Capital and Innovation

A recent email conversation with Colin Warburton of the Edenfield clan raised the question of the early Warburton ancestors of the clan who were tenant farmers on the Tottington Manor Estate and lived in Stubbins Hall. Colin mused that they seemed ‘well off’ for tenant farmers. I think my answer to him might be of general interest so I have repeated it below. I believe the book mentioned, Capital and Innovation can still be found on Amazon, at least secondhand.

I have a book, Capital and Innovation by Charles Foster. Charles was the archivist at Arley Hall, and brother-in-law to the current Viscount Ashbrook. In the book he describes how, in the early 16th century, news laws were introduced which created ‘customary’ tenants whose rents were fixed, and who could not be ejected. 


In NW England these tenancies were typically held on 3 lives leases, in which the lease lasted until the death of the last of three named persons. However, on payment of a ‘fine’ to the landlord, when one of the three lives died, he could be replaced by a new name. My direct ancestors held  a 3-lives lease in Hale Barns for 21 statute acres at 22s 10d per annum. This lease only died when my 4x great Grandfather died in 1791.


These fixed rents had the effect of transferring considerable wealth to the tenants. The actual value of the land climbed considerably. Plots could be sub-let at a considerable premium, and the value of produce from the land outstripped the fixed cost of holding the land, even allowing for the occasional ‘fine’ to the landlord.


Charles actually states in his introduction that “before 1640 a few of the small farmers of the North-West became rich enough to educate their children for the Church, the Law, and City of London companies”. This exactly fits John Warburton of Stubbins Hall. My notes on him state:


John went to Bolton School, and entered St. Johns College, Cambridge in 1639, aged 17, and graduated. He was an MA in 1664, and a minister on the Holcombe/Edenfield circuit in 1667-91. He inherited Stubbins Hall, but sold it in 1666. A Rental from 1662 shows John of Stubbings was paying £2 0s 7 1/2d ancient rent plus £1 17s 11 1/2d for commons, encroachments, new improvements and Alden rents. This was the third highest rent in the Tottington Manor. He was also the first name on the list of homagers of the court who swore an oath to the validity of the Return.


I think this explains very well how a tenant farmer with one of the largest holdings on the Tottington Estate could afford a farmhouse grand enough to be called a Hall, and to send his son to be educated at Cambridge.


Charles also describes a further peculiarity of North Western culture. Wills split accumulated wealth amongst all the sons of the families. This created numbers of landless men with a bit of capital and a need to create a livelihood. Many started small businesses, which in some cases grew into larger ones. Charles’s book is about how this and other local attributes were important factors in the flowering of the Industrial Revolution in the North-West.


The value of a little capital in business generation was brought home to me by a newspaper article that described the Enterprise Allowance Scheme introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1981 which offered £40 per week for a year to any young person starting a new business. You needed £1,000 in loans or savings, and a business plan, but otherwise there were very few restrictions. The result was 100,000 people took up the scheme, 65% of them were still running their business 18 months later, and one fifth were employing someone.

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