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Article contents

Farming through Enclosure

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 October 2008

J.V. Beckett
Department of History, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK.
M.E. Turner
School of Economic Studies, University of Hull, Hull, UK.
Ben Cowell
Department of Geography, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK.


The legal process of gaining an enclosure could be long, complicated and expensive …. It could take up to six years, during which time a farmer did not know what was happening or how to farm. (S. Wade Martins, Farms and Fields (1995), p. 81).

The impact of parliamentary enclosure in England has been a subject for debate since at least the 1870s. A series of issues has been identified and discussed including the costs of enclosure; the effect of enclosure on small farmers, small owners, and cottagers; the role of the commissioners; the implications for farm sizes; the impact on agricultural productivity and rents; and the significance for the landscape. Yet the quotation with which we open this paper suggests that there is a subject which has slipped through the historical net, the impact of enclosure on farming. In their work published early in the twentieth century the Hammonds noted of the enclosure of Stanwell in Middlesex (Act 1789) that the nominated commissioners were empowered to direct the course of husbandry ‘as well with respect to the stocking as to the Plowing, Tilling, Cropping, Sowing, and Laying down the same’. W.H.R. Curtler, in 1920, quoted the main substance of the clauses from the Cold Aston (Gloucestershire) enclosure act of 1795: ‘from the passing of the Act until the Award the Commissioners were to direct the course of husbandry in the open fields’. He noted also that earlier acts had stated that the existing course of husbandry should be retained until the award was completed. W.E. Tate wrote as recently as 1967 that during enclosure ‘the general course of agriculture in all the open fields was being carried out under directions laid down by the commissioners’.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1998

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1. A sample of literature on these issues includes Chambers, J.D., ‘Enclosure and the Small Landowner’, Economic History Review, 1st ser, X (1940), 118–27Google Scholar; Hunt, H.G., ‘Landownership and Enclosure’, Economic History Review, 2nd ser, XI (19581959), 497505Google Scholar; Martin, J.M., ‘The Parliamentary Enclosure Movement and Rural Society in Warwickshire’, Agricultural History Review, 15 (1967), 1939Google Scholar; Mingay, G.E., Enclosure and the Small Landowner in the Age of the Industrial Revolution (1968)Google Scholar; Turner, M.E., ‘The Cost of Parliamentary Enclosure in Buckinghamshire’, Agricultural History Review, 21 (1973), 3546Google Scholar; Turner, M.E., ‘Enclosure Commissioners and Buckingham Parliamentary Enclosure’, Agricultural History Review, 25 (1977), 120–29Google Scholar; Allen, R.C., ‘The Efficiency and Distributional Consequences of Eighteenth–Century Enclosures’, Economic Journal, 92 (1982), 937–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Allen, R.C., Enclosure and the Yeoman (Oxford, 1992).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2. Gleave, M.B., ‘Dispersed and Nucleated Settlements in the Yorkshire Wolds’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 30 (1962), 105–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Turner, M.E., ‘The Landscape of Parliamentary Enclosure’Google Scholar, in Reed, M. (ed), Discovering Past Landscapes (1984), 132–66Google Scholar; Chapman, J., ‘Enclosure Commissioners as Landscape Planners’, Landscape History, 15 (1993), 51–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and the many publications of Rex Russell, such as E. and Russell, R.C., Making New Landscapes in Lincolnshire: the Enclosure of Thirty Four Parishes in Mid Lindsey (Lincoln, 1983).Google Scholar

3. , J.L. and Hammond, Barbara, The Village Labourer, 1760–1832 (1911), p. 382Google Scholar

4. Curtler, W.H.R., The Enclosure and Redistribution of our Land (Oxford, 1920), pp. 315–18.Google Scholar

5. Tate, W.E., The English Village Community (1967), p. 113.Google Scholar

6. A copy or original award for all but about 200 or so of the over 5,000 parliamentary enclosures can also be found today: Tate, W.E., A Domesday of English Enclosure Acts and Awards (Reading, 1978)Google Scholar. Not all maps have survived however: less than a third for the period before 1760, about one half from then until 1790, and up to 80 and 90 per cent for subsequent decades until 1830. In the century after 1740 a map can be located for about 70 per cent of all parliamentary enclosures: Turner, , ‘The Landscape’, p. 143.Google Scholar

7. Turner, M.E. and Wray, T., ‘A Survey of Sources for Parliamentary Enclosure: The House of Commons’ Journal and Commissioners' Working Papers', Archives, XIX, no. 85 (1991), 257–88Google Scholar, but this survey inevitably missed other documents relating to enclosure including some minute books.

8. There must once have been a very considerable body of paperwork relating to enclosure, much of which has now disappeared. The catalogue entry at Nottinghamshire Archives Office for the enclosure of Norwell, to which reference is made below, includes no fewer than 112 separate items.

