In 1847, Randle Wilbraham claimed that Mow Cop Castle, which was partly in Cheshire and partly in Staffordshire, belonged to the Rode Estate. He repaired the building and installed a new door which was kept locked to prevent the public gaining access.
The county boundary, which also marked the boundary between the Rode Estate and the ancient Manor of Tunstall, ran through the centre of the castle.
Ralph Sneyd, the Lord of The Manor of Tunstall said the part of the building in Staffordshire belonged to him. Although unable to prove ownership, Randle continued to keep the door locked and Ralph’s attorney broke it down and regained possession for his client.
Randle sued Ralph for trespass and the case was heard at Stafford Assizes on 19th March, 1850.
After opening his case, Randle’s counsel called his first witness Rode Estate’s steward, George Reece, who said the building was partly in Staffordshire and partly in Cheshire.
George told the court he had been employed by Randle for 37 years. He said the estate had repaired the castle on two previous occasions once in 1824 and again in 1841. When cross examined by Ralph’s counsel, George admitted that before 1847 the castle was unlocked and open to anyone.
John Stanier, whom Randle paid 2/6d a year to look after the building, said there were many visitors during the summer adding that those from Staffordshire drank beer while those from Cheshire drank water or something better if they could get it.
Another witness, Joel Poyton, said Randle gave him the key in 1847 along with instructions to let visitors into the castle at any time other than when church services were taking place on Sundays.
Summing up the judge, Mr Justice Patteson, told the members of the jury they had to decide who owned the half of the building that was in Staffordshire and said that Ralph could not be guilty of trespass if he owned it.
The case baffled the jury who found Ralph guilty of trespass while finding as a fact that half the property belonged to Randle while the other half belonged to Ralph. Redirecting the jury, the judge told it that if half the land belonged to Ralph then half the castle belonged to him and he could not be found guilty of trespassing on his own property.
However, the complexities of land law continued to confuse the jury.
Eventually the parties agreed to settled out of court. Randle accepted that the Staffordshire half belonged to Ralph and withdrew the case. They agreed the castle should be kept locked and that each would have a key. A man living at Mow Cop would be given a key and told to allow the public into the building at any time other than during the hours of Divine Service on Sundays.
Copyright David Martin – The Phoenix Trust 2012
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