Most enclosures, no matter how small, were expensive, particularly when drainage projects were undertaken. The Commissioners had to raise the money, sometimes by taking out a mortgage19, but more often by levying a rate on proprietors. In Pirton a total of three rates were levied. The first was in October 1811. This brought in £5198.11.5. The second two years later brought in £1732.17.1 and the final one at the end of the whole process generated £170. It was obviously difficult to extract the money. Five months after the first rate was due, Mr Hampson, Clerk to the Commissioners, had to write to eleven proprietors reminding them that their rate was unpaid. The second rate was even harder to collect, the initial request to 50 proprietors was ‘neglected’ by 32 of them and further letters had to be sent at a cost of £1.12.0.
Table 6: Costs of enclosure in Pirton
Obtaining and passing the Act
Solicitors and public meetings
Drains and bridges
The above table shows the total cost, highlighting the high cost of roads, over one third, and the expenses of the Commissioners themselves, about fifteen percent.
5. Summary of the outcomes of the enclosure process The enclosure brought major changes to the landscape of the parish. These can be summarised as:
Large absentee landlords consolidated land around their farms
Small proprietors’ holdings became concentrated in the north east of the parish
No new farms were built on new enclosures, but remained in the centre of the village as access to land had improved and holdings were adjacent as far as possible
Common rights were extinguished, with land being awarded in lieu.
Fields were enclosed with fences and quick thorn hedges
Rents increased significantly
There was the same number of proprietors after enclosure as there had been before, with the only changes being caused by the death of the owner.
Tithes were commuted, but proprietors lost land. The Rector Impropriate doubled the area of land owned from 260 to 520 acres, while the Vicar gained about 132 acres, which he then rented.
An important new road was built linking Pirton to the market town of Hitchin, which avoided the turnpike. Other roads were improved.
Sixteen new drainage channels were constructed and the old water courses improved.
Three public gravel pits were identified for maintaining the roads.
6. Issues arising from enclosure The costs of enclosure and the ability to pay them were very important factors that affected both rich and poor. However, the issue of the financial impact on the population was also greatly influenced by changes in agricultural markets. When the Pirton enclosure was taking place, the Napoleonic Wars were in progress. The demand for British grain was strong and prices were high. In general, landowners and tenants were prosperous and they had positive expectations for the outcome of enclosure. What had not been foreseen, however, was the collapse of agricultural prices in the depression which set in after Waterloo, but it is clear that many landowners got into financial difficulties in the two decades following the cessation of hostilities. In prosperous war years men had acquired land on fixed mortgages, but generally rising prices cut the real rates of borrowing. Falling prices after 1815 made these debts much harder to service. Poor harvests in 1825 and wet harvests in 1828-1830, a time when sheep suffered foot rot, made the problems worse
The cost of enclosure in Pirton seems to have been approximately £3.9s per acre. Added to this would be fencing costs and loss of acreage due to tithe commutation. Looking at a sample of tillage bills for the early period 1811-12, when grain prices were high, the profit of wheat appears to be £3 .15s per acre. So if loans were taken out, it must have been hard to pay these back, when grain prices fell.
Whether very small landowners went out of business immediately seems unlikely, as they are all recorded in the award. It is difficult to say whether they lost land or not as there is no record of the pre-enclosure acreage; only land tax payments are recorded. A detailed analysis of this would need further research. Certainly by 1820, five small farmers had sold most of their land to a new absentee landlord Samuel Allen. Whether this was because the financial burden of enclosure had been too great, or that the value of land had now risen considerably and it would be profitable to sell, is not clear without consulting Manor Court records.
There has been much discussion about the impact of enclosure on the economic and social position of the small landowner. The Marxist idea that enclosure was the main agency which permitted the growth of large estates at the expense of small owner20 was not borne out by experience in Pirton. The largest landowner, Radcliffe, had less acreage after enclosure than before. The exact position of owner occupiers with landholdings ranging from 1 acre to 240 acres is not totally clear, but they appeared to be as numerous after enclosure as before.
