Notes on the 'Manorial Roll'


Sometimes referred to as the Manx Doomsday Book, the Manorial Roll is merely a listing of all those paying the Lord's Rent for a given year. These lists were compiled each April by a scribe based at Castle Rushen who used the the previous rent roll together with the decisions of the Setting Quest (i.e. the Jurors mentioned at the head of each parochial list - quest, from which comes our present inquest etc. referring to the formal inquiry mechanism). These parochial lists were transcribed into the Liber Assedationis (Latin - 'Book of Settings'); all rents would be due at the following Michaelmas (29 September) after the harvest when they would be levied by the Moar of each parish for delivery to the Lord's Receiver.

The rolls also contain a list of fines and amercements (a penalty left to the mercy of some individual - in this case the Lord - with the implication that the penalty was less than that otherwise to be expected). A debt court held in October after the Court of General Gaol Delivery (which dealt with all criminal acts) assessed and levied the fines for the previous year - the reference to the 'court roll as appears' refers to the proceedings of this court. A blood-wipe is a serious assault in which blood is spilt -

Correctly " blood-wites," or compensation for blood shed. Deemster Parr’s description of the procedure in such cases is as follows : " If any man happen to draw blood in any way or manner upon another man or woman the party so offended is forthwith to repair to the Moar of the Parish and shew him the blood so drawn upon him, which the Moar is, after due summons given the Sunday before the Court day at the Church cross for all persons presented unto him to be and appear at the said Court to answer for themselves, to declare the same unto the Court, whereupon a jury is impannelled who are to call the defenders before them either to clear themselves from the drawing of the blood, or else to stand guilty which if they be found to be, they are amerced, if it be a man 12d. if a woman 6d. to the Lord, besides an accustomed fee to the Coroner of 6d. more, also 6d. to the Moar, and 4d. to the porter of the Garison of that part of the Island that such presentments are made. But if the party that is presented for such blood-wipes come and pay the Lord’s due upon the Court table, before any jury be sworn, he is to be freed from the said accustomed fees thereby, as is sometimes practised " [see note 50 Book 6 Chap 1 Moore's History]

Other sources of the Lord's income recorded are the fees extracted from those appointed to the offices of Moar and Coroner. These individuals would guarantee to pay the Lord the agreed rents or fines but would cover their own costs by pocketing a fraction of the sum collected - a good incentive to make sure that all their compatriots paid up!

Two further income sources or 'Farms' (from mediaeval Latin 'firma' or payment - our modern word 'farm' derives from the association of the rent with the property so leased) were the Farms of Waste and Farms of Mills, together with a licence fee to operate a brewing pan (the 'Bras'). Waste here refers to land outside of the fixed cultivation of the quarterland farms - after 1520 this became 'intack' land but judging from the number of women paying this rent such land would appear to be used for summer pasturing of cattle (women were generally responsible for all dairy industry). Farm of Mills refers to the licence to operate a mill (at this period all were water driven) - it was compulsory to use the local mill for grinding of corn and possession of hand-querns or larger horse mills was forbidden (though there was such a horse mill within Castle Rushen).

'Bras' is the mediaeval form of the word 'Brass' and refers to the brass brewing pan (a large vessel) necessary for the production of the ale which was a staple of diet in days when water was of doubtful quality, as well as the necessary product to support a 'public house' where ale was sold. Brass had replaced the older lead brewing implements (which were actually dangerous as the accumulative poison of metallic lead leached into the drink) but notice that these licences were still 'for their leads this year'.

At this period land was nominally held at the pleasure of the Lord - i.e. those mentioned were merely tenants and had no right to pass on ('alienate') the land to their heirs or others - however this had effectively developed into a scheme in which the tenants were landowners paying the Lord a fixed tax each year based on the size of their holding. In 1572 Earl Ferdinando attempted to reinstate the old law, which was taken even further by James 7th Earl in his attempt to make all tenancies fixed term contracts - the discontent from this was a major factor in the lack of support given his wife when the Parliamentary forces arrived; the 1702 Act of Settlement moved back to the 'tax' model. In this early roll some land (generally Castletown) was still at 'the will of the Lord' and changes in tenancy indicated by phrases such as 'previously in the tenure of'. Some leases were of of fixed term (seven years being common) during which time the rent would not change but at the end of which an additional 'fine' (generally one year's rent) would be payable to continue the lease. Changes in lease holders were supposed to be noted in the Liber Vastorum (book of 'wastes' - presumably the name from the definition of 'waste' as 'out of cultivation or use' thus indicating those properties that had, at least for some nominal period, no tenant). However such changes,e.g. on the death of a tenant, were often noted some time after the effective change in 'ownership'.

Each parish thus commences with a list of quarterlands, their rent and the person responsible for payment.

At the end is a list of Cottages, their rent and occupier. Cottages according to Roscow were 'single story buildings with a thatched roof, some with a half loft' (this latter was reached by a ladder and provided a sleeping area). Cottages would have a hearth and be subject to the 'smoke-penny' church tax. Building materials might be stone but outside of the richer towns more likely to be sod walls (see under Housing). A two story building would be described as a house (there are only two such in the first Manorial Roll of 1506 covering Castletown) but by the end of the 16th Century 'house' with its higher social status was being used to describe both larger two story dwellings as well as the more humble cottage. Originally town cottages would have been reasonably far apart as land would be needed to store fuel (peat) etc. but by the end of the 16th Century those in Castletown were being built gable-to-gable. A garden was an area of land suitable for cultivation by hand tools (rather than ploughed) - it would provide space both for the cottage and any additional buildings (generally described as 'chambers') as well as grazing and/or cultivated land. A croft was a larger area of land suitable for ploughing and thus capable of supporting a family. Chambers were single undivided rooms used either for habitation or sometimes, in conjunction with gardens, for agricultural purposes.

Cellars were storage rooms used to secure merchandise which would be sold from an adjoining chamber. Brewhouses are self explanatory.


For some time the 1511/1515 rolls transcribed by Talbot were thought to be the earliest surviving - however an earlier roll of 1506 exits for the Southside and some fragments of putative late-15th Century rolls survive. The recently discovered 1506 roll appears to be the first roll based on a new valuation of the Island property with rents being fixed by area (so that tenants had less fear that by improving their property they merely laid themselves open to higher rents). This confirms the opening words of the 1511 - 'demised to them and assigns for a term of 7 years, this year being the 6th' .


The rolls contain the largest (and for the general population the earliest) list of personal and place names - these were used by Moore and Kneen in their study of both Manx family names and Place names.

Canon Quine, it would appear, made his own transcription of these rolls [a Mss copy of which was sold at Dominic Winters in March 2001] - he discusses its history in a paper delivered to IoMNH and Antiquarian society in 1898. His transcription forrmed the basis of his argument for a clan system on the Island (later expanded by Rex Kissack) as well as a discussion of the early history of Manx brewing.

Jim Roscow has however made the most significant use - by transcribing and collating all rolls giving lists of Castletown cottages he has been able to document the development of the town during the 16th century - see also the analysis of the 1506 roll.

Offline References

J.R. Roscow The Development of Sixteenth Century Castletown: Studies from contemporary Documents Proc IoMNH&ASoc X #4 pp301/325 1998

 Manx Note Book



Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2000