Lord of Extortion who holds whole villages to ransom

Gerrard Winstanley office at evnuk.org.uk
Wed Jul 30 00:03:24 BST 2008

The Lord of Extortion holding whole villages to ransom
Last updated at 22:00 03 August 2007

The Lord Marcher of Trelleck ought to make an effort with his moustache.

Instead of it being long enough to twirl villainously while his head
is thrown back in cruel laughter, it sits limply on his upper lip.

More Oliver Hardy than Sheriff of Nottingham. Yet, in every other
respect, it seems, his lordship is the very model of a medieval feudal

That, at least, is the view of hundreds, if not thousands, of
villagers across England and Wales, who have so far had to pay tens of
thousands of pounds to keep him and his henchmen at bay.


Imagine waking up in your cottage in the shires, where you have lived
peacefully for years, to find a legal letter on your doormat.

It announces that in return for several thousands of pounds, you will
be allowed to continue to have access to your own front door.

You gulp and bluster with incredulity and indignation. You might even
tear up the letter. But it is serious.

And it can mean only one thing: the Lord Marcher of Trelleck has
bought another feudal title. Worse, he's your new Lord of the Manor
and he's going to make the most from his investment.

You may wonder how such arcane practices could still be impacting on
rural life in 2007. But that would mean you do not live in one of the
60-odd historic manorial estates over which Trelleck can proclaim
himself "Lord".

At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, there were 13,418 manors, a
figure that increased greatly until 1290, when a statute was passed
forbidding the creation of any more.

Today, it is estimated that 25,000 manorial lordships still exist.

Of course, society has changed completely in the past 900 years. The
English system of feudal tenure was swept away by legislation in 1660.

But some vestiges of feudalism have survived, including the title
"Lord of the Manor". The name, though, does not mean you own any land.
Nor may you call yourself "Lord".

Historically, it would simply have been attached to a country estate
and, as the aristocracy and squirearchy declined in fortune, many such
titles were sold off to the nouveau riche, like the family Holbein or
milady's jewels.

The practice continues to this day. And, for most people, buying the
title "Lord of the Manor" is a harmless, if expensive, indulgence,
akin to purchasing a personalised numberplate.

Former world champion boxer Chris Eubank, for example, has bought the
Lordship of the Manor of Brighton.

"They are mostly bought for sentimental reasons," says Robert Smith,
head of the Manorial Society of Great Britain, a club for lords of the
manor, which also deals commercially in their sale.

"The new owners might live locally or are Americans with an ancestor
buried in the local churchyard. Around 120 titles change hands every

But not everyone is in it for nostalgic reasons. Principal among them
is the self-styled Lord Marcher of Trelleck.

He saw an opportunity. While most feudal powers were swept away
hundreds of years ago, owning the title Lord of the Manor is still
associated with the medieval concepts of common land and "manorial
waste" - these days usually the verges at the side of roads or the
triangle of grass at junctions.

What these entail has often been lost in the mists of time. Nobody
knew, nor cared, whether the relevant claims - relics of a
long-forgotten age - still applied.

But now, through this loophole of happy ignorance, the canny Lord
Marcher of Trelleck has driven a coach and horses.

It is probably best to clarify that the title "the Lord Marcher of
Trelleck" does not actually exist. "The Lord Marchers were vice regal
positions in Wales which were abolished by Henry VIII in 1536,"
declares Mr Smith.

"We have checked and while there is a Lord of the Manor of Trelleck,
there was never a Lord Marchership of Trelleck. He has made it up."

His "lordship" is plain Mark Roberts, a portly, 44-year-old
father-of-four who was originally an engineer.

Although he calls himself Welsh, and lives in a grand Victorian house
on the south Wales coast which once belonged to a real aristocrat, Mr
Roberts was born in Birmingham and is the son of a Staffordshire

Since the early 1990s, he has been snapping up manorial titles across
Britain, then seeking to assert his feudal rights for financial gain.

Want to cross over "his" manorial waste to get to your home? You now
have to pay. The parish council expects to use the village green as it
has done for generations? It is now available for rent from Mr Roberts.

His interventions have caused house sales to be delayed or abandoned
as searches by solicitors have revealed his legal warnings.

In one area, an £11 million marina development, which would have
created scores of local jobs, has also been blocked by his feudal
claims to the foreshore.

One village has had to go to a public inquiry to try to rid itself of
his demands on their green.

This has caused fury in the villages he has tried to exploit. But
rather than get into long and expensive litigation, some people have
simply paid up.

Peterstone Wentloog in south Wales, for example, fell within the
manorship of Romney, a title that Roberts bought at auction. Local MP
Paul Flynn outlined what happened next to the House of Commons.

He said that the villagers had received "a bombshell in the post, in
the form of a letter demanding nine per cent of the value of their
homes in return for permission to have vehicular access to those homes
- access that they have enjoyed all their lives.

"The letter also demanded that they pay the legal fees of . . . Mark
Roberts... who claims ownership of the land, in particular the common
land, that is near their homes.

"It threatened litigation if they did not speedily accede to that

Mr Flynn added: "Many of the residents are elderly. Some inherited
their homes.

"They are almost all of modest means and it would be impossible for
the great majority of them to pay the sum demanded of between £19,000
and £45,000.

