When the Manor Ruled

Angmering Court Rolls 1483 1508 - an initial assessment 1

by RW Standing

For local historians, the broad dividing line between the Middle Ages and Modern England must be the 16th century.  Not so much because of headline events, such as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but as a result of the decay of the manor as the organ of local government, and the rise of the parish in its place under Elizabeth and a plethora of legislation centred around the Poor Law.

At long last, in 2010, a large collection of deeds and manorial documents from Parham House, relating to Angmering, was catalogued by West Sussex Record Office.  This will greatly ease the task of research, which previously was rather pot-luck, picking out bundles of parchment from barely sorted boxes.

By good fortune a set of medieval Manor Court Rolls survives amongst mainly modern deeds and rentals. These date between 1483 and 1508, after which there is long break before a few more modern rolls can be found. 2 These provide no more than a snapshot of Angmering from 1483 to 1494 and 1508, but it is of a village in the midst of the monastic age when both Ecclesden and West Angmering were still owned by Syon. Written in Latin, making use of them would be an arduous task for anyone, but an English translation was made many years ago at Parham, and it is this invaluable secondary source that is made use of here. 3

The translators use the generalised title ‘Angmering Court Rolls’, for the five sets of parchment documents they were dealing with. But the village was not a single manor, and it is immediately obvious that only the Syon abbey manors of Ecclesden and West Angmering were included - acquired by the Palmer family after the Dissolution - with these records only being removed to Parham in the early 17th century when Bishopp acquired the Palmer estate.

The original wording, when courts were held, was to the effect:
Ecclesdon - View with Court held there on….
By no means does every court record survive, but those that do are twice a year in or about April and October.  At an earlier period the courts were held more often. There is nothing to indicate where the court was held, but Ecclesden does imply that was the chief manor, and the manor house there was the probable place where tenants had to foregather.  It was not until 1593 that this house was sold by Thomas Palmer to John Baker, and so separated from the manors that Bishopp of Parham acquired. 4

The complicated land ownership in Angmering is revealed by the business conducted, with tenants lands referred to in Ecclesden itself, and West Angmering, but also East Angmering.  The simple term Angmering is used a few times, but more particularly where the vicar is named, although even there it is usually the vicar of West  Angmering who is named - Robert Laurence and later a Robert Julyan.

West Angmering was clearly accounted a manor in its own right, with its own village and tenants. Various officers were elected quite specifically for Westangmeryng.  On the other hand Estangmeryng is named a very few times, referring to tenants of Syon whose cottages were within the general area of East Angmering. Perhaps in that odd corner of West Angmering north of the High Street, the Steane.

Oddly, it may be thought, there is no mention of Syon in the rolls. The owner is exclusively referred to as ‘the lady’.  ‘And the lady by the steward granted him…’  In other words the prioress of Syon in Middlesex.  Nor is the steward named, in charge of the various manors in Sussex owned by Syon, at least not in the Angmering rolls translated.  Another principal officer serving Syon was the Receiver who collected the rents, a rent collector. He is barely mentioned in the court rolls, apart from a few accounts of expenses that would have included his salary. As and when they can be found, yearly rent accounts kept by the receiver may list all the manor copyholds, leaseholds, and freeholds, and so be even more informative than several court rolls.

At this time all the meetings were headed,’ View with Court held there on….’  And rather more fully in 1508, ‘View of Frankpledge with Court…’  That is to say a Court Leet or minor criminal court, and a Court Baron concerned with property transactions and administration of the common fields shared by the tenants.

All of this work required the election of a variety of officers, performing onerous duties in bringing their fellow villagers and neighbours to book. The names and number of these officers varied regionally, and over time, but those which appear in the Syon rolls comprised:

One Chief Pledge and Ale Taster
with 12 jurymen
One Beadle
Two Keremen
Two Affeerers

The Chief Pledge was in fact the Constable  with the Beadle his assistant.  The Pledge was in charge of the View of Frankpledge whereas the Beadle appears to have been the chief officer at the Court which followed. In every instance the Pledge was also the Ale Taster, with responsibility for checking the quality of ale and beer sold. But, evidently,  he was also an inspector of butcher’s and millers, ensuring the quality of their produce.  More significantly, as constable, minor assaults and robberies were reported by him and dealt with.

