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Helmdon Enclosure

 
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                                  an article by Valerie Moir



Helmdon enclosure map
Helmdon enclosure map
Today we regret the changing face of the local countryside, but the inhabitants of Helmdon saw greater changes in 1758 than we are ever likely to see again. In that year a group of local landowners applied to enclose the common fields and wastes of the village.

The term "Enclosure" refers to the land reform which transformed a traditional method of agriculture from a system of co-operative farming, usually in large fields devoid of physical boundaries, into a system of agricultural holdings separating one persons land from another's by hedges, walls or fences and ending for ever communal obligations, privileges and rights. Enclosure also meant the subdivision of areas of common heath, moors, fens and wastes into separate land holdings. Common wastes included the grass verges of the roads running through the parish, the town grass, the slades or banks near the streams and rivers, and the uncultivated common itself.

Large areas of agricultural land had gradually been enclosed since the 15th century, although prior to this some small parcels of land were removed from common ownership. Some of these early efforts met with violent opposition especially in the Midland Counties. However, contrary to popular belief that Enclosure was a wholly landlord-led movement, there was a distinct effort on the part of some yeomen and peasantry beginning as early as the 16th century to abandon the open-field system and escape compulsory co-operation with the lazy and shiftless. Lincolnshire Archives Office has a booklet and village map dated 1629 in which the Countess of Warwick is petitioned by her "poore tenants" in Bassingham, Lincolnshire. The sketch-map (below) shows the village stretching along the edge of the open fields with their patchwork of strips. Along the right-hand edge is part of the six-mile route around the parish boundary, along which the villagers cattle had to be driven to pasture, a journey which "sore beates theire feete, and impoverisheth them".

Illustration from the 1629 Bassingham Enclosure Petition
Illustration from the 1629
Bassingham Enclosure Petition
The villages of Astwell, Falcutt and Stuchbury have examples of early private enclosure. In Helmdon the "home closes and paddocks" round the many farmhouses in the village streets and Stockings are referred to as old enclosures when maps were drawn up for the Parliamentary enclosure in 1758.

The main part of the surrounding land was divided into 3 great fields: East Field, North or Middle Field and South Field. In addition there were some cottage commons and Allithorn Wood, all still farmed by the medieval method of co-operative strip agriculture on unfenced land. The three arable fields were cultivated on a three- course system, wheat one year, oats, barley or rye next and fallow the next. This stereotyped rotation lasted over a large part of the country for a thousand years and in some areas considerably longer.

The Statute of Merton 1236 confirmed the right of Lords of the Manors to enclose the common or waste provided they left sufficient for the tenants. A jury with expert local knowledge of land value decided what area was sufficient so that the tenants were not so much at the lord's mercy as has sometimes been asserted.

The Black Death of 1348/9 destroyed nearly half the population and led to much arable land being laid down to grass for sheep because of the scarcity and increased cost of labour. This also led to many new tenant farmers. Where the lordship did survive, a new tenant, even one too humble in the past, was now better than having unproductive land.

The normal holding just after the Norman Conquest was a "hide": an area that varied from one county to another. This was the amount of land a team of 8 oxen could work in a year, and was somewhere around 120 acres, depending on the type of soil and terrain in the area. Where the holding was smaller, the farmer provided a contribution to the common team in proportion to the size of his holding. The man who held 30 acres, for instance, provided 2 Oxen, and the man who held 15 acres one ox. These holdings were divided into manors, in fact just farms but with their own administration over any tenants of that land, with the right to claim labour and tithe in addition to rents.

Helmdon was fortunate in many ways to have three manors. Some single manor villages suffered considerable oppression from unscrupulous lords. The division of the parish into several holdings ensured a powerful yeomanry, with influence and legal knowledge, who could speak to the Lords of the Manor on equal terms.

Open field plan.  Produced by David Hall of Northamptonshire Record Society.  Click for a larger image (263kb)
Open field plan. Produced by David Hall of Northamptonshire Record Society
Common rights were administered by manorial juries and field officers, positions held by those who occupied land. In most parts of the country, Commoners who held five acres of land could pasture five sheep every year, and they also had the right to graze a cow or a horse for half the year. Occupancy of a common right cottage, or a particular piece of property such as an inn or millhouse, also conferred the right to pasture.

This system of agriculture was only suited to a primitive society and was bound to disappear with the advance of other industries. It was extremely wasteful; the scattering of strips all over the open field led to astonishing waste of time and confusion. The pace of the common work was set by the worst farmers, therefore individual initiative and enterprise were impossible. The crops grown were scanty in the extreme, and livestock on common pasture was miserably small and continually afflicted by disease. After decades of depressed food prices an increase in profits encouraged farmers to improve production. By the middle of the 18th century not only was it accepted that the yield per acre greatly increased after enclosure, but producers received a much better price for that yield. Landlord's gains were equally impressive in higher rents. In addition to this benefit, the dawn of the Industrial Revolution changed public opinion and encouraged Englishmen to think of agriculture as a market economy rather than the livelihood of the majority of the population. Where the proximity to industrial employment reduced dependence on poor grazing rights, past opposition to enclosure was forgotten.

