PIPE ROLLS or the Great Rolls of the Exchequer are a long series of financial records of the English crown. The first extant Pipe Roll is that for the 31st year of the reign of Henry I. The continuous series begins with the second year of Henry II.'s reign and the annual succession of rolls is almost unbroken till 1834, when the last relics of the ancient financial system of the English mediaeval kings were swept away. The most plausible explanation of the name Pipe Rolls is that when rolled up and stacked in their presses the rolls looked like pipes. Up to the be ginning of the 13th century the Pipe Rolls are the only consecu tive series of official records which have survived; it was not until the reign of John that the Chancery records were systemat ically preserved. Therefore, the value of the Pipe Rolls for the last half of the 12th century can hardly be overestimated. By them the narratives of the chroniclers can be checked, and from them most of our knowledge of the actual working of the legal system in Henry II.'s reign comes. They are a mine of informa tion about the personnel of the government and the gradual de velopment of the new administrative offices. They are the best authority for the descents of the great families of feudal Eng land. For the historian of English towns they provide a vast mass of material. Calculations as to the amount of the royal revenue have been made from them, but such calculations can only be approximate, since much money was paid directly into the king's privy purse and recorded in no roll that survives.
Consisting of a varying number of skins of parchment about inches wide and a yard long sewn together at the top, the rolls are not easy to consult. Their matter too is not easy reading, nor their method of book-keeping easy to understand. The accounts are entered county by county, the sheriff being responsible for the account of his shire. Other accounts, known as foreign ac counts, appear sometimes on the rolls, accounts of royal manors by their custodians, accounts of escheats, or of towns. The clerks enter debts long after all hope that they may be paid has passed away. In 1883 the Pipe Roll Society was formed to publish the rolls up to 1200. It hopes to carry the work up to the end of John's reign. In later centuries, the Pipe Rolls lose much of their impor tance, but interesting matter can be found in the foreign accounts which continue to appear on the rolls. When the escheat rolls begin one great source of foreign accounts is lost to the Pipe Rolls. In this way by a process of splitting off, and the setting up of new accounting offices the ancient sheriff's account recorded in the Pipe Rolls becomes insignificant and stereotyped. The continuation of the series to 1834 is a remarkable illustration of English administrative conservatism. (D. M. S.)