A Riddle in a Puzzle of Ownerships – How to Decipher Who Owned What Land?
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Sometimes we need to figure out the history and ownership of a plot of land so that we can understand which archives to look in for more information. Archival information tends to be scattered in lots of places and it is not always easy knowing where to start looking.
In a lot of cases we can figure out the ownership is recorded in the Land Registry but in a lot of other cases we have to work it out from a wide range of documents.
This, slightly random plot, has a long and interested history. It is right at the edge of the Down and the Wimbldeon Park Estates as well as being traversed by the Bazalgette Putney Relief Sewer. So it is at the intersection of everything else.
The start of our story
So starting in the Earl Spencer era of 1787, it is relatively straightforward as the ownership is set out in John Corris’ Map of 1787 as being The Earl Spencer – we are looking at Gravel Shot – which are land parcels 34 & 25 in the John Corris use of the Earl Spencer’s Estate numbering system.
The 1838 Tithe Book and Map
The Tithe Book of 1838 sets out the ownership of the various parcels but the numbering system is slight different as it uses 414 for Gravel Shot and introduces the name Gray’s pieces as 413. You can see Down Lodge to the left of Merton Road.
Tithes were originally a tax which required one tenth of all agricultural produce to be paid annually to support the local church and clergy. After the Reformation, much land passed from the Church to lay owners who inherited entitlement to receive tithes, along with the land. In this case the church the Tithes were due to was All Saints Wandsworth.
By the early 19th century tithe payment in kind seemed a very out-of-date practice, while payment of tithes per se became unpopular, against a background of industrialisation, religious dissent and agricultural depression. The 1836 Tithe Commutation Act required tithes in kind to be converted to more convenient monetary payments called tithe rentcharge. The Tithe Survey was established to find out which areas were subject to tithes, who owned them, how much was payable and to whom.
This lead to the creation of the Tithe books and maps for Wandsworth.
From the Tithe book entries we can see which strip of land belonged to whom in 1838.
Mr H. M. Bunbury owns most of Gravel Shot with Strip 414-1, 2, & 3 owned by The Duke of Sutherland, and 414-5 owned by G. T. Sampson and 414-11 owned by a [Robert?] Monro¹.
Gray’s Pieces are 413-1, 1a, 2 are owned by the Duke of Sutherland and 313-2a is owned by Mr H. M. Bunbury.
Then James Barber Beaumont then owns 414-1, 2, 3 for a short period of time. It is not very clear for how long. It is pure speculation, but because H. M. Bunbury owns 414-12 the strip along Merton Road it may have made the plot unattractive to Beaumont’s style of development.
Thus far, things are pretty clear.
The 1856 Tithe Records
There was a major reorganisation of the boundaries as development moved apace: as can be seen from the revised tithe map of 1856. This was probably driven by landowners rearranging their holdings for the rapid housing developments of the time. The numbering scheme has changed. The field numbers are broadly the same but the individual strips of land have largely disappeared and been replaced with aggregated parcels identified by lower case letters and not numbers.
Alice Bunbury – Widow owned 414 a, c, d & k
Frederick Cotton Finch – owned 414l – although to confuse matters slightly this seems to have been with the Beaumont family at some point in time.
The Tithe Redemption Certificate for 414 c, d & k dated 12th September 1881 does exists and it states that the Tithe was paid off by The British Land Company Limited. In this period of time, in order to vote, you had to own land of a certain area. A lot of people thought that this was not particulate fair and so The British Land Company Limited was set up by a group of Liberal MP’s to buy up large plots of land and subdivide them and then sell them “to men of modest means”. The plots were sold on relatively soft terms with a small downpayment so that ‘ordinary’ people could own land, build a house and thus gain the vote.
The Land Reform Act was brought in to enable landowner to buy out (pay off for ever) the Tithe. This was particularly important as fields were being built on to form new areas of housing. So you will often see old adverts in the press advertising the sale of building plots would often advertise the lands as being ‘Tithe free, in perpetuity’.
When the Tithes were paid off a Tithe redemption certificate was issued. Sometimes these certificates survive and sometimes they state whom had paid off the Tithe. However, it is possible that a group of people of companies clubbed together to pay the Tithe off and so it is possible reason for names not to be recorded on the certificate.
The Tithe Redemption Certificates for land parcels 414-c (?this cannot be correct or is the handwriting being read wrongly?) & 414-l is dated 30th June 1887 but unhelpfully does not state who paid it off.
Similarly the Tithe Redemption Certificate for land parcel 414-e is dated 29th August 1889 but also unhelpfully does not state who paid it off either!
That seems to exhaust the information that can be gleaned from the surviving Tithe books and maps. But it does create a direct lineage for plots 414-c, d & k to The British Land Company Ltd.
