - mostly documents, largely written in Latin (until the very end of the period when some English appears), in unfamiliar handwriting, and using many alien concepts; for example, feet of fines, villeinage and seisin . It is certainly possible to acquire the skills needed, spurred by questions the sources are vital to answer and supported by some excellent specialist guides. However, a prior step should always be to check whether the relevant source is available amongst the great numbers of printed texts and particularly calendars. A calendar contains summaries, in English, of original documents. Many central government records, at once some of the most poten­tially useful but the most difficult sources for local historians, are available in this form. From these calendars and their indexes local references can be culled. A useful preliminary to hunting down these volumes is to scan the references to local volumes of the VCH and the English Place­ Names Society. These will give a good introduction to the records in which local material has already been identified. The standard reference work, which lists texts and calendars printed by both the PRO and other national bodies and local societies, is E.C. Mullins, Texts and calendars (published by the Royal Historical Society, vol. 1 to 1957 (1958), vol. 2 1957-1982 (1983)). This includes summaries of the content of each volume listed. Now titled Guide to Record Societies and their publications, for online version see 


Luttrell harvesting.jpgHaving used calendars and printed English texts to the full it may be necessary to turn to Latin texts or original documents to answer certain questions. Here, too, help is at hand in working through the processes of transcription and translation. Medieval Latin is less pure or complex than the classical variety, and many sources employ a relatively restricted vocabulary. Armed with Eileen Gooder's Latin for local history: an introduction (second edition, paperback, 1978) or Dennis Stuart, Latin for Local and Family Historians (1995), and perhaps fortified by working in a local group or adult education class, many local historians have cracked the code. The common form of many documents, the standard order of elements, and regular use of the same sequences of words is also an encouragement. The National Archives have now developed  valuable online ‘tutorials’ in Beginners’ Latin; Advanced Latin; Palaeography; Latin Palaeography. Go to  and follow Records - Understand the archives - Reading old documents.



Principal sources for medieval local studies: a checklist


Manorial records

These are often found amongst the estate records of later, post-medieval owners. The most important categories are:


·         accounts, for individual manors or compiled centrally for a larger estate

·         manorial court rolls

·         written surveys

·         rentals

·         custumals

·         deeds or charters


Records of royal government


·         Domesday Book

·         Hundred Rolls

·         Lay Subsidy Rolls

·         Poll Tax returns

·       Administrative or Chancery records. These include incoming correspondence and inquisitions post mortem. Relevant series are the Charter, Patent, Close, and Liberate Rolls

·         Records of justice, particularly of the Courts of Common Pleas (including Feet of Fines), King's Bench (including Coro­ner's rolls), Exchequer, and Parliament (including petitions). The king's locally-delivered justice is recorded under the General Eyres (c 1166-1348), Assizes (from c 1250). Gaol Delivery, and Oyer and Terminer

·         Financial records of the Exchequer, notably the Pipe Rolls


Ecclesiastical records


·         papal, for example calendars of papal letters

·        diocesan, including visitations, registers, and court books. Wills, some of them written in English by the fourteenth century, fell within this jurisdiction

·         parish. A few late medieval survivals, including 15thcentury churchwardens' accounts

·        monastic, particularly cartularies, or registers of documents relating to a monastic house's properties, including appro­priated churches


Town records

·         royal charters

·         grants of privilege

·         borough court rolls

·         borough ordinances

·         rentals

·         property deeds

·         gild or fraternity ordinances, deeds


Literary and personal records


·         wills (see ecclesiastical records)

·         letters. They survive in rare cases in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. For Oxfordshire see the Stonor papers.

·         chronicles

·         literature in English. Two fourteenth-century examples are Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and William Langland's Piers Plowman


Landscape and buildings


·         earthwork evidence, for example of ridge and furrow in open fields, or of deserted or shrunken villages

·         aerial photographs

·         maps. In most cases post-medieval estate and Ordnance Survey maps have to be used retrospectively, and in conjunc­tion with documents

·         place- and field-names

·         botanical evidence, for example hedgerow studies, or `indic­ator species' for ancient woodland

·         settlement plans

·         surviving buildings

·         artefacts, fixtures and fittings, such as monuments, stained glass, wood- and stonework.


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