Evidences, 1883: The Ulster estates

Pages 345-347

City of London Livery Companies Commission. Report; Volume 1. Originally published by Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1884.

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The Ulster estates

The deputation withdrew.

Deputation from Iranmongers' Company.

The following gentlemen attended as a deputation from the Ironmongers' Company:—

Mr. F. J. Barron, Master.

Mr. W. Bevan, Senior Warden.

Mr. J. T. Horner.

Mr. H. R. Price.

Mr. William Gribble, of Scriveners' Company, on behalf of Associated Companies, and Mr. R. C. A. Beck, Clerk.

3248. (Chairman to Mr. Barron.) We have received from you two printed statements, one relating to your Irish estates and the other to your property in general, which have been put before us as part of the evidence, and which I think it will not be necessary that we should read, as they are in print in the hands of the Commissioners. Is there anything you wish to add ? —We would respectfully submit that you allow them to be printed on your minutes of evidence if you take them as read. (Chairman.) This shall be done.

3249. Have you anything to add to what has been stated in those papers ?—Only as to the Irish estate. We ask your Lordship to hear Mr. Rokeby Price upon that.

3250. (To Mr. Rokeby Price.) I understand you to wish to make some supplementary statement with regard to your Irish estates ?—Yes, we wish just to draw the attention of your Lordship and the Commission to the fact that the statement made by the deputation from Ireland which attended before the Commission is incorrect in saying that it is a trust. We wish also to mention that we did in 1764 redeem the tithe entirely on behalf of our tenants, which cost us 1,115l.; by that payment we extinguished all tithe for the future. We wish also to draw attention to the fact that we have expended very large sums on roads, bridges, and fences, amounting to about 625l. a year. We give also 400l. to schools and other charities, and we have contributed, as we state in our statement which your Lordship has before you, 200l. towards the preliminary expenses of the Derry Central Railway and guaranteed 5 per cent. interest on 5,000l. worth of shares for 25 years. We deny that the tenants hold from the middlemen from year to year; we deny that, and that they held on lease from 1841 for three lives. We wish also to draw the attention of the Commission to the fact that during the time we have had the property in our hands, which is since 1841, we have had but three evictions on the estate, and that was from circumstances which we could not possibly avoid. Having served on the Irish Committee for a good many years, I think I may say that we have had no application for a reduction of rent from any of our tenants, with the exception of a few from an estate called the Stirling estate, which we purchased a few years ago, and on this estate the rent had been raised shortly before we bought it; but since then we have reduced the rent, otherwise the tenants proper of the Ironmongers' estate have made no application for the reduction of rents, so far as my recollection goes.

3251. I see that you state your present rental is 6 per cent. below Griffith's valuation ?—That is true.

3252. What do you mean by the statement which appears in the last paragraph of your printed memorandum that in 1860 the Company established a tenant right equivalent to 10 years' purchase of the rent ?—I was just going to mention that, it is a very important thing. I believe our estate was the only estate in Ireland that had that custom. When the estate came out of lease from the Bishop of Meath there was no such thing as tenant right upon our estates. Our rents were then so low that tenant right arose, seeing then that we thought it would be a very bad thing to have an indiscriminate price for our tenant right, we established this custom, that if any person wished to give up his farm the Company would buy it at a 10 years' price. It was sold to us (the Company) and we sold it again to the incoming tenant at the same price. Our policy was not to introduce any fresh tenants on to our estate, if possible, but to give the offer of any vacant farm to the neighbouring tenants. Our object was this : Our neighbours found out to their great cost, and it is now a still greater cost since the Land Act, that it was a very disadvantageous thing for a tenant to give an enormous price and to be saddled with a very large debt for the tenant right, he would not in that case be able to do justice to the farm. We have evidence now before us of three or four farms of ours having been sold in the last few months, where they have actually given 48 to 50 years' purchase for the tenant right.

3253. Is not that more than the value of the freehold ?—It is more than we can get. I can give the name of some such cases, Thomas Boyle, of Collins, is one; his rent was 8l. 7s., and he has sold his interest for 400l. to an adjoining tenant, which is about 48 years' purchase. Widow Dempsey's rent was 4l. 9s., she sold hers for 100l. Alexander Ranger's rent was 28l. 10s. 8d., he sold his for 555l.; Roger's rent was 11l., he sold his tenant right for 315l., and MacIntyre's rent was 10l. 17s., and he sold his tenant right for 305l. net. And I am reminded by my colleague here that two of those have stated that we charged them too much rent before, a statement of which we never heard until lately, a statement not borne out by the prices they obtained for their tenant right.

3254. (Sir Richard Cross.) What dates are those? —Two or three of them within the last two or three months. There have been eight cases taken into court against us by our tenants. In those eight cases the Government valuation was 102l. 10s., our rent 88l. 9s., and we have been reduced by the judicial rent to 75l. 18s.

