Shrewsbury Library currently has an exhibition on “Enclosure and Loss of the Commons”. It’s a touring exhibition based on photographs taken by artist Leah Gordon in conjunction with Grain and includes photographs of people who still have common rights over land together with their stories.
This might inspire you to delve into historic records of enclosure….
In medieval times farming was based on large fields, known as open fields, in which individual yeomen or tenant farmers cultivated scattered strips of land. From as early as the 12th century, however, agricultural land was enclosed – hedged or fenced off – often at the impetus of a land owner hoping to maximise rental income or farm more economically. Originally this enclosure of open fields and common land was done by private agreement.
Enclosure by Act of Parliament was the common practice from the 18th century onwards. Acts appointed commissioners who drew up Enclosure Awards with maps showing the land apportioned and schedules of owners and occupiers to whom land was allocated. The Awards also give details of roads, rights of ways, waterways and drainage and confirm who was responsible for maintaining hedges and fences.
These Awards can be huge parchment documents – often very unwieldy to handle – with maps that unfold. The image shows one map from the Enclosure Award for Lands in the Parishes of Worfield, Claverley, St. Mary Magdalene, Bridgnorth, and Quatford, 1812 ref QE/1/2/29
How to find the maps
Relatively few enclosure records survive for Shropshire. Most open fields and much common land had already disappeared before the advent of Parliamentary Enclosure. Surviving enclosure awards, 1773-1891 were deposited with the Clerk of the Peace so you will find them in the Quarter Sessions records. These are listed on our online catalogue here (ref Q/E/1/2). The majority of Shropshire Enclosure Awards relate to the enclosure of heaths and commons, not open fields.
There are sometimes copies of enclosure awards in the parish collections (section T for statutory deposits). Enclosure was a long and often disputed process so there can be plenty of correspondence alongside the enclosure awards themselves often in estate or solicitors’ collections.
As well as searching our online catalogue for “enclosure” and “inclosure” to find these related items, you can also check the index cards onsite for Awards and related material. These are arranged by parish.
In some cases, enclosure totally transformed the landscape and you can see this in subsequent documents. The Lilleshall Collection contains papers relating to the enclosure of the Wealdmoor and subsequent drainage. For example this map c 1815 showing land improved under the Wildmoor Enclosure and Drainage Act of 1815: 972/7/3/7
In Newport, An Act of Parliament was passed in 1764 ‘for dividing and inclosing a waste ground called The Marsh in the township of Newport”. After giving an allotment of land to the Earl of Shrewsbury, the Marsh was to be vested in trustees who would enclosure and drain it. Income was used to repair streets and public buildings and apprenticing poor children. Records of the management of the enclosed marsh are at NTM (Newport Town and Marsh Trust).
Enclosure often greatly improved the agricultural productivity of farms from the late 18th century but arguably at the expense of the poorest agricultural labourers many of whom were forced to leave the land to seek work in towns.
Kain, Chapman and Oliver The enclosure maps of England and Wales 1595-1918. ref 912.42 is a comprehensive overview.
The Parliamentary Archives holds Acts of Parliament
The National Archives has a good resource guide to enclosure awards, especially for early enclosures.