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Lisburn Historical Society, Volume 2 pt.1

Volume 2 • December 1979

Relations between Landlord, Agent and Tenant on the Hertford Estate in the nineteenth century

 "Fide et amore" 1

AT THE DAWN of the nineteenth century the owner of some 66,000 acres of land in the baronies of Upper Massereene, Upper Belfast, Upper Castlereagh and Lower Iveagh, in all 140 townlands, was member of the powerful Hertford family. This family could trace its line of descent back to Edward Seymour (1506-1552) who was the brother of Queen Jane Seymour. He had prospered under the favour of King Henry VIII, and in 1547 was created Earl of Hertford, Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector of England and Governor of his nephew, the young King Edward VI. However, although he was a Protestant, his persistent clemency towards the Roman Catholic cause finally led to his being supplanted as Protector by the Duke of Northumberland and his execution. His titles and estates were entailed by an Act of Parliament on his issue by his wife, Anne Stanhope. This line became extinct in 1750 with the demise of Algernon Seymour, seventh Duke of Somerset.

The Earldom of Hertford and Viscounty of Beauchamp were revived in the person of Francis Seymour-Conway, second Baron Conway (1719-1794). He was a descendant of Edward Seymour's first marriage, and in 1793 he was created Earl of Yarmouth and first Marquis of Hertford. The Conway titles and arms had been added to the Seymour name by his father, Francis, who had been elevated to the peerage in 1702-1703 as Lord Conway, Baron Conway of Ragley and, in 1703, of Killultagh, in County Antrim, since the death of Edward Conway, Earl of Conway. There is a legend that the Earl bequeathed his estates which consisted of some 50,000 acres largely in Counties Antrim and Down to the young Colonel Francis Seymour who was in command of British troops stationed at Antrim, because he was to have married his daughter, but she died before the ceremony was solemnised.2 The Conway family had always resided on the estate in a castle in Lisnagarvagh, now Lisburn, but under the Hertford family "absenteeism became the rule"'3 and one which they rarely broke, preferring to live in England or France near the centres of fashion and power.

An exception to this rule was Francis, first Marquis of Hertford, who had been active in Irish affairs, for example in 1765 he was constituted Viceroy of Ireland, and he frequently visited his estates. Under his patronage many new buildings were erected in Lisburn, and considerable improvements were made on the land so that the rent roll was more than doubled. His son, the second Marquis who was named after his father, also visited the Irish estates but during one of these visits his son, then the Earl of Yarmouth, married the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Queensbury by an Italian singer and dancer in a clandestine service in Southampton. This union, while it greatly augmented the Earl's coffers by some £500,000 on the death of the Duke in 1810 in return for giving his daughter a respected name and rank in society, was merely "one of convenience on both sides". (4) But it exasperated and scandalised the second Marquis who viewed it as a "deplorable misalliance"(5) As a result by his father's will, the third Marquis only received that property which legally could not be alienated from him. This included the Irish estates worth some £57,000 annually and estates in Warwickshire valued at £15,000 in Sudbourne at £10,000 and in Scotland at £3,000. In addition to these were houses and investments worth approximately £20,000 a year. Thus "not without truth was Lord Hertford considered one of the four wealthiest peers in the country" (6) Yet, in spite of the fact therefore, that the largest part of his annual income was derived from his Irish estates, the Marquis never saw them. He was a profligate with a reputation of being "the most thoroughgoing rove in the kingdom" and spent almost all of his life on the continent. (7)

