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Need to Know: Lordship of the Manor

After a most entertaining, if not strictly relevant, ramble around the internet researching this article (for which read ‘procrastinating’), I can bring you news that Chris Eubank is Lord of the Manor of Brighton and that if you are struggling to think of the perfect gift for “romantic couples”, you can buy them a Lordship title for just £32.90. A fabulous offer no doubt, diminished only slightly by the fact that ‘feudal’ is spelled incorrectly on the website.

Following on from my previous article regarding mines and minerals, in which I explained that one way in which they are commonly owned is as part of a Lordship of the Manor, I thought the subject of manors deserved an airing in its own right. To wit: ‘manors’ are of ancient origin and originally referred to a self-contained unit with its own customs and rights, with a defined geographic extent. Manors were derived from the Crown (or superior Lord) and the Lord of the Manor was, in turn, all powerful over his tenants. Now of diminished importance in their own right, the legacy of rights they leave and the Land Registry’s 2013 deadline, is what makes them worth a detour.

Legally speaking there are three separate elements which comprise a manor. The first of these is the title ‘Lord of the Manor’ itself. The title lacks physical substance; it is simply the right to call yourself a Lord, but abounds in snob value and is therefore, what is most commonly bought and sold – though perhaps not on the website I visited. The second and third elements are the actual objects comprised in the manor: land and rights.

 Manorial land is land within the original geographic bounds of the manor which has not subsequently been conveyed away from the manorial title; the latter being the key point. Most manors have divested themselves of most of their land; either on account of impecunious families raising cash, or tenants enfranchising the copyhold land they held from the Lord and becoming the new freehold owners of it. If land now remains in manors therefore, it tends to be the smaller areas such as verges, river banks, commons and other rough land that has since been forgotten about.  

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Manorial rights are the third element and are the rights the Lord retained over the land, notwithstanding that most of it would have been farmed by his tenants. Such rights include sporting rights and rights to work mines and minerals. Special rights or ‘franchises’ may also have been granted directly to the Lord by the Crown, such as the right to hold fairs. Although rights were sometimes conveyed away from the manor either alone, or with land, because such rights are often forgotten about, or not considered important enough to be dealt with specifically on a sale, they quite often remain in the manor.  

Needless to say then that, where there are assets, there is someone willing to try and make some money: less scrupulous elements have bought up manors which still owned scraps of land and then attempted to stop residents reaching their homes, by claiming that by doing so, they were driving over his land, in this case, the verge. This specific trick was largely halted by the string of cases regarding access over common land, but claims to manorial sporting rights, have also been used to try and ransom people’s use of their own land. The joy for solicitors and judges when trying to sort this all out of course, is that there is usually next to no paperwork and anyone that did know anything is dead.  

In order to clear up what is undoubtedly an (even more than usual) arcane area of law and prevent further exploitation of the confusion surrounding it, the Land Registry have set a deadline of 13 October 2013. By this date, all manorial rights (and other overriding interests i.e. unwritten or customary rights over land) must be registered. If they are not and someone then buys the land over which the rights are exercisable without notice of them, the rights will be extinguished. For owners of such rights, this should be a treated as a warning to get on with protecting them now (either by registration, or entering a caution against first registration), or risk losing them.   
For those living on manorial land who are currently having trouble with their Lords, however, I suggest they start enforcing a few of their own rights under the manorial system: providing a manorial court to hear your grievances at the Lord’s own expense for starters, or perhaps demanding that he keeps proper records of your goats and chickens? There is so much fun to be had.