Open access to historic court rolls

21 September 2022

Have you ever thought, while working in your garden, that some distant predecessor might once have been digging on the same spot? 

Surprisingly, the Dulwich manorial court rolls might tell you as they hold a huge amount of information about everyday life in Dulwich centuries ago. The Dulwich Society and Dulwich College Archive are making them freely available to anyone interested in their remarkable insights into Dulwich’s past.

The court rolls go back to 1333 and deal with issues like tenancies, disputes and minor criminal acts. The lord of the manor presided but Dulwich inhabitants presented the agenda and it seems that locals had quite some control over their own affairs. However, the rolls can sound rather comical at times. For example, sometimes people were fined for not bringing their piglets to Dulwich Common to eat the acorns which were toxic to other animals, yet at other times people were fined for letting their piglets roam on the Common. In 1533 tenants were reminded that it is forbidden to collect crab apples before St Bartholomew’s Day. Landlords were fined for selling short measures of ale, bakers for selling undersized bread, everyone seemed to be fined for not keeping their ditches clean.

The Archives have photographed the rolls and Patrick Darby of the Local History Group is transcribing and translating them. Everything will be open access on the Dulwich Society’s website.

The Dulwich Society aims to foster and safeguard the amenities of Dulwich. Annual membership is £10. Join at