The Tenant-Right Custom
Tenant right was, according to the lawyers Ferguson and Vance, 'a phantom that melts away under every attempt to define it and that, chameleon- like, appeared to assume a different aspect every time it presents itself'.1 Contemporary definitions ranged from the simple right of an outgoing tenant to sell his improvements to what became known as the three Fs-- fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale. Mountifort Longfield, a judge of the landed estates court, told a select committee in 1865 that tenant right was 'the custom of a tenant holding from year to year at a moderate rent and with security of tenure depending upon the honour of the landlord': when such a tenant 'wants' to quit, he may sell his tenant right 'for sometimes as much as £800'.2 The tenant-right custom, according to W. D. Henderson, was the three Fs.3 Even landlords and agents went beyond the right to sell improvements. Fitzherbert Filgate, Lord Downshire's agent, thought that tenant right included 'fair' rents;4 Robert Russell, a County Donegal agent, thought that it included fixity of tenure.5
There were enough contradictions in definitions of tenant right in the 1850s to justify the cautious, but capacious, definition put forward by Ferguson and Vance: the right of a tenant to continue in possession as long as he paid his rent or until the landlord required possession; the right of an outgoing tenant to sell 'all the interest in the farm recognized by custom to belong to him'.6 But what did this mean? The first right conferred nothing remarkable on a tenant; the second did not explain what the custom allowed him to sell. Was it his improvements, or something more? William Neilson Hancock, brother of Lord Lurgan's agent John Hancock and professor of political economy in Dublin University ( 1845-51), argued that____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Landlords and Tenants in Mid-Victorian Ireland. Contributors: W. E. Vaughan - Author. Publisher: Clarendon Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1994. Page number: 67.
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