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The History of Ilmington - Chapter 9


Enclosure of the open and common fields and commonable land 1781

The history of enclosures is a long and complex one.  Those of the 18th century, and there were many in Warwickshire, came about because of three factors.  These were the increased demand for food from the growing towns, the increased yields obtained by improved methods of agriculture and animal breeding which could more easily be practised on enclosed land, and the increased rents which the landlords could therefore obtain after enclosure.

The second reading of the Bill for Enclosure of the Ilmington Open and Common Fields was debated in the House of Lords on March 30th, 1781.  It is reported in vol. 22 of English Parliamentary History, but the debate turned mainly on whether commutation of tithe in general was desirable, or so one would gather from this report.  It does, however, state that the Lord Chancellor, Lord Thurlow, spoke for more than an hour against this particular bill, 'examining every provision and pointing out some act of partiality, injustice, obscurity or cause of confusion in each'.  'He doubted not their Lordships would recommit but the point was would they recommit to restore the tythes, but whether the House would pass a bill totally faulty in every other respect, and it was for this reason he wished it sent back'.  In a lengthy report, none of his objections are given in any further detail.  The voting for recommital was 23 and against 31.  The bill was given a third reading and passed.

The Commissioners were appointed on April 15th, sworn in on April 26th at the George in Shipston, and the Award was completed by December 7th, 1781.

The only records of Ilmington Enclosure which it has been possible to find are the report of the debate in the Lords, the award itself and a partial map (1).  Since this was written notes have been found at the Birthplace Trust showing how the costs to the landowners for the Award were calculated.  It also shows recent sales by four people to those interested in obtaining the Award, and that Ilmington had grazing for 157 cows, 153 horses and 1440 sheep.  However, an interesting report of a preliminary meeting of some of the landowners of Bourton-on-the Hill, a neighbouring village, for 1801 has been seen.  They were proposing enclosure of the common fields, and their argument was that the value of the land would be doubled.  However, this enclosure was not made until 1820, so this meeting must have aroused considerable opposition.

The Award begins by giving the names of the lord of the manor, the patron of the living, the rector and five of the principal landowners who considered that it would be to their advantage if enclosure took place.  Apart from the lord of the manor who lived at Foxcote, only one of these names appears in other village records, suggesting that he was a genuine farmer of his own and other land.  It seems likely that they were mostly absentee landlords.  One of these, and a Shipston lawyer who had bought land in Ilmington some 30 years before, lent money to expedite the passage of the Act. 

Many of the provisions of the Award were no doubt common to most awards.  The Commissioners laid out main roads 40 feet in width and set aside three acres of stone pits for their maintenance.  In addition, carriage ways, bridle paths and foot paths were set out.  In all these amounted to 60 acres, and judging from the lines of the old ridge and furrow, few of them were new.  Five acres of furze on the commonable land were awarded to the rector and churchwardens in trust for the poor, who had previously had the right to cut their own fuel from the commonable land.  They were to be allotted wood, the pasture was to be let and the money used to provide fuel, meat or clothing on December 24th each year, but only for the deserving and industrious.  Thirty two acres were awarded to the churchwardens in trust for the repair of the church.  The rector received his equivalent of the glebe and one seventh of other land in commutation of tithe.  Owners of 'antient' enclosures had the choice of giving up one seventh of their land if they had sufficient, or of continuing to pay 'rent' to the rector.  He was also awarded a farm with its buildings, to the value of £60 in lieu of tithe from the lord of the manor, and £45 a year from a neighbouring landowner of 'antient' enclosures.  The lord of the manor was awarded ten acres for his rights of soil on the waste, in addition to his allotment for his strips, all of which was to be adjacent to his Foxcote estate.  The waste was included in the Enclosure, but Ilmington still has two village greens, parts of which were recently in dispute with Shipston Rural District Council at the Annual Open Parish Meeting.  There is no mention of this unenclosed waste in the Award.

Fifty two yard lands or 1780 acres were enclosed.  In addition there were 149 acres of 'antient' enclosures with 47 'messuages' on which tithe was commuted, and a further 80 acres with between 60 and 70 messuages.  A small number of owners in this list possessed several houses, and the number was not stated.  All owners or occupants on this second list continued to pay a 'rent' to the rector, and in most cases the enclosure was under an acre.  The village at that time seems to have consisted of between 110 and 120 houses.  The enclosure map at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which is incomplete, includes a beautifully drawn map of the south end of the village.  Some buildings are shaded red, some brown and some not at all.  By comparison with later maps, it seems likely that the red are larger houses, some of which have disappeared, and the brown are the cottages.  Those not shaded are probably farm buildings.  If the complete map was in existance, it would be a most interesting document.  Comparison of the list of those with messuage and small enclosure, who continued to pay rent to the rector, with the list of those who contributed towards the cost of the Award, suggests that 39 cottagers owned their own cottage and small close.  Except for the council estates and one private estate, which were built on enclosed parts of the open fields, these small closes still determine the pattern of housing in the village, about which more will be said in chapter 12.

