Sunday, 28 March 2021

Bullying landowner(part two)

The footpath dispute ended up in court. With, on the one hand, West Lancashire Rural District Council and, on the other, Mr. Weld-Blundell.

The council's legal representative kicked off proceedings:

"Mr Horridge, in opening, said that certainly before the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway had opened in 1847 the district of Formby was of an exceedingly rural character and the footpath in question was a footpath which led to St. Peter's Parish Church, and from Ainsdale to Formby through the fields. In many places there were stiles and swing gates to show that it was open for the people to go along. He would call old inhabitants who would state that the footpath was not only used by people going going to school at Formby, but also by people burying their dead - they carried their dead along the footpath to the church. The footpath seemed to have been continued in that way from as far back as living memory went, and witnesses would be called who could speak of it far back as 1830. It was enjoyed that way until last year, when Mr. Charles Joseph Weld-Blundell said, "Now this is my private property, and I will put a wire fence over one end and put men to turn everyone back who wants to walk along.” Previous to this time the footpath had been enclosed with railings at each side, with a stile each end. That action was taken by the West Lancashire Rural District Council on behalf the public to re-establish their right to use this footpath."
Preston Herald - Wednesday 07 May 1902, page 4.

Which seems clear enough. The main argument of Mr. Weld-Blundell's man was an obscure legal one of the status of the estate after the death of the last Blundell in 1837. It was held in trust until 1866 and as such, he argued, there was no owner to make it available for public use. That soon got shot down, when it was pointed out that the trustees had that power.

Next up, a council witness:

"Mr Sutton, architect, said knew the "Brewery footpath" before the obstruction was put up in October. He submitted plans in detail, showing the part the path closed by Mr. Blundell. Witness had known it for ten or twelve years, during which time it had been open to foot passengers from the Parish Church. In answer to Mr. Taylor, witness said that at the Brewery-lane end the path a notice “private” was stuck on a tree. He had noticed the board, and one at the other end of the path, for the eight or nine years. The second board said "Private road to the parsonage.” There was a third board with the words “Private road to the brewery" between the other two announcements. There were numerous footpaths on the estate to which the greater portion Ainsdale and about three-quarters of Formby belonged. In spite of the boards, witness added, no one was stopped from crossing the path till October."
Preston Herald - Wednesday 07 May 1902, page 4.

Mr Weld-Blundell was clearly loaded, as his properties weren't limited to Ainsdale and Formby. The grand house and country park were in Ince-Bludell. I realise now that only a small portion of the footpath was blocked. It extended way past the brewery all the way to Ainsdale, about three miles to the North.

To remind you, here's the map of the footpath:

Now we finally get a beer connection: 

"William Dickinson, of the Old Brewery, said his mother owned fields between the Blundell estate and Brewery-lane. No objection had been taken as to passengers using the path as far as concerned his mother. He, as a boy, went to St. Peter's School by the pathway, but had never been stopped until September 13th, 1901. He produced the notice boards alluded to by the proceeding witness."
Preston Herald - Wednesday 07 May 1902, page 4.

I've found out who William Dickinson's mother was. But that's for a later post.

Mr. Weld-Blundell was looking in trouble. And resorted to a desperately thin argument:

"Mr Taylor, addressing the jury on behalf Mr. Weld-Blundell, said the matter was important to that gentleman. The witnesses alluded to "the public” and “strangers;" these terms were simply used in relation to people of whom they had not had much knowledge. Not a single member of the "public" had been called except those who were living in the district. If the landlord chose to say to his tenants “You may walk to the parish church across my lands.” that, he submitted, was not a dedication to the public, it was only a permission to his tenants. That was a strong fact in favour of Mr. Weld-Blundell. He would call witnesses to show that the users of the path was "church user" and "user for convenience.”"
Preston Herald - Wednesday 07 May 1902, page 4.

Right, because everyone using the path was a tenant of his, they weren't really "the public". The jury wasn't impressed:

"After several witnesses had given evidence, the foreman of the jury said it was quite useless hearing any more."
Preston Herald - Wednesday 07 May 1902, page 4.

Mr. Weld-Blundell was ordered to remove the obstructions.

Ironically, the only part of the footpath in use today is exactly the section between Brewery Lane and Massam's Lane. The rest of it has been erased by an RAF base and post-war housing. 

Here's the Massam's Lane end of the footpath today:

The building to the right of the path is the former parsonage.

I've found another incident earlier in 1901 which might explain Weld-Blundell's behaviour.


Anonymous said...

The owner of Arsenal, Stan Kroenke, recently won a court case in Canada shutting down a path to publically owned lakes on the grounds that there wasn't enough evidence that the long used public path was in fact long used by the public -- but how else were they getting to the publically-owned lakes?

Reading the opinion, it looks like the court allowed Kroenke's lawyers to take advantage of whatever discrepancies they could find in sketchy surveying dating back to the 1800s, and always gave the benefit of the doubt to Kroenke.

Ron Pattinson said...


arsehole landowners are the same the world over.