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The Freehold Tenants Of The Manor Of Rusthall
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The improvement work was wide ranging and included tree planting, clearing bracken and gorse, filling in ponds and the planning and construction of paths and roads across both Tunbridge Wells and Rusthall commons. Many paths were built following public subscriptions and were seen as useful ways of “occupying the poor” of the town.

In 1863 a second Manor of Rusthall Act was passed. This was needed to control the use being made of the commons by the local inhabitants and to lay down formal procedures for the registration of Freehold Tenants. The form for registration is still as laid down under this act. The cost of promoting the Act was shared between the Lord of the Manor and the Freehold Tenants in the same proportion as income was divided. The Freehold Tenants drew up the bye-laws (which were approved by the Lord of the Manor) and through the committee and officers enforced them. It has to be said that this act served both to protect the commons and the vested interest of the Freehold Tenants and the Lord of the Manor. Rights of pasture and the gathering of bedding for livestock were important considerations for the local community in the last half of the 19 th century.

The next piece of relevant legislation was the Tunbridge Wells Improvement Act of 1890. This Act was promoted to regulate the affairs of the newly incorporated Borough of Tunbridge Wells. It did, however, provide for the creation of the Board of Commons Conservators. There were to be twelve conservators; four nominated by the local authority, four nominated by the Freehold Tenants and four nominated by the Lord of the Manor. The Conservators were given power under the act “to execute works of drainage and improvement …… as may be required”. The Act enabled further bye-laws to be drawn up for the approval of the Secretary of State. The affairs and influence of the Freehold Tenants appear to have been little affected by the passing of this Act and they continued to play the leading part in determining what works should be undertaken on the commons. The last half of the 19 th century saw a considerable expansion in the population of Tunbridge Wells and nearby villages.

Towards the end of the century signs of discord among the Freehold Tenants grew as a number sought to force a distribution of the accrued income among the registered Freehold Tenants. Clearly, with many new properties in the area whose owners/occupiers had not registered, a fair distribution of income was not a practical proposition. Accordingly a third Rusthall Manor Act was drafted and received royal assent in 1902. This act laid down the conditions for the review and update of the Register and made provision for an annual distribution of income after deduction of expenses. One odd provision of the act makes registration the obligation of any person eligible; though no reference to this fact appears to be included within the deeds of any qualifying property.

The act was also severely flawed in that it made provision for the distribution of revenue income but not for capital receipts from the outright sale of common land or the granting of permanent easements.

An annual distributions of surplus revenue continued from 1902 to 1962 at which time the Freehold Tenants ceased to meet. For a further ten years the Secretary to the Freehold Tenants continued to collect the annual rents; but this was then passed to the agent of the Manor in the early 1970’s. Much had happened in the 20 th century to make the Freehold Tenants “redundant”. Cattle and sheep had ceased to crazing between the wars and the management of the commons appears to have been satisfactorily overseen by the Conservators.

Until the 1990’s the annual rents remained little changed from the start of the century. However with a change in management of the Trustees both annual income and capital receipts increased significantly. The increase in capital receipts from road widening and sales of rights of vehicle access to properties on the common required further clarification of the respective rights of the Manor and the Freehold Tenants. This was achieved through a Deed of Agreement signed by both parties in 1955. This document defined how the capital receipts would be divided and gave to the Freehold Tenants the right to be involved in determining a fair price for any negotiation that might yield a capital sum.

Page last updated: 13/02/2007