Statements, 1883: Skinners' Company

Pages 357-360

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

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Memorial Of Skinners' Company.

Skinners' Hall,
30th April 1883.

To the Secretary to the City of London Livery Companies' Commission.

In reply to your letter of the 10th of November last, in which the Commissioners inquire what is the intention of the Skinners' Company with regard to the evidence and statements orally given to the Commissioners, and affecting the Companies, it seems to the Skinners' Company that the return made in 1881 in answer to the Commissioners' queries was rendered so fully that it is not necessary to trouble the Commissioners to hear witnesses on their behalf; but they desire to submit the following observations, which, being mainly directed to controvert statements made by various persons taking an unfavourable view of the constitution, administration, and proprietary rights of the Company, will, the Company trust, receive at the hands of the Commissioners attention and publicity at least equal to what has been accorded to such statements.

The only evidence which appears to affect the Skinners' Company with reference to the trusts committed to their care is contained in the appendix to Mr. Lucraft's evidence on the 13th day, viz., 19th July 1882, in reference to the gift of Margaret Audley.

Mr. Lucraft states that the sum of 700l. was given to be spent in land, and the income to be applied to charitable purposes. This is not correct. The Company were at liberty to expend the sum of 700l. in land or otherwise as they might choose, no reference being made in the bequest to the application of the income, whether for charitable purposes or otherwise; but it was made a condition of the acceptance of the gift that the sum of 35l. was to be paid annually to the parish of Hackney. The Company at first declined the gift, but accepted it on being pressed by the parish of Hackney to do so, and the payment has been annually made by the Company to the parish ever since, as stated in their return—Part I.—Letter I., Charities.

But the attention of the Company has been especially called to the print of evidence given before the Commissioners on the 12th July last, generally with regard to the nature of the title by which the Livery Companies of London became owners of estates in the county of Londonderry, Ireland, in the 17th century, and particulurly with respect to the management by the Skinners' Company of the Pellipar estate in that county, and their recent negociations with the tenantry there.

The important question of ownership, by this and other Livery Companies, of estates in Londonderry has been separately dealt with in the accompanying short historical account of the mode in which those estates were acquired. It entirely disposes of the assertions (1) that the Companies are not private owners, but trustees of the estates for public purposes; and (2) that what has been called the purchase money was raised by a tax on the citizens of London.

The recent negociations with the tenantry are referred to in the minutes of evidence of 12th July last, questions Nos. 1897 to 1905, and the answers given by Dr. Todd, a solicitor of Londonderry.

That witness professed to describe from personal knowledge the mode in which negociations were carried on between the Company and the tenants, with a view to fixing a fair rent, instead of having recourse to the Land Court. His statements are not true, and, if allowed to pass unchallenged, they will probably be commented upon hereafter by speakers and writers to the Company's prejudice.

It may possibly be not out of place to revert to the question of rent as settled between the Skinners' Company and the tenants some few years ago, in order to lead up to an adequate description of these negociations with which Dr. Todd finds so much fault, and for which the Company do not hesitate to claim some credit, both as to the principle underlying such negotiations and the method of carrying them into effect. Without going back to the time when the Pellipar estate, like many others in Ireland, was let on lease and managed by the resident lessee, the Company wish to state that the lease to Mr. Ogilby expired in 1872, and the Company then took steps to manage the estate for themselves. As nearly 30 years had elapsed since the estate was valued, and as no alteration of rent has been made for a much longer period, notwithstanding the rise in all agricultural produce in Ireland, it seemed reasonable, and in accordance with the custom of the country, that a re-valuation should be made. The estate was re-valued, and the Company felt satisfied that the then existing rental might be fairly raised; and having found that great difficulty would arise in settling with the tenants individually, the total number being upwards of a thousand, and because the tenants had always been dealt with as a whole, it was resolved to divide the holdings into three classes, and fix a uniform but classified rate of increase for each class, notifying the increase of rent of each tenant personally by written notice, as being necessary in law, and in order that any tenant who chose might have an opportunity to state any circumstances which should be a reason for not agreeing to the alteration.

