400 year battle over one shilling lease

Rob GarrattMore than 400 years after a Lord of the Manor leased out chunks of a Norfolk village, residents are finally within sight of the end of a quest to own the land on which their homes stand.Rob Garratt

More than 400 years after a Lord of the Manor leased out chunks of a Norfolk village, residents are finally within sight of the end of a quest to own the land on which their homes stand.

Villagers in more than a dozen homes in Foulsham, near Fakenham, were left with a tricky problem after it emerged their homes stood on land which was subject to a 500-year lease, which dated back to 1602 and before most of the homes were built.

The quest started more than two years ago when parish clerk Janet Clement-Shipley found it impossible to sell her home because of the lease - set at a shilling-a-year, so in true community style the villagers got together to see what could be done.

They agreed to use Mrs Clement-Shipley's home as a test case and embarked on a mission to buy back the land from lease-holder Sir Thomas Hunt, whose statue is in the parish church.


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Their first step was to advertise in the Times' sister paper the EDP and London Gazette to see if there was anyone out there who laid a claim to the land.

And months later after numerous meetings with solicitors, courts and the Master of Rolls, valuers presented Mrs Clement-Shipley with a three-figure bill that will allow her to pay of the remaining 92 years of her lease.

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The money will stay in the courts in case anyone ever comes forward to claim the land - and Mrs Clement-Shipley says she will also be staying put in the village, and not selling up after all, because the battle brought her closer to the community.

'It's a real relief,' she said. 'I now have the right to purchase my own home's freehold, which is a huge weight off my mind.'

The 73-year-old grandmother of six added: 'Now my case can be used as a test case for the whole village. I wouldn't have been able to afford to do it on my own, there were costs all along the way - but by doing it as a group it made it possible.

'It's brought us closer as a community - this all started because I wanted to move but after this I want to stay put.'

The practice of granting long leases with high upfront payments and low ground rent was common at the time, because selling land was outlawed in a bid to stop foreign investors.

The land was leased by Sir Thomas, who was the Lord of the Manor and a member of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, but lived in Surrey.

At some point before 1883 Lord Hastings, who owned Melton Constable, acquired the land but it is not clear who it belongs to now.

Now the villagers have legally established that no one with a claim to the land can be found, it speeds up the legal process of buying the freehold of the rest of the affected homes.

John Riddett, one of the affected homeowners who also works for Blocks Solicitors who handled the case, said: 'The bill came out a bit less then we expected. It's good news because now it means the rest of the village can follow.'

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