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Copyhold tenure and its survival in Holderness in the East Riding of Yorkshire from c.1750 to 1925

Craven, Martin (Martin Trevor), 1935


Martin (Martin Trevor), 1935 Craven


Michael E. Turner


The aim of this thesis is two-fold: first to trace and quantify the persistence of an ancient tenure, namely copyhold, in the Holderness area of East Yorkshire from the mid-eighteenth century; and second to plot its subsequent rate of extinction down to the legal end of the tenure in 1925.

The main objective of this thesis was to identify the areas of copyhold tenure in Holderness at some early starting point, and to plot their disappearance over time. By the end of the eighteenth century, copyhold was widely seen as an antiquated form of tenure, having its origins rooted in the villein servitude of the middle ages. In focussing clearly on a specific form of tenure and the copyholders, who held their estates of the manor, it was possible to avoid the confusion which has been generated in the past historiography regarding landownership change involving different classes of rural people, variously described in texts as freeholders, leaseholders, yeomen, husbandmen, small farmers and peasants. Though copyhold owner-occupiers, farming their land were usually described as yeomen in the Holderness court rolls, this thesis has avoided the subject of small farmers and their demise - a topic which has been the focus of much historical debate in the past and concentrated on the survival of copyhold tenure.

This thesis has also shown that the so-called 'ancient enclosures' of arable, meadow or pasture land in Holderness were almost entirely freehold by enclosure time and mostly farmed in larger units by the lords of the manors or other substantial landowners. Finally, where manorial control was strong, the village garths as for example held of the Manors of Burstwick, Easington, Kilnsea and Skeffiing, Homsea, North Frodingham, Patrington, Roos and Skipsea, contained a high proportion of copyhold tenements. In large measure these resolutely remained as copyholds to the end of 1925.

Land once created freehold could never again be converted back to copyhold. In any manor of England, over a period of time, the proportion of copyholds was bound to diminish as the process of enfranchisement gathered momentum. If Holderness reflected the National scene whereby in pre-Tudor times, the bulk of farming land had been held by copyhold tenants, then the tenurial situation had reversed strongly in favour of freeholds by 1750. In spite of this, the proof that a proportion of copyholds survived enclosure is clearly established here and this thesis has also shown that in one area of the East Riding of Yorkshire, at least, the 'ancient tenure' did survive in measurable quantities down to the end of 1925.


Craven, M. (. T. 1. (2002). Copyhold tenure and its survival in Holderness in the East Riding of Yorkshire from c.1750 to 1925. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 25, 2014
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords History
Public URL
Additional Information Department of History, The University of Hull
Award Date Aug 1, 2002


Thesis (32.4 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2002 Craven, Martin (Martin Trevor), 1935-. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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