Posted by: swinemoor | February 2, 2014

Ownership Questions

A recent letter in the Beverley Guardian and comments from the developers, P J Livesey, have, once again, raised the question of ownership in regard to Beverley’s Commons. Mrs Young, in her letter, believes that the ownership is vested in ERYC on behalf of the people, whereas P J Livesey are under the impression that ERYC actually own the common.

Who is right?

William White (History, Gazetteer and Directory of the East and North Ridings of Yorkshire.  p 42) may shed some light on the matter. He says that the Municipal Corporations Act 1835 removed the powers of the town corporation with respect to the commons and that these were not then given to the town council that replaced it. In view of this the Freemen of the town took matters into their own hands and sponsored a Parliamentary bill that led to the Beverley Commons Act (the exact wording is An act to provide for the better regulation of the common pastures of the borough of Beverley) 1836. This Act provided for the annual election of 12 Pasture Masters who are responsible for the regulation and maintenance of the Beverley common pastures. The Beverley Freemen Act 2009 states that The Beverley Common Pastures are vested in the East Riding of Yorkshire Council

This raises the question of what the word ‘vested’ means in this context. According to The Free Dictionary, ‘vested’ is defined as having a present right to the immediate or future possession and enjoyment of property. Therefore, it would appear the pastures are not actually owned by ERYC but they may have that right in the future. However, a public enquiry in 1977 held by the Chief Commons Commissioner, determined that Beverley Borough Council owned the soil of the pastures but the Freemen had the right to exploit everything thereon (Hull Daily Mail, 22 Mar. 1977; Beverley Guardian, 26 Jan. 1978).

According to Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary of the Open Spaces SocietyThe Beverley Common Pastures Act 1836 states that nothing in the Act shall authorise the Pasture Masters to exclude or debar the public from enjoying the area for exercise and recreation.  In view of this there is a question of whether, if the Pasture Masters had authorised the temporary road across Westwood, they actually had the right to allow this encroachment as it would have excluded and debarred the public.

The truth, as ever, is far from simple but it is clear that the statement by PJ Livesey that ERYC owns Westwood is essentially wrong: it owns the soil. However, the fact that the Pasture Masters cannot exclude or debar the public could be seen as a double-edge sword. For example, what would happen if they were not to uphold this public right? Would ERYC seek to remove them as guardians of Beverley’s common lands and, therefore, exercise their vested interest, and expropriate the commons for their own ends?

We at NSH think this is plausible and, as a result we, the people of Beverley need to be vigilant and support the Pasture Masters in their decisions, which are taken with the public interest in mind. If we do not we risk, either by accident or design, losing the wonderful common lands for which Beverley is justifiably famous.


  1. Fascinating stuff, perhaps someone might write to ERYC’s Solicitor and seek their opinion as to the issue of (a) ownership and (b) potential conflict of interest?

    In that letter, it might also be pointed out the erroneous assertion made by the developers and their [ERYC’s Solicitor] view sought on the matter and advice as to how this error might be best advertised to ensure that the public and Councillors have accurate facts upon which to base decisions?

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