The Village Labourer
1760-1832: A Study in the Government of England before the Reform Bill
by J.L. and Barbara Hammond
Originally published 1911
New Edition, 1920.


This edition differs from previous editions of The Village Labourer in two respects. The original Chapter One has been omitted: this chapter described the concentration of power in the hands of a small class, which was the leading feature of our political development in the eighteenth century. Secondly, the Appendices have been reduced, but the student who wishes to pursue the subject of enclosure further will find, at the end of this volume, full details of four important and representative enclosures.

In their preface to the edition published in 1913 the authors discussed some of the controversies that had arisen on the topic of the enclosures. It seems worth while to reproduce here the substance of that preface. Two main criticisms have been passed on the treatment of enclosures in these pages: the first, that the writers have drawn an unjust picture, because they deliberately excluded the importance of enclosure in increasing the food supplies of the nation; the second, that the hardships of the poor have been exaggerated, and that, though the system of enclosure lent itself to abuses, there was no evidence that wrong was done in the mass of enclosures.

The writers submit the following considerations: (1) It has been the accepted view of all modern critics, with the single exception of dr Hasbach, that the enclosures of this period, or at any rate the enclosures that took place after 1795, made the soil of England immediately more productive. That this is the usual view was stated in the text; its correctness was not discussed or questioned. The subject of this volume is the fate of the Village Labourer, and so far as he is concerned, the facts which they are accused of neglecting suggest two reflections: (a) the feeding of Manchester and Leeds did not make life cheaper to him; and (b) if agriculture suddenly became a great industry, multiplying as some say England's resources twenty-fold, an equitable readjustment must have increased the prosperity of all classes engaged in that industry. The greater the stress laid on the progress of agriculture, the greater appear the perversity and injustice of the arrangements of a society under which the labourer became impoverished. If it is argued that the misery of the labourer was the price the nation had to pay for that advance, it is worth while to point out that that was not the view of Young, or Davies, or Eden, or Sinclair, or Cobbett, and that the actual revolution that was accomplished was not the only alternative to the old unreformed common field system. (2) The authors desire to point out how little they have relied on solitary instances for their general statements. Complaint has been made of the publishing of the story of the attempted enclosure of Sedgmoor, but those who read that account carefully will see that the passage from Selwyn's letters are important as disclosing the state of mind of a chairman of an Enclosure Committee; they will note also that his letters show that it was a common practice for Members of Parliament to arrange meetings in order to manipulate Committees in the interest of private persons. Selwyn's view of the responsibilities of a chairman of one of these Committees has therefore a special significance. The main question for the historian is this: Were the poor sacrificed or not in the enclosures as they were carried out? The writers have given their reasons for thinking that they were sacrificed, and needlessly sacrificed, and no evidence has come under their notice in the criticisms published to shake that view. They have set out the actual methods of procedure that were adopted for converting England from the old to the new system, and they think it is clear that those methods were such that the poor were bound to suffer unless Parliament expressly intervened for their protection. This was apparent, or became apparent, to observers at the time, and proposals that would have helped the poor were made by Arthur Young, by Eden, by Davies, by Suffield, and by the Board of Agriculture. Those proposals were disregarded, not necessarily from wickedness or rapacity, but because the atmosphere of the ruling class was unfavourable. Young referred to his own proposal six years later in a passage which is worth quoting:

'I have been reading over my Inquiry into the Propriety of applying Wastes to the better Maintenance of the Poor. I had almost forgotten it, but of all the essays and papers I have produced, none I think so pardonable as this, so convincing by facts, and so satisfactory to any candid reader. Thank God I wrote it, for though it never had the smallest effect except in exciting opposition and ridicule, it will, I trust, remain a proof of what ought to have been done; and had it been executed, would have diffused more comfort among the poor than any proposition that ever was made' (Autobiography, July 14, 1806).

One further fact of interest and importance in this connection may be mentioned. Michael Sadler, the Factory Reformer, was, unhappily for England, thrown out of Parliament after the passing of the Reform Bill. He was in the House of Commons for only three years. One of the most important speeches that he made in his brief career there, was a long speech reviewing the disastrous change that had come over the agricultural labourers in recent times. The chief cause he found in the disappearance of the small farmer, the pulling down of cottages, and the enclosures. He said that the enclosures had inflicted on the poor as a class 'the most irreparable injuries.' Like Thelwall, with whom he would have been slow to recognise any affinity, he argued that enclosure might have benefited the poor, but that in practice it had ruined them. 'Inclosures might indeed have been so conducted as to have benefited all parties; but now, coupled with other features of the system, they form a part of what Blackstone denominates a "fatal rural policy"; one which has completed the degradation and ruin of your agricultural poor.'

Two subjects are discussed fully in this volume for the first time. One is the actual method and procedure of Parliamentary Enclosure; the other the labourers' rising of 1830. More than one important book has been written on enclosures during the last few years, but nowhere can the student find a full analysis of the procedure and stages by which the old village was destroyed. The rising of 1830 has only been mentioned incidentally in general histories: it has nowhere been treated as a definite demand for better conditions, and its course, scope, significance and punishment have received little attention. The writers of this book have treated it fully, using for that purpose the Home Office Papers accessible to students in the Record Office. They wish to express their gratitude to Mr Hubert Hall for his help and guidance in this part of their work.

The obligations of the writers to the important books published in recent years on eighteenth-century local government in the text, but the are manifest, and they are acknowledged writers desire to mention specially their great debt to Mr Hobson's Industrial System, a work that seems to them to throw a new and most illuminating light on the economic significance of the history of the early years of the last century.

Mr and Mrs Arthur Ponsonby and Miss M. K. Bradby have done the writers the great service of reading the entire book and suggesting many important improvements. Mr and Mrs C. R. Buxton, Mr A. Clutton Brock, Professor L. T. Hobhouse, and Mr H. W. Massingham have given them valuable help and advice on various parts of the work.



The Village Before Enclosure

To elucidate these chapters, and to supply further information for those who are interested in the subject, we publish an Appendix containing the history, and tolerably full particulars, of four separate enclosures at Croydon, Haute Huntre, Stanwell and Wakefield.

At the time of the great Whig Revolution, England was in the main a country of commons and of common fields;(1*) at the time of the Reform Bill, England was in the main a country of individualist agriculture and of large enclosed farms. There has probably been no change in Europe in the last two centuries comparable to this in importance of which so little is known to-day, or of which so little is to be learnt from the general histories of the time. The accepted view is that this change marks a great national advance, and that the hardships which incidentally followed could not have been avoided: that it meant a vast increase in the food resources of England in comparison with which the sufferings of individuals counted for little: and that the great estates which then came into existence were rather the gift of economic forces than the deliberate acquisitions of powerful men. We are not concerned to corroborate or to dispute the contention that enclosure made England more productive,(2*) or to discuss the merits of enclosure itself as a public policy or a means to agricultural progress in the eighteenth century. Our business is with the changes that the enclosures caused in the social structure of England, from the manner in which they were in practice carried out. We propose, therefore, to describe the actual operations by which society passed through this revolution, the old village vanished, and rural life assumed its modern form and character.

It is difficult for us, who think of a common as a wild sweep of heather and beauty and freedom, saved for the enjoyment of the world in the midst of guarded parks and forbidden meadows, to realise that the commons that disappeared from so many an English village in the eighteenth century belonged to a very elaborate, complex, and ancient economy. The antiquity of that elaborate economy has been the subject of fierce contention, and the controversies that rage round the nursery of the English village recall the controversies that raged round the nursery of Homer. The main subject of contention has been this. Was the manor or the township, or whatever name we like to give to the primitive unit of agricultural life, an organisation imposed by a despotic landowner on his dependents, or was it created by the co-operation of a group of free tribesmen, afterwards dominated by a military overlord? Did it owe more to Roman tradition or to Teutonic tendencies? Professor Vinogradoff, the latest historian, inclines to a compromise between these conflicting theories. He thinks that it is impossible to trace the open-field system of cultivation to any exclusive right of ownership or to the power of coercion, and that the communal organisation of the peasantry, a village community of shareholders who cultivated the land on the open-field system and treated the other requisites of rural life as appendant to it, is more ancient than the manorial order. It derives, in his view, from the old English society. The manor itself, an institution which partakes at once of the character of an estate and of a unit of local government, was produced by the needs of government and the development of individualist husbandry, side by side with this communal village. These conditions lead to the creation of lordships, and after the Conquest they take form in the manor. The manorial element, in fact, is superimposed on the communal, and is not the foundation of it: the medieval village is a free village gradually feudalised. Fortunately it is not incumbent on us to do more than touch on this fascinating study, as it is enough for our purposes to note that the greater part of England in cultivation at the beginning of the eighteenth century was cultivated on a system which, with certain local variations, belonged to a common type, representing this common ancestry.

The term 'common' was used of three kinds of land in the eighteenth-century village, and the three were intimately connected with each other. There were (1) the gable fields, (2) the common meadowland, and (3) the common or waste. The arable fields were divided into strips, with different owners, some of whom owned few strips, and some many. The various strips that belonged to a particular owner were scattered among the fields. Strips were divided from each other, sometimes by a grass band called a balk, sometimes by a furrow. They were cultivated on a uniform system by agreement, and after harvest they were thrown open to pasturage. The common meadow land was divided up by lot, pegged out, and distributed among the owners of the strips; after the hay was carried, these meadows, like the arable fields, were used for pasture. The common or waste, which was used as a common pasture at all times of the year, consisted sometimes of woodland, sometimes of roadside strips, and sometimes of commons in the modern sense.(3*)

Such, roughly, was the map of the old English village. What were the classes that lived in it, and what were their several rights? In a normal village there would be (1) a Lord of the Manor, (2) Freeholders, some of whom might be large proprietors, and many small, both classes going by the general name of Yeomanry, (3) Copyholders, (4) Tenant Farmers, holding by various sorts of tenure, from tenants at will to farmers with leases for three lives, (5) Cottagers, (6) Squatters, and (7) Farm Servants, living in their employers' houses. The proportions of these classes varied greatly, no doubt, in different villages, but we have an estimate of the total agricultural population in the table prepared by Gregory King in 1688, from which it appears that in addition to the Esquires and Gentlemen, there were 40,000 families of freeholders of the better sort, 140,000 families of freeholders of the lesser sort, and 150,000 farmers. Adam Smith, it will be remembered, writing nearly a century later, said that the large number of yeomen was at once the strength and the distinction of English agriculture.

Let us now describe rather more fully the different people represented in these different categories, and the different rights that they enjoyed. We have seen in the first chapter that the manorial courts had lost many of their powers by this time, and that part of the jurisdiction that the Lord of the Manor had originally exercised had passed to the Justice of the Peace. No such change had taken place in his relation to the economic life of the village. He might or he might not still own a demesne land. So far as the common arable or common meadow was concerned, he was in the same position as any other proprietor: he might own many strips or few strips or no strips at all. His position with regard to the waste was different, the difference being expressed by Blackstone 'in those waste grounds, which are usually called commons, the property of the soil is generally in the Lord of the Manor, as in the common fields it is in the particular tenant.' The feudal lawyers had developed a doctrine that the soil of the waste was vested in the Lord of the Manor, and that originally it had all belonged to him. But feudal law acknowledged certain definite limitations to his rights over the waste. The Statute of Merton, 1235, allowed him to make enclosures on the waste, but only on certain terms; he was obliged to leave enough of the waste for the needs of his tenants. Moreover, his powers were limited, not only by the concurrent rights of freeholders and copyholders thus recognised by this ancient law, but also by certain common rights of pasture and turbary enjoyed by persons who were neither freeholders nor copyholders, namely cottagers. These rights were explained by the lawyers of the time as being concessions made by the Lord of the Manor in remote antiquity. The Lord of the Manor was regarded as the owner of the waste, subject to these common rights: that is, he was regarded as owning the minerals and the surface rights (sand and gravel) as well as sporting rights.

