A Letter from Nantwich

July 2004

The town where they pay you to live . . .

IT IS often said that Nantwich is the town where they pay you to live. And, I suppose that could be said to be true - if you live in the right street, and, sometimes, on the right side of the street - if you amend the comment to say that we're paid because we live here.

   This is because of something called Beam Heath - an area of common land where local people had the right to graze cows over the centuries. [It was even mentioned in the Domesday Book - William the Conqueror's inventory of who owned what - and so who owed tax on what - in 1068.]

   The enclosure of land in the early 19th century changed all that, but an act of Parliament, the Beam Heath Act of 1823, saw to it that Nantwich people didn't lose out.  A body of people called the Beam Heath Trust oversaw the use of the land and their successors are still going strong. Among their current tasks is the allocation of money accrued from the land (rents paid by farmers and investments) to the owners of the land - the people of Nantwich. This was in lieu of their right to graze animals on the heath.

   Not all townspeople qualify. Only those who live in the "Ancient Parish of Nantwich" so that people living in the outer areas of the ever-expanding town do not get a share of the money. Even then, people living within the old boundary may not be eligible. You have to have been born in Nantwich or, if not, to have lived in the town for more than seven years. People who previously qualified, but who moved away from Nantwich - to work elsewhere for instance - have to live in town again for two years before they can qualify to become a recipient once more.

   Writing in the Winter 2004 edition of "Talk of the Town" (the newsletter of Nantwich Town Council), the then Clerk of the Trust, Sarah Fox, a solicitor, also added "service of seven years' apprenticeship".

   But I confess I hadn't heard of that qualification and I am not sure what it means.

   I have heard that the boundary of the Ancient Parish in some parts of town runs down the middle of a street so that people living on one side get the money while








A cheque for 4 - with the J. Haydn Jones sketch

their neighbours over the road do not. So it's no use rushing to buy a house in the centre of Nantwich with the idea of living a life of luxury.

  We are not talking about Lottery-size windfalls here. It is currently 35 (tax paid) and, of course, people who do not pay tax can claim the taxman's "cut" back. It wasn't always even that much as you will see from the elaborate cheque at the top of the page in which the background is Nantwich buildings drawn by the late J. Haydn Jones - a Nantwich artist famous for his pen and ink drawings of the town.

   As you will see, the annual payment then (I have forgotten the date, but it was late 1990s) was 4.

   The pot of cash was increased when Beam Heath land was sold to J.Sainsbury to build a supermarket, as well as with the sale of land for an adjacent bypass and the Barony Employment Park. As I understand it, however, the Trust could not dispose of the land completely and equivalent areas had to be substituted. 

  According to Mrs Fox, the Clerk, the land runs along both sides of Middlewich Road - one of seven roads coming into Nantwich - from the edge of the town to the Rising Sun, a pub at Wistaston, a village on the outskirts of Crewe.

    "The trustees now manage approximately 600 acres of agricultural land which is let to farming tenants," said Mrs Cox.  From 1729 to 1824, there was a racecourse


on Beam Heath (see the Dabbers page about betting), but the enclosure of land with hedges and fences ended all that.

   You don't have to do anything to receive the money - except be at home when the Beam Heath Trust representative calls. He will try twice before giving up, although I understand that you can still get the dividend if you go to a special meeting of the trustees. The trustees - a band of local worthies elected by the recipients - have already met to hear claims from people who feel they now qualify.       

l I haven't heard of anywhere else in the country where you are "paid to live" but there could be and I would be interested to hear about it. E-mail me, please, and I'll include a note on this page.     

l IF you are thinking that Winter 2004 was yet to come when this Letter was written, I am pleased to say that the producers of "Talk of the Town" share my idea of the seasons of the year. It seems to be a popular belief that the seasons (in order) are Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. But with Winter not beginning until December 21, the bulk of that season falls at the start of the new year, so Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn is more correct!      


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