The cost of enclosure was great, the principal expense being fencing or hedging the outer boundary of the new allotments which had to be completed within a time limit set by the Commissioners, usually 9 months after they had completed the administration. In addition to fencing the landowner had to pay for any new building, drainage and other agricultural improvements. Tithe owners, usually the Church and Lords of the Manor, had their fields fenced at public cost. Landowners had to fence their boundaries at personal cost, but subdivisional fencing was optional and again at personal expense.

Northamptonshire was very well provided with cottage allotments after enclosure, scarcely a parish being without some, and it was found that while small plots were successful, those of 2 or 3 acres were too large. For the landless cottager the loss of furze and common rights was sometimes compensated by the award of one piece of land for both. This happened in Weston, where 14 acres of "Poor Land" was allotted to compensate for the loss of the right to cut firewood. The wood-gatherers owned no land individually.

Parliamentary Enclosure Commissioners were employed to divide the common lands of the parish among the claimants of those interests and to lay out the courses of new roads, footpaths, bridleways and tracks. These men were nominated by the major interests in the parish, by the Church and the Lords of the Manor, as the owners of the rights to the soil and by the most important freeholders.

We must not imagine that in 1758, when the Helmdon Enclosure Act came before Parliament, every villager had an equal amount of land divided in strips throughout the village. Worcester College Oxford, recorded as Lord of the Manor, on Parliamentary papers, lists the owners of land in 1758 to be:-

Magdalen College 280 acres
Vincent Shortland 220 acres
Worcester College 200 acres
Thomas Fairbrother 120 acres
Charles Fairbrother 100 acres
Mrs Woodman 100 acres
Wm. Painter 100 acres
  1120 out of 1800 acres

Worcester College had over 30 tenants, most with very small properties as the following Rent Roll shows. (ob = halfpenny. Qu = one farthing)

"A true copy of the Rent Roll presented to the Jury of the Court Leet and Court Baron of the Provost, fellows and scholars of Worcester College in the University of Oxford held on Thursday the fourteenth day of October 1731 for the Manor of Helmdon in the county of Northton".

 
£
s
d
   
£
s
d
 
John Hill  
0
4
  John Bull  
0
3
 
Richard Shortland  
6
8
  John Adkins  
0
4
 
William Hill  
0
4
  Arthur Pargiter  
0
4
 
Henry Saunders  
0
4
  Thomas Gilks  
0
3
ob
Timothy Bull  
0
0
ob John Gilks  
0
7
ob
James Bull  
0
1
ob John Spires  
0
1
ob
Moses Spencer  
0
1
  Elizabeth Reeve  
0
0
ob qu.
George Edwards  
0
1
  Edward Flowers  
0
0
ob qu.
Richard Garland  
0
1
ob John Whitten  
10
8
 
Timothy Emley  
0
4
  Thomas Peers  
0
1
 
Richard War  
0
4
  John Bracy  
0
1
 
Hannah Harper  
0
4
  Richard Fairbrother  
0
1
 
The Town Houses  
0
4
  Joshua Wigson   a peppercorn
James Bullin  
0
6
  Daniel Foster   the like
Peter Pallot  
0
4
  Benjamin Pullen   the like of a disorderly person
John Chamberlain  
0
4
           
Wm. Halton for the Church Houses
1
0
0
  Payable to the Church Wardens
1
0
2
 

I could find no records linking names to the various pieces of land or cottages owned by Worcester College, but it is interesting to see how low the rents were and that the last named should pay only a peppercorn.

The records of Magdalen College Oxford are indexed and I found them a pleasure to use with the kind assistance of Dr Cottis the recently retired archivist. The records I have used are indexed as; Helmdon, Northants, correspondence. Reference (75/63) (75/65--73) (75/75-76) (75/78--85) Terriers, rentals, views, surveys and valuations. Reference (CP8/30) (75/62).

Examples of the obligations owed to the Lord of the Manor prior to enclosure are recorded. Will. Cross in 1666 had to pay, in addition to money rent, 1 bushel 2 pecks of wheat and 1 bushel 3 pecks of malt on Lady Day and again at Michaelmas for his land in Helmdon. A heriot (a fine due to the Lord of the Manor on the death of a tenant) of the best beast had to be paid till 1724 by Mr Edward Harriott for his Helmdon farm. The similarity in name is quite a coincidence.

 

The college had only five lessees in the village so the organisation required to enclose it must have been simpler than in many places. Mr Francis Burton of Aynho was appointed by the College as Commissioner to act on behalf of both the College and its lessees in the division of the fields. The main source of information on the Helmdon enclosure comes from the letters written by Mr Burton to the Reverend Dr Jenner the President of Magdalen College.

It seems that the move to enclose the fields began among the lessees; and the first letter we have is a request from Mr George Thomas, attorney, who farmed land at the Grange, to Mr Burton asking him to present a petition for enclosure to Mr Cartwright M.P. Mr Cartwright then presented it to Parliament. The work of dividing the land came after this.

I have transcribed the petition and letters as accurately as possible, retaining the original spelling. Many calculations are incorrect but I have reproduced work as it is recorded.

 

From George Thomas
Helmdon 5th Feb 1758

I trouble you with this with the concurrence of my neighbours to beg the favour of you by this days post to inform Mr Cartwright, that he will be waited on either on Wednesday or Thursday next, with a petition to Parliament, for an Act to Enclose our fields, which we humbly beg ye favour of him to present. I presume you have heard or will soon otherwise an account of this from Magdalen College and their tenants.

