A History of the Town Moor
The Town Moor was part of the Town and the ancient grazing rights belonged to individual Freemen. It was probably part of the manor of Newcastle and thus included in the grant of the town to the Freemen by King John. It was evidently part of the property of the Freemen in the reign of Henry III, who granted permission to dig coal there, however the grazing rights probably go back to long before the Conquest. The Nuns Moor was purchased and added to the Town Moor after it had come into private ownership by royal grant after the dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII.
There is a tradition that the Moor was given to the Freemen by Adam of Jesmond (sometimes confused with Sir Adam de Athol) however it may be that he only granted some grazing rights within the Manor of Jesmond.
In 1770 the Freemen suggested that the Moor (referring to an area on the southwest side of what is now Barrack Road and Ponteland Road) which was very rough and undrained, should be improved. Then in 1771 the Common Council, without consulting the Freemen, enclosed and purported to let this part of the Moor. The Freemen defending their rights, entered and took possession of this land. The Lessee, Joshua Hopper, supported by the Council, commenced a law suit for trespass. The action was tried on 10 August 1773, interestingly it began at 7 o’clock in the morning! Counsel for the Freemen, Serjeant Glynn, the Recorder of London having admitted trespass, was called upon to justify it. When he closed his speech Counsel for the Corporation, on being asked if he did not mean to make a reply made the memorable response, “How can I reply? – he has pounded me in a common and I cannot get out!”
A compromise was effected and the Town Moor Act was passed in 1774, at the expense of the Corporation, establishing for ever the right of the Freemen to the grazing on the Moor, without prejudice to the ownership. The management of the Moor was set out in that Act. It was slightly modified by the Newcastle upon Tyne Improvement Act 1870 which gave statutory recognition to the Stewards Committee of the Freemen as the body to represent the Freemen in connection with the Moor. These two Acts established the governing and use of the Moor and constitute the “dual control” which was perpetuated in the 1988 Act. The City Council hold the legal ownership of the freehold and the Freemen have an absolute right to herbage so mutual agreement is required on nearly all matters relating to the land. The Freemen’s rights are called “sole or several pasture”.
For approximately 50 years the Freemen and the City Council have operated a Joint Committee to look after the management and improvement of the Moor and this system operated well and to the satisfaction of both parties. Unfortunately, owing to Council re-organisation this ceased to exist in 1998. A Town Moor Joint Consultative Committee was subsequently formed to debate matters relating to management and use of the Town Moor.
The Town Moor is not technically a common in law at all, however it is within the definition of common land in the Commons Registration Act, and therefore registered under it. The public had no rights in common land until the Law of Property Act 1925 when they were given rights for access for air and exercise. The Freemen have never raised any objection to the use of the Moor by the public who have always enjoyed the right of air and exercise and indeed this principle is enshrined in the 1988 Act.
When the government of the City was transferred to the Council elected by ratepayers, the rights of the Freemen over the Moor were expressly retained. The Council have still tried from time to time to gain sole control of the Moor. The attempt in 1773 has already been mentioned. In 1861 a scheme to buy out the Freemen was proposed but was withdrawn in 1863 in the face of local indignation, not just confined to the Freemen. In 1869 a similar attempt was made but again after considerable opposition it was abandoned. In 1910 the Council when promoting a private Bill attempted to reduce the Freemen’s interest in the Moor but the clause they proposed was struck out by a Committee of the House of Lords after a Town’s Meeting had carried a resolution against the clause. In 1913 the Council purported to deal with the Moor without the consent of the Freemen by letting a portion to Showmen on the occasion of the Temperance Festival. This led to a law suit by the Freemen against the Showmen who were supported by the Council, in which the Freemen were successful. As recently as 1948 a scheme was proposed to destroy the Freemen’s rights in the Moor, but common sense prevailed and the scheme did not proceed.
The Freemen have exercised their right to graze cows on the Moor from time immemorial, the right to do so having originated prior to the Norman Conquest. The Newcastle upon Tyne Town Moor Act 1988 states that the Stewards Committee shall decide the number of cows, not exceeding 800, which may be grazed. This number is dependant on the conditions and capacity of the areas available for grazing from year to year. In 2018 circa 600 cattle were grazed on the Town Moors.