The Manor Courts and Life-Lease Systems with particular reference to the Manor of Winnington in the Parish of Gunwallow

The settlement of Winetone, as it was originally  spelt, was first recorded in 410AD and became a Royal Manor owned by King William after the Norman Conquest in 1066, when the name was spelt Winnianton.  By the end of the 17th C, the spelling had changed to Wynyanton and local people still refer to it by that name.  The name contains a Cornish saint’s name together with the Old English element of tone, meaning town.  Winnianton was the capital of the Domesday hundred of the same name and the paramount royal manor in 1086.The settlement was abandoned and its precise location lost.

The Manor and its estate was located in the parishes of Gunwalloe, Cury and Cury Church Towne a few miles south east of Helston, which was also owned by the King.  The Domesday hundred of Winnianton  took in Mawgan, Lizard, Trelawarren, Roscarnon, Bowden and other villages, as well as parts of Mullion and Breage.

The Domesday entry states that before 1066, the Manor of Winnianton covered 15 hides with land for 60 ploughs.  In lordship, land of 1 hide with 2 ploughs is recorded, with 3 hides and 14 ploughs held by 24 villagers. Also recorded is meadow land of 6 acres, pasture 4 leagues long by 2 leagues wide, woodland of 1 league long and ½ a league wide, and 41 freedmen, 33 smallholders and 14 slaves.  The Count of Mortain held 11 hides of the 15 held by the King.  The Count, in turn, let land to 16 persons.
Note: The Oxford dictionary defines a Hide as square measure of land between 60 to 120 acres, and a League is a measure of distance approximating to 3 miles.

The Manor was listed as Medieval until 1539.  It came into the Enys Estate in 1647 when Samuel Enys bought it from Sir Charles Trenancon in 1647 For £1000.   As purchased it consisted of a House and 202 acres.  It was extended in 1657 by the purchase of another 67¾ Acres.
The original estate consisted of 3 Tenements – Gwills, Chymder and Sowanna.  The purchase of 1657 brought in the Tenements of Lamana and Berlowana, plus a small field named Leanen Proctor.


Surveys were carried out at irregular intervals, often undertaken around the time when a son or daughter was about to be betrothed, as the size and value of the estate would be of particular interest to the parents of the betrothed.  Another occasion could occur upon an heir assuming control of the estate.

When the control of the estate remained in the same hands for long periods, the owner would order a survey to ascertain the current details of the Tenements and Tennants, together with the areas and values of the land. (Link)

Manor Courts
Manor Courts were of great importance in the organisation and operating of the manor.  They appear to be held on an annual basis in some  cases, but those of the Winnianton Manor were held at Michaelmas, March/April and Lady Day, September/October.

The Court Day was a major occurrence in the social calender.  It was usually held at a village inn  within the Estate, and if there were more than one eligible premises, there was considerable rivalry , as it was considered to be a privilege to hold a Court.

The main purpose of the Courts  was to collect rents, but the opportunity was taken to check  matters such as, whether the named lives on the leases were still living.  Other matters would be the inspection of the properties. notifications on pending new leases , new lives to be added and disputes to be settled.  All matters were recorded, together with the expenses of the Court.  Affairs were conducted by the Steward to the Landowner.

In the case of Winnianton, the proceedings were written up as if the Landlord himself had made the report , but this may just have been the customary procedure to give that impression. (Link)

A Crier was employed and paid to announce the Court, and all Tenants were expected to attend,. although, such were the general social attractions attendant on the Court, that most villagers were only too happy to attend.

It was evidently customary for an estate to have a Reeve whose duties were to act as the Steward’s local representative .  His function was to assess the state of the properties, report any misdemeanours of Tenants, measure plots for buildings, submitting sketch plans, and generally carrying out the orders of the Steward.

In the case of the Manor of Winnianton, there is no mention of the Reeve in any of the Surveys or Court records up to the beginning of the 18th Century , but in a survey in the first quarter of the    18th Century, the Reeve was listed as being a Tenant, but not named.

The Life-Leasehold system

The Cornish system of granting leases was as follows:-
The tenure of leases was granted for 3 lives to the tenants, which could allow for husband , wife and one child, but, in practice, tenants need not be related  The leases were for the term of 99 years, determinable on the death of the longest liver of the lives named in the lease.  In the event of the death of the the longest  liver, Landlords usually consented to the adding of a new lease to the surviving two lives.  The consideration to do this was set out in the original grant and was paid for by a fine on the tenement to be paid in kind or from 14 – 18 years rent of the estate, with a small reserved or conventionary rent and suit and service to the Manor Court.  When such conditions exist the term ‘Reversion’ was applied.  A renewal of Reversion would generally carry a fine of 3 years rent for one life or 7 for two lives.

The operation of Reversion  was  far from clear.  Samuel Enys, in a note dated 1678 appended to the Survey dated 26th September 1676, undertaken at the time of his Son Samuel’s marriage to Miss Gregor.  writes “Now I should give you some directions for the letting of leases, that is to say 3 lives of what is in hand, 2 lives in Reversion of one and one life in Reversion of 2, but this is so variously done and so uncertain that I dont (sic) know how to give you any certain rule but the following, and therin you must govern yourself according to the times and mens occasions in Combininge, for a man for his Conviency (convenience) will give you a year or 2 value more than ordinary, rather than a stranger or any other neighbour should have it.

Upon a full value, nobody letts (sic) for less than 12 years value (As for Example) if a Teniment be worth £10 per annum and so, attending to proportion, no man will give less than £120 for a lease of 3 lives paying the old Rents, but I never let any yet for less than  £13 : 02 : 1d year’s value.

Two lives in Revertion (sic) of one  Comonly is lett if this life in proportion be not above 50 years old for 6 or 7 value, a good life in proportion is comonly accounted and yeares value better than two in Reversion

One life in Reversion of 2 is comonly lett if the 2 in proportion are good lives at 2 or 3 years value, and if old as upwards of 50 then add 3 : 4 : or 5 years value according to the age and health or informitie of Body.

It is possible that, having read his father’s words Samuel requested further clarification, but if so, there is no record of further correspondence on the subject.

Samuel further warns his son of the dire consequences of ignoring the wording of documents thus-

By this Conveyance in your marriage, you will find that you are not to confirm the old Conventionary Rent ( i.e. a Rent in existence for a Reversion situation) whenever you lease any Teniment, if you do, you forfeit the Estate.  Therefore always remember to enforce the Old Rent and never to give one penny of it, but increase what you can or will’

The Life-Leasehold system could be of benefit to both landlord and leaseholder.  The multiple holdings by prosperous gentry and farmers confirm that profits were to be made from farming land and letting to tenants.

However, tenants could find themselves in dire straits under certain circumstances.  Whilst annual rents were low, such that they would not be a burden on even the poorer tenants, the fine system, bearing in mind the amount required over a set number of years, could be very serious.  The tenant was expected to set aside annually the sum required to ensure the repayment.  If this was not possible for any reason, hardship and dispossession might follow.  Great misfortune might be felt should named lives die within a short time of building, when a widow might be unable to afford the addition of a new life, or when a family’s fortunes decreased over several generations.  In such circumstances, when a lease fell in, the property was likely to be in disrepair and of little value to the landlord.

The general information on Manor Courts, Reeve’s duties and the Life-Leashold System has bee taken from “A History of Gorrans and Portcastho 1700 – 1830” by Hillary Thompson.  For an excellent account of the History and workings of a typical manor estate, this book is highly recommended.

John Branfield





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