|Adapted from a copy of “Commoner: common right, enclosure and social change in
The parliamentary enclosure movement began to take hold in Northamptonshire in the mid-1760’s, just before the great peak of the 1770’s. Burton Latimer underwent enclosure in 1803 in the second period of intense activity during the Napoleonic Wars. The parish covered about 2,500 acres, of which nearly a quarter was a common or wold. The enclosure process also dealt with areas like Scott’s, Smith’s and Bell Acres Charity lands.
Opposition in Parliament
The Grant of Enclosure for Burton Latimer did not go through Parliament unopposed. A key player here was Sir William Dolben MP, who was Lord of the Manor of nearby Finedon. He owned no land in Burton Latimer but he was Patron of the Rectory there, and a trustee of Herbert’s Charity. He refused to support the Bill on several grounds. Firstly, while not opposed to enclosure as such, he was opposed to the wholesale removal of common rights, and wanted a more equitable solution for the rural poor. He favoured “compensated enclosure” and had piloted a Bill proposing this through Parliament in 1773. Secondly, he proposed the planting of timber on part of the enclosed areas. For some time he had interested himself in forestry for naval purposes, and his wish to enforce by law the planting of woods in Burton Latimer was only one of a number of such attempts. Thirdly, his defence of charity lands and commoners’ rights was part of a more general reform interest (he was a steady supporter of Wilberforce in the slave trade debate), and a concern for equity in the rural community. Finally, he maintained he had been badly dealt with by the proposers of enclosure, who he claimed had delayed showing him the Bill and had not informed him of their meetings. He proposed a series of changes to the Bill.
However, Dolben had not reckoned on a committee already well disposed to the enclosers, and each of his changes was rejected. Joseph Harper was Lord of the Manor of Burton Latimer but lived fifty miles way in Chilvers Coton in Warwickshire. His
Dolben’s appearance to present the case in the House of Commons was reported to Joseph Harper by his
The amendments Dolben proposed (“extremely absurd indeed” said Tomes) had been discussed by the sponsors of the Bill with Dickins, the friendly chairman of the committee, long before they reached the committee itself. There were three: that “each propr(ietor) shall plant a 40th part of his Allotm(ent) with Timber” that the charity lands should be fenced free of charge: and that the right of the poor to the eight-hundred-acre wold should be given greater acknowledgement in the Bill, and compensation in the Award. Tomes (and presumably Dickins’) arguments against these were that the first was “injurious to the proprietors” because no law required anyone to plant woods on newly enclosed land. The second amendment free fencing of the charity lands was unjust because not all Trustees of charity land in Burton Latimer had asked for such a consideration, and because all were empowered to raise loans on their lands for fencing by the General Enclosure Act. Dolben’s third amendment, that better compensation be given the poor for their rights of the wold, was dismissed out of hand by Tomes and the chairman of the committee: Tomes said simply that “Mr Dickins thinks it cannot be put better than it is”.
As far as can be ascertained, commoners in the parish did not concern themselves with Dolben’s schemes for timber. The other two issues were more important: the cost of fencing the many pieces of public land in the village and lands bequeathed to the poor for charity and the loss of the wold. There were thirteen pieces of publicly used land in Burton Latimer on the eve of the enclosure and the awarded allotments made for each of them would require fencing. With the exception of the wold, the land used by the pinder and the parish clerk as part of their wages and the Town Headlands, all were administered by trustees. Despite Tomes’ assertion that the trustees did not oppose the enclosure it is certain that some of them did. Francis Robinson, a trustee for Scott’s, Smith’s and Bell Acres Charity lands, objected to the enclosure of the wold, although he was outnumbered by others whose opinion we do not know. Dolben himself was a trustee of the larger Herbert’s Charity together with the Honourable Edward Bouverie,
Dolben’s amendment exempting the Charity lands of all costs was dismissed, with the result that half of the various boards of trustees sold land to cover the expense of enclosure. Some, including the trustees of the Northampton Poor’s Estate, seem to have sold everything. In the end charity land and common waste shrank from eleven hundred acres in January 1803 to about two hundred and fifty in March. The trustees were divided, complacent, and no more than occasional advocates for those whose welfare was supposedly their concern. Their demands on behalf of the poor went no further than free fencing for the allotments. Unlike them, commoners against the enclosure trusted the process not at all. Enclosure would “take away from the poor a Wold or Common of nearly 800 acres which provides them with fuel and sustenance for their Cattle and for which there is no probability that an adequate compensation will be made to them.”
And they had quite separate demands. They asked that the Bill should not become law at all unless the wold was left open. It was an important common resource, in part because right to it was attached not to land but to residence in the parish. Tomas Daniels had lived in Burton most of his life and had “stocked the Wolds with one, 2 or 3 Cowes as he thought proper without any Interruption as did every House Dweller who co(ul)d get a cow”. Every year after harvest landless and land-poor commoners could buy additional field pasture. Henry Eady, an owner-occupier who opposed enclosure, had lived sixty of his eighty years in the parish and told the Commissioners that “every House Dweller” who kept a cow could pay 4s for this common or could have it free if he owned a cottage. Thomas Daniels told them the same, saying he had paid “4s formerly and lately 2s per head to the Fieldsman for going into the fields after harvest”. Inhabitant-commoners who owned or rented little or no land were variously called house dwellers, poor inhabitants, potwobblers and paupers. At the very least they could common a cow on the wold free, and for a few shillings they could feed it on the corn stubble. Even the impropriator of the tithe recognised the right when he supported the claim made by the churchwarden and overseers for the “right of Common for Cows and cutting of Furz for fuel on the Wold” on behalf of the “poor inhabitants” of the parish. And the Reverend Sir Charles Cave, as Rector of Finedon, claimed the right to common without stint upon the Wold, calling it a “garden right”.
