Land Tenure

It has been suggested for other parts of England that the qualification for jury service of some leaseholders after 1730 had little impact on the freeholders books. In Essex the vast majority of tenancies were based on yearly agreements or leases of 21 years or less.55 In Staffordshire, it has been argued that determining the title to leasehold property may have been too much trouble for the constables to bother with, so that leaseholders were excluded from the returns.56 Neither of these assertions is true for Devon, as noted in the substantial expansion in the numbers eligible to serve on juries after 1730. Leases in the county were frequently for a period of three lives, or 99 years, whichever was shorter.57 From 1733 information about the nature of the property held by those included on the freeholder lists is provided for a substantial minority of individuals in five of the seven years included in the transcripts (Table 5). This evidence demonstrates the effect of the 1730 Act on the number of inhabitants who were qualified for jury service, with as many as half of the 1733 list consisting of newly eligible leaseholders. Table 6 illustrates that the overwhelming majority of gentlemen for whom the nature of property holding is known were freeholders, and thus eligible to serve under the earlier legislation. Since the grand jurors were usually drawn from the gentry, the main impact of the 1730 Act was an increase in the number of wealthy yeomen leaseholders who might be called to hear cases on the petty jury at assizes or quarter sessions.

Land tenure  1733    1741    1751    1771    1783  
Sample size1,3871,4981,0521,3431,397
Sample size as % of total37.241.631.439.643.2
Table 5: Form of Landholding of Eligible Jurors.

Occupation groupLand tenure  1733    1741    1751    1771    1783  
GentryCopyhold    1.7
Sample size233 1925674115
YeomenCopyhold4.6   4.6
Sample size41318110174124
Table 6: Land tenure of Gentry and Yeomen included in Freeholder Books.

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  1. King, '"Illiterate Plebians"', 267. [back]
  2. S.A.H. Burne (ed.), "The Jurors Book of 1784", Staffordshire Historical Society Collections (1947, publ. Newcastle, Staffs, 1948), introduction. [back]
  3. Michael Havinden and Robin Stanes, 'Agriculture and Rural Settlement, 1500-1800', Roger Kain and William Ravenhill, Historical Atlas of the South-West of England (Exeter, 1999), 290. [back]