Minster Street, Reading
Property Dispute 1874

Blagrave V. Aldous. (Special Jury Case.) 

This was action for an ejectment tried by special jury. The plaintiff was J H Blagrave, Esq, of Calcot Park, and the defendant Mr. Alfred Aldous, formerly a grocer, of the Oxford Road, Reading, but now living, retired at Hungerford. Mr. J J Powell QC, Mr. Bosanquet, and Mr. Routh appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr. Huddleston QC and Mr. HD Greene for the defendant, the former instructed by Messrs. Bridges and Co, and the latter by Mr. Thomas Rogers. In opening the case, Mr. Powell explained to the jury that the action had been brought to recover possession of certain premises in Minster Street, Reading, now in the occupation of Mr. Moule, tailor. Plaintiff was the great grandson of Mr. John Blagrave, who died at the end of the last century, leaving considerable property in the town and neighbourhood. On the 6th of November 1787, he devised his estate to his son, John Blagrave and Sir John Simeon, trustees with power to grant leases, and acting under that power the trustees granted the lease of the premises m question the 1st of October 1801, to Elizabeth Gandy on three lives, the last of the three persons dying in 1859, but consequence of an apparent discrepancy in the description of the property in the lease the present holder refused to yield up possession, and now defended the action. It was the practice of the Blagrave family to renew leases on the payment of certain fines, and under these circumstances Mrs. Gandy became possessed of the property which was subsequently assigned to a Mr. Bartlett, and while in his occupation alterations were made, and the premises were converted into two houses, and in consequence of the alterations, the frontage, which was described in the lease as 17ft 8in, was extended to 23ft, as at present. Bartlett paid quit rent of 13s 4d, and two capons, until 1826 and in August of that year Bartlett devised the two houses to his daughter and Mr. Masters, for life and after that he appointed Masters executor to his will. The quit rents were regularly paid until 1842, but at that period Masters took it into his head that the premises were his own, and the result was that Mr. Blagrave commenced action for ejectment against him, but Mr. Masters was very glad to compromise the action, by paying the costs incurred, and giving distinct admission in writing that both the houses were Mr. Blagrave's property. The present defendant, one of the executors under Mr. Masters's will, appeared to have consulted Mr. Rogers, attorney in this town, and as Mr. Aldous disputed the plaintiff's title, it became necessary to bring the present action. 

Mr. Greene said he defended for that part of the property not included in the lease of 1801. All that was mentioned was that described as having a frontage of 17ft Bin. Mr. Bosanquet then called upon the other side to produce the lease of the premises in 1801 from Mr. John Blagrave to Elizabeth Gandy. The lease was accordingly produced. The frontage was stated to be 1 perch 1 foot 2 inches. The three lives were those of Mr. A J Mayhew, Mr. J G Lamb and Mr. F Lamb. Mr. W Hodges, formerly estate agent, valuer & co, of Reading, was then called and deposed : l am 72 years of age. I remember living with my father, Mr. Thomas Hodges, on the south side of Minster Street. It was on the east side of the house now occupied by Mr. Moule. A passage divided the property from that where I lived. Shaw was then the occupier of the house, now Moule's. The house on the west side was occupied by Mr. Attwells. At the end of October, 1810, I left Reading for school in London, and Shaw was then the tenant. In 1818, when my father died, a portion of this property was occupied by a draper named Jeffeties. The premises were subsequently converted into two houses, and I believe I noticed the alteration in 1821. I recollect Mr. James Drover and Mr. Trendell in the street. Both have been dead many years. I ought to recollect Mr. James Moore, he saved my life. I also remember Mr. Watlington, Mr. Udswell, Mr. R Stokes, Mr. Slade, Mr. John Adams, Mr. Thomas Havell, Mr. W Bartlett, Mr. Joseph Rutter Mr. W Granger, Mr. Samuel Dell, Mr. Richard Allaway, Mr. W West, Mr. T Sowdon, and Mr. C Packer. They are all dead. Cross-examined: I do not recollect a sale of this property in 1810. I was only nine years old, and did not trouble much about sales then (laughter). The old plan produced represents my father's house on the east side of the passage, which was a footpath, continued down to the lower brook. The first brook - the Holy Brook - is arched over and the path leads down to the lower brook - the Minster Mill Stream. If there were two houses, Jefferies must have occupied the house on the east side – that between Shaw’s house and the passage. I recollect Attwells being on the west side of Shaw’s. My father had some workshops at the back, and used the passage.

