Common people take on City gent over land rights

Gerrard Winstanley news at
Mon May 16 02:27:53 BST 2005

Village revolt as common people take on City gent over land rights

Intimidation claimed in contest over ancient green
Patrick Barkham,,1471914,00.html
Thursday April 28, 2005

Plump pheasants pick their way across the grass and ducks circle the 
pond on the common. Tucked away in the green folds of north Norfolk, 
little has disturbed the bucolic peace of Hanworth since Saxon times. 
But now this tiny community of brick and flint cottages near Cromer 
has been thrown back into the feudal era after a descendant of William 
the Conqueror seized control of the village common he claimed had been 
"stolen" from his family by local people. 

The Hon Robert Harbord-Hamond, youngest son of the 11th Baron of 
Suffield, erected a barbed-wire fence around the 14-hectare (34-acre) 
common last week. A reformed drug addict who returned to his family 
seat in Norfolk after a career as a City trader, Mr Harbord-Hamond 
insists he is the rightful owner. 

The 100 residents of Hanworth are in open revolt. They confirmed 
yesterday they would take Mr Harbord-Hamond to court to contest both 
ownership and access to the common, where they have grazed livestock, 
walked dogs and played with their children for generations. If they 
are defeated, some residents fear they could lose their homes. 

As tensions rise, villagers claim they have felt intimidated by a man 
with binoculars and a dog who has been "patrolling" the common. The 
police have been called to the conservation area at least 10 times in 
the past week. 

In turn, Mr Harbord-Hamond, who has been living in a rented cottage on 
the edge of the green, is understood to feel he is the one being 
threatened and verbally abused. Officers are investigating a complaint 
of criminal damage to his fence. 

Susan Frances has grown up with the green where her grandfather used 
to put chickens, geese and goats out to graze. "This has always been 
common land for hundreds of years," she said, gazing across the barbed 
wire. "I've lived here all my life. No one wants this fence down more 
than I do. It's like Colditz. It's absolutely horrendous." 

Cherry and Reg Simpson's house now has barbed wire around three sides. 
"It's such a sleepy, tranquil place and this man has caused mayhem," 
said Mrs Simpson, who has lived in Hanworth for 18 years. "He may or 
may not have a claim to the common. That's hardly the point. He's got 
a security guard parading round the common with a pit-bull. My 
neighbour is too frightened to go to bowls at night because she 
doesn't want to meet this chap. 

"It's disrupted a lovely, quiet hamlet and made people anxious and 
worried, especially the old people. Everybody living in Hanworth wants 
the common back." 

Many of the houses in the village still have ancient grazing rights in 
their title deeds. In 1974 the national commons commissioner awarded 
the ancient green to the villagers. No one objected and a management 
committee was formed of four trustees, who let the common to a local 
grazier. For 31 years, grazing fees have been used to keep the common 
tidy, drained and maintained, with every resident receiving a share of 
any excess - £1 each in recent times - at the year end. 

While villagers claim Mr Harbord-Hamond accused them of being 
"thieves, liars and cheats" who snatched the land from his relative 
Doris Harbord in her dotage, Mr Harbord-Hamond is believed to be 
basing his claim to the common on records showing the third Lord 
Suffield was granted the land in 1777 in return for giving £10 worth 
of bread to the poor. 

Mr Harbord-Hamond claims to be acting in the benevolent spirit of his 
ancestors, particularly the third Lord Suffield, renowned for his 
charitable works. After quitting his fast-living City lifestyle, Mr 
Harbord-Hamond had a spell in the Priory, the addiction treatment 
centre, before returning to Norfolk on a mission to provide affordable 
homes for local people. 

An ambitious scheme to build homes for key workers on a putting green 
in Cromer was rejected as Mr Harbord-Hamond took control of his 
estate, which he claims stretches across a large swath of north 
Norfolk. According to Mr Harbord-Hamond, he took his estate out of a 
trust in which it had been held ever since the third Lord Suffield 
feared his son, an inveterate gambler, would squander the family 

Dick Price, one of the village common trustees, said local people were 
"intimidated" by Mr Harbord-Hamond and the workers who erected the 
fence. "People are fed up and some are a little frightened. He has men 
walking about the village with a dog. An associate of his has parked a 
caravan on the common. We don't know what he is going to do next." 

Mr Harbord-Hamond said he had been advised not to comment on the 
dispute. While he is trying to sell the common in a neighbouring 
village, Roughton, for development, it is understood that he plans to 
manage Hanworth common in a traditional way for cattle grazing. 

According to Mr Harbord-Hamond's estate office, the man in the caravan 
on the common is not a security guard but a Traveller on whom the 
landowner took pity. The caravan-dweller has told both sides he has 
been "sent from God". 

Mr Harbord-Hamond is understood to be confident the commons 
commissioner's judgment will be overturned. Meanwhile, Hanworth 
residents are amassing a fighting fund for the court case. The 
trustees of the common would be liable for costs - and could lose 
their homes - if they lost their legal challenge. 

North Norfolk district council has backed the villagers, and the 
Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb, has pledged his 
support. "It's completely out of order. It strikes me as remarkably 
feudal," Mr Lamb said. "It's important to try to get the two sides 
together but my view is it is unacceptable to fence in common land 
this way. I'm very much on the side of the people of the village who 
want to get the fencing down."

More information about the Diggers350 mailing list