Note: only proprietors whose pre-enclosure acreage is known are included above.
Village bylaws governed farming practices and had done so from" time out of mind." This meant that the whole village had to agree to any agricultural changes and improvements, such as new crops, which was no easy matter with so many proprietors
3. Who wanted enclosure and why From Table1, it is clear that most large landowners such as Radcliffe and Whittingstall had large amounts of capital invested in their in land. They probably believed that they would achieve a better financial return if they had their land consolidated into blocks as this would mean that they could command higher rents. For example, at the beginning of the 19th-century, land in the Hitchin area was rented at 14-16 shillings per acre. After enclosure, there was normally an increase of 5 shillings per acre, an increase of about one third4. Furthermore, landowners often held land in more than one parish, for example in Pirton and the adjacent parishes of Ickleford, Holwell and Shillington. Enclosure would give them a chance to exchange land in order to consolidate their holdings.
Many tenants also wanted enclosure. Consolidation would mean improved efficiency and productivity. It would also provide an opportunity to introduce new farming methods, alternative crop rotations and new crops. It would bring independence in farming practice for each farm, rather than having to be bound by the village bylaws. The extinguishing of common rights would bring a mix of benefits and drawbacks for landowners, with a decline in pasture for their animals on the one hand, but the removal of the rights of others to graze their fallow on the other. For landless cottagers, however, losing the right to pasture a cow according to the village custom, was a large loss without compensation.
There was a drawback to any increase in production as one tenth had to be given to the church as a tithe. However, in Pirton at the start of the period being studied, tithes were not given in kind, but were rated at about 3 shillings per acre5. Tenant farmers wanted tithe commutation as part of the enclosure.
For both landowners and tenants, the reallocation of land would probably bring a chance to acquire better quality land or justify investment to improve its quality – for example by improving the drainage. Better roads would create a better transport system to help with the marketing of agricultural products.
The records show that at the start of the enclosure process, both the Lay Rector Sir John Filmer and the Vicar Dr Witherington Peers had the right to collect tithes. The Rector was entitled to the ‘great tithes’ and the vicar to the ‘small tithes.’ But both had found collection of the tithes problematic as farmers refused to pay, or argued about the amount, or disputed which tithes they were going to pay6. The Lay Rector was one of the larger absentee landowners after Radcliffe, with 240 acres, but this land was scattered across the five fields. Letters written at the time, show that he wanted to exchange land to make his holding “more convenient” to his farm in Pirton.