The Manorial Court Records of South Malling Lindfield and Walsted

The Manorial Court Records of South Malling Lindfield and Walsted

The origin of manors is uncertain but they were in place before 1066, a manor is defined as an area of land held by feudal tenure. A short explanation of feudalism is that all land belonged to the King and he granted the land to the Barons in exchange for services (the fee), someone who holds land directly from the King is a mesne lord or a chief tenant. In the medieval period, most manors had an area of land which the lord of the manor retained for his use known as the demesne and the rest of the land that was either tenanted out or was common or waste. There were two types of tenant; villeins who occupied land in exchange for services to the lord of the manor which were often related to cultivating the demesne; and freemen who held land but paid a fixed monetary rent. Villein tenure evolved into copyhold tenure where the tenant’s right to the parcel of land was written in the manorial court records and he was given a copy. Freeholders did not avoid the manorial court as the rules (known as customs) of the manor often included heriots which were a feudal relief due when a freeholder died, the heriot is frequently specified in the manorial customs as being the ‘best beast’.

A manorial lord has the right to hold a court for his tenants, this was called the court baron. It enforced the application of the manorial customs and collected all of the dues either in monetary terms or as services to the lord. It also handled disputes between tenants and in particular those relating to land use or trespass. A manorial court could also appoint the bailiff who collected the rents for the lord.

The first charter granting lands to the monastery dates to about 765 when King Aldwulf grants the vills of Stanmere, Lindfielde and Burhlee as an endowment to the monastery dedicated to St. Michael which had been constructed at Malling[1]. About 823 the manor of Malling was granted to the Archbishop of Canterbury. By the Domesday survey, the Benedictine Monks of the College of St. Michael had been replaced by secular Canons. The lands later became known as the manor of South Malling after the place that the Canons were based. The Canons of South Malling administered the deanery of the Archbishop of Canterbury[2]. The manor of Lindfield was also held by the Canons, with the two manors merging to be called South Malling Lindfield which was held by the Priory until the Dissolution. These manors held lands in the parishes of Worth, Wivelsfield, Lindfield, West Hoathly, Hartfield, Horsted Keynes, Ringmer and Chailey. We are most interested in the landholding at the northern limits of Worth adjoining Felbridge to the South West.

The court books are predominantly in Latin with occasional English entries except for a short period of the Commonwealth (1659-1662) when the courts were recorded in English. They do not consistently use English until 1732.

The court books of the manors of South Malling-Lindfield are particularly interesting as they have survived from a very early period and offer a near continuous series of court records from 1333 to the early 20th century. There is clearly a huge amount of information contained within these records and this paper is intended to highlight some of the entries and in particular those related to the lands at or near Felbridge.

The earliest court records are bound in a single volume covering the period from 1333 to 1587. The records appear to have been transcribed into this volume, although there are several different hands through the document indicating that the transcription was not all completed at a single time. The entries have been organised into the post reformation sub-divisions of the manor, hence it is possible to determine that the surviving copy of these records is from the 16th century. Despite the early documents having been transcribed at a later date, there appears to have been an effort to copy the spellings as they were written in the original. The best evidence for this is the Parish names which within entries in the same hand are spelt variously over time, consistently within records with similar dates but from different sub-divisions and are therefore from different parts of the volume.

The book starts with a list of the hundreds and hamlets belonging to the Rape of Pevensey:-

Loxfeld (Loxfield)                                 Retherfyld (Rotherfield)

Tattnuoker (Totnor)                                Flexborough (Flexborough)

Alcyston (Alciston)                                Longbryge (Longbridge)

Shipolake (Shiplake)                               Dyll (Dill)

Wyllyngdon (Willingdon)                      Bourne (Eastbourne)

Rystesmonden (Ristmonden)                 Grynstede with the borowe (East Grinstead)

Hertefeld (Hartfield)

[This list is underlined and below it and to the right is then listed]

Danell Shefylf (Danehill Sheffield)

Danell Horstede (Danehill Horsted)

Lyndfyld Arches (Lindfield Arch)

Burle Arche (Burleigh Arches)

Before the Norman Conquest in 1066, the county of Sussex had been divided into six Rapes, each Rape was subdivided into hundreds. The hundreds date from the late Saxon period (613-1017) and originally each hundred would have had enough land to support about 100 households.

