Eviction Statistics, 1849-1887
In their standing orders the constabulary were instructed to report all 'evictions'; the only exceptions were 'when parties surrender on the termination of their lease or agreement, or when parties voluntarily surrender without any previous process of law, but as a matter of agreement'. If tenants left at the mere request of their landlord that was not an eviction; but tenants, served with notice to quit, who left before the case came into court, or when the case came into court, were considered to have been evicted.1 It is possible that the constabulary underestimated the number of evictions; in 1869, for example, they reported 309 actual evictions (372 evictions minus 63 readmissions), but the judicial statistics recorded 950 executions of civil bill ejectment decrees and writs of habere, 206 cottier warrants, and 2,423 warrants for the removal of town tenants, which altogether amounted to 3,579.2 William Neilson Hancock in a memorandum prepared for Gladstone in 1870 stated that the constabulary did not include the evictions of cottiers and town tenants, which helps to explain part of the difference between the constabulary returns and the judicial statistics.3 A discrepancy remains, however, between the 950 civil bill ejectment decrees and haberes executed and the 309 evictions returned in 1969. If the constabulary reported only 30 per cent of evictions, which is what this discrepancy implies, the number of tenants evicted would be much greater than the figures below suggest; in 1850-79, for example, there would have been 174,000 evictions instead of the 52,318 reported by the constabulary.
Occasionally the constabulary failed to report evictions adequately;4 occasionally they exaggerated their numbers.5 There are good reasons, however, for believing that their returns were reliable. The constabulary knew the countryside well; they knew of impending evictions because they attended the courts as a matter of routine; they were experienced in the collection of statistics, such as the agricultural statistics; the Chief Secretary's Office took their mistakes seriously enough to accumulate files on the subject. The constabulary's figures do not, however, have to be taken entirely on trust. First, the figure of 174,000 evictions is improbable____________________