Jump to content
Free downloads from TNA ×
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Purchase of Land on the Somme - Preservation Trust


Recommended Posts

I read Paul's posting about the destruction of another Somme Battlefield feature with sadness. However, the 21st century will inevitably bring development pressures there and local people need housing.

I have often day-dreamed of using part of that elusive lottery win to buy High Wood or a similar high profile site. However, it would also be very pleasurable to have access to a modest size field in the Somme area - with some British historical interest - for camping/walking purposes. I presume that agricultural land on the Somme will be priced at around the same price as the equivalent in the UK - I think "The Archers" recently mentioned around £4000 an acre. Could a group of WW1 enthusiasts club together to each purchase a "timeshare" in such a piece of property with the view to enjoying use of the land and also preserving it ? I would have thought that limited agricultural use of the land , such as grazing , could be continued to the benefit of the local community. I wonder what could be purchased by 20 people chipping in £500 each.

Remoteness from present habitation would not be to much of a problem - indeed I presume it would reduce the price due to reducing its immediate attractiveness and limiting any future development potential.

Of course, there may be restrictions on the use of such land - indeed I would be surprised with French bureaucracy if this were not the case.

Given the state of the stock market , this could be a fairly sound and attractive investment in its own right ! Has anyone got any thoughts on this matter ?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just a couple of initial thoughts...

How can you tie people and their descendants in to their "investment" - could it be done by forming a trust or a company with a constitution so that for example you would need 100% agreement to sell the land at a future date.

Upkeep and maintanence - how could this to be done and future money raised to offset these costs - what would the annual cost be?

Would any facilities such as wc and washroom be required - inwhich case would security be an issue.

I have no experience of this kind of thing but these are just what sprung to mind. I think its an excellent idea though and if the practicalities and bureacracy can be overcome then I would like to be part of it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You may be aware that the Western Front Association acquired the Butte de Warlencourt some years ago. It may offer some indications of do's and don'ts.

The WFA formed a separate Trust, with appointed Trustees who would be responsible for ensuring that the money was properly accounted for, and to ensure the long-term survival of the Butte, etc. The Executive Committee of the Association is actually responsible for maintenance, safety, signposts, the WFA memorial there, etc.

There have been considerable difficulties. It has not proved easy to manage the maintenance of the site, especially with frequent vandalism and with natural weathering of the paths and steps. The site becomes very overgrown, and the view from the summit - which is a significant 'attraction' - becomes blocked.

Also, the site is dangerous. There is no guarantee of personal safety, not only from 'normal' hazards but the possibility of hidden wire or even unexploded ammunition. Insuring it is problematic: how much do you insure the Butte for when worst case is a mighty explosion while a tour party is up there?

Lochnagar crater must face similar issues.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Completely take your point about the Butte. It really is a very difficult to site to give safe access to and trees are always problematical . Similarly, the chances of plummeting to the bottom of Lochnagar when the paths are wet and skiddy are not inconsiderable. The topography of a flattish field should be less problematical and neither would it be for full sign-posted public access. I presume that with access by invitation only, that "at your own risk" clauses could be imposed. I wouldn't anticipate it being in any way a commercial venture and that its status as private property would not change.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It seems like s good idea but for maintenance you would need someone who lives in France to keep an eye on it and then the people who have bought part of it when they go over for a weekend they would have to do a bit of work on it.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ian - you are walking into a minefield with a project like this. Land ownership in France is very complicated, and the purchase of ground by private individuals to preserve them would not guarentee their preservation beyond the lifespan of the owners; the only way you could do this is to get the French state to do it... as has happened on the Somme in the past ten years; the 'Somme County Council' (so to speak) have purchased ground at Pozieres, Soyecourt and elsewhere; at Soyecourt they even preserved a whole system of 1916 German trenches.

You would also face a big problem when one member of your group died; their next of kin would have total rights over their 'share' and you could be forced to sell as a consequence.