Perhaps his most private tangible bequest to his son, Richard, in 1842, was the nucleus of a fine and valuable art collection which Richard greatly enhanced and enlarged. But, like his father, he had little interest in the estates which provided his capital for artistic investments. He too spent most of his life on the continent and especially in France, although he once endured an involuntary five weeks on his Irish estates which at that time annually enriched him by £60,000. His visit, in spite of the efforts of the tenants and local gentry to amuse him, left him unimpressed and bored, to the extent that when shown the extent of his lands he is reported to have replied, "Well, I see it for the first time, and pray God! for the last time" (8) He never married and his hedonistic and avaricious existence which he justified by his contemptuous contention that "men are evil, and when I die I shall at least have the consolation of never having rendered anyone a service" (9) caused him to be despised in many circles. This "complete, absolute and unashamed monster" died in 1870 of cancer of the bladder from which he had been suffering for ten years.(10) His will decimated the Irish estates so far as his successor the fifth Marquis, Francis, George, Hugh, was concerned. Richard had never forgiven the Hertford family for their rejection of his mother, so only property which had been entailed separately by the third Marquis came into the hands of the fifth Marquis. This included the Warwick and Worchester estates and approximately 1,800 acres of the Irish estates, altogether worth less than £20,000 annually. The remainder of the Hertford estates and property came after costly and protected litigation with Sir Hamilton Seymour, to the Marquis's illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace.
However, the Irish estates consisting now of only five townlands, namely, Ballymullan, Blaris, Broughmore, Lissue and Lurganure, enjoyed a renewed interest and attention of the Marquesses of Hertford under the fifth Marquis, who was the eldest son of the fifth son of the first Marquis. The lives of this nobleman and that of his son, Hugh de Grey who succeeded him after his death in 1884, were more conventional and much less scandalous than those of their two infamous forbears. It was during their careers that the land policy in Ireland became one of ownership as various Land Purchase schemes were initiated from 1869 onwards, but the transference of the rights of proprietorship from landlord to tenant only slowly gained in momentum. It was not foreshadowed on the Hertford Estates until 1891 when a letter to the sixth Marquis from his agent Walter Stannus referred to the wishes of some of the tenants to buy their land (11) This marked the final disintegration of the estate.

Throughout the nineteenth century therefore, the Irish estates of the Hertford family were subject to the demands of four Marquesses, each a highly individual character in his own right, yet all descendants of an old and influential family.

1. "By faith and love", the motto of the Seymour-Conway family.
2. W. J. Green: "A Concise History of Lisburn and Neighbourhood".
3.   "The Hertford Estate: Its Resident and Absentee Landlords", a public notice dated October, 1845.
4. B. Falk: "Old Q's Daughter".
5. Ibid.
6.   Ibid.
7. Ibid
8.   B. runs: op. cit
9. E. and 1. de Gencourt "The Gencourt Journal"
10. Ibid, (I p Hertford Estate Index, MIC 257, Reel 3.
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A key figure among the staff of any landlord, but even more crucial among that of an absentee landlord, such as the Marquesses of Hertford, was the land agent. It has been said "the landlords were sometimes decent men . . . the agents were devils one and all", (1) and this was by no means an isolated viewpoint but one which was widespread among tenants who came to regard the agents appointed by their absentee landlords as unmitigated "venal oppressors" who "while they sedulously exert themselves to fill their own pockets, strive to gratify their employers by a large rental on paper". (2) McCaffrey further indicts the agents of absentees with being quick to evict tenants and paying more attention to collecting rent than to any attempt to improve productivity on the estate.(3) In addition to this the Devon Commission reported that "the comfort of a large population and the tranquillity of a district" frequently depended on the conduct of its land agent. (4)
However, the role of an agent was imbued not only with considerable responsibility but also with internal conflict, in that the agent must satisfy the demands of a master without allowing these demands to incite the tenants on whom they were imposed. This might be more easily achieved if the social status of the agent was one which attracted respect and deference. In this, the Very Reverend Dean Stannus, land agent to the Marquesses of Hertford for more than fifty years and Rector of the Parish of Blaris, under the patronage of Lord Hertford, was at an advantage. As Rector he could demand and expect certain respect for the dignity of his position. But this was not always the case and in 1861 in a dispute with a Mr. Johnston Smyth aver the erection of a Urinary on Lord Hertford's property, Mr. Smyth reminded the Dean that he treated him "in the capacity of Lord Hertford's agent and not as a Rector of the Parish" and if he had seemed offensive to the Dean then he has only himself to blame holding as he does the irreconcilable situations those of clergyman and land agent" (5) Neither had his role as Rector protected him during the 1850's from insults and attacks on his property following elections. In 1852 for example after a violent attack on his person he wrote to Lord Hertford suggesting a general increase in rents as punishment for the tenants not only on account of the attack but also for taking the unprecedented step of voting against the Hertford candidate, Mr. Inglis, the Lord Advocate of Scotland. However the increase in the rents was not a particular hardship since the average was only £2 rental per head on the estate which was much less than was demanded elsewhere. Further proof that the Dean was not very harsh generally came in 1867 when he was presented with a complimentary address from the tenants on the occasion of his fiftieth anniversary as agent. The address described him as acting "towards the tenantry in an upright and straightforward manner", for example "the tenant right of a widow was never sold during her lifetime and no fines were imposed for unavoidable delay" in paying rent on the Estate.(6) The address also indicated certain improvements which the Dean initiated and encouraged such as the cultivation of flax as a rotation crop and the elimination of cock fighting, a sport still enjoyed in some areas.