Such increase did not take effect until the year 1877. The rental of the estate was then raised from 11,600l. to 13,000l., the Government valuation being 13,200l. The only special objection made to the increase was by the lessees of a large grazing farm, who eventually brought a claim against the Company, but failed; the farm was shortly afterwards let to another tenant, who came forward, unsolicited, and offered the rent which the previous tenants had declined to pay.

It is well known that the seasons following 1877 were more or less bad, and accompanying these bad seasons the agitation commenced, which eventually affected those parts of Ireland which had been hitherto settled and orderly. It was then that large arrears of rent began to accrue; and the Company allowed abatements of rent in the years 1879 and 1880, as was stated before the Commissioners when Dr. Todd was examined.

In the autumn of the year 1881, after the Land Law (Ireland) Act had been passed, but before any applications to the Land Court under the Act had been heard, several memorials from tenants on the Pellipar estate were forwarded to the Company, praying for large reductions of rent. The Company saw that, under the Act, if they and the tenants individually could arrive at a fair valuation, it might be possible to have all over the estate a rental fixed upon a basis and by a mode having the authority and sanction of a legally constituted court of arbitration.

Accordingly they issued a circular letter to the tenants, suggesting to those who proposed to apply to the Land Court, that, before doing so, they should furnish the Company, through their agent, with the grounds upon which they individually proposed to show that their rent should be altered. The Company felt that there would be very many tenants who would at once see that if they were ultimately obliged to resort to the Land Court their cases would be considered separately there, and that it ought not to prejudice their claims in Court if they made separate applications to their landlords first. The result was that some hundreds of the tenants did individually write letters to the Company, stating reasons in favour of a reduction of rent; and the Company took steps to ascertain the value of each holding, with the view to entering into an agreement with the tenant as provided by the Act. They felt that this course might preserve a good feeling between landlords and tenants, might save expenses, and relieve the block in the Commissioners' Court, which, even in the autumn of 1881, threatened to arise, and so assist in giving effect to the intentions of the Legislature. Simultaneously with the issue of this circular letter, some 50 or 60 notices from tenants on one part of the estate were served upon the Company for their cases to be heard in court. This was mainly done at the solicitation of Dr. Todd, who took upon himself to attempt to dissuade the tenants from settling their rents amicably with the Company.

Early in 1882 the Company determined to send over to Ireland a senior member of their governing body and the clerk of the Company, to ascertain, by personal interviews with the tenants who had written letters, whether they would enter into agreements for a judicial rent for fifteen years under the Act, without having recourse to legal proceedings.

These gentlemen, having gone over to Dungiven in March 1882, intimated by messages to such tenants that they would be glad to receive them at the agent's office on certain days. The tenants attended as requested, almost without exception, and were received in a small room in the office at which they were in the habit of attending, and with as little ceremeny as possible. The only persons present who were strangers to them were the two gentlemen from London. The resident agent and the surveyor, who have been more than fifty years on the estate, and against whom no tenant has ever made complaint, were present; and Mr. B. H. Lane, a solicitor well known in the district, who resides at Limavady, and acts as the Company's legal adviser in regard to the estate, was also there on most days. In no case was there any semblance of complaint by a tenant or his neighbours that undue pressure had been put upon him to agree to a rent. The visit was an experiment to carry out the clear intention of the Act of 1881.

On this occasion about 140 tenants were seen, and agreements made with 53; but subsequently in August, that is some weeks after Dr. Todd's evidence had been given in London, and before it had been brought to the knowledge of the Company, the same two gentlemen went again to Ireland to continue the work commenced in March. On this occasion they saw upwards of 200 tenants, and effected agreements with about 125.

It is not true, as stated by Dr. Todd, that the tenant was "not allowed to have solicitor, counsel, friend, " neighbour, or anybody with him " during these negotiations. It is not true that pressure was put upon any tenant to settle. The conversation was, almost without exception, carried on between the tenant and one person representing the Company.

In answer to questions 1903 to 1905, Dr. Todd misrepresents what took place. As a matter of fact, when a tenant expressed his willingness to agree to the proposed rent, he retired from the room where the conversation had taken place into an outer office full of other tenants waiting for admission, and signed the statutory form (as required by the Act) in the presence of a poorlaw guardian or minister, sometimes in the office, sometimes in the witness's house.

