In the early 19 th century, the Northamptonshire poet John Clare took a good look at the countryside and didn’t like what he saw. He wrote:
“Fence meeting fence in owners little bounds
Of field and meadow, large as garden-grounds,
In little parcels little minds to please,
With men and flocks imprisoned, ill at ease.”
He was referring to the effects of the Enclosures – literally the fencing in of land to stop others from using it. This apparently simple act has been hugely controversial. For some, Enclosure underpinned the economic and agricultural development of modern Britain. For others it was an act of theft – the turning of common land into private property that impoverished the many for the sake of the few.
Let’s look back at those changes in land usage which have occurred over the centuries.
It is well known that William I (aka the Conqueror) lost no time in commissioning a complete survey of his newly-acquired territory, resulting in the Domesday Book of 1086. This produced in very great detail a comprehensive inventory relating to every manor, including Barford. It listed population, land holdings, grazing and ploughed areas, the mill together with rents and dues. The land of this village consists of:
- Cultivated portions for crop production;
- Water-meadows from which hay was produced;
- Common pasture for all to use;
- The woodland or heath for building materials and fuel.
Farming was carried out on land that had been cleared from its wild forested state. Fields were marked out in strips, each peasant being allowed to cultivate his portion measured in ‘furrowlongs’ (furlongs). Payment of rent was made either in labour for the lord or in goods (tithes).
Most of the land was open which caused difficulties in animal control, hence the nursery rhyme:
“Come little boy blue,
Come blow up your horn,
The sheep’s in the meadow,
The cows in the corn ……..”.
Animals often strayed or were lost until rounded up and put in the pound under the control of the pinder who was entitled to be reimbursed when the owner redeemed his stock. The Trinitarian Friars were originally granted Barford’s pound which was situated between the end of the sandstone wall in Church Street and the garden of Joseph Arch’s Cottage. A wooden fence now marks its frontage.
The standard of land measurement was known as a hide, about 120 of our acres, which was considered adequate to support a family for a year. If this seems a generous allowance it has to be remembered that farming efficiency then was exceedingly low. Much of the land had a corrugated surface known as ridge and furrow made necessary by the water-logged soil . Drainage was not in vogue until the 18th century. Traces of this formation can be seen for instance in Slaughter (Sloe tree) Hill adjoining the cemetery, in the playing field before it was levelled in 1979, in the field formerly known as Newland Piece next to the former cricket ground and in the fields currently grazed by alpacas.
This was the general practice until 1760 when Barford was affected by a far-reaching revolution in agricultural practice by the passing of the Enclosure Act.
“Instead of tidy little squares,
Mine and his,and yours and theirs,
My field, his field, your field, their field
All was one enormous bare field.”
This division, which had prevailed for centuries, was then changed. Peasant labour had become increasingly in short supply by the spread of freedom for many, which allowed movement from villages to the newly developed centres which were arising in the Industrial Revolution. A smaller work force led to much land being enclosed. Fewer but much larger areas could be managed more easily and therefore more economically. The new enclosures marked the turning point in the gradual growth of modern privately owned farms from the communal land utilisation of the Middle Ages. Acts of Parliament permitted the distribution of the previously fragmented strips to the principal landowners, the chief of whom was the Earl of Warwick.
Inevitably there were victims of this radical reform. The common rights of the villagers were taken away, causing many people great distress as their sources of food production had gone.
“The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common,
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose”. (Mark Overton)
This resulted in even more people forsaking their villages and drifting into urban life. For those who were left, portions of about two or three acres were made available thus predating the smaller allotments that exist today. In Barford we still have Church Allotments, three and a half acres in area, which date back to 1760. They were granted to the Churchwardens in lieu of pieces of meadow ground at Westham.
The newly enclosed fields were delineated by fences or brooks or other natural features. Hedges were planted chiefly of hawthorn; some of the original hedges still remain to share in the reputation for hedgerows that Warwickshire still enjoys. Every field was given a name which identified the piece, having a certain characteristic or usage. Most of Barford’s field names are mapped and recorded, such as Slaughter Hill, Barley Close (Ryland Road has now been built there), Brickiln Close, Smoke Acres, Red Hill, Shetland (Shortland) Piece, Half-moon. Debden (deep dene or valley). The cemetery was laid out in a corner of Shetland Piece in 1927.
In some parts of the country, there has been a reversal of the enclosing process in order to provide vast tracts of arable land made necessary by the modern farm machinery. British agriculture, perhaps the most efficient in the world, has greatly increased its output for home consumption and for export.
Another change in land usage occurred in WWII when much permanent pasture, including our King George Playing Field. was ploughed up for home food production, vital to our survival.
Enclosures – In our Times May 1st 2008 by Melvyn Bragg
Barford in past years A S Twigger published byBarford PCC 1982