Source: merl, University of Reading



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Provision for the Poor

Many lost out at enclosure. The common and waste along with the right of shack on the arable disappeared and the village poor lost whatever use they had made of this land. The precise nature of the rights held by those in the village over the common land is unclear. In some parts of England an ‘ancient homestead’, also known as a common cottage, is generally thought to have had the right to graze two cows on the common.36 At the end of the eighteenth century this was calculated to have been worth between £14 and £20 per year, or 56 to 80 per cent of the average agricultural labourer’s annual income. The right to use the common to fatten a pig was valued at £3 to £4 10s, or 12 to 18 per cent of their annual income. 37 However, since by no means all cottages were ‘ancient homesteads’, it is difficult to determine whom had rights to the common associated with a cottage. Sarah Cook claimed for common of pasture for two cows and the Hayward's Gore one year in every twenty as owner of a house in East Challow. She was awarded 0.10 of an acre of meadow in White Mead.38 Richard Castle a copyhold tenant of Corpus Christi College claimed common for three cows in Fox Mead, Ardington where he was awarded 0.02 of an acre.39 William Heading of Grove claimed commons for three cows and 60 sheep in Kingsgrove but does not appear to have been awarded any land.40 In a study of ten settlements in the south and east Midlands, it was found that only two to three per cent of agricultural labourers owned common cottages and another 13 to 18 per cent rented them.41 Arthur Young, a proponent of enclosure, believed that, in general, agricultural labourers and poor husbandmen did not have cottages that gave them rights to graze a cow, but often were able to graze cows without any legal rights.42 At Letcombe at least it would seem that many did graze cattle on the common. Young noted that in Letcombe, ‘The poor seem the greatest sufferers; they can no longer keep a cow, which before many of them did, and they are therefore now maintained by the parish.’43 The abstract of claims for Letcombe Regis does not list any such claims. However, while only a limited number of the poor in a village had the legal right to graze animals on the common, in an area where there was no excessive pressure on the waste it is probable that many fed their livestock not by right but by indulgence or through the neglect the village officers.


The poor also often had common shackage or the right on the open fields to feed pigs and geese. Many more had other rights of common. The right to gather fuel on common land has been calculated at £2 to £5 or 8 to 20 per cent of the agricultural labour’s annual income.44 Even if the poor did not have access to common land for grazing and fatting livestock, its use was an important element in the well being of the agricultural labourer’s family. Gleaning on the common land also supplemented the family income of the poor. Once the major landowners had decided to enclose there was little the poor of the parish could do either to stop the process or to protect their own interests. Mavor, writing in the early nineteenth century noted, ‘On enclosure it is frequently found that too little regard had been paid to the real or customary rights of the poor.’45 While the 1801 General Act for Inclosure did make some attempt to protect the small holder from the worst affects, little was done for the poor until the General Inclosure Act of 1845. This required that if there were waste of the manor with tenants having right of common, if the waste were unstinted, or if it were open all year for cattle levant and couchant, the parish could be required to set aside land to be used for allotments for the labouring poor. If the manor had a population of over 2000, it was also required to provide land for exercise and recreation.46 While the population of East Lockinge fell below the minimum figure for a recreation ground, the parish was required to establish allotments for the poor (see fig. 5.11) This allotment provided in lieu of the right to cut furze and bushes was

