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What is Enclosure?

Enclosure (or inclosure) is the process which ends traditional rights such as mowing meadows for hay, or grazing livestock on common land formerly held in the open field system.

Once enclosed, these uses of the land become restricted to the owner, and it ceases to be land for commons.

In England and Wales the term is also used for the process that ended the ancient system of arable farming in open fields.

Under enclosure, such land is fenced (enclosed) and deeded or entitled to one or more owners.

When did enclosure take place?

There are examples of enclosure back in the 13th century, but the process began to be a widespread feature of the English agricultural landscape during the 16th century. By the 19th century, unenclosed commons had become largely restricted to rough pasture in mountainous areas and to relatively small parts of the lowlands.

What about Hungerford?

There is an early record of enclosure in 1246 - and the process was completed by the Parliamentary Enclosure of 1811-1820.

The HHA Archive holds "A Bill for Inclosing Lands in Hungerford, in the Counties of Berks and Wilts" dated "51 Geo III" (1811), and which included 780 acres "or thereabouts", excluding "certain pastures, called Hungerford Port Down, Freeman's Marsh and the Church Croft, not intended by this Act to be inclosed".

The Act received Royal Assent on 25th May 1811.

How was enclosure achieved?

Enclosure could be accomplished in two ways:
- by buying the ground rights and all common rights to accomplish exclusive rights of use, which increased the value of the land, or
- by passing laws causing or forcing enclosure, such as Parliamentary enclosure.

The winners and losers:

The whole topic of enclosure is complicated and controversial.

Parliamentary (forceful) enclosure was sometimes accompanied by force, resistance, and bloodshed, and remains among the most controversial areas of agricultural and economic history in England. Some historians argue that rich landowners used their control of state processes to appropriate public land for their private benefit.

Others argue that it brought to an end the perpetual poverty of subsistence farming.

Enclosure is considered one of the causes of the British Agricultural Revolution. Enclosed land was under control of the farmer who was free to adopt better farming practices.

There was widespread agreement in contemporary accounts that profit making opportunities were better with enclosed land. Following enclosure, crop yields and livestock output increased while at the same time labour productivity increased enough to create a surplus of labour. This increased labour supply is considered one of the causes of the Industrial Revolution.

There is no evidence of major dispute regarding the process of enclosure in Hungerford, but this whole area would benefit from further research.

Photo Gallery:

common fields-01
common fields-01

The principle Common (Open) Fields of Hungerford

1819 enclosure-01s
1819 enclosure-01s

Enclosure Award Map, 1819

1819 enclosure-02s
1819 enclosure-02s

Enclosure Award Map, 1819

18140421 Inclosure Award - Schedule for paths and ways (3072)
18140421 Inclosure Award - Schedule for paths and ways (3072)

Schedule for the repairs of paths and private roads, Inclosure Act 1814

18140421 Inclosure Award Map-1 (3072)
18140421 Inclosure Award Map-1 (3072)

Inclosure Award Map, 21 Apr 1814.

18140421 Inclosure Award Map-2 (3072)
18140421 Inclosure Award Map-2 (3072)

Inclosure Award Map, 21 Apr 1814.

18140421 Inclosure Award Map-3 (3072)
18140421 Inclosure Award Map-3 (3072)

Inclosure Award Map, 21 Apr 1814.

18140421 Inclosure Award Map-4
18140421 Inclosure Award Map-4

Inclosure Award Map (Shalbourne exchanges), 21 Apr 1814.

18140421 Inclosure Award Map-5 (3072)
18140421 Inclosure Award Map-5 (3072)

Inclosure Award Map, 21 Apr 1814.

18140421 Inclosure Award Map-6 (3072)
18140421 Inclosure Award Map-6 (3072)

Inclosure Award Map, 21 Apr 1814.

- The principle Common (Open) Fields of Hungerford

- Enclosure Award Map, 1819

- Schedule for the repairs of paths and private roads, Inclosure Act 1814

- Inclosure Award Map, 21 Apr 1814.

- Inclosure Award Map (Shalbourne exchanges), 21 Apr 1814.

