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Terriers and surveys

There are two main types of terrier - canine and documentary - and this often gives rise to amusement in the searchroom when staff suggest to a user that a terrier might be helpful in answering a particular query. In the documentary context, of course, the word "terrier" derives from the Latin terra meaning land. The dictionary defines a terrier as "a written survey or list of the lands and other property belonging to an estate", and alternative names for documents of broadly similar content include surveys, extents, field books, and reference books.

Terriers and surveys are to be found among deeds and papers relating to the ownership and management of property and estates. Bedfordshire Record Office catalogues include details of such documents both where they exist as single items and also, for instance, when a terrier is appended to a deed. Often an abstract or summary of the contents is given in the catalogue. We also maintain an index, arranged alphabetically by parish, under "ESTATE PAPERS: Surveys and terriers: [Parish name]" in the searchroom subject index.

The format of these documents varies greatly, and it is not always easy for the user to relate the information in a terrier (especially in those drawn up before the Parliamentary Inclosures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) to the modern topographical features (such as earthworks, windmills, and brick kilns), in showing land use, and in giving the names of owners and occupiers of land (including people named in abuttals as holding adjoining properties). Terriers accompanying maps, giving a direct correlation between the text and a contemporary plan of the area described, are usually known as map reference books, which have an obvious added usefulness to the researcher.

Mention should also be made of glebe terriers - glebe being the land and property set aside for the support of the parson and parish church - as they are an invaluable source for the local historian. For many Bedfordshire parishes, glebe terriers exist for the years 1607, 1708, and 1822, and in some cases there are also terriers for intermediate years and beyond. For Barton le Clay, for instance, there are some fourteen glebe terriers ranging from 1607 to 1865. The main series is in the Archdeaconry records (class: ABE), but there are further terriers among the Diocesan records at Lincoln and Ely, and with the tergister and records of the parish itself. Copies of may of the Lincoln terriers have been purchased for local use, including a full set of terriers for 1822 (ref: FAC 35/11). In the ABE catalogue there is a full conspectus listing all the available glebe terriers (and copies) for each parish, making it easy for the user to discover exactly what documents exist in the various collections.

Glebe terriers include descriptions of the parsonage house and outbuildings, details of the glebe land, information on tithes and other dues payable to the incumbent, and inventories of church goods. It is not unusual to find descriptions of the churchyard boundaries citing the names of the people responsible for maintaining the fences and walls. Similarly, terriers often include information on parish clerks, revealing wide variation in their duties and in the ways in which they were supported or paid. Church furnishings are also well documented in the terriers, from which it is possible to glean information on church plate, clocks, bells, altar and pulpit furnishings, and even on "missing" registers and records.

Whether secular or ecclesiastical, terriers can provide concise and accurate information on a range of subjects, and although their contents may appear to be fairly standard there is always an element of serendipity. Thus they are excellent source material for the conscientious researcher and speculator alike.