I sincerely wish for the sake of peace that this scheme may take, and at present there seems a general agreement. I am in hast least you should be too late for ye post.

    Se
    G. & Obedient Servt
    Geo Thomas

Petition

 

To the Honourable the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament assembled

The humble petition of the Lords of the Manor of Helmdon in the County of Northampton and of the Patrons and Rector Incumbent of the Parish Church there and of the several Freeholders and owners and proprietors of Lands Commons and Estates in the open and common fields of Helmdon aforesaid whose hands are hereunto subscribed.
Showeth that your petitioners are seized or possessed of several freehold estates and other properties in the said open and common fields of Helmdon aforesaid which lye intermixed and dispersed over the whole fields in small parcels by means whereof great inconvenience do arise to the proprietors and occupiers of the said lands and estates by continual trespasses surcharging of commons inconveniencing of agriculture and other disorders which by experience has been found to be very detrimental and inconvenient to the proprietors thereof, and the same are incapable of improvement in their present situation.
That the said common and open fields of Helmdon aforesaid are very fit and proper to be inclosed and would be of great advantage to the several Freeholders and occupiers of the same if the same were inclosed and divided into just allotments and proportions to and for the several parties interested therein. Therefore your petitioners most humbly pray that this Honourable House will be pleased to give leave to bring in a Bill for dividing and inclosing the said open and common fields of Helmdon aforesaid according to each persons right in the same and your petitioners shall ever pray-------------

 

From Ann Harriott, John Adkins & George
Thomas To the Reverent Dr. Jenner, President
and the fellows of St Mary Magdalen College, Oxford
Helmdon 8th Feb 1758

Ann Harriott, John Adkins and George Thomas tenants & lessees under the said College of premises in Helmdon beg leave to present to the society of the said College that the lease of Ann Harriott who is tenant of four yard land and a half was renewed in August 1752 and the lease of John Adkins tenant of four yard lands and a quarter in August 1754 the lease of George Thomas tenant of half a yard land in August 1754. That the expenses of inclosing the same, will upon the newish calculations that can be now made amount to about 40s a yard land being in the whole 370. Therefore I hope the society will be pleased to allow a clause to be inserted in the intended Act for Inclosing (if it may be agreeable to the constitution of the said College) that they may be admitted to renew their said several leases for the three next renewals upon the same terms as they were last renewed. They beg the favour of the Society's answer and terms as soon as possible, there being hopes of getting the Act passed this sessions and in order there to humbly hope for the immediate leave of the Society to present their petition to Parliament, which must be before the 11th instant or the benefit of this sessions will be lost and near two years time before ye business of Inclosing can be carried on so agreeable to ye situation of the fields. There will be near six weeks time after petition prescribed to prepare the Act, choose commissioners and the Society may depend on having a draft of the Act for their perusal in due time.

    Anne Harriott
    John Adkins
    Geo Thomas
Helmdon 8th Feb 1758

From Mr Francis Burton to Reverend Dr Jenner

(no date)

Revd. Sir

I think ye affair of Helmdon Inclosure a matter of much importance & therefore send ye bearer on purpose to Oxford to acquaint you that my humble opinion is that ye College should not obstruct the petition. The restraining clause seems to me to be unreasonable; but yet most certainly the Tenants ought to be considered for their expenses they will be at in some shape or other. I really never did know ye method which Colleges usually take on these occasions but doubt not there is a rule amongst you as Inclosures have become so frequent of late. The particulars of your Estate I will procure as soon as possible but between this and the last day for presenting of petition for private bills is too little time to perform that service in with any degrees of exactness, neither is it necessary as I apprehend for ye College Estate what it will be in Value if I have justice done in the allotments the Inclosure will be an improvement of it. The answer therefore that ye College is deined to give cannot be too general at present so that ye petition may be presented wherein I apprehend there is no necessity for the college to join as they may before the committee, hereafter consent to the Bill passing. You perceive I write in a hurry & hope you will excuse it. No service that I can do ye Society shall in this or any other affair be neglected. I am greatly sensible of the obligation I am under & beg particularly to acknowledge the honour & pleasure your kind and favourable approbation of what little I have hitherto done gives me. Your notice of my little boy and obliging compliments upon the late increase of my family I also beg most gratefully to thank you for & to assure you I always am

    Yr most faithful &
    obedient servant
    Fr Burton

From Francis Burton
Aynho 10th Feb 1758

Revd. Sir

Tho I have made a considerable progress in the particulars of the College Estate at Helmdon yet I do not think it quite complete. As soon as it is finished I will not fail to send it to you, but in the mean time would mention what hath occurred to me upon considering your Tenants petition to the College in respect of the Inclosure. The restraining clause struck me at first; But however some sort of consideration for the expense the tenants will be at seemed to me (as I had ye honour to mention to you in my last letter) to be but reasonable. The next day I set myself the task of calculating according to the best of my abilities, what the values of that consideration ought to be, and unless you have yourself already considered the question, I dare say you will be a little surprised to hear that they have no claim to any kind of allowance whatever. I do not mean only that they have no legal claim but that moreover they have no sort of pretentions, in Justice or Equity, to any such consideration. The improvement of your Estate with their money is a popular specious argument on their side but I think I can prove that your Estate improves their money in a greater proportion and that if you were to take Fines at the very next renewal, according to the improved Rent they would have no just reason to complain. I am sensible that you are obliged to the tenants for this method of improving the Estate, and that it is highly proper for Colleges to encourage their Tenants in Improvement of every kind. I have also great regard for several of your Helmdon tenants, and should be sorry to see anything to the prejudice of any one of them. I doubt not however, that their petition was framed in an hurry and cannot help thinking that if they had consulted me about it & given me a few hours to consider it, I should have prevented their asking for what is so greatly unreasonable for the College to grant.