"Understandably, the letter caused great distress, anger, fear and

The legal position was a 'morass', said the MP. Five landowners caved
in to the initial round of letters and paid Mr Roberts some £30,000.

Nevertheless, most of the other villagers refused to capitulate and
formed an action group, led by barrister Simon Vollans, who lives in

This week, Mr Vollans told the Mail: "We are hopeful of victory, it's
just that it might take a while.

"Essentially, his claim for money from householders stems from an
error made in 1958 when, purely for the sake of ease, the local
council rolled in all sorts of bits and pieces of land into what was
classified as common.

"There were verges, ditches, hedgerows, otherwise known as manorial
waste, which many of the villagers have to cross to get to their
houses, and Roberts was going to extract a fee for allowing them to do

Mr Vollans believes there is, in fact, a conflict of ownership with
another manor, the Manor of Peterstone, which he believes is owned by
the church.

He added: "I've got a three-foot high pile of registry details, tithe
maps, covenants and all sorts of material which backs up our claim, if
only I can get the church to acknowledge my findings.

"If they did, then the threat hanging over us would be removed at a
stroke because they would not behave in the way in which Mr Roberts
and his lawyers have behaved."

Some homes now have what is known as a Notice of Caution.

Mr Vollans explained: "This means that when a title search is carried

out on a house, usually when the owner tries to sell, a Notice of
Caution is uncovered by whoever makes the inquiry - typically the
prospective buyer's solicitor.

"He then, quite rightly, advises his client it would not be a good
idea to go ahead with the move. The result is some currently
unsaleable properties."

Mr Vollans has met Mr Roberts once - accidentally - when both attended
a Territorial Army regimental dinner. They realised who the other was
over blackjack.

Mr Vollans said: "We had a gentlemanly discussion about our different
perspectives but, clearly, we were never going to reach any agreement.
He is quite an articulate, intelligent man - albeit in my opinion

Elsewhere, others were less polite. When the Mail visited Mr Roberts'
former home in the Welsh village of Penmark, an ex-neighbour said:

"The guy is a complete-****. He pushes everything to the very limits
of the law."

Similar views were expressed in the Staffordshire village of
Alstonefield, which has also been fighting Mr Roberts, who became
their Lord of the Manor for £10,000 in 1999.

Subsequently he made similar financial demands for access to private
homes and also claimed rent for the village greens.

It culminated this spring in a public inquiry which saw four of 16
disputed grass areas in the village given official "village green
status" and were thereby put beyond the reach of Mr Roberts.

There is local disappointment that 12 other areas are still under threat.

"He arrived out of the blue claiming our village greens as manorial
waste," says parish councillor Sue Fowler, a farmer's wife.

"The feudal system existed in the 11th century, and the problem has

been that nobody understands the relevant law, not even the lawyers or
the county council.

"Mr Roberts sold one part of the village green for £15,000. In the
end, we went to public inquiry which cost the parish £16,000. We
really have been put through the wringer."

Mrs Fowler, who has met Mr Roberts, described him as: "Quietly spoken,
articulate and reasonable in tone.

"He says he is only protecting his rights. I can't say what I think of
that, because I don't want more trouble."

She added: "If you told a medieval historian what was happening here,
they'd laugh. Mark Roberts is living in a fantasy world. That's all
well and good. Unfortunately, he has dragged several hundred people
into it as well."

The private access dispute has been thrown out and a notice of caution
on the village lifted.

Only half in jest, Mrs Fowler cites a feudal law which, she says,
undermines Mr Roberts' own position.

"If he really is our lord of the manor, he should, by law, hold what
is called a "court leet" every year, to administer the manorial estate
and allow us villagers to acknowledge him as lord.

"As no court of leet has been held here for hundreds of years, the
manor is forfeit."

But it is not just private citizens who have reason to fear Mr
Roberts' feudal "rights".

A 45-mile stretch of coastline from Newgale to Fishguard is at the
centre of an ownership dispute between him and the Crown Estate which
could decide the project's future.

Roberts seems to believe he owns all the land between the high and low
water marks after he bought a local title - a claim disputed by the
Crown Estate. Associated developments - including a new primary
school, supermarket and leisure centre - are also in the balance.

Mr Roberts has been at the centre of a similar dispute in north Wales,
where council chiefs in Denbighshire had hoped to build a new cycleway
and pedestrian footbridge over the River Elwy at St Asaph.

Alas, an area of common land was needed for the project downstream of
an ancient roadbridge - land that Roberts claimed is owned by him
under another of his manorial titles, Uwchterfyn.

The Mail was unable to contact Mr Roberts this week. But he recently
defended his actions by saying: "We do not buy titles. We buy manors,
which are the oldest form of landed estate.

"We buy these old landed estates for the land, including some demesne
agricultural land (land which, in medieval times, was rented out to
serfs and tenants), pasture land, quarries, common land, wasteland and
foreshore that go with them, which we manage in a traditional way as
any other landowner has done over the past 1,000 years."

Many would say that while there is nothing obviously illegal about
what Mark Roberts, aka the Lord Marcher of Trelleck, has done, it
smacks more of 1207 than 2007.

He may have more manorial lordships than any of his countrymen, but
his is certainly not a noble pursuit. 

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