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

Table 3: Bill presented to the Commissioners by Thomas Kingsley for working Mrs Hailey’s land for one year 1812

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Table 3: Bill presented to the Commissioners by Thomas Kingsley for working Mrs Hailey’s land for one year 1812 14

Tillage of 30 acres

£ 36.11.0

Ploughing once

£ 9.0.0

Seed wheat sown


Salt lime

£ 3.0.0

Ploughing harrowing




Malt dust




Total cost of production


Sale of wheat crop


The Commissioners next had to deal with claims to land and common rights. Enclosed land could be allocated to proprietors on two main counts. First, new allotments could be awarded in lieu of land previously held in the open fields. Second, an area of land could be awarded in lieu of grazing rights in the open pastures, commons and wastes. Witnessed claims detailed land held by the proprietors. Some wanted specific land in exchange. For example, the vicar wanted land in Ickleford near to his Glebe farm, or if not, land adjoining the Bedford/ Hitchin Turnpike. Other claimants wanted similar things.

In Pirton there was no waste and only previously farmed land was exchanged. This transaction seems to have been relatively trouble-free, but where land was being given in lieu of common rights, there were objections15. In Pirton, 24 proprietors objected to the claims based on the common rights of 37 tenants of cottages and houses16. The outcome of these objections is not recorded.
After all the claims were received and objections resolved, the Commissioners had to consider the quality of the land as well as the quantity, so that their final award would be fair and just. The Commissioners must have worked very closely with the surveyors and quality men to verify the acreages, using local knowledge, land tax or poor rate for valuations.
The surveyors’ work mainly lay in mapping the fields and commons and drawing up the plan of who held what. This information, together with claims, was submitted to the quality men who valued the land having regard to local conditions. Early enclosures appointed separate quality men or ‘qualiteers,’ 17 but after 1800 when the procedure was more standardized, the Commissioners seem to have taken on this role.
In Pirton the Commissioners acted as quality men as normally the valuation of arable land was more straightforward. It appears that in this case the Commissioners used the land tax to achieve a valuation of the land and these values were recorded meticulously in the allotment book giving acreages, with values in shillings and decimals18. The vicar objected strongly to his valuations of his land, saying that he lost 22 acres because it was valued at too high a rate. It left him "no possibility of improvement in the land ". In fact, he was so incensed that he changed his claim from land which was "convenient" for his Ickleford farm in order to receive more land in Pirton with a higher improvement value.
The second part of the Pirton allotment book dealt with who received what, from whom. All transactions were accurately recorded, before being enrolled in the Award Book.
By the end of this 18th-century it was becoming normal for surveyors to draw up an enclosure plan or map. Therefore the award document itself was shorter, with no need for abuttal information. Pirton is fortunate in the survival of both a pre-enclosure plan and the enclosure map showing the location of land and its owners.
The surveyor presented a detailed bill for surveying and mapping, showing charges of £45.9.0 for the 606 acres of old enclosures and £ 101.11.0 for 2,031 acres in the common fields. Even £6.15.6 is noted as “beer, bread and cheese for farmers”. The gap between professional and unskilled worker was maintained in wages. Labourers were paid a guinea a week while the surveyor received 2 guineas a day!
The next stage in the process was the hedging, drainage and road building. As there was a large acreage in Pirton, a separate contractor, Mr Twydell Dear, was appointed for this task.
The contents of the Award followed the headings of the Act, since the Act detailed the scope of matters to be dealt with by the Award. The process is described, followed by definitions of parish and manorial boundaries, roads, bridleways and footpaths. Descriptions of routes and widths are set out and these are still used in legal disputes today. As drainage was a major motive for enclosure, each public drain is described. But the main section of the Award deals with the allocation of land in the new enclosures, and these allotments are laid out in the schedule at the end of the book.
The schedule allows provides a true picture of property and landholding in Pirton at the end of the Napoleonic war. Copyhold tenure must have been declining with only 12 percent of the total acreage lying in the five manors. There were twelve large farms in the village, numerous smallholdings, houses and cottages. As can be seen in Table 5 below, most proprietors exchanged over 70 percent of their total holdings and most of the exchanged land was in the open fields. It is not surprising therefore that it took such a long time to complete, a further five years from the completion of the surveying work to the final award.

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