Locating Places Mentioned in Medieval Documents

Where to Start

First, what was medieval life like, how did people farm? what were living conditions like? These questions can help in looking for medieval settlements in documents and the landscape. You can find some information about medieval life here.

Landscape and Land Ownership

Was settlement the same in Salford Hundred compared to a Hundred in Worcestershire, for example?  The landscape and the soil are very different and significantly it would appear so was land ownership. Not many villages have nearly 100 medieval charters as at Whitworth near Rochdale has. The number of individuals able to give land to Whalley Abbey contrasts with the usual idea of a single medieval lord and landowner.

Settlement

Predominantly pastoral farming and a larger proportion of individual farmsteads was probably the norm for medieval life in the Pennine foothills of Salford Hundred. Many farmsteads visible today date back to medieval times, even though few obvious signs of medieval settlements remain. The number of places mentioned in Spotland township (Parish of Rochdale) in the Coucher Book of Whalley shows that many settlements date back to medieval times. In fact some place-names like Irreford have been lost.

Lost

Many medieval places are now lost or no longer recorded on current maps.  It may be possible to trace some of them from old maps, such as the 1850’s  Ordnance Survey Maps of Lancashire (more about digital versions below), or manor surveys and court records and later deeds that bridge the gap between medieval times and modern records.

Changed

“Fulebachehope” mentioned in the Coucher Book of  Whalley is now known as Bacup, showing just how much names can change over time.  The earlier a place-name is recorded the more certainty there is in finding the origin and meaning of the word.

Early Maps

Tithe maps and manor maps (such as the 18th Century Middleton map from the E7 Assheton estate collection at the Greater Manchester County Record Office ) can help  in locating places.

19th. Century OS Maps of Lancashire

Digital versions of the Ordnance Survey’s earliest maps of Salford Hundred can be found here and at this excellent site here.

See this excellent site for early Lancashire OS maps from the National Library of Scotland NLS Early Lancashire OS maps.

This interesting site has many old maps of Lancashire here

Researching Historic Buildings in the British Isles

This great site has information about maps and other documents as well as buildings, it is here.

Parish Registers

Parish records from Salford Hundred often go back to the 16th Century they can help locate people and places too. They have been extensively researched and published in a variety of formats.

You can read and download information from the Lancashire County Council site here.

Search the  On Line Parish Clerks for the County of Lancashire here, it is a really useful site.

Finding Place-Names and Field names

Places change over time and sometimes are shown on earlier maps but not on later versions of OS Maps.

You can search for place-names or place name elements here and here.

Field Names

Search for field names here.

Many field names may be recorded in manor surveys, though not indexed as such.

Manorial Records

Some manor records for Rochdale have been published (Chetham Society)  or partially transcribed. General information about manor records can be found here at the National Archives site.

Wills

Early wills are a valuable source of information too, read more here at the Medieval Genealogy site. The Wills and related information at Chester include places in Salford Hundred, such as Rochdale and Manchester.

Download

The Chetham Society’s – Wills and Inventories of the Ecclesiastical Court here.

Hearth Tax

Many places and buildings mentioned in the Hearth Tax of 1662-1689 had been in existence since medieval times.

The national archives has information about the Hearth Tax here, and you can search the records in a database here, but it is still being developed.

The Centre for Hearth Tax research is here at Roehampton University London.

Magic

‘Magic’ is a national database of environmental data, it also includes ancient woodland information,  see it here.

Aerial Photography

Aerial photographs are now widely available on-line, sites such as Google Earth and Microsoft’s Bing allow quick terrain assessment.

Download and read about medieval sites and aerial photography here.  English Heritage has information about aerial photography here.

Warning:

It is addictive and you might just find medieval and earlier sites.

Most important of all

Fieldwork! 

Always walk the areas you are researching. Not all features show on aerial photographs and maps, and surface geology and vegetation can be important clues to sites and the names you are researching. This brings us to archaeology, and the recording of information that is absent from medieval records.

In the case of the now lost “Lake Kor” on the border between Healey and Whitworth (mentioned in the Coucher Book of Whalley Abbey)  the topology and old maps may help locate the site.

Comprehensive archaeological survey and fieldwork have yet to be undertaken in Salford Hundred, despite large urban  expanses, rural areas including moorland still survive. What is exciting, is that these areas are some of the least explored in Britain when it comes to medieval records and archaeology, see this blog.

Under construction…

(C) SMM 2009

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