Re-examined: l do not know that there were two houses in 1818. At that time the passage went straight down to the brook, and was not divided as it is now. I know of no division in Shaw’s house, as represented by the dotted line in the old plan produced

Cross-examined: Mr. Snare lived on the north side of the street.

Re-examined: I knew Mr. Snare till his death, which took place more than 20 years ago. There were two Snares.

Mr. Huddlestone: Probably one was a delusion (laughter).

Witness: There was Robert Snare and also John Snare. They both lived on the north side. I do not remember anyone of the name of Snare living on the south side of the street.

Mr. DS Russell of Portland Villa, London Road, deposed: I formerly lived in the house adjoining Attwells, and took the house in 1840 and left in 1844. The business belonged to my niece. I took the house from Mr. Masters. Mr. Tyas, Mr. Pullen and Mr. Moule successively occupied the adjoining premises. I remember Mr. Brown coming in 1841 and 8142 to survey the property on behalf of Mr. Blagrave. I believe signature produced is in Mr. William Masters’ handwriting.

Cross-examined: I told Masters it was annoying to have people looking over the property. Masters said, “Don’t take any notice of it. They are come to find out something about some land of Mr. Blagrave’s, to take posessin of it. If they want to find anything out let them find it out.” Masters said,"they've come to find out about it on behalf of Blagrave’s." He also said, “Part of it I know is Blagrave’s,” or something of that sort. The house on the east, between my house and the passage, was occupied by Tyas (now Moule’s.) The house Tyas occupied was built over the passage.

Re-examined: Only the front part of the house is built over the passage. I believe it was in 1842 that Masters told me what I have said. Mr. Brown said, "I suppose you would not object to pay me the rent,” and I told him I would not object to pay the rent to him provided he gave me a proper receipt.

At this stage of the case the Court adjourned for lunch. On re-assembling, his Lordship explained that there would be difficulty in getting through the business in time. unless the judges were assisted, and it arranged that Mr. Powell and Mr. Huddleston should aid in the trial of prisoners. The learned counsel mentioned accordingly withdrew, leaving Mr. Bosanquet and Mr. Greene to conduct the case.

Mr. Joseph Crapp, parish clerk for St. Mary's was called by Mr. Bosanquet, and produced the rate-books of the parish from 1800 to 1810.

Mr. Bosanquet tendered the entries in the rate books of 1800-1-2-3-6-8-10, relating to property in question. The learned counsel also put in Public Reading Office Copy of the proceedings in the action of Blagrave against Masters, in Trinity Term 1842 Mr Bosanquet proposed to put a document signed by Mr. Masters in 1842.

Mr. Greene raised certain objections, and said he would ask for leave.

His Lordship: No, I cannot grant leave, which means going to the House of Lords. I have great respect for the House of Lords, but I cannot encourage you to go to the House of Lords with such a case as this (laughter).

Mr. J T Brown, surveyor & co, produced his late father's books and papers relating and deposed: My father took the agency for the Blagrave Estate in 1842. The ledger contains an entry of the quit rent of 13s 4d paid by Mr. Masters in respect of these premises up to 1853, and after that Mrs Masters for the executors up to 1864. Since then my brother and myself have taken the same rent, up to October 1866.

Cross-examined: I have a report of a survey of these premises made by my father in 1842.

Re-examined: The depth of the property from Minster Street to the brook is 150 feet.

This completed the plaintiff's case.

Mr. Greene said there had been no refusal to deliver up possession of anything devised in the deed produced, and that was what they defended for. The learned counsel said no notice to quit had been given.

His Lordship replied that the claim set up by the defendant, who had defied his landlord, rendered a notice to quit unnecessary. 

Mr. Greene then pointed out that it was of great importance to ascertain where the house was situated that was said to be occupied by Snare. He contended that the premises now 42 and 43 Minster Street were in 1801 what is now 43 was Snare’s, and that 42 was Ravenscroft’s and he submitted that if he proved there were two houses between Attwells and Hidges, the inference might fairly me drawn that as the lease only defined a frontage of 17ft 8in, the residence belonged to Masters.

