Law about Manors
Manors are of ancient origin dating from before Norman times. The extent of the manor was usually determined by the original grant from the Crown or superior lord. A manor was self-contained with its own customs and rights within its defined area.
There are three separate elements of a manor (collectively called an honour) that have legal significance:
Lordship of the Manor: whoever owns the Lordship of the Manor is entitled to refer to themselves as lord of that manor, for example, Lord of the Manor of Keswick. Aka the lordship or dignity – this is the title granted by the manor. The title may be held in moieties and may not be subdivided, this is prohibited by the statute of Quia Emptores preventing subinfeudation. The following second and third elements can be subdivided.
manorial land: because a manor was a defined area it included the physical land within that area. Such land could either be freehold or leasehold. Aka "the manorial" – this is the manor and its land,
manorial rights: rights which were part and parcel of the manorial title and which were usually kept by the lord on disposal of parts of the manorial land, for example, the right to hunt, shoot or fish. Aka the seignory – these are the rights granted to the holder of the manor.
These elements may exist separately or be combined. The lordship title cannot be subdivided, but the manorial land and the manorial rights can be.
The Manorial Lordship
The Lordship of the Manor is among the oldest titles in England and predates the Norman Conquest. The Normans institutionalised the Manorial System in the Domesday Book which lists over 13,000 Manors and their owners. It is not connected to the British honours system.
Changes to the UK Land Registration Act in 2002 preserves the continuation of the Lord of the Manor title or dignity, but regulates many of the ancient and traditional mineral, fishing, trespass and other manorial rights.
A manorial lordship or ladyship is not a title of nobility in the modern British honours system. It is rather a survival from the feudal system. Technically, Lords of Manors are barons, however, they do not use the term as a title as it only relates to the extinct feudal system and is no longer correct in the context of the usage of the modern British peerage. English Feudal Baronies, along with the feudal system, were abolished in England in 1660 by Act of Parliament (The Abolition of Feudal Tenure Act), after that year no English Feudal Baronies of any degree existed. The owner of a lordship of the manor can be described as "John Smith, Lord/Lady of the Manor of X", sometimes shortened to "John Smith, Lord of X". On no account are they described as "Lord Smith" or "Baron Smith". Ownership of a manorial lordship will be noted on request in British passports.
Manorial rights are certain rights which were retained by lords of the manor in England and Wales when land became freehold in the early 20th century, and can include rights to mines and some minerals, sporting rights such as hunting, shooting and fishing, and rights to hold fairs and markets. When copyhold tenure was abolished in 1926 and converted into freehold in a process known as ‘enfranchisement’, these rights were preserved indefinitely unless ended by written agreement between the lord and tenant. In its written evidence, the Ministry of Justice describes copyhold tenure as: tenure of land “by copy of Court Roll”. The roots of copyhold date back to before the Norman Conquest. The history is complicated but in brief Court Rolls of the manor came to record the title of the tenants of the manor to their properties and the tenants were given a copy of the entry recording their title. This is apparently the origin of the term “copyhold”. Title to copyhold land was, or became in practice, inheritable and transferable subject to the customary rents and services to which it was subject. By the seventeenth century it seems that copyhold land was held by rent rather than for services. Nonetheless the legal form lingered on until all remaining copyhold land was “enfranchised” into freehold tenure on 1 January 1926.
The meaning of manorial rights for the purposes of the 2002 Act was explained by the Law Commission as being the following rights of the lord of the manor in respect of former copyhold land or of the copyhold tenant:
• the lord’s sporting rights;
• the lord’s or tenant’s rights to mines and minerals;
• the lord’s right to hold fairs and markets;
• the tenant’s rights of common;
the lord’s or tenant’s liability for the construction, maintenance and repair of dykes, ditches, canals and other works.
While many current owners of manorial rights are individuals who have inherited such rights, the process of enfranchisement in the 1920s also enabled lords of the manor to sell their remaining rights to third parties. As Dr Paul Stafford noted, that there remains to this day “an active market for such rights and also for lordships, which can change hands for five or six figure sums.” In one of the areas where claims of manorial rights have caused controversy, Anglesey, those claims were made by a person who bought the title of lord of the manor in 1992, although it should be noted that he has subsequently withdrawn the claims. Equally, manorial rights are held by charities and institutions, for example the Church Commissioners and some Oxbridge colleges.