Norden’s Survey of the Manor of Bovey Tracey 1613-1614



Frances Billinge and Penny Martin


This has now been published in the following:- .

The Norden Survey of the Duchy of Cornwall Lands in the County of Devon, ed. Desmond Atkinson 2023 (Exeter, The Friends of Devons Archives) Occasional Papers 6., The Manor of Bovey Tracey, Frances Billinge and Penny Martin , pp. 113-164. Also available on-line from Devon Heritage Centre.

John Norden’s work is fully described by Frank Kitchen in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, who explained why Norden conducted surveys of Crown lands in the early 1600s.1 Further information on Norden’s work was also given in Heather Lawrence’s article of 1985.2
The Crown needed to raise money and sovereigns had started to sell Crown lands in Devon from the middle of the 1500s.3 This was to be continued by James I who in 1612 granted John Norden surveyorship of the king’s lands in several counties including Devon in preparation for the sale of these lands.4
Norden was an experienced cartographer and surveyor and his surveys used a list of particular questions which needed to be answered. This list is fully described in his Surveyor’s Dialogue and we can see that the survey of Bovey Tracey follows this method.  Sometimes Norden would produce a map, but in some surveys his work was a  manuscript description such as that of Northamptonshire where he described the parish with mileages between places and lists of the landholders.6 He undertook his survey of Bovey Tracey in 1614 and this was written-up in manuscript form in 1615.7 Unfortunately his survey of Bovey Tracey did not include a map. Frank Kitchen explained the methods which Norden used in his surveys as these varied depending on what was required.8 Norden called courts, examined records, physically inspected the ground, produced a register of holdings, tenants, values, obligations and other details.
Norden’s survey of Bovey Tracey covered all of the manor except Yarner and Ullacombe which had already been sold.The survey was a description of the holdings, their ownership, the name of each field and its size , the boundaries of the parish and the customs of the manor and the charter of the borough. It is an important resource for understanding the development of Bovey Tracey. Part of it was written in Latin and part in English



Penny Martin used to live  locally. She is a retired librarian and teaches a beginners’ Latin group for the Ashburton U3A. Penny led a short course on learning Latin at the U3A 2017 Summer School in Cirencester and had another one planned for the 2018 Summer School.


Grateful thanks to Dr John Booker for his tuition, and to both him and Dr David Stone for help with  difficult parts of the palaeography/Latin translation.


  1. Frank Kitchen  2008. John Norden . Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford)
  2. Heather Lawrence, 1985. John Norden and his Colleagues, Surveyors of Crown Lands in The Cartographic Journal 22, vol.I, pp.54-5.
  3. John Kew, 1967. The land Market in Devon 1536-1558. Unpublished Ph.D.thesis University of Exeter.; John E. Kew, 1967. Mortagages in Mid-Tudor Devonshire in Trans.Devon. Assoc.,Advmt Sci.vol.99, pp.165-179; John Kew, 1970. The Disposal of Crown Lands and the Devon Land Market, 1536-58 in Agricultural History Review xviii,  18, pt 1, pp.93-105.
  4. Calendar of State Papers Domestic Series James I, 1611-1618, p. 158. 26 November 1612, ed. Mary Anne Everrett Green, HMSO, 1967.
  5. John Norden, 1548-1625?,  A Surveyor’s Dialogue, 4th edition, London, R. Montagu, 1738.
  6. John Norden, 1610 published 1720. Speculi Britanniae Pars Altera: or A Delineation of Northamptonshire, (London).
  7. London Metropolitan Archives.John Norden ; 1615-16 Survey of Devon manors CLA / 044/05/04.
  8. Frank Kitchen,1997. John Norden c. 1547-1625, Estate Surveyor, Topographer, County Mapmaker and Devotional Writer in Imago Mundi 49, pp. 43-61. Page 50 describes the background of Norden’s work and page 54 describes Norden’s methods.
  9. DHC 103M-0/T/21: Title Deed Gregory and Christyen Sprente [Sprint] of Collaton (Raleigh) to William Gorge and William Clerke 1578; explained in Frances Billinge 2017. The History of Yarner Bovey Tracey, reference 57,

Updated  9 June 2023