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


Table 5: landholding identified in the Pirton Enclosure Award



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Table 5: landholding identified in the Pirton Enclosure Award



Proprietor

Status

Post enclosure

acreage

Exchangd land

Non exchangd land

Exchanged land in open fields

Exchanged land in old enclosures

Radcliffe

Absentee landlord

1,032

73 %

27 %

98%

2%

Filmer

Absentee landlord

420

96%

4%

99%

1%

Whittingstall

Absentee landlord

213

88%

12%

97%

3%

Hanscombe

Owner/occupier

255

54%

46%

94%

6%

The Vicar

Absentee landlord

156

94%

6%

99%

1%

Willes

Absentee landlord

9.5

100%

0%

100%

0%

Caton

Absentee landlord

82

94%

6%

62%

38%

Wright

Owner/occupier/tenant

76

78%

22%

93%

7%

Wilshere

Absentee landlord

81

97%

3%

90%

10%

Crabb

Absentee landlord

36

94%

6%

97%

3%

Throssell

Owner/occupier/tenant

51

83%

17%

96%

4%

Hailey

Owner/occupier/tenant

3

3%

97%

100%

0%

Lucas

Absentee landlord

16.5

90%

10%

88%

22%

Kingsley

Owner/occupier/tenant

40

74%

26%

86%

14%

Weedon

Owner/occupier

2.5

40%

60%

100%

0%

Holland

Owner/occupier

9

40%

60%

67%

33%

Hodson

Owner/occupier

17.5

100%

0%

100%

0%

King

Owner/occupier/tenant

10

97%

3%

99%

1%

Turner

Owner/occupier

2.7

73%

27%

100%

0%

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


Costs

£

s

d

Obtaining and passing the Act

615

0

0

Solicitors and public meetings

527

10

4

Commissioners

1,053

2

6

Surveyor

774

8

0

Enrolling Award

250

0

0

Roads

2,657

6

9

Drains and bridges

423

11

4

Fencing

896

8

4

Total cost

7,197

7

3

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.

  • The manorial and parish boundaries, roads, bridle paths and footpaths were defined.

  • 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


Proprietor

Status

Pre enclosure acreage

Post enclosure

acreage

Radcliffe

Absentee landlord

1,150

1,032

Filmer

Absentee landlord

240

420

Whittingstall

Absentee landlord

250

213

Hanscombe

Owner/occupier

260

255

The Vicar

Absentee landlord

1

156

Willes

Absentee landlord

10

9.5

Caton

Absentee landlord

80

82

Wright

Owner/occupier/tenant

73

76

Wilshere

Absentee landlord

60

81

Crabb

Absentee landlord

50

36

Throssell

Owner/occupier/tenant

50

51

Hailey

Owner/occupier/tenant

30

3

Lucas

Absentee landlord

23

16.5

Kingsley

Owner/occupier/tenant

20

40

Weedon

Owner/occupier

13

2.5

Holland

Owner/occupier

8

9

Hodson

Owner/occupier

6

17.5

King

Owner/occupier/tenant

5

10

Turner

Owner/occupier

3

2.7

Hill

Owner/occupier

Not stated

10

D.Brown

Owner/occupier

Not stated

1

Hornet

Owner/occupier

Not stated

1.5

I Hodson

Owner/occupier

Not stated

5

Mrs Hudson

Owner/occupier

Not stated

1

Osborne

Owner/occupier

Not stated

6.5

Moore

Absentee landlord

Not stated

0.5

Allen

Absentee landlord

Not stated

.1

Walker

Owner/occupier

Not stated

5

Odell

Owner/occupier

Not stated

6.5

Dilley

Owner/occupier

Not stated

1

Hipgrave Sn

Owner/occupier

Not stated

5

Hipgrave Jn

Owner/occupier

Not stated

1

J Burgess

Owner/occupier

Not stated

deceased

Ja Burgess

Owner/occupier

Not stated

2

Sheppard

Owner/occupier

Not stated

deceased

J Brown

Owner/occupier

Not stated

3.

Jeeves

Absentee landlord

Not stated

1

Payne

Owner/occupier

Not stated

1

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

6 31345

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

24 Hollowell S. Enclosure records for historians

Helen Hofton April 2004



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