Reported John Bell Land Dispute 1867


This is an abridged version of the newspaper report under, and has been researched by Ann Freer adding to the diverse Bell family history.


Friday February 22nd 1867

Cumberland Spring Assizes

“A posse of policemen, under the superintendence of Inspector Taylor, kept the passage from the railway station clear from the platform to the Sheriff’s carriage, which was awaiting The Judges. Four highly caparisoned bays drew the carriage, and the riders and footmen were arrayed in plush.

Mr Justice Shee in the Nisi Prius Court heard the case of Disputed Ownership of a piece of Common Land. John Bell v John Hyslop and wife.

Mr Pickering, Q.C. with Mr Kemplay appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr Manisty, with whom was Mr Bacon, for the defendants.

This was an action brought by the plaintiff to recover possession of a certain piece of land situated in the parish of Farlam, and in the possession of John Hyslop and Margaret his wife, the defendants Mr Pickering in opening the case, said the plaintiff in this case was John Bell, and the defendants John Hyslop and Margaret his wife. The question which they [the jury] would have to try was in reference to a quantity of land somewhere about 86 acres, which was situated at Farlam, and which had been allotted under the *Enclosure Act of 1780.

About the year 1780, after the Enclosure Act this land, part of some waste or common, was enclosed, and three allotments were made, one to a person named Elliot, the second to James Warwick, and the third to Joseph Warwick. How long those persons retained possession it was not known; but ultimately the great-grandfather of the present claimant became possessed of them. In addition to that allotment he had a farm in the same parish, consisting of about 140 acres. Old Thomas and his son Joseph subsequently occupied the allotments made to Elliot, and the two Warwicks.

This happened somewhere about the year 1780 or 1800, when James and Joseph Bell were living together. It appeared that Joseph, son of James Bell, married in the first instance a woman named Jenny Moses who would be spoken to as his wife “Jenny”. In the year of 1812, James Bell died. Before he died he made a will, which bore the date of January 1783, and which left the land to his son Joseph. Before old James died in 1812, Thomas Bell’s first wife Jenny died, and he married again a woman named Mary Bell. He had no children by his first wife Jenny. They lived together at the farmhouse at West Farlam. Old Thomas and Joseph still continued to manage the farm. There was no question about his occupation of the land. He continued to live there until the year 1836 when he died, leaving apparently all the lands he had received from his father, who left them in strict Entail subject to power of appointment. This will bore the date 1827, he having died about eleven years after. Mentioned in the will was the purchase of the allotments in question from Elliot and the two Warwicks. The second Joseph Bell died in July 1849. After his death three sons lived together on the same farm, and continued to cultivate 140 acres, and the 90 acres, which formed the subject of dispute. The question for their consideration was whether this land was within the power of the second Joseph Bell to dispose of as he liked.

The first witness called was John Bird, a deaf old man, resident at Farlam who said he knew John Bell. The land in dispute was on Farlam Common. When he first knew John Bell he was farming the property he now farmed. Mr Hyslop held the land on the Common now. He knew the wife of Joseph Bell, who after her husband’s death lived with her son Joseph.

Mr Mansty, after some few prefatory observations, said it was quite true that in 1780 the common in question was divided into the three allotments. They were also agreed that the 86 acres of the land was the part of those three allotments which was furthest away from the Kirkhouse road, and which was part of the dispute. The other part adjoining the road, as had been proved, was the property of Mrs Thompson. After tracing the history of the property, the learned council said the jury would see that the land in dispute belonged in succession to John Bell of Boon Hill, who was brother to Mary, who married Joseph Bell. There is no doubt – it was proved – that John Bell Mary’s brother, was the John Bell of Boon Hill. He would produce the conveyance deed of that part of the three allotments which was made or given on 12th May 1801. John Bell, of Boon Hill, purchased that part of the allotment in question from mortgages of another John Bell of Low Lonning who no doubt must have got it from the three persons to whom the allotments were originally made under the Enclosure Act.

The case was as simple and clear as noonday. In 1801 on the 12th May, Mary Bell, before she married Joseph, bought the piece of land in dispute. He would prove step by step that the land in question had come from the said Mary down to his clients. How came the property to his clients? Joseph Bell, who dies in 1849, gave this common in question to his illegitimate son George, who made a will in favour of his wife Amelia which was absolute. George died in 1856, and Amelia his wife who survived him until 1860. Previous to her death she made a will bequeathing this common to her sister Margaret, wife of the present defendant who conjointly with her husband fulfilled all the acts of ownership.

Mr Manisty having confirmed this statement by the production of the wills referred to by him in his speech.

Mr Pickering said he was not instructed to question the will of the plaintiff’s father, neither was he disposed to do so. Upon this statement the jury were at once directed to return a verdict for the defendants”.


The Inclosure Acts (or “Enclosure Acts” in modern spelling) was a series of United Kingdom Acts of Parliament which enclosed open fields and common land in the country, creating legal property rights to land that was previously considered common.

This account of Bell land ownership in Farlam, would be a little easier to understand if read in conjunction with the Bell Family Tree available here:


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