Archive for the ‘ Establishing ancient rights of way ’ Category

A broken commercial contract, a High Court judgement, the purchase of woodlands with disputed access; and back to the High Court again, this time The Chancery Division, all within about 10 years.

The court hearing ran for around 10 days before His Honour Judge Paul Baker QC.  My side brought into the action two more parties who owned other land over which the ancient roadway ran.  Better to sort out the whole issue once and for all.  There were lawyers everywhere.  One or two solicitors for each party, a barrister and his pupil.  It was clearly going to be an expensive, though interesting, occasion.

There were many highlights in the hearing.  One of the regular users of the roadway was a certain ‘Dad’ or ‘Pop’ Redding.  He was a handyman who did odd jobs locally with his horse and high-sided pig cart. I had taken a bus load of interested locals, who had supported me, to court for one day to hear the evidence on their road.  Dave, from one of the long-standing Bellingdon families and another handyman, is now in the witness box.  He takes up the story (and I edit), eagerly awaited by his friends and neighbours.

Courts are not like Perry Mason scenarios.  The barrister asks the question and the witness advises the judge on the answer. The barrister asks about ‘Dad’ Redding.  Dave hesitates, turns to look at his friends and blushes a bright crimson: “I work with my hands, not my head Your Honour”.  Take your time, Mr. David” replies His Honour Judge Paul Baker.  “Well, Dad Redding was the local handyman with a pig cart who did odd jobs for local people like moving things.  When he had finished what he had to do and had a few pounds in his pockets, he would often drive down Ramscoat Lane to Chesham to go to the pub.  I think it was where The Cricketers now is and there was a horse trough outside.  Well, he would stop the horse and go into the pub.  The horse would turn itself round in the street all on its own and wait for him outside.  And when closing time came, he would come out to go home.  When I say ‘come out’, he wouldn’t just come out, he would be carried out.  He would be carried out, Your Honour, because he could not walk Your Honour.  He was carried out, and I don’t know quite how to say this, Sir, because he was…because he was…pissed Your Honour.  (Ho ho ho went the assembled audience of locals).  The people then would slap the horse on the rump and the horse would take him all the way back up Ramscoat Lane and home.”  Dave, as a kid then with his friends, would see the driverless cart coming up through the woods and tie the horse to a tree for a joke.  So when Dad Redding came round, he would have a clue where he was.

Over the days, evidence was gathered, barristers argued points of law and precedent; and expert witness said their piece.  On Tuesday, 18 July, 1989, His Honour Judge Paul Baker QC delivered his judgement.  We had run our course. It was gripping stuff siting there quietly as he went through each item of consideration.  It took him until page 35 to deliver those magic words: “Viewing all the evidence I find this an ancient vehicular highway used (from 1189 and…?ed) from time immemorial along the line of Ramscote Lane”.

I was told that this was the first time in English judicial history that a roadway open to all traffic had been ‘proved’ in an English Court of Law.  I suspect I have a lot to owe Dad Redding for this.  I should also add that almost within the next week all the neighbouring fences that had been blocking my other rights of way had been mysteriously moved.

The Judgement of His Honour Judge Paul Baker QC is attached (50 pages) -

Ramscote Lane – Judgement of His Honour Judge Paul Baker QC

The Diners Club money in damages was used to buy 3 mixed leaved woodlands in the Chitern Hills near my home, around 95 acres in all.  My approach was to buy poorly managed woodlands, if possible with a good variety in age and specie.  Cleaning the woodland to allow commercial trees to develop value gave me exercise, peace of mind; and a few quid in the pocket from log sales.

Ramscote or Ramscoat Wood was historically the most interesting, filled with ancient features as the land progressively moved from field and pasture to woodland over the centuries following the Black Death.  The woodland was long and thin and landlocked; and set on a steep hill side: a total of 56 acres in all.  It had last been ‘farmed’ in the 1940s. With ‘no-one around’ for years, neighbouring landowners had extended their boundaries, fenced off the rights of way and become intransigent to change. There was a lot to do.  It was difficult to pull out logs along the slope in the mud of winter.  The nearest exit point was the best.  Inevitably, it was the neighbour, reputed to use his lawyer most freely, who fired the first gun.  A writ of tresspass landed on my doormat.

