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A recent High Court case provided a lesson in medieval land law for those involved, and featured a reputed Lord of the Manor in dispute with his villagers. In 2000, Peter Burton, a retired banker, and his partner Susan Bamford purchased Over Hall, a then dilapidated but substantial 17th century house near the village of Ireby in Lancashire.
In 2004, Mr Burton, on discovering its existence from old title deeds, bought for £1 the Lordship of the Manor of Ireby from the couple who had sold him Over Hall.
Lordships of the Manor date from Anglo-Saxon times and, according to the former Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, ‘in medieval times the manor was the nucleus of English rural life’. A manor was an extensive area of land, some of which would be occupied by the manor’s tenants and some of which (known as ‘the waste lands’) was usually grazed by the tenants’ animals and became known as common land.
To the north of Over Hall is Ireby Fell, 300 acres of moorland fell which is registered common land. Mr Burton believed the fell to be waste land attaching to the Lord of the Manor title and in 2005 he and Ms Bamford were registered as the owners of the fell by the Land Registry and began actively managing the land.
Relations between the owners of Over Hall and the villagers of Ireby then became strained as Mr Burton started mapping the manorial waste lands and began requesting villagers to tidy up or cease obstructing what he believed to be his land.
A number of villagers decided to take action and applied to the Land Registry to have Mr Burton removed as the owner of the title of Lord of the Manor and as the owner of Ireby Fell.
The villagers were successful in removing Mr Burton as Lord of the Manor as the Land Registry Adjudicator decided that the title should be closed because, prior to Mr Burton, no one had acted in that rôle since 1836. However, it was also held that Mr Burton and Ms Bamford should not be removed as the owners of the fell as their original Land Registry application was made in good faith and was an honest and reasonable application.
An appeal by the villagers to the High Court has now failed, leaving them facing substantial legal costs.