Should Leagrave Marsh be fenced?

 

Leagrave Marsh cattle

Cattle on Leagrave Marsh (undated)

An ancient controversy with respect to Leagrave Common was revived at the Court Leet of the Manor of Luton on Thursday, when Mr E. A. Cumberland introduced proposals on behalf of the owners of the common rights of the Marsh.

The principal of these was that something should be done to fence in the Marsh, so that the common could be used very much better than in the past. For some years, it was explained, the further end of the common nearer Sundon has been fenced in, the fence being put up at the beginning of time for turning on [cattle] in May, and taken down at the end of the time, and the common right-holders have suggested that something of the same sort should be done at the end near the Horse Shoes Inn or the Midland Railway, so that cattle can be turned on and left there day and night.

Mr James Baker [Steward of the Manor of Luton] had been seen on the question of putting up the fence or providing the material but he decided that, as there was a great deal of opposition to putting up a fence, nothing should be done as far as the Lady of the Manor was concerned.

This opposition, Mr Cumberland said, came from only one man now and, although he was very obnoxious and talked a lot about what he was going to, it was mere bluster than anything else. The common right-holders would put up the fence themselves if the material was found, but he thought it was better that the permission of the jury should be asked before any move was made in the matter. Some of the men had promised that if the objector interfered they would "chuck him in the river," so that if the fence was put up it could be relied upon that care would be taken to keep it up.

Mr Cumberland also announced that some of the common right-holders objected to paying their proportion of the tithe chargeable upon the land, because they said they were not the owners of the soil, and a suggestion he made with regard to that was that the Board of Agriculture should be asked to permit the sale of the small piece of common land on the other side of the railway, which was of no use to anybody, and the proceeds devoted to getting rid of the tithe rent charge.

Mr Baker intimated that if the jury thought the fencing should be done the Lady of the Manor would be more than pleased to provide the materials, but he had ascertained that it was thought if the Lady of the Manor put the fence up it would be continually pulled down and would cause not end of expense and a good deal of trouble to the Steward of the Manor.

However, Mr William Austin, the Deputy Steward, said the Lady of the Manor had no right or authority or power whatever to fence the common. To fence a common nowadays was, to the British public, like flourishing a red flag to a bull, and he was absolutely certain that, however considerate the commoners might be towards the public generally, directly the Lady of the Manor fenced that common should would have serious difficulty and have it knocked down, and, if it was knocked down in the fashion he anticipated, he knew of no authority to punish the people who did it.

There was a way of getting over this difficulty, and in order to facilitate that he brought before the Rural District Council some years ago the desirability of their taking advantage of the Commons Act, which enables a Council to apply to the Board of Agriculture for a scheme for the management and regulation of any public common within its district.

In the Luton Rural District they had taken over the regulation of several commons, amongst them Leagrave Marsh, and in pursuance of the powers vested in the District Council under that scheme, he once proposed that they should fence Leagrave Marsh Common at both ends. The Council saw that it was a most excellent and desirable thing to do, and agreed to it, but sooner was it reported in the papers than opposition arose, and this opposition was of such a pronounced character that the Council they would not thrust themselves into a hornet's nest, and so they simply retired from the scheme.

What he therefore suggested to the jury was that if a representation was made to the Rural District Council, that it was desirable in the interests of the people of Leagrave and of the commoners that the common should be fenced, and if Lady Wernher was willing to provide the material it might facilitate matters.

On the question of the tithe, Mr Austin advised as a matter of sound law that the commoners, as the people who enjoyed the fruits of the common,were liable to pay the tithe, and, from previous experience, he was of the opinion that there was not a shadow of possibility of getting through such a scheme as suggested by Mr Cumberland, for the detached piece of land.

It was therefore agreed to drop these particular questions and deal solely with the fencing proposal, which Mr Baker emphasised was not intended as a means of keeping the public out, but rather to increase the benefit to the public.

The jury were unanimous is agreeing to make the representation suggested, except for Mr T. Neville, who said that when they interfered with a right of way they were up against a big thing.

[The Luton Reporter: Monday, June 19th, 1916]