Oh dear

So, then: who actually owns this place? That’s what I’ve set out to investigate with my blog, Who Owns England?. I started it last summer, post-referendum, determined that if Brexit really meant “taking back control of our country”, then I’d like at least to know who owns it.

So, Snowflake has been studying this subject for 9 months now.

Understanding who owns this country has been a utopian project for at least a century and a half. In 1872, in an effort to disprove radicals’ claims that only a tiny elite dominated the landed wealth of the nation, Lord Derby – a major landowner himself – asked the government to undertake a proper survey. The Return of Owners of Land – or “Modern Domesday”, as it became known – was the first comprehensive assessment of land ownership in Britain since William the Conqueror’s swag list after the Norman conquest. But far from dousing the demands of the radical land reformers, the survey lit a fire under the issue.

The Return showed that just 710 aristocratic individuals owned a quarter of the entire country. Popularised by the author and socialite John Bateman in a bestselling book, The Acre-Ocracy of England, who owned land suddenly became the talk of the town. But it wasn’t just the gentry keeping up with the Joneses; land reform had become the political issue du jour. After all, this was a time when you couldn’t vote unless you owned property; when tenant farmers were struggling under a severe agricultural depression;

After 9 months studying the subject our Snowflake still doesn’t know that county tenants in various forms were granted the franchise 50 years before and that some boroughs had had tenant electors all along.

Hmm. Sterling work there, eh?

And he’s not really quite right about Henry George being all that radical. Yes, of course an LVT is a good idea. But then feudalism ran on much the same idea, didn’t it?

19 comments on “Oh dear

  1. Land ownership in Britain is largely irrelevant. It is who controls that land which matters. The EU owned no land in the UK. But they sure as hell controlled it.

  2. It takes a particularly mean spirit to care who owns the green acres of Britain. What we need is a hearth and home of our own. Do most British people own their own homes? What is more are they, on the whole, secure in their own homes from being turfed out by local politicians or powerful developers?

    I would say so. Most of that housing is ugly but the British population has long had a security of tenure that other peoples lack. That is what is most important.

    Second, is the countryside been taken care of so that we can go out and enjoy it? I would think that Britain’s upper class has, traditionally, done an excellent job of looking after the countryside. They have not despoiled their coast lines like the Latins. They have not stripped the land bare of trees causing massive erosion as in Greece and Turkey. We have all benefited from their care.

    Third, and perhaps most important, Britain’s upper class has, in exchange for that land, provided officials, officers and even scientists. Above all officers. They have lived up to their end of the bargain by going out and dying in really respectable numbers for whatever piddling cause is driving the wars of the day. That is extremely valuable. It is what the French and Italians lack. The Germans used to have it too.

    So all in all, I see no reason for action whatsoever.

  3. ‘The Return showed that just 710 aristocratic individuals owned a quarter of the entire country.’

    Can’t foment revolution, so let’s use a 150 year old strawman.

  4. Suddenly, some old fella owning a few hundred acres of moorland invalidates Brexit, though it wasn’t a problem when being ruled by the EU last May.

    99.9% of sane people will shrug, mutter “whatever” and forget he even exists, leading to much foot-stamping.

  5. As I always say, the fact of state ownership of whatever drives a dagger through the heart of the meaning of ownership.

    My London Underground? Reelly? Can I sell my share? Nope, thought not.

  6. As Ken says, ALL the land is ultimately owned by the Crown. Everyone else, be they aristo or oik merely hold their chunks of it it fee simple or fee tail therefrom.

  7. Those 710 families may own a quarter of England, but most of that quarter of England is wild wind-swept moorland and vertical cliff faces. Most of the North Yorks Moors are owned by the Duchy of Lancaster. It’s not like it has much rental value.

  8. “when tenant farmers were struggling under a severe agricultural depression”: and therefore so were the bloody landowners! Idiot!

    An ancestor of mine changed between censuses from “farmer” to “farmer and landed proprietor”. I suspect that this means he bought the land he farmed from the Big Hoose while His Grace was toiling financially. The current His Grace, however, continues to own miles and miles of bugger all in the hills.

  9. > but most of that quarter of England is wild wind-swept moorland and vertical cliff faces

    Well, except the great estates of London: Cadogan, Howard de Walden, Portman, and Grosvenor. That last one also has plenty of high-value urban land outside London.

    I suspect we’d be a lot less sanguine about this pattern of land ownership if the owners were (say) Saudi princes.

  10. Like all these class warriors, they are harking back to the days when land generated wealth and therefore meant power. They are the reactionaries – not us!

    These days, land is generally a cost, not a benefit, and wealth, aka power, comes from quite different sources. You buy land because you’re rich, not the other way around.

    Ask Gates or Soros or Zuckerborg how many acres they own – they’d hardly understand the question, and certainly wouldn’t understand the reason for asking it (envy, basically).

  11. AndrewM: Ah, but they said “a quarter of the /land/” not a quarter of the land-value. One street in the Grosvenor Estate is probably worth more than the entire Duchy holdings in the North York Moors.

  12. Andrew Duffin,

    “These days, land is generally a cost, not a benefit, and wealth, aka power, comes from quite different sources. You buy land because you’re rich, not the other way around.”

    That largely depends on what land we’re talking about.

    The tractor turned the likes of Lord Bath from landlord to entrepreneur. The average Guardian reader with a probably not required civil service job is more of a parasite than these people.

  13. Andrew Duffin:

    always worth noting is that the class warriors are not living in the world of today, though. They’re still after more unionisation despite it being pointless for most workers.

  14. Perhaps the writer should go to this webpage:

    http://www.vaguelyinteresting.co.uk/who-owns-the-uk/

    By 2010, the top ten had changed completely, with only one name on both lists: the Duke of Buccleuch. The Duke’s land holdings had shrunk from 460,000 to 240,000 acres, but that was still enough to place him eight on the list. Only two other entries in the top ten could claim aristocratic distinction: the Crown Estates (360,000 acres) and the Duke of Atholl’s trusts (150,000 acres).

    So who now owns Britain? In some ways, the general public does. Mass membership organisations have extensive land holdings: the National Trust protects 630,000 acres whilst its Scottish counterpart has 190,000 under its care. In addition, the RSPB has 320,000 acres. Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust add another 300,000 acres. Pension funds have also diversified investments into land and, in 2010, owned 550,000 acres.

  15. @jgh, March 21, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    Those 710 families may own a quarter of England, but most of that quarter of England is wild wind-swept moorland and vertical cliff faces. Most of the North Yorks Moors are owned by the Duchy of Lancaster. It’s not like it has much rental value.

    You beat (geddit?) me to it

    +1

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