How to look for records of... Land and property requisitioned for war in the 20th century
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1. Why use this guide?
This is a guide to records held at The National Archives which document land requisitioned for war by the British Government and armed forces during the 20th century.
Widespread requisitioning took place during the First and Second World Wars, both for military use and for civilian functions related to the war effort.
2. The kinds of records we hold and how to start a search
There is no single record source or comprehensive list of the land and properties that were requisitioned during conflict. Records of this nature were created by a range of different government departments, reflecting the interest many of them had in the requisitioning of land and property and in subsequent compensation payments. Many of the surviving records relate to:
- applications for compensation
- assessments of the value of requisitioned property
Search our catalogue using terms like ‘requisition’, ‘compensation’ or ‘acquisition’, together with an appropriate date range. This should produce references for a range of records in addition to those listed in this guide. For more guidance on how to use our catalogue, see Discovery help.
3. First World War
War Office files on the Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Act 1916 are in WO 32/2655-2663.
The records of the Acquisition and Valuation of Land Committee (1917-1919) are in series LCO 3. They include agendas, minutes and circulated papers of both the main committee and sub-committees considering compensation, mines and transfers of lands.
Records of the Land Values Reference Committee include the register of references to arbitration of cases under the Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Act 1916 and the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act 1919 fills eighteen volumes in LT 5/21-36, LT 5/46-7, covering the period 1919 to 1947.
Numerous Treasury files discuss policy and practice, including:
- Acquisition and Valuation of Land Committee: T 1/12308 (paper 15534); T 1/12338 (paper 25275); T 1/12446 (paper 3117)
- Compensation claims, 1920-1921: T 161/81/2 (file S.6363)
- Work of the official arbitrator in disputed cases, 1929-1930: T 163/41/10
Post-war files of applications, orders, etc., made to the Railway and Canal Commission under the Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Acts 1916 and 1920 are in series J 75.
Ministry of Reconstruction files on the post-war disposal of War Office land, buildings and other property are in series RECO 1.
4. Second World War
Perhaps the most informative series of records about individual cases is series WORK 50, the Government Property Registers.
These include WORK 50/23-29 which covers requisition, compensation and settlement registers relating to property taken over by the state during the Second World War in:
- Isle of Wight
Similar registers relating to other counties do not survive.
The registers give:
- addresses of requisitioned premises
- names and addresses of claimants (usually owners)
- the government department that used the premises
- dates of requisition, derequisition and claims for compensation
- amounts claimed and agreed
The list below sets out some of the other major sources among the records.
4.1 Military requisitions
Air Ministry files about requisitioning, derequisitioning and compensation are in AIR 2/16897-16912.
HLG 102 includes post-war files about compensation for and disposal of requisitioned land. HLG 102/291 is about claims for increased compensation under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act 1945 as opposed to the Compensation (Defence) Act 1939.
A register of cases heard before the General Claims Tribunal set up under the Compensation (Defence) Act 1939 and subsequent Acts is in LT 7. A small selection of case files is in LT 6. Both these series include material relating to requisitioning and damage by civil as well as military departments.
MAF 48 contains a number of files about the requisitioning of agricultural or common land, and about compensation for wartime allotments.
The records of the National Farm Survey contain references to the requisitioning of land for military purposes. For more information about these records, see the research guide, National farm surveys of England and Wales, 1940-1943.
Records of the War Works Commission which was established under the Requisitioned Land and War Works Act 1948 are in T 180. They include a number of individual case files.
Files of the Treasury Land and Buildings Division in T 226 cover such subjects as compensation for compulsory acquisition, and the Requisitioned Land and War Works Acts 1945 and 1948.
Registered files of the Treasury Solicitor in TS 46 relate to case work undertaken on behalf of the War Office. The files relate to transactions, claims and advice across a broad range of topics including matters arising from wartime requisition of land, buildings and horses for defence purposes, and arbitration in disputed valuations.
Post-war claims for damage to property arising from derequisitioning are also included in the series.
A substantial number of files, some as recent as the 1970s, relating to the derequisitioning of buildings and lands and to compensation paid by the War Office, are in WO 32 (see especially code 5A).
4.2 Agricultural requisitions
MAF 142 contains files about the outworking of the Agriculture Act 1947, especially section 85 which relates to the serving of notices and certificates for the acquisition of requisitioned land (for example, MAF 142/111 and MAF 142/402).
MAF 143 includes a number of post-war files about land requisitioned by County War Agricultural Executive Committees. MAF 143/49 contains a schedule of requisitioned common land. MAF 285 contains records concerned with the disposal of requisitioned land under Part V of the Agriculture Act 1947, and includes material relating to methods of disposal of individual pieces of land and buildings and the Land Settlement Association, which managed small holdings on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
5.3 Extinguishing of public rights of way
Many rights of way were closed on requisitioned lands. See the records listed in section 6 of our Public rights of way guide.
5. After the Second World War
Detailed statistics of land held by the War Office until 1965 are in WO 32/16666.
A number of other government departments have acquired land since 1945. A catalogue search using the keywords ‘requisitioned land’ and an appropriate date range will indicate the wide range of material in our collection.