Mrs Jackson wants to sell her lease, as I hear, but no one is about it. Can the College spare money to purchase it? If I could I think it is one of the first things I would buy and renew the lease at the improved rent without murmuring supposing that I could buy it at an usual and fair price of Mrs Jackson Jn..

    Revd. Sir
    Your most obedient
humble servant
    Fr. Burton
Aynho 10th Feb 1758

If I should upon further consideration find myself mistaken I hope you'll pardon me upon my retracting any errors I may have committed. The Enclosure meets with some little obstruction from the Rector but I hope it may be got over.


From Francis Burton to Rev. Dr. Jenner
24 Feb 1758

Revd Sir

I enclose an account of your Estate in Helmdon which I apprehend is at least, not far from the truth. Mr Harriott & Mr Thomas were here yesterday and we had much discourse upon the enclosure. They doubt the improvement which is the ground of my calculations, but however I found that one renewal at ye old Fine Would satisfy them instead of the three they asked and perhaps (as the improvement cannot take place much before the time of their next renewal) if they would agree to plant a proper number of Oaks, Elms & Ash it might be worth ye Colleges while to accept of the old Fine for ye next renewal. I don't at all know what Fines they did pay, but if the Rent upon which they were settled differed much from ye enclosed Act on either side, I beg you'd honour me with ye particulars you went upon, that I may have an opportunity of rectifying any mistake, non of which however are voluntary.

    I am
Sir
Yr most faithful and
Obedient Servant
Fr. Burton
Aynho 24 Feb 1758

The success of ye Enclosure depends entirely upon Corpus Christi College (the Patrons of the Living) and their Clerk, and I hope it is this day settled as Mr Harriott & others went on purpose to try to satisfy them.

 

The View of the College Estates immediately prior to Enclosure lists :-

In the parish of Helmdon Magdalen College have 12 yard lands and 3/4 [a yard land was about 25 acres] of open field land now proposed to be enclosed which are estimated at 8 pounds a yard land and of these Mrs Harriott hath 4 yard lands and a half . Mrs Jackson hath 3 yard lands and a half. Mr Adkins hath 4 yard lands and a quarter and Mr George Thomas hath a yard land besides which there are two cottage commons belonging to the College one of which is leased to Hawten and the other to Adkins.

 

  Particulars of Mrs Harriott's Leasehold  
4 yard lands and a half
36:0:0
Broad Close
3:10:0
Ash Yard Close
1:10:0
The Messuage (and outhouse) wherein she dwells and garden thereto belonging and Widow Bull's house with ye home close adjoining ye building being in the whole 11 Bays of House buildings and 20 Bays of outbuildings may be computed
6: 0: 0
ye Annual value of
47:0:0
Particulars of Mrs Jackson's Leasehold  
3 yard lands and a half
28:0:0
Well Close
2:0:0
Evan's house with home close Edward Bayliss with home close (The buildings being in the whole Seven Bays of house and nine Bays of outbuildings).
7:0:0
May be computed at the Annual Value of
37:0:0
Particulars of Mr George Thomas's Leasehold  
Half a yard land
4:0:0
Barkin's House with a little close and piece of garden ground The building being three Bays of House Building and five Bays of outbuilding
3:0:0
May be computed at the Annual Value of
7:0:0
Particulars of Mr Hawten's Lease  
This is a cottage having a common to it and (the building being 6 Bay of poor House building and 5 Bay of Out houses) the whole may be computed at the Annual Value
3:0:0
Particulars of Mr Adkins's Leasehold  
4 Yards Lands and a quarter
4:0:0
Henry Burril's Cottage with a Common and little Close Charles Wesbury & Henry Branston's Houses with their Home Closes, Edward's House and a Close Gurnett's House and Close with Jennard's House out Building and Home Close. (The Buildings there being in the whole14 Bays of House Buildings and 23 Bays of out Buildings may be computed the Annual Value of
52:10: 0

Besides the aforesaid Annual Rents considerable advantage hath heretofore been made of a Stone Quarry in Helmdon Field which was usually sold at 100 per acre to Masons to whom the tenants demised the lands for 6 or 7 years with liberty to dig out the quarry. Mrs Harriot's Quarry Land is almost dug out. I dont find that any other of the Tennants have made much advantage thereof. The number of Buildings upon the Estate is greatly disproportionate to the Timber that is left upon it , there being no less than 71 Bays of House Building and 67 Bays of Barns and other out Buildings, in the particulars aforegoing. As to Timber, there is none but what is on Mrs Harriot's Allithorn Coppice, which consists chiefly of small lopped Ash, of little use for repairs, but may serve to Cleave out into Rails for the new fences.



