Who Owns Britain

1563440Kevin Cahill (2001)

This is absolutely chock full of data, tables, and dense, well-researched information on key landowners in Britain — along with a good explanation of why this research is so hard and still so incomplete. Cahill may be a little strident, but I think it’s his right as pulling together all of this information in the teeth of concerted effort to hide it requires a certain level of patience and commitment that must be hard to extend further to the rest of the world.

The book centers on the fact that over a third of the land in Britain is not actually to be found in the Land Registry of England and Wales. Those large, landed estates and properties which have not changed hands over the centuries — an astonishing amount of land — remains outside the registry’s databases. And so Cahill has uncovered a mostly unknown and unused resource: The Return of Owners of Land, in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, commissioned by Parliament and published in four volumes between 1874 and 1876. This tells us who owned what in 1870, their address, the extent of the land and gross estimated rental — all information impossible to access today through the land registry.

Anyone would agree there is a lot of self-interest in burying this information on the part of the country’s biggest landowners. The charts and figures are great, and this and the encyclopedic entries on the principle landowners are the key feature of this book, but I  loved the occasional tidbits of social constructions of land and power. This quote from the 15th Earl of Derby who explained in 1881:

The object which men aim at when they become possessed of Land in the British Isles may, I think, be enumerated as follows. One, political influence; two, social importance, founded on territorial possession, the most visible and unmistakeable form of wealth; three, power exercised over tenantry; the pleasure of managing, directing and improving the estate itself; four, residential employment, including what is called sport; five, the money return — the rent (p 8, quoted in Shoard This Land is Our Land).

I’m reading Shoard in the near future. So just to finish this off, who are the largest owners of land?

The Forestry Commission……..2,400,000 acres
The Ministry of Defence……………750,000 acres
The National Trust E & W………….550,000 acres
The Pension Funds……………………..500,000 acres
The Crown Estate……………………….384,000 acres
The Duke of Buccleuch………………277,000 acres
National Trust for Scotland……….176,000 acres
Duke of Atholl’s trust………………….148,000 acres
Duchy of Cornwall………………………141,000 acres
Duke of Westminster………………….140,000 acres
Church of England……………………….135,000 acres

Those whose lands are centered in London are making the most from them of course, like the Duke of Westminster’s 100 acres in Mayfair and 200 in Belgravia. These estates are also still being added to, Cahill claims that the Duchy of Cornwall (Prince Charles himself) has more than doubled in size since 1872, buying 20,000 acres as late as 1999 (and who knows since?). I’m very interested in them as they still own a large portion of Kennington. Interesting though, that this attempt to replenish the royal estates has taken place in great part since the agricultural depression of the 1890s, and WWI’s huge impact on landowning familes (much royal land had been lost during the Civil War if you’ll remember).

There’s much more in here, but it is encyclopaedic, and defying my description. A good reference, though I’d definitely head to your nearest archive to see more about land ownership in your local area. I know the amazing Minet Library has the old tithe maps and more for Lambeth, all free to access. Still, that doesn’t give you the national picture of land ownership and residence, and the call to uncover this is an important one.

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