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Papist Estates in Wiltshire in the Eighteenth century


An Act of Parliament in 1717 required all Papists ‘to Register their Names and Real Estates… to the end that their estates may be certainly known and discovered’. The government had already levied heavy land taxes on known Catholics and also threatened possible forfeiture of their lands. The returns were to be made to the Clerk of the Peace and enrolled in the Quarter Sessions of the County in which the land was situated. Each lists the separate properties and land, the tenant, when it was granted (either by copy of court roll or by lease), the yearly rent and any provisions such as heriots and fines.

The Wiltshire documents are in Wiltshire and Swindon Archives (WSA, A/310/1–12; A/311/1–8). Most of them are dated 1717 but there are some returns, especially for the larger estates, in 1726, 1746, 1761 and 1764. The largest estate was that of the Arundells of Wardour with some 460 separate holdings listed. Other large or medium sized estate owners included Francis Cottington at Fonthill Gifford (before it was sold to William Beckford); Sir John Webb (with extensive property in Odstock, Homington, Hamptworth and Downton); Edward Cary and Elizabeth, Dowager Duchess of Castlehaven both of whom owned large tracts of land in Pewham Forest and Blackmore Forest. Excluding the Arundells, fifty-four landowners made a return, many with just one or two properties. Significantly quite a high proportion of the landowners lived outside Wiltshire. The total annual rent from all the properties listed amounted to £5,732 13s. 8d.

Mr J. Anthony Williams researched Catholic Recusancy for many years and in 1968 the Catholic Record Society published his definitive work Catholic Recusancy in Wiltshire 1660–1791. Some time later he started transcribing the Wiltshire Papist Estate returns with a view to producing a volume for the Wiltshire Record Society. Unfortunately this was not completed before he died. His daughter has now donated his research papers to the Record Society. These contain a full transcript of the Papist Estate returns.

The Record Society committee decided it would be more effective if the lists of properties were calendared rather than reproduced in full. It also considered it would be useful to put this online with, perhaps, a full volume with an Introduction, etc at a later date.

This first document covers the non-Arundell properties. Apart from its contribution to the study of Catholic Recusancy, it is likely to be of value to researchers on particular areas of Wiltshire, on land management and tenure on larger and medium-sized estates and the extensive lists of tenants and their holdings are a useful resource for family historians. The next two documents comprise the returns of the Arundell estates in 1717 and 1746 respectively. The final document consists of short biographies of the Catholic owners of the estates in the enrollments.

Papist Estates in Wiltshire in the 18th Century [PDF]
Arundell Estates, 1717 [PDF]
Arundell Estates, 1746 [PDF]
Biographies of Catholic Landowners [PDF]