3255. You said the "Government valuation," I suppose you mean Griffith's valuation ?—It is the same—for Government purposes — it is Griffith's valuation. Our rent in 1881 was 88l. 9s., and we were reduced by the judicial rent to 75l. 18s. We have appealed against those cases, and they are under appeal now. We have made one omission which I ought to mention. As an individual Company we have given to our tenants various sums. In 1881 when they applied for assistance in consequence of a bad season we gave them 600l., to be laid out in such a way as our agent and the tenants could agree for the benefit of the people by straightening mereings, roads, and drains, and all that sort of thing. That we have not stated in our paper which you have before you. We also wish just to draw your attention to some italics with regard to the Coopers' Company in the last two paragraphs on page 3. The date of the charter you see was 1609. In 1612 the Coopers' Company found that they could not pay the additional sum which was required, and the condition was that if any one of the Companies did not pay, they were to lose the money they had previously paid. The Corporation stepped in and bought of the Coopers' Company their share. The words are "the city is to receive all the benefit and profit as well already due as hereafter shall grow due to the said (Coopers') Company by the said plantation of Ireland." Then in 1615, James I. gave us the license "that the Companies may in future reap some gain and benefit of their great travails and expenses taken and bestowed thereon." I only mention that because it has been stated by Dr. Todd or some other witness here, that we did not hold for our own behoof and benefit. We contend that we do, and we contend that the various companies laid out 150,000l. for various purposes upon the property. It is not at all likely that we should have done that except for some benefit. Then again, I wish to draw attention to the fact that we state here that Mr. Canning, who was then a member, and previously the Master of the Ironmongers' Company was sent out there to be governor, and he sold an estate in Warwickshire of his own and laid out certain money, as we state there, in building a church and doing certain other things on the Company's Irish estate, and acquired part of the estate and resided there. He would not have done that if he had thought we could not convey to him with a good title. He would not have sold property in England and invested the money in Ireland unless he were quite certain that he had a good title in Ireland. We think those are certain points which are refuted altogether. We wish also to draw attention to the statement we made in the second paragraph of page 2. Doctor Todd, in his evidence to prove we held these in trust, lays great stress upon the articles of agreement which were made for the first time to make a plantation. It appears from records we have as well as those of the Corporation, that there were two negotiations started. The first one failed, in fact, to use a common expression, it did not float. Then the Government came to the Corporation again, and entered into certain other negotiations with us. The articles to which Dr. Todd refers are the articles of the scheme which did not float or did not succeed. The articles we hold are those of a subsequent agreement, which are very different indeed, and which are set out in the schedule in full. I do not know that there is anything else. If I have omitted anything my colleagues here will put me right. I should just draw attention to one other point. On page 5 in the last paragraph we state: "In 1842 the Company's estate contained 12,686 acres, then valued by the well-known valuators, Messrs. Nolan, at 5,610l. per annum, and let at 5,509l., chiefly on yearly tenancies to the tenants actually in occupation at the expiration of the last lease which had been granted by the Company on lives." Your Lordship will see that we put our rents at 100l. a year below the rents which those well-known valuators agreed upon, and in 1860 when the re-valuation took place, Mr. Nolan was sent for from Ireland and attended the Ironmongers' Company. We then gave him directions as to re-valuation, and told him not to make too excessive a valuation. He said he would not, and he did not. The result is what you have there. From 1861 up to this time we have had no complaints as to those rents, I think I may say, with the exception of those Stirling tenants. Having been three times over to Ireland on a deputation from this Company, I can say that on no occasion have I or my colleagues had an application in person for a reduction of rent. The last time we were over there it was known that we wanted to sell our estates, and there was an agricultural show there which the Company have every year, and being there by myself on a subsequent occasion I was besieged by the tenants and begged not to sell. I said, we must sell, and they said, we do hope you will keep us out of the hands of the Gombeen man and private owners. Those were the expressions made use of to me on that occasion. I think if we had been such hard landlords, or that our rents had been too high, they would not have asked that; so long they had been our tenants, and they asked us to continue their landlords.

3256. (Chairman.) Did they express a wish to buy themselves ?— No; I should tell you that some of them would buy. Your Lordship will see that a scheme of acreage is given in our statement, and you will see that we have a very large number of tenants and a number of them at very small rents indeed. That your Lordship will find in the original return. We have 541 tenants on our property at rents something like an average of 13l. a year.

3257. (Mr. Firth to the Clerk of the Company.) I should like to ask you about this return on the first page as to list of trust deeds, founding, regulating, or affecting the Company. You say there are none except the ordinances, regulating the Company; what was the date of the ordinances ?—25th January, 19th Henry VII.

3258. Is that the last you have ?—Yes.

3259. Those would be settled under the Statute 7th Henry VII., I suppose, by the Lord Chancellor and two chief justices?—Yes, they were.

3260. You state on page 42 that the decisions and the proceedings of your court are not published; but every member can ascertain them from the minute book which is read at every court. Do you mean that every member of the company has that open to him ?—Every member of the livery.

