On 10th December 1964, the Cork law firm of Wm Montgomery & Sons announced that the second Earl of Midleton was putting his entire estate in that town up for sale, with a preference to having it purchased by an Irish buyer. The news became public in Midleton on 11th December – and you can imagine the impact, not just in Midleton.
Plenty of cars – but no motorcars! Main Street, Midleton, around 1900.
The idea that a whole town in Ireland would still be ‘owned’ by an English landlord went down very badly. But people in Midleton had been paying ground rents and leases to Lord Midleton since his ancestors bought the town when it was offered for sale by the Encumbered Estates Court in the 1850s. The 5th Viscount had committed suicide in 1848 and left estate in serious debt, and the inheritance in some disarray. Eventually the Irish estate was split and parts were sold off, with the descendants of Charles Brodrick, Archbishop of Cashel, purchasing the portion that included the town of Midleton. This branch of the family had inherited the title Viscount Midleton on the death of the 5th Viscount and they felt that the title was meaningless without possession of the town.
The first Earl of Midleton died in 1942, and his son sold up the estate at Peper Harrow in Surrey and decamped to the tax-friendly environs of Jersey. With no direct heir, he decided to sell up the last of his Irish holdings in 1964. The plan was to auction off the holdings in the early spring of 1965. The Earl had hoped that the housholders would buy the freehold of their properties and thus become free of ground rent.
What exactly was on offer? Nothing less than 300 houses, 100 acres of land, and the ground rents of almost all the urban area of Midleton! Even Midleton College, founded in 1696, only held the freehold of its original buildings and one acre of land – it still paid rents on its playing fields! Admittedly ground rents were fairly nominal, but for people on low incomes they were a cost.
But on the 9th of February, the inhabitants of Midleton discovered that the entire Midleton estate had been bought as a single lot by a newly formed group of Cork businessmen calling themselves The Midleton Estate Company Ltd. This further upset the locals who simply didn’t have a chance to buy the freehold of their properties.
Thus began a two year battle by the inhabitants of Midleton to acquire the actual ownership of their town. The former Cork hurler and native of Midleton, John Fenton, completed an MA in Local History on this topic and has since published a book describing the whole affair.
A celebrated piece of controversial modern history in Midleton.
Tomorrow night, 11th December, to mark the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the sale of Midleton, John will give a lecture entitled ‘When Midleton Town was sold‘ in the GAA Hall in Midleton at 8.00pm. This is being held to mark the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the sale, and to raise funds for the Irish Kidney Association. I’m looking forward to it.