Who owned Lancashire? – introduction

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When I recently read Guy Shrubsole’s Who owns England? [1] I wondered whether it would be possible to carry out a similar exercise for Lancashire in the late 19th century to see whether the ownership of large estates in the county was confined to a narrow set of landed gentry.

Shrupsole sets out the hurdles that must be crossed to provide an answer, and uses quotations from Winston Churchill’s polemical The People’s Rights [2] to stress the perennial and unresolved urgency of the issue:

It’s often very difficult to find out who owns land in England. Land ownership remains our oldest, darkest, best-kept secret. There’s a reason for that: concealing wealth is part and parcel of preserving it. It’s why big estates have high walls, why the law of trespass exists to keep prying commoners like you and me from seeing what the lord of the manor owns. [3]

‘Land … is by far the greatest of monopolies,’ raged Winston Churchill in a blistering polemic penned in 1909. ‘Consider’, wrote Churchill, ‘the enrichment which comes to the landlord who happens to own a plot of land on the outskirts or at the centre of one of our great cities’. The landowner need only wait while other people work and pay taxes to make the city grow more prosperous: building businesses, installing roads and railways, paying for schools and hospitals and public amenities. ‘All the while,’ growled Churchill, ‘the land monopolist has only to sit still and watch complacently his property multiplying in value, sometimes manifold, without either effort or contribution on his part; and that is justice!’ [4]

A century ago, the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George, declared: ‘The land enters into everything … the food the people eat, the water they drink, the houses they dwell in, the industries upon which their livelihood depends. Yet most of the land is in the hands of the few.’ [5]

‘Land differs from all other forms of property,’ argued Winston Churchill in 1909, at the height of the Liberal Party’s push for land reform. ‘Land, which is a necessity of human existence, which is the original source of all wealth, which is strictly limited in extent, which is fixed in geographical position – land, I say, differs from all other forms of property in these primary and fundamental conditions.’ [6]

A path to identifying who owned Lancashire in the 19th century was provided by the debate that was raging following the 1871 Census about just how many landowners there were in the United Kingdom:

The 1861 [should read 1871] Census provoked a commotion among radicals, as its records seemed to show there were just 30,000 landowners in a population of some 20 million people although the census said nothing about how much each owned. This was grist to the mill of a new generation of radical liberals and socialists who wanted to see the grinding poverty of the Victorian slums redressed through a fairer distribution of wealth. It was also dynamite for democrats advocating an extension of the electoral franchise and the abolition of the ‘property qualification’ – the need to own land or capital in order to vote.

The 15th Earl of Derby – himself a major landowner, and the son of the former Conservative Prime Minister ­ sought to stamp out calls for land reform by disproving these claims. Addressing the House of Lords on 19 February 1872, he asked the Lord Privy Seal ‘whether it is the intention of Her Majesty’s Government to take any steps for ascertaining accurately the number of Proprietors of Land or Houses in the United Kingdom, with the quantity of land owned by each?’ An accurate survey would be a public service, Derby went on, for currently there was a ‘great outcry raised about what was called the monopoly of land, and, in support of that cry, the wildest and most reckless exaggerations and misstatements of fact were uttered as to the number of persons who were the actual owners of the soil’.

Viscount Halifax, responding for the government, agreed, opining that ‘for statistical purposes, he thought that we ought to know the number of owners of land in the United Kingdom, and there would be no difficulty in obtaining this information’.

Halifax duly tasked the Local Government Board with preparing a Return of Owners of Land. Unlike the original Domesday, this was not produced by sending out surveyors, but by compiling and checking statistics already gathered on land and property ownership for the purposes of the Poor Law. This in itself was no mean feat: as is noted in the preface to the return, ‘upwards of 300,000 separate applications had to be sent to the clerks in order to clear up questions in reference to duplicate entries’. No maps were made, but addresses were recorded.

The Return of Owners of Land was finally published, ‘after considerable but unavoidable delay’, in July 1875. Its initial conclusions gave heart to the landed governing classes: there were, in fact, some 972,836 owners of land in England and Wales, outside of London. Yet 703,289 were owners of less than an acre, leaving 269,547 who owned an acre or above. Even this, the clerks pointed out, was likely an overestimate, based on county-level figures: anyone who owned land in multiple counties would be double-counted.

It fell to an author and country squire, John Bateman, to interpret and popularise the return. In 1876 he published The Acre-Ocracy of England, in which he summarised the owners of 3,000 acres and above. It became a best-seller, going through four editions and updates which culminated in Bateman’s last work on the subject in 1883, The Great Land-Owners of Great Britain and Ireland. Bateman’s analysis confirmed the radicals’ worst fears: just 4,000 families owned over half the country. Meanwhile, 95 per cent of the population owned nothing at all. The landed elite had been exposed.

