I’ve been looking forward to reading this book and it hasn’t disappointed me – I recommend it.
I went to the book launch on Tuesday and drank red wine, met some friends and we all sang The Manchester Rambler which was fun. But I was keen to discover what Guy had found out and how.
When I was writing Inglorious I spent quite some time reading Kevin Cahill’s 2002 book, Who Owns Britain and Ireland. It’s difficult and expensive to get hold of but is an amazing piece of research. It’s the type of book which you get to look up some facts and end up reading for pleasure. There are lots of tables and dense research in Cahill’s book but some very pithy political comment too. It set out the difficulty of identifying who owns land in England where although we have a Land Registry, and now land which changes hands (through sales) has to be registered, any land that stays in the same hands, does not have to be registered. And lots of large estates existed about 130 years ago when a proper land register was compiled (the first since the Domesday Book) and haven’t changed hands since so don’t feature in the Land Registry unless voluntarily declared (which is rare).
So, I wondered, how had Guy got more information out of the system than had Cahill – and the answer is in the first chapter of this book, and it’s pretty simple once you know how. So, now I do.
This book is less encyclopaedic than Cahill’s and more wide-ranging as to subjects covered. Land is under our feet all the time – who owns the land where you are right now? Is it you? If not, do you know? The tenure of land opens up opportunities to earn more money and control other people’s lives to an amazing extent. Guy scampers through many of these issues quite brilliantly.
This is a very good read on a very important subject. And there’s a lot of delightful nosiness in it too. The British are a bit odd about land – overly secretive compared with others and that might be because it has been hanging around in the same hands, and under the same feet and the same control for centuries. It’s no surprise that the book ends with a discussion of land reform.
I came across quite a few familiar names. There was a clutch of names on page 21 of MPs who all spoke in favour of grouse shooting in the 2016 debate triggered by my e-petition to the Westminster Parliament; Benyon, Clifton-Brown, Drax and Bellingham – all land owners, all rich and three out of four Etonians.
There is a lot about nature and how the land is used, misused and abused in this book. But it is essentially about power. And that’s always interesting.
Who Owns England: how we lost our green and pleasant land and how we should take it back? by Guy Shrubsole is published by William Collins.