Chapter 3 Non-Parliamentary Enclosure

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Chapter 3

Non-Parliamentary Enclosure

While in 1801 just over half of the land in the four parishes was still worked in a traditional common-field system, the rest either had never been common or had been enclosed through non-parliamentary means (see Appendix I). Compared with other parts of England, this was a relatively large proportion of land still in an area to be enclosed without the use of an act. In England as a whole, approximately eighty per cent of the land was never affected by Parliamentary enclosure and some areas were never farmed in a common field system.1 In those that had been open and common, there were a number of ways other than by obtaining an act from Parliament to enclose. These included piecemeal enclosure, where a small area of land was taken out of the communal agriculture and enclosed, and more general forms of enclosure affecting the whole of the community.2 Each of these methods had advantages and disadvantages. Piecemeal enclosure often was carried out in a haphazard manner with relatively small plots of land being fenced and used in severalty. It was often done through an informal agreement and generally depended on the goodwill of others. It was an insecure and often contested means of enclosure. Its impact on the landscape was equally haphazard and unsystematic. General enclosure ended communal rights and obligations in the whole of a farming system. It was most often achieved by one of two means. In the first, unity of possession was achieved when one person held all the land in a manor so that common rights and open field regulations simply ceased to be relevant. Secondly, when a number of people held land to be enclosed, they had to enter into some form of agreement. This could be informal or could take a form much like that used in a parliamentary enclosure. Although this was a reasonably secure form of enclosure, there was the possibility that at some future time someone would challenge its legal status. From the seventeenth century if the owners wanted to ensure the legal status of enclosure, or if no other means of enclosure were possible, a majority or the owners, by value rather than by number, could petition Parliament for an act to enclose part or all of a parish.3

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