The return was swiftly buried because of its embarrassing findings. Landowners hated it. It was set upon by The Times, Tory in its politics, which declared that ‘the legend of 30,000 landowners has been found to be as mythical as that of St Ursula and her company of 10,000 virgins’. It was castigated by politicians, such as the MP George Brodrick, who criticised it for inaccuracies and double-counting, even though these errors had been easily corrected by John Bateman in his summaries. Radicals failed to fully capitalise on its findings; although a number of MPs stood in the 1885 election on a promise of ‘three acres and a cow’ for landless farmers, the most they achieved in terms of policy was the 1887 Allotments Act. The moment passed; time moved on; and the return was forgotten. [7]

For more information on England’s landownership: https://whoownsengland.org/

The task of showing just who were the principal landed gentry of Lancashire in the last quarter of the 19th century was facilitated by John Bateman’s meticulous researches, which flesh out and correct the bare facts in the Return of Owners of Land. That latter publication has been used to supplement Bateman’s entries. He did not include the Duchy of Lancaster estate.

Bateman was a fully paid up member of the Tory establishment, and his prejudices – particularly relating to the Irish and to Catholics, and especially to Irish Catholics – make him a man of his time and of his society. He brought to what he described as a labour of love an intimate knowledge of the lives of the people he was documenting. His choice of landed wealth, education and social connections (as shown by club membership) anticipates the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s three forms of capital, which Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison made use of in their The Class Ceiling: Why It Pays to Be Privileged:

At root a Bourdieusian lens insists that our class background is defined by our parents’ stocks of three primary forms of capital: economic capital (wealth and income), cultural capital (educational credentials and the possession of legitimate knowledge, skills and tastes) and social capital (valuable social connections and friendships). [8]

Connecting Shrubsole and Bateman is a very interesting paper that appeared last year entitled ‘Hidden Wealth’ by Neil Cummins, associate professor of economic history at the London School of Economics where he is director of the PhD programme in economic history. [9] He makes a creative use of data sets, including the International Consortium of Journalists’ Offshore Leaks Database, to track England’s elite dynasties from the end of the 19th century up to the present day. He divulges the conjuring tricks their financial advisers have used to make clients’ wealth miraculously disappear:

For any one dynasty, the categorization of the missing wealth as hidden is a probability. The random hazards of marriage choices, mad inheritors, disastrous investments, betrayal, theft, stupidity and bad luck can dilute even the grandest fortunes. But I show that for Victorian elites as a whole, the richest 1,500 dynasties of the 1892-1920 period …, wealth is systematically hidden. [10]

He concludes:

The post-war era introduced wealth and death taxes sufficient to confiscate all elite wealth. Elites responded rationally. The analysis revealed that the English elites are hiding about 20-32% of their true inherited wealth. Hidden wealth, calculated from the pre-WWI era, has a strong effect on the probability of a surname appearing in the Offshore Leaks Database of 2013-6. Hidden wealth boosts the value of dynasties’ homes in 1999, and their children’s chances of attending Oxbridge, 1990-2016.

Analyses of wealth-at-death reveal a secular observed decline in wealth inequality, driven by the top 1%. However, when I calculate the ‘true’ inherited wealth of English dynasties I find that 33% of the decline of the top 10% wealth-share can attributed to hidden wealth. This is a lower-bound estimate. Future detailed research of individual dynasties could more precisely estimate the scale of hidden wealth and, perhaps, reverse one of the great stylized facts of the 20th century. [11]

I am sure some of those 176 principal landowners with land in Lancashire in Bateman’s list (those with not less than 2,000 acres bringing in annual rents of not less than £2,000 a year) would lend themselves to just that sort of future research. The 176 names include 114 persons holding land in the county but not resident there, such as the Duke of Devonshire whose total land holding of nearly 200,000 acres included 12,681 in Lancashire. Others had as little as a single acre. One such was John Shaw of Cheshire, the annual rental value of whose acre was put at £2,263 in 1870s figures. Some of the incomes that absentee landlords were drawing from their Lancashire estates amounted to considerable amounts and to a considerable proportion of their total income from land. For example, the elderly Lord Gerard who lived in Suffolk had 6,192 acres in Lancashire, yielding him £42,487 a year in rents; his total landholding was 7,107 acres, yielding £43,671 a year.

Of more interest are the details relating to the 62 persons who gave a Lancashire address for their main domicile. Their estates in the county ranged from the Earl of Derby’s 57,000 acres to that of William Wilkinson of Clitheroe whose Lancashire estate stretched to just 5 acres but whose holdings totalled 3,765 acres elsewhere. The Earl of Derby had by far the most valuable Lancashire estate, with an annual rental value of £156,735.

