City of London Livery Companies Commission. Report; Volume 1. Originally published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1884.
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SUPPLEMENTARY STATEMENT ON BEHALF OF THE FISHMONGERS' COMPANY, PRESENTED TO THE ROYAL COMMISSION APPOINTED TO INQUIRE INTO THE CITY OF LONDON LIVERY COMPANIES.
In replying to the invitation of Her Majesty's Commissioners to offer any remarks or further explanations which may appear to arise on the evidence that has been given before the Commission, the Fishmongers' Company and its governing body desire to avoid anything that might appear to be recriminatory or to bear the aspect of harsh or personal comment; especially as it is sufficiently obvious, without detailed criticism, that some of the witnesses have been misled by prejudice in many of the statements made, and have not been guided solely by a regard to public considerations.
It is alleged that the companies, in their returns, have not disclosed the full value of their respective properties. To this the Company reply that, while they have rendered a full return of their income, they consider that any endeavour to fix a hypothetical value on their property, apart from a statement of the income derived from it, and of the outgoings and mode of expenditure of the net proceeds, would have involved special, needless, and very costly valuations, and would not have aided the inquiries of the Commissioners. The rated value of the properties for occupation obviously bears no relation to the Company's interests therein, which in many cases are those of ground landlords only. They have desired to give every information in reference to the whole of their property, as on every other subject of the Commissioners' inquiries.
On the general question of the Company's right to the absolute and plenary possession and uncontrolled disposal of its corporate property, it is sufficient simply to recall attention to the second paragraph of their return already made, in which it is stated, with perfect accuracy, that no part of it has been derived directly or indirectly from any public source, but the whole from its own members or from other private sources. What has been purchased has been paid for out of the Company's own moneys. Where it has been acquired subject to any condition, the condition has been fully and loyally performed.
On this subject a passing reference may be made to the clear opinion expressed by the Lord Chancellor, when he appeared before the Commissioners as representing the City and Guilds Technical Institute; also to the series of decisions in the Court of Chancery in the cases relating to the Company mentioned in page 3 of the Company's return; to the decisions in AttorneyGeneral v. Wax Chandlers' Company (House of Lords, 1873, L. R. 6, App. 1), and Brown v. Dale (9 Ch. D. 78), and to the numerons cases in which, even where trusts, and not merely conditions, were attached to the ownership, any surplus of property or income has been held (where such trusts were limited), to belong to the Company absolutely.
As respects many of the trusts confided to the Fishmongers' Company, the objects of which are of a beneficial character, the Company have made large additions to the trust property from their own funds.
In the case of Sir John Gresham's Grammar School at Holt, in Norfolk, the Company have from time to time supplemented the trust funds, especially for the purposes of rebuilding and repairs, the amount in which the trust was indebted to the Company, at a not very distant date, having been over 10,000l., and this notwithstanding the constant warnings of the Charity Commissioners that the Company were doing this at their own risk, and that they could in no case be permitted to apply any part of the capital of the trust funds in repayment of their advances; nor any part of the trust income, except within a period of 30 years.
In the case of Quested's Trust and the other trusts for the almshouses at Harrietsham, the income of which is only 108l. 10s. 4d., the Company, from their own funds, supplement the income of the charity to the extent of 300l. a year.
In the case of St. Peter's Hospital, Wandsworth, the Company, in the year 1849, from their own funds, rebuilt the almshouses at a cost of 26,840l.; and they spend annually in the support of this benefaction for their own poor members 3,800l. a year, although the yearly income of the trust property is only 377l. 7s. 8d.
As an instance of the Company's desire to contribute largely for useful public objects, it may be mentioned that in 1875 and the two following years, they laid out above 15,000l. in erecting industrial dwellings for artizans on a portion of their property in Walworth.
The Company having been in its origin a trade guild, one of the main objects of which was the government and protection of the members of the mistery or industry, the hereditary right to membership (which could not be and cannot be abrogated short of direct spoliation of private interests), and the gradual, if slow, growth of the property of the Company, have by degrees, and in the course of many centuries, given increased prominence to its character as a benefit society. Its income has, from time immemorial, been applied for the following objects:—In furtherance of objects of interest to the trade, in the comparatively few instances in which this has been practicable; in supervision of the markets and other places where fish is sold, and the seizure, condemnation, and destruction of bad and ununwholesome fish; in the support or temporary aid of its poorer members; in pensions for the support and education of the children of its members, if destitute or insufficiently provided for; in aid of the sick, helpless, and aged; in support of the Company's almshouses at Wandsworth, Bray, and Harrietsham (not in doles of bread or money); in educational work and exhibitions; for objects of public charity and utility; and in hospitality and entertainments; and more recently in the prosecution of offenders against the various Acts of Parliament relating to the taking and sale of fish, passed during the last few years; and in promoting technical education.
