The 1845 Inclosure Award. Goodbye to the Common.

A copy of the transcription of the award can be downloaded here : Transcription of 1845 Child Okeford Inclosure Award .If you would like a transcription with additional explanatory notes please contact [email protected]


The 1845 Inclosure award for CO is the document, now stored in the Dorset History Centre, that made legal the transfer of the remaining common land in the village  to certain named recipients. The map shows the common land ,shaded green, and the new fields into which it was broken up. Inclosure is usually taken to mean the breaking up of the open fields into discrete fields and surrounding them with hedges. In fact this was a relatively minor part of the process.

Child Okeford Inclosure Map 1845 All images courtesy of Dorset History Centre.

The first page of the award.

Physically, the award comprises 13 parchment sheets, stitched together with tape at the bottom. 12 of the pages contain handwritten text and one page is a map of the lands to be inclosed.

The text details

  • the legal background to the Inclosure Act of 1836 [under which Child Okeford was to be inclosed]; there is a lot of repetition of these details.

  • the names of those who initiated the process,

  • the name of the Inclosure Commissioner and the meetings he held,

  • the categories of people from whom evidence might be heard and

  • the categories of people from whom evidence would not be heard ; these were people under a legal disability and were defined as – “infant idiot lunatic or femes couvertes”. It is of interest to note that “femes couvertes” [married women]were in the same category as infants etc.

  • the new roads that were to be constructed in the village after inclosure,

  • the lanes that were to be taken out of common use,

  • the names of those who were to be given the land,

  • the location and size of the land to be awarded,

  • the future management of the field known as Net Mead.

The award once completed was sent to an Inclosure Commission in London where it was registered and the award then acquired the legal status “as if enclosure had been authorised by a special Act” [of Parliament]. Once this was done it could not be challenged in court.

A brief history of inclosures.

[I use the word inclosure as it was the word used at the time. Latterly it became known as enclosure.]

It is the Anglo-Saxons who appear to have introduced what was to be known later as, the open or common field system. The villagers, cleared the land, ploughed it and harvested it together. Typically three large fields were created often of a hundred acres or more; one was planted with wheat to feed the villagers, one with barley to feed the animals and the third was left fallow. This was subsistence farming and each man had to have land in each of the three fields in order to support his family. The result was that instead of discrete fields as we have today the farmers had multiple small strips in each of the fields. The manner of ploughing led to a very distinctive appearance which is still visible today in some areas where modern ploughing has not destroyed it.

As well as the arable fields there were grasslands. Firstly there was meadow land, cultivated for its hay crop -essential for overwintering the few animals not to be killed before winter. Of all land it was the most valuable  as it was in short supply and, after the hay harvest, was used for grazing. Secondly there was “pasture”, used for grazing in the summer and of somewhat variable quality.

Each farmer would have have what today we might call “virtual” strips in a meadow ,delineated by the use of marker stones, thus enabling him to mow the hay from his strips . Ancient scythes however did not cut closely, there was always grass left behind for animals to graze, but how could cows be made to graze in strips?

A system developed whereby each man, who held land in the manor, was granted a “right of common” over the field. The farmer would be able to mow his hay in strips but his animals were allowed to graze over the whole field; the number of animals being dependent on the amount of land he held.

A right of common, legally, is the right of one man to make a profit from land belonging to another, and although rights of common over the fields were valuable there were other rights which were even more valuable.

The lands of the manor, at least in medieval times, were always larger than could be cultivated by the number of villagers in the manor. The uncultivated and uninhabited land of the manor always belonged to the lord of the manor and was known as the waste. Later generations would call it [confusingly] the “common.”

The waste provided for all the other needs of the villagers. During the long centuries when there was no gas, no electricity and no coal all cooking had to be done using wood or turf, the source of which was the waste. Similarly timber for building, sand and other minerals were all obtained from the waste.

The waste was also used to support a certain number of animals grazing on it over the winter and the Lord would grant rights to the villagers to use the waste for this purpose. These rights were of great value ; they were not “free” and they were not granted to just anyone. Those who had such rights were known as “commoners” but not everyone living in a village was a commoner. Possession of such rights was linked to the possession of land in the manor, for which the tenant rendered some service to the lord which was determined by the customs of the manor.

