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A Legal History of the English Landscape

ISBN13: 9780854900879
Published: October 2011
Publisher: Wildy, Simmonds and Hill Publishing
Country of Publication: UK
Format: Hardback
Price: £19.99

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Foreword by Dame Fiona Reynolds, DBE, Director General, National Trust

A Legal History of the English Landscape is an engaging account of how the law has played a pivotal role in shaping the English landscape through the concepts of security, inheritance, dispute resolution and transfer of land.

Taking a broadly chronological approach, the book begins with the origins of legal communities in prehistory. The Romans introduced roads, towns and legal procedures to decide disputes. The Anglo-Saxon period saw great changes in the countryside with the spread of monasteries, the creation of a system of farming in open fields and the development of charters and courts to regulate them.

The book considers the Domesday Book and the introduction by the Normans of the idea of tenure which still forms the basis of our land law. In the high Middle Ages towns and cathedrals were made possible because of legal ideas such as corporations and the development of legal procedures. As wealth spread, people other than the aristocracy and churchmen became able to obtain such security that an Englishman’s home became his castle through procedures worked out in the courts and this security encouraged ordinary folk to invest money in building substantial houses.

The idea of property became important at the time of the Civil Wars. After the Restoration in 1660 the squires controlled the countryside through their landed estates. They cooperated with commercial farmers to enclose much of the land previously comprised in the open fields as well as much common land. This was authorised by Parliament which also conferred powers to make new roads, canals and railways. Industry developed mainly under private arrangements as did towns and the book examines how nineteenth-century, middle-class housing estates were organised and financed.

In the twentieth century the state intervened to modify existing rights to land by regulating leases and by the planning system. The account concludes with a view of the modern law in an age of public access to land, environmental laws and European legislation.

There are descriptions of several legal cases illustrating the way the law worked, from a lawsuit between two Roman citizens about a wood to leading cases of the nineteenth century. As conditions changed, once-important laws became obsolete and the author shows how later generations were able to adapt or circumvent them for their own needs.

A Legal History of the English Landscape aims to set land law in a wider context of changes in society and of ideas such as what it means to describe someone as owner of land and how it comes about that Parliament has the power to rearrange the landscape.

"how I wish this book had been available when I began studying law...Christopher Jessel describes the changing social, commercial and political nature of society and shows how the law has responded. Thus you have not only the 'what', but also the 'how' and 'why'. What is more, he presents it in an engaging, narrative style. There is so much to recommend this book. It is outstanding value...it sheds a fresh light on the ancient for the benefit of the modern and will inform particularly those involved in administering trusts and what remains of settlements but more generally anyone dealing with the law of the land"

Geoff Whittaker, ALA Bulletin

The book has pride of place in our bookcase

Phillip Taylor, Richmond Green Chambers

Property Law, Legal History, General Interest, Wildy, Simmonds and Hill
List of illustrations

1 Introduction
Law and landscape
Disputes and transfer
The use of law

2 Prehistoric to AD43
First farmers
Solving legal problems before we had law
Dividing the landscape
Iron Age

3 Roman – AD43 to 450
Imperium romanum
The oldest known lawsuit
Late Roman Britain

4 Early Saxon – 450 to 867
Many small kingdoms
Local laws
The Church
The multiple estate
Trade and communications

5 The Making of the Open Fields – 867 to 1066
The Vikings
Farming methods
Growth of lordship and the local court
The Fonthill case
Organising landholdings

6 Norman – 1066 to 1154
Tenure and royal demesne
Military tenures
The Church
Manors and the Domesday Book
Commercial holdings

7 Medieval Landholding – 1154 to 1348
The rule of law
Manor and waste
Ownership and the law of the land
Corporate action

8 Courts, Charters and Statutes – 1154 to 1348
Legal procedure
Statutes and the king’s charters
Seigniorial revenues and the power of sale

9 Security and Property – 1348 to 1660
Apparent continuity, underlying change
Commercial farming and investment
Consequences of security

10 Law and the King – 1348 to 1660
Dissolution of the monasteries
The Statute of Uses
Property, state and sovereign

11 Landed Estates – 1660 to 1900
Three types of estate
The strict settlement
Management and improvement
End of the settlement

12 Enclosure and Inclosure – 1660 to 1900
Private enclosure
Rights over the land
Inclosure Acts
Inclosure awards

13 Roads, Canals and Railways – 1660 to 1900
Works Acts
Road Acts
Turnpike trusts
Canals and railways

14 Industry and Business – 1660 to 1900
Companies and commercial leases
Workers’ accommodation

15 Towns – 1660 to 1900
Early towns
Housing the middle classes
Controlling the townscape
Equipping the town

16 The Twentieth Century – 1900 to 2000
Democracy and sovereignty
The 1925 legislation
The control of leaseholds
State control of land

17 The Law of the Landscape Today
Public access and conservation
European and world law
The state and the landowner