« PreviousContinue »
they cannot be so farmed out. Moreover, very great expenses are annually necessary for making proper plantations and enclosures to maintain a succession of falls in future years, the infamous system of the last century having rendered it both difficult and expensive to retrieve our ground. Nor is this the only consideration by which we may account for so large an annual expenditure. There are in London and Westminster alone, under the care of the commissioners, seventy-three buildings paying no rent, and maintained and repaired out of the gross receipts of the office. These include, besides, all the treasury, government offices, and official and other residences, buildings so extensive and costly as Buckingham and St. James's palaces, the Tower, the Mint, all the prisons, the British Museum, the Post-office, Somerset House, the Houses of Parliament, &c. In addition to these, there are, under the same care and maintained and repaired out of the same fund, nearly two hundred and fifty buildings in the various royal parks and forests, varying in importance from foresters' cottages to royal residences. Any of our readers who ever had anything to do with any property with a dozen cottages upon it can, or perhaps cannot, imagine the expense and trouble of such a charge as this. But this is merely the beginning of troubles. There are, besides, about five hundred separate leases of houses in London and Westminster. That is nothing. Exclusive of these, and exclusive of the management of 150,000 acres of forest land in every stage of growth and improvement, “The land revenues of the crown," says the Hon. C. Gore, before the committee, 1849 (the accounts of which, notwithstanding the joint management, are kept distinct from the Woods and Forests, and also from the Works and Buildings)—“The land revenues of the crown in England, exclusive of the crown estates in the metropolis and the revenues of Monmouth and Chester, arise from the rents of manors, lands, &c., situated in various counties in the tenure of leases, or tenants from year to year, forming together about five hundred and twenty tenancies under the crown subject to rents forming a total of 55,0001., and fee farm and other unimprovable rents, generally of small amount, varying from ld. to 12001. per annum, issuing out of the lands of other proprietors and situated in almost every county in England. The number of these rents in charge with the receivers is about 1780, and they
"Of course such occasional cases of new building or rebuilding as those of the new Houses of Parliament, the new buildings at Buckingham Palace, &c., are exceptional. But these are under the care and superintendence of the commissioners: rendering a numerous and intelligent, and therefore expensive, staff of officers necessary.
amount yearly to about 35001.—that is, in England. In Wales the unimprovable rents amount to 40001.”
Do all these duties, so many and so diverse, appear sufficient for three ordinary mortals? In addition to these, the commissioners are specially charged with all the crown revenues in Scotland and Ireland, till recently managed by separate boards, involving often questions under a different system of laws, and in Scotland often expressed in an obsolete diction, in obsolete coins which, when they have been translated, turn out to be insufficient to pay for the inquiry. They are specially charged with all the metropolitan improvements, the alterations in Leicester Square, New Oxford Street, Farringdon Street, &c.; the formation of new parks-Victoria, Battersea, Primrose-hill; the geological surveys of Great Britain and Ireland, &c., &c., &c.; besides being applied to on every possible occasion by parliament or government for information or advice. For example, in the blue books of the House of Commons for the single year 1847, there are fifty-three separate reports from the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to the House of Commons relating to applications for a like number of local acts from every part of the kingdom on every variety of topic-water and gas-works, markets, cemeteries, railways, sewers, police, bridges, havens, and harbours. There have moreover been, since 1833, upwards of thirty public acts of parliament passed affecting the Woods and Forests, all, says Lord Duncan, the chairman of the select committee, 1849, introduced and taken charge of by the first commissioner.
Evidently the office staff and expenses, requisite for such a business as this, is beyond all comparison with the expenses proper in the management of any private estate.
Yet we find that the annual net income had increased by 30,0001. in the interval from 1834 to 1848, and this notwithstanding the expenditure of 300,0001. (part of certain sales-monies in the hands of the commissioners) in unremunerating investments, e.g. the purchase of new parks and beautifying and improving the old.'
As an instance of the alterations which have been effected, and what the condition of the public parks even in the metropolis, we shall simply quote from Mr. Sheddon's evidence before the select committee on the land revenues in 1833:4" The nature of the improvements in Hyde Park was filling up the whole of the inequalities in the land : there were several large old gravel-pits, three of immense size, and the whole of these
" H. C. Reports and Papers, 1849. XXX.-Examination of Hon. C. Gore.
were filled up and brought to an equal surface. The whole of that part called Buckden Hill was in a very bad state; the herbage, in fact, was all overgrown with goose grass and sedge grass, and the whole of the land in that part was like a bogit was impossible to walk over it.” And after describing the operations for reclaiming this waste, the same witness states"This bad the effect of turning the park from what it formerly was, a state as wild as a mountain in Wales or Scotland, to the finest herbage; and I think there is not any within ten miles can excel it." “ It was worth little or nothing before-not worth 5s. an acre; but, if I were now allowed to contract for it, I should be willing to give 41. an acre for it for the feed of cattle."
What a description of that which the “Times now so justly calls “our beautiful park!” What an impostume was Buckden Hill in the chief of the lungs of London !
This immense improvement, sanitary as well as pecuniary, just described was effected at the cost of 51.
But it is not merely the sanitary or the pecuniary results that are, perhaps, the most striking. The items of expenditure in the commissioners' accounts indicate that ornaments and conveniences were then added for the first time, of which it now seems incredible we could ever have endured the want, at least in this nineteenth century. The lodges and entrances at Cumberland-gate, Stanhope-gate, Hyde Park-corner; the bridge over the Serpentine; a new road from Cumberland-gate round the park and across the new bridge; the union of the Long Water' in Kensington-gardens with the Serpentine, formerly separate ponds of small size and at different levels -not to mention new railings, new roads, new drains in all the parks; removing the old park walls in Park-lane, Piccadilly, and Knightsbridge-road; laying out the gardens and ornamental waters in St. James's Park: such are but a few of the items which figure in the accounts and estimates rendered by this office for a year so recent as 1833.1
It may not be uninteresting to subjoin a slight sketch of the history of these crown lands, showing their varying value, management and extent, and the different policy which has prevailed respecting them.
