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  • Writer's pictureWho Owns Norfolk?

Defining and categorizing Britain's landowners

Updated: Feb 20

Who actually owns Norfolk's land? Is it the state, communities, the aristocracy, or newly rich city grandees? As WON's project team has delved into answering this question, another question has necessarily arisen - how do we define Norfolk's landed elite? High Kelling Estate was bought by the son of a waste management magnate from London in 2010. This new addition to the landed set is very different to George Le Strange, whose family have owned the 6,000 acre Le Strange Estate near Hunstanton since at least 1080; these lands were granted to their ancestors as a reward for joining William the Conqueror's invasion in 1066. 

Kelling Hall, Norfolk - By Stavros1 - Own work, CC BY 3.0

To better analyse the results of WON's research, i.e. measuring just how much of Norfolk is owned by the historic landed aristocracy vs the nuveau riche vs more modest working farmers, we have applied a set of definitions and categories to Norfolk's and Britain's landowners. These are split between private (i.e., individual or family) and institutional (i.e., owned by a government or organization) and are detailed below:

Private Landowners

International Super Rich

Several of Norfolk's grandest estates have been acquired in recent years by those at the bewildering tip of the global capital system - international billionaires whose assets transgress various tax efficient borders. A hard to define class, but ultimately WON has applied a definition where wealth has been newly acquired (post WWII) and is so vast that you wouldn't bat an eye lid at acquiring 3 or 4 additional stately homes. Landowners in this class include the Al Maktoums, i.e. the oil sheikh royal family of Dubai, who own the 7,500 acre Shadwell Estate, and the enigmatic Count Padulli, the Italian count and former hedge fund manager who now owns a rapidly accruing 14,000 acres in Norfolk alone, alongside an entire village on Yorkshire and an alluring country house in Ireland. 

International Buyers

Not as staggeringly wealthy as their super rich international counterparts, this portion of Norfolk's landowners herald from overseas and have hoovered up parts of Norfolk's land over the last 40 or so years. Examples include the Danish Gundersen family who bought the Easton Estate, near Norwich, in 2008 for GBP 25 million.

New British Money

This landowning class is defined as those hard-nosed capitalists who made their millions after the close of World War II. The dividing line here is that their success must have been achieved after 1945; historically landed gentlemen who leveraged their country assets to achieve success in business would still be defined as landed gentry. Examples of New British Money would include Mr Widdowson of High Kelling, mentioned above, and Mark Lorimer, the former corporate lawyer turned property man who acquired the 1,500 acre Docking Lodge Farm in 2019 and subsequently went about constructing a modern and grand country home. 

Modern Gentry / Modern Peerage

Looking further back into the history of Norfolk's landed wealth, we now reach that class of people who made their wealth after the British aristocracy lost their majority in the UK House of Commons in 1885 through to the end of World War II. Examples here would include the Temple-Richards family (descendants of Thomas Cook, founder of the eponymous travel agent) who bought the 8,000 acre Sennowe Park in 1898, Sir Samuel Roberts, 4th Baronet, whose family bought Cockley Cley Estate in 1921, and the Baron Fisher family who inherited Kilverstone Estate from the industrialist Josiah Vavasseur in 1908.

Charlie Temple-Richards' Sennowe Park (sometimes known as Sennowe Hall)

The British Aristocracy

Britain's aristocracy remain major landowners across most of the country. Defining this nebulous and evolving social group, which has welcomed newly wealthy nuveau riche to its ranks throughout history, is difficult, though WON has developed its own definition in a separate article (available here).

To summarize these definitions and categories:

Late Gentry / Peerage - families who first joined the landed elite in the period between 1832 and 1885 (and descendants thereof) - with 1832 representing the year of the First Reform Act, the first of several reform acts in the 19th century which expanded democracy and in doing so reduced the power of the aristocracy. This culminated in the aristocracy losing its majority in the House of Commons in 1885 - arguably a key turning point in ending the aristocratic hold on the levers of power.

Middle Gentry / Peerage - Families (and their descendants) who first joined the landed elite between 1600 and 1832, and therefore became part of the aristocracy while it still held a firm grip on power across the United Kingdom. The cut off date of 1600 is arbitrary, but has been chosen as it represents the year that the East India Company was founded - heralding in a new, more modern era of colonialism and capitalism - the latter of which would over time erode the power of feudalism.

Old Gentry / Peerage - Families (and their descendants) who became significant landowners prior to 1600 - and therefore represent a more ancient part of the aristocracy.

Other Private Landowners

Other types of Private Landowner include:

  • Farmers

  • Family Businesses

  • Other Individual Landowners (Non-Farmer or Aristocracy)

Institutional Landowners

Institutional landowners include a range of non-individual/-family landowners, such as government bodies, companies, charities, religious institutions and educational bodies.

Government - including the Forestry Commission, the Crown Estate, Norfolk County Council and the Ministry of Defence.

Corporate - including both private companies and investors (if not owned by a single individual / family). Examples include Anglia Water, the South Yorkshire Pension Authority and British Sugar.

Charity/NGO - including Norfolk Wildlife Trust, RSPB and the National Trust

Other Institutions - including the Church Commissioners, the colleges of Cambridge and Oxford, private schools and the University of East Anglia.

Who are Norfolk's largest landowners? This Who Owns Norfolk article reveals all.

The Who Owns Norfolk West Norfolk Map can be be seen below:

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