Friday, June 20, 2008

Tithe maps

When I started out in this business, one of my first tasks was to copy the local Tithe maps. I spent many happy hours copying them in County Records; quite a complicated task, as my village sits at the junction of four parishes.

In 1836 it was decided that the owners and tenants of land could buy out the Church tithes. To do this, it was necessary to work out a fair price. Local surveyors were engaged to wander round the countryside, mapping the fields. Their sizes would be worked out and a price given. The maps are interesting, not least because it makes you realise how little the countryside has changed in Cornwall. I would say that most of the field boundaries round Mitchell look much like they did 168 years ago.

The maps are attached to an Apportionment Roll. This records who owned the land, and if rented, the names of the tenants. It is handy to compare this with the 1841 census returns because the 1841 is a bit short on address details. The Roll also records the size of each field and the rent assigned to it. More interestingly from a family history point of view, it gives the names of the fields. In Mitchell there were several fields named Kneebone, but there were no families of the name that I know of in and around the village. Other fields had names that gave clues to the past, Chapel Close suggested the site of a long lost chapel. Fair Park pointed out where the annual fair was held. Just what Puzzling Chain means I don’t know.

There were three copies of each map. One was handed to the parish and is now probably in County Records. One went to the church, and that is also probably in CRO. The third was sent to London and is now at Kew.

As I said at the start, copying these maps was one of my first projects in my study of the village of Mitchell. This was in 1995 and illustrates how far we have come since then. Nowadays, the CRO photographs them and sells them on disc.

The maps are very large; one of them was 12 feet by 12 feet. To copy them by hand involved placing an A4 acetate sheet on the map with a piece of tracing paper on top. Only pencil could be used and the acetate stopped indentations on the map. Using this method resulted in a pile of tracing paper sheets, all carefully labelled.

Arriving home, I then reversed the process. The tracings were retraced onto acetate sheets with a felt tip pen. Each acetate sheet was taped on the monitor and using the mouse, I traced the field outlines using an Apple application called MacDraw - long gone! I then joined all the sheets together, having carefully gone in for some overlap. Luckily, the long ago surveyors seemed to have gone in for straight edges to the fields.

On the maps were all buildings; dwellings and other sorts. The Roll also gave the type of farming; arable, pasture, woods, furze etc. So I built up layers; you could easily see which farmer owned which land and where all the furze was! Quite important - furze. One of the complications in the project was that of the four parishes; one, the most important one at that, had a different scale to the other three.

I am afraid that these maps have vanished somewhere between computers. However, they haven’t quite vanished, because I printed them out and they hang on the stairway walls. I don’t know how many hours I spent on them, but perhaps as I return to studying Mitchell and its history, they will come back into use.

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