Table 1: The 10 Lancashire landowners with the most valuable holdings in the county. ARV = annual rental value. The Earl of Derby’s total acreage included 1,350 acres in Kent and Surrey for which no ARV was supplied.

Name Address Lancs acres Lancs ARV Total acres Total ARV
Earl of Derby Knowsley, Prescot 57,000 £156,735 68,942 £163,273
Thomas Weld-Blundell Ince-Blundell, Liverpool 10,400 £60,000 10,400 £60,000
Earl of Ellesmere Worsley Hall, Manchester 10,080 £55,421 13,222 £71,290
Earl of Sefton Croxteth Hall, Liverpool 20,250 £43,000 20,250 £43,000
John Talbot Clifton Lytham Hall, Lytham 15,802 £41,965 15,802 £41,965
Earl of Crawford and Balcarres Haigh Hall, Wigan 1,931 £31,763 13,480 £39,252
Sir Humphrey de Trafford Bart. Trafford Park, Manchester 7,300 £30,750 9,800 £36,510
Earl of Wilton Heaton Hall, Manchester 8,013 £27,338 9,871 £31,234
Marquis de Casteja Scarisbrick Hall, Ormskirk 14,764 £27,284 14,764 £27,284
Edward Fleetwood Hesketh Meols Hall, Southport 4,128 £24,909 4,128 £24,909

The Duke of Westminster does not appear in the above list because at that time he did not report holding any land in Lancashire. However, an indication of the family wealth can be gathered from Bateman’s comment in his entry for the duke:

No notice is taken in the return of the Metropolitan area, where the Duke owns, what is commonly supposed to be, the most valuable London estate held by any of Her Majesty’s subjects; an uncle of the compiler tells him he shot snipe on it within a mile of Belgrave Sq. in 1822; now the land is leased by the sq. ft..

Of the 62 persons who gave a Lancashire address 18 could claim that they or their father were ‘head of, or head of a junior branch of, a family who held land in England since the time of Henry VII, in unbroken male line’. Sir Ughtred James Kay-Shuttleworth’s claim to inclusion in the list was less secure than the others (see above). The list included six earls, a viscount, a marquis, a lord and six baronets.

The 22 who gave details of their public school included 11 who attended Eton (including the Earl of Derby who listed both Eton and Rugby as his schools); three who attended Stonyhurst and one who attended Oscott, and were therefore Catholics, a faith of which Bateman disapproved (see his preface); Harrow claimed two pupils; Rugby was also listed twice (including the future Earl of Derby); Cheltenham, Shrewsbury, Uppingham and Winchester each had one old boy.

Some 17 listed a university: eight attended Cambridge, seven Oxford, one London University, and one, the Catholic Thomas Weld-Blundell, the University of Paris.

By their clubs shall ye know them. The table below shows the number of memberships of the 29 landowners giving Lancashire as their primary address and belonging to a London club, and of all landowners in Bateman’s list belonging to a London club. He saw this as giving an indication of a clubman’s political and social leanings. The striking, but possibly not surprising, fact is the sheer preponderance of membership of Tory clubs both in Lancashire and in the UK as a whole.

Bateman points to:

… the disproportionate number of Great Landowners who belong to Tory clubs; which disproportion is far more affected by the numerous (and somewhat late) secessions of Whigs who cannot stomach recent Radical legislation. In Liberal circles it is rumoured that the late internecine feud at the “Reform” has numerically strengthened the “Devonshire” not a little.

Table 2.

  LANCASHIRE ALL
Political Clubs
Tory
Carlton 12 642
Junior Carlton 6 112
Conservative 1 65
St. Stephen’s 1 37
Total Tory 20 856
Liberal
Brooks’s 3 216
Reform 3 103
Devonshire 0 29
Total Liberal 6 348
Service Clubs
United Service 4 107
Junior United Service 2 72
Army and Navy 0 120
Guards 1 70
Naval and Military 1 22
Total Service 8 391
Learned Clubs
Athenaeum 2 145
Oxford and Cambridge 2 79
United University 2 61
New University 0 16
Total Learned 6 301
Other Clubs
Travellers 5 286
White’s 4 169
Boodle’s 3 145
Arthur’s 2 119
St. James’s 2 86
Garrick 1 55
Turf 2 54
Marlborough 2 52
Union 0 50
National 0 35
Windham 0 29
St. George’s 1 28
Raleigh 0 13
Total Other 22 1,121

Table 3 puts names to the above figures:

Ralph Assheton Carlton, United University
Edward Bates Bart. Carlton, Junior Carlton, Conservative
Colonel John Ireland Blackburne Boodle’s, Carlton, United Service, St Stephen’s
Thomas Weld-Blundell Brooks’s, St George’s, Reform
William Fitzherbert-Brockholes Junior Carlton
Viscount Cardwell Athenaeum, Reform
Earl of Crawford and Balcarres Carlton, Athenaeum
Earl of Derby Travellers’
Humphrey de Trafford Bart. Carlton
Earl of Ellesmere Carlton, Travellers’
William Foster Reform
William Garnett United University
Edward Fleetwood Hesketh Junior United Service
Thomas George Fermor-Hesketh Bart. Carlton, Junior Carlton
William Wilbraham Blethyn Hulton Junior Carlton, Arthur’s
Earl of Lathom Carlton, White’s, Travellers’, Marlborough, Turf
Thomas Horrocks Miller Royal Thames Yacht Club
Thomas T. Townley-Parker Junior Carlton
Henry Petre White’s, Marlborough, Travellers’, Turf
Lawrence Rawstorne Junior Carlton, St James’s
Myles Sandys Junior United Services, E.I.U. Ser., Naval and Military
Earl of Sefton Travellers’, Brooks’s, St James’s, Guards, White’s, United Services, Boodle’s
Charles Henry Lionel Widdrington Standish Brooks’s
Le Gendre Nicholas Starkie Oxford and Cambridge, Carlton, United Services, Boodle’s, Garrick
Rev. Richard Edwards Taylor QC Oxford and Cambridge
Charles Henry Tempest Bart. Arthur’s
Daniel Thwaites Carlton
Earl of Wilton Carlton, White’s
Lord Winmarleigh Carlton, United Services, Travellers’

Eleven of the 62 landowners giving Lancashire as their primary address sat as MPs at some stage in their careers, three having held government office. Two peers did not sit as MPs before succeeding to their titles, but had seats in the Lords. The details below do not take account of individual’s careers after Bateman’s list was published.

Table 4

Name Role Party
Ralph Assheton MP for Clitheroe Conservative
Sir Edward Bates Bart. MP for Plymouth Conservative
Colonel John Ireland Blackburne MP for S.W. Lancashire Conservative
Earl of Crawford and Balcarres MP for Wigan Conservative
Earl of Derby Served as Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Secretary for Colonies, Secretary of State for India, and Secretary for Foreign Affairs. MP for King’s Lynn. Conservative
Earl of Lathom Served as L. in Waiting and Capt. Yeo of the Guard. Conservative
Daniel Thwaites MP for Blackburn Conservative
Earl of Wilton Served in 1st Life Guards. Somerset. MP for Weymouth and Bath. Conservative
Lord Winmarleigh Served as A.D.C. to the Queen, Chairman of Committees in the House of Commons, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Chief Secretary for Ireland. MP for Lancashire Conservative
Viscount Cardwell Served as President of the Board of Trade, Chief Secretary for Ireland, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Secretary of State for the Colonies and for War. MP for Clitheroe, Liverpool, and Oxford (city). Conservative then Liberal
Sir Ughtred James Kay-Shuttleworth Bart. MP for Hastings Liberal
Le Gendre Nicholas Starkie MP for Clitheroe Liberal
Earl of Sefton Served in Grenadier Guards in the Crimea. Liberal then Unionist from 1886

Bateman takes delight in relating that ‘a Liberal poet, who has not yet reached Tennysonian fame, writes of the general elections of 1868 and 1874—“Frailty! thy name is Lancashire!”’


Bateman’s Great Landowners – Preface

Bateman’s Great Landowners – Lancashire

Lancashire’s resident ‘great landowners’

Bateman’s Great Landowners – Appendices

See also:

Great War conscription and Edwardian Preston’s ‘class ceiling’

Public School Prestonians


[1] Guy Shrubsole, Who Owns England?: How We Lost Our Green & Pleasant Land & How to Take It Back (London: William Collins, 2019).
[2] Winston Churchill, The People’s Rights (Hodder and Stoughton, 1909).
[3] Shrubsole, Who Owns England?, 1.
[4] Shrubsole, 1–2.
[5] Shrubsole, 2.
[6] Shrubsole, 24.
[7] Shrubsole, 29–30.
[8] Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison, The Class Ceiling: Why It Pays to Be Privileged (Policy Press, 2019), 14, https://www.amazon.co.uk/class-ceiling-Sam-Friedman/dp/1447336062/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1550565992&sr=8-1&keywords=the+class+ceiling#reader_1447336062.
[9] Neil Cummins, ‘Hidden Wealth’, Economic History Working Papers No: 301 (London School of Economics and Political Science, 2019).
[10] Cummins, 4.
[11] Cummins, 32.

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