let out to labourers of the parish. It was 3 acre 1 rood 24p
Fig. 5.11 Setting land aside to create allotments for the poor was one solution adopted by some parishes at enclosure as compensation for the loss of the common and waste. The enclosure allotments at East Lockinge, required under the conditions of the 1845 General Inclosure Act, were established in lieu of right to cut furze and bushes on the waste and common.
erches and was divided into 43 equal plots.47 Although the size and the division of the allotment appears to have altered, this landscape feature remains today as a symbol of a more humanitarian attitude to the poor at the time of enclosure than had been taken at the time of other enclosures in the four parishes.
The polarisation of wealth encouraged by the need for efficiency and success that sprang out of enclosure had other visible manifestations in the landscape. The landscape reflected a change in attitude towards the poor. In the pre-enclosure community the needs of all were more easily met from the hedges and the commons and wastes. At enclosure the use of the common, whether by right or through indulgence and neglect, was lost to the poor. 48 However, had the traditional practice of hedge making persisted, some of the needs of the poor could have been provided from the hedgerow. The hedges around old enclosures were between six and ten feet wide and provided a variety of wood, berries, and nuts. The variety of plants found in the old hedges was not, as is suggested by the technique of dating hedges by the number of species, simply because of years of haphazard volunteer growth of new plants. Often hedges were planted to provide for the needs of the community, including the poor.49 In the sixteenth century Thomas Tusser wrote that the abundance of fruit and fuel found in the hedges was one of the advantages of enclosures.50 By the time of the parliamentary enclosures in the early years of the nineteenth century attitudes had changed sufficiently that no such provision was made (see figs 5.12 and 5.13). The hedge was no longer seen as a means to augment the dietary and fuel - hawthorn was a poorly burning wood - needs of the poor.51 The hedge had become little more than a livestock barrier. The thinner it could be built, the less land it wasted. William Bushnell of Aston Tirrold, one of the enclosure commissioners for Wantage and Grove, believed that hedges took up space, harboured birds and insects, and shaded the corn.52 The verges again reflected the diminishing tolerance shown towards the poor, destitute, and itinerant. In the enclosures up until the fourth quarter of the eighteenth century roads and their verges were often sixty feet wide. This was reduced quite dramatically in the years that followed. While improved road making techniques were being introduced, this was initially applied to turnpikes.53 The reduction in width was at least in part to prevent the ‘illegitimate’ use of the verge for grazing livestock and for squatting by gypsies, vagabonds, and the poor of the parish.54


The ethos of the enclosure movement had been firmly stamped onto the surface of the English countryside. The movement began slowly and with much opposition. However, by the mid eighteenth century the momentum was sufficient that it could not be halted. In a century and a half, the enclosure commissioners appointed by act of parliament transformed the landscape of a fifth of the English countryside. They created an easily discernable,




Figs. 5.12 and 5.13 demonstrate the different nature of an old enclosure hedge and one from the nineteenth century. The ancient hedge (left) from north of Grove is about ten feet wide and contains edible plants and a good supply of fuel. The later hedge (right) in Letcombe Regis is species poor and provides little apart from shelter and a stock-proof barrier. The two hedges illustrate the changing attitude of landowners towards the poor and the impact of this on the landscape.
quintessentially English landscape. Each region responded to the opportunities presented by enclosure in a way that reflected the type and timing of the enclosure along with the needs and aspirations of that community. In the Wantage area of Berkshire where over half the surface remained to be moulded by the commissioners, the impact was more muted than in some other enclosed areas. Because several of the enclosure acts made the fencing of the allotments optional on the arable and the downs, there are and have always been fewer miles of hedging than are found in most other area enclosed largely through act of Parliament. However, although the fields are unhedged they are still very much enclosed. Even without the hedges, the landscape was divided and allotted to create a rational and efficient network of farms. The successful were able to display their achievement in their isolated farmhouses surrounded by acres of neatly hedged, regularly shaped fields intersected by functional, straight roads. The landscape of parliamentary enclosure remains visible to any who cares to look at the evidence.


25 Monk, 1794, 46

26 BRO D/ED E13A

27.Dean, 50

28 Rackman, 190

29 Williamson, 72-3; Muir, 45

30 Muir, 45

31 Young, 1800, 93 & 95

32 41 Geo. III c.118 (1801); 42 Geo. III c.99 (1802); 43 Geo. III c. 106 (1803); 48 Geo. III c.74 (1808)

33 PRO IR 18/ 13096

34 Caird, 114

35 BRO D/QI C14

36 Shaw-Taylor, 2001a, 98

37 Shaw-Taylor, 2001b, 61, 2001, 645

38 BRO D/EEL E9

39 BRO D/QI E10

40 BRO Q/W 33

41 Shaw-Taylor, 2001a, 96

42 Young 1808, 12; 167-8

43 Young 1808, 150

44 Shaw-Taylor, 2001b, 61, 2001, 645; Neeson (1993), 165, Humphries (1990), 53

45 Mavor, 1809, 151

46 8&9 Vic, c.118 (1845)

47 BRO Q/RDc 87A

48 Turner, (1988), 115-16

49 Williamson, 12; Johnson, 1978, 195-204; Tusser, 102

50 Tusser, 102; Williamson, 12

51 Williamson 73-4; Young, 1813, 49

52 Mavor, 144

53 Taylor, 1979, 160

54 Turner, 1984, 147





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