An Introduction to the History of the Land Law

By A. W. B. Simpson | Go to book overview

IX
The Nineteenth-Century Reforms and Thereafter

IT is difficult in a short account of the history of the leading doctrines of the land law to give any convincing impression of its extreme complexity at the beginning of the nineteenth century1 To some extent this complexity was a general feature of all branches of the law, but in the law of land, which harboured many ghosts of a remote past, the disease was particularly gross. Under the Commonwealth many reforms which were ultimately carried into effect had been suggested, but the Statute of Tenures in 1660 was the only substantial reform which had survived the Restoration2 In the eighteenth century the law had been developed largely in the courts, and any reader of Blackstone can guess that reforming zeal was not a characteristic of the legal mind of the time. Lord Mansfield had made a noble effort to deal harshly with the rule in Shelley's Case, which rule served no useful purpose whatsoever, but his attempts failed3 Yet even Blackstone found fault with the absurdities of Fines and Recoveries, and no lawyer could deny that there were faults in the system. The resistance to reform arose from a number of factors. There was amongst laymen a reluctance to suggest interference with so incomprehensible a mystery as the law of property, which they could not hope to understand. Until the Commentaries of Blackstone appeared there was no way of acquiring the elements of the law of property unless one was prepared to become a practitioner; even amongst the practitioners only a few possessed an extensive grasp of the law, which was essential to any intelligent pro-

____________________
1
I have in this chapter made no effort to duplicate the accounts of nineteenth- century legislation given in modern textbooks.
2
For reforming proposals of the Commonwealth period see Holdsworth, Vol. VI, pp. 412-23.
3
See Perrin v. Blake ( 1770), 4 Burr. 2579, Foxwell v. Van Grutten, [ 1897] A.C. 658; also Holdsworth, Vol. III, p. 109.

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