This list is interesting in itself because the court books relate to the Canons’ manor of South Malling which lies in the Rape of Lewes (with two small exceptions), so it is difficult to understand why the front of the court book would only list the places that made up the Rape of Pevensey. We also note that the lower list contains Lindfield Arch and Burleigh Arches. Lindfield had two manors within the hundred of Street one belonged to the Bardolf (or Bardolphe) family the other to the Archbishop of Canterbury along with the hamlet of Burleigh in the hundred of Buttinghill. Lindfield Arch and Burleigh Arches therefore contain a corruption of the Latin ‘Archiespiscopi’ to specify that they are the parts owned by the Archbishop. The hundred of Street and the hundred of Buttinghill are in the Rape of Lewes, but the Archbishop claimed that they were in the hundred of Loxfield in the Rape of Pevensey and hence they are listed here under the Rape of Pevensey.

In 1334 there was an inquisition at Mayfield to settle the dispute of which hundreds Lindfield and Burleigh were within and therefore where they were taxed. This concluded that they were not in Loxfield hundred and therefore were in the Rape of Lewes[3].

The Archbishop’s manor of South Malling was totally within the Rape of Pevensey[4] assuming their claim that Lindfield and Burleigh (in Worth) were within that Rape. The Canons’ manor of South Malling is scattered across both Rapes with most lands in Lewes Rape except for a few parcels of land in Hartfield, they also held land in Lindfield and Burleigh subject to the dispute above.

The hundred list is followed by a couple of recipes for cures which are written in English, the first is ‘for to stowe a coofh’ (stop a cough) and the second is ‘for all distases of the mowth and throtte’. As this volume is a later copy it is not possible to determine if these are copied from an earlier document or are contemporary to the transcription. There is also a series of copied charters detailing the grants of lands to the College, this includes a copy of the c765 charter of King Aldwalf mentioned before.

Customs of the manor

The customs of the manor are recorded next, after each one is a date which appears to relate to an example of when this custom has been previously enforced within the court records.

1. First all the tenants are bound to obey to the Deans court if it shall please him to hold it from 2 weeks to 3 weeks and for lack of appearance to be amerced [fined] as appears. 1438

2. None of the tenants shall kill any game of warren within the said lordship. 1389

3. No copyholders shall let or suffer their tenement cottages or other their houses to be ruinous or decayed and if they do to gain a day upon a pain [penalty] to repair the same and not so repaired by the said day to be seized into the Deans hand and to what at his pleasure. 1396, 1423 & 1514

4. That no copyholders shall make any waste within their copyhold and if they do their land to be seized as appears. 1388

5. That none of the tenants being copyholders shall let their land and tenement to farm or under any lease without the Lords assent and licence and if they do then the same to be seized into the Lords hand as before. 1377

6. There is a precedus [precedent] that none of the tenants shall let cut down or take any of the wood being upon the Lords demeasne for such a tenant was amerced for such an act. 1396

7. If any of the copyholders do sell alienate or put away their land for freehold or to make freehold of their copyhold that then their land to be seized into the Lords hand as before. 1189 [Anno primus Ric’ primus - although this seems unlikely considering the other dates].

8. Also that at the death of any tenant aswell freehold or copyhold to pay an heriot and his next heir to pay a relief for freehold at double the rent for one year and if he be a copyholder his next heir to make his fine at the Deans pleasure as before.

9. No widow to hold any copyhold land by reason of her bench that is to say that take the issues and profits after her husband’s death during her life shall not marry again without the Lords licence and if she do then the land to be seized as before. 1422

10. [Latin] To seek the view of frankpledge for the Archbishops court at Lindfield any day and year in respect of the manor of the Dean of South Malling for road fines in said hundred except fines of assize of bread and ale.

11. [Latin] As regards the way a widow after the death of her husband may occupy free bench [a widow’s right to retain tenure of her late husband's land] she must remain unmarried and live purely and be admitted to the free bench upon payment of relief at double the rent. 1426

The Lords right to distraint [seizure of property] for lack of payment of his amercement as appropriate. 1385

The customs of manor are all written in a single hand including the Latin entries and the 1514 date on number 3, so it is clear that these are being written in the 16th century. It is interesting that unlike most manorial customs they are not specifying the rules of inheritance of property but are more interested in the rules that they want the tenants to abide by. There is another list of the customs of the manor at the end of the second surviving court book dating to about 1630. This starts with a long list of ‘observations concerning descents’ which are extracts from the court book which show what heirs have been admitted. This list shows that it is the youngest son that is the heir to the property, and failing that to the youngest daughter. This approach to inheritance is called borough-English and ensures inheritance of the undivided property which maintains the manorial unit rather than dividing the property amongst the children.

