Office of Commissioners of Crown Lands: Crichel Down Inquiry Files
The files in this series relate to the Crichel Down Inquiry and contain a high proportion of Cabinet papers, including memoranda prepared for the Cabinet Home Affairs Committee, with minutes of the committee's meetings, and minutes 1-7 of the Cabinet Committee meetings held in response to the public interest in the issue. Included in the files are a summary of the position prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries for Sir Andrew Clark, comments by the individuals criticised in the report, various memoranda on the difficulties of disposing of the land, letters received and copies of letters despatched (in particular to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and Sanctuary and Son, the Crown receivers involved), copies of published reports Cmd 9176 and 9220, drafts of statements for the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries for the House of Commons, and other related papers.
The 726 acres of Crichel Down near Blandford, Dorset, had been purchased in 1940 by the Air Ministry for defence purposes (for use as a bombing range). The land was obtained either by compulsory purchase or under the threat of such action. At the time of purchase, 328 acres were farmed by the Harding family, as tenants of the Crichel Estate owned by Lord Alington.
After the Second World War the Air Ministry, having no further need for the range, cleared the site and in January 1950 transferred responsibility for the management to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
In April 1950 the ministry appointed the Agricultural Land Commission to manage the land. Soon afterwards Mr T C Tozer, a local farmer, applied for the tenancy of the site. It was the policy of the ministry that in the interests of agriculture Crichel Down should be equipped and farmed as one holding, and Mr Tozer was considered to be a suitable tenant.
The ministry wanted the Commissioners of Crown Lands to accept responsibility for the management of the land from 29 September 1953, and the land's value having been assessed by the district valuer at £15,000, Mr Tozer was asked to take over from that date, which he agreed to do. However while these negotiations were proceeding, several other applications for the tenancy or freehold of the land were made, including one by Lieut Commander G G Marten, whose wife had inherited the remainder of the Crichel Estate from her father, Lord Alington.
By the time that the Commissioners of Crown Lands became aware of Commander Marten's application, the tenancy had been promised to Mr Tozer. Commander Marten's campaign against the apparent injustice (and rumours of corrupt practices as there had been no public tender) obliged the government to hold a public inquiry. Sir Andrew Clark, QC, was duly commissioned to conduct the inquiry into the procedure adopted in reaching the decision that the land should be sold to the commissioners of Crown lands, in the selection of a tenant by them, and the circumstances in which those decisions were made. The public inquiry, after adjournments, opened at the Corn Exchange, Blandford, on 21 April 1954 (ending on 28 April). Sir Andrew Clark's report, published in June 1954 as Cmd 9176, although finding no evidence of corruption, was critical of the actions and conduct of the Agricultural Land Commission and an acute embarrassment for the government. The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Sir Thomas Dugdale, resigned his post as a consequence.
Criticism of a number of individuals led to the appointment by the Prime Minister of a committee to consider whether certain civil servants should be transferred to other duties. The committee's report was published as Cmd 9220. Commander Marten's costs for being represented at the inquiry were reimbursed to him, and after lengthy negotiations Crichel Down was sold to his wife, the Hon Mrs M Marten, in September 1955.
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- CRES Records of The Crown Estate and predecessors
- Administrative Records of the The Crown Estate and predecessors
- CRES 44 Office of Commissioners of Crown Lands: Crichel Down Inquiry Files