The foregoing is a fair description of the negotiations. Dr. Todd knew nothing personally of what took place. In making the proposal and in carrying it out, the Company have neither sought to dissuade any tenant from litigation who has served any notice under the Act (but several tenants who had served notices have come in voluntarily and entered into agreements); nor, on the other hand, have they put any pressure upon tenants to agree to the terms which have been suggested after careful consideration of the provisions of the Act. The Company trust that before many months have elapsed the rents of all the agricultural holdings on the estate will be fixed by the mode which has been described, unless tenants are solicited to enter the Land Court in large numbers. There are nearly 1,000 agricultural tenants on the estate. Voluntary agreements are being made as opportunity arises for the agent to confer with the tenants. At the present time about 310 tenants have entered into agreements, and the rents of some 60 others have been recently fixed by the Land Court.

In Part 4, Return A, already submitted by the Company to the Commissioners, under the head of " Explanatory Notes and Remarks," a general statement is made as to what has been expended by the Company for the tenants upon the estate; and it was therefore a matter of some surprise to the Company to find that Dr. Todd said, in answer to question 1894, that the Company had spent in no " single instance a single sixpence in agricultural improvements, or given the "slightest benefit to their tenantry." They would here repeat that they support and repair, as they believe liberally, all the schools on the estate recognized by the National Board of Education. They have erected and repaired school buildings, and make annual grants towards the salaries of the teachers. They devote, as occasion requires, the money received from the sale of the advowsons on the estate under the Irish Church Act, 1869, towards the purchase of glebes and repairing and maintaining churches, and towards erecting chapels and ministers' houses. They make annual grants to the clergy and ministers of the different religious denominations, and to the medical officers of dispensaries. They subscribe to various charities and societies, and make weekly or other allowances to poor persons connected with the estate who have been left desolate or have become infirm. They construct foot-bridges and main drains. They also contribute frequently towards the repairs of river banks and the making of turf roads, on the basis of contributing half the estimated cost of any such work, the tenants lending horses and doing a portion of the labour under the direction of the surveyor of the estate.

In no case within the Company's knowledge has any tenant left the estate to become an agricultural occupier elsewhere in Ireland. In many cases during the last few years strangers have come from other places to be tenants on the Pellipar estate.

In the return already sent in reference was made to the support given by the Company to recent railway projects. The Company agreed to support these two undertakings (by guaranteeing 5 per cent. interest upon sums of 20,000l. in one case, and 5,000l. in the other), shortly after they had resolved to raise the rental as already stated, believing that such works would open up those districts which are at present under a disadvantage for carrying farm produce to market, and that in many ways they would tend to the prosperity of the inhabitants, without bringing any pecuniary advantage to the Company.

Before quitting this subject it may be added with reference to the statement made by Sir Thomas McClure, M.P., on the 12th July (on which occasion he assumed that the tenure by the Companies of their estates in Londonderry was impressed with a trust, and gave it as his opinion that the Companies would best fulfil their alleged trusts by selling to their tenants), that when he himself applied to the Skinners' Company to sell their estate to him, the Company received memorials from the tenants then, as well as on other occasions, asking them not to sell. Indeed, there is abundant evidence that the tenants have advantages under the Companies as landlords which a private owner, buying in order to secure a profit-rent, would not allow to his tenants; and this fact should be especially borne in mind when so many hostile statements, frequently untrue, are being made with respect to the management of the estates, while no allusion whatever is made to the Companies' many acts of generosity to the very men who are induced to turn against them.

The petition of March 1881 to Mr. Gladstone, abounding in misstatements (and which the Company would forbear to notice, were it not placed upon the proceedings of the Commission on the introduction of Sir Thomas McClure), is signed by one of the Company's tenants without authority to write on their behalf, and is an unfortunate example of the manner in which it is attempted to misrepresent the facts.

