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Making History
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Listen to the latest editionTuesday 3.00-3.30 p.m
Vanessa Collingridge and the team answer listener’s historical queries and celebrate the way in which we all ‘make’ history.
Programme 10
4 December 2007

Listen to this programme in full

Chancel Repair Liability

A listener in Crewkerne, Somerset, was shocked to discover that she may well be liable for repairs to the chancel of the local church because of the location of her 1950’s bungalow. She asked Making History to explain why.

What is chancel repair liability?
CRL is an old rite that proliferated post-Reformation to make the local population liable for any repairs to the church chancel.

It is presently in the public eye following the widespread press reports of the unfortunate plight of Mr. and Mrs. Wallbank, who were ordered to pay more than £200,000 following the House of Lords' decision in 2003 that they were liable to pay the entire cost of repair of the chancel of the parish church in Aston Cantlow.

For details of the case see:

Find a Property 

BBC Mid Wales

The cost of repairing the chancel of a parish church is generally met by the church, or by other ecclesiastical bodies or educational establishments. In some rare instance, however, individual property owners may have a liability to pay for or contribute towards the cost of repairs to the chancel of a local parish church as the “lay rectors” of the parish – an ancient duty attached to the land.

CRL only affects parishes in which there is a medieval church. However, parish boundaries may have changed and so it is not possible to rely on current parish boundary information when trying to establish whether a liability may currently exist. While CRL mainly affects rural parishes, it can also apply in towns and cities, especially where ancient settlements now form part of larger conurbations (Fulham in London being a case in point). The fact that these rights are attached to the land, not to the property, explains why our listener in her 1950s bungalow can still be liable.

Why is this ancient law still applicable today?
Its enforcement largely fell away in the nineteenth century, while there were attempts to reform it in the twentieth century, yet is has survived – largely because under our legal system laws which have become largely irrelevant are neither reformed nor revoked. This law is one of many archaic laws that survive today. It means that people today can still, in theory, be affected by anachronistic medieval laws. Many of these laws and ancient rights relate to property.

The Law Commission
In1985 the LC recommended that this law be phased out with the agreement of the Church of England. It described CRL as a "relic of the past", and the Law Society is campaigning for its abolition.
In 2003, regulations were introduced which gave parishes wishing to invoke their rights of chancel until 2013 to register their interests, after which time they will no longer have this right. According to Richard Scofield of the Law Society, to date “only a handful” of parishes have registered their right to chancel repair.

Why has CRL come back from the dead?
Most parties want this law revoked – it is an anomaly for the legal profession and an embarrassment to the church. However, recent attention following attempts to reform/revoke it has brought CRL to the attention of insurers who stand to gain significant income from it. As records of where CRL actually applies are so patchy, almost all house buyers’ surveys come back with a recommendation to take out insurance against it as the records are inconclusive. This precaution on average costs homeowners £60 in insurance – and is worth around £1.75million to insurance companies in the UK. As Richard Scofield says: “it’s a big industry based on a liability that is hardly ever invoked.”

So attempts to solve the problems this medieval right can create have actually exacerbated them. Scofield says the law is intriguing for its self-regenerative nature – when it falls into disuse it seems to have a way of coming back to life.

What’s the extent of this liability in the UK?
A study by the Law Commission in the 1980s estimated that around 5,000 parishes in the UK were affected by CRL. The Wallback article (the URL above) also claims that:
3.5 million acres of land in England and Wales, and the homes, schools, hospitals and factories built on it, are now thought to be potentially at risk from this archaic law. In practice the right is hardly ever invoked.

The Crewkerne case
Dr Robert Dunning told Making History that the church in this part of Somerset was very rich in medieval times and owned a vast area of land – and the historic rectory estate survives to this day. The lands owned by this rectory extended some considerable distance and included the town’s market place – and evidently included the land on which Making History listener’ Beth Baggs’ bungalow now stands.

Crewkerne Parish Church

Useful links:

The Law Society
William George Manley
The man who won the Victoria and Iron Cross.

David Harrison in West Norfolk wanted to know whether it is true that William Manley won both these iconic medals. Making History consulted the curator of the Ashcroft Victoria Cross Collection, Michael Naxton.
He confirmed that, as a doctor, Manley, an Irishman, did indeed win both medals. Aged 32 he was an assistant surgeon in the Royal Regiment of Artillery during the Waikato-Hauhau Maori War, New Zealand.

On 29 April 1864 near Tauranga. During the assault on a rebel stockade, Assistant Surgeon Manley risked his own life in an endeavour to save that of a naval officer and others. Having volunteered to accompany the storming party into the stockade he attended the naval officer and then volunteered to return in order to see if he could find any more wounded.

Later, during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 he was awarded the German iron Cross for tending the wounded as part of a medical corp known as the British Ambulance.

His medals are on display in the Medals gallery of The Royal Artillery Museum

Useful Links:

Lord Ashcroft Victoria Cross Collection 

The Victoria Cross
Iron Age Weaving

The Falkirk Tartan

Details of the work of Penelope Walton Rogers can be found at The Angloa Saxon Laboratory
Mechanised Transport Corp

Making History consulted Terry Charman at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Were you a member of the M.T.C?  The following ‘blog’ is informative.

The Royal British Legion is currently reviewing arrangements for the Remembrance Day Parade at the Cenotaph.
Contact  Making History
Use this link to email Vanessa Collingridge and the team : Email Making History

Write to: Making History
BBC Radio 4
PO Box 3096
Brighton
BN1 1TU

Telephone: 08700 100400

Making History is produced by Nick Patrick and is a Pier Production
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Making History

Vanessa Collingridge
Vanessa CollingridgeVanessa has presented science and current affairs programmes for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Discovery and has presented for BBC Radio 4 & Five Live and a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday, Scotsman and Sunday Herald. 

Contact Making History

Send your comments and questions for future programmes to:
Making History
BBC Radio 4
PO Box 3096 Brighton
BN1 1PL

Or email the programme

Or telephone the Audience Line 08700 100 400

Making History is a Pier Production for BBC Radio 4 and is produced by Nick Patrick.

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