The Beadle was also the town crier, and at court meetings presented each of the tenants involved in land transactions.  In East Preston the crier was, by custom,  the last person to take a tenancy, but in Angmering he was elected from amongst all the tenants.

Two Keremen or Curemen were elected each year, to serve Ecclesden, and another two for West Angmering. There is nothing in the surviving rolls to indicate their duties, but in neighbouring Goring they were defined as ‘keepers of the kere’ [de la kere] responsible for enforcing agricultural bylaws of the manor.  At the moment the meaning of ‘kere’ is obscure. 5
It is not clear whether the two Affeerers were elected, and perhaps they were appointed by the steward. They had the onerous task of fixing penalties for offences. On the other hand, where stray animals had to be valued, this was undertaken by the ‘tenants amongst themselves’ those present, a very convenient custom.

One question unresolved is who wrote up the minutes in the rolls. Very few people in the locality could write good English let alone Latin. No doubt this was an appointment through the steward, taking him wherever courts were held. These particular court rolls include Wiggonholt, as one of the other Syon manors associated with Ecclesden.

Chief Pledge and Ale Taster
1483 Stephen Prior, 1484 John Pays, 1485 John Sharpe, 1486 William Hatcher, 1487 John Hatcher, 1490 Stephen Prior, 1491 Edward Gardiner, 1492 [John Borough], 1492 Bardin Dalamere, 1493 John Pays, 1494 Bardin Dalamere, 1508 Richard A. Wode,
Something of a rota appears to have been in place, amongst those best qualified for the position, mainly tradesmen. In one instance a female tenant of a property put John Hatcher in her place, or paid him to take the job. No doubt an illustrious figure like John Palmer would have done the same.

As is well known, Ecclesden constantly battled to maintain privileges, as a Liberty more or less free from the Hundred court and sheriff. There is an 18th century list of claimed privileges, from the punishment of minor criminals, the assize of bread and ale, to holding a market and fair. In fact it would appear that Ecclesden did attend the Hundred Courts in the person of the chief pledge. 6

Each court meeting began with a View of Frankpledge, and opened with the same form of words. [Named] “Chief Pledge with his [or all the] tithing there was sworn and presents”. Whether this meant a jury representing the tithing of Ecclesden, or literally all the tenants, is not stated. Since various numbers of tenants were usually absent and were fined 2d, probably everyone should have appeared.

Millers, Brewers and Butchers
At virtually every Frankpledge, millers, butchers, and brewers, were fined for excessive pricing, and worse, with butchers selling putrid meat. The usual fine at 2d barely seeming much more than a nominal charge. From those fined it would appear there were normally several butchers trading in the village. Perhaps a couple of brewers, quite apart from those working illicitly and fined.  For some reason the miller so named changed several times, perhaps because of misdemeanours. But only one appears at a time, and  it may well be that he worked the water mill which used the Ecclesden stream. If East Angmering manor were investigated it would also have had a mill, although wind powered.  In view of the bad meat, it was as well that a large proportion of Angmering villagers, including tradesmen, had their own smallholdings and their own stock.7

Robert Blabur 1483, 1484, John Coole 1485, John Cokyll or Cocle 1486, 1487, Bardin Dalmere 1489, 1490, Thomas Haggebourne  Oct. 1490, John Hayward May 1491. Alexander Abbott 1492,
John Paynet, Richard Smyth, Thomas Harry, Richard Jope, 1489, John Paynet, Richard Smyth, Thomas Fuller, Richard Joupe 1490 Richard Couper, John Paynet 1508.
John Sharpe, William Hercher 1483, Jiohn Sharpe 1484, William Hatchette 1485, John Sharpe, John Hatcher 1485, John Sharpe 1486, John Sharpe, William Copden 1489, 1490, John Sharpe Oct 1490, 1491, John Yong 1508.

