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26 March 2021

The History of Notaries

What is a notary public? This is a common question that we are asked. This blog post explores the historical background of notaries and how the modern notary public came to be.

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

history of notaries

By Papia Kabir
Legal Intern

The notarial profession has a long history of development in England and Wales with notaries representing the oldest and smallest branch of the legal profession. The office of a notary public first began its origins in the civil institutions of ancient Rome. 

Fast-forward to 2021, and the notary profession has grown in the UK, with the Notaries Society representing the 770 or so Notaries Public practising in England and Wales. 

Development of the notarial profession in England and Wales

The establishment of the notariat in England and Wales can be understood through the following five phases of development in history.

1279: The sporadic arrival in England of foreign notaries, chiefly Italian, appointed by Imperial or papal authority. The Archbishop of Canterbury was first authorised by the Pope to appoint notaries.

1279 – 1533: Following the reformation, Parliament passed “the Act concerning Peter’s pence and dispensations” by virtue of which certain powers until then exercisable only by the Pope were transferred to the Crown, including those of appointing notaries. 

1533 – 1801: Members of the English notariat were appointed without foreign intervention. This period ended with the Public Notaries Act 1801; the first of three 19th century statutes regulating the notarial profession.

1801 – 1990: During this period the profession, supported on the framework of the 19th century legislation, expanded numerically and developed many of its present-day functions.

1990 onwards: Passing of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 and the Legal Services Act 2007.

Post 1900: The Notaries Society 

The Notaries Society, incorporated in 1907, is the organisation that represents the 900 notaries or notaries public in England and Wales. The Notaries Society is run by its Council of 25 members, headed by the President.

The Notaries Society has an extensive role which includes, education, continuing professional development and international representation, as well as the development of professional rules. 

The importance of the English notaries in the 21st century

As the notariat profession developed over time, the importance of the English notary became prominent. The ability of a notary to link the institutions of the common law with those of the civil law became noteworthy. It is for this reason that the office of the English notary has been upheld in the legal system, even in the 21st century.

How we can help you

We are one of the many Notary Publics who owe our existence to the many who came before us in their various forms, and we hope to do our part to uphold their legacy.

Our Notary Public of England and Wales, Nathan Woodcock, has helped thousands of clients with their notary needs. Whether they be every day people or big businesses, he will help.

We can also assist you with the process of legalisation. Depending on where you want to go, your documents will either need to go through embassy legalisation, or get an apostille from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). 

Get in touch with us today to see how we can help you, and arrange an appointment with Nathan.


If you have any questions about our notary, apostille or consular services,
contact Woodcock Notary Public today.

Call us on 0800 049 2471 (free to call) or email

If you have any questions about our notary, apostille or consular services, contact Woodcock Notary Public today.

Call us on 0800 049 2471 (free to call) or email