Price of land 100-year review

Column 16-5-19 SM Farm

I knew we had some old records and ledgers in our attic archive going back some 100 years, but the last time I saw them was around 1990 when we moved offices from Trevor Hill in Newry to our current home on 108 Hill Street.

At that time – in my early thirties – I admit I had no curiosity as to the contents.

As we become older, local history seems to become more interesting and hearing about our ancestors peaks interest that it may not have previously. Best Property Services is a family business established by my grandfather’s uncle in the late 1880s – I’m the fourth generation to work in the company, joining in 1980.

Age and curiosity prompted a look in the attic recently and I found the earliest dated ledger from 1920/21 – coinciding with the dates my grandfather took over the business from his uncle Robert Whiteside.

Information contained within the ledgers varied from conacre land lettings, auctions of livestock and chattels and the occasional land sale.

Whilst the sketchy hand written notes recorded a heading and a date at the top of most pages, it was often frustratingly lacking in detail.

Whilst I leafed through the old dusty pages I could not find any mention of acreage in terms of land sales.

For example, the heading could read: “Sale of farm at Drumbanagher for the late M McComb, October

26, 1921.”

Below that, three bidder names are listed with a figure beside each name between £80 and £180.

Clearly the successful purchaser acquired this farm at £180 but no acreage was noted and was frustrating for me as I was curious to draw a comparison some 100 years later.

A couple of evenings later, I looked again at the ledger and noticed a page inside the back cover showing a declaration by a Robert James Clarke of Ballinaleck, Poyntzpass, indicating that he had acquired a farm at Rathconville of 24 acres, offered by public auction on November 12, 1920 for the sum of £1,000.

The declaration was signed off by both seller and buyer and confirmed that a deposit of £50 was paid to Whiteside & Best.

At last – not only evidence of a price per acre (just under £42), but as luck would have it an example of land in the same townland as a 55 acre farm (Gordon’s) we had sold in December 2018, which achieved an average price of around £14,000/acre.

On the reasonable assumption that the November 1920 Stevenson farm sale could well have been a neighbouring farm of Gordon’s, then the increase in value from £42 to £14,000 (excluding property) would represent an average appreciation of approximately £140 per acre per annum over 99 years. Success at last.

If we consider the UK inflation rate between 1920 and today, then the £1,000 spent to acquire Stevenson’s farm in 1920 would be the equivalent to £44,325 now.

A multiplier of 44 versus a multiplier of 333 when the money then was invested in farmland. This relates only to the comparison in capital values and ignores any income or profit generated by the 24 acres during the past 99 years.

One of the other interesting observations in looking through land documentation written nearly a century ago is the familiar tenant surnames applicable within townlands. These are often the same farming families that we associate with these townlands today.

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