The Act of Parliament used for procuring enclosure had to provide information about the parish concerned. It gave a brief description of the parish, named the Lords of the Manor, the Rector Impropriate, the Vicar and other leading proprietors of land13.
In the Pirton enclosure, three Commissioners were appointed in 1811. These were: Thomas Brown senior of Luton nominated by Radcliffe, Lord of the Manor; Thomas Thorpe of Great Barford, Bedfordshire, nominated by the Rector Impropriate; and William Sedgwick of Rickmansworth, nominated by the proprietors of land. A surveyor was not named in the Act, but the pre-enclosure draft map identifies Thomas Brown of Willian as the surveyor. The Act also specified how a vacancy for a Commissioner was to be dealt with. If the vacancy arose for a Commissioner nominated by particular party to enclosure, such as the Lord of the Manor, that party had the right to nominate a replacement.
This was particularly important in the process of enclosure in Pirton as both the Rector’s and the proprietor’s nominees died and had to be replaced. The Rector’s nominee was replaced towards the end of the process. The proprietor’s nominees died two years after the Act was passed and he was replaced by the surveyor, Thomas Brown Jnr, who was son of the Lord’s commissioner. This dual role of surveyor and commissioner was unusual and often barred in an Act, but as the survey of land had been completed by 1813, perhaps it was agreed that it was better to have a local man who had already been involved in the surveying as the process had already been delayed by two deaths. In addition, the agricultural market was facing recession.
The duties and powers of the Commissioners were clearly outlined in the Act. They were empowered to reallocate land, set out the boundaries of the manor, extinguish rights, determine differences, and award costs. All meetings were advertised both with a notice fixed in south door of the Church -- and by being read out at divine service – and via an advertisement placed in the County Chronicle, perhaps to inform the absentee landlords to present their claims. The meetings had to be held either in the Parish or within an eight mile radius of its boundaries. Evidence shows that most meetings for Pirton took place on market day at the Sun Inn in Hitchin, a venue which was “convenient” for farmers and businessmen.
Road construction was an important aspect of enclosure. Roads dividing parishes were to be at least 30 feet wide and repairs shared equally between parishes. Commissioners had power to stop the roads, bridleways and footpaths in between old enclosures, but these orders had to go before the Justices of the Peace at Quarter Sessions to be ratified. The Act also demanded that up to five acres of land should be set aside for public pits for gravel, stone, chalk and sand. These pits had to have good road access to be used to repair public roads.
Drainage of land was to be improved, after assessment by the Commissioners. Old watercourses were to be scoured, deepened, straitened or diverted and new ones dug as needed. The benefits to each proprietor were to be assessed so that they could be charged proportionally.
The Lord of the Manor was allowed an allotment from the ‘waste’. He was to receive one 18th part of the commons and waste in lieu of the Lord’s right to soil.
The Act decreed that the tithes were to be extinguished and land allocated in lieu. The allotments were usually in proportion of total land being enclosed -- that is 1/5 arable, 1/10 wood, and 1/8 residue. Such land was to be ring fenced with ditches and quickset hedges at the expense of the proprietors of adjoining land. They also had to maintain them for the following seven years. Thus the outer perimeter was fenced by others, but if the Rector wanted to subdivide the fields, it was at his own expense. Common rights and were to be compensated by common pasture instead of distinct allotments of land
All expenses of the Act were to be borne by proprietors, owners or persons having rights or interest in the land [except the Rector Impropriate and the Vicar]. Commissioners had to present annual accounts to JP’s and this may account for the survival of such large numbers of financial documents
As soon as the Act was passed the Commissioners assumed power to conduct the course of husbandry. In order to make the transition from open field to enclosed fields as smooth as possible, the Commissioners arranged for land to be ploughed, dunged, sown and harvested. This process can be seen in the bill for farming in Pirton in Table 4. The cost of production of 30 acres of wheat was £222, which was sold for £337 -- the profit being £115, or nearly four pounds per acre. Bills were presented by the tenants and paid by the Commissioners. The tenants continued to work on their own farms.