In 1830, there is a much later list of the manorial customs and this clearly lists the inheritance order as youngest son then youngest daughter, youngest brother then youngest sister. Widows are admitted to their bench. Fine on admission of a guardian is 5s. Fine on licence to demise 4d per annum. Relief in the name of a fine or admission of an heir. Heriot the best beast on death and alienation in copyhold. Heriot the best beast on death in freehold and relief on death and alienation.

The 14th Century records

It is rare to have surviving 14th century court records and therefore it is worthwhile examining these and what they can tell us about that period. The next page after the ‘cures’ is the first entry for the court of the four Canons of the Collegiate College of Southmalling, which is dated June 1333.

The long standing tenants namely Richard Holme, William att Nellone, John de Sonde, John Maye, William Sherene, Walter de Apobroke and Robert atte Nellone present their complaint against  Walter Herlynge, Nicholas Brome, Henry Brome and the tenants of the villat de Stamer who have fed all their sheep on the pasture of Stameryngseryth and furthermore they are foreign. They have no rights of pasture and the pasture is now void to the value of 66 shillings. The elected jury of the court are Richard Marshall, John de Daoshelnd, Richard Leneg’, Simon de Walkested, Thomas Martyn, William de Ryld, Walter de Smythford, Walter de Craule, Walter Maye, William de Burle, John Flouher, Richard atte Dene, Thomas Cooke, William Colvern, Thomas Kinge, Thomas Bedull, John atte Bernett, Radnor de Myddlehur, Robert de Herlyng, Roger Forkper, William att Gore, Hugo atte Pylth and John de Cobbehuse.

This entry provides us initially with a couple of place names; Stamer (Stanmer), Wyvylsfeld (Wivelsfield) and Stameryngseryth, but there are also the people who are ‘of’ places such as Sonde (Sand as in Sandhill), Apobroke, Daoshelnd, Walkested (Walsted), Ryld, Smythford (Smithford at the bottom of Hophurst Hill), Craule (Crawley), Burle (Burley), Myddlehur’ (Midhurst), Herlyng and Cobbehuse and those who are ‘at’ Nellone (Nellands in Wivelsfield), Dene (valley), Bernett, Gore and Pylth. A few of these can be identified today whilst others are names that are now lost to us.

The fact that this court is hearing a case regarding the right to graze animals at Stameryngseryth reflects the significant value that grazing land had in the medieval period. The tenants of the manor relied upon the uncultivated lands to graze their cattle and sheep.

Unfortunately this record of 1333 is an isolated early survival in the court book and the next entry is 1378 but this is the start of the period that has good coverage with courts recorded from then up to 1397 with never more than a three year gap.

The surnames of people recorded in the last quarter of the 14th century are:


atte Berne

atte Ford(e)

atte Holme

atte Homwood

atte Horne

atte Melle

atte Moore/More

atte Scinne

atte Water

atte Wood













de Walkested(e)


























Whilst a number of the names from the 1333 court are recorded later, it is interesting to note that Smythford no longer appears and in fact does not appear again in the court books as part of a personal name but only as a place name. It is also noted that there was a large proportion of names in 1333 that were ‘at’ or ‘of’, but 50 years later the vast majority of names no longer use a surname prefix. This is a result of the increased use of family surnames such that it is no longer necessary to distinguish between the individuals called John using the name of the place they lived as they are now using different surnames. During the 15th century, the use of place names to identify individuals continues but becomes restricted to identifying between people with the same name such that we get Richard Payne of Bromfeld, Richard Payne of Hothe and Richard Payne of Bernys recorded in the 1470’s.


Whilst later court records utilise place names or specific descriptions to identify properties, the 14th century courts have very few lands identified this way. The exceptions being John of Walkestede who holds a cottage and 30 acres of land called Slakyfeld in Lindfield; Joan who is the widow of Thomas Shoulder who holds 2 acres of land in Wevylsfeld in a field called The Hurst; Walter at Holme who holds 60 acres of land at Holme (in Wivelsfield); John Drewrose who holds a property called Londyns; William Fairhall who holds Ladylond in Lindfield; John atte Melle (at the mill) who holds the tenement at Craule.