Rights of common were recorded in the Court rolls of the manor and were rigorously protected under common law, but inevitably over the years records became lost and the rights difficult to prove. Moreover one suspects many individuals claimed rights which, strictly speaking, they were not entitled to.

Why Inclose?

Pressure to inclose started early, probably from the 13th or 14th century. The waste was inclosed directly by the simple expedient of cutting into it, and in the fields it is was usual for the lord to consolidate his strips. The reasons given to inclose are complex and space here is limited, suffice to say that in the 18th century two principle reasons are given.

The first was agricultural improvement and efficiency; it was difficult to breed better stock, for example, when all the animals were mixed together and the introduction of machinery was of no use unless the whole village agreed to it.

Secondly it suited the big land owners to have a work force dependent on wages. Commoners with only a small amount of land could survive by [for example] keeping  a cow on the common and this rendered them largely independent of the bigger land owners. This independence was feared as Arthur Young, a leading agronomist of the era, put it: I know nothing better calculated to fill a country with barbarians ready for any mischief than extensive commons and divine service only once a month.”

If inclosure of the fields led to agricultural improvement it was the abolition of the rights of common that reduced the yeomanry to servitude by denying them the use of the waste.

Rights of common, being of great value, were vigorously protected in law and this created problems in the 18th and 19th century when turnpikes, canals and, later, railways came to be constructed. If a commoner, with a right over some piece of land, objected to its use as  a turnpike etc construction could not go ahead.

The only law that could overcome common law was Statute law, that passed by Parliament. As a consequence Private Acts of Parliament were needed to ensure the construction for each canal, turnpike and inclosure.

This was no easy or cheap business; the landowners had to go through a process similar to the one described below but initially there were no regulations governing it. As the 18th century it became clear that some standardization was required and as a result Parliament passed several Acts to regulate the Acts!

This clearly could not go on and in 1836 the snappily entitled Act 6 & 7 William IV. (1836), c. 115 an Act “For facilitating the enclosure of open and arable fields in England and Wales” was passed its aim being to simplify the process of inclosure and reduce the costs. It was this act under which Child Okeford was inclosed.

The Act laid down the process by which the case for inclosure was to be prepared and presented. If two thirds of the local landowners wished to inclose they would appoint a Commissioner to undertake the process. This would involve

  • surveying the land to be inclosed,

  • examining the cases of those who claimed rights of common,

  • examining the cases of those who objected to inclosure,

  • deciding what roads were to be built [there almost always were],

  • apportioning the land to be inclosed to the various land owners.

An Inclosure Commission was established in London. Landowners in a Parish would appoint an Inclosure commissioner[s], usually surveyors, who would, following procedures laid down in law, prepare the application and send it to the Commission in London. If accepted by the Commission it would pass into law “as if enclosure had been authorised by a special Act”[of Parliament]

What happened in Child Okeford?

The tithe map of 1840 shows that the majority of land in Child Okeford had been inclosed, when is not known. There are no private Acts of Parliament in the 18th century but a number of deeds, dating from the mid 17th century, name fields that are shown on the tithe map so it is likely that these fields were inclosed in the late 16th or early 17th century.

Some time in 1841 three of the principal land owners in the village, Sir Edward Baker Baker [after whom the Baker Arms is named], George Peach [ an ex-army surgeon with land in the village] and John Baldwin [a farmer] called a meeting of all the landowners and began the process of inclosing the remaining common land and the field known as Net Mead. This area amounted to 288 acres; the 1841 census gives the total area of the Parish as being 2100 acres so this 288 acres represents a mere 13%. of the land total.

The first meeting of the landowners was called for the 20th of December 1841 but something had gone wrong. The Act called for “2/3rds in number and value of the landowners” to agree and at this meeting there were fewer than the required number. The Solicitor to the landowners [ a chap called Septimus Smith in Blandford] was sent away with the task of whipping up support for the proposals. This clearly took some time for the next meeting was called for the 9th May 1842 when the required number had been agreed and John Martin, a land surveyor from Evershot, was appointed as the villages Inclosure Commissioner. He set to work and on 4th July published a notice in the Dorsetshire County Chronicle requiring those having an interest in these lands to attend a meeting on 22nd August at the “Baker’s Arms”; clearly nobody had told him that it is actually the Baker Arms.