Every grade of property and status was represented in the ranks of the freeholders, the copyholders and the tenant farmers, from the man who employed others to work for him to the man who was sometimes employed in working for others. No distinct line, in fact, can be drawn between the small farmer, whether freeholder, copyholder or tenant, and the cottager, for the cottager might either own or rent a few strips; the best dividing-line can be drawn between those who made their living mainly as farmers, and those who made their living mainly as labourers.

It is important to remember that no farmer, however large his holdings or property, or however important his social position, was at liberty to cultivate his strips as he pleased. The system of cultivation would be settled for him by the Jury of the Manor Court, a court that had different names in different places. By the eighteenth century the various courts of the manorial jurisdiction had been merged in a single court, called indifferently the View of Frankpledge, the Court Leet, the Court Baron, the Great Court or the Little Court, which transacted so much of the business hitherto confided to various courts as had not been assigned to the Justices of the Peace.(4*) Most of the men of the village, freeholders, copyholders, leaseholders, Or cottagers, attended the court, but the constitution of the Jury or Homage seems to have varied in different manors. Sometimes the tenants of the manor were taken haphazard in rotation: sometimes the steward controlled the choice, sometimes a nominee of the steward or a nominee of the tenants selected the Jury: sometimes the steward took no part in the selection at all. The chief part of the business of these courts in the eighteenth century was the management of the common fields and common pastures, and the appointment of the village officers. These courts decided which seed should be sown in the different fields, and the dates at which they were to be opened and closed to common pasture. Under the most primitive system of rotation the arable land was divided into three fields, of which one was sown with wheat, another with spring corn, and the third lay fallow: but by the end of the eighteenth century there was a great variety of cultivation, and we find a nine years' course at Great Tew in Oxfordshire, a six years' course in Berkshire, while the Battersea common fields were sown with one uniform round of grain without intermission, and consequently without fallowing.(5*)

By Sir Richard Sutton's Act(6*) for the cultivation of common fields, passed in 1773, a majority of three-fourths in number and value of the occupiers, with the consent of the owner and titheholder, was empowered to decide on the course of husbandry, to regulate stinted commons, and, with the consent of the Lord of the Manor, to let off a twelfth of the common, applying the rent to draining or improving the rest of it.(7*) Before this Act, a universal consent to any change of system was necessary.(8*) The cultivation of strips in the arable fields carried with it rights of common over the waste and also over the common fields when they were thrown open. These rights were known as 'common appendant' and they are thus defined by Blackstone: 'Common appendant is a right belonging to the owners or occupiers of arable land to put commonable beasts upon the Lord's waste and upon the lands of other persons within the same manor.'

The classes making their living mainly as labourers were the cottagers, farm servants, and squatters. The cottagers either owned or occupied cottages and had rights of common on the waste, and in some cases over the common fields. These rights were of various kinds: they generally included the right to pasture certain animals, to cut turf and to get fuel. The cottagers, as we have already said, often owned or rented land. This is spoken of as a common practice by Addington, who knew the Midland counties well; Arthur Young gives instances from Lincolnshire and Oxfordshire, and Eden from Leicestershire and Surrey. The squatters or borderers were, by origin, a separate class, though in time they merged into the cottagers. They were settlers who built themselves huts and cleared a piece of land in the commons or woods, at some distance from the village. These encroachments were generally sanctioned. A common rule in one part of the country was that the right was established if the settler could build his cottage in the night and send out smoke from his chimney in the morning.(9*) The squatters also often went out as day labourers. The farm servants were usually the children of the small farmers or cottagers; they lived in their masters' houses until they had saved enough money to marry and take a cottage of their own.

Were there any day labourers without either land or common rights in the old village? It is difficult to suppose that there were many.(10*) Blackstone said of common appurtenant that it was not a general right 'but can only be claimed by special grant or by prescription, which the law esteems sufficient proof of a special grant or agreement for this purpose.' Prescription covers a multitude of encroachments. Indeed, it was only by the ingenuity of the feudal lawyers that these rights did not attach to the inhabitants of the village at large. These lawyers had decided in Gateward's case, 1603, that 'inhabitants' were too vague a body to enjoy a right, and on this ground they had deprived the inhabitants of the village of Stixswold in Lincolnshire of their customary right of turning out cattle on the waste.(11*) From that time a charter of incorporation was necessary to enable the inhabitants at large to prove a legal claim to common rights. But rights that were enjoyed by the occupiers of small holdings or of cottages by long prescription, or by encroachments tacitly sanctioned, must have been very widely scattered.

Such were the classes inhabiting the eighteenth-century village. As the holdings in the common fields could be sold, the property might change hands, though it remained subject to common rights and to the general regulations of the manor court. Consequently the villages exhibited great varieties of character. In one village it might happen that strip after strip had been bought up by the Lord of the Manor or some proprietor, until the greater part of the arable fields had come into the possession of a single owner. In such eases, however, the land so purchased was still let out as a rule to a number of small men, for the engrossing of farms as a practice comes into fashion after enclosure. Sometimes such purchase was a preliminary to enclosure. The Bedfordshire reporter gives an example in the village of Bolnhurst, in that county. Three land speculators bought up as much of the land as they could with a view to enclosing the common fields and then selling at a large profit. But the land turned out to be much less valuable than they had supposed, and they could not get it off their hands: all improvements were at a standstill, for the speculators only let from year to year, hoping still to find a market.(12*) In other villages, land might have changed hands in just the opposite direction. The Lord of the Manor might sell his property in the common fields, and sell it not to some capitalist or merchant, but to a number of small farmers. We learn from the evidence of the Committee of 1844 on enclosures that sometimes the Lord of the Manor sold his property in the waste to the commoners. Thus there were villages with few owners, as there were villages with many owners. The writer of the Report on Middlesex, which was published in 1798 says, 'I have known thirty landlords in a field of 200 acres, and the property of each so divided as to lie in ten or twenty places, containing from an acre or two downwards to fifteen perches; and in a field of 300 acres I have met with patches of arable land, containing eight perches each. In this instance the average size of all the pieces in the field was under an acre. In all cases they lie in long, narrow, winding or worm-like slips.'(13*)

The same writer states that at the time his book was written (1798) 20,000 out of the 23,000 arable acres in Middlesex were cultivated on the common-field system.(14*) Perhaps the parish of Stanwell, of which we describe the enclosure in detail elsewhere, may be taken as a fair example of an eighteenth-century village. In this parish there were, according to the enclosure award, four large proprietors, twenty-four moderate proprietors, twenty-four small proprietors, and sixty-six cottagers with common rights.

The most important social fact about this system is that it provided opportunities for the humblest and poorest labourer to rise in the village. Population seems to have moved slowly, and thus there was no feverish competition for land. The farm servant could save up his wages and begin his married life by hiring a cottage which carried rights of common, and gradually buy or hire strips of land. Every village, as Hasbach has put it, had its ladder, and nobody was doomed to stay on the lowest rung. This is the distinguishing mark of the old village. It would be easy, looking only at this feature, to idealise the society that we have described, and to paint this age as an age of gold. But no reader of Fielding or of Richardson would fall into this mistake, or persuade himself that this community was a society of free and equal men, in which tyranny was impossible. The old village was under the shadow of the squire and the parson, and there were many ways in which these powers controlled and hampered its pleasures and habits: there were quarrels, too, between farmers and cottagers, and there are many complaints that the farmers tried to take the lion's share of the commons: but, whatever the pressure outside and whatever the bickerings within, it remains true that the common-field system formed a world in which the villagers lived their own lives and cultivated the soil on a basis of independence.

It was this community that now passed under the unqualified rule of the oligarchy. Under that rule it was to disappear. Enclosure was no new menace to the poor. English literature before the eighteenth century echoes the dismay and lamentations of preachers and prophets who witnessed the havoc that it spread. Stubbes had written in 1553 his bitter protest against the enclosures which enabled rich men to eat up poor men, and twenty years later a writer had given a sombre landscape of the new farming: 'We may see many of their houses built alone like ravens' nests, no birds building near them.' The Midlands had been the chief scene of these changes, and there the conversion of arable land into pasture had swallowed up great tracts of common agriculture, provoking in some cases an armed resistance. The enclosures of this century were the second and the greater of two waves.(15*) In one respect enclosure was in form more difficult now than in earlier periods, for it was generally understood at this time that an Act of Parliament was necessary. In reality there was less check on the process. For hitherto the enclosing class had had to reckon with the occasional panic or ill-temper of the Crown. No English king, it is true, had intervened in the interests of the poor so dramatically as did the earlier and unspoilt Louis XIV, who restored to the French village assemblies the public lands they had alienated within a certain period. But the Crown had not altogether overlooked the interests of the classes who were ruined by enclosure, and in different ways it had tried to modify the worst consequences of this policy. From 1490 to 1601 there were various Acts and proclamations designed for this purpose. Charles I had actually annulled the enclosures of two years in certain midland counties, several Commissions had been issued, and the Star Chamber had instituted proceedings against enclosures on the ground that depopulation was an offence against the Common Law. Mr. Firth holds that Cromwell's influence in the eastern counties was due to his championship of the commoners in the fens. Throughout this time, however ineffectual the intervention of the Crown, the interests of the classes to whom enclosures brought wealth and power were not allowed to obliterate all other considerations.

From the beginning of the eighteenth century the reins are thrown to the enclosure movement, and the policy of enclosure is emancipated from all these checks and afterthoughts. One interest is supreme throughout England, supreme in Parliament, supreme in the country; the Crown follows, the nation obeys.

The agricultural community which was taken to pieces in the eighteenth century and reconstructed in the manner in which a dictator reconstructs a free government, was threatened from many points. It was not killed by avarice alone. Cobbett used to attribute the enclosure movement entirely to the greed of the landowners, but, if greed was a sufficient motive, greed was in this case clothed and almost enveloped in public spirit. Let us remember what this community looked like to men with the mind of the landlord class. The English landowners have always believed that order would be resolved into its original chaos, if they ceased to control the lives and destinies of their neighbours. 'A great responsibility rests on us landlords; if we go, the whole thing goes.' So says the landlord in Mr. Galsworthy's novel, and so said the landlords in the eighteenth century. The English aristocracy always thinking of this class as the pillars of society, as the Atlas that bears the burden of the world, very naturally concluded that this old peasant community, with its troublesome rights, was a public encumbrance. This view received a special impetus from all the circumstances of the age. The landlord class was constantly being recruited from the ranks of the manufacturers, and the new landlords, bringing into this charmed circle an energy of their own, caught at once its taste for power, for direction, for authority, for imposing its will. Readers of Shirley will remember that when Robert Moore pictures to himself a future of usefulness and success, he says that he will obtain an Act for enclosing Nunnely Common, that his brother will be put on the bench, and that between them they will dominate the parish. The book ends in this dream of triumph. Signorial position owes its special lustre for English minds to the association of social distinction with power over the life and ways of groups of men and women. When Bagehot sneered at the sudden millionaires of his day, who hoped to disguise their social defects by buying old places and hiding among aristocratic furniture, he was remarking on a feature of English life that was very far from being peculiar to his time. Did not Adam Smith observe that merchants were very commonly ambitious of becoming country gentlemen? This kind of ambition was the form that public spirit often took in successful Englishmen, and it was a very powerful menace to the old village and its traditions of collective life.