When it came to outright felonies and violence, Angmering was not behindhand. Where these were reported the crimes were, “against the peace of our Lord and King”  Crimes against society as much as against individuals.  At the first Frankpledge in hand, 1483, a John Locke was fined 6d for an assault on Robert Julian.  There is no evidence or motives reported, only that it was with a dagger. Then in 1486 Robert Julyan – presumably the victim in 1483 – assaulted a Stephen Priour with a stick, “of no value”, but was only fined 2d. Again that same year, Thomas Remys used a prong, an agricultural implement, drawing blood from John Wyche, costing him 4d. After another three quiet years, in 1489 something of a Robin Hood style fight with staves took place, between John Dobnet and Stephen Prior – again - with the latter fined 4d. John Dobnet did however labour under the difficulty of having a ‘scold’ as his wife. In 1490 she was brought to court and fined 12d as a “common quarreller and of evil disposition”.  That same year a fracas took place when Roger Grey assaulted John Dereham, beating and ill treating him with a stick. Then two years later Thomas Tynker fell out with his mate, and they fought it out with daggers ‘worth 12d’,  his mate being fined at drawing first blood. Whether any of these were taken on to the Hundred Court is a matter for speculation.

Friction between villagers and the Church, in the person of its tithe and glebe owning priests, was of long standing,  and remained so until 19th century reforms. Whether this or personal animosities were at the root of two remarkable incidents may not be open to discovery, at this early date.

In 1485 John Colman, was fined 40d, and then another two times at 20d, for assault and robbery against John Laurence the vicar of West Angmering - several weeks wages for a labourer.  In the first instance he ambushed the vicar on the highway with a pole axe.  Then he raided the close or garden at the vicarage and stole a hen with its brood, and went on to steal one of his hives of bees. At a later date, with a crime such as this tried at Quarter Sessions, a much more severe punishment  was likely.  In 1486 Robert Julyan is named as the vicar of Angmering, evidently quite transiently.

A few years later, in 1493, it was the vicar who assaulted one John Brownesbury. In what way is unclear, but it cost him 20d. But this vicar at this date must have been Peter Esshynge, who is named elsewhere in the rolls as ‘clerk’ which in archaic usage normally signified a priest..

In 1490 the Liberty of Ecclesden was impugned by the sheriff, when the beadle there arrested a certain white horse, with a saddle and bridle, feloniously stolen by some foreigner, worth 10s 8d, but one Thomas Musby servant of Thomas Appesley then sheriff, took the said horse away from the said beadle, therefore the said sheriff must be spoken to.

The Village Farm
Such little spats were few and far between, and the preponderant work of the Pledge concerned the simple everyday agricultural economy of two villages, at Ecclesden and West Angmering. Not that of East Angmering or Ham. Most manor fields were as yet far from being owned in severalty, with most of the land in both places in common fields and pastures. This meant everyone had to cooperate in the maintenance of fences, ditches, highways, and the use of open fields for pasturage of animals on the aftermath after harvest. And then the problem of stray animals was constant, with sheep the main culprits, followed by pigs, horses, and cattle.

The general form was that when a stray was picked up, it was given into a local farmers keeping, and if nobody had claimed it a year later, the villagers valued and sold it - fixing a price less its keep. No doubt animals were put in the pound but only temporarily.  In one instance the vicar of Poling claimed a sheep as his. One wonders how it got across Black Ditch. There is very little mention of breeds, probably because most animals had long been the same. In 1493 an ox was ‘redfalowe’ in colour, and a sheep white.

An interesting comment on the manor pinfold and its maintenance is reported in 1486:
"Also they present that the lady's penfold there is defective and not sufficiently repaired by default of John Bromesbury, who ought to redpair it, in his proportion for his holding. Therefore he has a day to repair it before Whitsuntide under a pain of 3s 4d.”  
In other words the pound was repaired by all the manor tenants in proportion to their holdings, very much as the churchyard fence had to be repaired by parishioners according to their various stints.

Both the vicar and a villager were accused of ‘Pondbrech’ in 1493 and fined. This may be translated as pound breach, taking impounded animals away without leave.