Dean Stannus was succeeded in office by his son, Walter T. Stannus who had the distinct advantage of being a landowner himself. His estate consisted of 5,935 acres in Co. Galway with an annual valuation of £1711. 15. 07 (7) He therefore had experience of managing an estate so his sympathies tended to lie with the landlord, especially during the years of tenant unrest in the last two decades of the century, and the work of the Land Commission which seemed to "ignore the landlord as far as possible and to concede to the tenant almost all he demands". (8) He was an astute man and rarely abused any opportunity to at least maintain or even raise rents. In 1889 when a tenant refused his neighbours' access to a well on his property he advised the sixth Marquis to sanction an increase in the rent from £7. 17. 11 to £12 a year since "this might bring him to his senses". (9) However it is to his credit that he was sensitive to the changing conditions and moods of the tenants. Thus when it was rumoured that Lord Devonshire's tenants had refused a rent reduction of 15% and were demanding 20%, while the Duke of Devonshire was offering 25% on the half year, he strongly advised the Marquis that any offer less than 20% would not appease the tenants. In 1886 his advice was instead "not to give in to them too much" in spite of the fact "the Devonshire, Pakenham and Wallace Estates . . . are putting on a poor show this month and trying what they can grab!" (10) His advice, as usual based on his consideration of facts and rumours gleaned from the estate and surrounding estates, was accepted. The result was a successful gala day with no irrecoverable arrears and, as he informed the Marquis with undisguised self-satisfaction, "I question if the same state of affairs exists in any estate in Ireland especially where no abatement were given or any unusual expense incurred"(11)

In order to achieve satisfactory returns Walter Stannus, like most of his fellow agents throughout Ireland, was not adverse to employing coercive measures among his methods of dealing with unco-operative tenants. He included among these measures a beating by the bailiff and, as a last resort, eviction. In February of 1890 he informed the Marquis that a tenant named Doey was peacefully evicted in that "the battering ram was not required". (12) Doey had not paid his rent for four years, twice as long as the length of time normally permitted for arrears.

However the duties of the Hertford land agents were not confined solely to extracting rents. Dean Stannus believed his duties included also the settling "of claims against farms under wills, also family differences; . . . disputes about roads and divisions, and various other matters" (13) These "other matters" involved preparing and balancing accounts, depositing remittances in the Marquis's account, but due to the relative lack of interest displayed by the third and fourth Marquesses in their Irish estates he only wrote to them to enclose remittances or if an urgent matter arose. His son however, in addition to the aforementioned duties, had to maintain an extensive correspondence with the fifth and sixth Marquesses. His letters indicate a certain waning of the power of decision enjoyed by his father, since they offer only suggestions and advice for the final decision to be made by Lord Hertford himself. These suggestions cover matters ranging from the condition of the roof of Broomhedge School House which is "a little lagged", (14) to an increase in the rents in the townland of Blaris for which most of the leases have expired. Statutes also kept the Marquesses informed of general conditions in the estate, including the weather and prices.
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Thus the relationship between the Marquesses of Hertford and their agents was not purely a contractual one. Both agents met their employers outside Ireland, and in 1852 Dean Stannus even travelled to Paris to visit the fourth Marquis. They also acted as host on the infrequent visits of some of the Marquesses to Ireland, in 1891 Walter Stannus offered his house to the sixth Marquis in anticipation of his visit. In written communication Walter Stannus' style is polite yet not over-formal, often including informed enquiries on the state of health of the Marquis and his family and occasionally venturing comments on his own health. In 1866 he thanked the Marquis and his wife for their donation to Mrs. Stannus' Clothing Club, and later, in 1891, expressed his brother's appreciation of his lordship's "thinking of him as to the Masonic Ball tickets". (15)