In conclusion, with respect to the contention which some of the witnesses who have appeared before the Commission desire to raise with regard to the position of the Companies as owners of property, viz., that they were created by the Crown for trade purposes, that they held and still hold their corporate property on trust for trade purposes, and that when they ceased to be composed of trade members, and to exercise trade functions, they ceased to be entitled to hold property or to exist, I am desired to state that the Skinners' Company consider that they have already sufficiently met this contention, so far as it affects them, in advance, by the concise history forwarded with their Return to the Commissioners' queries, which was compiled with much care from charters, grants, certified copies of public records, wills, deeds of bequest, and books of the Company, extending over a period of several centuries, and which there has been no attempt to controvert. I am directed, however, to point out to the Commissioners shortly that, as appears from that history, the Skinners' Company was an existing body, owning large property and exercising important func tions, before the grant of any Royal Charter whatever; that the earliest charter of the Company, that of Edward III., recognised those facts, and simply regulated its position in the commercial polity of that day; that no evidence can be produced which goes to show that at any time the whole or even a majority of the members of the Company were trade members, but that all the evidence proves the contrary; that attempts actually made by "artesan skinners" to establish a connection between the Company and the trade always failed; and that, notwithstanding that the Company has from the very first dealt with its corporate property as its own, absolutely and for all purposes, and the Courts were open to any complainant, the Company has never been adjudged to hold that property for trade purposes or subject to any trust whatever, nor has the Company's control of that property ever been in any manner limited.

While of opinion that the allegations, general and special, which affect them, have been fully met (such allegations appearing to consist mainly of incorrect inferences from incomplete and inaccurate information), the Skinners' Company will be happy to still further elucidate any point upon which the Commissioners may desire additional information.

I have, &c.,
E. Herbert Draper,

A Short Historical Account of the Connection of the Livery Companies of London with the County of Londonderry, Ireland, having special reference to the Title of the Skinners' Company to the Manor of Pellipar, in the same County.

One of the witnesses who gave evidence before the City of London Livery Companies' Commission in July 1882 professes to show, in paragraphs 1 and 2 of a printed statement handed in by him, the object of the scheme devised on the confiscation of the estates of the Ulster Earls; and after quoting a State Paper issued by the Crown in 1608, intituled " A Collection of such Orders and Conditions as are to be observed by the Undertakers upon the distribution and plantation of the escheated Lands in Ulster," asserts that, "these Orders and Conditions, popularly known as the 'Articles of Plantation,' together with the various other public declarations of the King and Privy Council on the subject of the Plantation, are the bases and limits of the Title by which the Companies hold their Irish Estates."

This assertion is entirely incorrect, the fact being that these Articles were issued by the King in reference to the general scheme of planting the whole of the six northern counties, Armagh, Tyrone, Coleraine, Donegal, Fermanagh, and Cavan, and state that " It was thought convenient to declare to all His Majesty's subjects the several quantities of the proportions which should be distributed, the several sorts of Undertakers, manner of allotments, the estates, the rents, the tenures, with other articles to be observed, as well on His Majesty's behalf, as on the behalf of the Undertakers." They were issued before any proposition was made to the City of London, and were not addressed to the City or Companies by name, nor were they in any way applicable to incorporated bodies or to the work of plantation afterwards undertaken by the City on behalf of the Companies.

The Crown subsequently proposed to the City to undertake the plantation of the county of Derry, and directed to the City a State Paper, intituled, "Motives and Reasons to induce the City to undertake the Plantation in the North of Ireland."

This paper did not in any way allude to the beforementioned Articles of Plantation; but, after stating many matters, as to the products of the country and the mercantile advantages to be gained by the undertaking, and suggesting how easily the towns of Derry and Coleraine might be made almost impregnable, and proposing the allotment of certain quantities of land for commons to those towns, it suggested "That the whole of the territory and county betwixt them, above twenty miles in length, might be planted with such Undertakers as the City of London should think good for their best profit."

The proposal was at first rejected, but upon the reconsideration of it being pressed by the Crown it was again communicated to the Companies with a request to them " to assemble together a competent number of the gravest and most substantial men of their several Companies to consider advisedly of the said project, every Company to nominate four men apiece of their several Companies, of best experience, to consider and set down such reasons, orders, demands, and other circumstances in writing as is fit to be remembered, required, or performed in the undertaking of so worthy and honourable an action."

The Companies having accordingly reconsidered the proposal, do not, however, appear to have entertained it favourably; but after further correspondence and interviews with the Privy Council a Committee representing the Companies went to view the place of the proposed Plantation. On their return the Committee presented their report, referring (inter alia) to "a request by them made to the Right Honorable Sir Arthur Chichester Knight, Lord Deputy of Ireland, to be resolved of certain doubts for the good of the City if they shall proceed in the intended Plantation, with his Lordship's answer under his hand to the same."