The Price of a Stray
In pricing the stray animals for sale to themselves, villagers were not going to charge market prices, even allowing for keep already expended. Many were in fact claimed and so not priced. Nor can anything be judged about  the quality of animals. However, the valuations give some idea of how valuable a penny was 500 years ago.
Sheep, 5d, 7d, and 11d.  A ram 8d.  A sheep with a lamb 1s.  4 ewes with a lamb 4s 8d. Ewe 8d. 
Young ox 2s. 
Red pig 1s 6d.
Black mare 1s 8d, Horse worth 10s 8d.

Repair of Roads and Watercourses
The repair of highways, watercourses and ditches, must have been an unending bother for the Curemen. Villagers had enough to do tending their holdings, without getting together with other tenants to scour ditches. An unpopular chore left to last. In some instances highways and  water courses had to be repaired by the whole tithing, but often only by particular individuals - presumably the adjoining landowners or occupiers.

The greatest ‘pain’ or fine threatened came in 1492 at Ecclesden, “the highway leading to the manor there is defective for want of stones”. A fine of 40s to be levied amongst all the tenants. For individuals the usual fine was 3s 4d, but one person who had hedges and ditches to put in order had the a threat of 6s 8d to pay if he failed. Even worse, Margaret Sweyn's hedges were to the “grave damage of her neighbours” and she could have forfeited her property.

House Upkeep
Tenants were naturally expected to keep their houses and barns in good repair, and in several instances were called to book for not doing so. For some unknown reason a wholesale survey must have taken place in 1492, with around fourteen tenants arraigned for having houses or barns in disrepair, with fines of 6s 8d set or even forfeiture. Few details are given, the “roof, walls and timbers” in one case. In the case of Bardin Dalmare, his “barn is ruinous in 'grundsell' and timbers”  which can be reworded as the ground cill and wall timbers above it. Why these were under the Pledge is obscure, for other such reports came under the general Court Baron business. There were at least seven of these with fines and forfeiture promised, and orders that the tenants were to live in them.

Two Granges
Two 1485 reports are of particular interest because the translators used the term grange, rather than cottage, house, tenement, or messuage.8   Unfortunately it is impossible to determine whether one or both were in Ecclesden village or West Angmering.  Since Syon was the owner at this period the likelihood arises that these were indeed the two principal farmsteads or manor houses. John Froggbroke, one of a longstanding family of farmers in Angmering, occupied one of these “defective in timbers, roof and walls”. The other in the tenure of Thomas Odyn, defective in “three “Copelles” and in the roof and in other necessary things to the same belonging”.   These couples were no doubt main trusses and frames below these.

After hundreds of years as a common field village, it might be thought that regulation of the commons, cattle, and crops, was covered by well rehearsed ordinances. Whether a loss of forest pannage caused pigs to be kept more in the village fields, trouble did arise with fifty or so pigs rooting about on a common pasture in Ecclesden. As a result an ordinance was agreed in 1486:
“And it is ordained and established with the assent of all the tenants of Ecclesden that from this time forth no tenant shall allow his pigs to pasture or dig in the lands or meadows, or go out in the fields there without a keeper from the Feast of All Saints [November 1] to then end of autumn, and this every year, under a pain of 6s 8d upon any one doing to the contrary,”

The very next year and various villagers were fined 6s 8d each for, “allowing their pigs to go out into the fields and streets there without a keeper” . It then goes on to say, “contrary to the ordinance made of old time on the subject”.  In other words there had been a bylaw, which was simply reinforced by a new edict.
Even so another ordinance was made in 1491, and expanded by a new clause.” And that no one shall suffer his pigs to go at large until the tenants and every of them shall have sown their corn under a pain of 3s 4d upon any one so offending.”

It may be assumed that almost any set of court rolls, covering a decade, would have one or another such rule restated. In 1710 horses, beasts and pigs, were still causing problems where they were let out on the highways untended.

