Thirty landowners own nearly half the county of West Berkshire.
That’s the startling conclusion I’ve come to after analysing maps released to me by West Berkshire Council, following an FOI request.
These thirty landowners are overwhelmingly private individuals, inheritance trusts, companies and offshore firms, alongside a smattering of public and third-sector bodies.
Their identities offer a telling insight into the landowning elite of modern England: baronial estates owned by the same aristocratic families for centuries sit next to stately piles snapped up by newly-moneyed businessmen, organic farms, and horse-racing studs registered in the Cayman Islands. Newspaper magnate Baron Iliffe jostles for landowning supremacy with H&M chairman Stefan Persson, London property mogul Sir Richard Sutton, and three scions of the wealthy Astor family.
And the county’s single biggest landowner is… the MP for Newbury, Richard Benyon – owner of the Englefield Estate and the richest man in the House of Commons.
The extremely concentrated pattern of land ownership in West Berkshire is all the more shocking when viewed alongside what the average resident of the county owns. I spent the first eighteen years of my life growing up in Newbury, the main town in West Berkshire. 66,000 people – 40% of the county’s population – live in Newbury and the neighbouring town of Thatcham. These settlements cover a mere 2.4% of the land surface of West Berkshire, and some of the housing will be rented rather than owned by the occupants. Yet 44% of the county is owned by just thirty individuals and organisations.
This analysis is possible because West Berkshire Council have an unusually extensive register of landowners, who have deposited maps of their estates under an obscure piece of legislation in order to protect their land from future rights-of-way claims – Section 31.6 of the Highways Act. This little-known provision is a goldmine of information on land ownership, which I’ve written about before. West Berks Council have already made much of this information public on their website, including a PDF map. I made an FOI request to the council asking they release a GIS version of this map, in Shapefile format, which they did.
I then combined this map with other GIS data on land held by overseas and offshore firms (courtesy of Private Eye), and land owned by the Ministry of Defence and other central government departments. I was able to fill in some of the gaps in ownership by using Natural England’s Environmental Stewardship maps (put online by Anna Powell-Smith here), and checking if the recipients of these farm subsidies were also by the landowners via the Land Registry.
The resulting map is here:
Attribution: Highways Act s31.6 layer: no licensing information was supplied when West Berkshire Council released this GIS data under FOI. Environmental Stewardship polygons: data from data.gov.uk, used under the Open Government Licence, © Natural England 2017. Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2017. Government land: GIS data extracted from ePIMS, Open Government Licence.
The top thirty landowners in West Berkshire are profiled in the table below. A longer list, of over 80 landowners, is in this Google spreadsheet. To identify and profile the owners, extensive use has been made of Companies House, CAP subsidy data, Land Registry title deeds, estate websites, and general internet searches. West Berkshire Council is among the top thirty landowners, but they haven’t published a map of their land, and their public Asset Register doesn’t list the acreages of the land they own. However, I’ve been passed data from an FOI request to the Land Registry that lists the area of land owned by each council, including West Berks.
This, of course, is just a case study of one county. It’s difficult to profile private landownership in other counties because I’ve not yet found a council with landowner deposits approaching this level of coverage, let alone available in a digital map format.
But is West Berkshire unique in being owned by a landed elite? I very much doubt it.