The learned Judge reminded Mr. Greene that there was the formidable evidence of Mr. Russell, that the whole of the property Shaw occupied was now occupied by Moule, and that he (Russell) lived next door to Attwells.

Mr. Greene said he believed he should be able to show the jury there was a simple mis-description in the lease. The lease only mentioned 17ft 8in, whereas it was shown that the whole property, including the gateway, had a frontage of 30ft, and Mr. Brown's report showed that without the gateway, the frontage was 24ft 1in.

The learned counsel then called Mr. WH Woodman, surveyor, of Reading, who deposed: l have surveyed the premises, 42 and 43, Minster Street. There is passage between the property that has been described as Hodges', and that of Moule's. Moule's building appears modern - about 60 years old. Hodges' and Attwell's houses were ancient.

An old man named William Lucas was next called, and being very deaf, Mr. Samuel Ravenscroft acted "interpreter" and some amusement was caused by Lucas' replies to several of the questions. He said: I am ashoemaker, and was born in 1794. I recollect Ravenscroft's house. I worked for him. Shaw lived next door to him, and Attwells lived next door to Shaw. Hodges lived the other side of the court. Between Hodges' and Attwells there were two houses. Hodges' house has been repaired. I never in my life heard of Snare living where Hodges did. I used to go into the houses that occupy the same place Moule's premises do now. The fronts of these two houses have been pulled down, but not all. I do not believe there was a wall to separate Hodges' house from the other. There was the same passage there is now. I think there was a ceiling over.

Cross-examined: Ravenscroft lived on the other side - where the passage is. That is to the best of recollection. John Snare never lived there in my time.

Mrs. Sarah Saunders, of Coley Place, stated: l am 78 years of age. I know the house occupied by Mr. Moule. There used to be two. I recollect that as long hack as 68 years. I was then a girl, and used to go to a shoemaker's who lives where Swain does now to fetch work for my father. Shaw, the stonemason, occupied both houses. Hodges lived next.

Mr. WT Brain, clerk to Mr. Rogers, (the defendant's attorney), produced certain documents, but Mr. Bosanquet objected. Mr. Brain, however, also produced an original lease (dated July 27th, 1770, of the property now in dispute, from John Blagrave to Margaret Barney, widow.

Mr. T Fulkes, architect and surveyor, Reading, stated: My father was surveyor and architect, but he has been dead nearly 50 years. I produce my father's ledger which contains a statement of charge to Mr Bartlett in 1813 for plans and estimates for two houses be built in Minster Street.

Mr. R Bradley, Treasurer of the General Charities, produced a book showing the entries of certain payments to the charity. He said: l have received a sum yearly from Mr. Masters and the defendant. I receive as treasurer, all the rent charges connected with the charities. I have received money at my office, payable in respect of a messuage in Minster Street, but know which.

Mr. Greene proposed to put in the conditions of a sale of the property in question by Mr. Hawkes, the Angel Hotel, and also copy of the Reading Mercury , of that date containing the advertisement of the sale, with the view showing that the sale of the property must have taken place with the knowledge of Mr. John Blagrave. 

Mr. Bosanquet objected.

His lordship remarked that Mr. Greene had done everything he could for his client, and asked whether it was worthwhile to attempt to carry the defence further.

Mr. Greene replied that he had still some hope as regards the jury, whom the learned counsel proceeded to address, pointing out to them that the frontage of the property as described in the lease of 1770, was stated to be 17ft 8in, and in the lease granted in 1801 it was given as 1p 1ft 2in. From 1770 to 1801 the same measurement was shown, and he thought the jury would be of opinion that the description would not have been invariably followed had it not been the true measurement. The all-important question to consider was whether more than 17ft 8in was devised the lease of 1801, and Mr. Greene suggested that the lease was correct to the frontage, and ingeniously endeavoured to show there was property adjoining which did not belong to Blagrave's leasehold.