Detail of Village Centre from Helmdon Enclosure Award 1758.  Click for larger image (453kb)
Detail of Village Centre from Helmdon
Enclosure Award 1758.
Corpus Christi College and the Rector, Mr Samwell, opposed enclosure until compensation was agreed for the tithes they had received. The Act directed that the Rector was to have 160 paid by the major freeholders each year. Two collectors were to be appointed from Helmdon inhabitants and the money paid quarterly to the Rector at or in the Parish Church. The annuity was in lieu of his tithes from the fields and did not effect the tithe payable on land in Helmdon known as More's Stocking. The owners of ancient messuages and inclosures had been paying the Rector 7 per annum and in lieu the Rector was to be awarded land to the same value. There are records of John Adkins and Lydia Jackson, lessees of two small cottages with a Close near the Church, in all 1acre 2roods & 1pole, transferring these to John Samwell and his successors as Rector of Helmdon. At enclosure the Rector was absolved from the duty of keeping the Parish bull and boar. Northants. Record Office has a map of the post-enclosure land owned by the Church from 1758.

The fines referred to were not payment for wrongdoing but a fee paid on renewing the lease, usually every seven years, and compensation for stable rents.

From Mr Burton to Dr Jenner, President of Magdalen College
6th March 1758

Revd Sir

If it will not be too much trouble, I wd beg the favour of an abstract of the several reserved Rents in the Helmdon leases, both in Corn and money; for the deductions you mention do not seem to me (at present) to be adequate to the outgoings upon average. Pray do you set your Fines upon Land and upon Buildings by one rule? If so, it certainly is not right; for seeing Freehold Lands at Helmdon are worth 30 years purchased, when ye very best homes are hardly worth 20, the Fines for renewing a Term in Houses; ought to be in proportion to Land, at most as two to three. And this is a Rule that we universally observe in setting copyhold fines; when we rate an home or other Building at 30/s improved Rent, we call it only 20; so that a year and Quarters Rent of a Home of 30/s a year is only 1:5:0 and this I think I can demonstrate to be an higher rate than a full Year and a Quarter upon Land. I may have made some Errors in my Estimate of the Rents, but I am pretty confident none of very great account, and that all your considerations put together will not reduce the Fines to what you have hitherto taken, unless there be Quit Rents pensions, or other payments issuing out of the Estates which I know not of. I will not fail to make a further Review, and to acquaint you with the Result of it. You are very kind in not mentioning the Contents of my last Letter, at present; and you will pardon me if I beg that when hereafter it may be necessary to do so, my Name may, if possible, be kept within the Limits of the College. It hath escaped in some late instances, somewhat to my disadvantage, the particulars of which are not worth troubling you with; But as some part of my living depends upon my being upon good Terms in this neighbourhood, and as an offence given to one Farmer is too apt to catch another, I hope you will indulge me a little in this caution, which, however, shall on no occasion interfere with the Duty I owe to you and the College.

    I am
Sir
Yr most faithful and
Obedient Servant
Fr. Burton
Aynho 6 March 1758

From Francis Burton to Dr Jenner
11 March 1758

Revd. Sir

In my last I forgot to acquaint you that Adkins has two Estates in Helmdon under different leases, but that in my estimate they are put together, as I do not Know ye particulars of the premises in each lease. I am

    Sir
Yr most Obedient
Servant
Fr. Burton
Aynho 11 March 1758

From Francis Burton to Dr. Jenner
17 March 1758

Revd. Sir

Since I had the honour to write to you, I have had some discourse with a person well acquainted with Helmdon field, in order to qualify myself, in some degree for ye office you have been pleased to confer upon me, in relation to the Enclosure. Amongst other things, I was asking him about ye value of Yard Lands, & told him that I had been informed, one with another, they ran to about 8 pounds a yard Land; he said, that rule might hold pretty good in general, but that in respect of particular farms it was not to be depended upon; for some yard Lands were well worth 14 pounds a year & others not 7- 10s. And he happened to instance in Mr. Harriotts, whose freehold Land he said was worth a great deal more by the yard Land than his College was- Nay he said he had one half yard land free, which was worth any one whole yard Land that he held of the College. Now as I have estimated all of the College Yard Lands at 8 pounds a year, this observation renders that Estimate of less authority than I supposed it had, when I first transmitted it to you. But that is not ye principal thing that struck me. Had that Estimate been ever so exact (and I still think it is not very far from ye truth) The Enclosure will soon render it of little use; But there is one thing that I think of great consequence; How comes Mr. Harriotts free Land to be of so much better than his leasehold? This question I asked, & ye answer was, that there are very different degrees of Quality in the several Fields, & great Variety of Measure in ye Yard Lands, which I know is not at all unusual. But since ye Perpetuity of ye College Interest will be settled at ye allotments, and nothing can hereafter be recovered that is now given away, I dare say you will think it necessary to be satisfied that none of ye College Land is crept into the Tenants Freehold. I know Instances in other College Estates where it has so happened, and tho I believe really there is not an honester man living than Mr Harriot and tho I knew his very worthy good father to be a person of the same valuable character, yet Errors may have happened; or at least it will be a Satisfaction to see that none have happened, by examining the Terrier of the College Land. If you will please to order some of the oldest you have to be sent to me, and also to direct all your Tenants at Helmdon forthwith (upon ye occasion of the intended Enclosure) to make out New Terriers, and deliver them to me the better to enable me to take care of them & ye College interest, nothing shall be wanting on my part to do Justice to both. If any other method will be more agreeable to you I shall with the greatest pleasure receive your Commands. I am

    Sir
Yr most faithful and
Obedient Servant
Fr. Burton
Aynho 17 March 1758

Mrs Jackson's land which I have valued at 8 pounds a yard land I am informed is let but for 7:10:0 but it is deemed very cheap at that rate.


