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Who’s Who in inclosure

Driven by ideas of agricultural improvement and the chance of turning a bigger profit, the minds of many 18th and 18th century landowners became focused on inclosure and as an idea once it catches hold becomes difficult to resist many adopted it with relish. It was said to lead to agricultural improvement, and -particularly in a time of war- brought into production land that had not previously been thought worthwhile to cultivate. Between 1793 and 1815 Britain was at war for all but one year.

The standard opening of virtually every single inclosure act began the same way, “…there are within the said Parish several Open and Common Fields, Common Meadows, Common Pastures, Downs and other commonable and Waste Lands and Grounds which in their present Situation are incapable of any considerable improvement, but if the same were divided into specific Shares and Allottments, according to each Person’s Right therein, and inclosed, it would be greatly advantageous to the Petitioners and all other Persons interested therein”. Here, neatly summarised and without necessitating to much close inquiry or thought, was the rationale behind the whole of the inclosure movement. Say something often enough and people will come to believe it. But improvement was only part of the story; as E P Thompson was to observe, “the spirit of agricultural improvement in the eighteenth-century was impelled less by altruistic desires to banish ugly wastes or…to feed a growing population than by the desire for fatter rent rolls and larger profits.”

Furthermore inclosure was seen as a way to subdue the poor. Allow them access to the common to keep a cow or two and they would become indolent and disinclined to work for their betters.[1] Modern historians, readily able to bear the pain of earlier generations, have revised their opinions about inclosure, but it is difficult not to agree with his conclusion that “Enclosure (when all the sophistications are allowed for) was a plain enough case of class robbery, played according to fair rules of property and law laid down by a parliament of property-owners and lawyers.”

The property concerned was not just the fields, meadows or waste but the rights of common that were so often attached to them. Intangible though these rights were they were a form of property and possessed a value which could not be dismissed and nor could they simply be extinguished. Abolition of any form of property was anathema and protected as they were by the common law an act of parliament was the only legal way they could be extinguished and only then if due compensation were given.

The process of inclosure began with a petition to parliament asking for permission to introduce a bill of inclosure and if the Commons agreed [and rarely did they demur] then two or three members of the House were appointed to bring the bill in. The inclosures of John Martin that I have considered typically took between three and four months from introduction of the bill to the Act gaining Royal assent. The speed and rapidity with which this took place would seem to indicate that in most cases the details contained in the bill had been completed well in advance of its introduction to parliament. Who conducted this preparatory work is generally unknown. It would have made most sense for the work to be have been done by people who would eventually be appointed as surveyor or Commissioner but I have not seen this aspect of the process discussed anywhere. After 1801 much of the content of the final act was determined by the Inclosure Consolidation Act, for example the widths of the roads to be constructed, the grazing thereon and the requirement to hedge or fence the new inclosures. Much however was specific to the manor setting out, for example, how much land was to be set aside for quarries, for the rector in lieu of tithes and the manorial waste to be given to the Lord of the Manor [2].

The [Parliamentary] act was a rule book laying down the principles that were to govern the [physical] act of inclosure. It was a means and not an end. The end came in the shape of an “Award” which all the parties to the inclosure could agree to. This was a powerful legal document having the backing of an Act of Parliament with the moral authority of popular agreement. It was the Award that mattered and it was this which would be enrolled at the local quarter sessions [3] as a permanent record of the inclosure, with a further copy being held by the local vestry.

The Inclosure Commissioner

The persons legally charged with bringing the final Award to fruition were the inclosure Commissioners. In the 18th century it was not uncommon to have multiple Commissioners, perhaps a half a dozen or so and the Acts specified them by name. They often did not have any formal training but became experienced by dint of the number of inclosures they worked on. It was not uncommon that one Commissioner would be appointed to represent the Lord of the Manor, another the tithe owner and a third the majority land owner. By the 19th century the number of Commissioners per inclosure had fallen and they were required, on appointment to swear an oath, which included the obligation to be impartial. In Dorset many of the inclosures were carried out by men with a background in land surveying.

Although the commissioners were named in the act it is probable that the parliamentarians made their recommendations based on the opinions of the landowners who had agreed amongst themselves to request specific individuals to be appointed by the Act. Sometimes the decision as to who to appoint had been made even before the parish meeting announcing the proposal to inclose had been called.[4] The landowners would rarely request commissioners anti-pathetic to themselves or the inclosure process itself. Once the act had been passed the Commissioners had a wide range of responsibilities and their “power was virtually absolute” [5]: it was important to appoint commissioners whose opinions and judgements were “sound”.

