Psst! Wanna buy a title?
Well, despite the continuous efforts of the Earl of Bradford, whose illuminating correspondence with eBay stretches back a long way, bogus deals (not genuine ones of course) appear regularly on the Internet’s most famous auction website. Here is the latest “title” offering.
So it’s a manorial lordship ~ which is to say that its owner is the Lord of the Manor of Hillend in the English county of Worcestershire. But who is its owner? It is natural to assume that it is the seller, but is it? The history eBay publishes stops two and a half centuries ago with an additional note that fifty years later the manor “seems” to have belonged to a family by the name of Hills. Does that persuade anyone that the claim for current ownership is valid? What happened to the ownership after 1756? Did it thereafter pass with the lands to whoever bought them, or did it pass with the manorial documents to whoever bought those, or did it pass with the manorial rights to whoever bought those, or was it retained by George Perrott and his heirs after the lands and the documents and the rights had passed out of the family? Who knows?

Why is this important? It is important because the seller of a manorial lordship must provide the buyer’s lawyers with solid proof of ownership, the “root of title” which should show the ownership back in time over the last fifteen years. Of course, in an ideal situation there should be evidence of the progression of the title from the date of its creation, but this is rare with manorial properties and sometimes there is nothing to support a title other than oral tradition. However, modern law, recognising the difficulties, has settled on the fifteen-year rule and when there is no documentation to support even this short and recent period the law will rely on the professed owner supplying a Statutory Declaration to the effect that he and no one else owns the manor.

How reliable is a Statutory Declaration? What is to stop someone digging up the name of an ancient manor, going before a solicitor and swearing that he owns it, and then using that Statutory Declaration (for which the solicitor asks no proof, as his rôle is only that of a witness) to sell the manor? Well, only a shortage of gullible victims actually, because eBay appears to be doing nothing to stop this type of fraudulent activity.

A reader, amused by the paradox that the use of a Statutory Declaration is more likely to be proof that the seller does not own a manor rather than that he does, has written a useful description of the dangers for a buyer relying on the seller’s provision of one as proof of ownership. We publish it here as a PDF file (which will require Acrobat Reader 6.0 or later to open it) and invite interested parties to comment on it.

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