Earlier this year, the Friends of Devon’s Archives (FODA), received a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to undertake a research project based on John Norden’s survey of Crown lands in Devon.

London Metropolitan Archives, Royal Contract Estates Collection, CLA/144/05/041, John Norden’s Survey of Various Manors in the County of Devon

Norden’s Survey

In order to raise money, the Crown began to sell some of its estate from the middle of the sixteenth century, and this policy was continued by James I who, in 1612, appointed John Norden as surveyor of the King’s lands in several counties including Devon.

Norden’s survey of the Devon Crown lands, undertaken in 1613 and 1614, covers Ashburton, Bovey Tracey, Bradninch, Buckfastleigh, Dunkeswell, Exeter Castle, Heathfield and Ottery St Mary, and is contained in a 400 page manuscript written in a mixture of Latin and English.  It is held by the London Metropolitan Archives and can be viewed on their online catalogue.  Norden attended local courts, examined records and physically inspected the ground, before compiling a register of holdings, tenants, values, and obligations, together with many other illuminating details. Consequently, the surveys contain a wealth of social and economic information about the areas covered.

London Metropolitan Archives, Royal Contract Estates Collection, CLA/144/05/041, John Norden’s Survey of Various Manors in the County of Devon

Transcribing the Survey

In March 2019, FODA staged a joint seminar with the Devon Archaeological Society to raise awareness of the survey and to seek volunteers to work on it.  Each of the areas covered now has a small group of volunteers who have been transcribing the survey’s information about their particular area.  As the project progresses, it will branch out into research into the history of the different manors, allowing the survey to be put into wider context. This will hopefully enable connections to be made with later documents but also encourage volunteers to peer back into the sixteenth century and perhaps even into the medieval period in the search for information about local people and their landscape.  The ultimate intention is to publish the fruits of their transcription work and research.

The project is being managed by Dr. David Stone, an experienced medieval historian who lives in Bovey Tracey. 

“The project is an excellent example of a symbiotic project which relies on a combination of professional expertise and amateur enthusiasm, with the result that the volunteers enhance their individual skills and knowledge while contributing to a wider objective.  We are proud to support the project and look forward to it developing further in 2021,” Brian Carpenter, Devon Archives