Manorial Counsel are regularly asked this question. From our research we know that almost every lordship has lost at least part or all of its deeds. So this leaves us with the problem of who actually who owns them. To put it into simple terms, if you find some money in the street who owns it? We would all say it is the person who lost it, however as they cannot prove this, their claim will never be recognised, who would believe them?
It’s the same is for a lordship. Whilst we know a lordship must have an owner, who is this person and why would we recognize their claim without proof? It is only natural that the person in the street finding the money would not wish to give up their fortunate gain. So why would anyone else bow to someone who states they own a lordship without any proof.
Some people will claim that their family has used a lordship title for many years or history records a chain of ownership leading to their family, but does this give them the legal right to the lordship? Morally maybe, but legally there are a few issues to consider first:
- Was the lordship taken by force?
- Was the lordship assumed with a land transaction, however the legal rights were not transferred and the conveyor wished to keep the lordship?
- Is there a missing deed that conveys away the lordship, but it has become lost?
- Did a lawful owner die and another take up the lordship with no legal right?
- What if there are two or more versions of history, which is correct?
- There were many family disputes over lordships and land, these were caused through poor record keeping at the time, how do we unravel them now?
- Although England has not been invaded since the Norman Conquest we have had civil wars and large numbers of lordships changed hands. Who should the legitimate owner be, the winner or loser especially when with a change of monarch individual owners came into and out of favour. Many lords paid their taxes on ill-gotten gains however the legal work was never completed
It is not a simple case of saying someone has used a lordship for many years, therefore there is a likelihood that they are not using the lordship against the will of the true owner.
The landmark case, Burton and Bamford v Walker and others 2010 argued who owned the lordship of Ireby. Burton had registered the lordship with HM Land Registry but was being challenged by the residents of the village within the boundaries of the lordship. In his introduction the Adjudicator briefly explained that from the initial evidence it was blatantly clear that neither party has sufficient evidence to show they owned the lordship. Hundreds of thousands of pounds had been spent on a simple point of law, ‘Who had the better case?’ In the end the villagers won out and the lordship was unregistered, however this was a hollow victory as they gained nothing. The Adjudicator quite rightly conferred no legality of ownership for them.
So when confronted by someone claiming to own a lordship, just bear this in mind, they might say they own it, but like all other property do they have proof? More importantly if you were to ‘buy’ whatever ‘rights’ they think they have, their lack of proof merely transfers to you.