After this meeting Martin began to receive submissions from those villagers who had a claim over the land and in September he posted another notice in the Chronicle announcing a meeting to be held on the 5th October 1842 at which these respective claims were to be discussed. This time the meeting was to be held at the Greyhound Inn, Blandford and the claims themselves were also to be put on display at the offices of Septimus Smith and also at the home of Susannah Newman which was the Union Arms Inn in Child Okeford. This was an important meeting as Martin made clear that after this time no objections to the claims would be admitted.

After this meeting Martin began to receive submissions from those villagers who had a claim over the land and in September he posted another notice in the Chronicle announcing a meeting to be held on the 5th October 1842 at which these respective claims were to be discussed. This time the meeting was to be held at the Greyhound Inn, Blandford and the claims themselves were also to be put on display at the offices of Septimus Smith and also at the home of Susannah Newman which was the Union Arms Inn in Child Okeford. This was an important meeting as Martin made clear that after this time no objections to the claims would be admitted.

After this meeting Martin must have got to work on the Award itself as nothing more is heard [or to be more accurate nothing more has been found] until 1846 when another notice was  posted in the Dorset County Chronicle advertising a meeting in Blandford Forum to discuss the draft award. Interestingly the date on the map itself is 1845.

The Award

The award starts with a very imposing opening line “To all to whom these Presents shall come” . In fact this is simply a legal term roughly equivalent to “to whom it may concern”.

Unfortunately we do not have the working notes as to how the awards were made but by the end of the process the 288 acres was divided up between 33 landowners and a grant of land to the Overseers of the Poor. Whether more people had claimed rights which were denied is not known.

The award begins with a very lengthy explanation of the laws governing inclosure after which we come to the main part of the Award. In most awards, rather oddly, it was usual to start with the roads that had to be constructed as a result of the award : the CO award is no exception. Two types of road were to be constructed, Public Carriageways and Private Carriage ways.

For example Martin ordered;

One Public Carriage Road and Highway of the Breadth of Thirty Feet called The Shroton Road and marked with the letter a on the Map hereinto annexed commencing at Common Lane Gate in the Higher Common and extending Northeastwards in its present track leading towards Shroton”

The tithe map of 1840 shows there is no road out of Child Okeford beyond what was known as the Higher Common.

The Inclosure award obliged the landowners to build a new road called The Shroton road out of the village. Today it forms a part of the Shaftesbury Road.

The Tithe map it will be recalled showed there was no “Shaftesbury Road” as there is today. The road from the village in 1840 literally ran into the ground. This new road rectified this; of interest here also is that the common itself was protected by a gate. Presumably the higher common was bounded by some hedge and the gate allowed access to the common and prevented animals wandering off.






The second Public Carriage road to be constructed was: “The Lower common road = b

One other Public Carriage Road and Highway of the Breadth of Thirty feet called the Lower Common Road marked with the letter b on the said Map commencing near a Cottage of Mrs Susan Abbot at Gold Hill and extending Northward in its present track over Goldhill and the Lower Common until it enters Fontmell Lane leading towards manston” [sic].

The Green area in the middle was the Gold Hill Common. A new road was constructed from where Gold Hill Cottage now is towards Manston.

The cottage concerned was the Gold Hill Cottage and the tithe map showed that from this point on towards Manston the land was in fact common land and it is listed as being used as “pasture”.

The third Public Carriage road, The Gobson Road, was in the mysterious Gobson Common. Today no trace of this name can be found but it is found in documents from the 16th century; on modern OS maps it can be found just South of Broad Oak near Sturminster and the whole area is known now as Banbury Cross. In 1840 there were no roads crossing it. The Gobson Road is now known as Angers Lane. Hutchins History of the County of Dorset 1870 refers to this as Andyers or Aungiers after the farm here.

These Public Carriage Roads were open to anybody but the Private Carriage roads were clearly limited. The first three, which need not concern us, were in Gobson Common but then comes ;

The Gold Hill Road g ONE other Private Carriage Road and Driftway of the Breadth of Twenty Feet called The Gold Hill Road and marked with the letter g on the said Map branching out of the Lower Common Public Road at Gold Hill between two several Allotments to George Peach Esquire and extending Northeastward until it enters Ridgeway Lane

The Ridgeway Lane existed on the tithe map but it ran into the “Gold Hill Common” where no road existed. The Gold Hill Road, which is now just the southerly part of the Ridgeway Lane joined the lane to the Lower Common road but could only be used by those with land either side of the Ridgeway lane.

