Judicial Rent Reviews at Powerscourt (Archive Month #9)

The pencil lead is hardly dry on this latest data collection! I’m interested in the change of ownership of land from Powerscourt to tenants, and have been looking at the Land Commission records. From my limited understanding so far the Land Commission was established in 1881 to effect the voluntary transfer of land from estate owners to tenants. The initial idea seems to be that the land owners would be compensated with some form of bonds, and the tenants, living and working on the land, would borrow to buy the land they farmed. It wasn’t a terribly successful strategy, and a subsequent Act was enforced in 1903 called the Wyndham Land Act, which really seemed to be the death knell of great Irish estates, and this is what I am working on. This Act was much more successful, as it was cash up front, with a 12% bonus on price paid to the landlords to compensate for any discrepancy between what the tenant thought it was worth and what the landlord wanted. Acknowledging my economic naïveté, I consider it a latter day NAMA.

Powerscourt, as ever, is curious though. As part of the Land Commission’s duty, it seems they set judicial rents for what tenants should be paying. Land value hadn’t been set it seems since Griffith, and judicial reviews of rents seemed to set a new precedent, I think for a fixed period of 15 years. In the 19th century Parliamentary Papers, the summaries of these reviews was regularly published. Also published were amounts paid by the government after tenant purchase, which details the tenants involved.

Now here’s the thing – if you are still with me after my long preamble… While there are several judicial reviews for the Wicklow and Wexford estates, the only details of purchasing by tenants are in Wexford. I could find no details of land purchase from 1881 through to 1900 in Wicklow. It seems Powerscourt had no problem selling off his Wexford land, but was obviously not too keen on selling his Wicklow land. Listed below, are the judicial reviews for Wicklow, showing the tenant, area and value paid at the time, along with value after review. Almost all were down-graded in value, except for poor Eliza Burton, who had to pay more.

At the other end of the scale, there is an answer to a parliamentary question in the new Dáil in 1932, which stated that as far as the Government knew, Lord Powerscourt owned 1,845 acres in Wicklow, with a Poor Law value of £1346. The next part of my jigsaw search is finding out what happened in between. It is likely that the old boy hung on until the new Free State government forced his hand in the matter, and that land transfer began en masse in our estate in 1923. This was suggested by Canon Stokes in his Lecture. The remaining land was the subject of additional strife in the 1960s – another story – but at the time Taoiseach Seán Lemass, in response to a Dáil question about whether the government would buy Powerscourt, said that anyone who knew Powerscourt knew it was only mountain bog (referring to the surrounding land).

When I know more – I’ll tell you; if you know more – please tell me!

Judicial Reviews of Land Rent 1881 – 1900, Viscount Powerscourt as Landowner (Wicklow Estates)

Tenant/ Location Area Poor Law Valuation Former Rental Judicial Rental
1886 Lady Laura Grattan, Tinnehinch 34-1-35 £32 £77 35s £45
1889 Peter Whelan, Monastery and Anahaskin 21 £30 £36 10s £34
1889 James Pharr, Ballinastor 46-0-25 £15 5s £25 6s £15 15s by agreement
1890 Edward Somers, Ballinastoe 26-2-10 £24 10 £17 10 £15
1890 Francis Ward, Parknasilloge 22-0-34 £20 £13 £11
1890-91 James Quigley, Cookstown 13-1-14 £14 10s £19 10s £17 10s
1898 Wm A Buckley, Monastery 23-1-0 £21 £25 2s 8d £22 19s
1900 Eliza Burton, Barnamire 129-0-22 £33 15s £25 £31