Private Contracts

The traditional method of transferring land was by the act of "delivering a straw" to the new tenant at the Sheading Court, which transfer was then officially recorded in the Libri Vastarum. (There was actually a requirement from as early as 1582 that no land transfer could be legally made without the confirmation of the Lord's officers and this practice continued for several centuries.) Throughout the Seventeenth century this Court was only held once a year (although it become biannual in 1704). Sherwood (a 19th century Deemster of the Isle of Man) asserts that it was the inconvenience of this infrequency which explained why private written contracts of land transfer (deeds of conveyance) became increasingly common. Certainly many such contracts were made during the seventeenth century and at least some during the sixteenth century. Copies of such deeds were sometimes documented in official records (most commonly in the Libri Cancellarii) either as evidence relating to a civil dispute or as a protection against any future disagreement. (A typical example of the latter from the 1607 Liber Cancellarii relates to a purchase of land made by John Cannell. It has a note reading: "This is a true copie of the original record for better saftie at the sute of John Cannell and faithfully ex[am]ined by us whose names are subscribed [witnesses signatures follow]"). This practice appears to have become increasingly common throughout the 17th century. From about 1700 (possibly as a result of the Act of Settlement) the original deeds were typically deposited and have survived as part of the official records.


Types of Property Deed


The contracts of land transfers fall into various categories: "bills of sale", "deeds of gift", "deeds of mortgage" and "marriage contracts" but in practice all had similar effects. The Manx Mortgage was actually a land transfer (the land was effectively pawned by being held to the mortgagee until redeemed), deeds of gift were typically contracts formally passing land to an heir and marriage contracts were typically specified gifts of land and goods from both sets of parents to the marrying couple.


Contents of a private contract


A typical deed is a couple of pages long but contains much legal verbiage. The main information contained is the name(s) of the original landowner(s) together with any others with an interest in his land; the location, type and rent of the property; the name of the new landowner(s) and (in the original document) the signatures or marks of the parties and witnesses. Sometimes additional information about the property (such as its name or neighbouring landholders) is included. Subsequent comments (for example by the Sheading Court or Setting Quest) relating to the contract may be appended.


Under Manx law a widow was entitled to a certain portion of her husbands land. This is probably the reason why wives or widowed mothers of the original landowner are generally named in deeds. Sometimes additional stipulations are recorded, for example a retiring farmer might gift all his land to his son on condition of being looked after ("supplied with meat and clothes") for the rest of his life.


Organisation of the Deeds


The original deeds (generally 1690+) are individual documents and have been fully indexed. This index has been extended to include many earlier contracts which have survived only as copies (mostly in the Libri Cancellarii). Some copies or original deeds have been enrolled elsewhere (for example in the Libri Scaccarii, Libri Assedationis and Libri Vastarum). At least some, but almost certainly not all of these are also included in the index. The early deeds are currently indexed as undated "old deeds", The later records (after 1723) are indexed by date. The original deeds (but not the copies) have been digitised and will become available online as part of the Manx National Heritage iMuseum.


Example of a Marriage Contract


Given below is a transcription of a marriage contract from 1714.

Source: Original held held at the Manx National Heritage Museum, Douglas. 
Reference: OD 55 (Michael)

[Note of Obverse]

KK Michael 55

Articles of marriage between Wm Cannell and Alice Kelly recorded.


Articles of marriage covenanted concluded and agreed
upon By and Between Jon Cannell of Ballacrink in
KK Michael parish and Jane Cannell als Mcylrea his wife
in behalf of their son Wm Cannell of the one partt
and Wm Kelly of the foresaid parish and his wife Ann:
Kelly als Corlett in behalf of their daughter Alice
Kelly on the other part as followes:

First It is covenanted and agreed upon that the young 
      couple Wm Cannell and Alixce Kelly shall join together
      into the holy estate of Matrimony at or before
      the first of August next ensuring the date hereof
      God and Holy Church permitting the same.

2ndly It is covenanted and agreed upon that the foresaid
      Jon Cannell and Jane his wife Do promise to give
      unto their Son William Cannell half the houses, halfe
      the land, half the crop of corn, half the teame
      of oxen, half the husbandry goods and the other
      half of the crop of corn and husbandry goods after
      the death of the longer life, As afore half ye
      plow, half the Irons belonging to it, half the carrs,
      laders and harrowes and the other half after their
      decease, also half their fishing nets mentioning in
      ye said half, his sons right in the fishing nets.

3rdly It is covenanted and agreed upon that the aforesaid
      Wm Kelly and his wife Ann do promise to give
      unto their said daughter Alice in dowry or
      marriage goods the sum of fouteen pounds 
      stock[?] with a furnished feather bed, whereof halfe
      the fourteen pounds is to be paid within three years,
      and the other half within three years after,

Lastly for the true and faithful performance
hereof all parties concerned have bound ymselves
in the penalties and forfeiture of double the value
in nature of all fines within this Isle halfe
to the Rt Honorable Lord of this Isle and the other
halfe to ye partie performing bargain as witness
their names and marks of 29th June 1714.

[Jon Cannell my mark]
[Wm Kelly my mark]
[Jane Cannell als Mcybrea my mark]
[Ann Kelly als Corlett my mark]
[Wm Cannell my mark]
[Alice Kelly my mark]

Signed and delivered in the presence of us

[Wm Quayle my mark]
[Wm Croughan my mark]
[Wm Corlett]

14th October 1714

Jon Cannell and Wm Kelly have acknowledged
all the within & above articles to be their mutual
agreement. Only as to the team of oxen, both parties
own and declare that the young couple are to have
but the one half thereof and that the other half
of the team is wholly at Jon Cannell and Jane his 
wife's own disposal. Likewise two of the witnesses 
viz Wm Corlett and Wm Quaile hsve disposed the 
same to be the mutual agreement of both their wives viz 
Jane wife of Jon Cannel and Ann the wife of Wm 
Kelly and all this before me  

[signed Dan Mylrea]

At a Sheading Court holden at Peeltown the 20th Oct 1714

The within articles of marriage being acknowledged before the Deemst[er]
and now published in open court, and no objection made against them. 
Therefore they are allowed of and confined according to law.

[Signed Alex Horne]
[Signed  ??]
[Signed Wm Sedden]
[Signed Dan Mylrea]