A further Committee was appointed to consider all circumstances and matters concerning the proposed Plantation, and they reported they had propounded to themselves four general heads under which they had handled every particular in its proper place [namely], 1st. What sums of money should be expended.

2ndly. What land and privileges should be demanded.

3rdly. What things should be performed.

4thly. How all should be managed and ruled."

Several further interviews took place between the representatives of the Companies and the Privy Council; and, the terms of the former being acceded to, a formal Agreement was, on the 28th January 1609, entered into between the Crown and such representatives, by which the Companies undertook the proposed Plantation.

This Agreement does not make the slightest allusion to the before-mentioned Articles of Plantation, or motives and reasons, or mention or suggest any trust for any person whatever. On the contrary (after providing for the sites of the towns of Derry and Coleraine and the lands to be laid thereto, and making provision as to woods, churches, and glebes), the whole tenor of it is to secure everything agreed on to the Undertakers in perpetuity for their sole profit. And, to give the greater effect to this, it provides that " they should have seven years to make such other reasonable demands as time should shew to be needful, but could not presently be foreseen."

Between the date of this Agreement and the Charter of 1613 King James the First requested that several small matters stipulated for by the Undertakers might be relinquished to the Crown, and the request was conceded; but, except in the matter of these small concessions, the Agreement remained in full force up to the time of the Charter being granted, and such Agreement formed the sole contract between the Crown and the Companies.

The Agreement having been perfected was read at a Common Council held at the Guildhall on the 30th January 1609, and it was thereupon ordered " That for the better ordering, directing, and effecting of all things touching and concerning the said Plantation, and business thereunto belonging, there should be a Company constituted and established within the City of London, which Company should consist of one governor, one deputy to the governor, and four and twenty assistants, and that the governor and five of the said assistants should be aldermen of the City of London, and Mr. Recorder of the City should likewise be one of the same assistants, and the deputy and the rest of the assistants should be commoners of the same City."

This Company (better known as "the Irish Society" carried on the business of the Plantation, receiving from time to time from the several Companies advances of money for the purpose, until some time in the year 1610, when it was proposed that the lands should be divided amongst the Companies; but the proposition remained in abeyance until December 1613, when it was resolved to carry it into effect. To acomplish this it was agreed that all the moneys expended should be divided into 12 portions; that each of the 12 principal Companies should represent one portion, having associated with it so many of the inferior Companies as, according to the sums disbursed by each, would make up one twelfth portion; and that a survey of the lands and hereditaments of the Plantation should be made, and a division thereof effected into 12 like portions, as nearly as circumstances would permit.

Commissioners were sent to survey the Plantation accerdingly, and after the lands and premises had been surveyed, a division of the greatest part thereof was made into 12 lots, numbered from 1 to 12. These lots were drawn for by the 12 principal Companies. Lot No. 12 was drawn by the Skinners' Company as chief, having associated with it the Stationers', Whitebakers', and Girdlers' Companies, the sums disbursed by such four Companies making up a full proportion of onetwelfth of the total moneys expended.

The Skinners' Company took possession of this twelfth portion (being as is herein-after mentioned that now known as the Manor of Pellipar), but no formal grant or conveyance was made of it to the Company until after the Charter of King James had been granted.

The residue of the lands and hereditaments, being principally the towns of Derry and Coleraine and the ferries and fisheries, were considered incapable of division, and remained vested in the Irish Society for the benefit of all the subscribing Companies.

On the 29th March 1613, King James the First, by Charter, created the city of Derry and the lands and hereditaments thereby granted, into a county by itself, to be called the county of Londonderry; and for ordering and governing the said county, constituted "The Society of The Governor and Assistants, London, of The New Plantation in Ulster, within the realm of Ireland," and ordained that the Society should at all times be able, and in law capable, to receive and possess lands and hereditaments, and to grant lands and hereditaments by the same name. The Charter then granted the lands and territories by their special description to the Society, "to hold and enjoy the same, with all profits, &c., to the aforesaid Society and their successors, to the only proper use and behoof of the said Society and their successors for ever."

