Bring up the bodies

Those of you who have read the latest novel of Hilary Mantel, “Bring up the Bodies”, will have had an insight into the world of Henry V111, his minister Thomas Cromwell, and the tragedy of Ann Boleyn. What few will realise is that the fevered politics of those times still affects the process of buying and selling houses in the present day.

Henry’s passion for Anne Boleyn led to the break with Rome, which paved the way for the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The dissolution of a religious house was like the liquidation of a modern company; the assets were up for grabs, and their land was usually acquired by the local gentry. There was a massive land scramble. The gentry generally did well out of this, but in some cases they took on a hidden burden with the land, which was a sting in the tail. They ended up with the duty to repair the chancel of the local church.

This burden arose where there was a “lay rector “of the local church, which was often the case with monastic estates. Over time this burden came to be overlooked, and most lawyers thought that the liability had been consigned to history. This all changed with the case of Aston Cantlow, which came before the House of Lords in 2003. This held that the owners of a house, Glebe Farm, still had the obligation to repair the chancel of the local church .This was a duty which cost the owners tens of thousands of pounds. It became clear that any property, particularly in rural areas, could be subject to this burden.

Since then solicitors have had to carry out what is called a Chancel Search when buying a house, to see at the very least whether a particular parish has a potential for chancel repair liability. If it does then it is usual to take out an indemnity policy to cover the risk, at a fairly modest premium. Parliament has intervened to try to bring chancel repair liability to an end. Parochial Church Councils have until 13th October 2013 to register the potential liability against a title. If they do not do so by then a buyer can safely proceed knowing that they will be safe from any future payments. However for the time being a Chancel Search is essential and the ghost of Thomas Cromwell continues to haunt us.

For more information, please contact Gerry Field on 01473 230033.