An 1868 Deed of Enfranchisement of copyhold land

Two small plots by the Southdown Road, Harpenden

The Society was delighted to receive a Deed of Enfranchisement of copyhold land dated 6 November 1868, which was presented to the Harpenden and District Local History Society by Craig & Carol Thrussell in April 2013.

A transcript of the document is attached at the foot of this page.

John Wassell, May 2013

The Parties

  • First: The Dean and Chapter of Westminster, being the Lords of the Manor of Wheathampstead with Harpenden.
  • Second: The Copyhold Commissioners.
  • Third: Richard Oakley, Esquire, of Lawrence End; Edward Manson, Auctioneer, 8 King Street, St James; Adelaide Manson, Widow (of William Manson) 5 Portugal Street, Grosvenor Square.

Being the Copyholders in possession of the two pieces of land (described below).


The Indenture is framed, and was written on a pre-printed Indenture form sold by John Brittan & Son, Law Stationers, 3 Mitre Court, Temple. 26.5 inches (67.5cm) in width and 22 inches (56cm) in height. It bears the pendant seal of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster and the seal of the Copyhold Commissioners’ office and an inset representing the seals of the three parties of the third part.

The document is folded twice in each direction giving nine sections. For storage it was folded so that the endorsements at top left and top centre formed the outer faces and the dependent seal was visible.

Reverse of the document, folded, with nine parts. John Wassell, May 2013

These endorsements are an integral part of the deed. Such documents were usually stored in a wood or tin box called a skippet.

Dependent seal. John Wassell, May 2013


The dependent seal is that of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster and the other seal is that of the Copyhold Commissioners, together with the signatures of George Darby and James Caird, Copyhold Commissioners. Both seals have been applied using mechanical embossing stamps. The Westminster seal is applied to a layer of red wax covered on both sides by blue paper.

The Commissioners’ seal. John Wassell, May 2013

Stamp duty stamp. John Wassell, May 2013

This deed is the one held by the parties of the third part – their signatures were not essential. They would of course have signed and sealed the deeds held by the other two parties.

Stamp Duty of two shillings and sixpence (2/6) was paid at London on 21 November 1868 and a stamp in evidence affixed to the deed.


The dorse (back) includes the following endorsements:

Top left section: “We the Right Honourable Henry Thomas Earl of Chichester and Edward Howes Esquire two of the within named Church Estates Commissioners do hereby acknowledge that the sum of nine pounds being the consideration money within mentioned to be paid by the within named Richard Oakley Edward Manson and Adelaide Manson has been paid into the Bank of England to the within mentioned account in accordance with the provisions of the Copyhold Acts. (£9.0.0. appears alongside the text).


Sir Joseph Ellis of Whitehall Place, Westminster, witnesses the signatures of Chichester and Edw. Howes. John Wassell, May 2013

Top centre section: “Signed Sealed and Delivered by the within named ……… Signed sealed and delivered by George Darby Esquire and James Caird Esquire being two of the within named Copyhold Commissioners in the presence of . . . G Taylor, Copyhold Commissioner

‘Signed, sealed and delivered’. John Wassell, May 2013

Centre section: Dated 6th November 1868 … The Dean and Chapter of Westminster with the consent of the Copyhold Commissioners . .  . Deed of Enfranchisement ….. to Messrs. Oakley & Manson.

Deed of Enfranchisement, on reverse. John Wassell, May 2013

Bottom left section: The following are noted in pencil – 22010/68; 3/3; file 40.256, and in ink along the vertical axis – 4083. An adhesive stamp is affixed at the fold. The pencil items are probably file details of the Copyhold Commission and indicate that this is the third of three copies.

Pencil annotations, probably indicating this is the 3rd of three copies. John Wassell, May 2013

A stamp, damaged by folding. This is not a stamp – see Comment below. John Wassell, May 2013

The stamp is unidentified – it has neither value or inscription.

The deed has at bottom left the dependent seal of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster. The inscription pulteney(?) beside it is not yet identified. The Dean at this date was Arthur Penrhyn Stanley. The deed has at bottom centre the official seal of the Copyhold Commissioners and the signatures of Darby and Caird (both illustrated above).

The Property


Tithe Award map 1843, Richard Oakley’s land east of the common

The Tithe Awards for Harpenden, prepared in 1843, do not show the two small pieces of land as separate plots. Richard Oakley is shown as the owner of several plots of land along the east side of the Common from the Friends Meeting House in Arden Grove and along Southdown Road almost to Crabtree Lane. The plots are presumably included within one or two of the three adjacent plots nearest to Harpenden that had houses on them in 1843, one of which would be the freehold house bequeathed by William Manson to Oakley et al. These properties are the only ones listed in the Tithe Awards as owned by Richard Oakley apart from Limbrick Hall Farm.

Detail from Tithe Award map, showing cottages and gardens on 1054, possibly the land referred to in the Indenture

The 5 pole semicircular plot would have had a diameter of just under 20 yards (and a radius of just under 10 yards). At 160 poles to the acre of 4,840 square yards, 5 poles covers 151.25 square yards, from which area the above diameter/radius are calculated. The small garden in front of the Dene is far smaller that this and is not a semicircle.

Background information

Copyhold or Customary Tenure was a form of land holding originally at the will of the Lord of a Manor according to the custom of the Manor. The holder owned the land but owed duties to the Lord of the Manor.