The Society so constituted by the Charter was the same body as was created by the City under the name of a Company, and is generally known as the Irish Society, as already mentioned.

To enable the before-mentioned resolution for a division of the lands and hereditaments amongst the Companies to be carried into effect, the King, by Letters Patent dated 30th September 1615, granted the Irish Society and the Companies a license to hold the lands in mortmain, "to the end that the Companies might be encouraged to proceed and finish the Plantation, and in future tymes reape some gain and benefit of their great travailles and expenses taken and bestowed therein."

On the 11th July 1616 the Irish Society, by deed, created a manor of all the lands, tenements, and hereditaments now held by the Skinners' Company, by the name of the Manor of Pellipar; and by deed dated the 22nd March 1617 the Society granted the said Manor of Pellipar, and all profits arising out of it, to the Skinners' Company, to hold "to the only use and behoof of the said maister, wardens, and comunaltie of the misterie of the Skinners of London, their successors and assigns for ever," and the grant contains a covenant on the part of the Society for quiet enjoyment by the Skinners' Company of the manor, lands, and hereditaments, and receipt of the rents thereof to the Company's own use and uses for ever.

During the troublous times in the reign of King Charles the First, certain proceedings were taken in the Court of Star Chamber for repealing the above Charter or Letters Patent, but it becomes unimportant to relate these in any detail, for two reasons,—first, that by a vote of the House of Commons of October 1641, it was resolved that the sentence in the Star Chamber was unlawful and unjust; and, second, that King Charles the Second, by Charter dated 10th April 1662 (after a recital that King Charles the First had given his directions for the restoration to the Irish Society and the Companies of their lands, &c., originally granted by the Charter or Letters Patent of 1613, but that his Royal intention had not taken effect in consequence of the wars and troubles in Ireland), re-granted to the Irish Society the lands and hereditaments formerly granted by the Charter of 1613.

The Irish Society, following the same course as had been pursued after the Charter of 1613, again executed a conveyance of the Manor of Pellipar to the Skinners' Company, dated 5th June 1663.

The above Charters, Letters Patent, and conveyances, constitute the basis of the Company's title to their Irish estates, and in no one of them is there any allusion or reference whatever to "The Articles of Plantations" or the "motives and reasons" referred to by the witnesses from Ireland who gave evidence before the Commissioners in July 1882.

In the answer to questions numbered from 1824 to 1955 continuously, reference is made to the "Provisions of the Charter," and it is asserted that the Companies' Irish estates are trust estates, and that the moneys expended upon the Plantation were raised by a tax upon the citizens.

With regard to the assertion that the estates are trust estates, the Skinners' Company state with confidence that there is nothing whatever in any of the documents under which the Companies derive their title which could be construed as, either directly or indirectly, creating any trust. Moreover, the documentary evidence already referred to shows that in return for the moneys expended by them, the profits were intended to be derived by the Companies only. It may also be observed that there is no instance known to the Company of the estate of any individual undertaker who took, subject to the articles, being held to be subject to any trust.

With regard to the assertion that the moneys expended on the Plantation were raised by a tax on the citizens, even if it were true, such fact would not in any way create a trust for the tenants on the estate, or militate against the Company's claim to be absolute owners of the estate. The City, however, in a petition presented to the House of Commons in 1641, stated (as is the fact) "that they, the City of London, never undertook the said Plantation, or, as to the use of the City, disbursed any money thereabouts, but that their name was only used for the better transaction of that business, and only as a means to forward the Plantation, and raise moneys by and from the several Companies, which otherwise could never have been effected."

The money so raised and contributed by the Skinners' Company was temporarily levied from the members of the Company in accordance with a recognised custom, and the books and records of the Company show repayment to members of the several sums advanced by them.

In conclusion, it may be mentioned that several Companies have, at different times, sold their Irish estates, and have (as is well known) been advised by eminent counsel that they were able to give a good title for the purpose. In like manner the Stationers' and Whitebakers' Companies have, within the last few years (as already stated in the Company's Return to the Commissioners), sold their interests in the Pellipar estate to the Skinners' Company, who gave a large consideration for the same, relying upon the fact that such Companies were entitled, for their own use, to a share of the rents and profits of the estate in proportion to their quota of the contributions made by the four Companies at the time of the division in the year 1610.