The Rental Roll for the Christchurch Ecclesiastical Estate

I felt very fortunate to attend an interesting talk recently, given by Dr James Freeman, the Medieval Manuscripts Specialist at Cambridge University Library.

The talk at Christchurch Mansion, organised by the ‘Friends of Suffolk Record Office’ (www.fosro.org.uk) was about the Rental Roll for the Christchurch Ecclesiastical Estate, dated c.1291 (but, as we learned, possibly earlier).  Cambridge University Library purchased the Roll in 2017 and it currently resides there, but it relates to the land which is now occupied by Christchurch Mansion and Park, and the parishes and streets immediately adjacent.

Rental rolls provide fascinating insights into the lives of the Medieval tenants who lived on the estate, showing us their names, their origins, occupations, and (of course) how much rent they paid.

What’s interesting about the Christchurch example is that it is such a clear document– it is a very legible and very clean copy, as the photographs here show.  It’s important not only because of the history of the monastic house it belonged to, but also because of what it tells us about Ipswich, its bustling parishes, streets and trades.  

Tenants’ names often reveal their occupations: for example, we have Rogerus Cellarius (‘keeper of the [probably wine] cellar’), Radulphus le Stabler (‘stabler’ or keeper of horses), Williamus Plumbarius (‘lead worker’ perhaps plumber), Stephanus Piscator (‘fisherman’), Siwardus Mercator (‘merchant’), Williamus & Turstanus Cyrotecarius (‘glove maker’), Robertus Tabernarius (‘shopkeeper’), Richardus Decanus (‘deacon’), Rogerus Carpentarius (‘carpenter’), Robertus Textor (‘weaver’) and his wife, Moriella Textrix, Richardus le Coteler (‘knife maker’), and perhaps personal traits: Alexander Bullock and Reginald le Scherrewe (perhaps ‘shrew’).  The names also show Medieval immigrants to the area, such as Margaret de Londres, Jordanus le Waleis, Johannes Lumbard and Petrus Normannus. Women feature prominently as landholders on this roll.1

The date of the Christchurch roll links neatly with Edward 1’s ‘Charter of Restitution’ of 23 June 1291 to the Burgesses of Ipswich (Ref C/1/1/2).  In 1283 there was a riot in Ipswich in which the seamen disrupted a session of the county court and Edward 1 took the town into his own hands.  Its liberties were not restored until 1291, when the townsmen were rewarded for their good behaviour by receiving (but having to pay for!) a new charter, which is at the Ipswich branch of the Record Office.  

The Priory of Holy Trinity was later known as Christchurch. The manor appears to have been known variously as Christchurch, Holy Trinity Priory, Ipswich Priors and Withepole House.  It was given to the monks of Holy Trinity, with whom it remained until the Dissolution - and though Cardinal Wolsey was given the building of the priory and its revenues for his Ipswich College, they were never actually transferred before his fall from grace.  

When ‘The Hold’ opens in 2019, it will provide the Record Office with a venue for many more talks and lectures such as this, which will also tour to the Bury and Lowestoft branches, as well as other county venues. A digital copy of the Roll is being made available online, through the Cambridge University’s Library website (we will add a link to www.suffolkarchives.co.uk when it is available!).