Relations therefore between the Marquesses of Hertford and their agents were generally good, and improved under the fifth and sixth Marquesses who displayed comparatively more interest in the estate than their predecessors, albeit still from a distance. It was the task of the Stannus' to bridge this distance and act as mediators between the usually divergent wishes of the respective Marquesses and those of the tenants. Their success in this role may be adjudged by the relative tranquillity which pervaded the estate during the nineteenth century and, while their policies were not always very popular, no evidence has yet proved them to be "venal oppressors".

1. R. Flower, "The Western Island", quoted in E. Hughes, "The Eighteenth Century Estate Agent".
2. J. P. Vereker: "Absenteeism: its social and economic effects upon Ireland". (Dublin University Magazine. Vol. XXXV. (March 1850).
3. L. J. McCaffrey: "The Irish Question, 1800.1922"
4. Digest, II, quoted in W. Maguire "The Downshire Estates in Ireland".
5. Lisburn, Co. Antrlm Correspondence and Leases C.1800-1830. D.2099.
6. Hertford Estate Index MIC 257, Reel 2.
7. "Land Owners in Ireland, 1876 . . . presented to both Houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty"
8. Hertford Estate Index, MIC. 257, Reel 3.
9. Ibid.
10. Hertford Estate Index, MIC 257, Reel 1.
11. Hertford Estate Index, MIC 257, Reel 2.
12. Ibid.
13. Devon Report, 1845, Vol XIX. Evidence number 94.
14. Hertford Estate Index MIC 257, Reel 2.
15. Ibid.
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However, much as the Stannus' may try to act as a bridge between landlord and tenant, this function could only be performed provided both parties were willing to cooperate. The extent of this co-operation tended to fluctuate more on the side of the landlord than on the tenants' side since their perpetual desires were for lower rents and safe tenure. The third Marquis of Hertford for example, never visited his Irish tenants and remained as aloof as possible from them. His son, the fourth Marquis, visited the estate once for five weeks in 1845, but the gesture was marred by the fact that it was for purely personal gain. He had applied for a Garter which was at the disposal of Sir Robert Peel and which he had encumbered with a provision that it would only be conferred on an applicant who would reside for some part of each year on his Irish Estate. (1) The tenants discovered this but:

"Though nought is due, as tenants true,
With smiles we must receive him;
Yet, all forlorn, our hearts are true
With cares that do not grieve him. " (2) 

The sentiment though couched in rather extreme terms, well illustrated the inaccessibility which the Marquis maintained. Some eight years later the tenants were again frustrated by this when they tried to send a deputation to him in Paris, concerning a proposed rent increase. They were unmistakably rebuffed, through the office of Dean Stannus to whom the Marquis confided that deputations merely "derange, without being of any use". (3)

The situation improved considerably under the fifth and sixth Marquesses who correspondence generally, indicates an interest in and sympathy for the tenants. Direct communication between themselves and the tenants, although not frequent, was reciprocal. In 1869 the inhabitants of Lisburn welcomed Hugh de Grey Seymour to the town in a written note which also described "the peace, order and prosperity of the Community" (4) under the fifth Marquis. That Hugh, when he became the sixth Marquis in 1884, continued to enjoy good relations with the tenants was evident when, in reply to a memorial from them he wrote of "the most friendly terms" (5) which they shared. In 1892 these "terms" were to be reinforced by his intention of entertaining "my Irish tenants at dinner in order to celebrate my son's coming of age". (6) This event could not be realised due to practical difficulties and instead a return of 5% was given to all tenants on the estate who had paid their rents including even those who had gone into the Land Courts.