Now this passion received at this time a special momentum from the condition of agriculture. A dictatorship lends itself more readily than any other form of government to the quick introduction of revolutionary ideas, and new ideas were in the air. Thus, in addition to the desire for social power, there was behind the enclosure movement a zeal for economic progress seconding and almost concealing the direct inspiration of self-interest. Many an enclosing landlord thought only of the satisfaction of doubling or trebling his rent: that is unquestionable. If we are to trust so warm a champion of enclosure as William Marshall, this was the state of mind of the great majority. But there were many whose eyes glistened as they thought of the prosperity they were to bring to English agriculture, applying to a wider and wider domain the lessons that were to be learnt from the processes of scientific farming. A man who had caught the large ideas of a Coke, or mastered the discoveries of a Bakewell, chafed under the restraints that the system of common agriculture placed on improvement and experiment. It was maddening to have to set your pace by the slow bucolic temperament of small farmers, nursed in a simple and old-fashioned routine, who looked with suspicion on any proposal that was strange to them. In this tiresome partnership the swift were put between the shafts with the slow, and the temptation to think that what was wanted was to get rid of the partnership altogether, was almost irresistible. From such a state the mind passed rapidly and naturally to the conclusion that the wider the sphere brought into the absolute possession of the enlightened class, the greater would be the public gain. The spirit in which the Board of Agriculture approached the subject found appropriate expression in Sir John Sinclair's high-sounding language. 'The idea of having lands in common, it has been justly remarked, is to be derived from that barbarous state of society, when men were strangers to any higher occupation than those of hunters or shepherds, or had only just tasted the advantages to be reaped from the cultivation of the earth.'(16*) Arthur Young(17*) compared the with its inconveniences 'which the barbarity of their ancestors had neither knowledge to discover nor government to remedy' to the Tartar policy of the shepherd state.

It is not surprising that men under the influence of these set ideas could find no virtue at all in the old system, and that they soon began to persuade themselves that that system was at the bottom of all the evils of society. It was harmful to the morals and useless to the pockets of the poor. 'The benefit,' wrote Arbuthnot,(18*) 'which they are supposed to reap from commons, in their present state, I know to be merely nominal; nay, indeed, what is worse, I know, that, in many instances, it is an essential injury to them, by being made a plea for their idleness; for, some few excepted, if you offer them work, they will tell you, that they must go to look up their sheep, cut furzes, get their cow out of the pound, or, perhaps, say they must take their horse to be shod, that he may carry them to a horse-race or cricket-match.' Lord Sheffield, in the course of one of the debates in Parliament, described the commoners as a 'nuisance,' and most people of his class thought of them as something worse. Mr. John Billingsley, who wrote the Report on Somerset for the Board of Agriculture in 1795, describes in some detail the enervating atmosphere of the commoners' life. 'Besides, moral effects of an injurious tendency accrue to the cottager, from a reliance on the imaginary benefits of stocking a common. The possession of a cow or two, with a hog, and a few geese, naturally exalts the peasant, in his own conception, above his brethren in the same rank of society. It inspires some degree of confidence in a property, inadequate to his support. In sauntering after his cattle, he acquires a habit of indolence. Quarter, half, and occasionally whole days are imperceptibly lost. Day labour becomes disgusting; the aversion increases by indulgence; and at length the sale of a half-fed calf, or hog, furnishes the means of adding intemperance to idleness.'(19*) Mr. Bishton, who wrote the Report on Shropshire in 1794, gives a still more interesting glimpse into the mind of the enclosing class: 'The use of common land by labourers operates upon the mind as a sort of independence.' When the commons are enclosed 'the labourers will work every day in the year, their children will be put out to labour early,' and 'that subordination of the lower ranks of society which in the present times is so much wanted, would be thereby considerably secured.'

A similar view was taken of the moral effects of commons by Middleton, the writer of the Report on Middlesex.(20*) 'On the other hand, they are, in many instances, of real injury to the public; by holding out a lure to the poor man -- I mean of materials wherewith to build his cottage, and ground to erect it upon: together with firing and the run of his poultry and pigs for nothing. This is of course temptation sufficient to induce a great number of poor persons to settle upon the borders of such commons. But the mischief does not end here: for having gained these trifling advantages, through the neglect or connivance of the lord of the manor, it unfortunately gives their minds an improper bias, and inculcates a desire to live, from that time forward, without labour, or at least with as little as possible.'

One of the witnesses before the Select Committee on Commons Inclosure in 1844 was Mr. Carus Wilson, who is interesting as the original of the character of Mr. Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre. We know how that zealous Christian would regard the commoners from the speech in which he reproved Miss Temple for giving the pupils at Lowood a lunch of bread and cheese on one occasion when their meagre breakfast had been uneatable. 'Oh, madam, when you put bread and cheese, instead of burnt porridge, into these children's mouths, you may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!' We are not surprised to learn that Mr. Carus Wilson found the commoners 'hardened and unpromising,' and that he was obliged to inform the committee that. the misconduct which the system encouraged 'hardens the heart, and causes a good deal of mischief, and at the same time puts the person in an unfavourable position for the approach of what might be serviceable to him in a moral and religious point of view.'(21*)

It is interesting, after reading all these confident generalisations about the influence of this kind of life upon the character of the poor, to learn what the commoners themselves thought of its moral atmosphere. This we can do from such a petition as that sent by the small proprietors and persons entitled to rights of common at Raunds, in Northamptonshire. These unfortunate people lost their rights by an Enclosure Act in 1797, and during the progress of the Bill they petitioned Parliament against it, in these terms: 'That the Petitioners beg Leave to represent to the House that, under Pretence of improving Lands in the said Parish, the Cottagers and other Persons entitled to Right of Common on the Lands intended to be inclosed, will be deprived of an inestimable Privilege, which they now enjoy, of turning a certain Number of their Cows, Calves, and Sheep, on and over the said Lands; a Privilege that enables them not only to maintain themselves and their Families in the depth of Winter, when they cannot, even for their Money, obtain from the Occupiers of other Lands the smallest Portion of Milk or Whey for such necessary Purpose, but, in addition to this, they can now supply the Grazier with young or lean Stock at a reasonable Price, to fatten and bring to Market at a more moderate Rate for general Consumption, which they conceive to be the most rational and effectual Way of establishing Public Plenty and Cheapness of Provision; and they further conceive, that a more ruinous Effect of this Inclosure will be the almost total depopulation of their Town, now filled with bold and hardy Husbandmen, from among whom, and the Inhabitants of other open Parishes, the Nation has hitherto derived its greatest Strength and Glory, in the Supply of its Fleets and Aries, and driving them, from Necessity and Want of Employ, in vast Crowds, into manufacturing Towns, where the very Nature of their Employment, over the Loom or the Forge, soon may waste their Strength, and consequently debilitate their Posterity, and by imperceptible degrees obliterate that great Principle of Obedience to the Laws of God and their Country, which forms the Character of the simple and artless Villagers, more equally distributed through the Open Countries, and on which so much depends the good Order and Government of the State: These are some of the Injuries to themselves as Individuals, and of the ill Consequences to the Public, which the Petitioners conceive will follow from this, as they have already done from many Inclosures, but which they did not think they were entitled to lay before the House (the Constitutional Patron and Protector of the Poor) until it unhappily came to their own Lot to be exposed to them through the Bill now pending.'(22*)

When we remember that the enterprise of the age was under the spell of the most seductive economic teaching of the time, and that the old peasant society, wearing as it did the look of confusion and weakness, had to fear not only the simplifying appetites of the landlords, but the simplifying philosophy, in England of an Adam Smith, in France of the Physiocrats, we can realise that a ruling class has seldom found so plausible an atmosphere for the free play of its interests and ideas. Des crimes sont flattés d'être présidés par une vertu. Bentham himself thought the spectacle of an enclosure one of the most reassuring of all the evidences of improvement and happiness. Indeed, all the elements seemed to have conspired against the peasant, for aesthetic taste, which might at other times have restrained, in the eighteenth century encouraged the destruction of the commons and their rough beauty. The rage for order and symmetry and neat cultivation was universal. It found expression in Burnet, who said of the Alps and Appenines that they had neither form nor beauty, neither shape nor order, any more than the clouds of the air: in Johnson, who said of the Highlands that 'the uniformity of barrenness can afford very little amusement to the traveller;' and in Cobbett, who said of the Cotswolds, 'this is a sort of country having less to please the eye than any other that I have ever seen, always save and except the heaths like those of Bagshot and Hindhead.' The enjoyment of wild nature was a lost sense, to be rediscovered one day by the Romanticists and the Revolution, but too late to help the English village. In France, owing to various causes, part economic, part political, on which we shall touch later, the peasant persisted in his ancient and ridiculous tenure, and survived to become the envy of English observer: it was only in England that he lost his footing, and that his ancient patrimony slipped away from him.

We are not concerned at this juncture to inquire into the truth of the view that the sweeping policy of enclosure increased the productivity and resources of the State: we are concerned only to inquire into the Way in which the aristocracy gave shape and effect to it. This movement, assumed by the enlightened opinion of the day to be beneficent and progressive, was none the less a gigantic disturbance; it broke up the old Village life; it transferred a great body of property; it touched a vast mass of interests at a hundred points. A governing class that cared for its reputation for justice would clearly regard it as of sovereign importance that this delicate network of rights and claims should not be roughly disentangled by the sheer power of the stronger: a governing class that recognised its responsibility for the happiness and order of the State would clearly regard it as of sovereign importance that this ancient community should not be dissolved in such a manner as to plunge great number of contented men into permanent poverty and despair. To decide how far the aristocracy that presided over these changes displayed insight or foresight, sympathy or imagination, and how far it acted with a controlling sense of integrity and public spirit, we must analyse the methods and procedure of Parliamentary enclosure.

Before entering on a discussion of the methods by which Parliamentary enclosure was effected, it is necessary to realise the extent of its operations. Precise statistics, of course, are not to be had, but there are various estimates based on careful study of such evidence as we possess. Mr. Levy says that between 1702 and 1760 there were only 246 Acts, affecting about 400,000 acres, and that in the next fifty years the Acts had reached a total of 2438, affecting almost five million acres.(23*) Mr. Johnson gives the following table for the years 1700-1844, founded on Dr. Slater's detailed estimate(24*) --

Common Field and Waste only
some waste
Years Acts Acreage Acts Acreage

1750-1760 152 237,845 56 74,518
1761-1801 1,479 2,428,721 521 752,150
1802-1844 1,075 1,610,302 808 939,043

Total 2,706 4,276,868 1,385 1,765,711

This roughly corresponds with the estimate given before the Select Committee on Enclosures in 1844, that there were some one thousand seven hundred private Acts before 1800, and some two thousand between 1800 and 1844. The General Report of the Board of Agriculture on Enclosures gives the acreage enclosed from the time of Queen Anne down to 1805 as 4,187,056. Mr. Johnson's conclusion is that nearly 20 per cent of the total acreage of England has been enclosed. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, though Mr. Prothero puts the percentage still higher. But we should miss the significance of these proportions if we were to look at England at the beginning of the eighteenth century as a map of which a large block was already shaded, and of which another block, say a fifth or a sixth part, was to be shaded by the enclosure of this period. The truth is that the life of the common-field system was still the normal village life of England, and that the land which was already enclosed consisted largely of old enclosures or the lord's demesne land lying side by side with the open fields. This was put quite clearly by the Bishop of St. Davids in the House of Lords in 1781. 'Parishes of any considerable extent consisted partly of old inclosures and partly of common fields.'(25*) If a village living on the common-field system contained old enclosures, effected some time or other without Act of Parliament, it suffered just as violent a catastrophe when the common fields or the waste were enclosed, as if there had been no previous enclosure in the parish. The number of Acts passed in this period varies of course with the different counties,(26*) but speaking generally, we may say that the events described in the next two chapters are not confined to any one part of the country, and that they mark a national revolution, making sweeping and profound changes in the form and the character of agricultural society throughout England.(27*)


1. Gregory King and Davenant estimated that the whole of the cultivated land in England in 1685 did not amount to much more than half the total area, and of this cultivated portion three-fifths was still farmed on the old common field system.

2. For a full discussion, in which the ordinary view is vigorously combated in an interesting analysis, see Hasbach, History of the Agricultural Labourer; on the other side, Levy, Large and Small Holdings.

