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The Inclosure of Hockliffe

Although the open fields in most parishes were not inclosed until the later 18th or 19th century, inclosure took place at an early date in Hockliffe. It is apparent that by the early 17th century blocks of 'closes' of mainly pasture or meadow had been created within the larger, previously open fields, for example:

1607: "Twelve acres of meadow, twenty-four acres of pasture as they no lie together in the field of Hoclie commonly called the Hitchfeild" [T7/5]

1610: "All the several closes, meadows or pastures … lying in le South Feilde of Hockley … containing forty acres" [CH241]

Inclosure of the parish took place by private agreement between the main landowners and took place despite the series of Tillage Statutes (effectively 'anti-inclosure' acts) made between 1489 and 1597. The last of these ordered that lands converted into pasture since 1588 should be restored to arable by 1599, but certain areas were exempted, including:"any Grownde now converted from Tillage to Meadowe or Pasture, lyinge within two myles of the greate Roade way called Watling Strete leading from the Towne of Dunstable in the County of Bedford towards Westchester [Chester] so that the same Grownde be not above five myles from the Parishe Churche of Dunstable, nor within two myles thereof". [PL/AC2/25]

There was clearly some opposition within the village. A deposition, or sworn statement, given in July 1620 by Raffe Shepard of Stoke Newington [Middlesex] as part of the evidence in the case of Thomas Impie and others vs. the rector Robert Gilpin described the advantages of enclosure to the village of Hockliffe [CRT130/HOC/1]. When the fields were open they had been spoiled and trodden by cattle, sheep, pack horses and hackneys, due to the proximity of Watling Street and the driving of cattle to and from Leighton Buzzard and other places. Nevertheless he believed that those who farmed the open fields were not generally very poor, for they "lived honestly and kept good houses".

There had evidently been some dispute over the views of the previous rector, Mr Bentham. Mr Shepard stated that Mr. Bentham had been in agreement with the enclosure and said he did not remember ever hearing him say that he was threatened with imprisonment if he sued Parliament to have the inclosed ground reopened. Shepard testified that he believed the prospective income from the parsonage and glebe had been much increased as a result of the enclosure. Both Shepard's father and younger brother Thomas Shepard had "farmed" the tithes of Hockliffe. The "farm" of the tithe could be sold by a parson; the "farmer" paid a fixed amount and would then collect what was due in the expectation of making a profit. When his brother was the farmer of the Hockliffe tithe the amount payable to the rector was £20 if the rector performed the religious duties of the parish himself, or £10 if he did not – Shepard would then have to provide a curate to perform church services at his own cost. The most Thomas Shepard had been able to make in return was £40p.a., together with around £4 for the parsonage house and glebe.

Shepard, who was aged 74 and had been born in the parish, also described the system by which tithes and other payments due to the rector of Hockliffe had been calculated, to his certain knowledge for at least the past sixty years. The amounts payable were:

  • 2d for every new milk cow
  • 1½d for every guest cow
  • If 10 calves were born in a year, the parson had one; if 9 he had one and allowed the owner ½d; if 8 he had one and allowed 1d; if 7 he had one and allowed 1½d; if 6, he had no calf but the ownere had to pay him ½d for every calf weaned or killed; if the owner sold them, the parson was to have a tenth fo the price. The same method of tithing also applied to pigs and lambs.
  • For wool the parson was to have every tenth fleece or tenth pound of wool.
  • Four pence as an Easter offering from every householder and his wife; also "garden penny" and a "smoke penny" to be paid in respect of garden ground and chimneys.
  • The tenth sheaf of wheat and rye harvested; the tenth cock of peas, barley, oats and hay
  • A tenth of every penny made from pasture by taking in strangers' cattle, but no other tithe for pasture.

It is likely that Watling Street was used as an excuse for inclosure to allow the landowners to change the agricultural economy of the parish from arable to pastoral. The law suit of Impie et al. vs. Gilpin many well have been a legal fiction, a suit brought solely to ensure that the enclosure agreement was enrolled in the Court of Chancery. [PL/AC2/25]. In 1637 five of the major landowners in Hockliffe, Robert Gilpin, Thomas Impie, John Reynes, Edward Wilkes and Richard Andrews were charged with depopulation and conversion of houses and land in Hockliffe and fined £57 by the Commissioners of Depopulation, though as this was standard wording it may not indicate that any real depopulation took place at that time. In return the landowners were given a complete pardon and allowed to maintain their inclosures in the parish [F210/6]. The result of enclosure was to turn Hockliffe almost entirely into pasture.