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The Freehold Tenants Of The Manor Of Rusthall
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The purpose of this note is to provide a brief history of the Freehold Tenants and to establish their role in a contemporary context. It is primarily aimed at those applying for registration and lays greater emphasis on the current role exercised through their representation on the Board of Commons Conservators. It was through the Commons Conservators that the Freehold Tenants promoted plans for the improved management of both commons following the damage caused by the storms of October 1987 and January 1990. Our proposals led to a full survey of the commons by the Kent Trust for Nature Conservation in 1990/1991 and the subsequent appointment of the commons warden in 1992. Since then a more formal management plan has been prepared by the warden covering annual maintenance and a rolling programme of improvement projects.


The Manor of Rusthall is an ancient freehold that extends west from London Road to Langton and from the Eridge Road north towards Rusthall and Speldhurst. Within the bounds of the Manor of Rusthall are the “Wastes of the Manor” which, in the main, comprise Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall Commons. The area covered is approximately 250 acres. It is in respect of the Wastes of the Manor that the Freehold Tenants may still exercise certain rights. The rights formerly enabled the Freehold Tenants to graze livestock on the commons and gather stone, sand. soil and bedding materials for their animals. To qualify to register as a Freehold Tenant ownership/occupation of land or property within the Bounds of the Manor has to be confirmed by the Committee of the Freehold Tenants. The process of registration requires the completion of a form (available from the Secretary) supported by written proof of title; normally from a solicitor or Bank/Building Society Manager.
The affairs of the Freehold Tenants are governed by several Acts of Parliament and business is conducted at an annual general meeting and by delegated authority at the quarterly meetings of the committee. There are currently 30 registered Freehold Tenants with nine standing on the committee.

The business dealt with at the AGM and committee meetings relates to the management of the commons, schemes for improvements, negotiations with the “Trustees” of the Manor and with the maintenance of proper accounts and the Register of Freehold Tenants.
The first Rusthall Manor Act was passed in 1739. This act gave a legal framework to the dealings between the Freehold Tenants and the Lord of the Manor.

The Act was passed as a means to resolve several disputes that had arisen between the two parties over the enclosure of part of the Wastes of the Manor and the erection of buildings around the “medicinal springs” (ie the Pantiles). Under the 1739 Act the disputed area was divided into three and lots were drawn; two by the Lord of the Manor and one by the Freehold Tenants. Though the Freehold Tenants no longer have any interest in their lot the Manor still retains the Freehold of many properties in the Pantiles and both commons.

Under the act of 1739 other arrangements were made to protect the wastes of the manor from further encroachment without the express consent of the Freehold Tenants. The Act allowed for the allocation of any profits arising from subsequent encroachments to be shared two thirds to the Manor and one third to the Freehold Tenants. In addition the Act confirmed other beneficial rights for the Freehold Tenants in terms of acquiring or using the natural resources available from both commons.

The minute and account books of the Freehold Tenants from the early 1800’s give a detailed picture of how the commons were managed. The Lord of the Manor had effectively delegated to the Freehold Tenants the responsibility to mange all the work on the commons and to “police” any infringement or encroachment. The Freehold Tenants also negotiated all rents and fees for rights of way and the building of new roads across the commons. Examples of this include the building of two new roads off Major Yorks Road – Hungershall Park and Nevill Park. The income received by the Freehold Tenants in the 19 th century was invested in the names of the two Stewards. It was in part remitted to the Lord of the Manor and was also used to pay the poundkeeper, commons ranger and for works of improvement.

Page last updated: 13/02/2007