3. This was the general structure of the village that was dissolved in the eighteenth century. It is distinguished from the Keltic type of communal agriculture, know as run-rig, in two important respects. In the run-rig village the soil is periodically redivided, and the tenant's holding is compact. Dr. Slater (Geographical Journal</i>, Jan. 1907) has shown that in those parts of England where the Keltic type predominated, e.g., in Devon and Cornwall, enclosure took place early, and he argues with good reason that it was easier to enclose by voluntary agreement where the holdings were compact than it was where they were scattered in strips. But gradual enclosure by voluntary agreement had a different effect from the cataclysm-like enclosure of the eighteenth century, as is evident from the large number of small farmers in Devonshire.

4. See Webb, Manor and Borough, vol. i, p. 66 seq.

5. Slater, The English Peasantry and the Enclosure of Common Fields, p. 77.

6. 13 George III, c. 81.

7. This was done at Barnes Common; see for whole subject, Annals of Agriculture, vol. xvii. p. 516.

8. For cases where changes in the system of cultivation of common fields had been made, see Annals of Agriculture, vol. xvi. p. 606; 'To Peterborough, crossing an open field, but sown by agreement with turnips.' Cf. Report on Bedfordshire: 'Clover is sown in some of the open clay-fields by common consent (p. 339), and 'Turnips are sometimes cultivated, both on the sands and gravels, by mutual consent.' (p. 340).

9. Slater, p. 119.

10. Dr. Slater's conclusion is that 'in the open field village the entirely landless labourer was scarcely to be found.' p. 130.

11. See Commons, Forests, and Footpaths, by Lord Eversley, p. 11.

12. Bedforshire Report, 1808, p. 223, quoting from Arthur Young.

13. p. 114.

14. p. 138.

15. See on this point, Levy, Large and Small Holdings, p. 1.

16. Report of Select Committee on Waste Lands, 1795, p. 15, Appendix B.

17. Annals of Agriculture, vol. i. p. 72.

18. An Inquiry into the Connection between the present Price of Provisions and the Size of Farms, 1773, p. 81.

19. Report on Somerset, reprinted 1797, p. 52; compare Report on Commons in Brecknock, Annals of Agriculture, vol. xxii, p. 632, where commons are denounced as 'hurtful to society by holding forth a temptation to idleness, that fell parent to vice and immorality' also compare Ibid., vol. xx, p. 145, where they are said to encourage the commoners to be 'hedge, breakers, pilferers, nightly trespassers... poultry and rabbit stealers, or such like.'

20. p. 103.

21. Committee on Inclosures, 1844, p. 135.

22. House of Commons Journal, June 19, 1797.

23. Large and Small Holdings, p. 24.

24. Disappearance of Small Landowner, p. 90; Slater's English Peasantry and the Enclosure of Common Fields, Appendix B.

25. Parliamentary Register, March 30, 1781.

26. See Dr. Slater's detailed estimate.

27. There were probably many enclosures that hand not the authority either of a special Act or of the Act of 1756, particularly in the more distant counties. The evidence of Mr Carus Wilson upon the committee of 1844 shows that the stronger classes interpreted their rights and powers in a liberal spirit. Mr Carus Wilson had arranged with the other large proprietors to let out the only common which remained open in the thirteen parishes in which his father was interested as a large landowner, and to pay the rent into the poor rates. Some members of the committee asked whether the minority who dissented from the arrangement could be excluded, and Mr Wilson explained that he and his confederates believed that the minority were bound by their action, and that by this simple plan they could shut out all cattle from the common, except the cattle of their joint tenants. -- Committee on Inclosures, 1844, p. 127.

Chapter Two

Enclosure (1)

An enclosure, like most Parliamentary operations, began with a petition from a local person or persons, setting forth the inconveniencies of the present system and the advantages of such a measure. Parliament, having received the petition, would give leave for a Bill to be introduced. The Bill would be read a first and a second time, and would then be referred to a Committee, which, after considering such petitions against the enclosure as the House of Commons referred to it, would present its report. The Bill would then be passed, sent to the Lords, and receive the Royal Assent. Finally, the Commissioners named in the Bill would descend on the district and distribute the land. That is, in brief, the history of a successful enclosure agitation. We will now proceed to explore its different stages in detail.

The original petition was often the act of a big landowner, whose solitary signature was enough to set an enclosure process in train.(1*) Before 1774 it was not even incumbent on this single individual to let his neighbours know that he was asking Parliament for leave to redistribute their property. In that year the House of Commons made a Standing Order prodding that notice of any such petition should be affixed to the church door in each of the parishes affected, for three Sundays in the month of August or the month of September. This provision was laid down, as we learn from the Report of the Committee that considered the Standing Orders in 1775, because it had often happened that those whose land was to be enclosed knew nothing whatever of transactions in which they were rather intimately concerned, until they were virtually completed.(2*)

But the publicity that was secured by this Standing Order, though it prevented the process of enclosure from being completed in the dark, did not in practice give the village any kind of voice in its own destiny. The promoters laid all their plans before they took their neighbours into the secret. When their arrangements were mature, they gave notice to the parish in accordance with the requirements of the Standing Order, or they first took their petition to the various proprietors for signature, or in some cases they called a public meeting. The facts set out in the petition against the Enclosure Bill for Haute Huntre, show that the promoters did not think that they were bound to accept the opinion of a meeting. In that case 'the great majority' were hostile, but the promoters proceeded with their petition notwithstanding.(3*) Whatever the precise method, unless some large proprietor stood out against the scheme, the promoters were masters of the situation. This we know from the evidence of witnesses favourable to enclosure. 'The proprietors of large estates,' said Arthur Young, 'generally agree upon the measure, adjust the principal points among themselves, and fix upon their attorney before they appoint any general meeting of the proprietors.'(4*) Addington, in his Inquiry into the Reasons for and against Inclosing, quoting another writer, says, 'the whole plan is generally settled between the solicitor and two or three principal proprietors without ever letting the rest of them into the secret till they are called upon to sign the petition.'(5*) What stand could the small proprietor hope to make against such forces? The matter was a chose jugée, and his assent a mere formality. If he tried to resist, he could be warned that the success of the enclosure petition was certain, and that those who obstructed it would suffer, as those who assisted it would gain, in the final award. His only prospect of successful opposition to the lord of the manor, the magistrate, the impropriator of the tithes, the powers that enveloped his life, the powers that appointed the commissioner who was to make the ultimate award, lay in his ability to move a dim and distant Parliament of great landlords to come to his rescue. It needs no very penetrating imagination to picture what would have happened in a village in which a landowner of the type of Richardson's hero in Pamela was bent on an enclosure, and the inhabitants, being men like Goodman Andrews, knew that enclosure meant their ruin. What, in point of fact, could the poor do to declare their opposition? They could tear down the notices from the church doors:(6*) they could break up a public meeting, if one were held: but the only way in which they could protest was by violent and disorderly proceedings, which made no impression at all upon Parliament, and which the forces of law and order could, if necessary, be summoned to quell.

The scene now shifts to Parliament, the High Court of Justice, the stronghold of the liberties of Englishmen. Parliament hears the petition, and, almost as a matter of course, grants it, giving leave for the introduction of a Bill, and instructing the member who presents the petition to prepare it. This is not a very long business, for the promoters have generally taken the trouble to prepare their Bill in advance. The Bill is submitted, read a first and second time, and then referred to a Committee. Now a modern Parliamentary Private Bill Committee is regarded as a tribunal whose integrity and impartiality are beyond question, and justly, for the most elaborate precautions are taken to secure that it shall deserve this character. The eighteenth-century Parliament treated its Committee with just as much respect, but took no precautions at all to obtain a disinterested court. Indeed, the committee that considered an enclosure was chosen on the very contrary principle. This we know, not from the evidence of unkind and prejudiced outsiders, but from the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons, which inquired in 1825 into the constitution of Committees on Private Bills. 'Under the present system each Bill is committed to the Member who is charged with its management and such other Members as he may choose to name in the House, and the Members serving for a particular County (usually the County immediately connected with the object of the Bill) and the adjoining Counties, and consequently it has been practically found that the Members to whom Bills have been committed have been generally those who have been most interested in the result.'

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there developed the practice of opening the committees. This was the system of applying to Private Bills the procedure followed in the case of Public Bills, and proposing a resolution in the House of Commons that 'all who attend shall have voices,' i.e., that any member of the House who cared to attend the committee should be able to vote. We can see how this arrangement acted. It might happen that some of the county members were hostile to a particular enclosure scheme; in that case the promoters could call for an open committee and mass their friends upon it. It might happen, on the other hand, that the committee was solid in supporting an enclosure, and that some powerful person in the House considered that his interests, or the interests of his friend, had not been duly consulted in the division of the spoil. In such a case he would call for all to 'have voices' and so compel the promoters to satisfy his claims. This system then secured some sort of rough justice as between the powerful interests represented in Parliament, but it left the small proprietors and the cottagers, who were unrepresented in this mêlée, absolutely at the mercy of these conflicting forces.

It is difficult, for example, to imagine that a committee in which the small men were represented would have sanctioned the amazing clause in the Ashelworth Act(7*) which provided 'that all fields or inclosures containing the Property of Two or more Persons within one fence, and also all inclosures containing the property of one Person only, if the same be held by or under different Tenures or Interests, shall be considered as commonable land and be divided and allotted accordingly.' This clause, taken with the clause that follows, simply meant that some big landowner had his eye on some particular piece of enclosed property, which in the ordinary way would not have gone into the melting-pot at all. The arrangements of the Wakefield Act would hardly have saved the scrutiny of a committee on which the Duke of Leeds' class was not paramount. Under that Act(8*) the duke was to have full power to work mines and get minerals, and those proprietors whose premises suffered in consequence were to have reasonable satisfaction, not from the duke who was enriched by the disturbing cause, but from all the allottees, including presumably those whose property was damaged. Further, to save himself inconvenience, the duke could forbid allottees on Westgate Moor to build a house for sixty years. A different kind of House of Commons would have looked closely at the Act at Moreton Corbet which gave the Lord of the manor all enclosures and encroachments more than twenty years old, and also at the not uncommon provision which exempted the tithe-owner from paying for his own fencing.

The Report of the 1825 Committee describes the system as 'inviting all the interested parties in the Souse to take part in the business of the committee, which necessarily terminates in the prevalence of the strongest part, for they who have no interest of their own to serve will not be prevailed upon to take part in a struggle in which their unbiassed judgment can have no effect.' The chairman of the committee was generally the member who had moved to introduce the Bill. The unreformed Parliament of landowners that passed the excellent Act of 1782, forbidding Members of Parliament to have an interest in Government contracts, never thought until the eve of the Reform Bill that there was anything remarkable in this habit of referring Enclosure Bills to the judgment of the very landowners who were to profit by them. And in 1825 it was not the EncLosure Bills, in which. the rich took and the poor suffered, but the Railway Bills, in which rich men were pitted against rich men, that drew the attention of the House of Commons to the disadvantages and risks of this procedure.

The committee so composed sets to work on the Bill, and meanwhile, perhaps, some of the persons affected by the enclosure send petitions against it to the Souse of Commons. Difficulties of time and space would as a rule deter all but the rich dissentients, unless the enclosure was near London. These petitions are differently treated according to their origin. If they emanate from a lord of the manor, or from a tithe-owner, who for some reason or other is dissatisfied with the contemplated arrangements, they receive some attention. In such a case the petitioner probably has some friend in Parliament, and his point of view is understood. He can, if necessary, get this friend to attend the committee and introduce amendments. He is therefore a force to be reckoned with; the Bill is perhaps altered to suit him; the petition is at any rate referred to the committee. On the other hand, if the petition comes from cottagers or small proprietors, it is safe, as a rule, to neglect it.

