British Local Jurisdictions–a Glossary (so we are all on the same page as it were)
Civil Jurisdictions–in the British Isles
__Hamlet. A small cluster of houses without a church. Very common in rural Wales—even today.
__Village. Public jurisdiction over a group of houses and other buildings. Larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town. Many villages originate officially with the granting of a charter and a statement of the powers vested in the village government. Boundaries may overlap or be coterminous with other local jurisdictions.
__Trything. This is an Anglo-Saxon court jurisdiction including three or more hundreds. In Kent, called a Lathe; in Sussex, called a Rape; in Lincoln called a Part, and in Yorkshire called a Riding. These jurisdictions have largely been absorbed into other units of government today. In Sussex, Lincoln, and Yorkshire, the ancient trythings became modern administrative counties.
__Civil Parish. From the time of Henry VIII (1536), parishes were given increasing civil power over the local population within their borders: poor relief, laws of settlement, education of local children, collection and distribution of local taxes, repair and building of roads. The civil parish is a subdivision of and subject to county jurisdiction.
__Manor. Private jurisdiction granted to a landowner and tied to the land. Full responsibility for the welfare and livelihood of tenants, originally called villeins, who live on the land. Manor lands may be legally called “copyhold” lands because the right to use and farm the land was written in the court rolls. Right to hold courts; both civil and criminal actions rested with the Lord of the Manor. Tenants had the obligation to attend the court and pay homage to the Lord. Within the manor boundaries were free tenants who owned the lands (called “freeholds”) on which they lived. These free tenants were also required to attend the lord’s court and make up the “good and lawful men” of the jury. Gradually, the administrative functions of the manor were transferred to the parish or to local, named townships. The manor was an integral part of the rural feudal system present in the British Isles from the Middle Ages on—with manors surviving into the 20th century, some as relics of heritage and some as functional entities until their copyhold tenures were finally abolished in 1922. Some manor courts in Lancashire continued to operate until 1956.
__Precincts and Wards. Divisions within a city or borough for convenience of administration and delivery of local government services. A ward was governed by an alderman and his deputy. Each precinct supplied a councilman to serve on the Common Council. Early on, this council was called the Court of the Common Council because of its judicial functions.
__Township. This is the civil parish. After 1673, parishes too large in size or population to care for the poor adequately were divided into townships. Named townships are also localities—your ancestor might give the township where he lived as his place of residence. Censuses are enumerated by township and tax rolls are often set up that way too. The records, however, belong to the parish or the county or the district responsible for the function.
__Liberty. A local district within the county exempt from the sheriff’s jurisdiction. May have a chapel for close-to-home worship. Under the ownership of a nobleman or member of the gentry (justice of the peace). These jurisdictions were granted for service to the King or special fees paid directly to the King.
__Forest. A portion of the countryside set apart for the conservation of game and reserved exclusively for the King’s pleasure. Governed by separate officials with a law code of their own, forests may or may not have trees. Exempt from county jurisdiction and may be attached to a castle.
__Borough. A town created by Royal charter, originally with fortifications to defend itself and its territory. A borough was an independent jurisdiction, exempt from the jurisdiction of the sheriff (county) and the Lord Lieutenant (militia). The borough had the authority to call its own train bands (city militia) for police and security. Originated in the Middle Ages: Ipswich, Portsmouth, Preston, Walsall, Reading, and Wigan are examples of towns that originated before the Norman Conquest and still survive as boroughs today. In 1838, there were 178 municipal boroughs with common councils and the right to return burgesses to Parliament. Some were also cities with a Bishop and a cathedral. Some were also counties like Lichfield and Poole.
__City. A town with a Bishop of a diocese and a cathedral. It may function like a county, a borough, or a diocese. Great cities include Liverpool, Manchester, York, as well as London and Westminster.
__The Hundred. This is an ancient administrative unit of local government. Court and tax records are oriented to the hundred and recorded on hundred rolls. Several parishes, townships, boroughs, villages, etc. were included in one hundred. A high constable levied and collected taxes. Anciently, ten tythings (of 10 households each) made up one hundred.
