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East Meon Manor

The documents

Tessa Barton, who lives in Norfolk, contacted to inform us of a package of documents which she had bought from a bookseller/antique dealer acquaintance. She understood that they had been acquired through clearance sales of a private house. Subsequently, she has kindly sent us the bundle and we have conducted some preliminary investigations.

The documents date from 1725 to 1826, in beautiful copperplate handwriting. Almost all are headed ‘Eastmeon Manor’ and many are copies of conveyances of copyhold land (or bondland) in the manor of Eastmeon (sic). We have placed them in the care of Hampshire Records Office where they can be examined by anyone who wants to take a closer look.

Copyhold land and the manor court

In the Middle Ages the basic categories of land tenure were freehold and copyhold. In each case the land was held by the freeholder or copyholder of (ie from) the lord of the manor. The freeholder’s interest was protected by the King’s courts. Copyhold, the holding of an unfree tenant (or bondman), had as its basis the custom of the particular manor – rather than the common law of England. So it was the court of the lord of the manor (otherwise referred to as the court baron) that had jurisdiction. Conveyances of such land were carried out in the court by surrender (to the lord by the outgoing tenant) and admission (of the new tenant). With the ending of feudalism the lord ceased to have control over his unfree tenants, but land which was copyhold land remained as such, and conveyances continued to be carried out through the manor court. This conveyancing role was effectively the last surviving function of the court. It continued into the 20th century until copyhold was abolished by the Law of Property Act 1925.

The manor

East Meon was a manor of the Bishops of Winchester in Saxon times and, apart from short periods immediately after the Norman conquest and during the Commonwealth in the 17th century, the bishops continued to hold the lordship of the manor up to the middle of the 19th century, when it vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. From the 11th century it in fact consisted of two manors, East Meon, which extended to about 20,000 acres (from Coombe in the south to Oakshott in the north, and from Peak in the west to Stroud in the east), and East Meon Church, of about 750 acres, entirely surrounded by the larger manor. In addition certain sub-manors (including Bereleigh and Langrish) existed. Substantial parts of the manor were held by the lord for his own use.

East Meon in the 18th Century

By the 18th century the large areas of land that the lord had held for his own use were leased out by the diocese. They included Court Farm (including the manor house, The Court House), Church Farm and South Farm. The grant of a tenancy of the manor lands, of course, did not transfer the lordship, which was a separate incorporeal interest extending to the whole of the manor and carrying with it the function of holding the manor court. The manor of East Meon in the 18th century thus consisted of large tenanted farms, areas of freehold land and copyhold land like the holdings that were the subject of the conveyances in the recently discovered documents.

Notable people in East Meon

‘A History of East Meon’, by Freddie Standfield, tells us a little of the hierarchy of East Meon at this time. One Richard Eyles was ‘rated as the occupier of Court Farm’ in the 1750s; he also occupied ‘Beerly Farm’ in the 1760s. Click here to read about Glenthorne House, where the Eyles family lived for forty years, from 1783.

The book also has a note about another holding, Langrish Farm, that “it was tenanted …. of” 4 Manors, viz Meon Manor and Meon Church, belonging to the Church … (then Langrish and he doesn’t list the other two, one of which was presumably Bereleigh). For more about Richard Eyles and his family, see the House History of Glenthorne House, which he owned. Click here

These documents are from a period when parts of the manor, including Court Farm, were held under life tenancies from the Bishop by the Sharrock family of Gately in Norfolk. There are monuments to the both the Sharrocks and the Eyleses in the Lady Chapel of All Saints Church. Whether Richard Eyles held leases of the bishop or were sub-tenants of the Sharrock family is not clear – he may have been tenant of Bereleigh & sub-tenant, through Sharrock, of Court Farm.