The enclosure histories set out in the Appendix supply some good examples of this differential treatment. Lord Strafford sends a petition against the Bill for enclosing Wakefield with the result that he is allowed to appoint a commissioner, and also that his dispute with the duke of Leeds is exempted from the jurisdiction of the Enclosure Commissioners. On the other hand, the unfortunate persons who petition against the monstrous provision that forbade them to erect any building for twenty, forty or sixty years, get no kind of redress. In the case of Croydon, James Trecothick, Esq., who is dissatisfied with the Bill, is strong enough to demand special consideration. Accordingly a special provision is made that the commissioners are obliged to sell Mr. Trecothick, by private contract, part of Addington Hills, if he so wishes. But when the various freeholders, copyholders, leaseholders and inhabitant householders of Croydon, who complain that the promoters of the Bill have named commissioners without consulting the persons interested, ask leave to nominate a third commissioner, only four members of the House of Commons support Lord William Russell's proposal to consider this petition, and fifty-one vote the other way. Another example of the spirit in which Parliament received petitions from unimportant persons is furnished by the case of the enclosure of Holy Island. In 1791 (Feb. 23)(9*) a petition was presented to Parliament for the enclosure of Holy Island, asking for the division of a stinted pasture, and the extinction of the rights of common or 'eatage' over certain infield lands. Leave was given, and the Bill was prepared and read a first time on 28th February. The same day Parliament received a petition from freeholders and stallingers, who ask to be heard by themselves or by counsel against the Bill. From Eden(10*) we learn that there were 26 freeholders and 31 stallingers, and that the latter were in the strict sense of the term as much freeholders as the former. Whilst, however, a freeholder had the right to put 30 sheep, 4 black cattle and 3 horses on the stinted common, a stallinger had a right of common for one horse and one cow only. The House ordered that this petition should lie on the table till the second reading, and that the petitioners should then be heard. The second reading, which had been fixed for 2nd April, was deferred till 20th April, a change which probably put the petitioners to considerable expense. On 20th April the Bill was read a second time, and the House was informed that Counsel attended, and a motion was made that Counsel be now called in. But the motion was opposed, and on a division was defeated by 47 votes to 12. The Bill passed the House of Commons on 10th May, and received the Royal Assent on 9th June.(11*) In this case the House of Commons broke faith with the petitioners, and refused the hearing it had promised. Such experience was not likely to encourage dissentients to waste their money on an appeal to Parliament against a Bill that was promoted by powerful politicians. It will be observed that in many cases the petitioners did not think that it was worth the trouble and expense to be heard on Second Reading.

The Report of the Committee followed a stereotyped formula: 'That the Standing Orders had been complied with: and that the Committee had examined the Allegations of the Bill and found the same to be true; and that the Parties concerned had given their Consent to the Bill, to the Satisfaction of the Committee, except...'

Now what did this mean? What consents were necessary to satisfy the committee? The Parliamentary Committee that reported on the cost of enclosures in 1800(12*) 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. This proportion has a look of fairness until we discover that we are dealing in terms, not of persons, but of property, and that the suffrages were not counted but weighed. The method by which the proportions were reckoned varied, as a glance at the cases described in the Appendix will show. Value is calculated sometimes in acres, sometimes in annual value, sometimes in assessment to the land tax, sometimes in assessment to the poor rate. It is important to remember that it was the property interested that counted, and that in a case where there was common or waste to be divided as well as open fields, one large proprietor, who owned a considerable property in old enclosures, could swamp the entire community of smaller proprietors and cottagers. If Squire Western owned an enclosed estate with parks, gardens and farms of 800 acres, and the rest of the parish consisted of a common or waste of 1000 acres and open fields of 200 acres, and the village population consisted of 100 cottagers and small farmers, each with a strip of land in the common fields, and a right of common on the waste, Squire Western would have a four-fifths majority in determining whether the open fields and the waste should be enclosed or not, and the whole matter would be in his hands. This is an extreme example of the way in which the system worked. The case of Ashelworth shows that a common might be cut up, on the votes of persons holding enclosed property, against the wishes of the great majority of the commoners. At Laleham the petitioners against the Bill claimed that they were 'a great majority of the real Owners and Proprietors of or Persons interested in, the Lands and Grounds intended to be enclosed.' At Simpson, where common fields were to be enclosed, the Major Part of the Owners and Proprietors petitioned against the Bill, stating that they were 'very well satisfied with the Situation and Convenience of their respective Lands and Properties in their present uninclosed State.'(13*)

Even a majority of three-fourths in value was not always required; for example, the Report of the Committee on the enclosure of Cartmel in Lancashire in 1796 gave particulars showing that the whole property belonging to persons interested in the enclosure was assessed at £150, and that the property of those actually consenting to the enclosure was just under £110.(14*) Yet the enclosure was recommended and carried. Another illustration is supplied by the Report of the Committee on the enclosure of Histon and Impington in 1801, where the parties concerned are reported to have consented except the proprietors of 1020 acres, out of a total acreage of 3680.(15*) In this case the Bill was recommitted, and on its next appearance the committee gave the consents in terms of assessment to the Land Tax instead, putting the total figure at £304, and the assessment of the consenting parties at £188. This seems to have satisfied the House of Commons.(16*) Further, the particulars given in the case of the enclosure of Bishopstone in Wilts (enclosed in 1809) show that the votes of copyholders were heavily discounted. In this case the copyholders who dissented held 1079 acres, the copyholders who were neuter 81 acres, and the total area to be divided was 2602 acres. But by some ingenious actuarial calculation of the reversionary interest of the lord of the manor and the interest of the tithe-owner, the 1079 acres held by copyholders are written down to 474 acres.(17*) In the cases of Simpson and Louth, as readers who consult the proceedings will see, the committees were satisfied with majorities just above three-fifths in value. At Raunds, where 4963 acres were 'interested,' the owners of 570 are stated to be against, and of 721 neuter.(18*) An interesting illustration of the lax practice of the committees is provided in the history of an attempted enclosure at Quainton (1801).(19*) In any case the signatures were a doubtful evidence of consent. 'It is easy,' wrote an acute observer, 'for the large proprietors to overcome opposition. Coaxing, bribing, threatening, together with many other acts which superiors will make use, often induce the inferiors to consent to things which they think will be to their future disadvantage.(20*) We hear echoes of such proceedings in the petition from various owners and proprietors at Armley, who 'at the instance of several other owners of land,' signed a petition for enclosure and wish to be heard against it, and also in the unavailing petition of some of the proprietors and freeholders of Winfrith Newburgh in Dorsetshire, in 1768,(21*) who declared that if the Bill passed into law, their 'Estates must be totally ruined thereby, and that some of the Petitioners by Threats and Menaces were prevailed upon to sign the Petition for the said Bill: but upon Recollection, and considering the impending Ruin,' they prayed to 'have Liberty to retract from their seeming Acquiescence.' From the same case we learn that it was the practice sometimes to grant copyholds on the condition that the tenant would undertake not to oppose enclosure. Sometimes, as in the case of the Sedgmoor Enclosure, which we shall discuss later, actual fraud was employed. But even if the promoters employed no unfair methods they had one argument powerful enough to be a deterrent in many minds. For an opposed Enclosure Bill was much more expensive than an unopposed Bill, and as the small men felt the burden of the costs much more than the large proprietors, they would naturally be shy of adding to the very heavy expenses unless they stood a very good chance of defeating the scheme.

It is of capital importance to remember in this connection that the enumeration of 'consents' took account only of proprietors. It ignored entirely two large classes to whom enclosure meant, not a greater or less degree of wealth, but actual ruin. These were such cottagers as enjoyed their rights of common in virtue of renting cottages to which such rights were attached, and those cottagers and squatters who either had no strict legal right, or whose rights were difficult of proof. Neither of these classes was treated even outwardly and formally as having any claim to be consulted before an enclosure was sanctioned.

It is clear, then, that it was only the pressure of the powerful interests that decided whether a committee should approve or disapprove of an Enclosure Bill. It was the same pressure that determined the form in which a Bill became law. For a procedure that enabled rich men to fight out their rival claims at Westminster left the classes that could not send counsel to Parliament without a weapon or a voice. And if there was no lawyer there to put his case, what prospect was there that the obscure cottager, who was to be turned adrift with his family by an Enclosure Bill promoted by a Member or group of Members, would ever trouble the conscience of a committee of landowners? We have seen already how this class was regarded by the landowners and the champions of enclosure. No cottagers had votes or the means of influencing a single vote at a single election. To Parliament, if they had any existence at all, they were merely dim shadows in the very background of the enclosure scheme. It would require a considerable effort of the imagination to suppose that the Parliamentary Committee spent very much time or energy on the attempt to give body and form to this hazy and remote society, and to treat these shadows as living men and women, about to be tossed by this revolution from their ancestral homes. As it happens, we need not put ourselves to the trouble of such speculation, for we have the evidence of a witness who will not be suspected of injustice to his class. 'This I know,' said Lord Lincoln(22*) introducing the General Enclosure Bill of 1845, 'that in nineteen cases out of twenty, Committees of this House sitting on private Bills neglected the rights of the poor. I do not say that they wilfully neglected those rights -- far from it: but this I affirm, that they were neglected in consequence of the Committees being permitted to remain in ignorance of the claims of the poor man, because by reason of his very poverty he is unable to come up to London for counsel, to produce witnesses, and to urge his claims before a Committee of this House.' Another Member(23*) had described a year earlier the character of this private Bill procedure. 'Inclosure Bills had been introduced heretofore and passed without discussion, and no one could tell how many persons had suffered in their interests and rights by the interference of these Bills. Certainly these Bills had been referred to Committees upstairs, but everyone knew how these Committees were generally conducted. They were attended only by honourable Members who were interested in them, being Lords of Manor, and the rights of the poor, though they might be talked about, had frequently been taken away under that system.'

These statements were made by politicians who remembered well the system they were describing. There is another witness whose authority is even greater. In 1781 Lord Thurlow, then at the beginning of his long life of office as Lord Chancellor,(24*) spoke for an hour and three quarters in favour of recommitting the Bill for enclosing Ilmington in Warwickshire. If the speech had been fully reported it would be a contribution of infinite value to students of the social history of eighteenth-century England, for we are told that he proceeded to examine, paragraph by paragraph, every provision of the Bill, animadverting and pointing out some acts of injustice, partiality, obscurity or cause of confusion in each.'(25*) Unfortunately this part of his speech was omitted in the report as being 'irrelative to the debate,' which was concerned with the question of the propriety of commuting tithes. But the report, incomplete as it is, contains an illuminating passage on the conduct of Private Bill Committees. 'His Lordship... next turned his attention to the mode in which private bills were permitted to make their way through both Houses, and that in matters in which property was concerned, to the great injury of many, if not the total ruin of some private families: many proofs of this evil had come to his knowledge as a member of the other House, not a few in his professional character, before he had the honour of a seat in that House, nor had he been a total stranger to such evils since he was called upon to preside in another place.' Going on to speak of the committees of the House of Commons and 'the rapidity with which private Bills were hurried through,' he declared that 'it was not unfrequent to decide upon the merits of a Bill which would affect the property and interests of persons inhabiting a district of several miles in extent, in less time than it took him to determine upon the propriety of issuing an order for a few pounds, by which no man's property could be injured.' He concluded by telling the House of Lords a story of how Sir George Savile once noticed a man 'rather meanly habited' watching the proceedings of a committee with anxious interest. When the committee had agreed on its report, the agitated spectator was seen to be in great distress. Sir George Savile asked him what was the matter, and he found that the man would be ruined by a clause that had been passed by the committee, and that, having heard that the Bill was to be introduced, he had made his way to London on foot, too poor to come in any other way or to fee counsel. Savile then made inquiries and learnt that these statements were correct, whereupon he secured the amendment of the Bill, 'by which means an innocent, indigent man and his family were rescued from destruction.' It would not have been very easy for a 'meanly habited man' to make the journey to London from Wakefield or Knaresborough or Haute Huntre, even if he knew when a Bill was coming on, and to stay in London until it went into committee; and if he did, he would not always be so lucky as to find a Sir George Savile on the committee -- the public man who was regarded by his contemporaries, to whatever party they belonged, as the Bayard of politics.(26*)

We get very few glimpses into the underworld of the common and obscure people, whose homes and fortunes trembled on the chance that a quarrel over tithes and the conflicting claims of squire and parson might disturb the unanimity of a score of gentlemen sitting round a table. London was far away, and the Olympian peace of Parliament was rarely broken by the protests of its victims. But we get one such glimpse in a passage in the Annual Register for 1767.

