Leases.—The long story of the slow dissolution of the ma norial system and the development of the villein into the tenant cannot be told here. It must suffice to note that by the end of the 15th century a large part of the agricultural land was let to tenants on lease either for a term of years, or for lives, at fixed rents. What was termed a "stock and land" lease was common, the ten ant renting not only the land and buildings but also a certain head of live stock. In a well-known instance the land, buildings and a flock of 36o wether sheep were let, in 1528, to a man for the lives of himself, his wife and his son whichever was the last sur vivor. The rent was fixed partly in produce and partly in cash. It is estimated that by the middle of the 16th century more than half the land in many parts of the country was let on lease.
The letting of farms was generally established on the basis that the owner provided the land, house and necessary buildings, the tenant supplying the live stock and working capital. The terms on which the farm was let were minutely set out in the lease, the landlord, with the object of preventing deterioration of his property, binding the tenant by strict and detailed conditions. These conditions or covenants varied on different estates and they were gradually elaborated by the ingenuity of agents and lawyers jealous to protect in every possible way the interests of the owner.
The main object of these conditions was to maintain the fertil ity of the land and to bind the tenant to farm in accordance with what were then considered the principles of good husbandry. The average farmer would not regard them as unreasonable. It was not until the latter part of the 18th century that the "new farm ing" brought improved practice, more enlightened landowners and more intelligent and responsible farmers.
Leases for 7, 14 or 21 years were offered by the new race of "improving" landlords and eagerly taken by the new race of capitalist farmers. The lease for 21 years was popular in the eastern counties and it was also adopted in Scotland. Leases fell into some disfavour during the disturbed period of the Napoleonic wars but when conditions became more stable they again pre vailed generally until the depression of the '8os. Many who then held their farms on lease were only saved from ruin by the con sideration of landlords, and tenants have ever since been very chary of binding themselves for long periods. Leases are still common in Scotland but throughout England and Wales yearly tenancies are almost universal.
Still parliament refused redress, and it was not until the political influence of farmers was increased by the Reform Act of 1867 and they began to organise in chambers of agriculture that at length, in 1875, the justice of their claim was conceded by the first Agricultural Holdings Act.
By successive enactments the list of improvements for which compensation may be claimed has been much extended and under the act of 1923 the rights of tenants are thus set out : "Where the tenant of a holding has made thereon any improve ment comprised in the first schedule to this act he shall, subject as in this act mentioned, and, in a case where the contract of tenancy was made on or after the first day of January 1921, then whether the improvement was or was not an improvement which he was required to make by the terms of his tenancy, be entitled, at the termination of the tenancy, on quitting his holding to ob tain from the landlord as compensation for the improvement such sum as fairly represents the value of the improvement to an in coming tenant.