Advice on buying a manorial title
1: WHAT IS A MANORIAL LORDSHIP?
1.2: Importance of Solicitors
1.4: British and overseas owners and death
1.5: Land Registration Act, 2002 (LRA)
1.6: Scottish baronies
1.7: Some publications
UNDER the laws of real property in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Irish Republic, Lordships of the manor are known as ‘estates in land’ and in Courts, where they may crop up in cases to do with real property, they are often simply called ‘land’.
They are ‘incorporeal hereditaments’ (literally, property without body) and are well glossed from the English and Welsh point of view in Halsbury’s Laws of England, vol viii, title Copyholds, which is available in most solicitors’ offices or central reference library.
Manors cover an immutable area of land and may include rights over and under that land, such as rights to exploit minerals under the soil, manorial waste, commons and greens. While it has always been the case that manorial rights can sometimes have a high value, this is rare because the rights are frequently unknown and unresearched (or are just not commercial). There is no value in owning mineral rights if there are no commercially exploitable minerals, such as granite or aggregate, and purchasers should not expect a manorial Eldorado. If such benefits were routine, then asking prices by agents would be considerably higher to reflect this.
We are sometimes asked whether Lordships are a ‘good investment’ to which the answer is, ‘what goes up can also come down.’ The average price of a Manor was about £300 in 1955; about £600 in 1976; about £2,500 in 1981; about £10,000 in 1989; about £7,000 in 1992, during the last recession; about £12,000 in 1998, and about £7,000 now. Some Lordships command a premium price because of their names: Stratford Upon Avon and Wimbledon, sold respectively in 1993 and 1996 for £110,000 and £171,000. These are exceptional. At auction, some Manors will go higher or lower than the average, depending on the competition in the room. If you should enjoy a capital gain, then treat it as serendipity.
1.2: Importance of Solicitors
Like any other real property (known as real estate in the United States), Manorial Lordships belong to some one and are conveyed in precisely the same way as you would convey a house. Just as you would not contemplate the purchase of a house without legal advice, so you would be unwise to contemplate the purchase of a Manor without legal advice and you should appoint an independent solicitor/attorney. Agents Manorial Auctioneers and Strutt & Parker have panels of solicitors who are well versed in this arcane area of property law and will advise, but an intending purchaser is free to appoint any solicitor of his or her choice.
Solicitors will be looking principally for one thing: whether the person or company selling is the legal owner. ‘Legal owner’ is an important expression in law, and is quite different from a similar expression in law ‘beneficial owner’ (eg such as a beneficiary under a Will where the legal owner is the Executor or Trustee). The solicitor will also make inquiries with the seller’s solicitors about any rights that may be passed. He will also make Land Searches at HM Land Registry.
Once you have made your offer and it is accepted, your solicitor will ask the vendor’s solicitor for what is known as an Epitome of Title: ie proof of ownership over not less than 15 years (20 years in Ireland). With Lordships, in practice in the Civil Law, title is generally traced back 50 or more years. Proof of ownership is sometimes found in family or estate documents: viz Assents, Probates, Wills, Mortgages, Settlements. Statutory Declarations are common, the latter supported by persuasive exhibits from secondary sources. In effect, they are similar to the authentication of an unsigned painting, unmarked porcelain or furniture. They are as good as the person making the Declaration and the evidence adduced in exhibits. The legal expression that will appear in a Conveyance or wording very similar, in such Conveyances is ‘All and Singular that Manor or Lordship or Reputed Manor or Lordship of X, in the parish of Y, in the County of Z...’
A purchaser’s solicitor will check also by Searches that the seller is not a bankrupt or (if a company) where it is incorporated and not struck off or in receivership.
A solicitor will also check that the Manor is purchased ‘unencumbered’ (ie that there are no unexpected costs, such as the duty to repair the chancel of the local church, known as the ‘lay rectorship’, or ‘lay improprietorship’ or to maintain the village green).
It is not a very complicated job, but it is worth spending about £400 with a solicitor who will ask the right questions of the seller’s solicitor and to get the correct paperwork. We mentioned commercial rights and capital gains on the asset: do not forget that if by chance there were potentially valuable rights on the Manor, the first thing you need to prove any legal entitlement to them is good title and conveyancing.
Value Added Tax (VAT) does not apply to the Lordship or Barony/Honour itself, but VAT on commissions paid to the auctioneers/agents will attract VAT at the prevailing rate (presently 20% in the UK) to all purchasers within the European Union. All other purchasers are exempt, as they are if they buy most goods in the UK. Those non-EU visitors who know the large London shops, such as Harrods, will have seen signs about ‘tax free shopping.’
Other taxes, such as Capital Gains or any income from a Lordship (eg mines and minerals, manorial waste) may well apply in the national jurisdiction of the owner. Owners should consult a tax accountant if need be.