'On Tuesday evening a great number of farmers were observed going along Pall Mall with cockades in their hats. On enquiring the reason, it appeared they all lived in or near the parish of Stanwell in the county of Middlesex, and they were returning to their wives and families to carry them the agreeable news of a Bill being rejected for inclosing the said common, which if carried into execution, might have been the ruin of a great number of families.'(27*)

When the Committee on the Enclosure Bill had reported to the House of Commons, the rest of the proceedings were generally formal. The Bill was read a third time, engrossed, sent up to the Lords, where petitions might be presented as in the Commons, and received the Royal Assent.

A study of the pages of Hansard and Debrett tells us little about transactions that fill the Journals of the Houses of Parliament. Three debates in the House of Lords are fully reported,(28*) and they illustrate the play of forces at Westminster. The Bishop of St. Davids(29*) moved to recommit an Enclosure Bill in 1781 on the ground that, like many other Enclosure Bills, it provided for the commutation of tithes -- an arrangement which he thought open to many objections. Here was an issue that was vital, for it concerned the interests of the classes represented in Parliament. Did the Church stand to gain or to lose by taking land instead of tithe? Was it a bad thing or a good thing that the parson should be put into the position of a farmer, that he should be under the temptation to enter into an arrangement with the landlord which might prejudice his successor, that he should be relieved from a system which often caused bad blood between him and his parishioners? Would it 'make him neglect the sacred functions of his ministry' as the Bishop of St. Davids feared, or would it improve his usefulness by rescuing him from a situation in which 'the pastor was totally sunk in the tithe collector' as the Bishop of Peterborough(30*) hoped, and was a man a better parson on the Sunday for being a farmer the rest of the week as Lord Coventry believed? The bishops and the peers had in this discussion a subject that touched very nearly the lives and interests of themselves and their friends, and there was a considerable and animated debate,(31*) at the end of which the House of Lords approved the principle of commuting tithes in Enclosure Bills. This debate was followed by another on 6th April, when Lord Bathurst (President of the Council) as a counterblast to his colleague on the Woolsack, moved, but afterwards withdrew, a series of resolutions on the same subject. In the course of this debate Thurlow, who thought perhaps that his zeal for the Church had surprised and irritated his fellowpeers, among whom he was not conspicuous in life as a practising Christian, explained that though he was zealous for the Church, 'his zeal was not partial or confined to the Church, further than it was connected with the other great national establishments, of which it formed a part, and no inconsiderable one.' The Bishop of St. Davids returned to the subject on the 14th June, moving to recommit the Bill for enclosing Kington in Worcestershire. He read a string of resolutions which he wished to see applied to all future Enclosure Bills, in order to defend the interests of the clergy from 'the oppressions of the Lord of the Manor, landowners, etc.' Thurlow spoke for him, but he was defeated by 24 votes to 4, his only other supporters being Lord Galloway and the Bishop of Lincoln.

Thurlow's story of Sir George Savile's 'meanly habited man' did not disturb the confidence of the House of Lords in the justice of the existing procedure towards the poor: the enclosure debates revolve solely round the question of the relative claims of the lord of the manor and the tithe-owner. The House of Commons was equally free from scruple or misgiving. One petitioner in 1800 commented on the extraordinary haste with which a New Forest Bill was pushed through Parliament, and suggested that if it, were passed into law in this rapid manner at the end of a session, some injustice might unconsciously be done. The Speaker replied with a grave and dignified rebuke: 'The House was always competent to give every subject the consideration due to its importance, and could not therefore be truly said to be incapable at any time of discussing any question gravely, dispassionately, and with strict regard to justice.'(32*) He recommended that the petition should be passed over as if it had never been presented. The member who had presented the petition pleaded that he had not read it. Such were the plausibilities and decorum in which the House of Commons mapped up its abuses. We can imagine that some of the members must have smiled to each other like the Roman augurs, when they exchanged these solemn hypocrisies.

We have a sidelight on the vigilance of the House of Commons, when an Enclosure Bill came down from a committee, in a speech of Windham's in defence of bull-baiting. Windham attacked the politicians who had introduced the Bill to abolish bull-baiting, for raising such a question at a time of national crisis when Parliament ought to be thinking of other things. He then went on to compare the subject to local subjects that 'contained nothing of public or general interest. To procure the discussion of such subjects it was necessary to resort to canvass and intrigue. Members whose attendance was induced by local considerations in most cases of this description, were present: the discussion, if any took place, was managed by the friends of the measure: and the decision of the House was ultimately, perhaps, a matter of mere chance.' From Sheridan's speech in answer, we learn that this is a description of the passing of Enclosure Bills. 'Another honourable gentleman who had opposed this Bill with peculiar vehemence, considered it as one of those light and trivial subjects, which was not worthy to occupy the deliberations of Parliament: and he compared it to certain other subjects of Bills: that is to say, bills of a local nature, respecting inclosures and other disposal of property, which merely passed by chance, as Members could not be got to attend their progress by dint of canvassing,'(33*) Doubtless most Members of the House of Commons shared the sentiments of Lord Sandwich, who told the House of Lords that he was so satisfied 'that the more inclosures the better, that as far as his poor abilities would enable him, he would support every inclosure bill that should be brought into the House.'(34*)

For the last act of an enclosure drama the scene shifts back to the parish. The commissioners arrive, receive and determine claims, and publish an award, mapping out the new village. The life and business of the village are now in suspense, and the commissioners are often authorised to prescribe the course of husbandry during the transition.(35*) The Act which they administer provides that a certain proportion of the land is to be assigned to the lord of the manor, in virtue of his rights, and a certain proportion to the owner of the tithes. An occasional Act provides that some small allotment shall be made to the poor: otherwise the commissioners have a free hand: their powers are virtually absolute. This is the impression left by all contemporary writers. Arthur Young, for example, writes emphatically in this sense. 'Thus is the property of proprietors, and especially of the poor ones, entirely at their mercy: every passion of resentment and prejudice may be gratified without control, for they are vested with a despotic power known in no other branch of business in this free country.'(36*) Similar testimony is found in the Report of the Select Committee (1800) on the Expense and Mode of Obtaining Bills of Enclosure: 'the expediency of despatch, without the additional expense of multiplied litigation, has suggested the necessity of investing them with a summary, and in most cases uncontrollable jurisdiction.'(37*) In the General Report of the Board of Agriculture on Enclosures, published in 1808, though any more careful procedure is deprecated as likely to cause delay, it is stated that the adjusting of property worth £50,000 was left to the arbitration of a majority of five, 'often persons of mean education.' The author of An Inquiry into the Advantages and disadvantages resulting from Bills of Inclosure, published in 1781, writes as if it was the practice to allow an appeal to Quarter Sessions; such an appeal he characterised as useless to a poor man, and we can well believe that most of the squires who sat on such a tribunal to punish vagrants or poachers had had a hand in an enclosure in the past or had their eyes on an enclosure in the future. Thurlow considered such an appeal quite inadequate, giving the more polite reason that Quarter Sessions had not the necessary time.(38*) The Act of 1801 is silent on the subject, but Sinclair's draft of a General Inclosure Bill, published in the Annals of Agriculture in 1796,(39*) provided for an appeal to Quarter Sessions. In the case of five enclosures mentioned in these chapters (Haute Huntre, Simpson, Stanwell, Wakefield and Winfrith Newburgh), the decision of the commissioners on claims was final, except that at Wakefield an objector might oblige the commissioners to take the opinion of a counsel chosen by themselves. In five cases (Ashelworth, Croydon, Cheshunt, Laleham and Louth), a disappointed claimant might bring a suit on a feigned issue against a proprietor. At Armley and Knaresborough the final decision was left to arbitrators, but whereas at Armley the arbitrator was to be chosen by a neutral authority, the Recorder of Leeds, the arbitrators at Knaresborough were named in the Act, and were presumably as much the nominees of the promoters as the commissioners themselves.

The statements of contemporaries already quoted go to show that none of these arrangements were regarded as seriously fettering the power of the commissioners, and it is easy to understand that a lawsuit, which might of course overwhelm him, was not a remedy for the use of a small proprietor or a cottager, though it might be of some advantage to a large proprietor who had not been fortunate enough to secure adequate representation of his interests on the Board of Commissioners. But the decision as to claims was only part of the business. A man's claim might be allowed, and yet gross injustice might be done him in the redistribution. He might be given inferior land, or land in an inconvenient position. In most of the cases cited in this chapter the award of the commissioners is stated to be final, and there is no appeal from it. Two exceptions are Knaresborough and Armley. The Knaresborough Act is silent on the point, and the Armley Act allows an appeal to the Recorder of Leeds. So far therefore as the claims and allotments of the poor were concerned, the commissioners were in no danger of being overruled. Their freedom in other ways was restricted by the Standing Orders of 1774, which obliged them to give an account of their expenses.

It would seem to be obvious that any society which had an elementary notion of the meaning and importance of justice would have taken the utmost pains to see that the men appointed to this extraordinary office had no motive for showing partiality. This might not reasonably have been expected of the society about which Pitt declared in the House of Commons, that it was the boast of the law of England that it afforded equal security and protection to the high and low, the rich and poor.(40*) How were these commissioners appointed at the time that Pitt was Prime Minister? They were appointed in each case before the Bill was presented to Parliament, and generally, as Young tells us, they were appointed by the promoters of the enclosure before the petition was submitted for local signatures, so that in fact they were nominated by the persons of influence who agreed on the measure. In one case (Moreton Corbet in Shropshire; 1950 acres enclosed in 1797) the Act appointed one commissioner only, and he was to name his successor. Sometimes, as in the case of Otmoor,(41*) it might happen that the commissioners were changed while the Bill was passing through Committee, if some powerful persons were able to secure better representation of their own interests. In the case of Wakefield again, the House of Commons Committee placated Lord Strafford by giving him a commissioner.

Now, who was supposed to have a voice in the appointment of the commissioners? There is to be found in the Annals of Agriculture(42*) an extremely interesting paper by Sir John Sinclair, preliminary to a memorandum of the General Enclosure Bill which he promoted in 1796. Sinclair explains that he had had eighteen hundred Enclosure Acts (taken indiscriminately) examined in order to ascertain what was the usual procedure and what stipulations were made with regard to particular interests; this with the intention of incorporating the recognised practice in his General Bill. In the course of these remarks he says, 'the probable result will be the appointment of one Commissioner by the Lord of the Manor, of another by the tithe-owner, and of a third by the major part in value of the proprietors.'(43*) It will be observed that the third commissioner is not appointed by a majority of the commoners, nor even by the majority of the proprietors, but by the votes of those who own the greater part of the village. This enables us to assess the value of what might have seemed a safeguard to the poor -- the provision that the names of the commissioners should appear in the Bill presented to Parliament. The lord of the manor, the impropriator of tithes, and the majority in value of the owners are a small minority of the persons affected by an enclosure, and all that they have to do is to meet round a table and name the commissioners who are to represent them.(44*) Thus we find that the powerful persons who carried an enclosure against the will of the poor nominated the tribunal before which the poor had to make good their several claims. This was the way in which the constitution that Pitt was defending afforded equal security and protection to the rich and to the poor.

