The Staffordshire Tithe Maps

Screen shot from Staffordshire Past Track web site

Although it might sound rather odd to many, when I learnt that Staffordshire Records Office had put digitized versions of the county tithe maps on line, together with all the records to which they refer, I was immensely excited. No doubt this says something about my rather odd personality, but having this material easily available opens up a whole range of possibilities for research. In the blogs that may follow over the coming months I will thus present the results of my investigations of the tithe maps of Lichfield – considering land ownership and occupation, urban land use, the tithe recipients and the extent of the prebends (the old cathedral estates) in the city and the surrounding area.

But first in this post some words of introduction. The tithe maps are available at the Staffordshire Past Track web site and cover the whole of the county. The site briefly describes the maps as follows.

The tithe apportionment awards and maps held by the Archive Service stem from the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836, which replaced the payment of tithes as one tenth of agricultural produce (grain, hay, calves, lambs, etc.) with a rent charge apportioned between the landowners in the parish or township. Initially, owners of land and tithes could voluntarily agree a sum, but after October 1838, compulsory commutation began. Maps were drawn up and detailed schedules called ‘awards’, listing owners, occupiers and property details for each individual plot were created. Most processes were completed by 1845.About 70% of the land area of the county was subject to tithe at this time. Exceptions were where tithes had already been commuted or extinguished, for example as part of  an enclosure award. In some cases, tithe had never been paid – on former monastic land, or on land which was too poor in the medieval period to have been titheable, such as parts of the Staffordshire Moorlands.

In addition to the maps, the database contains the following information. – document reference; owner surname and forename(s); occupier surname and forename(s; )township and parish; plot name and plot number; land use; area (in acres, rods and perches); tithers payable; value(s) and notes.

I have concentrated particularly on the Lichfield area in my investigations so far. On the tithe maps Lichfield consisted of three parishes – St Mary’s in the city centre; St Chad’s to the north and east, and St Michael’s in the south and west. St Chad’s was further divided into two townships – St Chad’s itself closest to the city centre, and Elmhurst and Curborough to the north. St Michael’s parish was huge and consisted of the townships of St Michael’s itself, to the east and south of the city centre; the township of Burntwood, Edial, Woodhouses, Pipe Hill and Wall to the south west; the township of Hammerwich west of Burntwood; the township of Streethay to the north east and the detached township of Fisherwick to the east beyond Whittington. In addition there were a number of extra parochial areas – the Close, the Friary, Freeford and Fulfen. Tithe information is only available for the last of these.  The dates of the individual maps are given in the table below.

These dates are actually quite significant, as they cover the period when new parishes were being formed from the old.  Burntwood and Wall became separate parishes in 1845. Christchurch parish was formed from parts of St Michael’s and St Chad’s parish in 1848. The nature of Hammerwich parish at the time is not totally clear, as there was some dispute between its residents and St Michael’s, but it was functioning as a separate parish by the early 1840s. Thus the tithe maps largely represent the situation in the early 1840s in terms of designation of townships, and the classification used on the maps will be adopted in what follows.

My method of working has been to copy and paste all the individual records for the Lichfield area into several spreadsheets (an unbelievably tedious task) and then through some fairly simple programming to get all the records onto one line in the spreadsheet, with the items listed above in individual columns.  This then gives the possibility of ordering the records by different columns, searching for multiple entries and so on.

Whilst the information on the tithe maps can be used to paint a detailed picture of life in the Lichfield area in the 1840s, and I may well do so in later posts, in the next post I will use this information to see what the tither maps can tell us about a much deeper past – the nature of the early, pre-conquest prebendial estates of Lichfield Cathedral It will be seen that this throws a whole new light on the early geography of the area.

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