How to look for... Enclosure awards and maps

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • None

1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you to find enclosure awards, and other related records including enclosure maps, at The National Archives. Large numbers of enclosure awards and maps are also held by local county record offices and archives.

Enclosure awards are legal documents created to record redistribution or reorganisation of land, providing legal proof of historical ownership and the boundaries of landholdings. They may include details of roads, rights of way, waterways, drainage and so on, as well as details of the landowners, whether people or institutions. Enclosure awards are usually accompanied by maps depicting the reorganised land and the features which distinguish it, including buildings, roads and of course the lines of the new boundaries.

The enclosure awards we hold are only comprehensive for dates after 1845. Most of the enclosure maps we hold date from after 1800 and few survive from before 1770.

2. About enclosure

Enclosure describes various ways in which land was redistributed into designated units, usually consolidating small landholdings into larger farms. This included the conversion of commons, wasteland and open fields to formally enclosed units of land, the conversion of arable land to pasture and the partition of large areas of communally farmed land into small fields farmed by individuals.

Enclosure began in the medieval period but the practice became particularly widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was established through local Acts of Parliament known as Enclosure Acts.

The process was long and complex, with various forms of private and public enclosure occurring simultaneously. As a result there may be a number of enclosure awards for the same place, which may be held in different archives.

3. What do enclosure awards and maps tell us?

Enclosure awards typically contain:

  • The name of the landowner of each plot of land
  • The extent of each landowner’s holdings
  • The  nature of tenure (freehold, copyhold and so on)
  • Details of roads, rights of way, waterways, drainage and so on

There may also be information about who was to be responsible for maintaining fences, hedges or other boundaries.

Enclosure maps show:

  • The boundaries of the enclosed land
  • Roads, waterways and other features of the landscape
  • Buildings

Pre-19th century enclosure awards are much less likely to be accompanied by a map.

4. How to find enclosure awards and maps

Enclosure awards are widely scattered among our collections and beyond. Many enclosure records, including maps, are held in local record offices.

As enclosure awards are legal documents they are commonly found among the records of courts of various kinds. Within our own records you can find enclosure awards and maps among the records of the Court of Common Pleas, the Court of Chancery, the Palatinates of Chester and of Durham, the Duchy of Lancaster, the Land Revenue Record Office and the Ministry of Agriculture.

To begin a search, go to our catalogue and search for a place name and the term ‘enclosure’. Search results are likely to include details of records held here and in county record offices (our catalogue contains descriptions of records held by more than 2,500 archives across the country). If a catalogue search fails, try any of the ‘Other resources’ listed below.

Example: a search for an award covering Anstey in Hertfordshire

  • Step 1: Go to our catalogue.
  • Step 2: Search with the words ‘Anstey’, ‘Hertfordshire’ and ‘enclosure’. Search results for records held here and at other archives will display on the search results page.
  • Step 3: In the left-hand panel, under ‘Held by’, click on ‘The National Archives’ to narrow your search results to records held here. This should leave you with two results.
  • Step 4: Of the two record descriptions, click on ‘1 item extracted from CP 43/998 rot 2…’ to get to the catalogue description page. This is the description for document reference MR 1/123. The document is a map which has been removed from its original parent document for reasons of safe storage. The reference of the original parent document is CP 43/998 and you can order and view this separately.
  • Step 5: Sticking with the map, you will see your options for viewing or ordering copies of the map on the right hand side of the page – to view the original you will usually need to visit us at our reading rooms in Kew
  • Step 6: Turning to the award document itself, click on the hyperlinked reference CP 43/998 on the catalogue description page of MR 1/123. This leads to the catalogue description page of CP 43/998 itself.
  • Step 7: Again, you will see your options for viewing or ordering copies of the award on the right hand side of the page
  • Step 8: When you finally get sight of the award, you will see a detailed schedule listing the ownership of each plot of land numbered or described on the enclosure map, its extent in acres, roods and perches (even in 1800, these measurements varied between counties; see Zupko’s Dictionary of English Weights and Measures) and the rent charge payable on it. For example:
Numbers of ancient enclosures Lands and tenements Quantity Yearly rents or sums charged Quantities of wheat in bushels
Prior Thomas
Copyhold 21 Ravens 6.1.11 1 17 10 5.1302
of Anstey 22 Cottage and garden 0.1.10 . 1 10 .2486

Other resources

There are a number of published sources that could prove invaluable in the search for an enclosure award and/or map. Consult the following at The National Archives library in Kew and at other libraries:

There is also an online database of The Enclosure Maps of England and Wales accessible from the History Data Service page of the University of Essex website – it lists many enclosure maps and their locations.

At our reading rooms in Kew the printed version of our catalogue (sometimes referred to as the ‘paper lists’) contains a place index of those awards and maps that have been identified in our collection. It is filed with series CP 43. The Your Archives wiki previously maintained by The National Archives contains awards and maps from this index. Though Your Archives has not been maintained since 2012, it is still available as an archived website on the UK Government Web Archive.

As tithes were normally commuted as part of the enclosure process, areas covered by enclosure maps often lack tithe maps and vice versa. See our guide to tithes for more information.

A podcast accompanying The Enclosure Map Project explains how data on land enclosure maps has been integrated into our catalogue, shedding light on how you might access them.

5. Private enclosures of the medieval and Tudor periods

Many early enclosures of common lands, pastures and manorial wastes, whether by popular agreement or compulsion, have left no formal record. There may be references in private estate or manorial records but few of these are held in our collection.

There may be records of legal proceedings for controversial enclosures, particularly those which were resisted by force. Search among the records of the Court of Requests or the Court of Star Chamber, for example, to see if you can find cases relating to enclosures.

