I have an 1881 Census record for one of my research subjects where he appears as a servant at the local Manor house.

Mark Herber's Ancestral Trails has a section on finding manor house records which is very thorough (obviously) so I have many ideas about where to search. My question is -- when doing a house history, what information would be useful to have in hand before I begin to search all the archives suggested by Herber?

My preliminary research plan includes

  1. Descendancy research for the head of household in the 1881 Census
  2. A search of the British Newspaper Archives for notes about property transfers
  3. A search of historical directories for the house's name and a timeline of its tenants
  4. ???

From prior reading, I already know that this particular family line dies out; the last male of the family was killed in the First World War and is in the village's Roll of Honor.

I don't expect any of the manor house records to be of genealogical interest for the servant's families -- to have them identified as '[name] son of [father]' is a lot to ask -- but if I could get records about how many servants were employed by the house at various times, it would be good for context, and if records turned up which actually listed when people were hired and let go, that would be a great 'lucky dip'.

Suggestions and commentary from your own experiences are welcome, including what search terms were useful when searching archives' catalogs for named house records.

For those who can't resist working the problem, here's the census record in question at Family Search:

  • Household Role Gender Age Birthplace
  • Eliza Bastard Head F 75 Slapton, Devon, England
  • Sarah Bastard Daughter F 44 Slapton, Devon, England
  • Charlotte Randall Servant F 26 Stokenham, Devon, England
  • Arthur Knowles Servant M 18 Slapton, Devon, England

  • Name: Arthur Knowles

  • Age (Original): 18
  • Gender: Male
  • Birth Year: 1863
  • Birthplace: Slapton, Devon, England
  • Relationship to Head of Household: Servant
  • Marital Status: Single
  • Occupation: General Servant
  • Address: Prospect House
  • Event Place: Slapton, Devonshire, England
  • Record Type: Household
  • Affiliate Publication Number: RG11 Piece/Folio: 2180 / 67 Page Number: 3

Edited to add: it may also be useful, or more useful, to have records about the tenants. The 1881 Census is the only record so far where I have an explicit association between Arthur Knowles and the Bastard family. Arthur's occupation in 1891 is 'thatcher', so if they owned thatched cottages they might have been his employer. In a later census (1911) he lists his occupation as "Jobbing Gardener". (In 1901 on Census Day, Arthur and his family are in the USA, so there is no 1901 Census record.)

Morris and Co.'s Commercial Directory and Gazetteer (1870) lists under 'Clergy and Gentry':

Bastard Richard, Esq., Prospect house

Other census records in Slapton with Eliza Bastard born 1805:

In the 1901 Census Mary Bastard is head of household at Prospect House; sister Sarah is still in residence. In the 1911 Census Sarah is head of household at Prospect House.

The larger question of "where might I find a 'lucky dip' apart from newspaper records is perhaps better as a chat topic.

  • In a later census, another 'missing' member of the family turned up as a servant at the Vicarage, whose papers can be seen in one of the other Devon Record Office links.
    – Jan Murphy
    Jul 22, 2014 at 0:35
  • I think William Bastard's mother Eliza who lives at Oak Hill when William is killed is the daughter of the elder Eliza born 1805/6. On 21 Oct 1856 she marries William Bastard of Coleton, Brixham, the son of William Bastard. Or maybe not. Here's the link to the Slapton parish records at Find My Past: search.findmypast.com/…
    – Jan Murphy
    Jul 22, 2014 at 2:06

2 Answers 2


If I'm looking into the history of a specific house in England, I'll consult the following sites first (searching by House name and location):

English Heritage to discover if it's listed and get a property description, and (if it is listed) British Listed Buildings to get a map location/satellite/street view. Geograph is also very useful to get a photo.

I'll also consult the Victoria County History to see if the county in question has been covered, and if so, whether the property gets a mention; and any local "buildings record" such as the Devon Historic Environment site.

I'll gather census information from 1841 onwards (and any earlier local censuses if they were taken) and (depending on time period) look for Electoral Register information. Directories such as those at Historical Directories of England can also establish a timeline of occupancy.