From Mr Francis Burton to The Revd. Dr Jenner
8th May 1758

Revd Sir

I have the honour of yours of ye 5th instant with your most judicious determination upon the contents of Mr Harriot's Letter and which I will take care shall be carried into execution. Mr Cartwright tells me he left ye Bill in ye House of Lords, & doubts not it will pass in time. Give me Leave, Sir, to return you my most grateful thanks for the last instance (after many others) of your kindness to my little Boy, and more particularly for the manner in which you was so good as to confer upon him this favour as it gave me the most agreeable opportunity of perceiving his little heart full of gratitude to his own and my benefactor. Whether I have any other business at Oxford or not you may always command my attendance. I only beg now to give you a Caution not to hear of a present Renewal of your Leases at Helmdon (a proposal of which sort is I hear intended to be made to you) unless you mean by it to contribute to ye Enclosure. After ye Lands are enclosed, you will come at ye Value with much more certainty than at present you possibly can.

I was very agreeably surprised to see ye Terriers now delivered in by ye several Tenants exactly correspond with ye old. A thing I am sure not over frequent in College Estate. I do find that there really is a great difference in the yard Lands at Helmdon but some of ye College are as good as any others, though ye majority of them are perhaps of the lower rates. I hope we shall be able to do Justice to all Parties, I think it my duty to acquaint you that Mr Harriot in particular has behaved in ye most gentleman like manner with ye utmost freedom and candour & I believe will continue to give his best assistance on behalf of the College. I am

    Sir
Yr most devoted and
Obedient Humble Servant
Fr. Burton
Aynho 8 May 1758

From Mr Francis Burton to Revd Dr Jenner
26 May 1758

Revd Sir

As the people of Helmdon think that it will be for their advantage to have their fields set out as soon as may be, I have at their request agreed to ye 5th of June for ye first meeting of the comms (commissioners) If ye have any particular commands for me you will be so good as to communicate them betwixt this time and that. In general you may depend upon my utmost care of the College Interest. This meeting happens a little inconvenient in one respect as I am afraid I shall not be able to send my little boy to Oxford so soon as I should do. He is all next week to go through a medical discipline for ye Worms, by which he is almost eaten up. I hardly ever saw so large a Breed of those noxious insects, but hope to get rid of them and intended him to set out on Monday morning Early; but now my pony must be out till Tuesday night & therefore if he should not come till Wednesday I hope you'll be so good as to pardon him; not but I intend to send him if he is well, and I can procure a steed that I can trust him upon and will do it at all adventures if you require it being with the greatest truth

    Revd Sir
Your most Obedient
& obliged Humble Servt
Fr. Burton
Aynho May 26 1758

From Mr Fr Burton to Revd Dr Jenner
7 June 1758

Revd Sir

We have had our first meeting at Helmdon & have settled several preliminary articles without the least wrangling or contention; The Commissioners are all very agreeable to me , and indeed are such as I not only would but most of them I did recommend. Mr Lely favoured us with his Company and will I dare say, inform you that we proceeded with the greatest unanimity. One thing happened that shows the little ..?... ..?.... is in Terriers as generally delivered in to Colleges. I asked Mrs Jackson_s tenant several questions relating to the estate held of you and found there is a land wanting in the field. I told him the land was not only mentioned in ancient but in ye last Terriers & that it was remarkable they agreed in every article so that I did not expect to have heard of any mistake in ye College Estate. The man very sensibly observed that the agreement between the old and new terriers was very easily accounted for, in as much as the constant method of delivering a terrier to ye College was to write a copy of ye last, without varying a Syllable, and without ever going into the field or looking upon any one Article. That this particular Land, tho constantly inserted in ye Terrier, he never had enjoyed; & that neither he nor he believed any man in Helmdon knew where to find it by the description in the Terrier. I don't imagine, by ye place it lies in, that it is of much value, But however I will do all I can to recover that, and every other Article of ye College Property, & shall not fail to acquaint ye Society with every thing of consequence that may happen at our meetings. I have sent my little Boy to Oxford, but he is far from being well. The complaint is considerably abated but not removed. There was one very remarkable Circumstance in his Disorder. These insects that he is troubled with actually occasioned a Deafness, that came on so fast we were not without apprehensions that he might quite lose his Hearing. I thank God the method we have taken has made Havock amongst them; and his Deafness (tho not removed) is much abated. I am

    Revd Sir
Your most Obedient
& obliged Humble Servt
Fr. Burton
Aynho 7 June 1758

From Mr Francis Burton to Revd Dr Jenner
25 June 1758

Revd Sir

The Commissioners for inclosing Helmdon field having at their last meeting, ordered that the several Proprietors should at our next meeting deliver in writing their several Claims, and Petitions for ye Situation of their allotments, I took ye Liberty to direct Mr Harriot to pray that his present Plots of Allithorn Coppice might be allotted to him, which I thought I might decently do as Worcester College have obtained an express Claim in the Act, for their I have of the same Woodland. But as to ye other I have of ye fields, as I found ye commissioners opposited by Worcester College did not interfer therein, I thought it would be improper for me to direct your Tenants; but yet as I know the Lessees of Colleges are too apt to consider their private and present Interest, rather than the general advantage of your Estates, I thought it would not be quite prudent to leave them entirely to themselves; and therefore I have taken the further Liberty (which I hope you will approve) to send your Two Tenants Hopcraft and Bignell, in ye Name of the Society, to examine in to the Particulars of ye Claims and Petitions, which your Tenants intend to make, and to advise them therein, in order to prevent any private Views to ye detriment of ye College. They go over tomorrow on this Business; and ye next Meeting of ye Commissioners is appointed at ye Queens head in Brackley on Thursday next. I shall not fail to acquaint you with every thing material as it happens in this affair, if you will excuse the trouble of hearing so often