__County. This is one of the most important jurisdictions in the British Isles—its records must be searched if you want to compile an accurate genealogy. It included several hundreds and parishes. Counties were granted to Earls for military service or money grants to the King in time of need. Since the Earl spent the majority of his time in London as member of the House of Lords and Privy Councilor to the King, the sheriff handled local affairs. Justices of the peace sat individually or in small groups for petty courts and all together for courts of general session. These same justices served in the House of Commons as MP’s. King Alfred created 32 counties; since 1974, 58 county councils were replaced by 18 newly created counties with adjusted physical boundaries, and 333 county districts.
__County Palatine. Durham, Lancaster, and parts of Cheshire are county Palatines, independent of Royal control. The Palatinate held the same powers and privileges in his local area as the King did for the Realm. This extraordinary power was granted by the King to a nobleman because his land holdings bordered on enemy country and the nobleman needed full power to subdue invasions from the Welsh, the Scots, and the Romans.
__Marcher District. Marcher lords were noblemen who controlled border areas—Wales-England and Scotland-England. They held jurisdiction similar to the Palatinates. Wrong-doers were jailed and tried with summary justice. No juries, no appeals. No quarter.
__District. One of the most common districts is the Registration District created in 1837 to register births, marriages, deaths as a civil function. Each had a superintendent Registrar and a group of sub-registrars. Copies of records were sent in to the General Register Office. Other important districts, established anciently, include The Stannaries (tin-mining jurisdictions).
__Poor-Law Union. As part of the government reforms in the 1830’s, groups of parishes, townships, and even some counties were formed into unions to supply welfare services and administer workhouses, orphanages, and hospitals.
__Honour. Union of several manors under the jurisdiction of one lord. The King controlled the growth of power of these lords by scattering their land holdings throughout the Realm and keeping close surveillance over their right to sell or consolidate their lands. Royal permission was required for a lord to dispose of his lands. They descended as a unit to the eldest male heir of the body who became a loyal subject on the same basis.
Reference and Study Bibliography:
Eakle, Arlene H. Finding English Ancestors: Jurisdictions and Record Sources. 2007. Available The Genealogical Institute, Inc., P.O. Box 129, Tremonton UT 84337-0129. This illustrated genealogy guide includes handy checklists of the records kept by each jurisdiction.
Herber, Mark. Ancestral Trails: The Complete Guide to British Genealogy and Family History. 2nd 3d, 2005. Available Genealogical Publishing Company, 3600 Clipper Mill Road, Suite 260,Baltimore MD 21211.
Parker, Rowland. The Common Stream: Portrait of an English Village through 2000 Years. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975. Parker, a schoolmaster in the village of Foxton in southeastern England, shares his intimate knowledge of this local area with the reader.
West, John. Town Records. 1983. Available Phillimore, Cirencester Road, Chalford, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL6 8PE England. Comprehensive location guide to surviving documentation for 375 municipal and county boroughs after the government restructuring of 1974-75 and abolishment of many of these jurisdictions.
________. Village Records. 1962. Available St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Ave., New York NY 10016. Land and property records (including court documents) created by villages, townships, manors, and cities. Descriptions of records and how to use them still relevant today.
Wood, Michael. The Story of England. 2010. Penguin Books, 375 Hudson Street, New York NY 10014. Kibworth, Leicestershire provides the focus for a detailed and engaging history of England. Basis of major PBS television series.
Did you know that my own roots are all from the British Isles–mostly Welsh, some Scots, Some English. And I was told that with as much Welsh background as I have, I am sure to have Irish as well. Music to my ears! Your favorite British genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com
PS Stay tuned for the local jurisdictions operated through the Church. Also coming– variations of terms and some equivalents for Ireland and Scotland. What appears to be different jurisdictions is often just a different word. Territory boundaries often used differing amounts of land.