The principal source of the revenue of the monarch in every country in Europe in the feudal ages having been the lands and
The greater part of these alterations were effected before that time, but they
en still going on. Parliamentary Papers, H. C. 1833. Land Re enue,
domains retained by the crown, it was naturally to be expected that a monarch of the character of William I., whose admitted rights as conqueror and king, extended to the ownership of every acre in the realm-to whose free grace and mere motion every proprietor owed all the land he held,-should provide largely for the supply of his own necessities. Accordingly upwards of 1400 manors or lordships, besides lands in Shropshire, Middlesex and Rutland, quit rents and other payments, furnished him with an income amounting, according to Domesday, to 10611. 10s. ld. per diem, or near 400,0001. per annum-a sum which, derived as it was wholly from land, and taking into account the greater weight of silver in a pound (which then contained twelve ounces instead of somewhat less than four, as at present), and the immensely increased ratio of agricultural production (an increase which it is scarcely possible to estimate generally with any exactness, but which may be taken at from ten to fiftyfold) cannot represent a smaller amount than 12,000,0001. per annum at the present day. And this, exclusive of the 60,000 men at arms, which the feudal nobles were bound to maintain during forty days to attend the king, corresponding to the same number of knights' fees.
But this vast extent of territory was not all which remained at the disposal of the crown. Frequent forfeitures, attainders,
· The prices of land and of agricultural produce, as well as money, varied so suddenly and so greatly, that it is extremely difficult to form any estimate of the changes since those early times. The value of land, however, may be calculated better by comparing it with that of agricultural produce than with money, and with cattle rather than with corn; for owing principally to the want of capital, and the prejudices and restrictions against that most useful trade, the regrating of corn, the prices of grain in June and July, just before the harvest, were frequently three, four and six times the price in September or October. Taking cattle and horses, therefore, we find in the Chronicon Pretiosum of Bishop Fleetwood, p. 67, mention of purchases of land, in the century immediately before the Conquest, 2 hydes for 100 shillings, 1 hyde for 100 shillings; and again, 1 acre for 1 shilling; a hyde contained from 100 to 120 acres of land.
At the same time, the price of a palfrey is stated at 10 shillings; and again, of a horse, 30 shillings (Saxon, i. e. 150d., five pence to 1 shilling, 48 shillings in 1l.), a mare or colt 20 shillings (Saxon, i. e. 100 pence), a cow 24 pence, &c. Comparing the most unfavourable of these values, a palfrey was then worth at least 10 acres of land, and a cow 5 acres. But at the present day an average horse is not worth more than one acre, nor a cow worth half an acre of average land, showing at the least a tenfold increase in the value of land. And this, multiplied by the difference in weight in a pound of the precious metal, viz. silver, then the sole commercial standard (as it is now in most European countries), but which we have replaced by gold — so that each of the Conqueror's pounds is worth three of our pounds—gives 30 as the multiple of the Conqueror's income to represent it in our present coinage; i. e. his 400,0001. was equivalent to 12,000,0001. in these days, as stated in the text.
escheats would, in course of time, have placed nearly the whole soil of England in the beneficial possession of the crown, had it not been for the lavish and profuse expenditure which quickly overran the bounds even of these ample resources, and compelled recourse to the subject for supplying, by loans and benevolences, the wants of the crown. These applications were, however, even more distasteful in early ages than they are now. The principles of taxation were unknown-the practice was abhorrent to the then notions of freedom and right: and it was, moreover, with the express object of preventing any necessity for making these abhorred applications, that such enormous revenues had been in the first instance set apart, and retained by the crown. The constant petition of parliament in answer to such applications was,
“ that the king should live upon his own, so as not to burthen the state, nor require any relief from them;" and accordingly, rather than grant new taxes, parliament repeatedly passed acts of resumption, by which the lands granted by the king or his predecessors were without ceremony resumed and revested in the crown. But here a distinction was taken between
а. the ancient demesne, originally reserved by the Conqueror, and those lands which had reverted to him or his successors as superior lord by forfeiture, &c. The latter he might dispose of at his pleasure, but the former, says Sir Robert Cotton, “our ancestors held impious to alienate from the crown.' The king's grants of it were indeed valid as against himself and his successors; but the legislative power had an undoubted right to annul them without recompence or ceremony; a right which they seldom failed to find occasion to exercise, when a demand for fresh aids was made.2
The taste for profuse magnificence in war and distinguished the chivalry of those ages; the ready and insatiable drain which the crusades afforded; the necessity which three successive usurpers were in to reward and secure their followers, dissipated in each reign which succeeded the Conqueror's nearly the whole estates which had been settled upon him, notwithstand
i Cott. Postum. 179. a We have taken no notice of a very extensive feudal prerogative mentioned by Manwood, as belonging to the crown (viz.), the right by which the king could, by letters-patent, declare any land, whether his own domain or any other person's, to be forest; not thereby interfering with any other right of the owner to such lands (if belonging to another person), except the right of enclosing them with such a fence as might impede the deer, and the right of taking or pursuing the deer; which immediately upon the afforestation of such lands belonged to the king alone. But probably this right, which does not seem to have been much acted upon, at least since the time of the Conqueror, would be held to be taken from the crown since the abolition of feudal tenures, 12 Car. II.