1. Introduction and definition of enclosure This essay investigates the process of parliamentary enclosure in Pirton, a village in North Hertfordshire, and in particular is concerned with the period from the end of the 18th century until 1818.
There were three methods of enclosing land for agricultural use: informal enclosure, enclosure by informal agreement, and enclosure by private Act of Parliament. Parliamentary Enclosure was the process followed in Pirton and this created a wealth of documents which have been used as the basis for this essay.
Parliamentary Enclosure was the last stage of a process that was centuries-old. It occurred where agreement to enclose by all the owners of land in a parish could not be obtained. A hostile minority could be overruled by a private Act of Parliament. Parliamentary enclosure was not common until after 1750 when it became the dominant process. The period covered by the Napoleonic Wars accounted for 45 percent of all parliamentary enclosures. Over 85 percent of parliamentary enclosure was completed by 18301.
The enclosure of arable land allowed owners to exchange and consolidate their scattered strips in order to create fields of manageable size within separate ring fenced farms. The abolition of communal rights, especially the regulation that allowed all commoners to graze their cattle and sheep together over arable land after harvest, enabled farmers to choose their own system of cropping and to sow, harvest, or leave their land fallow, as they wished.