The modern rural landscape is a product of many things but was vastly influenced by the process of enclosing (fencing in) common and waste lands for the use of a private landowner. This happened in two waves of private enclosure, mainly during the middle ages by private agreement or force and from the middle of the eighteenth century the more formalised process of parliamentary enclosure.
Parliamentary enclosure was the last stage of a process that had occurred for many hundreds of years. It happened when the owners of land in a parish disagreed about enclosure and a minority could be overruled by an Act of Parliament. Once the Act of Parliament was approved, Commissioners were appointed to survey the land, consider individuals claims and award ‘allotments’ in proportion to the rights of the owners. This meant land owners could consolidate scattered plots of land into the more familiar square of rectangular fields we see today.
The first time this occurred was in 1604 at Radipole in Dorset but it was not common until well into the eighteenth century and became the main way to enclose land from 1750. In Yorkshire this form of enclosure mainly occurred between about 1750 and 1850 with the earliest instance in the West Riding being Thurnscoe in 1729.
Enclosure Awards and Plans
Parliamentary Enclosure produced various documents recording the process and the decisions made. Firstly there are thousands of public and private Acts of Parliaments starting the process. These are then followed by the documents produced by the Commissioners including awards setting out the new allotments with their accompanying schedules and plans, many of which are held by the various WYAS offices.
Awards describe the position and acreage of the new allotments and list the new tenants and owners. It also sets out public rights of way, roads, bridleways, footpaths, watercourses and drains. The maps show the position of these allotments and rights of way as well as giving information about responsibility for maintenance of the roads and boundary walls. These enclosure plans make an interesting comparison with the modern landscape as in many cases you can still see the field boundaries imposed at that time today.
The Enclosure Awards and Plans held by the WYAS and other Yorkshire repositories are listed in the valuable survey of Yorkshire Enclosure Awards by Barbara English in 1985.
See also Common Land.