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Return of Owners of Land, 1873


Return of Owners of Land, 1873

The Return of Owners of Land, 1873 presents the first complete picture of the distribution of landed property in the British Isles[1] since the original Domesday Book dating from 1086. The 1873 Return is also sometimes referred to as the "Modern Domesday".[2] It arose from the desire of the Victorian governing landed classes, many of whom sat in the House of Lords, to counter the rising public clamour, encouraged by some parts of the press, raised about what was called the "monopoly of land". Karl Marx (d.1883) had been resident in London since 1849 and had published his Das Kapital in 1867, influential on the Continent, and the British Establishment was keen to rapidly extinguish any spark of revolutionary sentiment in the United Kingdom.

Many perceived exaggerations and false assertions had been made by the opponents of the landed classes as to the over-concentration of land ownership within a ruling elite, and reliable and independent data was needed to refute the attacks. The question was put in the House of Lords on 19 February 1872 by Edward Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby (1826–1893) to the Lord Privy Seal "Whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to take any steps for ascertaining the number of proprietors of land and houses in the United Kingdom, with the quantity of land owned by each proprietor". The government was in agreement with the suggestion and indeed Lord Derby's question had been a mere pre-arranged formality to start the process.

In 1872 Local Government Boards were ordered to compile a list of owners of land from ratings records. One return was prepared for England and Wales, excluding the Metropolis, and separate ones were prepared for Scotland in 1874, and Ireland in 1876. The Return shows the holding, in acres, roods and poles, and estimated yearly rental, of all holdings over 1 acre. It is laid out by county and landowner with a principal identifying address being given for each landowner. In the case of landowners with extensive and scattered holdings the address may not correspond to the location of the land and could be outside the county in question. The location of the land owned is not given. A comparison with the Domesday Book survey was made in the Return's Explanatory Statement (see section below). The 1873 Return was not without inaccuracies, sometimes very significant, and a revised and corrected edition was published in 1883 by John Bateman FRGS (1839–1910) entitled: The Great Landowners of Great Britain and Ireland.


  • Background 1
  • Publication 2
    • Sources for Return 2.1
  • Format 3
    • Names and addresses 3.1
    • Estimated extents 3.2
    • Gross estimated rental 3.3
  • Comparison with Domesday Book 4
  • England & Wales 5
  • Scotland 6
  • Ireland 7
  • Popularity 8
  • Corrected & derivative editions 9
  • Sources 10
  • External links 11
  • References 12


The circumstances under which the Return was called for will be best explained by a reference to the following discussion which took place in the House of Lords on 19 February 1872 :[3]

