Skip Navigation

Welcome to Bedford Borough Council

Home > Guide to Collections > Collection Guides A to Z > Inclosure award text & map

Inclosure award text & map


The legally effective part of any inclosure award is the text, and sometimes (as at Odell) we have a text only. For most awards, there is also an accompanying map to illustrate the text. In a few cases the map shows the whole parish, and in the text there is a schedule giving details of each piece of land (i.e. not only the new allotments but also the old enclosures). Such a schedule might give the owner's name, the area, the name and condition (i.e. land use) of each plot, and the nature of the tenure (e.g. freehold, copyhold, or in trust under a settlement). If we are unlucky, the plan shows the newly enclosed area only, and there is no account of the old enclosures.

The definitive text and plan, both signed by the commissioners and surveyor, was put in the parish chest. A copy of the text had to be enrolled with the Clerk of the Peace at the Shire Hall in Bedford, and sometimes the County copy included a plan. Occasionally local landowners also had special copies made for their own use. Today, the County Record Office has comprehensive coverage of Bedfordshire enclosure awards and maps from a full range of sources, and details are available in the award catalogue and in the map index.

An enrolled text is usually prefaced by copies of the official oaths taken by the commissioners and surveyor. The award itself begins by reciting the act(s) of Parliament by which it was made, followed by a statement of the exact area of the parish as measured by the surveyor, often with a written description of the boundaries.

Then come the newly set out public highways, footpaths, and private roads. The whole new road system was intended to be as economical and practical as possible. The commissioners had jurisdiction over the former common field land only, and could alter roads in an inclosed area. Thus often a newly awarded highway is said to "lead out of" an existing track, and this means that it continues the line of an old highway or land in the inclosed area. The spot where the newly awarded road begins is sometimes described as being near a certain person's house or field, and in default of other evidence this can help to identify the owner of a particular property. Turnpike roads were not touched, and for information on these you need the Turnpike Trust records.

Public highways were specified as, say, 60 or 40 or 30 feet wide, depending on the amount and kind of traffic the commissioners thought each would carry. Often the width was inappropriate for the actual later use, and after the enclosure, when the metalling was only a narrow strip running along the centre, the wide grass verges that remained became the only "common" land left in the parish. If the herbage had not been allotted to the adjoining owners, the Vestry meeting would let is to local farmers. However, these wide verges were occasionally encroached upon, either by the bordering landowner to extend his field, or by a villager for a site for a cottage, and in time would become his legal property (Keysoe). Thus if your house is built on what is shown as highway on the enclosure map, then you know for certain that it could have been built before the date of the award.

The footpaths are often described as beginning where an ancient public footway left the area of old enclosure, and the award gives the line over the newly enclosed land only. However, occasionally the line over old enclosures is given, and then the text is valuable for field and spot names, and for owners. Private roads were created to give landowners access to their new allotments, and the general public had no interest in them. Sometimes, however, there is also a public footpath or bridleway along the line of a private road.

On heavy land, brooks were straightened and scoured, bridged, and turned into public drains and watercourses, which were often to be maintained at the expense of the parish. This sometimes muddles local sayings - "Crooked as Crawley Brook" was hardly relevant when the brook had been realigned and ran straight as a ruler! (Husborne Crawley).

Before the inclosure, parishioners had been able to dig for stone or gravel on the commons, and so the commissioners set out new allotments for public gravel, sand, stone and marl pits for the use of the parish, sometimes for the roads only, elsewhere for the general use of the parish. Later on, when the pit was exhausted, the site might be sold, and the money used to buy a new pit, so today you may well find that your house is on the site of an exhausted pit. Occasionally, when exhausted, it was laid down that a pit should revert to an adjoining owner, who had always owned the herbage, and this prevented the area becoming an eyesore. This provision often occurs on the Duke of Bedford's estate. If a surviving pit was granted to the parish Surveyors of the Highways, then today it will probably belong to the Highway Authority; if to the Churchwardens, to the Parish Council. There might also be other public provisions and at Cranfield, for example, the old Holy Well was awarded as a Public Watering Place or Sheep Wash.

After the public provisions come the allotments to individuals for their rights in the open fields, first to the vicar, rector or lay impropriator, and lord of the manor. These would receive allotments for their land in the open arable fields, but if the act had specified that the opportunity was to be taken to extinguish payment of tithe in kind in the parish, then whoever owned the vicarial or rectorial tithe received allotments of land of the approximate value of the tithe, and the allotments to the other proprietors were proportionately smaller, but henceforth all their property, old inclosure and new, was tithe free. If proprietors in the parish had old inclosures but no open field land, then some acts allowed them to commute their tithe by paying a lump sum, and usually there is a list of these people and of their properties (e.g. Dunton). Occasionally, if the local landowner was astute, there was no tithe allotments to the incumbent, but the landowner received the land which was charged with an equivalent annual money payment to the vicar or rector, which payment could vary with the market price of corn. Such a payment was known as a corn rent charge. However, where a vicar or rector did receive a block of newly inclosed land, and later built on it a farm homestead, there we get new Vicarage or Rectory Farms away from the village centre.

Usually the lord of the manor received a small allotment in lieu of his rights in the subsoil of the area to be inclosed, which can today affect who controls the roadside waste. Again, if an opportunity was taken to enfranchise old copyhold land, the lord of the manor could be granted an allotment in lieu of manorial dues, and the old copyholder had a slightly smaller piece of land was now freehold (e.g. Tilbrook).

Then come the allotments to the ordinary proprietors, each freehold, copyhold, or in trust, as had been their open field property. The description states in which of the old open fields the plot is situated, and this allows you to produce a rough pre-inclosure plan of the village. Many landowners confusingly took the opportunity to get all their property in one block, for they could hand over to the commissioners distant old enclosures in return for land in the area of their main estate, and the distant enclosures were allotted in turn to someone nearby. Part of the same process was exchanges. People aimed to get compact estates, and though they could have bought and sold between themselves, conveyancing then as now was extremely expensive. An enclosure allowed such exchanges at no additional cost, and this can bring surprises to the modern researcher. The homestead of the Bury Farm at Barton, which was the old manor house of the mediaeval Ramsey Abbey estate, was exchanged at the enclosure in 1814 by the then lord of the manor to the rector, so it became the Rectory Farm. After an enrolled text, we usually find a copy of a summary account of the costs of the enclosure.

The greatest loss has been Bedfordshire's village greens. Some (e.g. Cardington and Biddenham) were allotted to the local landowner, but have subsequently been left unfenced. In Northill, greens were excluded from the award. But in most villages the open greens in the village centre were allotted with the rest. The lovely wide common in Stanbridge was parcelled out, and is now built up and often roadside greens went to the houseowners behind, and in time produced a new building line (e.g. Goldington).

The greatest gain from the inclosures was the planting of hedges and trees on the empty wastes of the old open arable fields and commons, which have in the last 150 years been the mark of the English countryside.