I had driven down a leafy, green lane designated as a bridlepath, as easy access to the part of the woodland we were working at the time.  Bridlepath in the UK means at least a bridlepath, not a bridlepath or less.  The writ was from the owner of the subsoil.  As it turned out, he preferred a road past his house rather than my occasional use on a bridlepath!

Under the Act of 1949, Local Authorities gave all community rights of way clear designations.  One choice was RUPP or ‘road used as public path’.  Buckinghamshire County Council, however, preferred not to use this designation, leaving the local householders to fight it out in the courts themselves.  It was either a road, open to all traffic, or a bridlepath or a footpath. Ramscote Lane, now seldom used for vehicular traffic, became a bridlepath.

Our lawyers sent letters to each other.  Costs mounted. I rapidly became too involved to turn back.  If I went on, I had to win.  Going to court is always a gamble even though, through intelligent application, you can improve your odds.  The cost of losing after 10 days in the High Court had to be put out of the question.  I took 3 months off work to build the evidence. A small argument with my lawyers put me in the hands of a wonderful lady solicitor, Rosemary Jeffries. The ability to challenge points of law and fact with my lawyer set me off on the right track in preparing the case.

The road transport industry came into being in the UK after WW1 when army trucks were released to form the basis of the new road transport industry. The filigree of minor roadways across the countryside, that once linked the major roads, fell into misuse as local tradespeople increasingly parked up their horsedrawn wagons for good.

If you look at a map of Chesham, you will see the town is set in a valley surrounded by ridges: Hawridge, Chartridge, Ashridge and so on.  Trucks navigating from one ridge to another had to go down one ridge to the town and up another to their destination.  This was obviously far too far for a horse and cart which was able to move directly across country between destinations.

To prove an ancient roadway, you have to prove ‘user’, that is people who have either driven down the road or seen people driving down the road.  I spent days in the maps rooms of the County Council and the British Museum and found maps of every description going back over 300 years, like the OS maps that even showed the position of major trees in the 1800s and the Tithe Map (1836) which defined the ancient tithes to be paid for use of the land.  But I had to find the ‘users’.  This was now around 1987 so I needed memories that went back as far as the 1920s, people now in their 70s and 80s.

The local poeople all supported me.  They hated the way ‘newcomers’ had moved in and tried to change all the old rights of way.  As one old lady said: “When I lived here as a girl, none of these house had even been built. Now they want to change everything.”  I ended up with 12 of these sworn statements or affidavits, 4 or whom had even died before trial and whose affidavits became Civil Evidence Statements.  One old lady, determined to give her affidavit from her bed in hospital where she was receiving a check up, in fact died in the same early morning of her appointment.  God bless her.

Gradually the pieces started falling into place.  One long-time local, walking through the woods while I was working there, commented that we had cut down the old ‘gantry tree’ used during the war to load timber onto the lorries and which had navigated the same ‘roadway’ past the plaintiff’s house.  Then there was that exceptional local historian, Dr Arnold Baines.  It was his research that showed the fields at the bottom of the hill were the common fields for the village at the top of the hill, Bellingdon.  Some acre pieces were still there to be seen.  Clearly horses and carts and ploughs were moved via Ramscote Lane which ran through the centre of the woodland.

There are a lot of interesting things to tell you about defining age and use of a roadway.  For example, bluebells grow in ancient woodland.  You can estimate the age of a roadway by the distance the bluebells have traveled along the hedge.  And those hedgerow banks you see either side of a country lane are not a result of digging.  It was the thousands of footsteps and wheels that passed between them through the years that wore the earth away between the hedges that formed banks before the road was surfaced.

Let me leave these comments to Mr. Williamson.  In my studies on roads and maps, it crossed my mind there must be someone who must know the reasons why roads are where they are, let’s call him or her ‘a historical geographer’.  I started phoning around the Universities and there he was, at the University of East Anglia.  You can imagine my excitement when I showed him Ramscote Lane and asked him: “Is this a road?” to which he replied: “Yes Philip. This is a road.” His knowledge and his professionalism throughout the cross-examination of his evidence was a deciding factor in closing the door on our opponents.