The Earl of Derby asked the Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Halifax) whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to take any steps for ascertaining accurately the number of proprietors of land and houses in the United Kingdom, with the quantity of land owned by each proprietor. He should not trouble the House at any length, because he understood that the suggestion he had ventured to put into his question was acquiesced in, and would be acted upon by the Government. They all knew that out-of-doors there was from time to time a great outcry raised about what was called the "monopoly of land", and, in support of that cry, the wildest and most reckless exaggerations and mis-statements of fact were uttered as to the number of persons who were the actual owners of the soil. It had been said again and again that, according to the Census of 1861, there were in the United Kingdom not more than 30,000 landowners; and though it had been repeatedly shown that this estimate arose from a misreading of the figures contained in the Census returns, the statement was continually reproduced, just as though its accuracy had never been disputed. The real state of the case was at present a matter of conjecture, but he believed, for his own part, that 300,000 would be nearer the truth, than the estimate which fixed the landowners of the United Kingdom at a tenth of that number. He entirely disbelieved the truth of the popular notion that small estates were undergoing a gradual process of absorption in the larger ones. It was true that the class of peasant proprietors formerly to be found in the rural districts was tending to disappear—for the very good reason that such proprietors could, as a general rule, obtain from 40 to 50 years' purchase for their holdings, and thereby vastly increase their incomes. In the place of that class, however, there was rapidly growing up a new class of small owners, who, dwelling in or near towns or railway stations, were able to buy small freeholds. He believed this new class would fully replace, and perhaps more than replace, the diminution in the other class to which he had referred. He apprehended that through the agency of the Local Government Board it would be easy to obtain statistical information, which would be conclusive in regard to this matter. The returns ought to include the name of every owner and the extent of his property in acres. He did not wish to have included in the Return the exact dimensions of very minute holdings; that could be met by giving the aggregate extent of holdings not exceeding an acre each, the number of separate owners being stated, but not the extent of each holding. The Duke of Richmond thought this was a subject the importance of which could scarcely be over-rated, and trusted that Her Majesty's Government would be able to furnish the Return asked for by his noble friend. This, he thought, might easily be done through the agency of the Local Government Board. A vast amount of ignorance existed in regard to the question, and it was surely time that such ignorance was dispelled by means of documents possessing all the weight of Parliamentary Returns, and whose accuracy could not be disputed. There ought to be no alarm raised by such a Return as was asked for, because the rental need not be inserted in it, although even that was given in Scotland. To show the great errors into which the public might be led, he would mention a fact brought under his notice by the noble Marquess sitting near him (the Marquess of Salisbury). According to the Census of 1861, the number of landed proprietors in Hertfordshire was only 245. The noble Marquess, however, doubted the accuracy of this statement, and after taking the trouble to investigate the matter for himself, he found that the number of landed proprietors in the county of Hertford at that time, according to the rate-book, was 8,833. Viscount Halifax said that his attention had been called, as had that of his noble friend opposite (the Earl of Derby), to the extraordinary statements made in certain newspapers, and at some public meetings, respecting the wonderfully small number of landed proprietors in this country. The fact was that very few persons were returned in the Census under the designation of "owners of land". He had looked over pages of the Census returns. The owners of land appeared under various designations, " gentlemen, merchants, shopkeepers, farmers, &c." Very few were returned as "landowners". For statistical purposes, he thought that we ought to know the number of owners of land in the United Kingdom, and there would be no difficulty in obtaining this information. He held in his hand the valuation list of a parish, giving the name of every owner, a description of the land, the estimated area, and the estimated rental. Such returns existed for every parish in England, and from them a return for all England might be compiled. He quite agreed with his noble friend, that it might not be desirable to give the rental, although he might remark that this was done in Scotland.. He had in his hand the valuation roll of the county of Edinburgh, which contained the rental of every owner in that county. He believed that in Scotland no objection had ever been taken to publishing the amount of rental. The Government considered it most desirable that the return should be prepared, and what he proposed to do was to give a nominal list of every owner of land to the extent of one acre or upwards in every county of England, together with the quantity of land which each owner had in the county. In regard to owners of less than one acre, he thought it would be sufficient to state their number in each county, without specifying their names. The same process would be gone through in Scotland and Ireland. The Marquess of Salisbury urged that the 999 years leaseholds ought to be included in the Returns. Viscount Halifax said that there would be great difficulty in ascertaining the precise tenure under which property was held. He quite agreed with the noble Marquess that owners of property held for 999 years, and of land under similar tenures, should appear as owners, and he thought it might be done. The valuation lists, however, to which he had referred only gave information as to the ownership of land and the quantity owned. In his opinion the best plan would be to treat as owner the person immediately above the occupying tenant. The Earl of Feversham suggested that the Returns should give a description of the land, stating whether it was in cultivation, woodland, or moor. Viscount Halifax remarked that the Government could not undertake to state the description of the land. An attempt to do this would lead to inextricable confusion.


Lord Halifax having accepted the case for the production of a Return, it was prepared by the Local Government Board, and was presented to both Houses of Parliament. The Return comprises the whole of England and Wales, exclusive of the Metropolis. It covered nearly 15,000 parishes whose records contained about 5,000,000 separate assessments. The instructions were issued to the relevant parish officials in September 1872, and the last return was received over two years later. The first examination of the returns disclosed nearly 250,000 defects, which were resolved by correspondence and other means of inquiry. All the statements and information contained in the Return, with the exception of the addresses of the owners, were derived from rating valuation lists for making assessments under the Poor Law, already held by every parish. Wealthy landowners were made thereby to pay a tax toward the upkeep of the poor.

