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The West Riding Registry of Deeds

In 1704 by Act of Parliament the West Riding Justices of the Peace were made responsible for the establishment of a registry to register deeds relating to land in the West Riding (excluding copyhold and short leases). Its main purpose was to provide reliable evidence of ownership. A deed is a legal document that is signed and delivered, especially one regarding the ownership of property or legal rights, e.g. mortgage deeds, contracts, indentures, instruments, wills, legal documents.

Registration took place between 1704 and 1970, and summaries of the registered deeds are contained in almost 12,000 volumes indexed by personal name and place. There are place name indexes for the years 1704-1787 and 1885-1923. The deeds are held in Wakefield, the headquarters of the West Yorkshire Archive Service. The West Riding covered the area now known as North Yorkshire after re-organization of local government in 1974.

For a project started in 2003, with assistance mainly from Shane Obrien, Tony Stephens obtained permission to photograph deeds for the townships of:

Giggleswick (303 deeds)
Hellifield (95)
Langcliffe (159)
Long Preston (413)
Rathmell (148)
Settle (714)
Stainforth (115)
Wigglesworth (55)

(total 2119 deeds, some needing photographs of several pages)

This involved an enormous amount of time and physical effort of manhandling the heavy volumes each one larger than a couple of shoeboxes.

The volumes consulted relate to the period of 1704 (the start of the register) to 1844 (the Tithe Assessment). The objective was to gather historical information primarily on local families and field names. The difficulties and expense of travel to Wakefield to consult this collection has been an issue for local historians. In earlier years payment was required to have copies of these deeds for legal purposes (house and land transactions) but since the modern process of land registry after 1993 the use of the deeds for this legal purpose must have declined. Permission was recently granted for the photographs of the deeds for the abovementioned townships to be made available for access on the North Craven Heritage Trust website. We are grateful to Dr Sylvia Thomas for this decision. The images of the deeds are subject to copyright.


The spelling of personal and field names is somewhat variable so searching for a specific item is not straightforward. In particular, the spelling of field names changes over the years as the information has been transmitted orally, not in written format. The collection has been split into eight local townships which can be browsed to identify deeds of potential interest. Note that the date used is that of registration, not the date of the deed which may be much earlier. Some deeds are very detailed and may cover property in several townships, some far removed from North Yorkshire. The logging of all relevant names is a substantial task which can only be done gradually because of the large number of deeds which are not always easy to read. The current notes made are therefore minimal except for Wigglesworth which has been subject to more detailed examination. In a very small number of cases photographs are not available and this matter has to be rectified in due course. Some of the photographs are not very clear and cannot be magnified electronically but can be read better using a lens to view the screen.

We are very grateful to Tony Stephens for making this collection available to NCHT. The process of checking the database and the photographs and the linking to the deed photographs is being carried out by Sheila Gordon, Mary Slater and Mike Slater, together with Frank Woodhams who has spent much time devising the process of the linking software and mounting of the material on the NCHT website. The material will be added gradually to the website as each township is prepared.

MJS December 2014

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