Top 20 land families keep grip on acres - Sunday Times

tony at tony at
Tue Nov 27 21:22:00 GMT 2001

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 25 2001,,9003-2001544471,00.html

Top 20 land families keep grip on acres 
BRITAIN's top 20 landowning families have bought or inherited an area big e=
nough to swallow up the counties of Kent, Essex and Bedfordshire, with room =
to spare. 
The unrelenting grip of the great landowners on vast swathes of the country=
side and prime real estate is revealed in a sweeping audit of who owns Brita=

The largest private landowner is the 9th Duke of Buccleuch, 78, once said t=
o survey his Scottish estates with a Leonardo da Vinci in the boot of his ca=
r. The Isle of Man could fit almost twice into his Borders domain of 423 squ=
are miles. 

In the autumn, he and his wife occupy Drumlanrig Castle. They and their ret=
inue decamp for the new year to the 17th-century splendour of Bowhill in the=
 east. In spring they travel south to oversee their sprawling estate at Boug=
hton in Northamptonshire. 

A holding of 100 square miles is the minimum to qualify for a place among B=
ritain's top 20 private landowners, who between them own 3,267 square miles.=

The healthy condition of the landowner class at the beginning of the 21st c=
entury is testimony to its remarkable powers of self-preservation. 

According to Kevin Cahill, author of Who Owns Britain, to be published next=
 month, in England alone there are almost 5,000 estates of an average two sq=
uare miles and worth just under £4m each. 

He claims landowners have held on to much of the wealth they controlled at =
the height of Queen Victoria's reign, despite the attrition of a century in =
which many British governments have publicly espoused meritocracy or a redis=
tribution of wealth. 

"This figure is not much different from the figure to be found in the `Seco=
nd Domesday' — the 1872 parliamentary return of owners of land." 

He contrasts the British experience with the virtual elimination of the lan=
downing class in Ireland. 

Many of the biggest private land holdings are inherited — saved by primogen=
iture from the fragmentation that has afflicted many French estates, where l=
and is split between all offspring. 

The Duchy of Cornwall, which belongs to Prince Charles until he becomes kin=
g, is Britain's third-largest estate and was created in 1337. The prince add=
ed 20,000 acres to it in 1999-2000 and cannot, by law, sell any part of the =
estate apart from minor adjustments to his holdings. 

When the 10th Duke of Atholl, a bachelor, died in 1996 without an heir, he =
placed the country's second-largest estate, based in Perthshire, into trust =
rather than hand it to his successor, a distant cousin in South Africa. The =
duke was the last man in Britain to be allowed to raise a private army. 

The fourth-largest estate, held by the 12th Duke of Northumberland, has sur=
vived relatively unscathed in the past century. His wife, Jane, restored the=
 gardens at the family home at Alnwick Castle for £30m. 

Despite her extensive estates at Balmoral and Sandringham, the Queen comman=
ds only 16th place. 

Britain's richest man, the Duke of Westminster, owns 300 acres of prime lan=
d in Mayfair and Belgravia, with large holdings in Scotland and overseas. Th=
e dukedom has increased in acreage in Britain by a factor of eight since 187=

Other names in the top 20 include the Countess of Sutherland, the Duke of D=
evonshire — whose family seat is at Chatsworth — and Viscount Cowdray. At nu=
mber 13 is the 27th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby, who divides her time betw=
een estates and palatial homes in Lincolnshire and Perthshire. 

A handful of institutions control more land than the biggest private landow=
ners. The largest of these is the Forestry Commission, with 3,750 square mil=

The Ministry of Defence, with 1,172 square miles, comes next, and the Natio=
nal Trust for England and Wales is third with 860 square miles. The Crown Es=
tate has 600 square miles. 

After recent acquisitions, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is=
 in fifth place, marginally ahead of the Duke of Buccleuch. 

The Church of England's holdings lag behind those of the Duke of Westminste=
r, and the largest farmer in Britain is the Co-op. 

Like previous generations, new money and foreign money remain fascinated by=
 the lure of land. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, crown prince of Du=
bai and a significant racehorse owner, has an estate of 100 square miles in =
the Highlands; Mohamed al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods, has a smaller territo=
ry nearby. 

Sir Cameron Mackintosh, with 22 square miles in Scotland, and Lord Lloyd-We=
bber, with two square miles in Berkshire, have invested their self-made fort=
unes in land. Lord Heseltine bought his own Northamptonshire estate and Mich=
ael Green, chairman of Carlton Communications, has bought 200 acres in Wilts=

Yet recent problems in agriculture have also taken their toll on the landow=
ners. Peter Kindersley, co-founder of an educational publishing group, acqui=
red more than three square miles of Gloucestershire and then attempted to de=
fend his livelihood as an organic sheep farmer by campaigning against the go=
vernment's policy of slaughtering sheep during the foot and mouth epidemic. =

During an economic downturn the appeal of owning sodden acres in the remote=
r and unproductive parts of Britain may go out of fashion. 

It has taken almost two years for John MacLeod of MacLeod, chief of the cla=
n MacLeod, to get even close to selling the Cuillin mountain range, a wilder=
ness of 36 square miles on the Isle of Skye. He says he needs £10m to repair=
 the roof of Dunvegan Castle. 

Yet, according to Cahill, the dream of buying a slice of the great landed e=
states is more than a fantasy to be indulged by the super-rich. He claims in=
ternational comparisons demonstrate that the continued failure to redistribu=
te land in Britain that is owned by a tiny elite is a key factor in driving =
up house prices for everyone else. 

"A building site now constitutes between half to two-thirds of the cost of =
a new house," he said. "The market for development land for building in the =
UK is rigged." While the big landowners measure their holdings by the square=
 mile, he says that the average Briton living in a privately owned property =
has to exist on 340 square yards.

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