Sources for Return

Unlike the Domesday Book the 1873 Return was not based on original research by surveyors sent out across the country to visit every parish, but was merely an exercise of compiling already existing data held at parish level. The valuation lists of 1873 were prepared under the provisions of the Union Assessment Committee Act of 1862, which was introduced by the Right Hon. C. P. Villiers, the then President of the Poor Law Board. A short time before 1836 the Poor Law Commissioners had issued an order directing that the poor rate should contain certain particulars, but it was the Parochial Assessment Act of 1836 which contained the first statutory provision which required the poor rate to be made out in a prescribed manner. The 1862 Act provided for the appointment of an Assessment Committee by the Guardians of every Union for the investigation and supervision of the valuation of the several rateable properties in each parish within the Union for the purpose of assessment, and as a preliminary step to such investigation and supervision the overseers of every parish were required to make out a list of all the rateable properties in each parish, with the annual values thereof, in the following form: Name of Occupier; Name of Owner; Description of Property; Name or Situation of Property; Estimated Extent; Gross Estimated Rental; Rateable Value. There existed therefore in 1873 valuation lists in this form for every parish, except in the case of a few single parishes under separate Boards of Guardians to which the Union Assessment Committee Act did not apply. Whilst the valuation lists of the various parishes were deposited with the clerks of the Unions, application was made to those officers to prepare and furnish the particulars for the 1873 Return, so far as regarded the parishes in their respective Unions, corrected as far as practicable from information within their reach, or which might be obtained from the parochial officers, with the addition of the addresses of the owners. Similar applications were made to the clerks to the guardians of single parishes not under the Union Assessment Committee Act.


The columns were headed from left: "Surname, Christian name, Acres, Rods, Perches, £, s"Areas are presented as A/R/P. A stands for acre of which there are 640 in 1 square mile. R refers to a rood which was a ploughing strip 220 yards long (1 furlong) and 5.5 yards wide (1 rod, pole or perch); 4 roods make 1 acre. P stands for a square pole, i.e. 30.25 square yards; 40 square poles comprise 1 rood. Rental is in £ (pound) and s (shilling); 20 shillings comprise £1. The £ s value given relates to the land's Gross Estimated Rental. Various problems were encountered in defining each of these main headings, as follows.

Names and addresses

The following notes appear in the Explanatory Statement at start of Return:

