How to look for records of... Enclosure awards

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1. Why use this guide?

Enclosure awards are legal documents recording the ownership and distribution of land. They may detail land owned by churches, schools and charities, as well as roads, rights of way, drainage, land boundaries, different types of land tenure and liability to tithe.

This guide will help you research enclosure awards using records in The National Archives’ collection as well as other useful books and sources.

2. Before you start

Enclosure describes various ways in which land-holdings were consolidated or extended into larger units. This included the partition of large areas of communally farmed land into small fields farmed by individuals, as well as the conversion of arable land to pasture and the occupation of commons by large landowners.

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.

Bear in mind that the enclosure awards we hold are only comprehensive for dates after 1845. Though we hold some earlier enclosure maps, most date from after 1800 and few survive from before 1770.

3. Where to start

For a recent guide to enclosure maps see, ‘The enclosure maps of England and Wales, 1595-1918’ by Roger J P Kain, John Chapman and Richard Oliver (Cambridge University Press, 2004), and the associated database of the enclosure maps of England and Wales which gives current locations and document references.

Some enclosure maps are described in the catalogue ‘Maps and plans in the Public Record Office – British Isles c.1410-1860’ (HMSO, 1967), and in Discovery, our online catalogue. 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.

Several key books provide an important background to enclosure. ‘The English Village Community and the Enclosure Movements’ by W E Tate (1976) is a useful introduction. The same author’s ‘Enclosure Awards and Acts’ (one of the Historical Association’s ‘Short Guides to Readers’ series) is also useful, and estimates that enclosure awards covered about half of English parishes.

Tate’s ‘Domesday of English Enclosure Acts and Awards’ (1978) is an essential guide to the location and date of English enclosure awards and maps.  The equivalent guide for Wales is J Chapman’s ‘Guide to Parliamentary Enclosures in Wales’ (1992).

A podcast from our 2016 catalogue day explains how data on land enclosure maps has been integrated into our catalogue, making the records easier to access.

4. How to find enclosure records

An example

Search our catalogue by place name and the term ‘enclosure’. If you know the date of the enclosure you can add it using the advanced search function.

Conducting a search for ‘Anstey Hertfordshire AND enclosure’, you would find an Award of 28 October 1829 under the Private Act for inclosing lands in the Parish of Anstey in the County of Hertford (and Geo. IV c.12). The award is under reference CP 43/998 and the map under reference MR 1/123.

If you can’t find an award it may be in a local record office. Consult W E  Tate’s ‘Domesday of English Enclosure Acts and Awards’ (1978), which gives the location and date of English enclosure awards and maps. The equivalent guide for Wales is J Chapman’s ‘Guide to Parliamentary Enclosures in Wales’ (1992). Both are available in our Map and Large Document Reading Room. There is also an online database of The Enclosure Maps of England and Wales which lists many enclosure maps and their locations.

What the enrolled award tells you

Then follows 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:

Tenures 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

5. Private enclosures

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. Controversial enclosures, particularly those which were resisted by force, may have resulted in legal proceedings at courts such as the Court of Requests or Star Chamber. For example, STAC 3/6/32 relates to the enclosure of commons at Shebbear in Devon in the mid 16th century. The Exchequer Court’s jurisdiction over tithe disputes could bring enclosures that involved the commutation of tithe before it; see the guide on Equity proceedings in the Court of Exchequer for guidance on tracing these cases.

Special commissions of enquiry relating to enclosures and rural depopulation are in C 47, and most are printed in I.S Leadam’s Domesday of Enclosures 1517-18 (1897); C 205; E 178 (for example, E 178/3749 concerns the enclosure of Gainsford moor in 1608); and DL 44. 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 Chancery and Exchequer. They are described 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 in Honour of R H Tawney, ed. F. J. Fisher (1961). Some took the form of fictitious quarrels to bring the case before the court, but most took place by agreement.

Chancery Decrees are enrolled in C 78 and most, but not all (C 78/1-130 only) before 1610 are listed in detail. C 78/1-85 are also indexed by place-name and personal name. M W Beresford’s ‘The Decree Rolls of Chancery as a Source for Economic History, 1547-c.1700′, Economic History Review, 2nd series, XXXII (1979) gives further information about them as a source for enclosures. Exchequer Decrees were not separately enrolled but might be enrolled on the Remembrancers’ Rolls in E 159 or E 368. Some decrees are recorded in the Entry Books in E 123-131. Enrolled decrees concerning Duchy of Lancaster properties (throughout England) are in DL 5.

7. Other sources in our collection

Enclosure awards were sometimes enrolled in the law courts of record. A place index of those awards and maps that have been identified in our collection is filed after the CP 43 paper series list, available in our reading rooms. The awards and maps from this index are also listed on Your Archives in the UK government web archive.

Extracts from some awards that were not enrolled are in CRES 6, the Constat Books of the Crown Estate Commissioners. CRES 2 also contains material relating to enclosure commissions. Reports on the enclosure of land under the Dean and New Forests Act of 1808 are in J 124. The Enclosure Award for Exmoor is in E 141/1.

8. 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.

9. Enclosure by public Act of Parliament

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.