3261. Any member of the livery can ascertain that information ?—Yes.

3262. Can you tell me who your apprentices were bound to; what was the trade to which they belonged ?—At what date ?

3263. The last 10 years ?—They were apprenticed to any trade.

3264. Were the masters bonâ fide trading ?—They have to make a declaration that it is a bonâ fide servitude.

3265. And they really served seven years ?—Or five. They are apprenticed for five or seven years.

3266. Living with the person to whom they are bound ?—I do not think it is necessary for them to be living with them.

3267. Attending at their places of business every week; is that so constantly ?—I may say every day. It is not a colourable servitude.

(Mr. Rokeby Price.) May I just say that when I was senior warden of the Company, which was a few years ago, we had a certain firm of brushmakers named Pritchard, in Newgate Street, who had been members of the Company for generations, and I myself, as senior warden, whose duty it is always to do it, bound a young man to Messrs. Pritchard for five years, and I have every reason to believe that he is there still.

3268. That is one case ?—Yes.

3269. Upon your accounts [ notice that you return for the last year a total expenditure of 13,207l., deducting the balance, 2,148l., there remains 11,059l. Is there any expenditure whatever for the interest of the Ironmongers' Trade Society in any way ?—(The Clerk). None at all.

(Mr. Rokeby Price.) We give 10 guineas a year as a donation to the Ironmongers' Trade Society, but that is all.

3270. That is among the 1,028l. which is given for donations and gratuities ?—Yes, it is a simple gratuity like any other gratuity that we give.

(The Clerk.) The Ironmongers' Company have nothing to do with trade.

3271. I notice in the last paper with which you have supplied the Commission to-day, you say that the Company is independent of any control by the city. Are you aware that the courts of law have held that the courts are subject to the control of the city. Have you ever heard of a case ?—I have heard that statement made.

3272. Do not misunderstand my question. Have you heard or seen that it has been decided by courts of law that the companies are subject to the control of the city ?—No.

3273. What is the statement that you had heard? —That which is referred to in the Grocers' statement. I cannot give you any better information than is given in that statement. The case is thoroughly argued out there.

3274. You do not consider that they are under the control of the court of mayor and aldermen ?—No.

3275. Nor, I see, do you consider that they form any part of the corporation of the city ?—No.

3276. Have you considered this: suppose they do form no part of the corporation of the city; if they were dissolved for any purpose (if you dissolved yourselves, for instance) do you consider that the corporation of the city could go on?—I have not considered it.

3277. You are aware that under your regulating Act in one respect the liverymen of a company can vote for the Lord Mayor ?—I am not aware.

(Mr. Gribble.) The Scriveners' Company, my Lord, is one of the companies associated with the Ironmongers' Company, who, in point of fact, contributed to find the money which was assessed upon the Ironmongers' Company. I only wish to say a few words as evidencing what was the thought and intention of the members of the Scriveners' Company cf that day who subscribed their money, and to read you a resolution of the Company which was passed in 1626, showing that they themselves thought the money was their own and that they were getting their share of the estates for themselves. It is signed by the different members of the Scriveners' Company. This is a copy which I have extracted from the books. " A Court of Assistants held the 10th day of January 1626. At this court it is ordered that all moneys paid and assessed to be paid towards the plantation in Ireland and the Companies' proportion and part of lands there, and the rents, issues, and profits of the same shall for ever hereafter be and remain to the general use of this corporation " (that means the Scriveners' Company) "and payable towards the providing and maintaining of an hall and other necessary general affairs of this society, and not to be or retane to the private or particular use of any, and for a general consent hereunto the bretheren of the said Company do freely hereunto subscribe their names." That is signed by the members, and amongst those the father of an eminent man, John Milton. Then at "A Court of Assistants holden 25th October 1627, Mr. Ashenden" (he was a member) "being demanded the money by him due for the Irish plantation, desired to be respited till the next court day, which the court thought fit to yield to, but if he do not then pay the same it is ordered he shall be no longer dispensed with all." This shows that evidently in 1626, very shortly after moneys were advanced and the Company came into possession of the estates, they themselves considered that they advanced the money for the purpose of getting their share of those estates. My colleague, Mr. Price, has stated, I think, almost everything that can be stated. I am a very old member of the committee, I should tell you, which manages this estate, the oldest present member of the committee, therefore I know something about it. From inquiries which we have made we feel perfectly convinced that none of the tenants are in a position or will be in a position—I should rather say very few of the tenants are in a position or will be in a position—to purchase the estates. It is therefore idle to suppose that they will ever be purchased by them. They have not the means to do so, and they consider themselves better off with us as landlords to deal with than if they became owners of the estate having interest to pay to money lenders and usurers. I should have stated that I do not appear only for the Scriveners' Company but for the Ironmongers' Company and the Associated Companies as a body. I appear for the Associated Companies as a body, because I know more about it than the other members. I am an older member of the committee than the other members of the committee. We are all acting entirely in unison.

3278. (Mr. Firth.) I should like to ask you whether you have in your records any copy of the return which I find by the journals of the House of Commons was made by your Company to the House of Commons in 1724 ?—No, none. I can answer for that, because I have gone through all the books of the Company very recently.