    I am
Revd Sir
Your most obedient
& obliged humble
Servt
Fr. Burton
Aynho 25 June 1758

From Mr F Burton to Revd Dr Jenner
30 June 1758

Revd Sir

Yesterday we had our Second Meeting upon ye Helmdon Enclosure when ye Proprietors delivered unto us their several Claims and Petitions. All your Tenants attended, except Mrs Jackson who sent a Letter to me specifying her Claim which I believe is very well calculated both for hers and the College Interest. There are here as in all other Enclosures, several Claims that Clash, & your Tenants are far from standing clear of their Neighbours, particularly Mr Harriot. He has been extremely well advised in the Specification of his claims, but I greatly question its success with ye Commissioners. However, I far as I can perceive, the Commissioners are all inclined to do Justice & to give no undue preference to any one which is all that Mr Harriot or ye College will devise. Our next meeting is appointed for ye 13th of July at the Parsonage House in Helmdon. I am

    Sir
Your most obedient
& faithful humble Servt
Fr. Burton
Aynho 30 June 1758

From Mr Francis Burton to the Revd Jenner
16th July 1758

Revd Sir

I have the Honour of your letter and am extremely happy in hearing that you approve of my proceeding at Helmdon. We had our meeting last Thursday, when many Disputes came before us, in pursuance of that clause which leaves all controversies concerning the Properties of the interested Parties, to ye determination of ye commissioners. There was one Disputed Point, as to some Ley Ground in the field, between Magdalen College and Worcester College, and after a fair Hearing it was determined in favour of Magdalen College. There was a long Hearing between the Earl of Ferrars and Mr Emily, managed by Lawyers on each side, determined in favour of the latter; & several other Points of property were then determined so that I hope we shall have but few more of them to hear. There is indeed one adjourned over ye next meeting in which one of ye Magdalen College tenants is somewhat concerned, but I hear it will be agreed before we meet; and I hope it will, as it is a thing of very small importance to either of the parties (vis. Shortland, Fairbrother and Adkins)
Our next meeting is appointed for Monday the 31st day of this month at Brackley.

    I am
Revd Sir
Your most devoted
& obedient Servant
Fr. Burton
Aynho 16th July 1758

From Mr Fr Burton to Revd Dr Jenner
15th August 1758

Revd Sir

I delayed giving you an Account of our last meeting on the Helmdon affair, because I promised myself the honour of waiting upon this day. But being almost wet through before I could reach Kirtlinton I was obliged to turn back, more especially as I have already got a sore throat and am apt to suffer pretty much from Colds. As I cannot with much convenience come to Oxford sooner than ye 4th or 5th of September before which time I suppose ye will be gone, I have sent, for your perusal, a state of my act both of Evenly Rectory, and Plummers furse, with ye vouchers. You will please to observe that Bignalls Rent to Michlas last is not made up, but I have since I drew out ye Act received of him a London Bill of 20th due a few days hence, and the remainder being about 20 more he promised me in a very little time.- At the Helmdon meeting we did little more than receive the General Survey, and upon casting up ye Number of Acres there appear to be 1536 & upwards, which is within 14 acres of ye Quantity the field was conjectured to contain, as you will see by the preamble to ye Act of Parliament. Many disputes are said to have arisen upon the particular survey between the Proprietors, & to determine them and also to examine and compare the two surveys we meet again on the 29 day of this month at Helmdon, after which we shall meet no more till we lay out ye field. I am

    Revd Sir
Your most obedient
Obliged humble servant
Fr. Burton
Aynho 15th August 1758

From Mr Fr Burton to Revd Dr Jenner
24 Oct 1758

Revd Sir

I was unfortunate in sending my last Letter and parcel to you which came I find a few days after you left Oxford- I deemed my son to keep it by him till I came there myself, but hearing of your Returning before we have finished our Helmdon affairs, I have now ordered him to deliver it to you & hope you'll excuse the old date of ye letter therein enclosed.
We move today to make allotments at Helmdon, but it will still take up a good deal of time to finish ye whole. I am afraid the expenses will be much greater than were expected occasioned by many unforeseen disputes and difficulties, not amongst ye Commissioners for we all agree very well, but amongst ye Proprietors themselves which we are obliged to hear. I parted with ye Gentleman on ye Progress at Daventry to which place I conducted them, and hope to meet them well at Brackley next Thursday. I am

