VCH Explore

Explore England's Past

Local Landowners

Sir Edward Bisshopp, owner of the Parham Estate, West Sussex from 1626 untill 1649

English history is often perceived as the history of the landowning class and the ownership of land was seen as the means to wealth and status even after the rise of industrial and business wealth. The successful professional man or manufacturer wished to end his life as a country landowner and even in the 21st century that is an aspiration of many stars of media and sport.

The Domesday survey illustrates the pyramid of landownership known as the feudal system. The king owns all the land; he keeps some for his own use and parcels out the rest among bishops, barons and officials. They in turn keep some, their demesne or home farm, and allocate the rest to secure a cash income, reward supporters and field men for war as landholding usually involved military service. Inheritance of manors was normally by male primogeniture.

 At the heart of the system was the manor held by a lord who might be the king or a gentleman of modest means no better off than some of his tenants. In addition some landowners were corporations and by the end of the Middle ages religious houses and university colleges were major landowners. Although most small landowners were resident in the locality many large landowners were absentees. A steward, often a neighbouring landowner would hold courts and a tenant farmer would act as reeve or bailiff and ensure the estate was run properly and all profits delivered to the owner.

 By the 17th century most local landowners settled their estates by a process known as entail ensuring that estates could not be sold or divided however large. By the 19th century it was realised that this rigid system was not in the interest of the country especially as it prevented money being released for investment and discourage improvement. Landownership became more fluid, anyone with money could become a landowner and fewer estates continued in the same family for generations.

Theme Items

Brass in Dulverton church to Humphry Sydenham of Combe, Dulverton, d. 1710 aged 38

William I on a penny struck in Watchet, the nearest mint to Exmoor.

Pixton Park in its woodland setting on a hill high above the river Barle

Although sources for Exmoor's medieval history are scarce compared with neighbouring areas there is some interesting material.

The Bosons were one of Newlyn's leading gentry families.

The honor of Peverel of Nottingham was a grouping of about 50 manors held from shortly after the Norman Conquest by William Peverel (d.

Hardwick Timeline

Produced by University of London

In 1811, just short of his 21st birthday, William Spenser Cavendish (the 6th duke of Devonshire) inherited one of the largest landed estates in the

The first written evidence of the Hilton family is in 1157 A.D., on an agreement between Romanus de Hilton and Absolom, Prior of Durham, that Roman

The most prominent secular tenants within the Sunderland area  were the Hiltons, who held the castle and lordship of Hylton (See the Hilton Family