Here is his c.25 page report – RAMSCOTE LANE, CHESHAM: A REPORT ON ITS ANTIQUITY AND STATUS by T.M.Wiliiamson, MA PhD 16 March 1989

Ramscote Lane – Report by T M Williamson 1989

Part 3 of 3 will be available on 3 September, 2013

Diners Club was my first big, ‘blue chip’ client after I had set up my sales consultancy.  They had a problem with their take-one boxes.  These are the simple frames filled with prepaid membership applications you see in places like hotel lobbies.  In the USA, I was told, they provided 18% of membership; in the UK just about none.  They had tried everything to succeed, even shipping over American ‘experts’.  Still nothing.  So the Board offered a contract to me based on my Rank Xerox success, without any termination clause and paying a fixed sum for each accepted new member.

I fiddled about with it, long lonely nights driving around London, placing boxes in different places and in different establishments. A few months passed. One or two applications came in, still just about nothing.  The Diners Club Sales Director was getting fidgetty. He saw it as an insult anyway I was even there on his patch!  He would just love to bring it to an end.  Then suddenly I twigged it, where the boxes should be placed and who should be rewarded for keeping them there. The applications started coming in ones and twos.  How could it be spread outside London?.  I found a theme here too.  Applications increased.  The sums on the commission cheques started growing month by month.  The Diners Club Sales Director complained I was excluding his team from the commissions. I brought them in too.  They were delighted. New membership spurted ahead again  The twos became tens, then twenties; the twenties forties, and so on.  Money was pouring in.  At the last count, we were generating 13% of new Diners Club membership.

As you see so many times in selling, success can make everything just look too easy.  Maybe the new Diners Club Manging Director, who was seconded from NatWest Bank, hated the monthly ritual of paying me huge commission cheques, maybe more than he earned.  Anyway, after a couple of years or so of the good life, Diners Club broke the contract.  No conversations.  They just broke it.  Lawyers became involved.  Injunctions followed. The contract staggered on until the court date was set: and there we were, battling it out in the High Courts of Justice.

Diners Club made a payment into Court.  My side, led by the eminent QC, Mr Fox-Andrews, took the view Diners Club should pay more.  They should pay to buy back the contract based on the future flow of funds.  Professors at the London Business School became involved, putting a current value on the future flow of funds.  The other side based their case on the damage done to me personally. The arguments swayed to and fro over 4 or 5 days.  The judge began interrupting to say the case needed to be settled without further cost. Clearly he was favouring the other side’s argument (though I still can’t understand why!).  We had to move to settle.

The screen set now moved next morning to the hallowed vestibule of the High Court, Mr Fox-Andrews, a tall man, bowed forward in thought and argument, back against and kicking his heels on the pillar behind him.  I put to him that I wasn’t very happy with the turn of events.  If we had to settle, we could at least argue to be added back payment of commissions re Northern Ireland, which we discoved Diners Club had withheld.  Very reasonable he thought; and off he marched to speak to his opposite number.

He returned happy with his discussion; but the delay in the decision seeemed interminable.  The pillar received a few more kicks.  “What are they doing?” he asked. “Probably phoning Diners Club in America for a decision”, I answered, “and the Director who is being woken up there will not be very pleased.”  We continued to wait. And wait. And wait. Finally the decision.  Diners Club were to withdraw their offer.  To put it bluntly, I was in the deepest of deep s***.  “I can’t believe I am hearing this”, my Counsel said loudly.  “I am going off now to tell them exactly what I think of them.”  “Oh dear”, I thought. ” It can only get worse.”

God took my under his wing that day.  Both QCs were so upset by the brazen Diners Club approach they marched off in tandem to Diners Club to tell them either to reinstate the offer or they were both off the case.  Diners Club submitted.  The offer was reinstated.  After costs were paid, I put about half of the value of the original Diners Club offer into my bank account; but I had lived through an exciting time, the injuctions had kept the commissions flowing for more than an extra year; and interest rates were now blossoming to 15%, even 17%.

What is all this about?  This is the money I rolled over into woodland.  And, through one of these woodlands, the ancient roadway ran by. It was the dispute over my use of this ‘green lane’ in a vehicle that was to take me back to the High Court again.

For Part 2 of 3, visit 31 August, 2013