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The quirkiest thing I’ve ever registered

As a caseworker in a first registration team, I help to register property and land on a daily basis. Registration is important as it ensures the owners have proof of ownership and it helps protect their property from fraud.

HM Land Registry aims to achieve registration of as much freehold land and property as possible across England and Wales by 2030. So far we’ve reached 87% and every first registration is a step towards 100%.

Most first registrations I do are your typical residential properties, such as flats, garden land and houses. So it’s interesting when we receive applications to register property that are not the norm.

Hethel Old Thorn

Hethel Old Thorn
Photo: Richard Osbourne

My favourite recent registration was of a very old and significant tree called Hethel Old Thorn. This ancient hawthorn tree in Norfolk is thought to date from the 13th century. When it was measured in 1755 its girth was 9 feet but it has since shrunk to a much smaller size, although still healthy.

The tree has a circular fence around it to protect it and is situated in a field belonging to a nearby farm. The tree itself is owned by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust who have designated it as a nature reserve. Measuring at only 0.025 hectares, this must be the smallest nature reserve in Britain and one of the smallest in the world!

I’ve worked at HM Land Registry for 37 years and this was the most unusual registration I have processed. As Hethel Old Thorn is such a famous old tree it has its own Wikipedia page so it was interesting to read about the history of the site and gain some insight into what I had just registered. It also made a nice change from registering a three-bed semi!

Gasholders London

A gasholder converted into homes viewed through the frame of a neighbouring gasholder turned into a park.
Photo: asiastock/

On a much larger scale, my team has recently registered three Victorian cast-iron gasholders which have been converted into homes in the King's Cross area in central London. The Gasholders London project has constructed residential drums within the holders which are set at differing heights to suggest the movement of the original gasholders, which would have risen up or down depending on the pressure of the gas within.

It was a complicated project as the site is next to London St Pancras International Station and the High Speed 1 railway line and we had to pore over large, complex deeds to work out the registration requirements.

Gas holders converted into homes behind a railway line and a fence.
Freight carriages on the rail line alongside the gasholders. Photo: Google Earth © 2020 Google

I’m looking forward to many more varied first registrations in the months and years to come.

Registered property is easier to sell, mortgage or transact with in general. Currently, we’re focusing on helping the public sector to register any unregistered property/land they own in the hope they can then identify land that could be sold or used for much needed housing development.

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  1. Comment by Jeffrey Shaw, solicitor posted on

    Whilst it's good to see that registrations of the unusual are handled successfully and that tracts of unregistered land are being registered voluntarily, I fret about the inordinate and unresolved delays in processing anything other than dealings with whole. TP1s are taking up to ten months. HMLR staff are fortunate that they do not have to explain the delays when confronted by irate clients! Maybe HMLR might like to clean-up the backlog before changing established procedures or re-issuing countless tweaks to Practice Guides (let alone the plague of 'house price' data updates received in nonuplicate every month!)

    • Replies to Jeffrey Shaw, solicitor>

      Comment by David Miller posted on

      Hear hear.

      I lodged an application for a transfer of part over a month ago and it is being held up by a prior application. when I checked, that application had been in the registry since October and was still "awaiting processing".

      As a result, my client will have to pay a London law firm £500.00 to process a request for an extension to s Section 25 deadline, which I could have agreed, without cost, by an exchange of emails.

      I think it is time that applicants demanded abatements of fees if delays in processing applications result in additional and unnecessary costs.

      The land registry's aim, so it says, is to make property dealings easier, quicker and cheaper; that clearly isn't working.

      • Replies to David Miller>

        Comment by AdamH posted on

        David - I’m sorry to read that the backlog is impacting on you and your client. Have you contacted us with regards the urgency in accordance with our expedition policy? If there is an urgency and you can provide documentary evidence to confirm it then we can consider expediting an application.

        • Replies to AdamH>

          Comment by David Miller posted on

          Thank you.

          Yes, I asked for my application to be expedited but was told this was not possible because of the prior application, which is unhelpful bearing in mind that prior application itself has not yet been processed.

          I will ask again, and provide a fuller explanation. My fear is that if the negotiations with the tenant in question reach an early conclusion, I may encounter difficulties in concluding a lease because of the non-registration of my client's title.

          • Replies to David Miller>

            Comment by AdamH posted on

            David - the priority of the prior application is important but if we can hasten it to allow an expedite through then we should try to do so. Can you give me the title number and case reference please so I can check first thing tomorrow?
            Where there is an urgency then we should be looking to hasten applications on that basis. We recognise the backlog can impact on some applications but have processes in place to help, not hinder, where a genuine urgency exists. Fortunately, and this does not look to excuse the backlog/delays, the number of applications where an urgency exists is very small in light if the tens of thousands of applications being processed

        • Replies to AdamH>

          Comment by David Miller posted on

          Hi Adam.

          In reply to your latest message, the Title Number is K801009 and my application reference number is 60206666 (LR Ref S150BFR) and the prior application has the reference number KGW/1054364 (LR Ref VA1972B)



          • Replies to David Miller>

            Comment by AdamH posted on

            David - many thanks. I'll pick it up with the processing office and ask them to review the previous correspondence and our response. I should stress, although this was not cited as a reason for refusing the expedite request, that we do require documentary evidence to confirm the urgency and I note none was submitted. That may not be necessary here but if you have anything that fits that requirement then please submit it using Application Enquiry. Just something to flag in case you have any future urgent applications as well.

  2. Comment by John Harvey posted on

    I worked for British Gas in the 1990's when town gas works had been made redundant by the North Sea variety and spent much time dealing with a couple of unique aspects of BG's titles

    First BG premises were always overheated thanks to the company not having to pay for the gas so the root of title had been slow cooking for a century or more. Opening the hardened residue required much TLC and was often accompanied by a loud crack as the tin containing the massive seal broke open and spread foul smelling wax dust

    Secondly, The root of title was not so. Deciphering showed it to be a agreement between the forerunner of a parish council and a group of entrepreneurs for the supply of gas for street lighting. This was the CCTV of its day.

    No reference was made to the transfer of land but the authority would express its lack of objection to the use of an abandoned osier for gas production. Osiers were willow plantations supplying baskets to transport goods etc until these were replaced by sacks using jute imported from the Empire. Being close to rivers made them convenient for delivering coal by barge

    Lacking documentary proof of title I turned to statute. Until postwar nationalisation the gas industry was a mass of mainly small companies which could only survive by amalgamation and were of such constitution that they could only do so by private Act of Parliament. Such acts usually contained a recital of transfer of a company's gas works at XXX. This with a copy of the latest edition of the Ordnance Survey issued before the date of the Act showing a gas works would be helpfully accepted by HMLR

    I also remember selling a small terraced house by auction in Kent. It had been used as offices by a local authority which also sold gas. The rear garden was excluded from the sale. It was entirely taken up by a gasometer

    Interesting days

  3. Comment by Simon Cairns posted on

    Thanks Maria, your blog really does demonstrate the variety of work we deal with as well as the more traditional residential properties. I had no idea that we had even registered a tree!

  4. Comment by Benedict Hughes posted on

    In reality, the registration of Hethel Old Thorn is not the registration of a tree but the registration of a small freehold title on which a tree stands. From a registration point of view, it may be an interesting transfer of part or an interesting first registration.

  5. Comment by Sonja Jenkins posted on

    Purchasing a flat 2004 and then putting it on the market 5 years later to discover that we couldn’t sell because the plans were for another flat in the building. HM L R have still not sanctioned and released the correct plans given to them by lawyers. We have lost a few sales and money trying to get some sort of resolution. Why can this government body seem so incompetent. S Jenkins