Manorial Customs in West Mersea - The tenants' destruction of the records

Manorial Customs in West Mersea, etc. - The tenants' destruction of the ancient records of the manor. -

In further reference to the customary of West Mersea, Fingringhoe, and Pete hall manors printed in Transactions, vol. xiii., pt. 2 [ See MARG_312_011 ], Mr. A. M. Jarmin, of Colchester, has handed me an interesting document, in hand-writing of the fifteenth or early sixteenth century, headed:

The Trewe Coppie of a Deed Indented concern ing the three Mannors, vzt. Peete, Fingringhoe, and West Mersey, with xx. seales thereunto annexed as hereafter followeth word for word.

The deed is in Norman-French and the lower portion has been torn, a considerable part being missing. It commences :

Cest Indentre fait parentre John de Ramsey Prior de Mersey d'un part et touts ses Tennants in general de Mersey ffingringho et Peete hamells as dit vil' d'autr' part.

The translation (slightly summarised) is as follows:

This Indenture made between John de Ramsey, Prior of Mersey, of the one part, and all his tenants in general of Mersey, Fingringhoe and Peete hamlet (?) of the said vill, of the other part, witnesseth that the Prior and his tenants are agreed in form following:

Whereas the said tenants have barnt and destroyed all the Rolls, Domesdayes, and valuations (Domesdayes et Extents) and every manner of other evidences by which the said Prior and his officers (Ministers) ought to distrain and raise the rent (lever la Rent), and the ancient customs and Services due to the Prior of Mersey, that the said tenants shall at their own proper cost (a leur propre Costages) between this and the feast of Christmas next, assemble either all at one time, or on two or three times, according to their best advice, and shall have with them one Clerk or two, at the choice of the Prior, and at their own proper cost shall cause to be made a new valuation (un novell extent) well and loyally (bien et loialement) of all the ancient customs, rents, and services and all other manner of thing whatsoever in acknowledgment of the ancient right belonging to his Priory called Mersey, and shall deliver the said valuation to the said Prior or to his Council. And the said tenants shall perform well and rightly all the ancient Customs and Services at the periods due and assigned by the said Prior over his officers and shall well and loyally pay their rent to the said Prior or his officers at the due periods, without withholding or refusing the said rights or any of them.

Excepting the claim of a toll (?) (Save le challenge de un Reve) made by the Prior or his Steward and the claim (challenge) of a horse (un Palfry) after the voidance or removal of each Prior.

But in case the said Prior pursues a Charter of Grant from the King (pursuis un Charter de grant le Roy) for himself and for his tenants which permits them to be Toll-free (Tolfree) in every market town throughout all England that then the said tenants are hereby willing and will grant to be charged to the said Prior and to his successors, at every voidance and removal, for one horse (Palfry) of the price of five marks good and customary money of England, and also to pay for the fee of the Charter (le fee del Charter).

And also whereas the Prior claims to hold his own land of right of his Church (tener sa Terr proper de droit de sa Eglise) without any profit taking by any of his Tenants by way of Commons (Comones) in his said lands. that is to say from the last day of August (de la darraigne jour de la mois de Aug ust) until the Purification, the said Prior and tenants, at suit of the parties, shall submit themselves to inquest of the good people (di bons gents) of the neighbourhood, without procurement by either of the parties, and if peradventure the inquest declares that the demesnes are discharged of such due , that then they shall be discharged without any contradiction by the tenants ; and if the inquest declares on the contrary, then the Prior, so that the demesnes may be charged in form and degree as the Inquest has declared , shall in future [here the document is torn, the corner portion and part of the last line being gone.]

The purport of the remainder appears to be that certain rights claimed by the prior are agreed to as allowed, including the right of a mill (conserver le suite all molin ). The tenants also agreed to pay the prior 25 marks a year, apparently in t wo instalments, namely, 8l. 6s. 8d. at the feast of All Saints (November lst) and a like sum at the feast of St. Nicholas (December 6th), and a certain number of the tenants (apparently twenty-three) bound themselves as sureties in the sum of 100l for the due performance of the covenants. In testimony whereof the various parties have interchangeably affixed their seals.

Given at Mersea on the ...... day next after the feast of St. Denys (October 9th) in the fifth year of the reign of ....

The curious 'Customary' printed as already mentioned in the Transactions, vol. xiii., pt. 2 , is probably founded upon the 'novell extent' drawn up in accordance with this deed to replace the ancient records and papers 'burnt and destroyed' by the prior's tenants. The date of the document is either October of 5 Richard II (1381) or October of 5 Henry IV (1403). From Mr. R. C. Fowler's excellent account of 'West Mersea priory in the Victoria County History (vol. ii.), I learn that in 1378 'the custody of the priory was committed to John Ramesy, monk, at a rent of 60l a year, but it does not seem certain that he was Prior.'

In 1383 (7 Richard II.), according to the Pipe Roll of that year, 'Adam Ramesy, the king's esquire, and John Ramsey, monk, his brother, owe 100 marks yearly for the custody [of the priory at West Mersea] from Easter 5 Ric. II.' In the Pipe Roll of 3 Henry IV, John Ramesey, monk, is mentioned as owing 62l. 11s. 7d. for the value of goods and chattels in the priory when committed to him at farm. It seems not improbable that the date of the document is October, 1381, three months after Wat Tyler's peasant rising, in which, as is well known, the rebels took every opportunity of seizing and destroying court rolls and other manorial records and documents. Essex was involved in that insurrection, and the strange doings of the tenants of the Prior of West Mersea in destroying and burning all the manorial evidences seem hardly to be accounted for in any other way. Wat Tyler was killed on June 15th, 1381, and the rebellion collapsed with his death.


Transcribed by Elaine Barker from
Essex Archaeological Society Volume XIII Part IV - page 307

Author: W. Gurney Benham
ID: MARG_313_011
Source: Mersea Museum