Docs Evidence, Boundary

Jon Maynard Boundaries Ltd, Boundary Demarcation and Disputes, Rights of Way, Expert Witness, Chartered Land Surveyor


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Documentary Evidence for Boundaries

  You are here:    Boundary Problems  |  Investigating Boundaries  |  Documentary Evidence for Boundaries
Physical Evidence for boundaries
Documentary evidence: title register and title plan
Documentary evidence: conveyance deed and plan
Documentary evidence: Local searches
Documentary evidence: Sellers Property Information Form
Documentary evidence: Sales plans
Documentary evidence: Planning drawings
Documentary evidence: Published maps
Documentary evidence: Vertical aerial photographs
Documentary evidence: Oblique aerial photographs
Documentary evidence: Family photographs
Documentary evidence: Archived photographs
Documentary evidence: Witness Statements

This page presents a check list of the documents that should be gathered in preparation for an investigation into the exact location of a boundary. Not every type of document will necessarily be relevant to every case, and in many cases a vital document may no longer be available, or may at least be inaccessible to you.

If you prefer to work from hardcopy then please download JMB32 - Documentary evidence for investigating a Boundary, which also has a checklist on its final page that will help you to keep track of what documents you already have and what documents you may still need to get.


Physical Evidence for boundaries

1. Physical features. There is no class of physical feature that can claim to be an absolute indicator of the position of a boundary. The party wall comes closest, and it is generally safe to assume that the boundary between two semi-detached properties runs along the centre of the party wall that joins them. However, there are many instances of an apparent terrace of commercial buildings in a city centre where the boundary does not run along the centre of the party wall. This is because the supposed party wall is actually the end wall of an older property against which a newer property has later been built: ownership of the whole wall remains with the older building. The boundary thus runs along one side, and not along the centre, of the wall that joins these two buildings. See the Walls & boundaries page for a diagram illustrating this.

It is not safe to assume that the boundary between your garden and your neighbour's garden is an extension in a straight line of the centre of the party wall, although this is often the case.

Although the physical features are not an absolute indicator of the position of the boundary, it is not true to say that an inventory of the physical features of the land, in the form of a measured land survey, is of no use to an investigation of the boundaries of that land. A measured land survey is a very useful tool that may be used for:

  • testing any dimensions found in the title deeds;
  • assessing the accuracy of deed plans, which might be overlaid onto the land survey for comparison purposes and analysis of the information they contain;
  • identifying features that are, according to your evaluation of the evidence, candidates for carrying the boundary.

A measured land survey may be undertaken by any competent firm of (preferably chartered) land surveyors, but those with experience of boundary demarcation and disputes are less likely to miss subtle features on the ground that may be relevant to the investigation.


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Documentary Evidence for boundaries

2. The title register and title plan are the obvious documents to form the starting point of any investigation of the boundaries of registered land.

A title plan (the illustration above shows the header panel of a modern title plan) gives a good general overview of the boundary and its surroundings but it should not be be used as evidence of the exact position of the boundary. Don't forget that the title plan shows only the general position of the boundary. Refer to the Title Plans page.

The title register (the illustration above shows the header panel of a modern title register) is a potentially more interesting document, particularly the title register for a neighbour's property (remember, Land Registry maintains a public record and will supply anyone with the register and plan for any title in England and Wales - refer to Registers of Scotland if the property in question is north of the border).

The value of a title register lies in its ability to point you towards other deeds and plans of which Land Registry can supply official copies - as Land Registry has sometimes seen fit to include copies of these deeds and plans on the public register.

The above example, taken from a title register, has already been given on the Deeds and Plans page. If you see a footnote like the one in the example above or in a similar format (e.g. NOTE: Copy filed under title AB123456) then all you need to do is contact Land Registry, quote the title number, the document type ("Conveyance" in the above example), refer to the document by its date (7 December 1973 in the above example), and pay the appropriate fee and Land Registry will send you an official copy.


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3. The conveyance deed and plan , or at least the earliest conveyance deed and plan, that describes the parcel of land whose boundary you are investigating is accepted as the official source of the paper title boundary. An anonymized example of the top of the first page of a conveyance dating from 1956 appears below.

The deed may contain a very poor and inaccurate description of the boundary. It is necessary to treat with caution a deed plan that is clearly based upon a design plan (or layout plan, or architect's drawing) as this will show what was intended to be built rather than what was actually built and where. It may be necessary to refer to extrinsic evidence for further information relating to the boundary. It is better if the extrinsic evidence is contemporary with the conveyance, the more contemporary the better. The aim is to throw light on what the vendor may have intended by the words and/or the plan that was put into the conveyance. The following document types, which are often kept with the title deeds (if the title deeds have not been destroyed, which is increasingly the case with registered land), may help.


4. Local searches are made of the local authority as part of the house buying or conveyancing process. These sometimes reveal useful information concerning boundaries, rights of way, easements and wayleaves. An example of the pro-forma stationery used for these documents appears below.


