A Descriptive Catalogue of Ancient Deeds: Volume 1. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1890.
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Among the varied contents of the Public Record Office, there is a vast quantity of Ancient Deeds, the great majority of which are entirely unknown to students, for want of a catalogue. They consist for the most part of conveyances of land, but there are also agreements, bonds, acquittances, wills, and other documents concerning private persons, from the twelfth century to the sixteenth.
Until the concentration of the national archives during the present reign, these deeds were scattered in different repositories—in the Chapter House at Westminster, in the offices of the Court of Augmentations and the Queen's Remembrancer, in the Rolls Chapel, at the Tower of London, in the State Paper Office, in the Land Revenue Office, in the Office of the Duchy of Lancaster, and elsewhere, and they continued scattered long after their removal to the Public Record Office. Some have been preserved in the boxes known as the "County Bags," while others have been labelled as "Deeds Domestic," "Deeds Undescribed," "Miscellaneous Deeds," and the like, there being at least three different sets of "Deeds Various." Very many ancient deeds were, moreover, discovered in 1886 and the two following years, in huge sacks of Chancery Miscellanea, while others had been misplaced among the so-called "Paper Documents," "Royal Letters," "Parliamentary Petitions," and in other recognised classes. In the absence of any systematic numeration, it was impossible even for the officers of this Department to form the roughest estimate of the actual number of the deeds, and such as had been arranged before 1886 were arranged according to different methods. Those of one series had been placed in chronological order, those of another had been sorted according to counties, and those of a third alphabetically under the names of manors and parishes. Thousands were in no order whatever. Such Calendars or Lists as had been attempted were in every case imperfect, and in most cases practically useless.
Some of the deeds relate to the ancient estates of the Crown, others to monastic lands confiscated in the middle of the sixteenth century; some seem to have been brought into courts of law as evidences of title, others to have been deposited in the Chancery for enrolment on the Close Rolls. If the various parcels had been preserved intact, the deeds relating to a particular estate being thus kept together, it would have been easy to draw up a general catalogue of them sufficient for practical purposes. The task, however, of attempting to replace them in their original order, without any certain clue, would have been difficult as well as lengthy, and it has been thought simpler and more satisfactory to number them consecutively, and to give a brief description of each document.
Each series above mentioned will eventually extend to a very much higher number, and another series is being formed of deeds of the Queen's Remembrancer's Department of the Exchequer formerly preserved at Carlton Ride.
The Catalogue professes to give the general purport only of every deed described in it. To have inserted minute particulars about lands and services, and the names of all the witnesses would no doubt have made it more satisfactory to some students, but would have greatly retarded its progress and increased its size, considerations which could not be overlooked in the preparation of a scheme for dealing with so vast a number of documents. Moreover, the legal and historical value of ordinary conveyances of land is hardly such as would justify a treatment of them as full as that accorded to documents relating to public affairs. The originals can be readily produced in the Search Rooms of the Public Record Office.
Unless specified as French or English, the ancient deeds described in this Catalogue are written in Latin. The names of counties given in them have been printed in the margin and not in the text, but the names of counties printed within brackets do not occur in the documents.
The Catalogue of deeds of the A. series has been prepared under my superintendence by Mr. E. Salisbury, B.A., a Junior Clerk in the Public Record Office; that of the B. series has been prepared by Mr. G. F. Handcock, a Senior Clerk; that of the C. series has been prepared by Mr. C. H. Woodruff, B.C.L., with assistance from Mr. Salisbury. Most of the proof-sheets were examined by the late Mr. W. D. Selby, and other officers of the Department have given assistance in various ways.
The three Indexes have been compiled by Mr. Woodruff. The first, dealing with the names of places, gives most of them under their modern form. Field-names have not been indexed. The second, dealing with the names of persons, follows the spelling of the Catalogue, without attempting to bring together particular surnames spelt in various ways, unless they occur consecutively in the alphabetical arrangement. Christian names have been omitted from it, in order to keep the Index within reasonable limits, but it is hoped that any inconvenience thus caused will be counterbalanced by the fact that the references are given to short numbered paragraphs, and not to large pages full of proper names.