Brief history

For a number of years there has been some debate over the future of the Land Registry and whether or not it will follow other Government departments into private ownership. This month the Land Registry was granted a reprieve as the privatisation plan failed to make it into the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill.

We, as Real Estate solicitors, rely daily on the Land Registry and whilst its long term future remains unresolved we thought it would be useful to give a little background in to the history of the Land Registry, its functions and some interesting facts.


The Land Registry was originally created in 1862 and was tasked with keeping a register of the ownership of land and property in England and Wales (but not Scotland where there is an equivalent public body called Registers of Scotland).

Originally based at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London the Land Registry initially dealt with voluntary registrations only and it was not until 1897 that the idea of compulsory registration was brought to the fore in the Land Transfer Act 1897. However, it took many years and advances in technology until the compulsory registration was finally brought in across the whole of England and Wales in 1990.

For many years the Land Registry’s records were not open for public inspection and the title registers and plans were produced by hand. In 1986 the Plymouth office of the Land Registry began producing computerised title registers and plans and in 1990 the records were made available for public inspection for the first time. Today, the Land Registry operates out of 14 offices and employs some 4,500 people. The running costs are covered by the fees paid by users of the Land Registry’s services.


The Land Registry’s mission statement is to:

  • provide a reliable record of information about ownership of and interests affecting land and property, and
  • provide owners with a land title, guaranteed by the Government.

This statement is based on the three principles laid down by a previous Chief Land Registrar, Theodore Ruoff, being:

  • the Mirror principle — the title register should reflect a complete and accurate record of the facts
  • the Curtain principle — the title register should be the sole and definitive source of information for proposed purchasers, but should not reveal sensitive information
  • the Insurance principle — the Land Registry will indemnify anyone who suffers a loss as a result of a defective title register.

The Land Registry serves primarily as a registration service to allow purchasers or others with a land interest to ensure that their interest is registered and protected on the relevant title registers.

However, the Land Registry also serves as an information service providing guidance to individuals and professional alike. It produces and updates some 77 Practice Guides covering everything from basic registrations of documents to statutory declarations and Islamic Finance. The Land Registry also provides market data which is relied on by the Government, investors and lenders.

As solicitors there is seldom a week that goes by where we do not need to refer to the Practice Guides or speak to our allocated team at the Land Registry for advice and assistance.


  1. The value of land registered at the Land Registry exceeds £4 trillion
  2. There are in excess of 24 million distinct titles registered at the Land Registry
  3. More than 88% of the land mass in England and Wales is now registered at the Land Registry, and
  4. At the height of the market in 2007, £1 million worth of property was processed by the Land Registry every minute.

This post was edited by Richard Tindall. For more information, email

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This blog is intended only as a synopsis of certain recent developments. If any matter referred to in this blog is sought to be relied upon, further advice should be obtained.