Manorial rights over copyhold land - all change in October 2013?


What is Copyhold land?  It might be more descriptive to say “what was it?” It was an ancient form of tenure like freehold and leasehold but which was abolished on 1 January 1926 when all copyhold land became freehold land. 

Although all copyhold land was converted to freehold the resulting freehold was subject to any pre-existing rights reserved to the Lord of the Manor. Most commonly these would have been mines and mineral rights and sporting rights.

Therefore if you own freehold land which was formerly copyhold you may not have the mines minerals and sporting rights with the land. Equally if you own a Lordship of the Manor you may own these reserved rights over former copyhold land.

But if these rights have existed for so long why bring them up now? The reason is that the rights are part of a class of legal interests in land known as ‘overriding interests’. On 12 October 2013 certain types of overriding interest will cease to be overriding interests any longer . And manorial interests will be one of those.

The key phrase here is “cease to be overriding interests”. This does not mean they will be abolished but will result in their gradual extinction by virtue of how they work. Overriding interests take effect in that on any disposition of land a purchaser of that land takes it subject to those interests which override the disposition.

There are numerous examples in addition to manorial interests, for instance short term leases, easements and rights of common. By ceasing to be an overriding interest any subsequent purchaser of land after 12 October 2013 will not buy the land subject to a manorial interest but free of any that may exist, unless those interests have been protected at the Land Registry.

This point is important to both owners of former copyhold land, as being subject to such rights, and owners of Lordships of the Manor, as the owners of those rights over that land.

How do you know if some land is former copyhold land and whether there are any manorial rights over it?

  • Some Land Registry titles specifically state that the land is for copyhold land and of which manor is was a part. This, though, is relatively rare.
  • Looking at the old deeds to any property to see if there is a deed of enfranchisement. Prior to the Law of Property Act 1922 it was possible to either voluntarily or, later in the 19th century, statutorily enfranchise copyhold land to become freehold land.
  • Looking at the old deeds to any property to see if there is any record of compensation made under the statutory compensation scheme provided for under the Law of Property Act 1922.
  • Transfers of the property prior to 1926 may state the nature of the land to be freehold or copyhold.
  • Manorial records. The freehold and copyhold tenants of the manor were often recorded in the manorial court rolls. Manorial records are sometimes passed down with the ownership of the Lordship but many of them are now in either County of National Record Offices.

What should owners do?

If you are the owner of former copyhold land...

This depends on what you intend doing with the property and whether the registration of such rights would have any real practical effect on your ownership. If it would then you could transfer the land (at a reasonable value) within the family after 12 October 2013 to take advantage of the change in the law. This also might coincide with a wider aim of mitigating inheritance tax by passing assets to a younger generation.

But what if a Lord of the Manor registers a notice of such rights before that date?  If it can be proven that he has such rights then his registration will be effective unless you can show that you have acquired those rights by adverse possession. This might be difficult to show in cases of mineral rights but could be easier in instances of sporting rights.

If you are the owner of the Lordship of the Manor...

Much depends here on the state of the records that you have or are able to find for the manor.

If they are in good order then the task is reasonably simple in going through them but will be time consuming. For that reason employing a researcher is often the most effective solution. It is not always possible to find the records for specific manors as many have been lost in time and it is not possible to predict exactly what rights might have been reserved as each manor had its own customs and they varied in the amounts of copyhold land that they held.

The key concern is the cost of carrying out the research against the potential reward. Areas with known and useful mineral reserves offer the greatest potential benefit and other areas with little or no value in minerals or sporting rights may cost a significant amount to discover only for such a discovery to be little more than a historic anachronism.

This last point is particularly of relevance to trustees of land where the trustees are lord of the manor. As trustees they have a duty to care to the beneficiaries. At the very least they need to consider whether to engage in research and possibly they should consider some initial research to establish the costs of a more thorough investigation and whether re is any practical significance to the rights discoverable. On this basis they can consider the cost against the potential benefit to the trust.