Mr. Bosanquet replied, recapitulating the principal points of the plaintiff's case, and upon the question of measurement, reminded them that a perch may not necessarily have meant only 16 feet when the lease of 1801 was executed. What was conveyed by that lease was the property bounded on one side by Attwells' house the other by Snare's, and the rate books showed what the old man Lucas did not recollect, that Snare occupied a house on the south side of Minster Street at the time in question. The learned counsel asked whether it was at all probable Mr. Masters would have made the admission he did, when there were people living who could easily have given evidence of the state of the property when the lease was granted in 1801, and have shown whether the lease did or did not include the whole of the property he held, at the time the action was commenced against him, if the property had not really belonged to Mr. Blagrave? Mr. Bosanquet submitted with perfect confidence that he had, through the rate books and otherwise, proved the plaintiff's claim as clearly as possible after the lapse of time that had occurred.

The learned Judge minutely summed up, and told the jury the question they had to decide was whether the property which the plaintiff now claimed is identically the same as that which in 1801 passed by lease from the trustees of John Blagrave to Elizabeth Gandy, which subsequently came to Mr. Masters, and after that to Mr. Aldous, as Masters' representative. It was admitted by the defendant that Mr. Blagrave was entitled to some portion of the property, and he must take it if he could, but defendant also said substance that a portion of the property which he held adversely had never come from the Blagrave family, or formed part of the original devise. The question for the decision of the jury was whether the plaintiff had satisfied them that the property he now sought to obtain possession of was the same that passed in the lease of 1801? It was for the plaintiff to eject the defendant, but he could not do so without satisfying the jury that he had the right to do so, and the onus of proof in this case therefore rested upon the plaintiff. The Lord Chief Justice thereupon proceeded to dissect the evidence adduced, and dwelt upon the importance of the evidence contained in the rate books of St. Mary's Parish, produced by Mr. Crapp, the present parish clerk. The jury should recollect that they had to deal with the question whether Mr. Moule now occupies the premises leased to Mrs. Elizabeth Gandy in 1801? These premises were described in that lease as being bounded by Snare's house on one side and by Attwells' house on the other. The question was - what were those premises in 1801? If those premises really were the premises Mr. Moule now occupies, the plaintiff is entitled to succeed. His Lordship further said : lt was question whether Shaw occupied the whole of that which Moule now holds. It seemed to him that in settling this point, nothing could be more important than those ratebooks. His Lordship also regarded the admission of Mr. Masters in 1842, as most important. It appeared that Masters thought he would set his landlord at defiance, and refusing to pay any rent, the parties went to war, and a sister action - he scarcely liked to speak in such affectionate terms of actions at law (laughter) - was commenced. It seemed that Mr. Masters in 1842, took much the same sort of view of the matter as Mr. Aldous does now, and put his claim forward in the same kind of way - that as to part of the property, it might be Blagrave's, but as to the other part that it was his own. It occurred to him (the Lord Chief Justice), that that made the admission the more important. Mr. Masters signed an admission that houses he had under the lease granted to Mrs. Gandy in 1801, the respective occupation of Daniel Russell and Isaac Moule, were the freehold of Mr. Blagrave, and he further agreed to pay the costs. That admission was enclosed a letter sent by Messrs. Weedon and Slocombe (the attorneys acting for Mr. Masters), to the solicitors for Mr. J Blagrave. That admission covered the whole subject matter in dispute, and whatever skill and ingenuity Mr. Greene might have exercised as counsel for the defence, it was very difficult to see, after that admission was once before the court, what case there was left for the defence. He did not mean to say Mr. Aldous had not a right to act as he had done, but what case had he apart from the legal objections which Mr. Greene, his counsel, had taken ? The admission of Mr. Masters, which had been put in was a document which really signed the defendant out of court, as he admitted that the premises were those described in the lease of 1801. Referring to the evidence adduced for the defence, the Lord Chief Justice said the old man Lucas was clearly wrong in a portion of his statement. Against the evidence of Lucas and Mrs. Saunders, there was the description property in the lease itself, the entries the rate-books of St. Mary’s parish, and the deliberate and considered statement of Masters himself, who by the admission really signed himself out of court. In the document which had been produced, Masters admitted the premises were the property of Mr. Blagrave, and his statement was confirmed by the report of Mr. W Brown, which showed that at first Masters was under the impression that the premises were his freehold, but that afterwards he admitted they were leasehold.

The jury having deliberated for a minute or two, gave a verdict for the plaintiff.

The Court adjourned at six o'clock.

Reading Mercury 7th March 1874


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