Twenty yardland holders, in addition to the rector, received their equivalent in allotments to be enclosed.  Of these, eight were of more than 80 acres, the rest being between 61 and 13 acres.  The rector's allotment in lieu of glebe and tithe was more than twice that of any other landholder.  The total cost of the Award was £1,504.8.½.  To this, all the recipients except the rector contributed in proportion to their allotment.  The total charge to the owners of the properties which continued to pay 'rent' to the rector was £1.1.11, and some individual payments were as small as 4d.  The costs per acre to those receiving larger allotments varied from 35/- to as little as 15/-.  The cost of the Award included, among other items, the survey itself, which was just over £250, the solicitor's fees of £222, and the expenses for journeys to London allowed to the rector and some others of the principal landowners.  These were £230.10.  The rector's expenses were high, but he was of course negotiating church property, and the results of his negotiations would have far reaching effects on the value of the living.  Detailed instructions were given in the Award for the division of one of his major allotments on the north side of the village into seventeen fields, and the building of a barn and stable of stone, roofed with stone tiles.  This farm is still known as New York Farm.  The fields were to be divided by posts and rails, ditches and mounds, and quicks, i.e. hawthorn were to be planted.  This was the rule for all fencing.  A mortgage of £2 an acre was authorised in the Award and in this case it amounted to £600.  This was apportioned as £355 for fencing and £245 for building the barn and stables.  For the building he was authorised to take down, if necessary, the buildings near the rectory.  These, on the enclosure map, stood much where the school was built in 1858.  It is perhaps of interest that the barn at New York Farm still stands; it was re-roofed with asbestos sheeting some years ago, and the stone tiles were sold to defray part of the cost, but there was still £400 to pay.  The mortgage was finally redeemed in 1813, and by then there is reference to the house having been built.  This does give some idea of the costs of enclosure to landowners, when they had received their allotments.  The churchwardens, who had received 32 acres in trust for the repair of the church, also raised a mortgage of £68 on the allotment, which was to be divided into four fields, and where a barn of three bays was to be erected.  There is a note to this effect in their accounts dated Nov. 7, 1781 (2).  From their accounts over the following years, some picture of the succeeding activity can be obtained:-

1782 - Boundary hedges - £9.14.7

For a road to the church allotment - £1.4.6

Ditchin against Crimscott Downs - £1.13.0

18,000 of quicks - £1.17.4

Sawing down, axe falling and cross-cutting timber to build a barn - 10.6

Paid Mr Welch towards general expenses - £19.0.9


and a note:- Rent of Bury Field to William Hobday for 20 years at £23 a year.  Agreement to be kept in the Church chest.  Although this statement is made, the rent in fact seems to have been £18 until 1787.

In 1786 is an entry for four loads of straw to cover the barn £4.4.0, and for thatching £2.9.6.  The churchwardens' barn was not as good as the rector's, and has long been of little use.  These are by no means all the entries concerning fencing, carriage of stone, and later repair to the barn.  There were also seven journeys to Evesham about the church lands.


It has been stated that the costs of enclosure and subsequent fencing put some of the small landowners out of business.  This was not so in Ilmington, because all the names of the recipients of land, or their successors, appear in the Land Tax Assessments for 1790 and 1798 (3).  However when the land tax assessments for 1811 and 1821 were consulted it was found that ten of the proprietors of land had in fact sold out and this number includes the Shipston lawyer.  The churchwardens, however, were out of pocket until 1797, when they had £3.5.0 in hand.

Before enclosure in 1781 rents appear to have been often overdue, and there is a note in their accounts 'that the churchwardens should not suffer more than one year's arrears'.  The rest of the note lays down the rules for tenancy of what appears to be their enclosure allotment, i.e. 'the tenant must not take more than three years' crops without a summer fallow, or laying down with grass.  He must wood the quick and take care of fences, and that they provide that all buildings to be erected thereupon shall be sufficiently kept in repair by the tenant to the end of his term'.  It was also agreed that 'all straw, dung, compose and manure arising therefrom shall be spent in a husbandry like manner upon the same and that in the last year the tenant shall sow one of the four fields with broad clover not less than 2 lbs per acre'. 

Their accounts suggest that before the Award they had been receiving about £16 from tenants renting land.  After enclosure this seems to have risen to £18 until 1790, in 1807 it was £32 and in 1808 £48, but dropped to £37 in 1816.  By 1816 their accounts balanced with £43 in hand.

The land tax assessment of 1798 shows that all but three of the landowners were letting their land, but the total number of farmers was around twenty, at which figure it was to remain for the next hundred years.


With enclosure, all rights of common were extinguished.  What this meant to cottagers in this village is difficult to estimate.  In the court baron for 1769 (4) is an order which reads ...'no person other than landholders shall depasture any sheep in the common fields without penning the same of nights'... which could suggest that people who held no strips had still some right of common.  Perhaps the five acres from which they were to receive fuel and possibly money was fair, but they had undoubtedly lost a measure of independence.  As the overseers' accounts after 1780 have been lost, the amount of relief needed before and after enclosure cannot be compared.

A final provision of the award was for the seeding of the fallow with clover at a cost of £88.  This was defrayed by the twenty owners and occupiers.

So the pattern of the village, with its houses and closes, most of the latter now gardens or orchards, and its surrounding pattern of fields was confirmed for the next hundred and fifty years, until council building began and hedges were removed to give the huge fields now needed for the powerful combine harvesters of today.

But still the ridge and furrow of the old open fields can be seen, even in one, of the great curves made by the oxplough.  The past also lingers in such field names as Rod Meadow, Middle Meadow and Swinsty, and the more remote past in the farm name of Southfield, which farm was enclosed before 1698.

  1. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust ER 145/434-5.

  2. Warwick Record Office DR 20/13.

  3. P.R.O. Ref. I.R. 23/92.

  4. Gloucester City Library. Sir Thomas Phillips (No. 15452).

Anchor 1
Map 4
Map 5
Map 6
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