5. Sellers Property Information Form. This is the form the vendor prepares in response to questions from the purchaser's conveyancing solicitor. If the conveyance deed gives no information regarding ownership of the features on a particular boundary (or right of way or some other facet of the land), then it is possible that the vendor's statements on this form will clarify matters.


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6. Sales plans. Occasionally, and more often in the case of a sale by auction, there is a sales plan included in the marketing material for the property. These might contain additional information not found in the conveyance plan, but they should be used with caution as they are very often an adaptation of an Ordnance Survey map (ie, a map not drawn as a property map but as a map of physical features that may not represent property boundaries). In any case, they would normally be superseded by the conveyance plan.


7. Planning drawings. A good quality planning drawing may be of evidential value to a boundary investigation.

The planning drawing normally passes through three stages:

  • Site survey to record the state of the land prior to redevelopment;
  • The architect's design for the site, including layout, general details of the buildings, fences, roads, landscaping;
  • The approval of the design by the local council's planning department, signified by rubber stamps upon the drawing.

Planning drawings are usually retained by the planning department and are treated as a public record. It may prove worthwhile to visit the local planning department to research what records are available for the address you are investigating (whether your own property, or the neighbour's property) and to purchase a copy of any useful plan or document.

Some of the pre-existing physical features recorded by the site survey will survive the building phase and will still be present on the ground in the present day. Such features may be very helpful to the investigation of a boundary. However, it must be remembered that the purpose of these drawings is to convince a council planning department of the appropriateness of a proposed development (eg. a new house, or an extension or a garage) and that the development conforms to building regulations. If the drawing shows a boundary then that boundary is either a physical feature (which may not be a boundary) or is the then owner's estimate of the position of the boundary: either of these might be in error.

It is also very important to remember that a planning drawing shows what it was proposed should be built, and where it was to be built. What has actually been built may differ in size and in position from what is shown on the planning drawing.


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The following document types are not normally kept with the title deeds but may be available through normal sales channels or public sources (such as libraries), or even in the family photo album.


8. Published maps. Refer to the Using Ordnance Survey maps page.


Photographs fall into two categories, aerial and terrestrial, and these categories can each be divided. Aerial photographs are classed as either vertical or oblique, depending on the direction in which the camera was pointing. Terrestrial photographs are photographs taken using a camera that is held in the hand of someone standing on the ground, or from camera mounted on a tripod that is standing on the ground, or sometimes on a high vantage point. Terrestrial photographs are found in family photo albums and in archived collections of photographs.


9. Vertical aerial photographs always carry a precise date and can be relied on, more than a map, to show you what was present on the day the photograph was taken. Like a map, aerial photographs will show only the physical features, not the position of the boundary. Aerial photographs may hold the answers to questions of historical usage of a disputed piece of land. Enlargements are needed if you are to be able to see enough detail, and expertise may be required to understand the rather unaccustomed vertical view, but interpretation is made easier by viewing in 3D the overlapping part of two adjacent photographs. Detail is often obscured by overhanging vegetation or in the shadows of tall structures such as buildings. Taking measurements from a vertical aerial photograph is possible: a land surveyor will be able to assess only approximate measurements, it takes an expensive photogrammetric operation to obtain any kind of precision.

If you should wish to obtain aerial photographs yourself then a list of sources is included on the Links page of this web site.

An important point to bear in mind is that all vertical aerial photographs are taken such that each photograph overlaps its predecessor by a little more than 50%. By means of a pocket stereoscope it is possible to view the overlap area in three dimensions. Pocket stereoscopes are available from specialist suppliers, not from the people who supply the aerial photographs, and cost upwards of ₤50.00. Even if you don't want to go to the expense of overlapping photographs and a pocket stereoscope, if you later appoint an expert with skills in air photo interpretation, that expert will surely want to view overlapping aerial photographs.


10. Oblique aerial photographs are easier for the layman to understand, and are usually taken from a lower height (ie. from closer up) than vertical photography. Their angle of view will sometimes give views of detail that is obscured on a vertical photo. Oblique aerial photographs are very rarely available as overlapping, 3D, pairs. It should be possible to ascertain the date of an oblique photograph, but the companies that take them do not always meticulously record this and you may have to try and work out the date from the detail that you see in the photograph. Taking measurements from oblique photographs is tricky and can produce unreliable results.


11. Family photographs. It is unlikely that anyone's photo album contains photographs specifically of the boundary, but many photographs taken in the garden will show boundary features in the background. If a reliable date can be attached to the photo then it becomes useful evidence in relation to arguments such as whether or not there ever was a fence in a particular place, or whether a piece of land was put to a particular kind of use.


12. Archived photographs. It may be necessary to use some imagination to work out where to turn to. County records offices, local newspapers and local museums are obvious starting places. Books describing the history of a town, if lavishly illustrated with old photographs, are another potential source.


13. Witness Statements are likely to feature only in cases that are destined to be heard in court. They will probably be arranged by the client's solicitor. They may contain information about a physical boundary feature that is not recorded anywhere else.


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