Source: merl, University of Reading

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Hedges and Woodlands


Fig. 5.9 The enclosure hedge and ditch along Ardington Lane in Ardington is typical of the boundaries created by parliamentary enclosure. They were straight to reduce the cost of materials, generally two plants thick and of single specie. They were planted to form a stock-proof barrier. The ditch four feet deep and two wide was required for drainage on the heavy clays.
edges are probably the most widely recognised feature of an enclosure landscape (see fig 5.9). Within six to twelve months of an award being made, the hedges a nd ditches along the roads had to be planted. The hedge typically was a double row of hawthorn – also called quick or whitethorn. Instructions for planting the hedges were sometimes very specific. At Great Shefford the hedges were to be made with 100 quicks of 3 yrs growth, per lug, pole, or perch of 16.5 feet.26 The function of the hedge was solely to delineate the property, to provide a degree of shelter, and to provide a stock-proof barrier. Ideally it was as narrow and compact as possible. It was calculated that on a farm of five hundred acres, forty acres could be taken up by hedges.27 Between 1750 and 1850 200,000 miles of hedge was planted in England as a result of enclosure.28 It was also one of the most expensive elements of enclosure. The plants were purchased from nurseries, by this time located around most market towns.29 In 1766, for example, William Pendar of Woolhampton in Berkshire included an estimate for 4000 quicksets at five shillings in an estimate for Lord Bruce of Tottenham at Savernake in Wiltshire.30 In addition, many enclosure commissioners, such as those at West Challow, insisted that the hedges be protected from livestock by building a post and rail fence on either side that was to stay in place long enough for the hedge to become established. John Davis was a known advocate of allowing controlled grazing of a field for seven years rather than installing fence. He saw this as a means of making a significant reduction in the cost of enclosure. 31 Other measures were also taken to reduce costs. When possible, straight field boundaries combined with the straight roads, could make a real difference to the cost of hedging over the area of a parish. The straight, single species hedge is a typical sign of a landscape created by an act of Parliament.
Another method was frequently used in the Wantage area to help reduce or spread the cost of hedging. The acts for Ardington and Wantage and Grove specified that the arable did not need to be with hedging. In the hamlet of West Challow, the act specified that no fencing was mandatory for the land on the south side of the closes called The Laines. At Letcombe Regis and East Challow the downs were included with the arable in requiring no fencing.32 In other words, the arable, and sometimes the downs, were divided and allotted in individual ownership, but were not necessarily separated from other holdings by a
Fig 5.10 The field pattern in the Ardington area showing the largely unhedged fields that in the Wantage area are often the result enclosure rather than grubbing up of enclosure hedges in recent times. The 1801 Act allowed arable and down land to be made several but remain unfenced.

Source: MERL University of Reading

hedge, fence, mound, or ditch. Under a provision of the 1801 General Inclosure Act it was possible to continue working the arable as an open, and even common field system. The biggest difference would be that the land was in larger, consolidated units. While there is no evidence of common husbandry continuing in the Wantage area after enclosure, much of the arable was left unhedged. Looking at the area today, it is often assumed that the large fields have resulted from the modern tendency to grub up hedges. However, the tithe commissioner commented in the 1841 tithe report for Ardington, ‘The whole of the arable land though enclosed (or rather allotted) by and act of Parliament is open – not a vestige of a fence or even a boundary marker is to be seen.33 On his tour of England in 1851, the agriculturalist, James Caird, noted that in the countryside eastward from Wantage even public roads were unfenced and there were often no hedges dividing different kinds of crops in the fields.34 The large fields in the parishes on the 1883 Six-Inch Ordnance Survey Map confirm that little had changed. Even today the unhedged fields continue to give the landscape an open characteristic that few associate with enclosure. The impact of this on the landscape is particularly noticeable in much of northern Berkshire including Letcombe Regis and Wantage. In the four parishes, much of the area in the old open fields was probably never divided by hedges (see Fig. 5.10).
Today there is a great deal of interest in the preservation and replanting of hedgerows to ensure greater environmental bio-diversity. Woodlands attract similar interest. However, while enclosure promoted hedge planting, it had a more mixed impact on woodlands. On many of the larger estates owners planted trees as to enhance the appearance of their land, to create windbreaks and to provide cover for game and coverts for foxes. Scattered areas of woodland were planted in the years after enclosure on the Lockinge Estate making the area more densely wooded after enclosure than before. However, a provision in many enclosure acts gave the original owners of trees and bushes on land to be exchanged at enclosure the right to have trees on their land valued and demand payment from the new owner. If this were not paid, the original owner could cut the trees and remove them within a year of the award. Documentation of this is unusual but does exist for the Lambourn Almshouses Estate. Land that was to be exchanged, particularly that originally owned by the charity, was quite heavily wooded. Both William Wiseman Clarke and John Pollexfen Bastard agreed to take some of the standing trees. In spite of this, over £150 of timber was cut and sold off the estate. Many oaks scattered around the meadowland were also cut.35 The right to cut any trees that the new owner of exchanged land almost certainly led to the destruction of many acres of woodland at and just after enclosure.

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