9. Beckett, J.V., A History of Laxton, England's Last Open Field Village (Oxford, 1989), pp. 107–14Google Scholar. On enclosure by agreement see also Butlin, R.A., ‘The Enclosure of Open Fields and Extinction of Common Rights in England, c1600–1750: Review’Google Scholar, in Fox, H.S.A. and Butlin, R.A., eds., Change in the Countryside (1979), pp. 6582Google Scholar. The transfer of manorial power to vestries is discussed in Tate, W.E., The Parish Chest (3rd edn., 1969), pp. 258–64.Google Scholar

10. Turner, M.E., English Parliamentary Enclosure (Folkestone, 1980), pp. 135–51.Google Scholar

11. See the Leicestershire and Lincolnshire examples listed in Tate’s, Domesday, pp. 153, 160Google Scholar

12. Barnes, Paul, ‘The Last 150 Years of Open Field Farming in an East Nottinghamshire Manor:Orston, 1641–1793’, Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 101 (1997).Google Scholar

13. A cursory glance at Tate's Domesday reveals that many enclosures in arable districts only took one or two years, although statistically the average period of time of an enclosure can be exaggerated when equal weighting is given to those later enclosures which involved considerable amounts of common and waste.

14. Brown, M.E., ‘Aspects of Parliamentary Enclosure in Nottinghamshire’ (University of Leicester, Ph.D thesis, 1995), pp. 113–4Google Scholar

15. Chapman, J., ‘The Extent and Nature of Parliamentary Enclosure’, Agricultural History Review, 35 (1987), 2535.Google Scholar

16. Turner, M.E., ‘Some Social and Economic Considerations of Parliamentary Enclosure in Buckinghamshire, 1738–1865’ (University of Sheffield PhD, 1973), pp. 99103.Google Scholar

17. Venn, P., ‘Exceptional Eakring: Nottinghamshire's Other Open Field Parish’, Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 94 (1990), 6974Google Scholar; Beckett, , Laxton, passim.Google Scholar

18. Crowther, Jan, Enclosure Commissioners and Surveyors of the East Riding (East Yorkshire Local History Society, 1986), p. 18.Google Scholar

19. Turner, , ‘The Cost of Parliamentary Enclosure’, pp. 40, 43.Google Scholar

20. Beckett, J.V., Cowell, B., and Turner, M.E., ‘Flamborough and other Inclosure Hedges’, Rights of Way Law Review, Section 9.3 (10, 1997), 91–6.Google Scholar

21. Turner, , ‘Social and Economic Considerations’, pp. 320–3Google Scholar. There is a difficulty of interpretation here since the evidence does not allow us to state conclusively either that enclosure commissioners in Buckinghamshire were promoting alternate husbandry, or that they were (in effect) encouraging the longer-term move towards permanent pasture by ordering that open-field arable should be sown with grass seed. The issue is discussed in Broad, J., ‘Alternate Husbandry and Permanent Pasture in the Midlands, 1650–1800’, Agricultural History Review, 28 (1980), 7789.Google Scholar

22. B[uckinghamshire] R[ecord] O[ffice], IR/M/22, Hanslope Commissioners' Papers, Minute Book.

23. BRO AR 32/60, Bierton and Hulcott Minute Book.

24. BRO AR/11/58, Little Woolstone Minute Book.

25. BRO IR/M/13, Whaddon and Nash Minute Book, entry 28/29th July 1830.

26. BRO IR/M/14, Wing Account Book; IR/M/3/2a, Weston Turville Account Book.

27. BRO Carrington MSS, Box 8a, Moulsoe Settled Estate, Bundle no. III, Moulsoe Minute Book.

28. BRO IR/M/2/6, Bledlow Minute Book.

29. BRO IR/M/19/1, Towersey Minute Book.

30. BRO IR/M/1/5, Princes Risborough Minute Book; IR/M/8, Monks Risborough Minute Book.

31. N[ottinghamshire] A[rchives] O[ffice] DDM 55/21, passim.

32. NAO DD 249/1; DDT 123/56, Commissioners' Minute Book, 8th 11 1841.Google Scholar

33. NAO DDM 55/90

34. BRO AR 32/60, Bierton and Hulcott Minute Book.

35. NAO DDSD 1/1

36. N[ottingham] U[niversity] M[anuscripts] D[epartment] MaB 99/7.

37. BRO IR/M/22, Hanslope Commissioners' Papers 1778–9; AR 32/60, Bierton and Hulcott Minute Book; Drayton Parslow Minutes 1797–8; IR/122, Iver Commissioners' Papers 1800–4.

38. It was this clause and its resulting renegotiated rack rent leases which prompted R.C.Allen to theorise that enclosure was a device to redirect the Ricardian rent surpluses away from the tenants towards the landlords during the inflation which ensued from about 1750: Allen, , ‘The Efficiency and Distributional Consequences’; Enclosure and the Yeoman.Google Scholar

39. BRO IR/M/11, Stoke Mandeville Enclosure Working Papers, letter of 8th 03 1797.Google Scholar

40. BRO AR 32/60, Bierton and Hulcott Minute Book, 1779–81.

41. BRO IR/M/13, Whaddon and Nash Minute Book 1830–32.

42. BRO AR 32/60, Bierton and Hulcott Minute Book, 1779–81.

43. NUMD M3321/4, 8. ‘Eat his’ presumably refers to setting the land to pasture.

44. Beckett, , Laxton, pp. 272–9.Google Scholar

45. Neeson, J., Commoners: Common Right, Enclosure and Social Change in England, 1700–1820 (Cambridge, 1993).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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