The holding was recorded in the Manor’s Court Rolls and the Copyholder’s title was evidenced by a copy of this entry in the Court Roll. The Copyholder could inherit, mortgage, let or sell the land but needed the agreement of the Lord of the Manor to do so and a fee was payable for the agreement and amendment of the Court Roll.

By the nineteenth century copyhold (and indeed the whole manorial system) was seen as an inconvenient relic of the middle ages and Parliament passed a series of Copyhold Acts that permitted the copyholder to require the Lord of the Manor to ‘enfranchise’ the holding, that is, to convert it to a freehold on payment of a consideration. The Copyright Commisssion was set up to oversee the transaction and set the consideration if the parties could not agree. (The stated aim of the Copyright Act 1858 was to ‘commute manorial rights and gradually enfranchise copyhold land’).

Where the Lordship of the Manor was an ecclesiastical entity of the established church (the Church of England) the proceeds of any such enfranchisement was paid to the Church Estates Commission who invested the proceeds and passed the income arising to the body in question under the terms of an act of 1852 (the act concerning Episcopal and Capitular estates is referred to in the deed).

Copyhold tenure was finally abolished in 1925 and all land so held became freehold.


  1. In his will of 3 August 1846 (proved on 17 August 1852) William Manson of Portugal Street, Grosvenor Square (now Balfour Place) left a considerable estate to be placed in trust for his daughters by his two marriages. The Trustees were Richard Oakley, William Houghton, Edward Manson (his brother) and Adelaide (his second wife). Adelaide had to get along with £2,000 ‘for her immediate necessities’. He held a freehold house and land (not detailed) at Harpenden which he left to ‘his friends’ Richard Oakley and William Houghton, his brother Edward and his wife, Adelaide. He also left copyhold land – the two plots in the deed – to the same four. They then had the inconvenience of going through the procedures of the Manorial Court in order to obtain the alteration of tenure and their copy of Court Roll. As recorded in the deed this ‘admittance’ was finalised in August 1853 – a full year after the grant of probate.
  2. Richard Oakley of Lawrence End, Herts. (c1800 – 1871). Substantial landowner and progressive farmer. In 1835 he inherited the estate of his uncle, William Oakley of Wandon End (who was wealthy enough to leave £2,000 to his son-in-law John Isaac House) and in 1840 from Richard Oakley, another uncle, he inherited the uncle’s share of the proceeds of an ‘extensive business’ that the nephew carried on with funds received from his uncle. The nature of the business is not given in the will but the uncle estimated the value at about £30,000. In 1839 Richard Oakley bought Limbrick Hall Farm (also known as Bamville Wood Farm or Wystock) from the Bacon family of St Albans and sold it to the British Land Company in 1860.
  3. William Houghton of Bow Street, Middlesex, Stationer. By 1865 Stationer and dealer in writing desks at 162 New Bond Street. By 1868 the business had become Houghton & Gunn. William Houghton died sometime between 1865 and 1868 – requiring another change to the Court Roll.
  4. William Manson (? – 1853) and Edward Manson (c1807 – 1885) went into partnership with George Christie, an auctioneer, in the 1830’s creating the partnership of Christie and Manson (from 1859 Christie, Manson & Woods). 8 King Street, St James’s was then, and still is, Christie’s business address. Whether Edward actually lived there or used it as an accommodation address is unknown. Adelaide Manson – second wife of William Manson. I have not yet found any connection between the Mansons, Oakley and Houghton other than the friendship referred to in William Manson’s will.
  5. James Caird (1816 -1877) MP for Dartmouth 1857/9 and Stirling 1859/65. Copyhold and Inclosure Commissioner from 1865. Later Sir James Caird KCB, PC, LL.D, FRS.
  6. George Darby (1796 -1877)  Barrister, MP for East Sussex 1837/41. Copyhold and Inclosure Commissioner from 1852.
  7. George Taylor (…) Clerk, first class, Copyhold Commissioners’ office.
  8. Sir Joseph Ellis witnessed many such documents around this date. His full name and address of 10 Whitehall Place is given in a deed reproduced in the London Gazette, 9 August 1867 (p 442). As the address was then the office of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners it is assumed that he had a working relationship with that body.
  9. ‘Henry Thomas, Earl of Chichester’  Henry Thomas Pelham (1804-1886) 3rd Earl of Chichester. A Church Estates Commissioner 1841 – 1886.
  10. Edward Howes (1813 – 1871) Barrister. Conservative MP for East Norfolk 1859/68 and South Norfolk 1868/71. A Church Estates Commissioner from 1866.
  11. Notice of the death of Ann, wife of John Brittan, senior, of Mitre Court, Fleet Street was printed in the London City Press, 18 November 1865.


  • Will of William Oakley, proved 1835, Canterbury prob 11/1848
  • Will of Richard Oakley, proved 1840,         “               11/1932
  • Will of William Manson, proved 1852         “                11/2157
  • Online searches of the British Newspaper Archive, Google scanned books, National Archives.


Comments about this page

  • The printed paper stuck on the back of the Deed – see picture above – is not a stamp.

    It is a printed piece of paper glued over the rear of the metal rivet that fastens the stamp duty to the Deed. This was done by the Stamp Office to make fraudulent re-use of the stamp more difficult.

    The brown stain left by the glue is visible around the paper.

    By John Wassell (21/09/2015)

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