Central London Property Trust Ltd v High Trees House Ltd

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Central London Property Trust Ltd v High Trees House Ltd [1947] KB 13 is Lord Denning’s famous High Trees case — though at the time he was not Lord Denning, but mere Denning J of the King’s Bench Division of the High Court — reinvigorating the old doctrine of promissory estoppel first articulated in way back in the day by Lord Lance Cairns[1] Hughes v Metropolitan Railway.


High Trees leased flats in Clapham from CLPT in 1937. The annual ground rent was £2,500. When war broke out in 1939 the rental market collapsed and High Trees couldn’t find tenants. In January 1940 it asked CLPT to lower the rent. CLPT agreed, in writing, to halve the annual rent but the agreement didn’t specify a duration, and High Trees gave no consideration for the agreement.

At the end of the war, with the building back to near-full occupancy, CLPT gave notice that the rent was going back up to £2,500 — fair enough, you’d think — and claimed arrears of £7,916 for previous five years — total dick move, right?.


Enter people’s hero Denning J, who quite correctly, was having none of this. Note that the actual action was a test case only seeking rent for periods in 1945, so technically the rent from 1940 wasn’t at issue, so these first instance observations of the future Master of the Rolls, albeit then only a High Court judge, in short pants and so on — made obiter dicta — not binding statements of the common law. But they were influential all the same — Lord Denning found them persuasive later in his career when he was Master of the Rolls! — and int the short term they persuaded CLPT not to waste its time and money pursuing the back rent.

Firstly, he felt recent authorities were not strictly cases of estoppel but really promises that were “intended to be binding, intended to be acted on, and in fact acted on.”

“In each case the court held the promise to be binding on the party making it, even though under the old common law it might be difficult to find any consideration for it. The courts have not gone so far as to give a cause of action in damages for the breach of such a promise, but they have refused to allow the party making it to act inconsistently with it.”

This doctrine may be used as a “shield but not a sword”, so to say.


  1. Not really Lance Cairns. Just Lord Cairns. No relation, though by some spooky irony he did play with a shoulderless bat and knocked towering sixes out of the park.