During the 1950s, and in particular after the Crichel Down inquiry of 1954, it was government policy that:
- land held by the Ministry should be sold
- forestry land should be transferred to the Forestry Commission
Crichel Down was not strictly a case of requisitioning (the site was purchased by the Air Ministry in 1940), but the public interest aroused by its post-war disposal resulted in the setting up of a public inquiry. The records of the inquiry itself are in MAF 236.
Other series containing relevant records include:
- Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence registered files in AIR 2
- Air Ministry and Ministry of Defence private office papers in AIR 19
- registered files on estates remaining in crown possession after 1940 in CRES 35
- Crichel Down Inquiry files in CRES 44
- South Western regional office registered files in MAF 109
- registered Files, Land Acquisition by Other Government Departments in MAF 140
- registered files: Agricultural Land Management in MAF 142
- registered files: Establishments in MAF 227
- registered files: Agricultural Land Commission in MAF 245
6. The legislative framework for requisitioning
6.1 First World War
Although there had been a number of statutes governing the purchase and/or leasing of lands for military purposes (of which the principal still in force in 1914 were the Defence Act 1842 and the Military Lands Act 1892), the first large-scale requisitioning of land for government purposes took place during the First World War.
Successive Defence of the Realm Acts from 1914 onward gave the government wide-ranging coercive powers during wartime, and the Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Act 1916 provided specifically for the requisitioning of land.
Land was requisitioned for airfields, allotments, and accommodation for government departments. The Office of Works carried out land acquisition for other government departments, as well as the construction and conversion of buildings for wartime purposes.
The Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Act of 1916 established that questions about compensation or the purchase price of land would be settled by a panel appointed by the Railway and Canal Commission. This became known as the Land Values Reference Committee.
The Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act of 1919 provided a means for resolving disputes over payments to owners after the war.
6.2 Second World War
The Ministry of Works set up a central register of accommodation in 1938. This was used during and after the Second World War for the requisitioning of land and buildings for:
- the armed services
- accommodation of civil servants
Land was requisitioned under the Defence (General) Regulations 1939, according to the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939. The need for compensation was recognised from the outset, and assessed under the Compensation (Defence) Act 1939.
The Second World War saw the enactment of a number of other statutes granting various powers to acquire land for government use or for the support of the war effort. Among these were:
- Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Acts, 1940 and 1941
- Landlord and Tenant (Requisitioned Land) Acts 1942 and 1944
- Requisitioned Land and War Works Act 1944
- Town and Country Planning Act 1944
14.5 million acres of land, 25 million square feet of industrial and storage premises and 113,350 non-industrial premises were requisitioned during the Second World War. The War Office alone requisitioned 580,847 acres between 1939 and 1946. (WO 32/16666, paper no 41A.) Land and buildings were requisitioned for a very wide range of uses, including:
- battle training areas
- airfields (both civil and military)
- oil pipelines
- underground shelters
- fire services
The requisitioning of land for military use often seemed to conflict with the need to increase increasing food production. Much agricultural land was requisitioned, and while it was decided in principle that where an entire farm was given over to the military it should be excluded from the National Farm Surveys, the survey records do contain incidental information about requisitioning (see below).
In 1939, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries was empowered to create County War Agricultural Executive Committees throughout the country. These committees were empowered to control and direct agricultural production in wartime and, to that end, to take possession of land and to requisition, inspect and enter property. Their records are in MAF 80 and often contain information about the effect of military requisitioning.
After the war, a number of provisions deriving from the requisitioning of land were made:
- Requisitioned Land and War Works Acts 1945 and 1948
- Town and Country Planning Act 1947
- Agriculture Act 1947
- Requisitioned Land and War Works (Compensation) Act: the Government Oil Pipe-Lines Regulations, 1948
- Town and Country Planning Acts 1944 and 1948 (Registration of Orders and list of Buildings) Rules 1948
- Land Powers (Defence) Act (Registration of Way-Leave Orders etc) Rules, 1958
Towards the end of the war and afterwards, the Ministry of Works dealt with the derequisitioning of property taken over for government use, as well as with compensation claims relating to requisitioned property, the disposal of surplus buildings and stores, the removal of temporary defence works on private land and the restoration of the land.
Requisitioned land on which development of permanent value had taken place was formally acquired, as were cross-country oil pipelines.
After the war it was decided that some of the land requisitioned to increase food production should be retained for agricultural purposes, and under Part V of the Agriculture Act 1947 the Minister of Agriculture acquired powers to compel purchase of any requisitioned land not sold voluntarily, in order to maintain its full and efficient use for agriculture. Such land was then managed by the Agricultural Land Commission, set up under the Act.
7. Further reading
Successive editions of the Manual of Emergency Legislation (published by HMSO) are useful compendia of relevant statutes effective in the First World War. A set covering the years 1914 to 1919 is in The National Archives’ Library.
An interesting case study is Patrick Wright, The Village that Died for England: The Strange Story of Tyneham (London, revised edition 2002) in The National Archives’ Library (942 Dorset).Guide reference: Domestic Records Information 128
Gerry Rubin, Private Property, Government Requisition and the Constitution in 1914-1927. (London, 1994) available in The National Archives’ Library.
S.M. Krusin and P.H. Thorold Rogers, The Solicitors’ Handbook of War Legislation (London, 1940), is a useful compendium of relevant statutes effective in the Second World War, also in The National Archives’ Library.