|Englefield Estate||12,332||Owned by Richard Benyon, MP for Newbury. Estate measures 12,332 acres on map. Benyon also owns an 8,000-acre grouse moor in Scotland; total landholdings stated by the Daily Mail to be some 20,000 acres.|
|Yattendon Estates Ltd||8,295||Estate of Baron Iliffe. The title of Baron Iliffe was created in 1933 for newspaper baron Sir Edward Iliffe, then part-owner of the Daily Telegraph and various regional papers. The present Baron, Richard Edward Iliffe, continues to own several regional media titles and has an estimated fortune of £200m, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. Estate website here; calculated total tallies with the “nearly 9,000 acres” stated on website.|
|Sir Richard Sutton’s Settled Estates||6,962||Estate website states the estate runs to 6,500 acres. Large pheasant shoot. Sir Richard Sutton also owns property in Mayfair and Soho, and land at the Stainton Estate in NE Lincolnshire; Dorset; and Aberdeneenshire.|
|Eling Estate – The Gerald Palmer Trust||5,202||Charitable trust set up by Gerald Palmer to adminster the estate. See here and here.|
|Woolley Park Estate||3,311||The Wooley Park Estate has a seemingly complex ownership structure involving various trusts and beneficiaries – registrants include South Fawley Farms, Kirsten Lloyd, Philip Wroughton 2012 Settlement, von Summ and von Summ No.2 Grandchildrens Settlement. (To calculate the land area from the maps supplied, I had to remove duplicate entries from different years with overlapping polygons).|
|Ministry of Defence||3,166||Land at Greenham Common, AWE Aldermaston, Burghfield, and RAF Welford. West Berkshire is deeply entwined with the nuclear establishment and also with anti-nuclear protests. Aldermaston was the target of CND’s famous early marches during the late 1950s. Greenham Common was infamously the site chosen to host US nuclear cruise missiles during the 1980s, and subsequently attracted mass demonstrations, including the long-standing Greenham Womens’ Peace Camp.|
|Wasing Estate||3,059||Belonged to the Mount Family since the 18th century. Now owned by Lady Mary Cecilia and Sir William Stratford Dugdale, Baronet. Estate website.|
|Ramsbury SaRL – Hungerford Estate, Littlecote Park Estate & Linkenholt Manor Estate||2,780||Owned offshore. Ramsbury SaRL own Hungerford Park Estate, Littlecote Park Estate, and Linkenholt Manor Estate in West Berks, and huge estates in neighbouring Wiltshire. Ultimate owner is Stefan Persson, chairman of high street fashion chain H&M. Estate website.|
|Lockinge Trust||2,677||Unclear who the ultimate beneficiaries of the Lockinge Trust are. Estate website states it runs to 6,000 acres, so map may not show all of it. Lockinge House was demolished in 1947 due to ‘insufficient wealth owing to double death duties’. But clearly an Estate remains.|
|Rooksnest Estate||2,613||Owned offshore, registered in Bermuda and Jersey. Various registrants: Earl’s Court Farm Ltd, Jem Ltd, Aerolab Ltd, Hagen, Stream Valley Corporation, Upstream Valley Corporation, Dryden Ltd. None of these appear on Companies House except for Earl’s Court Farm Ltd. Earls Court Farm Ltd received £304,300 in CAP subsidies in 2015, the vast majority as Single Area Payment. Company accounts show that all these ofshore entities are ultimately owned by the Millennium Trust and Racine Trust – two mysterious organisations with no apparent internet presence. Douglas Docherty is one of the registrants mentioned in the register of landowner deposits, based in Bermuda. Another is Jonathan G White; according to Bloomberg, “Mr. White specialises in providing trust related advice and services to high net worth clients.”|
|Welford Estate||2,595||Shown on Environmental Stewardship maps produced by Natural England. Estate website. Owned currently by James Puxley.|
|West Berkshire Council||2,555||Figure obtained by Private Eye journalist via FOI to Land Registry (data on land areas owned by all registered landowners in their Corporate & Commerical Landowners dataset). West Berkshire council is not recorded by Defra as being a Smallholdings Authority, but it does own some farmland and nature reserves, like Snelsmore Common, as well as schools, playing fields etc.|
|The Trustees of the Chilton Estate (Mrs S P Scrope)||2,119||Estate website says the estate runs to “almost 2,000 acres”. Owned by Sarah Scrope, descendant of Sir John and Lady Ward who acquired the estate a century ago.|
|BEIS (UK Govt) – former Institute of Animal Health, Compton||2,029||IAH Compton closed in 2016 but BEIS still appear to own the land. The land has been considered for re-development, but West Berks Council state it may require decontamination before it is suitable for residential housing.|
