Property Records

Due to the Norse control during the 10th to the 12th centuries the law of property and its transfer was different on the Island than in England or Scotland (though many of the differences were removed in 1867). First Deemster Farrant argued in Mann Its Land Tenure, Constitution, Lords Rent and Deemsters that Man was not strictly feudal in the English sense as introduced by the Normans but was based on the Norwegian Udal which was severely shaken by the Scottish control when Man was forced at the point of sword to conform to the most grinding Scots feudal system and then finally abrogated during the Stanley period.

Under the feudal system most land was 'owned' by the Lord - those who farmed the land were merely tenants who paid a tribute to the Lord. However as these tenants came to believe that they could pass on their 'tenancy' as a personal property they could be considered as 'landowners'. It was when the 7th Earl of Derby attempted to legally enforce a strict interpretation of his feudal rights and to confirm these landowners as merely tenants who could be evicted at his will, that there was a great disquiet which was finally removed by the Act of Settlement of 1704.

That land not held by the Lord (who never personally cultivated his land) was either held by the Barons (of whom the most important was the Abbot of Rushen Abbey hence the name Abbeylands or Baronies) or was waste land which when later inclosed became 'Intacks'. Note that the term 'waste' does not mean that this land was unused - it was land not suitable for intensive cultivation but was of vital importance in providing common grazing for cattle, sheep etc. or for gathering peat for fuel (the right of 'turbary').

A much more detailed, and scholarly, discussion on the question of Land Holding is given in Book 7 of A.W.Moore's History - this page concentrates on the records that were kept and the use of these records, which are available on Mormon Microfilms, in the study of Family History..

To quote Moore:

The Manx villains, therefore, did their services by paying certain customary dues in kind, such as corn, cattle, turf, and fish, which were appropriated to the maintenance of the garrisons of the insular castles as well as of the lord's household both in Man and England; by doing a certain number of days' labour in each year in repairing the castles and highroads; and, in the third place, after 1511 at least, by paying a fixed rent, the amount of which was estimated in money, though it seems to have been usually paid half in money and half in kind.

Money was also extracted by the Lord as Fines when land was transferred ('alienated') between tenants.

Four Books (Liber, plural Libri in Latin) called the Manorial Rolls or Books were involved:
(1) Libri Assedationis, or Setting Books, being the rent rolls containing the names of all landowners and the rent which they pay to the Lord
(2) Libri Vastarum, or Wast Books, containing the admissions, entries, and titles of landowners and the alienation fines and rents paid by them.
(3) Composition Books, describing each particular tenement and recording the fines paid at the Act of Settlement and at other times.
(4) Libri Monasteriorurm, or Abbey Books, containing the rentals of the abbeys and of the various baronies of which Libri Espicopi (Bishop's Baraony) is the next in importance.

As before a much more detailed, and scholarly, discussion is given in Appendix A of Book 7 of A.W.Moore's History. The changes to these books would take place at the baron or manorial (formerly shedding) courts, held twice yearly by the seneschal of the lord proprietor in the following manner: The names of the sellers, or deceased proprietors, are drawn out of the Liber Assedationis, and the names of the purchasers, or heirs, are entered in the Liber Vastarum, as well as their respective titles, by which they are entered, ascertained, and specified. Then from the Liber Vastarum a new Liber Assedationis is made.

Thus a study of the Liber Vastarum would appear to give a dated record of tenants and as tenancies passed by law from father to eldest son some record of a family can be obtained. For many years the earliest such book was thought to be that of 1511 (hence Moore's comment) but as internal evidence in that document showed it was the 6th year of a new valuation started in 1506 which roll has now been found. Speaking of the 1511 roll Farrant states "it is an interesting document in crabbed script, abbreviated and polygot as a doctor's prescription". A translation was made by Talbot in this century and published, in a limited edition, in 1924; some doubts have been raised about some of his reading (especially that of placenames [Harrison 1969]) but it provides the earliest substantial list of family names and landholdings. Not all subsequent rolls have survived but there are enough to provide a reasonable continuity.