The ‘vill of Burhlee’ was in the grant of c765 and is mentioned in the 1333 court with William of ‘Burle’ being one of the jury. Burley was not actually a vill (township) it was a hamlet or borough within the vill of Worth in 1334[5], Burley Arches on East Street from Turners Hill is the principle dwelling, but the area known as Burley appears to have extended to the county boundary. The South Malling court books can be used to trace the progression and subdivision of this land to enable the later parcels of land to be matched with the manorial map of 1830 to estimate the extent of the area known as Burley in the 15th century.

Burley entries that include references to other place names are:-

1438 Walfred Burley holds a messuge and croft land in Burle at Turnershyll called The Burley.

1438 John atte Venne holds a tenement & croft land in Burle at Turnershyll.

1438 Simon Fylle holds a parcel of land called Sherl in Burle.

The Burley can be traced to Great Burley Arches and later Burley Arches which lies north west of Alexander House. John atte Venne’s tenement becomes a part of Frenches now known as Great Frenches abutting to the A264 at Snowhill. It is interesting to note that this is said to be at Turners Hill and not Crawley Down even though this is 2½ miles from Turners Hill crossroads. Sherl can be traced to land called Scherle at Tonershyll which Roger atte Fenne held. Sherleys appears to be the lands to the west of Furnace Wood and the south of Cuttinglye as parcels of Sherleys are later identified as being near Kenwards Farm & Little Frenches close to the A264 west of Furnace Wood and also at Parkfields on the north side of the Crawley Down Road abutting to the southern boundary of Cuttinglye Wood. This shows that the area known as Burley extended as far north as what is now the A264 west of Furnace Wood.

In 1475 there is a description for land called Schyrles as being three crofts located at a lane leading below Coppydthorne from an area called Scheperdyhalle on the west, to Jakkyshawe on the East and North and a croft held by Roger atte Fenne on the East and a lane leading beyond Jakkyshawe from the South. This confirms the location of this piece of Sherleys as being in the vicinity of Parkfields with Shepherds Hole to the west. Landscape surveys have shown that there was an early track from the south west corner of Cuttinglye Wood westwards past Shepherds Hole [now called Down Park Farm] towards the Turners Hill Road which is presumably the lane below Copthorne. Jakkyshawe would appear to be Cuttinglye Wood but this seems unlikely as the name Cuttinglye is used elsewhere in the court books and there is no other mention of Jakkyshawe or anything similar to be able to identify it better.


Crawley appears in the court entries as Craule in 1333 and ‘lately John Smythys of Crawley’ in 1493. Crawley Down is first recorded as Crawlesdon in the court books in 1475 although Crauledun’ appears in 1272 in the hundred rolls so it is not that the place name was not in use until the late 15th century, rather that the courts of South Malling did not use it. Tracing the lands ‘lately John Smythys’ this is ‘part of Shirleys’ in 1759 and is within the land that is attached to Parkfields in the 19th century. From 1554 ‘Crawleys and Shurleys’ is recorded held by Sir John Gage as part of Hedgecourt, this name continues until 1699 and would appear to be land that was Crawley [manor]s and [is now] Shurley’s as Edward Shurley of Isfield purchased the manor of Crawley in 1545[6] and prior to this date the entries are for Crawley in its various spellings. This implies that Crawley’s Down was once an area of common land held by Crawley Manor although this is not identified in the records of Crawley manor.

Other local place names

Maydehornes appears in 1486 and is known as Horne Land in 1578, it can be traced as Hornland up to 1660 then it became Homeland and was still known by that name in 1830 when it was occupied by John Shepherd whose name is used today as it now called Shepherds Farm and is on the east side of the Turners Hill Road, just south of the Dukes Head.

Clarkes is the name given to the northern part of Burley that was split off prior to 1474, it is recorded in the court books as ‘Clarkes part of Burley’ but the 1474 entry states that John Burle holds the tenement that was previously John Clerks. John Clerk does not appear in the earlier entries and therefore we cannot determine when his name was assigned to this property.

Le Denne in 1575 became Deans and formed part of Stubbetts and Dean Mead in 1759 and 1830 and lies south east of the Dukes Head, the southern end is still known as Stubbits Wood.

Hophurst Farm is called Hoppers in 1560, in 1486 it is Alfrey’s property at Crawley Down (Crallydonne) and has no earlier place name recorded.

The land immediately west of Alexander House (Fen Place) was called Barbars in 1578 and by 1638 it is ‘Babers alias Barbers’ then ‘Bakers or Barbers’ in 1740 which continued up to 1830.

Frenches (now Greater and Little) is named in 1596, having been known in 1578 as Crowchers after its freehold owner John Crowcher. It is possible that Frenches relates to occupation of the property by John French who set up the iron furnace in Furnace Wood for Sir Edward Gage. There are also records that say the timber for the construction of the furnace came from Crowcher’s property.