You might also find difficulty in attempting to change the use of the land from agriculture to tourism; and face planning permission problems if you wanted to build anything on it.

Sorry to be so negative, but as Chris has mentioned, I suspect the WFAs experience with the Butte could teach us all a few things!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A solicitor friend with some European land purchasing experience suggests that a private UK limited company could be established for the sole purpose of acquiring the land . This would eventually allow deceased founder shareholders to bequeath their shares to whoever they wished whilst title perpetually remains with the company. Obviously the vagaries of French property law still remain a problem and the question of whether you are allowed to put a tent up in a field tyat you partially own. I can't conceive you wouldn't be able to at least have a picnic on it on 1st July ! Personally , I wouldn't want to erect anything at all on it .

No doubt, the land could still be compulsorily purchased and a majority of the share holders could agree to sell the land in future years - this likelihood becoming more likely as the original shareholders pop their clogs !

Actually Paul, I suppose you could end up buying a real as well as metaphorical minefield ! No doubt you know the likely location of a few unexploded "nasties" !

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I share those thoughts that as pressure mounts what happens to these areas, they could be lost forever.

They are emotive and as such need preserving somehow. I see the problems listed and see it as an uphill struggle,, a challenge..


Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would underline Paul's remarks. Buying a property in France is much more complicated that the equivalent operation in the UK. Legally, no-one 'owns' property in France; one only holds it in trust for one's children. 'Buying' does not mean 'ownership'; it only means that you have a package of rights with respect to the land for the duration of your life. When you die, these rights pass to your children - and you have no say in this. The aim of this law is to prevent the children's inheritances being squandered in the casino or dissipated in the boudoir.

There are ways round this; a limited liabilty company is one, a tontine is another. But none are appeal-proof and the more people who are involved then the more complicated it becomes. For this reason the idea of a property share would be regarded in France as a quaint anglo-saxon eccentricity with no practical relevance to everyday life over here. An example: the property next to me was owned by two divorcees; when they died four years ago 15 people were found to have a claim on the property. It's still not sorted. Meanwhile the house has been empty for four years ... . Legal fees will take the bulk of the value of the house when it is sold.

Then there are the taxes, the insurances and bureaucrats of all stripes to contend with. If, after all this, you still wish to go ahead then my advice is to get yourself a good, English-speaking notaire (not a private lawyer) based in the North of France, and not the UK, and have a long talk with him. Contact me if you want a name.

But I would think of other ways around your problem.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


I am most intrigued about the Gallic possibilities of dissipating my children's inheritances in the boudoir - I seem to recall that the blood-sucking blighters appeared on the scene soon after such activities anyway !

Seriously though, thanks for the advice re. the complexities of French property law. I had some experience of this subject when I had an interest in a property in Brittany 10 years ago . It sounds like I may still have that interest despite having sold out !

It is certainly worth having a chat with a notaire during my next trip over , hoping that the complexities might be manageable if we are only talking about a few acres of turf.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My big question to you Ian is - where do you start?

The Somme alone is vast - which bit do you choose to buy and why?

If, for example, you bought the Y Sap site you would only be buying a field with a dip in it where the (now filled in since 1977/78) mine crater used to be; not a very attractive prospect for the queue of people you'd need each clutching their £500...

All woods on the Somme are used for shooting and thus highly profitable - no-one would sell you them and they are unlikely be under threat because of this.

Perhaps you'd like to buy the Butte from the WFA? :rolleyes:

Link to comment
Share on other sites


No I think I'll take a raincheck on the Butte !

As a resident of the crowded S.E of England, I actually find the idea of part owning a nice field on the Somme -with or without a dip quite attractive ! Must be affected by the lead-poisoning from the M25 ! £500 doesn't even buy a decent lunch in London now.

I presume the filled in crater site was sold as a potential building plot with pricing that in some way reflected that. No doubt ,with your BBC location finders hat on , you could find me a nice field that the lads attacked across or entrenched , close to somewhere notable , that I can come and muse on during my holidays !

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...