The greatest difficulty was found as to these columns. The parish lists are prepared only for the purposes of rating, and the material columns for the purpose of the assessments are those which contain the names of the occupiers and the statements of the gross estimated rental and rateable value of the property in each separate occupation. The latter statements are essential to show the basis upon which the rate is to be assessed and the sums to be paid, whilst the insertion of the names of the occupiers is required to point out the persons who are liable for the several amounts assessed. With regard to the column as to the names of the owners, however, it must be observed that although the prescribed form both of the poor rates and the valuation lists indicates that the name of the owner of the property in each separate occupation should be inserted in it, the overseers who prepare the lists are not empowered, as in the case of the valuation lists prepared under the Valuation (Metropolis) Act, 1869, to require any return of the names of the owners to be made to them, either by the occupiers or any other persons, and probably neither the valuation lists nor the rates would be invalidated if the names of the owners were omitted altogether. Nor is it easy, with the various tenures of property in this country, to lay down a precise rule as to what constitutes ownership. Persons, for instance, holding property under very long leases may fairly be considered as owners; but then the question immediately arises, what length of lease is sufficient for this purpose. There could be no question, as was said in the House of Lords, as to lessees for 999 years; and indeed lessees for shorter terms than that might properly be considered as owners. A more difficult question arose as to lessees for 99 years, the common term of building leases, and also as to some other cases. It was said on the one hand, that the holder of a building lease for 99 years, with occupying tenants under him, especially at the commencement of his term, might fairly be considered as an owner ; on the other that the holder of such a lease, when his term had nearly expired, could not be so considered. In some parts of England lands are frequently held on leases for lives constantly renewed, though without any right of renewal, and the lessees are generally treated as owners, though liable to be turned out on the expiration of the lives. Other cases of doubtful ownership might easily be suggested, and it became clear that only an arbitrary line could be drawn. After much consideration it was determined that lessees for terms exceeding 99 years, or with a right of perpetual renewal, should be considered as owners, but that lessees for terms of shorter duration, or for lives, without a right of renewal, should not be so considered. Instructions were issued to the Union Clerks to frame their Returns in accordance with this rule; but notwithstanding this direction, it is extremely probable that in several instances where properties have been held for long periods on beneficial leases or for lives, as is the case in some parts of England, the names of the lessees have been entered in the Return as owners, as neither the clerks nor the overseers would have had any reason to suppose that they were not the owners in fee. In some of the Rating Acts the term "owner" means either the immediate lessor of the premises, or the person receiving the rent of the same "for the use of any corporation or any public company, or of any landlord or lessee who shall be a minor or married woman, or insane, or for the use of any person for whom he is acting as agent". It is obvious that such persons are not really the owners of the property, and directions were therefore given, that whenever it was within the knowledge of the clerk or the overseers that the names of trustees, receivers, or other persons not beneficially interested in the property were entered in the owners' column, the names of the actual owners, if ascertainable, should be substituted. In the case of joint owners it is probable that in many cases one name only will have been returned as owner, though the clerks were directed, whenever the name and address of each owner could be ascertained, to insert them. Moreover, the Act does not require any periodical revision of the valuation lists as under the Metropolis Valuation Act of 1869, and a mere change of ownership would not render the preparation of a supplemental valuation list, or the revision of an existing list necessary. In some cases it was found that the names of owners who had died several years ago had been retained. In one instance where a property had been sold in lots, it appeared that the names of the new owners had not been inserted in the valuation list, and the single name of the former owner was still in the list. To obviate the difficulty from this source, the clerks were directed, when they were aware that changes in ownership had taken place, to substitute the names of the present owners in the Returns, and to apply to the overseers or rate collectors to assist in revising the Returns before their final completion. Although the foregoing remarks refer chiefly to the Owners column in the Valuation Lists, it should be stated that this column has been found to be filled up with still less accuracy in the rate books in those parishes where the Union Assessment Committee Act is not in force. This observation applies to several important towns, where, owing to the large number of separate occupations, and the fact that the rents are paid in numerous cases to lessees, trustees, or agents, the difficulties of ascertaining the names of the owners or ground landlords may be said to be almost insurmountable. When the necessary particulars relating to all the Unions in each county had been received by the Local Government Board, it became the duty of that Department to arrange and consolidate the separate parish and union returns into one Return for the whole county, and in doing this a further difficulty arose. To make a correct county Return, the name of each owner ought to appear only once, and all the property belonging to him within the county should be included under his name. When, however, the same name appeared more than once in the several Union lists, the Board in London could not determine whether there were two or more persons with the same name, or whether the name of the same person was repeated. For the purpose as far as possible of identifying the owners, it had been required that their names and addresses, when the latter could be ascertained, should be given in full and as accurately as possible. Where the same name with the same address occurred more than once in the returns, it might be assumed as probable that the entries referred to the same person, but when the same name occurred with a different address, it was probable, though by no means certain, that different persons were intended. In all these cases it became necessary to communicate with the clerks of the several Unions in which the name appeared, to ascertain if it referred to the same or different persons ; thus, for example, the name of John Smith might appear in a county 12 times, and in as many different Unions, and inquiry had to be made in each Union to ascertain whether the name indicated one and the same person, or whether they were 12 separate persons of that name. A reference to some of the Welsh counties, where there are large numbers of owners of the same Christian and surnames, e.g., the county of Cardigan, where the name David Davies occurs above 53 times, and John Jones above 70 times, will show the labour involved in this branch of the inquiry, and it may be added that, independently of other inquiries, upwards of 300,000 separate applications had to be sent to the clerks to clear up questions in reference to duplicate entries. In some cases it has been found impracticable to discover the addresses of the owners, and whenever there is a single entry in the address column within brackets it must be understood to show the parish in which the . property is situate and not the residence of the owner; where there are two entries in the address column, one of them in brackets, it indicates that it has been ascertained that the two persons with the same address are two distinct persons. Where the owners appear to be corporate bodies, or to hold their lands in virtue of a public office, the names are printed in italics; but the Return must not be assumed to be complete in this respect, as there is reason to believe that in many cases the name of an individual is entered instead of the body or office which he represents, and this remark applies especially to glebe lands. Notwithstanding all the care that has been taken, there can be no doubt that in several cases the name of the same person will appear more than once in the county Return, but, on the other hand, there will be many cases in which only one name will appear as owner, although the property is really in several hands.