15th century

There is greater coverage of the transcripts for the 15th century with courts from 1427 to 1442, a break then 1460 to 1494.

The 14th century courts were segregated into the court for the Dean of South Malling and the court for the manor of Lindfield. By the 15th century the whole manor is referred to as South Malling Lindfield and the courts are arranged into the four canons of the College such that there are separate courts for the Dean, Chancellor, Treasurer and Precentor. These are frequently held on consecutive days.

Each of the canons has lands scattered across the manor rather than any geographic split, this may have been to provide them with an equivalent balance of land quality and income.


There is a rental for the manors recorded in the back of the earliest court book. So it is interesting to determine if a series of earlier court records can provide any information regarding population growth within the manor. The rental is undated but is from 1578/9 based upon the death of Richard Warren who is listed in the rental but his death is reported at the court held 21st October 1579 and lands that were transferred in the court of 7th October 1578 are listed in the rental with their new tenant. The rental records at least 66 property holders (freehold or copyhold). There could be a few more as there may be individuals with the same name that have not been differentiated by a descriptor after their name. The rental lists 4 messuage (large houses), 18 houses, 27 tenements and 9 cottages, so there are a total of at least 56 households in the manor of South Malling Lindfield by the late 1570’s. This rental also includes the manor of Walsted and it contains 27 property holders of which only 7 also appear in the rental of South Malling Lindfield, Walsted contains ‘Stone Place in Ardinghlighe’ which is now Wakehurst Place, 2 houses, 12 tenements and no cottages giving a total of 15 households. The shortfall of dwellings compared to the number of property holders can be explained by the fact that in the medieval period families frequently co-habited, such that a married son and his family may live with his parents in their house, but he can also tenant land in his own name. There may also be land holders that do not have a dwelling within the manor. It is also known that dwellings in this period are sometimes occupied by multiple unrelated families.

Court books other than rentals or surveys do not provide records to count the number of individuals accurately. However they do record the deaths of property holders as they are interested in tracking the heriots due following the death of a freeholder, or to record who occupies a property after a death so that they know who is responsible for the rent. It is therefore possible to identify the number of deaths recorded in each decade which can be used to provide a very rough approximation of the population growth assuming that the average life expectancy of adults has not altered significantly and that the manor has not purchased lands from other manors during the period of interest.

The deaths recorded per decade are graphed below and also the rolling five decade average. This rolling average is based upon the number of court records in each decade so that where there are years missing in the court records it assumes that the death rate in the missing years is consistent with the recorded deaths around that time.

[graph available only in purchased version]

This shows that there was 1 death recorded in the ten years 1380-1389 rising to 10 recorded 1570-1579 therefore indicating that the population in the manors rose by approximately ten fold between the late 14th and the late 16th century, and that it grew further by approximately 2½ fold by the end of the 18th century.

Looking at the rolling average line on the graph this is indicative of the population level over this 400 year period with peaks when the death rate increases significantly. Hence we can see a general rise in the population from 1600 to 1770, the 15th century data is sporadic and therefore the corrected average provides little information, however there is a significant peak in the death rate in the 1470’s which correlates with the plague outbreak in 1471 which killed 10-15% of the English population[7]. There are no court records for 1472 and 1473 suggesting that the impact on the manorial population may have been significant enough to disrupt the feudal system. The 16th century data is more consistent and we see a significant rise in the death rate peaking in the 1550’s, this does not correlate with any of the major outbreaks of the plague in England and could therefore have been more localised or as a result of famine or other diseases. The rise in deaths in the 1630’s correlates with the plague outbreak of 1636 which was the last major national outbreak.

Common lands

There are entries in the court books that describe the landscape within the manor during the 15th century. Many of the tenants hold small parcels of land in various fields within the manor, these parcels vary from ¼ to 3 acres, but it is the field names that are interesting as there are a number that include the phrase ‘wish’ such as Eastwish, Smallwish, Fullwish, Hayward Wish and Betewish. Wish is derived from the Old English wisc which means marshy meadow. This implies that the lands the manor granted to the tenants was the wetter land.

