The estates of the Booth and Grey families were managed by agents who also acted as stewards of the several manorial courts held by the owners of Dunham Massey. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the stewards or agents (the terms were used interchangeably) appear to have been appointed from members of the local gentry: men of education, with formal legal training perhaps, and experience in the management of property. The following gentlemen are known, from the evidence of court rolls and verdicts, to have served as stewards of the courts: Robert Booth (1534-6), Robert Leigh (1539-43), Robert Tatton (1544-66), Peter Warburton, Richard Leigh and Thomas Arderne (1582), George Parker (1582-8), John Vaudrey (1595-1601), John Carrington (1603-30), William Rowcroft (1631-57), Robert Tipping (1658-63), William Worrall (1663-81), John Houghton (1682-91 & 1706-15), Thomas Hunt (1692-3), Richard Drinkwater (1694-1704), William Shaw (1710-27), and Isaac Shaw (1728-60).
In the eighteenth century a class of professional agents emerged: qualified solicitors who combined private practice with the administration of the estates. The Earls of Stamford were frequently absent from Dunham Massey and relied on their agents to keep them informed of the running of the estate and of local affairs generally. The agents were given a degree of autonomy in the day-to-day administration of the estate, but invariably sought instruction from the Earls before taking important decisions on their behalf. Isaac Worthington served as agent from 1760 until c.1809, when responsibility for the management of the estates devolved upon his nephew Hugo, who held the office until he died in 1839 (Isaac continued to preside over the manorial courts until 1814). The Worthingtons practised privately in the partnership of Worthington & Harrop, later Worthington & Nicholls. Their offices were situated in Market Street in Altrincham, in an imposing Georgian building described by Pevsner as the finest in the town: Nikolaus Pevsner and Edward Hubbard, The buildings of England: Cheshire (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), p. 61. This later became the Stamford Estate Office from where the estates continue to be administered. In the late nineteenth century the Altrincham Estate Office appears to have been subordinated to its counterpart in Ashton under Lyne. Many documents, such as conveyances of building grounds, were issued from the Ashton Estate Office which was headed by Henry Hall, one of the trustees appointed under the will of the 7th Earl of Stamford. For much of the second half of the nineteenth century Hall had overall responsibility for both the Cheshire and Lancashire estates and the staff at Altrincham appear to have acted on his instructions.
In addition to the agent, numerous other staff were employed on the estates, including bailiffs, gamekeepers, waggoners, carpenters and labourers. Each manor or estate had its own gamekeeper and bailiff, the latter being responsible for repairing estate property and maintaining woodlands (see EGR11/2/1-4 passim). In the 1820s a dozen carpenters and between twenty and thirty labourers were employed (EGR11/3/2-3). By the 1880s the number of staff had fallen to about a dozen. This contraction is explained in part by the reduction in the size of the Cheshire estates, but it is also perhaps an indication of the comparative neglect of the remaining property. For on the eve of the First World War, following the return of the 9th Earl of Stamford to Dunham Massey, the number of staff had grown to thirty, although by the end of 1917 war service had reduced the total to twenty (EGR14/60).
A surveyor was employed on the estate to survey, value and map property. Each year the surveyor inspected properties whose leases were due for renewal, in order to set the level of entry fine and rent for the new lease and to ascertain whether the existing tenant was liable for any dilapidations. He recorded his findings in valuation books which were compiled annually from 1774 until 1848 (EGR14/7). During this period the surveyors were probably freelance men rather than estate employees, who were hired to undertake specific tasks, but from around 1860 a full-time professional architect and surveyor, Maxwell Roscoe, was employed at the Stamford Estate Office. After Roscoe's death in 1900 his duties were performed by W.D. Bullock, who combined the roles of agent and surveyor.
The demesne estates held by the lords of Dunham Massey consisted of Dunham Massey Hall itself, the Old and New Parks in Dunham Massey, which were valued for sporting and recreational purposes, and the Home Farm, which was managed directly by the farming steward and supplied the Hall with meat and dairy produce. Other demesne estates included lands in Dunham Massey, Carrington Hall and mills in Carrington and Bollington, Bottoms Hall in Hattersley, and lands and halls in Ashton under Lyne and Bollin Fee. These properties were generally leased for short terms of years. The yearly value of Dunham demesne was calculated at £406 7s 6d in 1702: EGR11/1/7. In 1775 there were 145 acres of demesne in Sinderland within Dunham Massey, valued at £280 7s 2d: EGR11/5/7. Carrington: see EGR14/5/2/1. Bollington: see EGR14/5/4. Bottoms Hall: see EGR11/2/2/75-9. In the 1740s there were 105 acres of demesne in Ashton, 271 in Bollin: see EGR11/1/10. Leases for years: see EGR14/5.
