To many people the word terrier probably conjures up a picture of a lively, eager sort of dog, probably with a wiry coat and a tendency to zip down rabbit holes. But another definition is a register or inventory of land and, as far as historical references are concerned, terriers can be a very useful and revealing source.
Glebe terriers summarised all the property belonging to a benefice which were sent to the bishop periodically. They described buildings and land in the parish and, if there are a series, any differences between the returns can indicate changes and improvements to property, sometimes even rebuilding.
Take this one from 1699, for example, a fantastic description of a vicarage house and its outbuildings and how they were used from over 300 years ago:
‘A parsonage house consisting of seven bays of building with a granary house or corn chamber of two bays, a barn of six bays shored at each end with a stable, swine house, cow house and buildings to tie cattle in of four bays. And one other piece of building at each end whereof are two small bays to lay corn or hay in. A pigeon house, with an orchard, garden and fold containing about half an acre of land.’
Terriers were also used to record the location and size of holdings within a manor, some giving tenants’ names and defining how their land was used, such as pasture, arable, orchards, etc. If there also happens to be a map showing the location of each terrier entry then you really have struck gold.
Terriers can provide valuable information about land and property in the 17th to 19th centuries. The only surprise is that they very rarely mention any kennels.