Enclosures that involved the commutation of tithe could be brought before the Court of Exchequer in cases of tithe disputes.

Special commissions of enquiry relating to enclosures and rural depopulation are in:

Search for printed versions in I.S Leadam’s Domesday of Enclosures 1517-1518 (1897).

Aggrieved parties might also petition the Privy Council for redress; see our guide on Privy Council since 1386.

Some licenses to enclose, and pardons for having illegally done so, are enrolled on the Patent Rolls in C 66.

6. Enclosures by enrolled decree or agreement

From the mid 16th century enclosures were commonly enrolled by decree of one of the equity courts, especially the Court of Chancery and the Court of Exchequer. Some took the form of fictitious quarrels to bring the case before the court, but most took place by agreement. You can read more in M W Beresford’s Habitation versus Improvement: The Debate on Enclosure by Agreement in Essays in the Economic and Social History of Tudor and Stuart England (1961).

For Chancery Decrees search in:

  • C 78 – search by place name (for example, manor, parish or county) or person’s name (not all of the records in C 78 have been described in our catalogue in detail so these searches should not be considered conclusive, especially for records after the early 17th century)

M W Beresford’s ‘The Decree Rolls of Chancery as a Source for Economic History, 1547-c.1700’, in The Economic History Review, 2nd series, XXXII (1979) gives further information about them as a source for enclosures.

For Exchequer Decrees, which were not separately enrolled, try a search in:

  • the Remembrancers’ Rolls in E 159 or E 368
  • the Entry Books in E 123-E 131 where some decrees are recorded

Enrolled decrees concerning Duchy of Lancaster properties (throughout England) are in DL 5.

7. Enclosure by private Act of Parliament

The few private enclosure acts made in the 16th century were largely concerned with the drainage and enclosure of marshes, although acts confirming enclosures by decree are sometimes found from the 17th century. Private Enclosure Acts for waste, common land and open fields were more frequent after 1750, and became so numerous that from 1801 public general acts were passed to reduce the need for them. In general, private acts after 1593 are held at the Parliamentary Archives.

Some large reference libraries hold copies of printed private acts and Journals of the House of Commons (which may record debates on them). For general information, see our guide to records of Parliament.

The acts did not divide up the lands to be enclosed, but named commissioners who were to do so within a specified time period and over a specified area. They may also detail certain reserved rights, for example those of the lord of the manor. The acts also indicate where awards made under the act were to be deposited or enrolled; often with the clerks of the peace for the appropriate county (and therefore now in the local county record office), or with one of the courts of record (see above). The records of commissioners, which may include minutes, accounts and correspondence draft bills, claims submitted, surveys and valuations are described in W E Tate’s ‘Some Unexplored Records of the Enclosure Movement’, English Historical Review, Vol LVII (1942). Not all enclosure acts that were passed were necessarily implemented.

8. Enclosure by public Act of Parliament, 1801 onwards

From 1801 public general enclosure acts were passed. These normally specified where awards were to be deposited or enrolled, either by one of the courts of record or with the local clerk of the peace. The General Enclosure Act of 1845 (8 & 9 Vict. c.118) appointed permanent enclosure commissioners who were authorised to issue Enclosure Awards without submitting them to Parliament for approval. Manorial wastes and lands subject to indefinite rights of common were excluded, but covered by later general acts that were passed annually.

After 1899, the Board of Agriculture, which later became the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, inherited the powers of the Enclosure Commissioners and their records of enclosure awards after 1845 are now in MAF 1. Related maps and awards are usually bound together, though some have been separated for conservation reasons; in these cases they need to be ordered separately. Copies of these awards were also deposited with local clerks of the peace and churchwardens of the parish, and are normally available at county record offices.

Related series include:

MAF 2: Various awards and orders

MAF 4: Metropolitan common schemes of regulation

MAF 11: Orders of Exchange of Lands under the Enclosure Acts

MAF 17: Orders of Apportionment of Rentcharge

MAF 18: Orders of Division of Lands under the Enclosure Acts

MAF 21: Orders of Partition of Lands under the Enclosure Acts

MAF 24: Commons, Statements of Claims and Valuer’s Awards

MAF 25: Commons, Correspondence and Papers

MAF 39: Establishment and Finance: Correspondence and Papers

MAF 48: Land Correspondence and Papers

MAF 49: Land Drainage and Water Supply: Correspondence and Papers

MAF 66: Land Improvement Loans

and, for Wales:

BD 1: Commons: Declarations and Limitations

BD 3: Schemes of Regulation Under The Commons Act 1899

‘The Return of all Acts passed for Enclosure of Commons or Waste Lands in England and Wales’ is available to read in our library under class mark 333.2 INC. It is a Parliamentary Return of Enclosure published as a House of Commons Sessional Paper.

9. Other record series containing enclosure records

Extracts from some awards that were not enrolled are in the Constat Books of the Crown Estate Commissioners, held in series CRES 6.

The unfiled correspondence and papers of the Office of Woods, Forests and Land Revenues also contain material relating to enclosure commissions. They are held in CRES 2.

You can also search in reports on the enclosure of land under the Dean and New Forests Act of 1808 in series J 124.

10. Further reading

The following publications provide background to enclosure:

‘The English Village Community and the Enclosure Movements’ (1976) by W E Tate

‘Enclosure Awards and Acts’ (one of the Historical Association’s ‘Short Guides to Readers’ series) by W E Tate

Essential guides to the location and date of English enclosure awards and maps:

A Domesday of English Enclosure Acts and Awards (1978) by W E Tate

Guide to Parliamentary Enclosures in Wales (1992) by J Chapman