Cottagers, unlike house-dwellers, had right attached to their cottages usually for a horse and ten sheep as well as a cow. They used the wold like house dwellers but put their animals into the harvested fields without paying a fee. By 1803 most of the cottages in Burton Latimer were owned by landlords and absentee landowners: only four were occupied by their owners. Three of the cottage owners signed the petition against the enclosure, and some of the trustees of Herbert’s Charity and of the Meeting House, who also held cottages, made objection to the nature of the Bill. But the enclosers had no fear of opposition from the cottage owners in general. They knew that other commoners and cottage-tenants were the principal source of opposition. And they relied on the Reverend Hanbury (who owned three cottages) to bring his influence to bear on the other owners to ignore the claims of their tenants.
Despite the appearance of Dolben to oppose the Bill, and the petition itself with its seventy-eight signatures representing almost half the parish, the Bill became law, the Award was drawn up in 1803 and enrolled in the following year.
The Petitioners against Enclosure
Who were the commoners against the Bill? Two-thirds of them appear not to have owned, rented, or let any land at all. It is this group which received least consideration at the time, and about which least is known now. Twenty-three can be traced and partially identified through Militia lists for 1777, 1781 and the year of the enclosure, 1803. Of these, four were tradesman or artisans (a blacksmith, mason, carpenter, and cordwainer), and five were weavers who may have been outworkers. Another four were described as servants (probably agricultural), six were labourers and one was a shepherd. The remaining three were described simply as “housekeeper” that is, a householder who, in Burton Latimer, had grazing and fuel rights on the wold. Unfortunately, the occupations of the younger landless petitioners (thirty men under the age of thirty-nine) are unknown: their families may have been those most harmed by the extinction of common right.
The remaining third of the petitioners (twenty-five) owned or rented some land. We know the occupations of nineteen. Six were artisans or tradesmen (a carpenter, a butcher, a miller, a vitualler, two wheelwright). One was a weaver, five were farmers; and there was one shepherd, a “proprietor and occupier”, a labourer, a lodger, a housekeeper and two servants. Two thirds of these men owned land, and all of them worked it. To the enclosers they were described as just a few freeholders, and classed with the “Paupers” who also opposed the enclosure. Joseph Harper left half of them off his list of proprietors.
Several owners of old enclosures, closes of no more than a rood or two, also suffered from the loss of the wold because, like cottage commoners and house dwellers, they used its unstinted acres for rough pasture. Five men owned no more than these closes in 1803 and two of them signed the petition against the enclosure. In any parish like Burton Latimer where common was open to the inhabitants, owners of old enclosures were badly affected by its loss at enclosure.
The commissioners compensated the house-dwellers and cottage commoners for their eight-hundred acres of wold with about seventy-three acres situation in the same place. The area was less than a tenth of the wold and the quality of the land was unimproved. Whatever rents it brought in were to be applied to the relief of the poor at the discretion of the rector and the churchwardens. House-dwellers and cottage commoners had accurately predicted that no adequate compensation would be made to them. Nor had they been heard: the Commons’ Journal failed to record their opposition: it listed only the total sum of land owned by opponents of the Bill, not the opposition of those whose only property was common right. This was a perfectly proper legal proceeding, but a misleading one. It meant that the opposition of fifty-seven commoners, who were at most the smallest of smallholders, and of eight tenants who owned no land worthy of taxation went unnoticed in Parliament. Parliament’s deaf ear may have made counter-petitions the least useful of all means of resisting enclosure.
Opposition and landholding change at Enclosure
Two-thirds or more of all the owner-occupiers in Burton Latimer and one third of the tenants signed the petition against enclosure. Most of the former owned less than twenty-five acres, and many had less than ten. Five years later a third (seven out of twenty-two) of the owner-occupiers no longer owned or rented land. Another six owned less than they had in 1803, the year of the Award. Fewer than half (nine out of twenty-two) of the owner-occupiers had held on to their lands or improved them.
Owner-occupancy and tenancy were virtually separate states in Burton Latimer on the eve of enclosure. Only four of the twenty-two owner-occupiers rented additional land from other landowners. Five of the twenty-four tenants owned land too, but these owned lands were far smaller than their rented lands, too small to justify calling them owner-occupiers. Eight of them signed the Petition against the enclosure in 1803. Most worked less usually much less than fifty acres of land: one (Thomas Burnaby) was the principal tenant of the glebe land. But opponents were the very small tenants on the whole: none of the three tenants of middling-size farms (fifty to a hundred acres) signed the petition against the enclosure. By 1808 five years after the Award almost half the small tenants no longer rented land: a third rented smaller estates than in 1803: only four rented more land than before, and all of them were tenants of the larger estates.
Summary: most of the owner-occupiers and many of the smaller tenants had petitioned against enclosure at Burton Latimer. Five years later, a third of the owner-occupiers and a half of the tenants no longer worked taxable land. Others worked less than before. In all, two-thirds of each group had either lost their land altogether or rented and owned less than they had on the eve of enclosure. Only the more substantial owner-occupiers and the tenants of larger estates had improved their acreage and they tended to be the supporters of the enclosure.
The Enclosure Award List 1803