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Local History Society report - Wakefield Court Rolls for Family History: Sylvia Thomas

Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Wakefield manor was one of the largest in England and covered not just Wakefield, but a huge area of the West Riding including the Calder Valley.

RollAs president of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society and former West Yorkshire County Archivist, Sylvia Thomas is clearly proud that the Society is custodian of seven centuries of evidence which can be researched by local and family historians.

In a talk to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society, Sylvia outlined the kinds of details about family relationships and everyday life that can be gleaned from the court rolls. Covering seven centuries, the parchment (later paper) rolls recorded the administration of the manor of Wakefield which took place at the manorial courts. Though the earlier rolls were written in Latin, many have been translated and can be consulted in reference libraries.

Names are at the heart of family history research and the rolls are full of them. As property was transferred through a process known as 'surrender' the rolls record those who held the property in the past, as well as those to whom it is being transferred or who may inherit in the future. All this contributes to the family tree.

Historians can also find the names of occupiers of property, as well as the occupations of all those named. Sylvia cautioned that it isn't always easy to identify an individual ancestor: particular surnames are often very common within a local area, and there was a propensity to use similar Christian names across the generations and in different branches which can cause confusion.

When land was left in wills, this too was recorded in the court rolls, often offering clues about relationships between family members who may have different surnames. Illegitimate children might also be included in the inheritance, giving new leads for the researcher to follow. Will-makers often sought to control the behaviour of their families from beyond the grave, for example by making inheritance conditional on a son not marrying a named woman - and these details too add to the fascination of researching family history.

The manor also administered justice at twice yearly 'leat' courts, and these records contribute rich detail to our knowledge of the past. Failing to abide by the laws and customary practices of the manor could lead to a summons to appear before the court. Offences could be punished with fines, or even with death. Those causing affray and fighting were among those punished, as were sheep worriers, scolds, eavesdroppers, and nightwalkers and those who tainted flour, used an unofficial baker or had excessively smoky fires.

This rich archive of court rolls from 1274 to 1925 holds secrets and stories which wait for the family historian detective to uncover.

The Hebden Bridge Local History Society has a Family History section which meets regularly and can provide help and support to anyone researching their family's past – details are available on the society's website www.hebdenbridgehistory.org.uk

The website also has information about more fascinating talks held fortnightly on Wednesday evenings at the Methodist Hall in Hebden Bridge.

On 28th January Nigel Smith will talk about Patterns in the Landscape and on 11th February Jean Illingworth will reminisce about Growing up in Sowerby – everyone welcome.

With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

Previously, on the HebWeb

Happy Birthday Stoodley Pike: by Nick Wilding (16 Dec 2014)

Wills, Inventories and Economic Activity in the Parish of Halifax at the end of the 17th Century: Alan Petford (30 Nov 2014)

Local History Society Archive explored - Following the 65th AGM, members of Hebden Bridge Local History Society were treated to a sample of some of the treasures to be found in the Society's archive. (19 Nov 2014)

Views from two communities on the outbreak of war in 1914 - Mike Crawford, Wolfgang Hombach and Nick Wilding (27 Oct 2014)

The Listed Buildings of the Hebden Bridge area with Peter Thornborrow. (14 Oct 2014)

Valley of a Hundred Chapels by Amy Binns (29 Sept 2014)

History Group Study Day report: Power and Potability (11 Sept 2014)

Whose land is it anyway? How parliamentary enclosure shaped the landscape of the Calder Valley: speaker, Sheila Graham. Read more (6 April 2014)

Yorkshire Life between the Wars: speaker, Ian Dewhirst. Read more (20 March 2014)

Industrialisation and the Calder Valley: Communities in a unique landscape - Talk by Dr Stephen Caunce Read more (3 March 2014)

Quarrying in Calderdale: George Bowers gave a talk on the history of stone quarries in our local area. Read more (15 Feb)

Calder Valley Buildings of the Seventeenth Century: the craftsmen and their patrons Read more (27 Jan)See Small Ads (12 March)

Some thoughts on historic buildings and their repairs by Alan Gardner

Anne Kirker tells of Sam Hill of Making Place, Soyland Read more (22 Dec)

Local History Talk: A Postcard from Sunny Bunce's, a local destination that became known as the playground of the north. Read more

Withens Reservoir, the subject of the latest Local History Talk, was part of a fascinating story . . . not so much Cragg Vale's reservoir as the property of distant Morley. Read more (19 Nov)

Local History talk on Witchcraft in the Upper Calder Valley: As make-believe witches come knocking on our doors John Billingsley, folklorist and author of many books on the subject, told members of the Local History Society that to our ancestors witchcraft was very real indeed. More info (27 Oct)

Local History talk on Mytholmroyd's Moderna: Joan Laprell spoke to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society where she recalled the village within a village that was the Moderna Blanket Factory in Mytholmroyd, where she worked for ten years. More info (12 Oct)

Local History talk on maps: The first meeting of the new season of lectures for the Hebden Bridge Local History Society was launched by Tony Morris speaking about the history of maps and map-making as well as cartographic crime. More info (30 Sept)

Bridge Mill: History on our doorstep. Justine Wyatt, with the support of the mill's current owner David Fletcher, has uncovered more of the story of the building, and gave a fascinating talk to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. Read more (3 April)

Working from home in 1825; Working from home is not a new concept, Malcolm Heywood told members of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. William Greenwood's described his several different occupations. Read more (20 March)

The Grave of Robin Hood: mysterious goings-on in Calderdale. Kai Roberts told the local history society about Robin Hood in Calderdale and especially the monument known as Robin Hood’s Grave. Read more (11 March)

Todmorden Weavers and the Great War. Alan Fowler, former lecturer in Economic and Social History, told a meeting of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society that the local Weavers’ Association had 4000 members at its peak. Read more (19 Feb)

Our Railway Station in the 19th century. David Taylor told a meeting of the Local History Society about how the early railway developed in Hebden Bridge. Read more (28 Jan)

Untold Stories: A glimpse into the lives of local people - Tony Wright has for the past ten years been collecting personal life stories on film and audio tape. Read more (18 Jan)

City in the Hills - Corinne McDonald and Ann Kilbey told a meeting of the Local History Society of Dawson City, the building of the Walshaw Dean Reservoirs and the publication of a new book. Read more (16 Dec)

Lament for the Mills - Robert Cockcroft, poet and academic told of his childhood spent close to mills owned and operated by his grandfather, John Cockcroft and his father, Keith. Read more (2 Dec)

How much thought do you give to a war memorial? - Mike Edwards told a meeting of the Local History Society, war memorials can be found in many forms and in unusual places. Read more (17 Nov)

Clubhouses: self help and co-operation - A small row of houses in Old Town, called Clubhouses, encapsulates some of the history and spirit of the Calder Valley explains Julie Cockburn. (30 October 2012)

Small Town Saturday Night - The story of a love affair with rock 'n roll at its peak in the 1950s and 60s from speaker Trevor Simpson.

The world of Cornelius Ashworth, speaker Alan Petford, Local History talk of 10 October 2012

Hebden Bridge Local History Society

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