These small plots of land within the large meadows being granted to many tenants could be evidence that the open field system was in use in this manor. This system was influenced by the introduction of the large wheeled plough during the Saxon period, this was capable of dealing with heavy English clay soils but required a team of up to eight oxen to pull it and was awkward to turn around, so very long strips of land were ideal. Most peasants could not afford a whole team of oxen, just one or two, so maintaining an ox team had to be a joint enterprise. Peasants would work strips of land with no hedges or boundaries (hence ‘open field’) this type of land use was far more efficient than enclosures. However, the open field system is virtually unknown within the Weald and so it is more likely that these parcels of land are grants of meadow or pasture to the tenants.

The common lands that are mentioned in the court books are East Field (1464), West Field (1551), West Common (1551) and Tolondhoth [near Lindfield Town and probably synonymous with Town Common] (1559). After the 16th century the commons recorded are Wivelsfield Common, Walsted Common, Felbridge Common, Lindfield Common and Town Common (in Lindfield). There is still significant unenclosed land at Crawley Down but the phrase ‘common at Crawley Down’ or ‘Crawley Down common’ never appears so it is unclear how this land is being used.

Felbridge Common can be traced as being used to name the unenclosed land in Worth parish east of Furnace Wood and Gibbshaven Farm and north of Felbridge Water.

The Dissolution

The collegiate church of St Michael was surrendered to the Crown 10th March 1545 and its possessions were granted to Sir Thomas Palmer who holds his first court on 15th October 1545 thus there is no significant break in the manorial records.

The large landholding of the Collegiate Church was broken up with South Malling-Stanmer becoming a separate manor and Balneath manor also acquired some of the lands that had previously been held by South Malling Lindfield.

The manor of South Malling Lindfield continues and is purchased by Francis Chalon in the late 1570’s who had purchased the manor of Walsted from Thomas Brown in 1577[8]. The first court that identifies Francis Chalon as Lord of the manor of South Malling Lindfield is 1584.

With the manors of South Malling Lindfield and Walsted now under single ownership, the court books from this point contain the records of both manors. South Malling Lindfield continues to be split into the subdivisions of Dean, Chancellor, Treasurer and Precentor with Walsted becoming the fifth division.

The half year inclome gained for each division of the manor in 1578 was broken down as follows: Dean 45s 2d, Treasurer 41s 3d, Chancellor 50s 6½d, Precantor 53s 11½d & Walsted 57s 2½d.


Walsted manor

After the Dissolution, the manor of Walsted appears and is purchased from Sir Thomas Brown in 1577[9] by Francis Chaloner, his son Thomas Chaloner purchases the manors of Walsted, South Malling Lindfield & Goddenweek in 1631 which puts the manors of South Malling and Walsted in the same ownership in which they remain until the cessation of the courts in the early 20th century.

Only the property called Huddes listed in the 1578 rental of Walsted can be identified as being previously listed in the court books of the manors of South Malling Lindfield from 1481, but the rental does not match so this could be a different property both owned or occupied by a person called Hudd.

Walsted manor had most of its lands in Worth, Ardingly and Chailey which are in the Rape of Lewes, and a little in Horsted Keynes which is in the Rape of Pevensey. The Canons’ Manor of South Malling is in the Rape of Lewes[10] but this land does not appear to have belonged to them before the Dissolution. Although few of the court records for the Archbishop’s manor of South Malling have not survived, there is a list of the Archbishop’s Sussex manors and their sub-divisions within Canterbury Cathedral Library[11]. This identifies the Archbishop’s manor of South Malling and its subdivisions, but none of the place names align with Walsted, therefore it is unlikely that Walsted was created from their manorial holding which lay entirely within the Rape of Pevensey.

There is a quitclaim dating to 1497[12] for the ‘lands and tenements, free rents and services, meadows, woods and pastures called Walstedes in Lindfield, which belonged to John Walstede of Lindfield’ that had belonged to John Walstede of Lindfield and had been enfeoffed by James Ewden (Uden) of West Hoathly. This quitclaim is interesting as it is for ‘Walstedes’ and Richard Uden (the son of James) and John Walstede appear in the court book holding 30 acres of land in Lindfield called Slatfields for the rent of 3s, and 4½ acres of Slatfields appears in the 1578 rental of Walsted still held by the Uden family. James Uden also appears in 1475 listed as the freeholder of land called Upper Walstede but without a rental or acreage so it not possible to determine if this is Slatfields.

However, the combination of the above circumstantial evidence makes it more likely that some of the land that became the manor of Walsted was previously part of the Canons’ manor of South Malling Lindfield. This land was combined with other lands including those in Horsted Keynes and Chailey (South Malling Lindfield held no land in these parishes) to become the manor of Walsted.