It will be noticed further that two interests are chosen out for special representation. They are the lord of the manor and the impropriator of tithes: in other words, the very persons who are formally assigned a certain minimum in the distribution by the Act of Parliament. Every Act after 1774 declares that the lord of the manor is to have a certain proportion, and the tithe-owner a certain proportion of the land divided: scarcely any Act stipulates that any share at all is to go to the cottager or the small proprietor. Yet in the appointment of commissioners the interests that are protected by the Act have a preponderating voice, and the interests that are left to the caprice of the commissioners have no voice at all. Thurlow, speaking in the House of Lords in 1781,(45*) said that it was grossly unjust to the parson that his property should be at the disposal of these commissioners, of whom he only nominated one. 'He thanked God that the property of an Englishman depended not on so loose a tribunal in any other instance whatever.' What, then, was the position of the poor and the small farmers who were not represented at all among the commissioners? In the paper already quoted, Sinclair mentions that in.some cases the commissioners were peers, gentlemen and clergymen, residing in the neighbourhood, who acted without fees or emolument. He spoke of this as undertaking a useful duty, and it does not seem to have occurred to him that there was any objection to such a practice. 'To lay down the principle that men are to serve for nothing,' said Cobbett, in criticising the system of unpaid magistrates, 'puts me in mind of the servant who went on hire, who being asked what wages he demanded, said he wanted no wages: for that he always found about the house little things to pick up.'

There is a curious passage in the General Report of the Board of Agriculture(46*) on the subject of the appointment of commissioners. The writer, after dwelling on the unexampled powers that the commissioners enjoy, remarks that they are not likely to be abused, because a commissioner's prospect of future employment in this profitable capacity depends on his character for integrity and justice. This is a reassuring reJection for the classes that promoted enclosures and appointed commissioners, but it rings with a very different sound in other ears. It would dearly have been much better for the poor if the commissioners had not had any prospect of future employment at all. We can obtain some idea of the kind of men whom the landowners considered to be competent and satisfactory commissioners from the Standing Orders of 1801, which forbade the employment in this capacity of the bailiff of the lord of the manor. It would be interesting to know how much of England was appropriated on the initiative of the lord of the manor, by his bailiff, acting under the authority given to him by the High Court of Parliament. It is significant, too, that down to 1801 a commissioner was only debarred from buying land in a parish in which he had acted in this capacity, until his award was made, The Act of 1801 debarred him from buying land under such circumstances for the following five years.

The share of the small man in these transactions from first to last can be estimated from the language of Arthur Young in 1770. 'The small proprietor whose property in the township is perhaps his all, has little or no weight in regulating the clauses of the Act of Parliament, has seldom, if ever, an opportunity of putting a single one in the Bill favourable to his rights, and has as little influence in the choice of Commissioners.'(47*) But even this description does less than justice to his helplessness. There remains to be considered the procedure before the commissioners themselves. Most Enclosure Acts specified a date before which all claims had to be presented. It is obvious that there must have been very many small proprietors who had neither the courage nor the knowledge necessary to put and defend their case, and that vast numbers of claims must have been disregarded because they were not presented, or because they were presented too late, or because they were irregUlar in form. The Croydon Act, for example, prescribes that claimants must send in their claims 'in Writing under their Hands, or the Hands of their Agents, distinguishing in such Claims the Tenure of the Estates in respect whereof such Claims are made, and stating therein such further Particulars as shall be necessary to describe such Claims with Precision.' And if this was a difficult fence for the small proprietor, unaccustomed to legal forms and documents, or to forms and documents of any kind, what was the plight of the cottager? Let us imagine the cottager, unable to read or write, enjoying certain customary rights of common without any idea of their origin or history or legal basis: knowing only that as long as he can remember he has kept a cow, driven geese across the waste, pulled his fuel out of the neighbouring brushwood, and cut turf from the common, and that his father did all these things before him. The cottager learns that before a certain day he has to present to his landlord's bailiff, or to the parson, or to one of the magistrates into whose hands perhaps he has fallen before now over a little matter of a hare or a partridge, or to some solicitor from the country town, a clear and correct statement of his rights and his claim to a share in the award. Let us remember at the same time all that we know from Fielding and Smollett of the reputation of lawyers for cruelty to the poor. Is a cottager to be trusted to face the ordeal, or to be in time with his statement, or to have that statement in proper legal form? The commissioners can reject his claim on the ground of any technical irregularity, as we learn from a petition presented to Parliament in 1774 by several persons interested in the enclosure of Knaresborough Forest, whose claims had been disallowed by the commissioners because of certain 'mistakes made in the description of such tenements... notwithstanding the said errors were merely from inadvertency 'and in no way altered the merits of the petitioners' claims.' A Bill was before Parliament to amend the previous Act for enclosing Knaresborough Forest, in respect of the method of payment of expenses, and hence these petitioners had an opportunity of making their treatment public.(48*) It is easy to guess what was the fate of many a small proprietor or cottager, who had to describe his tenement or common right to an unsympathetic tribunal. We are not surprised that one of the witnesses told the Enclosure Committee of 1844 that the poor often did not know what their claims were, or how to present them. It is significant that in the case of Sedgmoor, out of 4063 claims sent in, only 1798 were allowed.(49*)

We have now given an account of the procedure by which Parliamentary enclosures were carried out. We give elsewhere a detailed analysis, disentangled from the Journals of Parliament and other sources, of particular enclosures. We propose to give here two frustrations of the temper of the Parliamentary Committees. One illustration is provided by a speech made by Sir William Meredith, one of the Rockingham Whigs, in 1772, a speech that needs no comment. 'Sir William Meredith moved, That it might be a general order, that no Bill, or clause in a Bill, making any offence capital, should be agreed to but in a Committee of the whole House. He observed, that at present the facility of passing such clauses was shameful: that he once passing a Committee-room, when only one Member was holding a Committee, with a clerk's boy, he happened to hear something of hanging; he immediately had the curiosity to ask what was going forward in that small Committee that could merit such a punishment? He was answered, that it was an Inclosing Bill, in which a great many poor people were concerned, who opposed the Bill; that they feared those people would obstruct the execution of the Act, and therefore this clause was to make it capital felony in anyone who did so. This resolution was unanimously agreed to.'(50*)

The other illustration is provided by the history of an attempted enclosure in which we can watch the minds of the chief actors without screen or disguise of any kind: in this case we have very fortunately a vivid revelation of the spirit and manner in which Committees conducted their business, from the pen of the chairman himself. George Selwyn gives us in his letters, published in the Carlisle Papers, a view of the proceedings from the inside. It is worth while to set out in some detail the passages from these letters published in the Carlisle Papers, by way of supplementing and explaining the official records of the House of Commons.

We learn from the Journals of the House of Commons that, on 10th November, 1775, a petition was presented to the House of Commons for the enclosure of King's Sedgmoor, in the County of Somerset, the petitioners urging that this land was of very little value in its present state, and that it was capable of great improvement by enclosure and drainage. Leave was given to bring in a Bill, to be prepared by Mr. St. John and Mr. Coxe. Mr. St. John was brother of Lord Bolingbroke. On 13th November, the Bill was presented and read a first time. Four days later it received a second reading, and was sent to a Committee of Mr. St. John and others. At this point, those who objected to the enclosure began to take action. First of all there is a petition from William Waller, Esq., who says that under a grant of Charles I he is entitled to the soil of the moor: it is agreed that he shall be heard by counsel before the Committee. The next day there arrives a petition from owners and occupiers in thirty-five 'parishes, hamlets and places,' who state that all these parishes have enjoyed rights of common without discrimination over the 18,000 acres of pasture on Sedgmoor: that these rights of pasture and cutting turf and rushes and sedges have existed from time immemorial, and that no Enclosure Act is wanted for the draining of Sedgmoor, because an Act of the reign of William III had conferred all the necessary powers for this purpose on the Justices of the Peace. The petitioners prayed to be heard by themselves and counsel against the application for enclosure on Committee and on Report. The House of Commons ordered that the petition should lie on the Table, and that the petitioners should be heard when the Report had been received from Committee. Five days later three lords of manors (Sir Charles Kemys Tynte, Baronet, Copleston Warre Bampfylde, Esq., and William Hawker, Esq.) petition against the Bill and complain of the haste with which the promoters are pushing the Bill through Parliament. This petition is taken more seriously: a motion is made and defeated to defer the Bill for two months, but the House orders that the petitioners shall be heard before the Committee. Two of these three lords of manor present a further petition early in December, stating that they and their tenants are more than a majority in number and value of the persons interested, and a second petition is also presented by the thirty-seven parishes and hamlets already mentioned, in which it is contended that, in spite of the difficulties of collecting signatures in a scattered district in a very short time, 749 persons interested had already signed the petition against the Bill, that the effect of the Bill had been misrepresented to many of the tenants, that the facts as to the different interests affected had been misrepresented to the Committee, that the number and rights of the persons supporting the Bill had been exaggerated (only 213 having signed their names as consenting), and that if justice was to be done to the various parties concerned, it was essential that time should be given for the hearing of complaints and the circulation of the Bill in the district. This petition was presented on 11th December, and the House of Commons ordered that the petitioners should be heard when the Report was received. Next day Mr. Selwyn, as Chairman of the Committee, presented a Report in favour of the Bill, mentioning among other things that the number of tenements concerned was 1269, and that 303 refused to sign; but attention was drawn to the fact that there were several variations between the Bill as it was presented to the House, and the Bill as it was presented to the parties concerned for their consent, and on this ground the Bill was defeated by 59 to 35 votes.

This is the cold impersonal account of the proceedings given in the official journals, but the letters of Selwyn take us behind the scenes and supply a far livelier picture.(51*) His account begins with a letter to Lord Carlisle in November:

'Bully has a scheme of enclosure, which, if it succeeds, I am told will free him from all his difficulties. It is to come into our House immediately. If I had this from a better judgment than that of our sanguine counsellors, I should have more hopes from it. I am ready to allow that he has been very faulty, but I cannot help wishing to see him once more on his legs....'

(Bully, of course, is Bolingbroke, brother of St. John, called the counsellor, author of the Bill.) We learn from this letter that there are other motives than a passion to drain Sedgmoor in the promotion of this great improvement scheme. We learn from the next letter that it is not only Bully's friends and creditors who have some reason for wishing it well:

'Stavordale is returning to Redlinch; I believe that he sets out to-morrow. He is also deeply engaged in this Sedgmoor Bill, and it is supposed that he or Lord Ilchester, which you please, will get 2000 l. a year by it. He will get more, or save more at least, by going away and leaving the Moor in my hands, for he told me himself the other night that this last trip to town had cost him 4000 l.'

Another letter warns Lord Carlisle that the only way to get his creditors to pay their debts to him, when they come into their money through the enclosure, is to press for payment, and goes on to describe the unexpected opposition the Bill had encountered. Selwyn had been made chairman of the Committee.

'... My dear Lord, if your delicacy is such that you will not be pressing with him about it, you may be assured that you will never receive a farthing. I have spoke to Hare about it, who [was] kept in it till half an hour after 4; as I was also to-day, and shall be to-morrow. I thought that it was a matter of form only, but had no sooner begun to read the preamble to the Bill, but I found myself in a nest of hornets. The room was full, and an opposition made to it, and disputes upon every word, which kept me in the Chair, as I have told you. I have gained it seems great reputation, and am at this minute reputed one of the best Chairmen upon this stand. Bully and Harry came home and dined with me....'

The next letter, written on 9th December, shows that Selwyn is afraid that Stavordale may not get his money out of his father, and also that he is becoming still more anxious about the fate of the Enclosure Bill, on which of course the whole pack of cards depends:

'... I have taken the liberty to talk a good deal to Lord Stavordale, partly for his own sake and partly for Yours, and pressed him much to get out of town as soon as possible, and not quit Lord I. [Ilchester] any more. His attention there cannot be of long duration, and his absence may be fatal to us all. I painted it in very strong colours, and he has promised me to go, as soon as this Sedgmoor Bill is reported. I moved to have Tuesday fixed for it. We had a debate and division upon my motion, and this Bill will at last not go down so glibly as Bully hoped that it would. It will meet with more opposition in the H. of Lords, and Lord North being adverse to it, does us no good. Lord Ilchester gets, it is said, £5000 a year by it, and amongst others Sir C. Tynte something, who, for what reason I cannot yet comprehend, opposes it....'

