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The 18th Century Enclosure Act and the later 19th Century Landscape

This page was contributed by Sally Williams 


Official Enclosure took place in the mid-19th century.  The common arable fields and the greens were divided by straight boundaries and the plots reallocated.  New isolated farmsteads were erected; Cranfield Court was built and a park created around it.  In the areas of old enclosure many hedgerows were removed to create larger fields.  Some straight new roads were built and other routes altered.  Population increased and many new houses were built in the main village. This laid out the landscape as we recognise it today.

The Parliamentary Act for the enclosure of the common arable fields and greens in Cranfield parish was passed in 1837; the Award was not signed and did not become effective until 1840.  The Enclosure resulted in considerable alterations to the pattern of landholding and some changes in the agricultural organisation and management in the parish, including the establishment of some new farmsteads.  Some new roads and paths were laid out, others were stopped up or had their status changed; much of the earlier pattern did survive however.  The areas of small closes were largely unaffected [CRO: A and MA 77, Enclosure Award and Map, 1840].


Enclosure ended the communal system of farming by agreement and extinguished the common rights.  After much surveying, meetings, discussion, mapping and planning, the common fields and the greens were subdivided by precise, new straight boundaries into regular blocks.  Each block was allotted to an individual in place of his land that had formerly been dispersed in strips or pieces throughout the fields, and in place of his right of common: owners with large landholdings had more than one allotment.  Where the allotments were particularly large the owners themselves or their occupiers usually subdivided them further with their own boundaries.  New boundaries were thus created and new hedges planted.  Some exchanges of closes were also arranged.  In the common field areas the new boundaries were laid out on alignments usually at variance with the pre - enclosure landscape, its furlongs and ridge and furrow: most of the former boundaries were ignored and swept away.  Also the rigid, straight boundaries of the new regular fields contrasted with the irregularity of the ancient closes surrounding them.

The payment of tithes in cash or kind was also extinguished at Enclosure.  Tithes were a tenth part of the produce of land and stock from the fields of a parish, paid annually by the parishioners for the support of the parish church.  Originally the rector would have received payment in kind, but during the post- medieval period this was usually transmuted to payments in cash. 

At Enclosure in Cranfield, the payment of tithes was replaced by large, permanent allotments of land to the rector, then the Reverend James Beard.  These were entirely new landholdings which had to be created from the existing lands in the parish; in effect each landholder had to give up a portion of land to the rector in lieu of tithes. 

The rector obtained several large allotments which amounted to half of Stillipers Field, a third of each of Lean, Perry and South Side Fields and all of Millside, Portnall and Park Side Fields.  He also obtained several closes from different owners, including those separating Millside Field from Portnall Field.  This was by far and away the largest amount of land allotted to any individual in Cranfield, just over 609 acres, easily exceeding the nearly 84 acres of glebe land the rector had previously held for his support.  In the early 18th century the glebe had chiefly been scattered in the common fields, but also included land adjoining the Rectory House near the church and Priests Close at Wood End; the latter was exchanged away at Enclosure [reference CRT 170/2/15/2, 1715].

The lands allotted to the rector together with those he already possessed gave him nearly 693 acres in several substantial holdings.  On that to the east of the village the rector had a new farmstead, Rectory Farm, built in Hangman's Pightle.  He also obtained what became Glebe Farm in the High Street, though this has since been demolished and replaced by part of the Red Lion Close housing development.

Apart from those to the rector, the most substantial allotments were made to Joseph Ashby Partridge.  He already owned a substantial estate in Cranfield at the beginning of the 19th century, including Leys, Conn's and East End Farms, but in c.1837 he also bought the Manor of Cranfield, including Manor Farm [references X 206/1, 1807; Z 297/1, 1827].  At that time he had the largest estate in Cranfield.  At Enclosure he was allotted most of the rest of Lean Field and sizeable plots in Perry and Stillipers Fields close to his farmsteads, nearly 283 acres.  However, his total estate of just over 642 acres did not match up to the rector's new estate.  Part of the Partridge Piece housing development at Broad Green is on land (Graces Close) that already belonged to Joseph Ashby Partridge at Enclosure.

The remaining allotments in Cranfield varied in size.  They chiefly consisted of single allotments to individuals, either adjoining their closes or as near as possible to their existing farmhouses.  One example is Perry Hill Farm, which before Enclosure had a substantial acreage in both closes east and north east of the farm and in the common fields.  The latter was widely scattered, in 9 furlongs in Stillipers Field, 3 furlongs in South Side Field, 9 furlongs in Lean Field and 6 furlongs in Perry Field [reference Z 297/1, 1827].  At Enclosure the acreage of this common field land was totalled up and the same amount less a portion in lieu of tithes was allotted in a single roughly L- shaped block immediately west of the farmstead in the former Perry Field.  This was later subdivided by the owner or tenant into four and then five closes [O.S.  6 ", 1st Edition, surveyed 1881/2, published 1883; 2nd Edition, 1902].

To the west William Faldor was given an allotment adjacent to the three Rings Wharley Closes he already possessed.  The increase in the size of his compact holding made it worthwhile building an entirely new farmhouse in the easternmost part of the Rings Wharley Closes.  This was the present Rings Wharley Farm, known as Wharley Ringtail in the 1880's [O.S.  6 ", 1st Edition, surveyed 1881/2, published 1883].

Also enclosed and taken into agriculture were most of Cranfield's greens.  A triangular portion of Broad Green was, however, kept and today is a recreation ground.  What was left of the green in the centre of the village remained untouched.  Any roadside waste was also allotted, usually to the adjoining landowner.

Enclosure in Cranfield did not bring major changes in agricultural practices.  Some more land was laid down to pasture, but the basic division remained, with predominantly pasture in the areas of old closes and predominantly arable in the newly enclosed areas.

In 1905, there were 1,757 acres of arable under wheat, oats and barley, 1,654 acres of permanent pasture and 37.5 acres of woods [VCH Beds, III, 1912, p.275]. By this time, some field boundaries had been removed in the areas of old closes to make for more efficient farming. 

Between 1840 and the 1880's several groups of two, three or four, and sometimes more, adjoining small closes were laid together to form larger fields in the areas of Wharley, Bourne and Wood Ends.  This removal of ancient hedgerows was quite extensive in places, but seems to have been part of a phase which also included grubbing up several spinneys and had ended by the 1880's.  Comparison of the field boundaries shown on the Ordnance Survey maps of the 1880's with those shown on later maps right up until about 1960 shows few changes.

Only since 1960 has there been a renewed phase of hedgerow removal in these same areas.  However, it is worth remembering that hedgerow removal in Cranfield is not just a phenomenon of the last 25 years; the previous phase a hundred years earlier had as great an impact on the landscape as more recent developments.