1.4: British and overseas owners and death
A Lordship has a value and for all Lords of Manors, it will count as an asset at death, unless a lifetime arrangement has already been made. If you are domiciled outside the UK and your Lordship is your only UK asset, you will still need a Probate Certificate, even though the value is very likely to be well below the threshold for Inheritance Tax. This is usually a formality - an important one - and the solicitor who helped you to acquire the Lordship can do this for a deceased estate inexpensively. A Probate Certificate is important where the beneficiary wishes to sell the Lordship for a cash amount, as a purchaser’s solicitor will want evidence that it was transferred lawfully: ie that no tax was due on the death of the Testator. The Probate Certificate confirms that tax was not due, or if it formed part of a larger portfolio of assets in the UK, that took the value of the estate above the Inheritance Tax threshold, that it was included as part of the entire deceased estate in the UK.
1.5: Land Registration Act (LRA) (2002)
Lords of the Manor in England and Wales have been given until 13 October 2013 to register any rights they may have in the Manor. The LRA does not oblige owners to register their rights, and non-registration does not mean that the Lordship or its rights are lost. It just means that the traditional paper conveyancing continues, as opposed to electronic conveyancing today.
An advantage of registration, however - especially if an owner does not live on the spot, enabling him or her to see what is going on - is that a solicitor to a landowner, developer, or house owner, mineral excavation company, wind farm operator, and so forth, where manorial rights might apply, will make a search of the Land Registry as a matter of course. Your name and address, or the address of your solicitor, will be available on the Certificate and one of you will receive a letter from a solicitor acting for some one who may need to come to an arrangement on manorial rights with the Lord. This is known as First Registration. NB: not being registered does not affect your ownership of title and rights, but it is better to be registered as anyone seeking changes of use of land where the Lord of the Manor may be involved will come to you. You do not need to find the developer or other individual or company if your Lordship is registered.
You should also note that claims to manorial rights are not retrospective. For example, if you discover that a developer has used a route across the manorial waste or Common, known as a ransom strip, to gain access to a number of houses he has built, and the houses have been built, the Civil Courts of England will not entertain a ‘late claim.’ The Courts will take what is known as the ‘balance of convenience:’ ie if you did nothing about a ransom strip before building, or other activity, took place (regardless of whether you knew about it or not), you are most unlikely succeed in such a claim.
1.6: Scottish Baronies
Scottish Baronies are essentially what in England are called ‘manors’, but are called ‘baronies’. Indeed, Scottish Dispositions (Conveyances) routinely refer to the ‘manor place’ in barony documents going back centuries. Some land was still held feudally in Scotland until reforming legislation in the Scottish Parliament was enacted and came into force in November 2004. Purchasers should engage a Scottish solicitor (Scotland being a separate legal jurisdiction from England and Wales), and a seller will provide what is called an ‘Opinion’ or an ‘Advice’ from a lawyer or other land historian, who has made such things a speciality, as to the existence of a barony and the seller’s entitlement to sell. Its effect is the same as an English Statutory Declaration.
It should also be noted that Scottish baronies were stripped of all interests in land in November 2004. Rights, therefore, in superiorities, reversions, mines, minerals, solum (common and waste) were abolished, and the shell title ‘barony’ is all that remains. In England, a Lordship stripped of all its rights exists as a ‘Lordship in Gross.’ There is no comparable term in Scottish Law of which we are aware.
Conveyances in Scotland tend to be called ‘Dispositions’ and some legal words differ, but one acquires a barony in much the same way as a Lordship in England. It should be noted that Scottish solicitors are very much more expensive in these matters than English or Irish solicitors. It is wise to get a written quotation from a solicitor before committing.
1.7: Some publications
* The Manorial Society of Great Britain has recently published The Proceedings of a Conference on the implications for Manorial Lords of Land Registration Act (2002). The Conference was held at Merton College, Oxford, in September 2005 and included speakers from HM Land Registry, the Commons Commission, solicitors, barristers, and land agents. The Proceedings are available for £250.00 to non-members and £150.00 to members.
The Society was also jointly associated in 1996 with Legal Research and Publishing Limited in publishing Manorial Law, the legal history behind property ownership as it affects Manorial Lordships, price £49.95.
Irish property law is similar to mainland UK (two Legal Opinions on Lordships and Baronies in Ireland by an academic lawyer and a Senior Counsel are available in copy for purchasers’ solicitors if requested). The conveyance of Feudal Baronies in England and Ireland (not the same as peerages) works in the same way as for a Manorial Lordship. The principal legislation affecting mostly manors, but also Baronies or Honours in England and Ireland were an Act of the English Parliament, 1660, and of the Irish Parliament, 1662.
2: INTERNET SITES
2.2: Property: Real and Incorporeal
2.3: Treasury Solicitor (BV)
2.4: Resurrected Lordships
2.5: The London Gazette
2.6: Internet site solicitors
2.7: Simple checks you can make
2.8: Getting your money back
2.9: How they get away with it
2.10: I want to believe
2.11: What owners should do if their Lordship appears