On 13 October 2013 a collection of rights, some of which date back to the time of William the Conqueror, will no longer bind a purchaser of land when he or she registers their ownership at the Land Registry. The catch for landowners and homeowners is that the rights will still apply if they’ve been protected by registration.

In contrast, where land is already registered a landowner will remain bound by these rights after midnight on 12 October 2013 even if they aren’t on his or her title as he or she will have bought subject to them. The owners of unregistered land will remain subject to the rights in the same way that they were before 13 October 2013.

Since the October 2013 deadline came in just under ten years ago the holders of these ancient rights have made efforts to register them and it is expected that the next year will see a rise in applications to the Land Registry. The most high profile of the bundle of rights that could disappear are those in favour of the Church to ask for a contribution to the repair of a medieval parish church and those in favour of the Lord of the Manor particularly in relation to mineral deposits. The difficulty for landowners and homeowners is that they’re unlikely to be aware of these rights as they don’t usually appear on title deeds.

These are important issues for Suffolk and Norfolk as the earth beneath our counties contains valuable gravel deposits and our villages are blessed by medieval wool churches.

To the Manor Born

Being Lord of the Manor has, for the most part, turned into a ceremonial title which is why people often buy them. Historically it was more important because whilst land was “owned” it may not have been freehold i.e. what we purchase today. In fact, a lot of land in England was “copyhold”. This meant that although it was owned, and often farmed by the owners, the Lord of the Manor had certain rights in relation to the land. Most of these rights were done away with when copyhold land was enfranchised between the 1840s and the 1920s and turned into freehold land. However on the enfranchisement of the land some rights were commonly reserved to the Lord of the Manor, the most valuable of these is often the right to mines and minerals. Another right which comes up from time to time is the right to hold fairs in the manor as this means the Lord can charge stall holders “pitch money”.

Until recently it hasn’t been customary for Lords of the Manor to register these rights at the Land Registry as they exist regardless of what it says on the registered title. However for the reasons mentioned above people are now registering. One high profile Lord of the Manor, who has registered rights, is Prince Charles in his capacity as the Duchy of Cornwall. The Duchy has registered rights in relation to the Manor of Talskiddy near St Columb in Cornwall. This is no doubt to protect the Lord of the Manor’s potential interest in valuable deposits of metals used in electronic gadgets.

The difficulty for landowners and Lords of the Manor alike is to identify the land over which there are rights. The Lord of the Manor also has to prove the position to the Land Registry to get the rights registered. It is unlikely that the current landowners or Lords of the Manor will have the necessary records to identify affected land. This necessitates an investigation of the Manorial Court records at the Local or Public Records Office.

Even if the rights to minerals are registered it doesn’t mean the minerals can be extracted. Planning permission would be needed for that which is a topic in itself!

Chancel Repair Liability

It’s not unusual to drive through the countryside and see a thermometer up outside the parish church charting the success of the church roof fund. However it’s possible that a local landowner may be liable to pay for the repair work even though he or she may be unaware of it. This is because when ancient tithes (one tenth of the harvested crop) that paid for the upkeep of the medieval church’s chancel were swapped for annual payments and then abolished the landowner’s liability to pay for the repair of the chancel wasn’t done away with.

You may ask why the chancel and not the whole church. The reason is that the chancel is the part of the church by the altar where the choir sit. It is therefore most important and holy part of the Church and warrants express protection.This came into sharp focus in 2003 when Mr and Mrs Wallbank lost their case in the House of Lords to have the chancel repair liability recorded in their deeds declared unenforceable. This lead to commercial search companies providing investigations of the tithe records at the Public Record Office so purchasers could discover whether the property they were buying was affected by the liability. It also created a market in insurance for the liability, which is a requirement of most lenders, if found.Chancel Repair liability is difficult for local communities as it is collected by the Parochial Church Council whose members have a duty to collect all sums owed to them unless very particular circumstances apply.

What Should I Do?

In both cases there is a tension. Lords of the Manor and Parochial Church Councils will want to find out about the rights they have and register them and landowners will want to keep their heads down. The best course of action for all sides is to take professional advice if they think they may have rights or are affected by them. Solicitors and surveyors will be able to commission searches which can shed light on the position and allow tailored advice to be given.