Estimated extents

The following notes appear in the Explanatory Statement at start of Return:

The estimated extent of land in connexion with each assessment is probably taken, in most cases, either from some former rate or survey, or from the account given by the occupying tenant of the acreage of his holding. Extreme accuracy therefore could not be expected, and in many cases, especially in those of small properties, the acreage was found to be omitted altogether. Where the acreage was not entered in the Valuation Lists, the clerks were requested to furnish the best estimate in their power; but there are instances in which the Board have been unable to obtain any sufficient information on this head, and in these cases the column is necessarily left blank. It will doubtless be observed that a small acreage frequently represents a large rental, but this may arise either from the value of the land being increased by houses or other buildings upon it, or by the value of coal worked below its surface, or in some few cases by the absence of information as to the extent of a portion of the property. Instances will also be noticed of a large acreage being represented by a comparatively small rental; and the explanation of most of these will be found in the fact that a considerable portion of the land is of a mountainous, or similarly unproductive character. For "Waste" and Common land uncertainties arose. If they yield no profit they are not rated, and are not included in the valuation lists, and it is only where a parish map or survey has shown the extent of these lands that the clerk to the guardians or the parish officers could be expected to state the area accurately. In other cases an estimate, more or less conjectural, of the actual extent is all the information which could be obtained.

Gross estimated rental

The following notes appear in the Explanatory Statement at start of Return:

The column in the Valuation Lists as to the gross estimated rental is necessarily filled up with more care, as it is the basis upon which the rateable value is determined. The amount appearing in the column of gross estimated rental in this Return under the name of each owner is the aggregate of the amounts appearing under his name in the various parochial Lists of the county. It must, however, always be borne in mind that the amount of the gross estimated rental as shown in the parish Returns and consequently in this Return, is not the amount of the rent, payable to the person under whose name as owner it appears, but the amount of the entire rents which the occupying tenants of the whole property would be presumed to pay to their immediate lessors. In the case of purely agricultural land, the column "gross estimated rental" is intended to show the rent at which the property might reasonably be expected to let from year to year, the tenant undertaking to pay all usual tenant's rates and taxes and tithe commutation rentcharge, if any, and, in the case of agricultural land, the value contained in this column will probably be found not to differ widely from the actual rental of the owner. In the case of house or mineral property, the case is totally different, and this column affords no criterion of the rents received by the owners. This is very obvious in the case of land let on building leases. The rent received by the owner is, generally speaking, a mere ground rent reserved from the person to whom the land was originally let, of which no account is contained in the valuation lists, whilst the rental shown in those lists is the estimated amount of rent payable by the occupying tenant to the person from whom he takes the house. The ground landlord may be in the receipt of a few pounds, whilst the estimated rent of the occupying tenants, which nevertheless appears in the rental column under the name of the ground landlord, may be many thousand pounds. There will be considerable discrepancies in the Return in respect of the rental of the owners of house property, arising from the different modes in which the Valuation Lists have been prepared, and which it has been found quite impossible to correct. In some cases all the property of one ground landlord, with the amount of the rent payable by the occupying tenants to their intermediate lessors, will appear under the single name of the ground landlord, and a large rental will appear under his name, very far indeed exceeding the amount which he himself receives. There must be in the Return several such cases of which the Local Government Board can have no knowledge; but five remarkable instances may be referred to in the cases of Sir John St. Aubyn and Sir L. Palk in Devonshire, Lord Calthorpe in Warwickshire, and the Duke of Norfolk and Sir John William Ramsden in the West Riding of Yorkshire. In other cases the names of the lessees will have been entered as owners, or the lessees will have been included in the aggregate number of owners under an acre, and in these cases the number of owners, according to the definition of the word "owner" adopted in this Return, will have been unduly increased. It is quite impossible, without considerable local knowledge, and a minute investigation into the returns of town parishes, which would occupy a very long time, to make the Return actually correct in this respect. In like manner, where the land includes a coal mine which is leased to a company, the gross rental which appears in the parish lists may represent a sum considerably in excess of the sum which goes into the pockets of the landowner. There are other matters in relation to the Return which require to be noticed. Property which is not rated does not appear in the parish lists, and consequently not in this Return. At the time when the Return was prepared the following kinds of property were not rateable : 1.Mines other than coal mines ; and with respect to coal mines, it must be observed that in those parishes where there are only underground workings, and no surface occupation with the mine, the valuation lists do not indicate the particular lands under which the workings are carried on, and consequently do not show the enhanced value of the land to the owner. 2.Woods, except where they consist of or contain saleable underwood. No notice is taken in the Return of any property of these descriptions.