If the act of parliament was the means to an end, so too was the survey of the parish or manor. It’s sole purpose was to provide a valuation of the agricultural land of the whole manor, together with a valuation of the holdings of each proprietor. Inclosure allocated to the proprietor an amount of land equivalent in value to that of his current holdings [less some deductions see below]. It was not a case of an acre for an acre rather it was a case of a £1 worth of land for a £1 worth of land. Many proprietors ended up with less land but of higher value per acre.

The essential qualification therefore for the Inclosure Commissioners was “that they know the quality and value of the soil, independent of any other consideration: but, to put a proper value upon it, according to all references and relations, one that is locally acquainted with the lordship is preferable.” As the whole point of inclosure was to improve the course of agriculture a commissioner who had local knowledge and knew his business was essential:From local acquaintance, he knows how the seasons operate, and suit the different qualities and situations, and thereby is capable of judging, in a great degree, how far it will be improved or not by drainage; the different modes of cultivation which take place after inclosing, &c. Without the disease be known, it is impossible to prescribe to know what is proper in order to obtain a cure. Except a person understands the nature of the soil under the above circumstances, he cannot judiciously point out how far it is capable of being improved.” [6]

If knowledge of the land’s value was essential so too was a knowledge of the rights of common. “The core of the Commission’s task was the calculation and verification of existing rights claimed by proprietors” [7] These common rights could be quite extensive and were often the source of controversy, as we shall see at Bishopstone. All inclosure bills had to be supported by a majority of proprietors but there was no precise definition of what this meant: “The Parliamentary Committee that reported on the cost of enclosures in 1800 said that there was no fixed rule, that in some cases the consent of three-fourths was required, in others the consent of four-fifths.” In theory the proprietors comprised freeholders, as well as the customary tenants of the manor, who held land by copyhold or leaseholders for lives. The problem that was encountered was that whatever fraction was decided upon “the suffrages were not counted but weighted.” [8] In other words some tenures counted for more than others.

The third major task for the Commissioner was infrastructure planning and construction: new roads were virtually always needed but so too were stoppages of roads and as many of the lands to be inclosed had not been improved it would often prove necessary to dig drains and on occasions redirect water courses. Finally the Commissioner’s had to direct the course of agriculture whilst the inclosure was proceeding and had to make arrangements to finance the inclosure. This was frequently done by the sale of land in the old common or by arranging mortgages if need be for the proprietors.

The majority of John Martin’s work was with two Commissioners, William Jennings Jnr. and John Baverstock Knight. William Jennings Jnr. inherited the family business when his father died in 1799, a reminder that inclosures could take many years and almost all acts specified the arrangements to be made in the event of the death of one of the commissioners. For the first decade of the 19th century William Jnr. worked principally as surveyor firstly to the Somerton inclosure in Somerset [1800], Kings Moor [Somerset 1803], South Petherton [Somerset 1803], Compton Dundon [Somerset 1803] and Leigh [Dorset 1803]. Given the close family ties between the Jennings and Martin families it may have been the case that John Martin was involved in some subordinate role. By mid decade Jennings had moved on to become a Commissioner and is first named as such on the Brinkworth Inclosure [Wilts] in 1807 [9].He then went on to inclose a further 11 manors as Commissioner of which 5 were in Wiltshire. About 1824 he ceased inclosing. His last being at Sturminster Newton [Castle] in 1824.

John Baverstock Knight [1785-1859] was born at Langton near Blandford in Dorset. His father John Forster Knight was a land surveyor and John Baverstock was educated at a commercial school in Child Okeford. His fame today rests on his work as a water colourist but he found time to inclose 9 parishes between 1821 and 1838. Eventually his health failed and the art and surveying had to be abandoned before his death in 1859.

The Inclosure Surveyor

Images from English Village Community 002 copy

This is the most famous picture of a land surveyor at work. I G Maxwell inclosed the manor of Henlow in 1798 and all the features of a survey are visible : the land surveyor and his measuring rod, the chain men with their arrows, the open fields represented as they were on maps with ===== lines, even the local clergyman [allegedly] on the far left calculating how much more in tithes or glebe land he would receive. Note the church in the background and the chain, complete with markers, encompassing the title and then hanging down by the second man.

The Award represented the fruit of everyone’ labour but especially the surveyors” [10]. It can be argued that the most important functionary of the inclosure was the surveyor. The Commissioner may have been legally responsible for undertaking the tasks described above but, as we will see when looking at some of Martins inclosure work, with the possible exception of directing the course of agriculture, the Commissioner was wholly dependent on the work of the surveyor. Later in his life John Martin was to fulfil both roles; at an age when most men would be thinking of retiring [if they had the money], he was to be the commissioner as well as surveyor at Child Okeford and commissioner and probable surveyor at Ditcheat. At various times Martin described himself as a land surveyor, valuer and apportioner and whereas in today’s world of super-specialisation it might be possible to be one without the other, in his world this was less likely to be the case. When we consider the list of activities that Martin undertook it is easy to see how William Jennings and Martin himself could, with little difficulty, transition from acting as surveyors to becoming Commissioners themselves.