The Common Fields of Hungerford:

A plan of the principle Common (Open) Fields of Hungerford is shown in the Photo Gallery. For more, see the article on Common Fields.

Much information on records of enclosure between 1485 and 1885 can be found in "Enclosure in Berkshire, 1485-1885", Ed by Ross Wordie; Berkshire Record Society, 2000, on which the following notes are based:

Records of Enclosure at Hungerford prior to 1811:

Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, was granted a royal licence to enclose a deer park just to the east of the town in 1246. (See Simon de Montfort's links with Hungerford). It was marked on Saxton's map of 1574, and a survey of 1591 measured it at 30 acres (Hatherly and Cantor, The Medieval parks of Berkshire, Berkshire Archaeological Journal, p. 75).

In 1509 the ecclesiastical lord of the manor of 'Huddon' (ie Hidden), which lay within Hungerford parish, was presented to Wolsey's Commission as enclosing 20 acres of arable land and a further 80 acres for pasture, evicting four persons to do so (Leadam, vol. ii, pp. 518, 535.).

During the reign of Edward VI (1547-53), there is an undated (and probably incomplete) survey (PRO LR2 vol. 187, ff. 160a-163b) of the manors of 'Huden et Edington', which lists only a few closes in predominantly open-field area.

In 1573 there was another survey (H/M 5) of the manors of Hungerford, Sandon Fee, Hadden (formerly 'Hudden' and later known as 'Hidden'), and Eddington, all four of which lay at least partly in Hungerford parish. The northward extension of the parish included the manors of Eddington on the west, and 'Hidden' to the east. Hungerford manor surrounded the town itself to the east and west, and Sandon Fee manor covered the southern portion of the parish. However, it is not known to what extent these manors were coterminous with the Parish of Hungerford itself, and the acreages given are estimates only, and commons and waste lands appear to be underrepresented. However, the impression given is one of a great expanse of open-field land, with only limited enclosed areas.

Between 1606-09 there are four further surveys (HM 6-9) covering the manors of Hungeford and Sandon Fee. The 1606 survey mentions small areas of common grazing of 16, 44, and 50 acres, together with "Port Down ... by estimation 150 acres, Freeman's Marsh of 29 acres, and one other Common called Holmes Heath by estimations 200 acres, which belongeth to tall the tenants of Sandon Fee".

An entry in the court rolls of Hungerford Manor from 1610 (H/M9) records that the jury presented Richard Stafforton Esq for enclosing 'a ground called Pappingings [=Poppinjays] by estimacion xii acres out of Holmes Heath to the hindrance of the commoners there", and also 'another peece of ground out of Holmes Heath into his garden by estimacion xii lugges [3 acres]'. A note on the parchment wrapper of this document declares that all of Holmes Heath was enclosed in 1611.

A series of title deeds relating to the manor of Hungerford Engleford from 1674-1738 (D/ENM1/T24) indicate that at least some open field land was still changing hands during these years.

A map of 1807 (D/EZ80/5) shows the whole of the parish of Hungerford north of the River Kennet. Some open, arable strips are depicted just to the north-east of the town itself, but the bulk of the northern half of the parish appears to have been enclosed by that time.

Hungerford had a large number of "open" common fields. In c1600 these totalled about 1800 acres, but by the 18th century, measured in terms of the whole parish, the open fields were not particularly extensive - they occupied about 800 acres in Hungerford, and another 170 acres or so in Eddington.

We know that there had been some open fields around Hopgrass Farm which were enclosed by about 1715, and North Standen had been enclosed in 1605. There was enclosure in the manor of Hidden in the early 16th century. All these enclosures were undertaken by legal agreement among the landowners or by 'unity of possession' - in other words, all the land was owned by one person so there was no barrier to enclosure.

Enclosure by Parliamentary Act was a feature of the later Georgian period. This was necessary where there were a lot of landowners involved, so that any changes were legally binding. The General Enclosure Act of 1801 was the first Act, but many of the potential benefits were neutralised by abuses and undesirable consequences. The Enclosure Act 1845, which is still in effect, with amendments, subjected Enclosure to close government supervision. In essence, the 1801 Act involved:

1) The reorganisation of the open fields, where the land was divided into strips and cultivated according to custom, into individually-owned blocks of land where farmers were free to cultivate whatever they liked.