Early families in Burleigh

The court books can also be used to identify family relationships before the survival of Parish Church records. An example is the Alfrey family;

1554 William Alfrey’s death was recorded, he was holding a freehold called The Forde land in Hartfield at a rental of 3s 4d, his son and heir was Thomas.

1565 Thomas Alfrey was recorded of Fordeland

1575  Thomas Alfrey’s death was recorded, he was holding Forde Land, his son and heir was Thomas.

1578  Thomas Alfrey is recorded in the rental holding Foord Land at a rental of 3s 4d.

Later court entries can provide more information that would otherwise be difficult to determine conclusively from Parish Records alone. Such as this entry from 1683; Bridgette Peckham has died holding a Cottage and Garden with half an acre of land in Lindfield. Edward Thomas is the son of Agnetis Thomas (deceased) who is the sister of James Pickham and the brother of Henry Pickham who is the father of the said Bridgette Peckham. Therefore Edward is to be admitted to the Cottage.

By the 18th century there is far greater detail recorded for each court entry and the court books cover less years despite getting thicker. An example of the increased detail is in 1766 Francis Rowland died holding a cottage and 2 acres of land at Felbridge Common in Worth for the annual rent of 12d. Sarah Rowland his widow has also died. John Rowland comes to court for the first proclamation of the death of Francis and brings a copy of Francis’ will to the court to prove he is the rightful heir. The court book contains a transcript of the will which was dated 30th May 1734 and gave his copyhold messuage, orchard and gardens to his nephew John Rowland of East Grinstead younger son of Richard Rowland (deceased) who was his brother. The will requires John Rowland to pay £23 to another nephew of Francis called William Dench of Oxted within 6 months of receiving the property or the property will transfer to William Dench. This property is Michaelmas/Miles Farm on Hedgecourt Common (for further information see Handout Michaelmas Farm JIC/SJC 07/09)

Villein Service

There is evidence of the services that the villeins provided to the College in exchange for their land in the 1578 rental. The service is in the form of harvest days listed as part of the rental for some of the copyholders, the total service for all the copyholders of the manor of South Malling is 54½ harvest days. It appears that by 1578 these harvest days were no longer required by the manor as they were being bought out by the copyholders at 3d per day.

Manorial Map and index

In 1829 William Figg produced a detailed map of the manors of South Malling Lindfield and Walsted. This was accompanied by an index to the map which provides us with ability to trace most of the properties back through the courts in conjunction with a rental of 1830 which also contains the folio references to the transactions in the court books that could be identified as that property back to 1630.

The properties local to Felbridge are shown on the map in the appendix with their property boundaries as they were in 1830 and the earlier landholding names in italics.

The properties in each of the two manors are divided into their parishes and then freeholds, copyholds and leaseholds. The leaseholds state the year that the lease was granted and the period, the earliest lease was granted in 1630 and is for the smiths forge and cottage at Turners hill. The vast majority of the leases are granted in the 17th century and have a term of 200 years with a few at the start of the 18th century and a single one in 1806 with a term of only 74 years.

Whilst there are leases granted for land in Lindfield, Hartfield and Wivelsfield, over two thirds of the leases are for land in Worth and many are for the Snow Hill area at the northern extent of the manor. In the mid 16th century a blast furnace had been constructed in Furnace Wood which required significant labour to operate. By 1627 the furnace had ceased operation and shortly after this date small parcels of Copthorne common began to be enclosed. These enclosures may be the formalisation of earlier (unrecorded) encroachments that had existed whilst the furnace was operating. With formalisation of these, the manor would gain control and some income. These original enclosures must have reflected the change in the local inhabitants’ occupations with a move away from the iron industry and the necessity for alternative employment and smallholding. Thus as one enclosure was created so this must have had a snow-balling effect with other people wanting to enclose land off the Common or waste, particularly in the Snow Hill area.

It is not known if the encroachments in the Snow Hill area related to the appearance of the iron industry in the area but it would have brought prosperity and therefore people to the area. With the inevitable increase of encroachments at Snow Hill, the manor of South Malling Lindfield appears to have issued long term leases to the occupants of each encroachment thus creating a small enclosure. The encroachments appear to have been well established in the Snow Hill area prior to the issue of the first long term lease in 1654 because of the shape that it was. The first lease was not for a regular shaped piece of land but had a boundary which had many deviations in it, later leases then covered the land that had caused these deviations. All the subsequently leased holdings in the Snow Hill area had these field boundaries which interconnected with the neighbouring plots, rather like a jig-saw implying they were already well established boundaries prior to the first lease.