    Revd Sir
Your most obedient &
Devoted Humble Servt
Fr. Burton
Aynho Oct 24 1758

From Francis Burton to Revd Dr Jenner
13 Nov 1758

Revd Sir

I have the honour of yours of the 11th together with ye Warrant for Mr Weston's Timber and beg leave, in answer to ye intimation you give of the fee that is due to your Servant, to acquaint you that almost two years ago I (at your Servants request) enquired of the Tenants what fee they had used to pay ye President's Servant, they all agreed they never knew one demanded- Mrs Adcock said she had often heard her Husband say that the President's Servant had mentioned it to him, but that he could never get it, though seemed to think it due. However my making these Enquiries raised a great murmuring among ye Tenants, and dissatisfaction much superior to ye Value of the thing in question. I had long wished to promote the scarcity of Timber upon your College Estates in this County, which I will venture to say (in that respect) are ye most desolate of any I know, and particularly encouraged poor Baldwin who is lately dead to plant Timber sets in his Hedges instead of Sycamores, Asbels, Willows etc (which the Tenants take at their pleasure everywhere I believe) & to him and others have been very moderate in my own fees in hopes thereby of inducing them to go on in the desired manner. I have lately proposed the same scheme to Mr Weston whose Estate would admit of great improvement therein, but his answer was rather cool. At Helmdon upon ye New Enclosure much good might be done by ye Tenants, at little expense, & I hope to succeed in persuading them to do what indeed will be for the Interest of their families as well as for ye future advantage of ye Society. But I beg your future Instructions whether under these circumstances it will be prudent to revive this demand. I cannot think it will be of any great value, for except Mr Watkins who will have occasion for a grant very speedily to repair his cottage and Mr Weston who next spring will want another for his Farm Ground and Mr Welchman (from whom ye Fee would come like drops of blood) I know of none but what must be very trifling that can be granted. I am afraid it would have a bad effect & occasion more of these Weed Trees being planted which are profitable enough for a little while to ye Tenants but will never benefit ye college, if you think otherwise, I will not fail to obey your Commands & demand yr fees.

The Exchange of Lands at Helmdon is under the Act of Parliament by which all Proprietors (without exception) are enabled to exchange their old enclosure for new allotments or other lands with ye consent of ye commissioners and ye College (not being excepted) is unquestionably entitled to make this with Mr Samwell, which will certainly be for the advantage of both parties. I will write to Mr Thomas to send you an Act which I doubted not of his having before sent you - and wonder at his neglect. I am

    Revd Sir
Your most obedient &
Devoted Humble Servt
Fr. Burton
Aynho 13 Nov 1758

 

In addition to the changes in field layout many buildings were reduced in size following enclosure. No doubt with large blocks of land it was beneficial to store hay and straw out of the centre of the village in newly fenced fields farmed by allotted freeholders and tenants.

The index attached to the Magdalen College map shows that the buildings Mr Adkins leased from the College were reduced in size from 35 bays to 30. A building bay is the area between two principal posts or dividing walls in a house or barn, a measurement which would allow 4 oxen to stand side by side, or about 16ft.

Some details remain of Mr Fairbrother's allotment of land in 1758. This land is now farmed by the Watson family who kindly lent a copy of the award. The commissioners directed that, "Mr Fairbrother should be responsible for the making, repairing, amending, maintaining and keeping in repair such part of the public road or highway herein by us awarded, ordered, appointed to be made, repaired, amended, maintained and kept in repair by and at the expense of Mr John Fairbrother". It is stated in the Act of Parliament that the commissioners were to set out and appoint both public and private roads and ways so that all such public roads and highways shall be and remain 40ft. broad at the least between the ditches except for bridle and footways.

Mr Fairbrother's allotment of 157 acres 3 roods and 12 poles included most of the quarry fields, no doubt an important consideration when accepting the duty of road maintenance. The upkeep of some of the Sulgrave roads was also the responsibility of Mr Fairbrother and one or two other local men in the Sulgrave Enclosure of 1760.

Prior to enclosure there had been many wasteful trackways from one piece of land to another but after the Act most carts and carriages used the public road. This increase in traffic, in addition to road surfaces not drying so well in the shade of the new hedges, caused many roads to deteriorate to impassable conditions.

Looking back at the records of a mammoth upheaval in the village we must admire the order and communal goodwill shown by the people involved.

Bibliography and Sources

Magdalen College Archives
House of Lords Record Office, Award on Helmdon Inclosure
J Neeson, Common Rights & Enclosure in Eighteenth Century Northamptonshire Report on Enclosure to the Board of Agriculture, 1793-1815
G Slater, The English Peasantry & The Enclosure of Common Fields (1907) Parliamentary Paper House of Commons 50, Returns of Commons (Enclosure Awards), (1904)
Parliamentary Paper House of Commons 339, Return of Enclosure Acts, (1914)
H C Darby, The Age of the Improver, 1600-1800
Michael Turner, Enclosure in Britain 1750-1830
W H R Curtler, Enclosure and Redistribution of our Land, (1920)

First published in an article from Aspects of Helmdon 2 by Valerie Moir

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Magdalen College Oxford for permission to use Mr Burton's letters, Bedfordshire County Record Office and Lincolnshire Archives for the use of illustrations. I also thank Mr David Hall for allowing me to reproduce his map of the ridge and furrow fields of Helmdon, and Northamptonshire Record Office for the use of the Helmdon Enclosure Map and map of the Glebe Land. As owners of the Helmdon Enclosure Map I would like to thank Helmdon Parish Council for permission to reproduce it, and the Rev John Roberts and the Parochial Church Council for the use of the Glebe map.

 
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