Find your ancestors in Surrey feet of fines 1558-1760

Learn more about feet of fines

Feet of fines were documents of a fictitious suit of law created to obtain a secure transfer of land. The document recorded the final agreement (or concord), written in triplicate, between buyer and seller: two copies side by side and one copy across the bottom of the sheet (the foot of the fine). An indented or wavy line separated the three sections; one section was given to the seller, one to the buyer, and one (the foot) to the court. The idea behind this system was that forgeries could be identified by showing they didn’t fit the three-piece jigsaw of the authentic, original foot of fine.

However, there was no legal obligation to have the title of property registered this way; such fines were usually one of several deed conveyance documents.

The amount of detail provided in a foot of fine varied from period to period. For example, some will provide the full names of all the buyers and sellers while others only provide the last name of the first buyer in a transaction. Documents were recorded in Latin in a Chancery script until the Hilary term 1732-1733. Following 1733, the records were recorded in English and in a script that was easier to read.

Discover more about these records

Cliff Webb, who provided the transcripts, transcribed them from the holdings at The National Archives (TNA). In most cases, the actual fine is in the year and term referred to in the note, but in some cases, the original record may be found in the next or subsequent term’s bundle. The TNA references for the original records are in the form: (class reference)/(bundle number)/(regnal year)/(legal term). The class reference is CP 25/2 for all feet of fines, and the legal term is given in the record. The regnal year is the year starting with the anniversary day of the accession of the monarch. For example, Elizabeth I ascended to the throne on 17 November 1558, so her first regnal year (expressed as 1 Elizabeth or 1 Eliz) runs from that date to 16 November 1559. A legal term could, however, run through the anniversary date; Michaelmas term usually did run into the next year and so was recorded with a double regnal year (e.g. 1 & 2 Eliz).

At TNA, the documents are divided into bundles that contain the fines for a county for a given run of years. At the start of a list of fines, those transactions that involved more than one county (called double county fines) were recorded. Double county fines are arranged in different bundles than those that only pertain to one county.