Generally however, the quality of landlord and tenant relations depended on the satisfaction of each with the system of land tenure on the estate. On the Hertford estate, as on most others throughout Ireland, the land was let to leaseholders and tenants - at Will. (7) In 1844 only a few of the leaseholders, holding a total of some 200 to 300 acres held very old leases, of the remaining 65,700 acres one-third had been let about 1796, and the rest since then. Leases granted at the turn of the century were usually for twenty one years and a life, but after 1822 the majority of leases were granted for three lives, as the third Marquis no longer had the power to combine years and lives. (8) Since it was desirable that dates of decease should be easily ascertainable the lives nominated were often members of the lessee's family, the agent's family, famous personages, the most popular of whom being Sir Robert Peel and the Prince of Wales, or a combination of all three sources. Long term alternatives to these types of leases were those granted either for ninety nine years or for lives renewable for ever. The latter type was most common in Lisburn and often dated back 150 to 160 years. However they became unpopular in the nineteenth century among landlord and tenant alike since they had to be continually renewed at the fall of a life and another inserted. Frequently tenants had to be reminded of this necessity and the landlord was obliged to give them six months notice. The reason for such a cumbersome system was "that in those days, no one could vote without a freehold or life lease but when the law was altered allowing votes out of leasehold or Chattel Property then the tenants applied to Parliament for . . . "Fee Farm Grants" or in other words leases for ever". (9) The Renewable Leasehold Conversion Act acceded to these demands and by 1859 Lord Hertford had already signed fifty to sixty of the new leases.

Leases had the disadvantage however of effectively removing large areas of land from the landlord's control and even the third and fourth Marquesses were sensible of the fact that improvements of the land could be beneficial to them as well as the tenant. Thus in a scheme to encourage drainage, the Marquis offered to share the cost with the tenant who would pay 5% and was allowed 50 shillings. The actual labour involved was undertaken by volunteer tenants for labourers' wages or reductions in their rents. Many tenants availed themselves of this arrangement. (10)

A second major disadvantage of long leases for landlords was that through time the rents decreased in value and it was often difficult to increase them when the leases fell. Indeed complaints about rents in general occupied a large part of the correspondence between Walter Stannus and the fifth and sixth Marquesses. In 1882 for example, Stannus wrote to Lord Hertford concerning a "Memorial" from the tenants in Ballymullan who were demanding a reduction in rent. He advised against conceding to their demands since he thought they were "trying it on . . . and anyway their rents are below the government valuation". (11) His policy was always to offer an abatement if circumstances indicated a judicial decrease in rents for he felt that at least an abatement only lasted one season but it was often enough to prevent tenants going into the Land Court. In any case one rent reduction was often insufficient especially during a series of bad harvests as Sir Richard Wallace found to his cost in 1886 when, only two years after he "had a valuation of his estate and settled as he thought permanently", his tenants were demanding another allowance on their rents . (12) Thus between 1878 and 1892 there were eight abatements granted on the Hertford Estate, although, as was common on the Downshire and Wallace lands, leaseholders and applicants to the Land Courts were excepted.
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In fact the mediation of the Land Courts after 1881 in rent negotiations was often a strain on landlord and tenant relations. By July 1883 although the average rents of 18 shillings on the Downshire Estate and 20 shillings on the Hertford Estate were below Griffiths Valuation, one in forty of the tenants on the former had applied to the Land Courts and there was "grumbling" among tenants on the latter. (13) Within five months this situation had equalised for Stannus complained "you might as well try to stem the tide with a silver fork as to prevent these fellows going into court" (14) At the time many rents were increased, but this trend was short-lived and by 1884 reductions of 4.2% in rents were not unknown. It was hardly surprising therefore that the sixth Marquis disapproved of the Land Courts which, by 1887, were "cutting down rents in a most merciless manner as far as landlords are concerned". In fact Stannus calculated from Land Court reductions that a general reduction on the estate would decrease the annual rental by 2% to 3%. However the Court's decision was not final and in 1888 Hertford's Belfast solicitor advised him to appeal a case in which the reduction was "excessive", this would also act as a warning that he would "not always acquiesce to reductions". (15) In the event such appeals were rare as the cost of court cases was already substantial, from February 1889 till April 1890 thirteen cases and an appeal cost £59. 3. 7 (16) Stannus attempted to avoid future applications to the court by requiring new tenants to sign a "Judicial Lease" which bound them to pay an agreed rent for fifteen years and denied recourse to the Courts.

