Anybody reading this who actually rents a home in London will completely agree with this title. Rents are so high in most parts of London you’d be crazy to live there. However, the title does not refer to “normal” rents as most of us would understand them. London as well as many other places have inherited quirky rituals from years gone by, but are still practised today. And this is one of them.
Some of these rents have to be paid at the Central Law Courts in The Strand, just up from Fleet Street. But, just as an aside, the magnificent building we have today, almost went badly wrong during its construction. The architect employed to build the courts was called G.E. Street and he had big ideas of what the building would look and how it was to be constructed. It might not be too surprising to learn that the problems began because no one in authority had bothered to set time and price limits on the project.
So, Street set to work with no defined budget. He first decided that it would have the look of a Gothic structure. Fine, but he then decided that ordinary bricks were not good enough. The problem, he said, was that they all looked the same. I want to say, “So?” He insisted on odd-shaped bricks to be individually made…all thirty million of them!
The next thing he needed were of course bricklayers. But he had a big row with them and they all walked away refusing to come back. Therefore, Street had to bring in a lot of bricklayers from Germany to do the job. Now, it may not surprise you to know that the people putting up the money were very unhappy and put loads of pressure on Street. This had the effect of stressing him so much, he died before the project was completed. It was 1881.
So, that’s the aside about the building. But let’s get back to the rents. They are paid each year into the Courts in a ceremony that is alleged to go back to the twelfth century. The rents are paid to the Crown for various pieces of land leased from them. For example, there is an area of land in Shropshire which has to be paid for and another much closer; in fact, around the corner from the Courts in Chancery Lane and leased by the Corporation of London.
This is all fine but the quirky thing is yet to come. It is what the rent consists of that will interest us. And it’s not money. The land in Shropshire is paid for by handing over a billhook and scythe. For the land in Chancery Lane, the rent is six horseshoes and sixty nails. I suppose it is nice to keep these strange rituals alive but do you really need a new scythe every year?