Corroborative evidence from deeds to the early transactions
As we don’t seem to be able to find any of the deeds for the plot itself then we had a look at the surrounding plots to see what that could tell us.
Deeds of this transitional era in properly ownership often marked the lands owned, the surrounding lands and sometimes the Tithe references as well.
This can be seen in the deed map below. That confirms the ownership of the Bunbury family of 414-12. However, it does, rather intriguingly suggest that Beaumont perhaps owns 414-k, and maybe other strips of 414, at this time
This does accord with the 1856 Tithe updated apportionments which do appear to suggest that James Barber Beaumont held 414-1, 2, 3
The British Land Company era
This is into the era of Land Registry and should be the best documented part of the sites history.
But it isn’t. Whilst Land Registry lead the way with an early digitisation program this also meant that the majority of the original paper deeds were disposed of without ever being scanned. So we are left to piece together what we can from the fragments of information that survive.
This is also not helped by the fact that The British Land Company’s archives were largely destroyed by enemy action in WWII.
However, we are left with the Land Registry Title abstracts, which are text based, and a few drawings that survive in the Wandsworth Historical Archive.
The drawing of Jephtha Road has always fascinated us. Mainly because of the rather bizarre shape of the lands shaded in red/pink which usually denoted the ownership of the individual or company that submitted the drawings.
Normally you would write this off and look at other sources but there happens to be an extant building notice application drawing in the Wandsworth Historical Archives for the secular plot that links Southfields and Merton Road. We have previously speculated that this was assembled to create an access road between Merton and Southfields Roads although no direct evidence for this scheme appears to exist.
There are some odd feature to this drawing. The standard specification of the Wandsworth Board of Works, at the time, was a a woven transparent paper: this is on a form of cartridge paper. Some of the names make very little sense. So it deserves to be treated with some scepticism but it might be completely genuine. It is of course entirely possible that the names were added relayed by a 3rd party purely by oral tradition or someone who was not fully literate.
**Insert the spreadsheet table of who bought what then on the site**
The plot of No 86 Merton Road – top left – was sold to a “Mr Alfred Coombes” – we know that from Land Registry, Census and his death certificate – so we can be pretty sure that is accurate
Nos 84 to 80 Merton Road – labelled “Mr. J Watts” do not appear in Land Registry until the 1950’s with no mention of a Mr J Watts as titles before the 1950’s are not recorded.
The odd plan does state that Elsdon had invovlement in the site as does the drainage plans, submitted to Wandsworth Board of Works, for No 86 Merton Road.
Elsdon is an interesting character in this regard as he has made a previous claim for compensation regarding the construction of another sewer. It is too much of a coincidence that his name has cropped up here owning a ‘ransom strip’ – the only non public bit of land. The sewer has to cross.
Unfortunately the Land Registry Title Abstract for No 78 Merton Road is not very clear at the beginning and only starts in 1901 as so is possibly incomplete. It does not mention purchase from the British Land Company Limited, or anywhere else for that matter – so there is a presumed gap.
Similarly on Southfield Road there is no “Mr Trebble” at No 25 but there was a Mr Trayfoot as is evidenced by the abstract from Title in Land Registry:-
“A Conveyance of the land in this title and other land dated 6 July 1881 made between (1) The British Land Company Limited (Vendor) and (2) Edwin Trayfoot (Purchaser) contains covenants details of which are set out in the schedule of restrictive covenants hereto.”
Although there was a Mr Trebble heavily involved in the development of the Merton Road side of the plot so his involvement in the development of the area is real. But it is still a perplexing mistake to have made.
27-31 Southfield Road also mysteriously appear in Land Registry in the 1950’s – they are at the other end of the plot backing onto the 3 houses on the Merton Road end.
However, at No 33 Southfields Road there is indeed a Mr Goodchild as is evidenced by the abstract from Title in Land Registry:-
“A Conveyance dated 11 December 1878 made between (1) The British Land Company Limited and (2) Henry Ford Goodchild contains restrictive covenants”
In the Land Registry it is noted “NOTE: Copy Conveyance filed.” Which gives us a further possible lead.²
**insert partial copy of the conveyance filed**
Kellys Directory of 1885 does list a “Watts John William” at 2 Southfields Villas.
It is also notable that all of the properties on Jephtha Road on that area marked pink only appeared on Land Registry in the 1950’s which likely means that this is the first time that freeholds were transacted since the 1880’s
So we are, in the absence of any other evidence left with two real options:
- a single freeholder owned all of the area coloured pink on the Jephtha Road application transparency and leased the houses out; or
- in the alternative the odd shaped strip connected Merton and Southfields Road was part of lands compusiroly purchases to create the relief sewer and then sold onwards: into the hands of the freeholder who owned the odd shaped plot. Could it have been Mr Elston all along?