No further explanation is probably needed, unless in reference to the expenditure on hospitality and entertainments, and this, it is believed, can be fully justified, although it has been the subject of some hostile criticism. It is in accordance with the usage and practice of the city companies generally, as well as of the Corporation of London, and, being sanctioned by the immemorial usage and traditions of the Company, is, by strict presumption of law, in accordance with its charters and a proper exercise of the powers of the governing body. It is further matter of fair comment that all the members of the Company are interested in the benefits derivable from the corporate property; that every freeman of good character is eligible to the livery on payment of the required fee; and that, dividing the members roughly into two classes, namely, those who need and those who do not need and would not accept any pecuniary aid from the Company's funds—the former (the needy) are by far the smaller body. Almost the only mode in which the latter can derive any benefit or gratification from their membership (apart from the possession of the municipal and parliamentary franchises) is by partaking of the Company's hospitalities. The funds thus employed for the benefit of the larger are less than one-third of those applied in assisting the smaller body. It may fairly be noticed, in addition, that in a country where public hospitality to persons of distinction, native or foreign, hardly exists, except in the cases of the London Corporation and the City Guilds, this is not without public benefit, while strictly in accordance with ancient usage and tradition, and at the same time affording frequent opportunities to statesmen and politicians of eminence for an informal exposition of their political views and intentions, often of great public interest and importance.
It has been alleged that the expenses of management are very large; but they are not excessive. The income of the Company is considerable, derived from many sources, and its application distributed over a multitude of objects, requiring great and minute care, and a large amount of labour on the part of a skilled and capable staff. Every account and payment is submitted to a strict audit. The attendance fees of members of the court (the whole pecuniary benefit which they derive from the Company) are less than the attendance fees of the directors of many, if not of most, public companies of anything like equal importance, and only represent time and work honestly bestowed. The average amount of the fees paid to the members of the court during the 10 years, 1870 to 1879, has already been stated in the Company's Return (p. 41). From this it appears that the average annual amount of each member's fees, including the wardens, during that period, was 56l. 14s. 10d.
A question has been raised as to the principle of selection adopted for members of the court, and it has been stated that this is "quite a mystery." It is susceptible of very easy explanation. The members of the court must be persons possessing qualifications as men of business; and when they become wardens, and especially when they succeed, in rotation, to the office of prime warden of the Company, should be qualified, socially, to conduct the public business of the Company, and to receive and entertain guests of distinction. These considerations render some selection, apart from mere seniority, essential, or at any rate highly desirable. Great weight is attached to the claims of old family association with the Company. In the instance of the elections on the court of which complaint has been made (answer to question 1,218), the gentlemen selected were born free of the Company, and their families have been long associated with it, several of them having been members of the court, three, at least, prime wardens, and some of them men of high public and social position.
The statement that any compulsion has ever in modern times been exercised on any person to become a member of the Company is destitute of any foundation; so is the statement that anyone has ever been threatened, on the part of the Company or its governing body, with being turned out of the guild.
By that deed the Irish Society, "for and in consideration of a certain competent some of monie to them in hand paid," granted to the wardens and commonalty of the Mistery of Fishmongers the manor of Walworth, with its appurtenances (being the Company's Irish estate), "to hold to the said wardens and commonalty, their successors and assigns, for ever, to the only use and behoof of the said wardens and commonalty, their successors and assigns, for ever," with a covenant by the society for the wardens and commonalty peaceably and quietly to possess and enjoy the same " to their own use and uses for ever."
Prior to the date of this deed of grant, namely, on the 29th of March 1613, King James I. had granted the Irish plantation, of which the manor referred to formed a part, to the Irish Society thereby incorporated, subject to the performance by the Irish Society of certain conditions necessary for the protection and advancement of the plantation. The objects and intentions of the grant were expressed in certain articles published by the Privy Council (already referred to before the Commissioners), which, among other things, provided against any part of the lands being "demised at will only, but for years, for life, in tail, or in fee simple," against the grantees selling or demising their lands "to the mere Irish," or at all during five years from the date of the intended grant, but declared that, after such five years, they should be entitled to alien the same to all persons "except the mere Irish " —obviously now an obsolete condition, although the only one that can now by any possibility be deemed to subsist. All the other conditions determined at the expiration of five years from the date of the Irish Society's charter, and therefore prior to the date of the conveyance to the Fishmongers' Company.
It is, therefore, indisputable that no trust nor even condition attaches to the Irish estate of the Fishmongers' Company, as held by them since the 24th October 1618, unless it were the obsolete condition before referred to.
The Company, for many years after the purchase of the Irish estate, from time to time let the whole on lease to successive single tenants. The last of these leases is the only one to which it is now necessary to refer. It was granted in 1747 for sixty-one years and three lives; the survivor of these lives was His Majesty King George III., on whose death, in 1820, the Company entered into the direct management of their estate.
The estate was re-let on leases for 21 years in accordance with the valuations which the deputation had obtained, and on the recommendations contained in their report, at a total rental of 7,418l. 4s.