Liber Assedationis

Two separate rolls were kept - one for Northside the other for Southside - records exist from 1506 for Southside and a little later for Northside until the early 20th Century when the land tenure system was altered. Crellin in An Early Manorial Roll describes the find of a probably earlier document for Northside which he dates c.1495-1500 which would indicate that prior to 1514 when the Northside roll was made, rents would appear to have been more changeable whereas after 1515 rents remained virtually fixed until the effective doubling following the Act of Settlement in 1703/4.

Farrant quotes the following examples of entries on the rolls:

Parochia Sancti Trinitatis in Rushen.
Fyshgarth. Xxijs } xxxjs
De Jenken Martensen et Willmo Martensen
pro duobus tentis et uno quartron terre
dimiss: sibi et assignats: pro termine
septimo hoc anno sexto    

This is an unusual form, implying a lease for years and assignable. It illustrates the development of the feudal encroachment, which grew to its height in Stuart times, but did not succeed in the face of the popular resistance.

Parochia Sancti Columba.
De Thoma Stevenson pro j tento et Cmnacr } 1vjs Viijd
terr: per estimat. eidem partem nuper 1s
per annum dimiss: sibi et assignats suis ut

This is still more unusual, hardly any land being given by admeasurement, or the rental altered.

Parochia Sancti Lupi.
De Willmo McKee pro j tento quartron terr: } viijs viijd
dimiss: sibi ut supra

This is the most usual form of quarterland entry, except that in the south of the island the assigns were often included.

Liber Vastarum

A combined book for both South and Northside - exists for 1511-1916 - compiled twice per year - see example of the entries for Michael.

It is possible (and likely) that both Liber Assed and Liber Vast only record entries some years after the event! For example a man shown paying rent might have been dead for many years but his family have not seen the need to change the records (and pay a 'fine') e.g. in Lib Vast May 1724 under Knockshewell when John Crow & Wm Killip and Margt his wife are replaced by John Killip is the following:

The above John Crow father to the said Margt being dead, as also the said Margt Crow herself and Wm Killip her Husband. Therefore the above sd Jon Killip their son is entered as right heir according to law Fine 2s 6d. And fine by ye said Margt Crow & Wm Killip for the half wch they should have been entered for upon the death of their father John Crow is 15d.

John Crow was buried Jurby 7 May 1714 some ten years previous - Margt 17 Oct 1723 and Wm 7 Nov 1723

Composition Book

Dates from 1610 to 1704 (Act of Settlement) - gives landholders as well as other information. A copy of the 1704 book is available.

Use as Family Records

After all this background I must state Nigel Crowe's warning not to venture on these books unless you have plenty of time, patience [and for the early records the ability to translate dog latin and read early script].
The paucity of Christian and Family names can lead to major problems in verifying the transfer from father to son - the land may have been transferred to grandson, nephew etc or to a daughter who married a man with the same family name or even to an outsider.


Deeds of sale, marriage settlements etc were voluntarily enrolled in the Court Records for safe-keeping as well as avoidance of disputes in the future. Until c.1680's (dates differ between parishes) they can be found in the Libri Cancellarii but after this and especially after the Act of Settlement (1702) such deeds were kept in the Record Office where they were accepted in May and October each year. Three main indices to these deeds exist in the Manx Museum (not online though the index books were filmed by the Mormons), Castletown deeds refers to the courts which sat there and were a feature of the Athol governship introduced to provide a speedier recording of property transfers - all these were replaced in 1847 by a single unified system of registered deeds held by the Rolls Office.

Northside Sales
Southside Sales
Castletown Deeds


Note that for much of the period of interest the Manx currency differed from the English (& the Irish) - see separate page on Currency for more details.


R.D.Farrant Mann Its Land Tenure, Constitution, Lords Rent and Deemsters Oxford University Press 1937

M. Crellin An Early Manorial Roll Journal Manx Museum Vol VII #85 pp 98/9 1969
A H[arrison] The Manorial Roll of the Isle of Man Journal Manx Museum Vol VII #85 plates28/9 1969

 [Genealogy Index]


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001