We many never know the true answer. Not all the records survive.
** We are continuing our research into the records of the creation of the relief sewer and aqueduct to see if there are any letter to freeholders or annotation on the plans and drawings.
** We are also looking into the remaining paper of the County Fire Office as they did have a West Hill Estate committee and hopefully there might be plans and papers there.
HM Land Registry Records
Whilst HM Land Registry records are generally wanting in detail we might be able to deduce some things from the available information?
The starting point was to look at some of the extant British Land Company Deeds for other sites – and there are plenty of these. The one thing that stood out clearly was that their practise for plot numbering was to always start from a corner.
The other thing that we can glean from the extant Title Extracts in Land Registry is that all of the ones that cite the British Land restrictive covenants state
“The trade of an Innkeeper Victualler or Retailer of Wine Spirits or beer is not to be carried on upon any lot except lot 32”
Victorian pubs were generally located at junction of main roads – for the passing trade. This makes it like that the pub was at either the Merton Road / Southfields Road junction or at the Merton Road / Wimbldeon Park Road junction.
Then we noticed that some of the Land Registry title extracts stated the plot numbers.
For instance the Title Extract for
64 Merton Road states – “The land in this title comprises lot 27”
104 Merton Road states – “The land in this title comprises lot 6”
106 Merton Road states – “The land in this title comprises lot 5”
7 Southfields Road states – “The land in this title comprises lot 35”
With those few morsels of information we actually have enough to work out the relevant plot numbers. We have to be a tiny bit careful as it is plain from some of the other Land Registry Title Extracts that the developers had adjusted the boundaries but this was quite common. As an aside we can see that the run of houses 114 to 102 Merton Road was actually developed by the same group of people making the boundary adjustments total understandable.
It is also clear that Lot 32, the site of the proposed pub, which was indeed at the Merton Road / Southfields Road junction had been subdivided for more housing units.
So. this also tells us that the six house plot, between Southfields Road and Merton Road which we speculate might have been for a road, was not a super plot but was six numbered plots that just happen to have been bought up together. We can tell this from the Merton Road side plot numbering sequence not changing when the plot is crossed. It is also very possible that this six house plot was part of the lands reserved for the Putney Relief Sewer construction which was completed in 1885.
The other thing that we can glean from all of the Land Registry title extracts was that there were 53 plots on the British Land Company Ltd’s initial sale. However, we know from the deeds run that there were far more properties sold off – this takes the first batch of plots sold up to about No 41/43 Southfields Road although it is absolutely clear that the higher number plots were sold via The British Land Company as the following in enclosed in the HM Land Registry title registers:-
Both 45 & 47 Southfields Road states – “NOTE 1: In the above stipulations the word “Vendors” refers to the British Land Company”
The timeline is also interesting as
37 Southfields the title extract states “A Conveyance dated 11 December 1878 made between (1) The British Land Company Limited and (2) Henry Mestwerdt contains the following covenants”
Similarly for 33 Southfields Road “A Conveyance dated 11 December 1878 made between (1) The British Land Company Limited and (2) Henry Ford Goodchild contains restrictive covenants”
In order to be selling the lands off The British Land Company must have been in ownership of the lands in 1878 or before. The sale of the lands appears to start from the Southfields Road side of the plot.
How does this mesh with the death of Bunbury and what does that potentially tells us when taken together with the other evidence that we have to hand? Do we need to reappraise the timeline?
The best interpretation of the data is that the end of Southfields Road, adjacent to the Jephtha Road section was not completed until later and that this segments still belonged to Mr Bunbury or his estate.
MBW/1991 Register of contract etc for the purchase of properties and compensation vol 2
MBW/1992 Register of contract etc for the purchase of properties and compensation vol 3
¹ If the name Robert Monro is correct, it was likely that he was the owner of East Hill House in Wimbldeon who died in 1852 [Surrey history Collection 1853/10] – but that is a slightly speculative connection with other records. Monro is also an interesting surname as there is a very close relationship with the National Permanent Mutual Benefit Society, [which later became part of Abbey National] his name is on all the mortgage documents of the time as a trustee, which was the sister company of the British Land Company Limited – until they split in 1878 – so it might be a slightly nepotistic endeavour!
² This usually means that there is a digitally scanned copy of the original deed on file. However, in a lot of cases, this turns out to be partial scan of the documents showing only what the individual digitising the document though was important. Unfortunately the Land Registry has thrown away most of the original copies and relied on a very poor system of digitisation that misses out on a lot of the detail and nuances that were shown on the original deeds. Even simple annotations on the deeds as who whom owns neighbouring properties can be very useful as companies such as The British Land Company Ltd produced beautiful printed deeds with a block plan of the whole development and they meticulously marked off, by colouring, which plots were sold and often to whom.