The next letter describes the final catastrophe:

'December 12. Tuesday night... Bully has lost his Bill. I reported it to-day, and the Question was to withdraw it. There were 59 against us, and we were 35. It was worse managed by the agents, supposing no treachery, than ever business was. Lord North, Robinson, and Keene divided against. Charles(52*) said all that could be said on our side. But as the business was managed, it was the worst Question that I ever voted for. We were a Committee absolutely of Almack's,(53*) so if the Bill is not resumed, and better conducted and supported, this phantom of 30,000 l. clear in Bully's pocket to pay off his annuities vanishes.

'It is surprising what a fatality attends some people's proceedings. I begged last night as for alms, that they would meet me to settle the Votes. I have, since I have been in Parliament, been of twenty at least of these meetings, and always brought numbers down by those means. But my advice was slighted, and twenty people were walking about the streets who could have carried this point.

'The cause was not bad, but the Question was totally indigestible. The most conscientious man in the House in Questions of this nature, Sir F. Drake, a very old acquaintance of mine, told me that nothing could be so right as the enclosure. But they sent one Bill into the country for the assent of the people interested, and brought me another, differing in twenty particulars, to carry through the Committee, without once mentioning to me that the two Bills differed. This they thought was cunning, and I believe a happy composition of Bully's cunning and John's idea of his own par.ts. I had no idea, or could have, of this difference. The adverse party said nothing of it, comme de raison, reserving the objection till the Report, and it was insurmountable. If one of the Clerks only had hinted it to me, inexperienced as I am in these sort of Bills, I would have stopped it, and by that means have given them a better chance by a new Bill than they can have now, that people will have a pretence for not altering their opinion....'

These letters compensate for the silence of Hansard, so real and instructive a picture do they present of the methods and motives of enclosure. 'Bully has a scheme of enclosure which, if it succeeds, I am told will free him from all his difficulties.' The journals may talk of the undrained fertility of Sedgmoor, but we have in this sentence the aspect of the enclosure that interests Selwyn, the Chairman of the Committee, and from beginning to end of the proceedings no other aspect ever enters his head. And it interests a great many other people besides Selwyn, for Bully owes money; so too does Stavordale, another prospective beneficiary: he owes money to Fox, and Fox owes money to Carlisle. Now Bully and Stavordale are not the only eighteenth-century aristocrats who are in difficulties; the waiters at Brooks's and at White's know that well enough, as Selwyn felt when, on hearing that one of them had been attested for felony, he exclaimed, 'What an idea of us he will give in Newgate.' Nor is Bully the only aristocrat in difficulties whose thoughts turn to enclosure; Selwyn's letters alone, with their reference to previous successes, would make that clear. It is here that we begin to appreciate the effect of our system of family settlements in keeping the aristocracy together. These young men, whose fortunes come and go in the hurricanes of the faro table, would soon have dissipated their estates if they had been free to do it; as they were restrained by settlements, they could only mortgage them. But there is a limit to this process, and after a time their debts begin to overwhelm them; perhaps also too many of their fellow gamblers are their creditors to make Brooks's or White's quite as comfortable a place as it used to be, for we may doubt whether all of these creditors were troubled with Lord Carlisle's morbid delicacy of feeling. Happily there is an escape from this painful situation: a scheme of enclosure which will put him 'once more on his legs.' The other parties concerned are generally poor men, and there is not much danger of failure. Thus if we trace the adventures of the gaming table to their bitter end, we begin to understand that these wild revellers are gambling not with their own estates but with the estates of their neighbours. This is the only property they can realise. Quidquid delirant reges plectuntur Achivi.

The particular obstacle on which the scheme split was a fraudulent irregularity the Bill submitted for signature to the inhabitants differing seriously (in twenty particulars) from the Bill presented to Parliament. Selwyn clearly attached no importance at all to the Petitions that were received against the Bill, or to the evidence of its local unpopularity. It is clear too, that it was very rare for a scheme like this to miscarry, for, speaking of his becoming Chairman of the Committee, he adds, 'I thought it was a matter of form only.' Further with a little care this project would have weathered the discovery of the fraud of which the author were guilty. 'I begged last night as for alms that they would meet us to settle the Votes. I have, since I have been in Parliament, been of twenty at least of these meetings, and always brought number down by these means. But my advice was slighted, and twenty people were walking about the streets who could have carried this point.' In other words, the Bill would have been carried, all its iniquities notwithstanding, if only Bully's friends had taken Selwyn's advice and put themselves out to go down to Westminster. So little impression did this piece of trickery make on the mind of the Chairman of the Committee, that he intended to the last, by collecting his friends, to carry the Bill, for the fairness and good order of which he was responsible, through the House of Commons. This glimpse into the operations of the Committee enables us to picture the groups of comrades who sauntered down from Almack's of an afternoon to carve up a manor in Committee of the House of Commons. We can see Bully's friends meeting round the table in their solemn character of judges and legislator, to give a score of villages to Bully, and a dozen to Stavordale, much as Artaxerxes gave Magnesia to Themistocles for his bread, Myus for his meat and Lampsacus for his wine. And if those friends happened to be Bully's creditor as well, it would perhaps not be unjust to suppose that their action was not altogether free from the kind of gratitude that inspired the bounty of the great king.(54*)


1. E.g., Laxton enclosed on petition on Lord Carbery in 1772. Total area 1200 acres. Enclosure proceedings completed in the Commons in nineteen days. Also Ashbury, Berks, enclosed on petition of Lord Craven in 1770. There were contrary petitions. Also Nylands, enclosed in 1790 on petition of the lady of the manor. Also Tilsworth, Beds, enclosed on petition of Charles Chester, Esq., 1767, and Westcote, Bucks, on petition of the most noble George, Duke of Marlborough, January 24, 1765. Sometimes the lord of the manor associated the vicar with his petition; thus Waltham, Croxton and Braunston, covering 5600 acres, in Leicestershire, were all enclosed in 1766 by the Duke of Rutland and the local rector or vicar. The relations of Church and State are very happily illustrated by the language of the petitions, 'A petition of the most noble John, Duke of Rutland, and the humble petition' of the Rev. ----- Brown or Rastall or Martin.

2. This Standing Order does not seem to have been applied universally, for Mr Braggs on December 1, 1800, made a motion that it should be extended to the countries where it had not hitherto obtained. See Senator, vol. xxvii, December 1, 1800.

3. See particulars in Appendix.

4. A Six Months' Tour through the North of England, 1771, vol. i, p. 122.

5. Pp. 21 f.

6. Cf. Otmoor in next chapter.

7. See Appendix.

8. See Appendix.

9. See House of Commons Journal.

10. Eden, The State of the Poor, vol. ii, p. 157.

11. Eden, writing a few years later, remarks that since the enclosure 'the property in Holy Island has gotten into fewer hands,' vol. ii, p. 149.

12. Report of Select Committee on Most Effectual Means of Facilitating Enclosure, 1800.

13. Cf. also Wraisbury in Bucks, House of Commons Journal, June 17, 1799, where the petitioners against the Bill claimed that they spoke on behalf of 'by much the greatest Part of the Proprietors of the said Lands of Grounds.' yet in the enumeration of consents the committee state that the owners of property assessed at £6, 18s. are hostile out of a total value of £295, 14s.

14. House of Commons Journal, March 21, 1796.

15. House of Commons Journal, June 10, 1801; cf. also case of Laleham. See Appendix.

16. Ibid., June 15, 1801.

17. Ibid., May 3, 1809.

18. Ibid., June 15, 1801.

19. See Appendix A (13).

20. A Political Enquiry into the Consequences of enclosing Waste Lands, 1785, p. 108.

21. See Appendix A (12).

22. House of Commons, May 1, 1845.

23. Aglionby, House of Commons, June 5, 1844.

24. Thurlow was Chancellor from 1778 to 1783 (when Fox contrived to get rid of him) and from 1783 to 1792.

25. Parliamentary Register, House of Lords, March 30, 1781.

26. Sir George Savile (1726-1784), M.P. for Yorkshire, 1759-1783; carried the Catholic Relief Bill, which provoked the Gordon Riots, and presented the great Yorkshire Petition for Economical Reform.

27. Annual Register, 1867, p. 68. For a detailed history of the Stanwell Enclosure, see Appendix A (10). Unhappily the farmers were only reprieved; Stanwell was enclosed at the second attempt.

28. See Parliamentary Register, House of Lords, March 30, 1781; April 6, 1781; June 14, 1781.

29. John Warren (1730-1800).

30. Hohn Hinchcliffe (1731-1794), at one time Master of Trinity College, Cambridge.

31. Parliamentary Register, March 30, 1781.

32. Senator, vol. xxvi, July 2, 1800.

33. For both speeches see Parliamentary Register, May 24, 1802.

34. Ibid., June 14, 1781.

35. See Chesnut, Louth, Simpson and Stanwell in Appendix.

36. Six Months' Tour through the North of England, 1771, vol. i, p. 122.

37. See Annual Register, 1800, Appendix to Chronicle, p. 87.

38. Parliamentary Register, June 14, 1781.

39. Annals of Agriculture, vol. xxvi, p. 111.

40. February 1, 1793.

41. See Chapter iv.

42. Vol. xxvi, p. 70.

43. Sinclair's language shows that this was the general arrangement. Of course there are exceptions. See e.g., Haute Huntre and other cases in Appendix.

44. Cf. Billingsley's Report on Somerset, p. 59, where the arrangements are described as 'a little system of patronage. The lord of the soil, the rector, and a few of the principal commoners, monopolize and distribute the appointments.'

45. Parliamentary Register, June 14, 1781.

46. General Report on Enclosures, 1808.

47. Six Months' Tour through the North of England, vol. i, p. 122.

48. See Appendix A (6).

49. Report on Somerset, p. 192.

50. Parliamentary Register, January 21, 1772.

51. Carlisle MSS.; Historical MSS. Commission, pp. 301ff.

52. Charles James Fox.

53. The earlier name of Brooks's Club.

54. For the subsequent history of King's Sedgmoor, see Appendix A (14).

Chapter 3

Enclosure (2)

In the year 1774, Lord North's Government, which had already received a bad bruise or two in the course of its quarrels with printer and author, got very much the worst of it in an encounter that a little prudence would have sufficed to avert altogether. The affair has become famous on account of the actor, and because it was the turing point in a very important career. The cause of the quarrel has passed into the background, but students of the enclosure movement will find more to interest them in its beginning than in its circumstances and development.

Mr. De Grey, Member for Norfolk, and Lord of the Manor of Tollington in that county, had a dispute of long standing with Mr. William Tooke of Purley, a landowner in Tollington, who had resisted Mr. De Grey's encroachments on the common. An action on this subject was impending, but Mr. De Grey, who held, as Sir George Trevelyan puts it, 'that the law's delay was not intended for Member of Parliament' got another Member of Parliament to introduce a petition for a Bill for the enclosure of Tollington. As it happened, Mr. Tooke was a friend of one of the clerks in the House of Commons, and this friend told him on 6th January that a petition from De Grey was about to be presented. A fortnight later Mr. Tooke received from this clerk a copy of Mr. De Grey's petition, in which the Lord Chief Justice, brother of Mr. De Grey was included. Mr. Tooke hurried to London and prepared a counter petition, and Sir Edward Astley, the member for the constituency, undertook to present that petition together with the petition from Mr. De Grey. There were some further negotiations, with the result that both sides revised their respective petitions, and it was arranged that they should be presented on 4th February. On that day the Speaker said the House was not full enough, and the petitions must be presented on the 7th. Accordingly Sir Edward Astley brought up both petitions on the 7th, but the Speaker said it was very extraordinary to present two contrary petitions at the same time. 'Bring the first petition first.' When members began to say 'Hear, hear,' the Speaker remarked, 'It is only a common petition for a common enclosure,' and the Members fell into general conversation, paying no heed to the proceedings at the Table. In the midst of