1) An ‘evidence’ was an important document, particularly a title deed which proved ownership or entitlement to use, and bundles of such documents were quite often referred to as ‘evidences’.
There are early examples in the Paston Letters, the second of which refers to ‘evydens … in a seck … enseylyd’. More typically, at a manorial court in Farnley Tyas, it was ordered in 1524 ‘that each of the free tenants show his evidences’. The range of documents this term might cover is made clear in a Star Chamber case of 1535, when it was claimed that a certain William Acclome had destroyed all the Evydences, charters, letters patentes, obligations, acquyetances, billes of Accompte, Court rolles, grantes of advousions, fees and Annuyteis. Rather less commonly these could be referred to as ‘writings’. Naturally, landholders sought to protect their important documents since it could be difficult to prove ownership of a property without them. Their vulnerability is exposed in a case brought before the magistrates in 1709, when a witness claimed that his cousin had said Ile carry you a Ladder and sett it to your Mother’s Cloisett window, if you’ll pull out a pain of Glass and sett the writeings on fire. In that way, he had been assured, he would be safe for the whole estates. It became normal, therefore, at an early date for a man to place his writings in a safe place, in a bag or box that could be sealed, or in a chest that could be locked, most commonly in an ‘evidence’ chest with multiple locks. In the inventory of William Middleton of Stockeld was the evydens gallery.