|Kirby House Estate||1,875||The land title is registered in the name of ‘Walbury Properties Ltd’, but no such firm can be found on Companies House. However, this is likely a name adopted from Walbury Hill, which lies within the Estate. News reports state that the Astor family bought Kirby Estate in 1950s. Environmental Stewardship maps of the area show that Lillifarms Ltd farm the area, and the Astor family are among the directors. This particular scion of the wealthy Astor family (including Charles John, Katherine Mary, John Richard, and Tamara Sarah Diana Astor) are the immediate descendants of John Astor, former Conservative MP for Newbury.|
|Sheepdrove Farm – Warren Farm, Lambourn||1,805||Large organic farm. Owners Peter and Juliet Kindersley took the government to court over its handling of the Foot & Mouth crisis in 2001.|
|Bucklebury Estate||1,600||Estate website states they own 1,600 acres. ES maps and map of Bucklebury Common, which they own, bears this out.|
|Hendred Settled Estate (Thomas M Eyston & Sister Mary Amicia Eyston)||1,517||Estate website. The Eyston family have held the estate for 600 years.|
|Oak Ash Estate, Chaddleworth (Griffiths-Jones)||1,235||Estate appears to be owned by a publisher / bookseller, William Richard Hunter Griffiths-Jones (Companies House entry).|
|Inholmes Estate, Lambourn||1,211||Owned offshore – Chelsea Trust Company Ltd, Jersey. Declaration signed by Jonathan White, who is also solicitor for offshore-owned Rooksnest Estate (above). But West Berks register of landowner deposits also records name of Sir Francis Owen Garbett Williams as being associated with the property – aka Frank Williams, the Formula One racing legend.|
|Bagnor Estate||1,136||Owned by computer software tycoon Philip Ward Lever. Removed duplicate entries from different years with overlapping polygons.|
|Sulham Estate||988||Home to the Wilder family since the 1400s. Shown on Environmental Stewardship maps produced by Natural England.|
|Eddington Estate||949||Owned since the 1980s by Sir Peter Michael, software businessman who also founded Classic FM. Shown on Environmental Stewardship maps produced by Natural England.|
|Nugent Farms Ltd||939||Farm in Lambourn, appears to be both productive cropland/ pasture and horseracing gallops. Owned offshore – registered in the Cayman Islands. Only individual associated with it is one David Barratt. Website has virtually no information though there is an email address for “David@nugentfarms.com”. Received £195,726 in CAP subsidies in 2015, the great majority as Single Area Payment. Previously called Dulan Ltd; a small patch of land is still registered under Dulan Ltd nearby. One registered charge, to Kingsdown Estates Ltd, another racing establishment next door.|
|The Marlston Estate (Astor)||861||Landowner deposit register states Mr Robert Astor, who is the brother of James Alexander Walford Astor, owner of the Sulhamstead Estate (see below) and a scion of the wealthy Astor family.|
|EDG Stevens, Leaze Farm, Lechlade & Kintbury Holt Farm||697||Farm.|
|National Trust||686||Properties at The Holies, Bucklebury, Pangbourne Meadow, Lough Down, Lardon Chase, Basildon Park.|
|Marcham Farms, Peasemore||631||Owned by John Lincoln Duffield, a wealthy businessman who founded Jupiter Asset Management and sold it for £175m. Marcham Farms Ltd on Companies House lists John Lincoln Duffield as one of the Directors.|
|Sparsholt Manor Estate||586||Sir Adrian Swire and Lady Judith Swire. Sir Adrian is a billionaire heir and businessman, inheritor of a family fortune earned through the Swire Group, a huge conglomerate that mostly operates in the Asia-Pacific region. Lady Judith is the daughter of William Bingham Compton, 6th Marquess of Northampton.|
|The Sulhamstead Estate||572||Landowner deposit register states James Alexander Waldorf Astor – a scion of the wealthy Astor family and brother of Robert Astor, owner of the nearby Malston Estate (see above). Companies House has him down as the director of various waste disposal companies.|
|Totals: 30 landowners||76,983 acres||44% of West Berkshire|
The total land area of West Berkshire is 704km2, or 174,011 acres. West Berkshire’s total population in 2015 was estimated to be 156,020 (which would mean each inhabitant could own slightly over an acre, if divided equally); Newbury and Thatcham have a combined population of 66,285. Yet Newbury and Thatcham cover just 4,151 acres (measured outline on Googlemaps) – 2.4% of the total land area of West Berkshire.