The tenants themselves claimed that the recognition of Tenant Right by all of the Marquesses contributed to some degree to good relations on the estate. Dean Stannus himself admitted that he "should be very sorry to see it interfered with much" and the only restriction which the Hertfords imposed was that allowed them in the non-alienation covenant. This gave them the right to veto prospective tenants. Thus when a Mr. Bexhie sold his farm, the proposed buyer "came with a Presbyterian Minister Mr. Robson to vouch for his respectability". (17) However the practice of Tenant Right was sometimes carried to excess especially on holdings with little or no improvements and there were "many instances of farms unimproved or in bad condition selling at a very high rate" (18) and for first class land the Tenant Right could cost as much as ten years rent. But as long as tenants paid their rents, the third and fourth Marquesses were satisfied, and it could be perhaps argued that while this disinterest infected some tenants, it provided others with a sense of security of tenure especially if they were not leaseholders. Thus, as Dean Stannus reported "the improvements on farms held at will are sometimes very nearly as great as when they hold upon lease", for example between £4,000 and £5,000 was spent on improving two large mills which were held at will.

A further indication of the satisfaction of the tenants on the estate could be inferred from a relative lack of political unrest. A minority of tenants were influenced by political developments and this seemed to reach a peak in 1880 when Stannus reported that several "Orangemen" had joined the Land League "altho' perhaps they don't like it to be known", (19) and in 1881 'he commended the bailiff, McCoy for "counteracting the work of the Land League". (20) But in 1886 the sixth Marquis conveyed his appreciation of the tenants' resistance to the "specious arguments" of political agitators . (21)

Thus the tenants and their landlords escaped the political ferment of the nineteenth century almost unscathed and managed to preserve, and under the later Marquesses improve, a relationship which became generally satisfactory to both parties. Furthermore this understanding continued to withstand the ravages of time into the twentieth century and today the eighth Marquis of Hertford, Hugh Edward Conway Seymour, still numbers among his titles that of Baron Conway of Killultagh, Co. Antrim.

1. "The Hertford Estate : Its Resident and Absentee Landlords". A public notice dated October, 1845.
2. Rev. J. C. Innes : "The Song of a Small Farmer. (Ibid).
3. Hertford to Stannus quoted in B. Falk "Old Q's Daughter".
4. Hertford Estate Index, MIC 257, Reel 3.
5.   See Appendix 1.
6. Hertford Estate Index, MIC 257, Reel 2.
7. Dean Statutes included tenants who held land from year to year in this category.
8. Devon Report, 1845, Vol XIX. Evidence number 94.
9. Hertford Estate Index, MIC 257, Reel 2.
10. Devon Report, op. cit.
11. Hertford Estate Index, MIC 257, Reel 3.
12. Ibid., Reel 2.
13. Ibid. , Reel 3.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16.  Ibid., Reel 2.
17. Ibid.
18. Devon Report, 1845, Vol, XIX, Evidence number 94.
19. Hertford Estate Index, MIC 257, Reel 3.
20. Ibid.
21. See Appendix 1.

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