From the early 16th century to the late 18th century it was the custom of the ecclesiastical courts that proved wills to insist that the executors should appoint two or three local men to make “a true and perfect inventory” of the personal estate of the deceased, so that any dispute over the will could be more easily settled. The inventory was then filed with the will. The appraisers proceeded to list every item of furniture and utensils in the house often room by room. Then they noted livestock, crops, equipment, tools, clothes, ready money and whatever else was moveable. Often leases, rents, and debts were also included. The real estate was not valued.
The 65 inventories for Pirton date from 1610 to 1799 and are available on microfilm at Hertfordshire Archive and Local Studies (HALS). All HALS inventories for Pirton have been transcribed and are included in the searchable database.
Inventories can be used for determining the use a room was put to and how this changed over time. For instance the parlour was a ground floor sitting room and bedroom. In Pirton it remained the best bedroom until the early 18th century when bedrooms moved upstairs. By the 19th century it had acquired the meaning of best front room.
The standard later medieval plan for a farmer’s or yeoman’s house was essentially a large hall open to the roof with a central fire for cooking and heating. The householder and his family would live in the parlour and the room above – the solar – at one end of the hall, with the pantry (for food) and the buttery (for drink) beyond the cross-passage at the other end. The servants would sleep in the room above the pantry and the buttery or in the hall itself. This open hall plan lasted until Elizabethan times which saw the introduction of brick-built chimneys which made it possible to have an upper room above the hall as well. Controlling the exit of smoke with a chimney had a major influence on domestic house design. There was an internal staircase, and the spaces were divided up into a number of smaller, ‘cosier’ rooms with fireplaces. By about 1650 nearly all open halls had been floored over. In the Pirton inventories other rooms recorded are the brew house or drinkhouse [for brewing beer], the milke house or dairy.They are also invaluable for studying the furnishing of rooms.