Comparison with Domesday Book

The following notes appear in the Explanatory Statement at start of Return:

As the term " Domesday Book" has been frequently applied to the present Return, it may not be out of place to refer briefly to the celebrated Survey of the Kingdom which was made by command of the Conqueror, to show the different character of the two undertakings, and the different means resorted to in their compilation. In the year 1085 serious apprehensions appear to have been entertained of an invasion of the kingdom by the Danes, and the difficulty which the King then experienced in putting the country into a satisfactory state of defence led him to form the notion of having a general survey made of the whole kingdom, so, as Sir Martin Wright observes, "to discover " the quantity of every man's fee, and to fix his homage," or, in other words, to ascertain the quantity of land held by each person, and the quota of military aid which he was bound to furnish in proportion to the extent of his holding. To secure accuracy of results, Commissioners or King's Justiciaries (Legati Regis) were appointed with ample powers to ascertain " upon the oath of the several Sheriffs, Lords of Manors, Presbyters, Reeves, Bailiffs, or Villans, according to " the nature of the place, what was the name of the place, who held it in the time of the Confessor, who was the present " holder, how many hides of land there were in the manor, how many carrucates in demesne, how many homagers, how many " villans, how many cotarii, how many servi, what freemen, how many tenants in socage, what quanity of wood, how much " meadow and pasture, what mills and fish-ponds, how much added or taken away, what was the gross value in King " Edward's time, what the present value, and how much each free-man or soc-man had or has." All this was to be estimated— 1st, as the estate was held in the time of the Confessor; 2ndly, as it was bestowed by the King himself; and, 3rdly, as its value stood at the time of the survey. All these particulars were ascertained for each county, the Commissioners sending in Returns (breviates) for each county separately, and from these Returns Domesday Book, or the General Register for the whole kingdom, was compiled. It will be seen, therefore, that the object of the Conqueror's survey was to ascertain the amount of military service and other assistance upon which he could depend; and that for this purpose he instituted an inquiry of a very searching and inquisitorial character into the nature and extent of the landed possessions of his subjects, sending special Commissioners into every locality, with power to summon the inhabitants and compel them to make a full disclosure of their property on oath. Notwithstanding, however, these stringent measures for insuring accuracy, there is no doubt that the Commissioners did not always obtain or furnish correct information, and that sometimes, as in the case of the present Return, the statements of what we should now designate as the " Gross Estimated Rental," and the " Estimated Extent," are not altogether reliable. Ingulph, the historian of Croyland, in referring to the survey of the possessions of that abbey, expressly says, " Isti" (taxatores) " penes nostrum monasterium benevoli et amantes non ad verum pretium nec ad verum " spatium nostrum monasterium librabant, misericorditer praecaventes in futurum exactionibus et aliis oneribus, piisima " nobis benevolentia providentes."—Oxford edition, p. 79. With respect to the result of this inquiry, so far as it discloses the number of landowners existing at that time, it must be observed that although the Domesday Book may be considered as a fair record of the number of persons having a direct interest in land, it is almost impossible, owing to the different designations under -which they are classified, to distinguish those who may properly be considered as owners from those who were in the possession of land as mere occupiers only. The following estimate, which is extracted from the work of Sir H. Ellis, may perhaps be taken as showing proximately the number of persons who can properly be regarded as having claim to be considered as holders of land upon some legally recognised tenure :
  • Tenants in capite, or persons holding directly from the Crown : 1,400
  • Subfeudatarii, or under-tenants holding their estates from some mesne Lord : 7,871
  • Liberi homines, or freeholders under the Lord of a manor, usually by military service: 12,400 *Sochemanni or Socmen, holding on some fixed and determined rent service:23,072
  • Homines, or feudatory tenants holding on homage:1,300
  • Cotarii and Coscets, or cottagers holding small parcels of land :7,000
  • Presbyteri, or clergy:1,000
  • Eadmanni, a species of tenants in socage: 370
  • Milites, or persons holding under mesne Lords in respect of military service:140
  • Aloarii, or absolute hereditary owners:12
  • Other owners, viz., Angli and Anglici, Beures or Coliberti, Censarii or Censores, &c:248

Total of recorded landholders: 54,813 The Burgenses, or Burgesses, who were returned as 7,968, are not included in the above list, as it is impossible to distinguish those who held lands in their individual from those who held in a corporate capacity, and many of them were evidently not owners in any sense of the term. Moreover the Villeins, of whom there were 108,407, are omitted, because it is quite certain that, when they occupied small portions of land, they did so on sufferance only. In fact they were regarded as mere chattels, which could be bought or sold, and they were not allowed by law to acquire any property, either in land or in goods.

