The Enclosure of Pirton The process of parliamentary enclosure, focusing on Pirton, North Hertfordshire



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Parish

Acreage estimated

Acreage awarded

Date of Enclosure Act

Date of award

Hexton

2,000

1,171

1766

1767

Lilley, Offley

NS

952 L 217 O

1768

1769

Ickleford

NS

600

1776

1777

Kings Walden

500

544

1797

1802

Shitlington and Holwell

NS

4,036

1802

1817

Barton

NS

1,776

1809

1814

Pirton

2,661

2,159

1811

1818

In January 1773, Radcliffe tried to elicit support by organising a meeting for proprietors to discuss the subject. He received no reply from Filmer, the Rector Impropriate, and other proprietors also refused to attend. Pym, a large landowner thought that "it should be deferred to another year"8. Radcliffe was having difficulty finding tenants for his farm as “enclosure is near"9. Without support, the initial petition failed. In 1801 a General Enclosure Act was passed by Parliament giving a framework for private Acts.Radcliffe did not take advantage of this easier process until 1811 during the Napoleonic war, when agriculture was booming. Grain prices were high as there was a blockade on imported grain and farmers wanted to increase productivity to reap the benefits. The only record of attitudes towards the second attempt at enclosure, were from the vicar who felt that "the inclosing of parishes is a national advantage"10.


In January 1811 William Wilshire, a Hitchin solicitor who normally acted for Radcliffe, set the enclosure procedure in motion. Notice was given that a private Act to enclose was being sought. In February 1811 a meeting for all proprietors, freehold, copyhold and holders of common rights, was held in the Sun Inn in Hitchin. A draft bill was presented and approved. Agreement was obtained on manorial rights and tithe commutation. There had to be a unanimous resolution to proceed, therefore solicitors had also gained the approval of absentee landlords. The final bill was drawn up in March that year and presented to the House of Commons and Lords for approval in April11.
The next step was to carry out a survey to provide a ‘statement of property.’ This statement would describe the area of land being enclosed and the degree of consent available. The promoters of the scheme had to make sure that the majority of proprietors (in value rather than number) were going to consent to enclosure. In the Pirton document there was some changing of positions. James Hanscombe, a member of the landed gentry, changed his position from ‘dissent’ to ‘neuter’. One wonders what pressure was bought to bear. As can be seen in Table 3, it seems to be mainly those people who already had a large proportion of enclosed land that did not want to go to the expense of enclosing the rest of their land. There were often difficulties in obtaining accurate totals. The initial estimate of the area of land to be enclosed in the Parish was 2,378 acres, but the accurate figure noted in the final award was 2,661 acres 3 roods and 18 perches.12 Of this total, 2,116 acres was awarded and enclosed by the end of the process in 1818.




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