Conisbrough Court Rolls

This year we’ve been awarded Heritage Lottery Funding for £240,500 for an exciting project involving the purchase and preservation of the medieval Conisbrough Manorial Court Rolls.

The Conisbrough Court Rolls date from 1265 to 1935 and have been described as ‘nationally significant’ by The National Archives. They are an incredibly important survival from Doncaster’s medieval past, recording the decisions and actions of the manorial court for Conisbrough and the Soke of Conisbrough.  The court covered 15 townships in Doncaster, 12 in Rotherham and 1 in Barnsley and stretched from Thorne and Hatfield in the east to Harthill on the southern border of Yorkshire.

The rolls provide a glimpse into medieval Doncaster and the lives and crimes of ordinary Doncastrians.  We can discover the accounts of those convicted of letting their animals trample crops, illegally brewing ale and baking bread, getting into fights and committing petty thefts.  We can step inside the feudal world as the rolls reveal the plight of a pair of sisters purchasing the right to marry who they want from the lord of the manor – marriage of villeins on the estate required permission and the payment of a small fine.

extract from Conisbrough court rolls

Families can be traced through the Rolls and other supporting documents (such as the 1379 Poll Tax) with some fascinating local surnames brought to light – such as the Costnoght family – or some evidence of Scandinavian naming practices with Elizabeth Bendoghter.

Only 166 Court Rolls, 8 Suit Rolls and 4 other documents survive and currently only a small number are transcribed and available online. This project aims to build upon the good work of the Lives and Livelihoods in Conisbrough Manor Project to make more Rolls available online, some transcribed and some available for ‘crowd transcription’.

The project will also feature events, talks and living history events – and even training for those who want to try their hand at transcribing one of the Rolls. The project is also supported by the University of Sheffield, the Conisbrough and Denaby Main Heritage Group and English Heritage, with additional funding secured from the Friends of the National Libraries and the Friends of Doncaster Museums.

Our first event took place in partnership with English Heritage at Conisbrough Castle on 23 June 2018.  English Heritage staff and volunteers created this modern take on a couple of interlinked cases in the Conisbrough Court Rolls from 1380-1. The cases saw opposed parties counter-accusing each other in what was obviously a fine example of village in-fighting. We all liked this example of justice at work at the local level and the light that it sheds on ordinary life in the middle ages.

Dr Charles Kelham, Borough Archivist, also gave a talk about the significance of the Rolls later on in the day.