Pleydell v Earl of Dorchester 1795

This document is a note book of 60 hand written pages by one hand. It is held by Dorset History Centre, catalogue reference D-PLR/L/15. It contains transcripts of letters, opinions and memoranda of proceedings in the case of Pleydell v Earl of Dorchester concerning the latter’s damming of the Milborne Brook to fill his lake. The documents are from1 Aug 1795 to 24 May 1798. Note that the 1st Earl of Dorchester, Joseph Damer, died on 12 Feb 1798.

The status of the two parties is clear, the Earl of Dorchester (both 1st and 2nd) address Edward Moreton Pleydell as ‘Pleydell’, or ‘Dear Pleydell’, whereas EMP addresses them as ‘My Lord’.

The document gives an insight into the mindset of Joseph Damer ‘this unmannerly, imperious lord’, (according to his architect, Sir William Chambers). Although an old man at this time, about 77 years of age at the beginning of this case, it is clear that he had lost none of his irascibility, refusal to compromise, nor manipulation of his privileges in the House of Lords and Court of King’s Bench to get his own way.

Note that the lake filling was not attempted until 1795, which was 12 years after the death of Capability Brown. It has been stated elsewhere that Capability Brown’s foreman was responsible for designing the lake. On the map related to this dispute a three arched bridge, typical of Capability Brown’s designs, was still in existence, and it is possible that this remains today under the dam or embankment made in 1795.

Certainly the damming of the watercourse caused great hardship and difficulty downstream at Milborne St Andrew, which was, at this time, in the ownership of Edmund Morton Pleydell who brought the action against Damer. With insufficient water at Milborne, the mill was inoperative, the meadows could not be watered and cattle could not be kept on his farm. Pleydell complained that the house could not be inhabited, and that he had to move to another of his properties, at Whatcombe.

After Joseph Damer died, the action continued with his son George, now the 2nd Earl of Dorchester, apparently in a more gentlemanly way, although this Lord took some time to agree to pay £1000 compensation, despite the judgement against his father for £3000. Whereas Joseph was living at Milton before his death, George was living in London. In the end, Caroline Damer paid the £1000 plus legal costs for the two cases, although it would be good to have this confirmed from the Damer bank accounts.

We also need to confirm that the water was restored, and exactly when.

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