Property Transfer
Most of the Court Baron [and Court Customary] concerns were to do with transfer of properties, usually due to the death of a copyholder, but also when giving them up voluntarily. In other cases, providing permission for tenants to sublet for terms of years. Where a licence was given to let out a tenement the terms varied considerably 7, 10 and 12 years quoted. This was a nice money earner for the ‘lady’ of Syon, since heriots were paid at every death, with fines paid by new occupiers. In one case the heriot was quite out of the ordinary, as “Two mullets and a crayfish”.  At this time heriots and fines were in shillings, with some heriots as low as 6d. Fines of 6s 8d were common and only one above a pound.

One great problem for historians is that so little detail is given of rents being paid, acreages of land, or location. In many instances farms were measured in virgates, and this was a very variable extent across the country. The virgate was a quarter of a hide and probably less than the conventional 30 acres. In fact at Ecclesden it appears to have been set at 20 acres about this time, from the evidence in the infamous Ecclesden Outrage of 1545, when a later John Palmer demolished much of West Angmering village.9

Reconstructing the Villages
West Angmering
It must be said at once that with such minimal evidence, any substantial reconstruction is impossible. All that can be done is to suggest a few probabilities.

One landholding, a freehold, can clearly be identified in Angmering Park - the Knights Hospitaller ‘assart’ near the Dover.  This is the subject of a separate article.10   In the rolls this is referred as land of the Prior of St John of Jerusalem in England. Beyond that deductions become more and tenuous.

Where West Angmering is directly referred to, it can be assumed the property was in that block of land north of Ham and west of Arundel Road - New Place included. In 1485 not only is West Angmering named but also Blakeditch; “ the highway called Blakedyche is defective by default of all the tenents of Westangmeryng”  It would be surprising if this were not a lost village road near to Black Ditch, perhaps where the decoy woods and houses are today.. Another highway called ‘Staffordstreete’ was broken up should have been repaired by the tenants of West Angmering. And then a “highway on the south side of Westangmerynge” would have been north of Ham, and the possibility of the present path to Poling being the road comes to mind. It is known to have been paved in part.

There is direct mention of 'le Blakeditch' which continued along ‘Reysmede’.  And that  ‘Chapmandyche’ is named in association with this points to its also being in West Angmering.  It is also notable that the only fields named ‘Hyde’ in the 19th century, were at West Angmering, and therefore may be assumed as descending from 'le Hyde' from where a watercourse ran to Stafforde.

In 1545, a colourful reference is made to tenancies in, “oon whoole streete of the said Lordship beynge nyegh unto the seae syde”.  The Arun estuary may still have flooded across towards Angmering, but as the court rolls indicate Black Ditch was firmly in being, with the village street in question named after Blakedyche.

But the family of greatest note in West Angmering was the eventual owners of the Syon manors, and builders of New Place, the Palmers.  “John Palmer paid 6d for a rent of a pair of spurs for a holding in West Angmering once Stopham’s. John’s grandfather Robert had married Elizabeth, daughter and heir of John of Stopham, perhaps the John of Stopham who had two houses and 1 ½ ploughlands in West Angmering in 1336” 11. A ploughland or hide.

John Palmer is mentioned several times in the rolls, prior to his decease in 1504, after which his son Edward took over the property and was called upon to pay the usual heriot and fine to Syon in 1508.
“Order made as before to distrain Edward Palmer son and heir of John Palmer to make satisfaction to the lady for his heriot and relief for a tenement and 2 virgates and one ferling of land, and to do fealty to the lady for the same, and the other services thereupon due and accustomed, before the next Court, etc”.

There is nothing to directly place this farm, not even in West Angmering. But it is a fair bet that it was the Stopham lands, and at a site that preceded New Place. Measured at the 20 acre virgate, this farm was only 45 acres. However, much of Palmer’s land lay in Poling, and no doubt included outliers in Angmering directly adjacent to where New Place was built. An entry for 1485 is ambiguous about  its location, but the highway near John Palmer’s house was described as broken and a danger to the King’s people, the whole tithing responsible for its repair.

In the 1545 court evidence, various copyholds belonging to Palmer are listed by their names at the time. Lybdeles, Warnes, Churcheares, Derams, Bargrames, and Cuttynges. The space of time since the previous century makes identifying these almost impossible. It can only be said that he had already managed to secure a good proportion of the village copyholds.