Mingay argued that small owners only constituted a small section of the rural population by the time of enclosure is evidence that pointed to an increasing their numbers during the Napoleonic war period. Furthermore, he argued small owners were not forced off the land by enclosure costs, and indeed enclosure could be regarded as a major advance in recognizing the rights of smaller owners21. His research on land tax returns for some of the Midland counties indicated that the proportion of owner occupied land in the year 1802-4 was 11-14 percent. In the same period in Pirton, the proportion was 34 percent. Following enclosure the proportion for Pirton fell to 23 percent. Unfortunately, it is difficult to calculate an accurate estimate of the post enclosure figure, as records for the years 1814 -24 have not survived. In addition, there is the complication that owner occupiers often farmed land in more than one parish. It would therefore be necessary to research the records for land tax in surrounding parishes to find their total holdings. The data for Pirton that is available is shown in Table 7 below.
Table 7: Pre-enclosure and post-enclosure acreage
It is also difficult to comment on improvement in agricultural output as a result of the Pirton Enclosure without detailed information on pre- and post- enclosure production. However, there did appear to be an increase in the rental value of the land in the Parish.
There is debate about whether enclosure led to agricultural improvements in the 18th and 19th century. Mingay took the view that enclosure did not achieve the economic advantages with which it had formerly been attributed and adopted a more optimistic view of open fields as efficient agricultural units22. Beckett refutes any notion of the dramatic improvement in agricultural techniques after enclosure. As he points out, immediately following the demise of the open fields, the principal operators were the same people as before, and they had the same outlook23. The argument was re-examined in the 1980s by Turner who highlighted enclosure as an important factor in the adoption of new agricultural techniques. Accepting that enclosure alone had not bought about a rapid revolution in agricultural methods, he believed that it could allow agriculture to become more efficient24. Many of the new techniques developed during the 18th-century were better suited to enclosed land than open field farming.
7. Conclusions The enclosure process in Pirton was typical for an English village and it did have a strong influence on the landscape but not on the shape of the settlement itself. However, as noted in Section 6 above, it was not possible within the limitations of the study to conclusively prove that it directly resulted in financial difficulties for small landowners, to a greater concentration of landholding, or to a higher level of agricultural production.
8. Bibliography Primary Sources H.A.L.S documents
Enclosure Award 51346
Enclosure Bill 51347
Enclosure Act 51350
Allotment Book 67080
Total costs of enclosure 51386
Miscellaneous papers on enclosure 51331-51470
Land tax 1750-1830
Plan and survey of a farm in Pirton 1801 D/Z7 8
Printed Primary Sources Young A. General view of the agriculture of the county of Hertfordshire 1804, David & Charles Reprints, 1971
Secondary sources Books Hammond B. & J.L. The village labourer 1760-1832, Alan Sutton publishing Ltd, 1995
Hey D. The Oxford Companion to Local and family History, O.U.P, 2000
Hollowell S. Enclosure records for historians, Phillimore, 2000
Mingay G. E. Enclosure and the small farmer in the age of the Industrial Revolution, Macmillian, 1968
Neeson J. M., Commoners: common right, enclosure and social change in England, 1700-1820, Cambridge University Press, 1993
Tate W. E. & Turner M.E. Domesday of enclosure, University of Reading, 1978
Secondary sources Articles G.E. Mingay The Agricultural Revolution in English History: A Reconsideration Essays in Agrarian History, David & Charles 1968
J.V. Beckett The decline of the small landowner in England and Wales 1660 -1900
1 Hey D The Oxford Companion to Local and family History p 151
2 Land tax
3 Land tax and statement of property 51335
4 Young A .General view of the agriculture of the county of Hertfordshire 1804 p28
5 Young A .General view of the agriculture of the county of Hertfordshire 1804 p30
7 Tate W. E. & Turner M.E. Domesday of enclosure
8 enclosure documents HALS 51331-51470
9 enclosure documents HALS 51331-51470
10 enclosure documents HALS 51331-51470
11 Enclosure Bill HALS 51347
12 Enclosure Award HALS 51346
13 Enclosure Act HALS 51350
14 Enclosure documents HALS 51331-51470
15 Hollowell S. Enclosure records for historians p76
16 Enclosure documents HALS 51331-51470
17 Hollowell S. Enclosure records for historians p97
18 Allotment Book 67080
19 Hollowell S. Enclosure records for historians p112
20 Hammond, B. & J.L. The village labourer 1760-1832 p99
21 Mingay G. E. Enclosure and the small farmer in the age of the Industrial Revolution
22 Mingay G.E. The Agricultural Revolution in English History: A Reconsideration
23 Beckett J.V. The decline of the small landowner in England and Wales 1660 -1900