The majority of property, however, was held by tenants on leases for three lives. This form of tenancy appears to have developed during the seventeenth century, replacing the more ancient tenancy at will, or copyhold tenure. Tenants held their property for the duration of three lives who were named in the lease, rather than for a fixed term. It was the common practice for tenants to pay a fine on the death of the first or second life in order to make their leases up to three lives again. As part of the reorganisation of the estate undertaken by the 2nd Earl of Warrington the tenements in each township were numbered consecutively, the numbers first appearing in the comprehensive rental compiled in 1701 (EGR11/1/6). This records that there were then 558 tenements in Cheshire and 543 in Lancashire. The numbering system remained in force until the late nineteenth century, enabling a property to be traced through successive leases and entries in rentals and rent ledgers. When tenements were subdivided the separate properties were numbered 1A, 1B1, 1B2 etc.
The 1701 rental also records the labour services and other obligations that tenants owed to Lord Warrington. They were required to spend several days each year reaping, ploughing, manuring and performing other tasks for the lord such as carrying turf to the Hall. Tenants were also obliged to serve with their lord in time of war. Military service and most labour services were abolished or commuted in the early eighteenth century.
The lease for lives gave the tenant a fair degree of security, provided that the landlord gave his consent for the renewal of the lease on the death of the first or second life. Entry fines were set at a high level and on the death of a tenant his heir was required to pay a heriot before being admitted to the property, but rents were generally modest, and with luck the tenant could expect a lease to run for perhaps fifty or sixty years. However, from the landlord's point of view the long but unpredictable term of the lease for lives had two disadvantages: in periods of inflation rents were fixed well below their true economic level, and the landlord could not exploit the commercial potential of property by developing it or selling it for building purposes without the difficulty and expense of compensating the tenant for the termination of the lease. The letting of the Stamford Estates was therefore reorganised in the 1840s to put it on a more commercial footing. With very few exceptions, no leases for lives were granted or renewed after 1845. When a lease fell in, the property was either re-let for a fixed term at rack rent, or sold on chief rent for building purposes. It was not until the end of the century, however, that the last leases for lives expired.
Following the arrival of the railway from Manchester in 1849 Altrincham and the surrounding townships underwent rapid expansion, with the Downs area in particular becoming a popular residential area for wealthy Manchester citizens wishing to escape the city's pollution and overcrowding: see Frank Bamford, Mansions and men of Dunham Massey: from errant earl to red dean (Altrincham: privately printed, 1991). The 7th Earl of Stamford took advantage of the increased demand for land by selling building plots in Altrincham, Bowdon, Dunham Massey, Hale and elsewhere, while reserving to himself an annual chief rent. In the absence of local authority planning controls Lord Stamford imposed restrictions on the number of buildings which could be built, the materials employed in their construction, and the uses to which they could be put. He thus protected the rental value of the properties and influenced the social composition and physical appearance of the developing communities. This policy was continued after his death in 1883 by the trustees appointed under his will, and parcels of land continued to be sold on chief rent during the twentieth century. Large numbers of tenders and draft conveyances of building grounds have survived: see EGR14/12 and EGR14/13.
Outside Bowdon parish large portions of the once extensive Cheshire Estates were sold outright by the 7th Earl of Stamford. The whole of the Wilmslow estate was divided into lots and sold by auction in the mid-1850s, the largest portion, together with the manorial rights, being purchased by John Clarke Prescott esq (see EGR14/17). In the same decade the 7th Earl sold estates in Ashton upon Mersey, Timperley and Partington, and the manor of Ashton upon Mersey, to Samuel Brooks esq of Manchester, banker, and his son, Sir William Cunliffe Brooks, MP: see Ormerod, vol. 1, pp. 545-8, 558-61. In 1858 the manor of Hattersley was conveyed to John Chapman esq of Hattersley: see Ormerod, vol. 3, p. 684; Earwaker, vol. 2, pp.153-4; Manchester Central Library, Chapman Family Archives (M95). The manor of Bollington was conveyed by the 7th Earl of Stamford to Lord Egerton of Tatton in 1874: see Ormerod, vol. 1, pp. 540-1.
Notwithstanding these losses in 1873 the Earl of Stamford was reported to have owned 8,612 acres in Cheshire, with a gross rental value of £16,000, and a further 5,231 acres in Lancashire, worth £17,465: Local Government Board, Return of owners of land in England and Wales, exclusive of the Metropolis, 1873 (London: 1875).
In the second half of the nineteenth century the Stamford Estates in Cheshire appear to have suffered from relative neglect. The absence of the 7th Earl of Stamford from Dunham Massey, the agricultural depression of the 1880s, and the concentration on disposing of property appear to have discouraged long-term investment in the estates. Upon his inheritance of Dunham Massey Hall in 1905, the 9th Earl of Stamford immediately embarked upon a major programme of investment to rebuild and modernise the rather antiquated stock of farm buildings on the estate. The work was funded by the Stamford Trustees out of capital under a permanent improvements scheme approved by the Court of Chancery. Detailed schedules of improvements and accounts of expenditure survive (EGR14/18).