It is entirely on the cards that such main streets and roads as existed, served as access to the fields, and to Angmering at large. These routes surviving as convenient farm lanes. That is to say the lane to Poling, another through Old Place north to New Place, and from that place to the Decoy, with some part of the Black Ditch street lost in the woods to the west.

Other features that appear to have been related to West Angmering, but cannot be placed, include Michelmeregate and Michelmore. Gosboldgate, an actual gate rather than the Northern term for a road. Also a water course from Margaret Well, which suggests a spring,  if the name not an error for Margethtell.

The Chief Pledge changed regularly and included a John Sharpe, although to make matters difficult there seems to have been another John Sharpe who died in 1486 who had a virgate of land called Botellers, but no heriot was paid because he had no goods – which is remarkable. 

This chief pledge was certainly fairly affluent, as a brewer, and owning the copyholds of three cottages in Ecclesden although with only just over three acres of land. In 1484 a renewed copyhold was taken out for his life and that of his wife Joan. The oddest part of this was that the heriot and fine payable was two mullets and a crayfish. However when he died widow Joan paid a more ordinary heriot of 18d.  If this was indeed Ecclesden proper, then it can only be imagined the mullets represented an ancient custom, and the Ecclesden stream that flows down to Black Ditch was once a much more substantial tributary.

Very little is presented concerning highways and watercourses, directly attributed to Ecclesden unlike West Angmering. Therefore reconstructing the village is impossible, but it is very likely the general layout of the fields and roads had no reason to change,and  it is likely that a reconstruction from the 1679 Survey can be assumed as more or less medieval. It was a partly nucleated village around a green, with a road from there southwards and another wending across to Angmering High Street.

There is one useful 1490 reference to, “a bridge called Swaynesbrigge in the tithing of Ecclesdon remains unrepaired by default of the whole tithing there”. The name would seem to mean Swine, but nothing in 1679 fits, and a good alternative is Swans Bridge, from the plentifully referenced Swans Lane of 1679 that ran north to the Ecclesden stream.

Apart from a few implacable houses, there is one other useful place name in 1485. “And at this Court all the tenants of Ecclesden have a day sufficiently to repair their fences and hedges [“clausuras”] against the common called Vynsdowne, before Christmas next under a pain of 20d upon any found defective.”
The description suggests a pasture common, rather than an open arable field, but there is nothing in 1679 to fit this name. At that time there was the great Ecclesden Common, and the village green, but otherwise the whole of Ecclesden was either arable or enclosed pastures. It can be imagined that Sheeplands Common in 1679 may once have been open downland pasture, but whether Vynsdowne is guesswork. The tenants of Ecclesden presumably, as opposed to West Angmering, also had a “common meadow” where several villagers pastured numerous pigs. Some fifty in 1486 but to the general annoyance of other tenants.

Part of the manor lay outside Angmering in Patching at Selden.  This is mentioned in 1491.
“Further he presents that a pasture called Lee Goores is and from time immemorial has been parcel of a pasture called Barnestakes and is worth 10s by the year, and it is occupied by the Master of Arundel College.”
According to VCH, Selden was once called Sylkeden, which ties in very nicely with a tenement in 1486.
“To this Court came Maurice Martyn tenant there and surrendered into the hands of the lady a tenement and half virgate of land lying in Sylkedene, late Matthew Hyder's which he had by surrender of Henry Wattys, to the use of Thomas Remys, upon which there falls to the lady for a heriot one mare worth 20d.”

RW Standing
May 2011


1.  With so little to work and an esoteric subject, much of this article may need amendment.
2.  According to Victoria County History V pt 2 p. 51, there are  also Ecclesden court rolls for 1401, 1426, 1460, and 1496 – 9.
3.  Parham 3/1/2
4.  VCH V pt2 p.40
5.  VCH V pt2 p.119
6.  VCH V pt2 p.26
7.  This can be deduced from later probate inventories and wills.
8.  The Latin originals have to checked, but it may have been ‘granacia’
9.  WSRO  MP 3614
10. Angmering Park and the Knights Hospitaller (
AVL article)
11. VCH V pt2 p41


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