2. Pirton before enclosure The parish of Pirton lies on low ground in the northwest of Hertfordshire, to the East of the market town of Hitchin, on the edge of the Bedfordshire plain. The land is chalk overlaid with clay, with the depth of the clay varying from very thin on the slopes of the Chilterns to thick in the lowland and immediate surroundings of the village. Before enclosure in 1818, the Parish of Pirton comprised five open fields containing blocks of half acre strips surrounding the nucleated settlement, which included all farmsteads. Farming was mainly arable with little pasture or meadow. At that time, only 606 acres out of a total of 2,661 acres were enclosed, or part of a dwelling.
The majority of the land in Pirton (70 percent) was held by absentee landlords and let to tenant farmers. The absentee Lord of the Manor, Emilius Radcliffe, held 45 percent of all land and the absentee Lay Rector, Sir John Filmer, 9 percent. Dr Witherington Peers, the pluralist Vicar, held only one acre, the Church and Churchyard. He was also absent, choosing to live in his main parish of Merton in Surrey. In North Herts he was the Rector of Ickleford and Vicar of Pirton, but only held land in Ickleford. James Hanscombe with 260 acres (10 percent) was the only large owner-occupier (see Table 1). Tenants of the larger farms (Wright, Throssell, Hailey and Kingsley) also owned and occupied their own land2. Small owner occupiers held land of between 3 and 13 acres, sometimes comprising just a cottage and garden. It is unclear whether these small areas of land would actually have supported a farmer without a second income. Wills give further insight into the status of proprietors, four being described as blacksmith, wheelwright, farmer and carrier, and labourer. Although a high proportion of land was held by Radcliffe in the pre-enclosure period, there were 42 proprietors of land in total.