I will then search the catalogs at The National Archives including Access to Archives and the local county archives, in this case Devon Heritage Services, using combinations of search terms including: property name, location, and surname of any individual I knew that lived there (so in this case "Slapton" and "Prospect House", and "Slapton" and "Bastard"). I'd hope to find mention of wills, rentals, property transactions including sale catalogs -- none of these (except possibly wills) are likely to mention servants at the property, but could be helpful in establishing timelines and context. In this instance I found references to a Slapton charity in the name of Sarah Bastard, but all the documents are of a much later date.

I'll look in newspaper archives (same search terms) -- there are references to be found to the will of Sarah Bastard in 1917 which left an annual sum to a Slapton charity, as well as a sum to a servant (one of the rare instances where you'll find a servant mentioned other than the censuses), and various properties being let in the late 1890s by Miss Bastard of Prospect House, Slapton plus a death notice for Mrs Sarah Paige of Prospect House in 1858, so you might want to look for either a link between the Paige and Bastard families, or a property transaction between 1858 and 1861...

Depending on the period involved, I might also look at the Probate Calendar (online at Ancestry.co.uk) to check for relevant wills, and the Index to Death Duty Registers 1796-1903 (the index is online at findmypast, but the registers themselves are at TNA.)

I'll then do a general Google (other search engines are available) with the same combinations of search terms, and scan several pages of results -- the nuggets of gold are often several pages in, and may look initially unpromising such as The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War which has a short piece on the death of William Bastard who I suspect is the last male in the line (as mentioned by the OP). William left over £56,000 according to the Probate Calendar... I must stop getting distracted!

Very little of this works if the house is basically unremarkable (for example, "6 Milton Terrace" in Merthyr Tydfil flies very low under the radar, in spite of its infamy as my mother's birthplace, to the extent that Milton Terrace itself is hard to pin down); and very little of it will help if what you're really interested in is information about the servants.

In the case of the house in question — Prospect House, Slapton — it is listed (Grade II for buildings that are of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them) and seems to be a fairly modest (for its type!) house of late construction (1830-1835). Coupled with the fact that the household only has two servants in 1881, the description and age make it very unlikely that it was a 'manor house'. The manor house itself was probably further along Prospect Hill (Slapton Manor aka Poole House or Poole Farm, where the Bastard family was living in 1841 and 1851. Or possibly not: A Guide to the Manors of Devon on GENUKI casts doubt on Poole's status as a manor, and White's Devonshire Directory 1850 notes that "the manor is dismembered".

If you do decide to pursue the manorial records English Manorial Court Records as a Source for Eighteenth- and Nineteenth Century Families may be helpful in suggesting what you could learn. However, tracking down any surviving manorial records will require a visit in person to The National Archives at Kew, who hold the Manorial Document Register. Some elements of the register are online, but Devon is not one of them. Once you've learned of any surviving records and their location, you'd almost certainly need to make another in-person visit to consult (unless you've very lucky and some scholar has extracted relevant information and published the result -- which did happen for the only surviving manorial court roll covering a single year for a manor I'm interested in!).

  • Good catch about Poole Farm; I did look at the census records but only after I wrote this question. At the moment I'm trying to assemble my historical directories into some kind of coherent organization. I had seen that reference in the 1850 White's but had forgotten about it. Serves me right for doing too much searching, and not enough analysis. :(
    – Jan Murphy
    Jul 23, 2014 at 17:50

I think Poole House was a large house possibly built in Slapton by and for Admiral Richard Hawkins, the son of Admiral John Hawkins of Armada fame, some time in the late 1500's or early 1600's. John Hawkins left it to his wife, after which it passed through several hands including those of the Ameridith and Bastard families before being gradually demolished and the site cleared in 1880. The 1841 and 1851 census returns show Richard Bastard and his wife Eliza and 5 children(one of whom was another Eliza), and 7 servants or staff, so your Eliza was not a servant, was was the daughter of William Paige. The Bastards and Paiges were old Slapton and South Hams families who seem constantly to have married each other from the late 1600's onward. Poole must have been a large house. I don't think any picture of it exists. It might be worth looking up 18th. century chimney tax records which would give an idea of it's size. You may be interested in the web site of Theo Carr Brion which gives the genealogy of the Paige family going back to the 1600's and their connections with the Bastard families. I realize this is all a bit vague but would be happy to engage with anyone who has any other information about the house and it's history.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.