It should be added that the present counties of Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Durham were not included in the survey.

England & Wales

The Return was published commercially in 1875 and sold for 10s 6d in two leather-bound volumes edited by John Lambert as "England and Wales (Exclusive of the Metropolis): Return of Owners of Land, 1873; Presented to both Houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty; London, printed by George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode. Printers to the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty. For her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1875"[4]


The Scottish Return was published in 1874 as: "Scotland: Owners of Lands and Heritages 17 & 18 Vict., Cap. 91, 1872–3 Return: I: Of the name and address of every owner of one acre and upwards in extent (outside the municipal boundaries of boroughs containing more than 20,000 inhabitants) with the estimated acreage and the annual value of the land and heritages of individual owners. And iof the number of owners of less than one acre with the estimated aggregate acreage and annual value of the lands and heritage of such owners in each county II: A similar return for municipal boroughs containing more than 20,000 inhabitants. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty; Edinburgh: Printed by Murray and Gibb, printers to Her Majesty's Stationmery Office, 1874"


In 1873, the Local Government Board in Ireland set about to ascertain the number and names of owners of land of one acre and upwards in Ireland. Clerks of the various Poor Law Unions were called upon to draw up lists of such persons from the property valuation and rate books in their custody. The lists were returned to the Local Government Board by the end of 1875, arranged into counties, alphabetised, and finally published in 1876 in 200 pages under the title Return of Owners of Land of One Acre and Upwards, in the Several Counties, Counties of Cities, and Counties of Towns in Ireland.


The publication of the Return had a serious political purpose yet it became sought after reading amongst society in general, not least amongst the landed classes themselves. Bateman in the preface to his 1883 work (see below) summarised the situation as follows:

"That the affairs of one's neighbours are of no little interest to men of every class of life has perhaps never been more strongly proved than by the production of and great demand for "The Modern Domesday Book." Not only have Mr. Frederick Purdy and others analysed it, Mr. Lyulph Stanley abused it, Mr. John Bright moved its digestion in the House, and the "Spectator" and other London journals scathingly criticised it, but the immense herd of country newspapers have actually reproduced it, as far as their own neighbourhoods are concerned, in their columns, much, probably, to the satisfaction of the bulk of readers, to whom twenty-six shillings (the price of the English volumes alone) is prohibitory. As an example of this, I may mention, that having a small party in my house during one of those dubious weeks which come in 'twixt the close of the hunting and the beginning of the London season, I was saved all Marthean cares as to the amusement of my guests simply by leaving about on the table the two huge volumes of " The Modern Domesday," over which I found bowed with the utmost constancy two or more heads. I heard from one of my guests that the copy of the work at the "Ultratorium"[5] was reduced to rags and tatters within a fortnight of its arrival a lesson which was not wasted on the library committee of my own club, who caused the book to be so bound as to defy anything short of a twelve -year-old school-boy".

Corrected & derivative editions

John Bateman FRGS (1839–1910) published in 1876 The Acre-Ocracy of England, based on the 1873 Return. In 1883, under the Harrison imprint, he issued a corrected and edited version of the 1873 Return, which in many instances differs very significantly from the original. He listed the commonest sources of error in his preface. The fourth and last edition of his work was entitled: The Great Landowners of Great Britain and Ireland, A list of all owners of Three thousand acres and upwards, worth £3,000 a year; Also, one thousand three hundred owners of Two thousand acres and upwards, in England, Scotland, Ireland, & Wales, their acreage and income from Land, Culled from "The Modern Domesday Book". It was republished in 1971 by the Leicester University Press, New York Citying text from the 1883 edition, and had an introduction by David Spring.


  • Explanatory Statement at start of 1873 Return [1]
  • [2]

External links

  • Scotland: Owners of Land and Heritages 1872–73 Return
  • UK Genealogy Archives; Transcript of Explanatory Statement


  1. ^ "Returns of Owners of Land, 1873, Wales, Scotland, Ireland". Retrieved 15 April 2013. 
  2. ^ Hoskins, W.G., A New Survey of England: Devon, London, 1954, p.87
  3. ^ Printed in Explanatory Statement at start of Return
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Ultratorium", a fictitious Gentlemans' Club
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