Sale of Marquess of Abergavenny’s Ewyas Lacy Estate
The years just after the First World War were a time of depression and hardship in the farming communities. Many of the landed Estates throughout the country were sold off due to reduced income and the extra burden of death duties from the loss of young men in the War.
In Ewyas Lacy in the January of 1920 was held one of the area’s most important sales of Estate property. In two days 166 lots totalling 2,670 acres of farms, cottages and small holdings were sold by the Marquess of Abergavenny, who had inherited a share of lands in the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy dating from the 13th century. Although the sale was to be made in lots and not as a whole Estate, the tenants must have been anxious as to the potential outcome, especially those with copyhold interests that had arguably become less certain as a result of the gradual decay of the Manorial system and customs of land holdings.
Some of the issues surrounding the sale and how they were addressed are illustrated by the following extracts from contemporary correspondence and reports.
An exchange between the Marquess’s local agent, Gilbert Harris, and his Estate agent, Ernest Gaisford, established the policy of a sale by auction:
Letter 21 June 1919 from Gilbert Harris, [address given: Marquess of Abergavenny’s Settled Estates, Estate Office, Abergavenny], to E Gaisford, Esq
‘...As the auctioneers are now going over the property I think it is time for me to ask whether a bona-fide offer for the whole property will be considered. It is necessary for me to know because there will be a certain amount of expense for anyone to go over it and a man would not like to deal with it unless he would be considered if he gave a fair offer. A Mr Hunter of Wallasey is anxious to make an offer and so is General Ludlow and I should like to know first. Yours faithfully, pp Gilbert Harris’.
Reply 23 June 1919 from Ernest Gaisford [no address given, but as from Estate Office, Eridge Green, Sussex]
...In reply to your letter of the 21st inst it is not proposed to sell this estate otherwise than in lots, as it is desired to give the tenants a chance of acquiring their own holdings...’
A letter from a tenant can serve to illustrate the concerns of longstanding tenants, in this case with a request to buy the property privately:
Letter 28 June 1919 from J Hughes, Ewyas Harold, to the Agent’s office.
’...I am writing to ask you if it is possible you could see your way clear to recommend my application to purchase the holding I now occupy. The chief reasons are as follows: I am anxious to get the chance to buy before the auction because if it comes to that the chances are, someone or other would outbid me and I should have no place to go to, as I am bound by the terms of my office to live in my district, especially with regard to Registration etc. Next, I have planted a lot of trees you sent me long ago which are beginning to pay a little. I’ve had years to wait, but they are beginning and other fruit trees on my own together with structural improvements I’ve done, all of which I should lose the benefit of if no chance is given me....I’ve been here about, or more, than 20 years and it has become home to me...I see before me endless worry and inconvenience if I should have to scuttle...’
A report on the sale in the Weekly Argus [no date] notes that ‘Alderman Thomas Preece, on behalf of the Farmer’s Union, made an appeal of behalf of tenants who in many cases had with their fathers and grandfathers occupied the holdings for generations. He hoped they would be given an opportunity to purchase and that speculators would not unduly compete with them...he urged the tenants to bid up to a reasonable price, otherwise they would not have the sympathy of the auctioneer or the solicitors.’
It seems that the sale proceeded accordingly, as the Weekly Argus also observes that ‘in a great many instances the tenant became the owner’ and that ‘At the conclusion of the sale, Mr Gilbert Phillips...of Longtown expressed the hearty appreciation of the tenants at the very fair and courteous manner in which they had been treated by the auctioneer and the representatives of the estates.’
The quoted documents are in a bundle relating to the sale
held at Gwent Record Office, reference D1583.177
Purchasers at the sale can be seen here