2) The replacement of the communal form of agriculture, where there were rights of common on fallow land, with the completely private system that we know today, and

3) The extinguishement of all rights of common on downland and meadow, and its division into individually owned fields - although in Hungerford the Common was left alone, and may even have increased!

The Hungerford Parliamentary Enclosure of 1811-19:

Royal Assent for enclosing the lands around Hungerford in the counties of Berkshire and Wiltshire was granted on 25th May 1811, later than for much of the area, but around the same time as Great Shefford, Welford and Ham. Aldbourne was not enclosed until 1869. Throughout Berkshire the enclosure was based on tithing rather than parish boundaries.

The Enclosure Award map was made by Abraham Dymock in 1819, and the "Award" followed in 1820 involving 780 acres.

Q/RDC 65A (1820) is a copy of that award, however, which shows that only 689a 3r 4p of land in the parish was newly enclosed in 1820, although a further 170 acres 2r 24p of old enclosures were redistributed at the same time.

Q/RDC 65B (1819) is the map which accompanied the enclosure award, which described the open field land to the north-east of the town, which appeared on the map of 1807 above, as 'Eddington Allotments', covering 173 acres 1r 38p.


The parish of Hungerford had been a large one - of 6,729 acres.

Early surveys suggest that in 1600 no more than 20% of the parish was enclosed, with most of this enclosed land lying in the manors of Hidden and Eddington.

By 1820 only about 10% remained open, to be enclosed by the parliamentary process.

There must have been much non-parliamentary enclosure during the 17th and 18th centuries, but no records appear to have survived.

The development of Allotments:

The various Inclosure (Enclosure) Acts had allowed landlords to take over the "wastes" and common land - often where the rural poor kept there geese, gathered fuel, picked berries and mushrooms for sustenance - often taking in the old common fields. It was evident, even to many in the upper and middling classes, that something must be done to compensate them and ease their suffering.

Following the Inclosure Acts and the Commons Act 1876 the land available for personal cultivation by the poor was greatly diminished. To fulfil the need for land allotment legislation was included. In 1819 Parliament gave parish wardens the power to set aside 20 acres of parish land to let, a limit extended to 50 acres after the "Captain Swing" riots of 1830. The law was first fully codified in the Small Holdings and Allotments Act 1908, it was modified by the Allotments Act 1922 and subsequent Allotments Acts up until 1950.

Under the acts a local authority is required to maintain an "adequate provision" of land, usually a large allotment field which can then be subdivided into allotment gardens for individual residents at a low rent. Allotment sizes are often quoted in square rods, although the use of the rod has been illegal for trade purposes since 1965 and unit prices must by law be quoted in pounds per square metre. The rent is set at what a person "may reasonably be expected to pay" (1950), in 1997 the average rent for a 10 square rods (approx. 250 sq m) plot was £22 a year. Each plot cannot exceed 40 square rods (1000 sq m) and must be used for the production of fruit or vegetables for consumption by the plot-holder and their family (1922), or of flowers for use by the plot-holder and their family. The exact size and quality of the plots is not defined. The council has a duty to provide sufficient allotments to meet demand.

See also:

- Inclosure Act for Hungerford, pre Royal Assent, May 1811.

- Inclosure Act for Hungerford, Royal Assent 25 May 1811

- Enclosure Award 25 May 1811 - photocopy

- Enclosure Award 25 May 1811 - transcription of lands awarded. (Acres / rods / poles. 1 acre = 4 rods; 1 rod = 40 perches)

- Common Fields

- "Enclosure in Berkshire, 1485-1885", Ed by Ross Wordie; Berkshire Record Society, 2000

- Bill for Inclosing 780 acres in Hungerford, 1811 [HHA Archive]

- "Catalogue of Inclosure Maps" (inc Hungerford) [HHA Archive S43]