It is impossible to compare the new rents thus fixed with those which the tenants had been previously paying, as it appears from the report referred to that the Earl of Tyrone (the Company's lessee) had granted leases to his Protestant tenants for the same term of years and the same lives as he held the estate, but at large premiums.
The result of an examination of the documents in the possession of the Company shows that the statement that the rents were quadrupled is grossly exaggerated, and that the statement that they were arbitrarily fixed without a valuation is misleading.
So far from the rents having been arbitrarily fixed without valuation, a temporary letting for a year took place in order that the rental might be fairly adjusted, and in 1822 leases for 21 years were granted and accepted by the tenants at substantially the same rents; these leases continued until 1843.
In 1844 they reported on the letting value of each holding, and the total of their valuations was 7,637l. 14s. 11d., but, owing to the depressed state of agriculture at the time, and the famine and distress in Ireland, which rendered necessary the grant of assistance to the tenants in remission of rents and otherwise, no systematic re-letting of the estate took place, but the tenants continued to hold their farms on the basis of the expired leases until 1852, when a deputation was appointed to proceed to Ireland to make arrangements for the re-letting of the estate.
In pursuance of their report new leases for 21 years were granted from 1851. At this re-letting, in view of the circumstances above referred to, a considerable reduction was made from Messrs. Nolan's valuation, and, notwithstanding that a large amount had been laid out by the Company on the estate, the net rental reserved by the new leases, after deducting the value of lands in hand and half the poor rate paid by the Company, was about 7,000l. per annum only.
The gross amount of such valuation was 9,507l. 5s. 9d., but this amount included 5s. per acre allowed by the Company to the tenants for all lands which they had brought into cultivation during the previous leases, and also an amount in respect of lands held in hand, woods, mountains, town-parks, &c. not leased to tenants. It was also subject to deduction in respect to half the county cess, formerly paid by the tenants, but then first assumed by the Company, as well as half the poor rate. After making these allowances, which amount to about 2,040l., the actual increase in the present rental under the new leases is estimated to be less than 500l. a year, and this increase is in a great measure due to the large expenditure made by the Company on the estate since the previous leases were granted, the interest on which is included in the rental.
On a careful comparison of the present net rental of the estate with the net rental fixed at the time when the estate fell into the Company's hands in 1820, it appears that there is but little actual difference between the amounts.
As further evidence that the estate has been leased on moderate rents, the Company append a statement showing the premiums for which leasehold interests of their tenants have from time to time been sold since 1857:—
The foregoing statement shows that no less a sum than 30,473l. 10s. has been paid by incoming tenants in purchasing leases under the Company, of which, on an average, only 12 years were unexpired—the amounts so paid being, on an average, 25½ years' purchase.
The evidence of two of the witnesses would convey the impression that the Company have done little for the benefit of their Irish estate, and, with some quite unimportant exceptions, nothing for their tenants.
They show that from the year 1820, when the estate fell into the Company's hands, down to the year 1881, the Company have expended large sums in road-making, irrigation, the construction of river and canal banks, the supply of building and other materials, labour, grants and allowances to tenants, planting, the building of cottages, mills, and dispensaries, the maintenance and support of seven schools, wherein excellent practical education is given to more than 500 children of the tenantry and labourers on the estate, towards the erection and maintenance of places of worship, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic, in grants towards the support of their ministers, and in casual relief and pensions.
"That, having regard to the course of recent legislation relating to land in Ireland, this court is of opinion that it would be desirable that the Company should, at the proper time, sell their Irish estate to the occupying tenants, so that each tenant may have the opportunity of purchasing the freehold of his own holding on reasonable terms."
As respects any reforms that might be suggested, the Company would refer to what appears in their return already submitted. They are willing and desirous to adopt any proved reform consistent with the duty to preserve the rights of the Company confided to the guardianship of its managing body. As to the suggestions of witnesses, everything coming from the Senior Inspector of Charities under the Charity Commissioners is, of course, entitled to respectful consideration. But the scheme set forth by him appears far too wide, and, if it may respectfully be said, too vague, to be practically susceptible of adoption; while the proposals as to giving wider scope or greater control to the Company over the conduct of the trade would require the most careful handling to avoid exciting the jealousy or opposition of the very persons whom it might be desired to benefit. At the same time the court of the Company are quite prepared to give effect to any practicable suggestions for establishing relations closer than those at present existing between the Company and the trade.
As respects the number of the governing body, which is fixed by the charters, if this were reduced, it would be disadvantageous to the livery, the persons from whom the court is selected; and if seniority were made the qualification for membership of the court, the efficiency of that body for the government of the Company would be certainly reduced, from the extreme age of its members; the youngest member of the court at this moment, had the rule of seniority prevailed, would be over sixty-five years of age. The management of the Company's affairs would, under such a rule, fall to an undue extent into the hands of its officers, with little, if any, effective control; and there would immediately arise a tendency to make the livery far more exclusive, to the serious prejudice of the body of freemen, while the inducement which mainly influences the most desirable of its members to join the livery would no longer exist.