Long decline of the manorial system

The sudden decline in the population following the plagues in the 16th century stressed the feudal system as there were now very few peasants to provide labour for the whole of the demesne, and the value of the available labour was very significantly inflated giving the peasants greater power over their manorial Lords. This led to the granting of further copyholds such that a monetary rent could be obtained in exchange for land.

The end of feudal land tenure was secured in 1660 by the recently restored Parliament passing the Tenures Abolition Act, this required all obligations of service and military provision to be replaced by monetary payments.

There was no inflation from 1275 to 1500 to impact the income value of the manorial rents. Over the course of the 16th century, inflation reduced the fixed rentals to be worth only about one sixth of their value in 1500. Inflation started to impact again during the 18th century decreasing the purchase value of the fixed rentals by a further half. There were many factors at work but the devaluing of the rentals led to significant increases in the enfranchisement of copyhold manorial land. Enfranchisement was the release from all manorial rents and dues such as heriots in exchange for a single payment, this was the complete release of the copyhold lands, not creating freeholds (which were still subject to heriots).

This process accelerated in the 19th century and the rental books of the manor of South Malling from about 1870 onwards have an increasing number of the properties crossed through and their date of enfranchisement recorded in the place of the tenant.

The 1922 Law of Property Act abolished copyhold tenure and therefore ended the last meaningful function of manorial courts. They did continue holding manorial courts for South Malling and Walsted but they became less frequent as they only handled the few remaining freehold properties. Walsted held its last court in 1939, whilst South Malling held its last court in 1951.


Whilst this handout only skims across the wealth of information available from such an expanse of court records, it is hoped that it demonstrates the range of information that is available and how it can be used to provide an illustration of how the Saxon feudal system influenced land tenure in the local area through the medieval period and into modern times until the manorial system ceased in the 20th century.


Court Books of South Malling Lindfield

1333 – 1587         British Library ADD33182

1680 – 1731         ESRO ACC2327-1-5-5

1732 – 1794         ESRO ACC2327-1-5-6

Court Books of Walsted

1659 – 1675         ESRO ACC2327-1-8-1

1744 – 1863         ESRO ACC2327/1/8/2

1864 – 1939         ESRO ACC2327/1/8/3

Court Books of South Malling Lindfield and Walsted (combined)

1588 – 1630         ESRO ACC2327/1/5/1

1630 – 1650         ESRO ACC2327/1/5/2

1659 – 1668         ESRO ACC2327/1/5/3

1669 – 1679         ESRO ACC2327/1/5/4

1680 – 1731         ESRO ACC2327/1/5/5

1732 – 1794         ESRO ACC2327/1/5/6

1795 – 1826         ESRO ACC2327/1/5/7

1828 – 1849         ESRO ACC2327/1/5/8

1849 – 1866         ESRO ACC2327/1/5/9

1867 – 1902         ESRO ACC2327/1/5/10

1902 – 1951         ESRO ACC2327/1/5/11

Rentals for manors of South Malling Lindfield and Walsted

1830                      ESRO ACC2327/1/5/12

c1870                    ESRO ACC2327/1/5/13

c1880                    ESRO ACC2327/1/5/14

1830   Map of the manors of South Malling Lindfield and Walsted      ESRO ACC2327/1/5/15

1829   Book of Reference to the plan above                                              ESRO ACC2327/1/5/16


East Sussex Record Office (ESRO) is now known as The Keep and is located at Falmer.

The text of Felbridge History Group Handouts referenced are available on our website at

JIC 03/14


[1] M. Holgate: The Canons’ manor of South Malling, SAC 70

[2] E Turner: The College of Benedictine Canons at South Malling, SAC 5

[3] W. Hudson: Lindfield ‘Arch’ and Burleigh ‘Arches’, SAC53

[4] M. Holgate: Manors of the Archbishops in Sussex, SAC 68

[5] W. Hudson: Lindfield ‘Arch’ and Burleigh ‘Arches’, SAC 53

[6] The Manor of Crawley 1200-1792, Nadine Hygate 2003

[7] Gottfried, Robert S. (1983). The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe

[8] ESRO ACC2327/1/8/4

[9] Sussex Manors in the Feet of Fines, SRS v20 p460

[10] Sussex Manors in the Feet of Fines, SRS v20 p183

[11] Ch.Ch.Cant. E24 f119-

[12] ESRO SRL/7/1