The surveyor was frequently not welcomed in the parish. Indeed he had to have a fairly thick skin. He was after all at the sharp end of the widespread opposition to inclosures. He met, on a daily basis, the men whose livelihood he was about to change. They were often suspicious and hostile. John Norden [11] one of the earliest generation of land surveyors expressed this in his dialogue between a tenant farmer and surveyor. The farmer objects; Often times you are the cause that men lose their land: and sometimes they are abridged of such liberties as they have long used in Manors and customs are altered, broken, and sometimes perverted or taken away by your means: And above all, you look into the values of men’s lands, whereby the Lords of Manors do rack their tenants to a higher rent and rate then ever before: and therefore not only I, but many poor tenants else have good cause to speak against the profession.” Further on he complains, many millions [are] disturbedhe said that might live quietly in their Farms, tenements, houses, and lands, that are now daily troubled with your so narrow looking there into, measuring the quantity, observing the quality, recounting the value, and acquainting the Lords with the estates of all men’s livings”. The result was the farmers ancestors did live better with little, then we can do now with much more, because by your means rents are raised, & lands known to the uttermost acre, fines enhanced far higher then ever before measuring of land and surveying came in”.

Norden’s reply was curiously unrepentant, but then his audience was not the farmers, but the Lords of the Manor. He compared the Justices of the Peace who enforced the law against “Roagues, Beggers, and other like vagabonds”, the surveyor he said, was simply ensuring that the lord of the manor was doing the same. The farmer was not impressed.

This attitude towards surveyors continued into the mid 18th century when a Northamptonshire surveyor, Thomas Cowper, described his experiences at Wellingborough. According to his diaries despite attempting to do his job conscientiously, he met hostility at every turn, by those opposed to the inclosure. Sometimes this took the form of a failure of cooperation, small holders not filling in the bills recording their holdings, tenants not staking out their lands and at the end of a long hard day he could not even relax in the local hostelry without being assailed by “warm Discourse” directed towards him.

One feels that Martin, even had he encountered hostility would not have made much more than a cursory note in his diary, but by the time he came to work the battle had been one. In the 18th century resistance to inclosure had been widespread, in the early 19th century it had dwindled. A sullen resignation seemed to have fallen on the rural population – until the 1830’s that is.

The Clerk to the Inclosure

Lastly and often forgotten, were the solicitors. Martin does not usually mention them in the diaries, nor are they mentioned often in the notices published in the newspapers, but one of their roles was to coordinate initial phase of procuring the necessary Act of Parliament. It was they who had to collect the consents to inclose from the land owners, without which the Bill could not be introduced into parliament and it was they who had to account for those who chose to dissent. It was usually they who went up to London to see to the petition and introduction of the bill. Later still they were needed as clerks to the inclosure Commissioners to ensure compliance with the Act.

The Jennings family was fortunate to have two solicitors in the family. The first was John Jennings, older brother to William Jennings Jnr. and John’s son, Joseph Crew Jennings. The latter does not appear to have worked on any inclosure or tithe awards but we know that John was very much a part of the family business. He is named in two newspaper notices from 1818 as Clerk to both the Pitton and Farley and Dewlish inclosures. However it was unusual in these notices for anyone other than the Commissioner to be named. The diaries show that Martin himself prepared many of these notices for publication but rarely did they appear with his name in them.

Martin was surveyor to both Pitton and Farley and Dewlish inclosures and it is likely that he worked with John Jennings on some of the other inclosures.

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1 As Arthur Young said “I know of nothing better calculated to fill a country with barbarians ready for any mischief than extensive commons and divine service only once a month.”
2 He owned it after all.
3 A court held four times a year usually in the county town.
4 J L and Barbara Hammond The Village Labourer 1760-1832. 1911
5 ibid
6 Stephenson W E The System of Land Surveying at present adopted by surveyors and commissioners in Old and New Inclosures 1805. Much of what follows is taken from this book.
7 The Minute Book of a Leicestershire Enclosure M W Beresford . Apparently he thought this more important than the valuation of the land
8 J L and Barbara Hammond The Village Labourer 1760-1832. 1911
9 He was one of three Commissioners at Codford St Peters in the newspaper adverts but the Wilts History Society names three others.
10 Hollowell ibid
11 Norden John The Surveyors Dialogue 1607