Site Search

Project summary


"LANDED (Cadastral Maps) – a pilot"

- a summary of the project


In carrying out our previous projects about landownership, “Landed (Freeman’s Wood)” I learned a lot about landownership.  I discovered that the UK is unusual in that it does not have an easily accessible Cadastral map, that is a map of landownership. Most other countries in Europe, and the USA have such a map, but the UK does not.

I thought this would be an interesting topic to explore, and so planned a project to commission artists’ cadastral maps, which would show changes in landownership over historical time.  

I had learnt enough to know that it not be easy to gather the necessary information to produce such maps, so I proposed to conduct a pilot to test out what information is available and how to find it.  This idea became “Landed (Cadastral Maps) - a pilot”.  

Funding applications to Arts Council England and the Landscape Research Group were successful.

I selected a rural east-west slice of North Lancashire, from the sea at the remains of Cockersand Abbey on the sea coast, across to the Trough of Bowland in the moors.  This was our sample plot.  It’s about 14,000 acres, and roughly 12 miles from west to east and 1 and ¾ miles north-south.

I commissioned two artists to work with me on this research pilot – Layla Curtis and Rebecca Chesney.  There was no intention to produce any artworks, simply to research sources of information.


Our search 

Our search was made in three main areas : historical, current, and active.

For historical information we searched various archives.  We focussed on those documents which included maps of landownership.  There is information about landowners in the area, starting before the Norman Conquest, but it is not accompanied by accurate maps until relatively recently. 

The earliest we found was an estate map of 1670, which closely matched a contemporary OS map.

We discovered that estate auction sale documents were very useful, as they come with maps and full details of the plots.

We also looked at the records of the 1910 survey of landownership.  This has maps of landownership plots, together with record books which list the owners and various details about the plots.


For contemporary landownership we obviously went to the Land Registry.  

We obtained information from its website which enabled us to produce a map of all the registered plots in our area. There are about 750.   But to obtain the information on ownership of each plot costs £4.50 per plot, so we did not have sufficient funds to do that.  So we narrowed down our selection to about 200 plots.

Theoretically, it is possible to submit such a map to the Land Registry and for them to supply a digital map showing the ownership of each plot.  However, the Land Registry turned out to be very difficult to communicate with, and actually seemed to be obstructing our request.  After spending a lot of time on this approach, we finally decided to take the basic option of purchasing information on individual plots, one by one, on their website.  We bought 50 in this way, distributed across our selected area.

The third source of information was simply walking and cycling across the land, and I walked most, if not all, of the public footpath in the area.  It’s a great way to understand the lie of the land.


A summary of the results

From these various sources we pieced together an outline description of the history of landownership in our patch.

A convenient way to present it is by reference to the significant buildings in the area.  As might be expected, the major landowners have also been the occupiers of the major buildings in the area.

The oldest building, situated on the coast, is the remains of Cockersand Abbey.  This abbey was a major landowner until the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid-sixteenth century.

The purchaser of their landholdings in our area was Hugh Dalton, who lived at Thurnham Hall, a building dating back to before the fourteenth century.  The Daltons purchased further land in the area and became major landowners.  The family lived in the Hall until the 1970s when it was sold, and is now in time-share holiday apartments.  Presumably the land was sold then or earlier, but we have not found records of that yet.

The next oldest building is Wyreside Hall, built in the eighteenth century by John Fenton Cawthorne, who had inherited a lot of land in our area from his mother’s family, the Cawthornes.  He still had 6000 acres when he died in 1835.

Some of his land may have been bought by William Preston, a merchant and Mayor of Liverpool who wanted a country house. He built Ellel Grange, and the Preston family lived there until the 1970s when it was sold, and is now a religious retreat. The 1910 survey shows that the family had acquired a lot more land in the area by that time, but presumably it was also sold in the 1970s or earlier.

The purchaser of Wyreside Hall itself, and most of Fenton-Cawthorne’s land, was Robert Garnett, from Manchester, who had made his fortune in cotton and the railways.  The Garnett family lived in the house until 1936, and when sold they had 12,000 acres.  So obviously they had acquired a lot more land.  

But they had already sold some land in the 1880s to the Fourth Earl of Sefton, who built Abbeystead House in 1887.  This was originally intended as a shooting lodge, based in the middle of grouse moors, but it gradually became the family home. The Seftons lived there until the death of the Eighth Earl in the 1980s, when they had over 20,000 acres.  

The house and entire estate was then bought by the Duke of Westminster, who still owns it.   A map of his estate placed on to top of the map our area shows its relative size.

Another significant landowner in our area, but not based in a building, is the Duchy of Lancaster, that is the Queen.  It seems that the Duchy also bought some of the Garnett’s land in the twentieth century.  On my walks I noticed several farms bearing the Duchy shield on their name-plates, and some woodlands with signs asserting its ownership.

The Duchy also owns the land around the coast up to the mid-high tide line. 


So, we have been able to produce an outline summary of landownership in our area, and its change over the past few centuries.

This has been a productive pilot, and we now hope to obtain funds to continue, and to produce some artists’ cadastral maps showing historical change.