Other roads constructed include “The Burgess Drove” which remains today as a farm track with its entrance on the left [heading towards Manston] just past “The Bower”. It forms a part of the current footpath to Hammoon.

Several Private Carriage Roads were constructed in the higher common as shown on this map. The Fontmell Road has disappeared completely but a foot way leading to Gallows Corner has now grown to a proper farm lane. The Seymer road still exists and is in good condition although I doubt anyone remembers that it was once called this after Henry Ker Seymer sometime MP for Dorset. The Ridgeway Road and Higher Common Road still exist albeit reduced to overgrown footpaths although traces of the drainage ditches built at the time can still be seen.

David Pope prepared this map derived from the Inclosure award showing the arrangement of the Private Carriage roads to be constructed in the higher common. Also shown are the new fields to be carved out of the common.

Interestingly it would appear that some houses had been built on the common land at Gold Hill. This had been forbidden under an act of Elizabeth the first but George Peach was awarded land in Goldhill common:

Subject to a Footway four feet wide to the said Dwellinghouse and Garden of the said James Arnold and which said Allotment numbered 4 is hereby Awarded subject to a Footway Four Feet wide to the said Dwellinghouse and Garden of the said John Eyres.”

The Public Carriage ways were to be paid at public [the local ratepayers] expense but the private ones had to be paid for by the landowners and Martin gives tables as to how much each would be charged.

Some roads were abolished; if you have never heard of “whist lane” that is because it doesn’t exist. It used to, once. It ran between older, inclosed, fields off Ridgeway and the Fontmell Parva estate thus joining the higher to the lower common but the Inclosure award abolished it.





Of particular interest is the area around what we now call Legal Lane. Prior to 1845 it was known as Norton Hedge Lane and it joined up with “Lego Lane” [sic] connecting it to Net Mead lane.  Lego lane was apparently common land and under the award it was  inclosed and abolished. Today the lane has been reinstated as a permissive foot path- just to prove history can be turned back.

Lego lane joined Net Mead lane to Nortons Hedge Lane [now known as Legal lane]. This in turn ran into Greenway lane and Knots lane [now part of Haywards Lane].

After detailing the roads that were to be built in the village the next 6 pages of the award details how the common land was to be allocated. The transcript gives details of these but a typical entry from the award reads:

Allotment to Susan Abbott No 20

AND for Susan Abbott as Lessee and Henry Luke Dillon ^ Trenchard as Reversioner All that Allotment of Land situate in the Higher common containing Two Acres Two roods and

Twenty six perches and numbered 20 on the said Map bounded on the Northeast by Allotments to George Holdway and Leah Holdway respectively, on the Southeast by the Ridgeway Road, on the Southwest by an old inclosure belonging to the said Susan Abbott and on the Northwest by old inclosures belonging to Lawrence Edward Saintloe Esquire

Plot 20 was awarded to Susan Abbot. John Martin has drawn in the hedges. This was not artistic ; the hedges were drawn pointing into the field of the owner who had responsibility for planting and maintaining the hedge.

In the original document, 11 pages remember, there is one punctuation mark, a comma, and it did not appear in this entry.

The award closes with two unusual details. The first is that George Peach was awarded 7 acres in Gobson Common, and Lord Rivers 2 acres in Ridgeway which they swapped. Precisely why they did this is not known and the swap does not appear to be equitable but clearly they thought it was.

The second is the way that the landowners treated Net Mead. In essence they wanted no change from status quo. They were to graze their cattle on the hay field after the harvest “from the said third 22 day of September in each year to the said fourteenth day of February in the following year the said several fifteen last named parties shall have the exclusive enjoyment and participation of the produce of the said Allotments situate in Net Mead aforesaid and in the proportions and in the manner hereinbefore directed”

After which the award closes and the final pieces of common land in Child Okeford were abolished.

Or were they.

In 1965 The Commons Registration Act registered any remaining common land in the country and guess what the field known as Net Mead is the only piece of common land in the village.

Information on this page has been compiled from various sources including, Dorset History Centre and The British Newspaper Archive 

It has been published on a non-commercial basis to further historical interest and knowledge about our village. No part may be reproduced without acknowledgement of the sources above from which it has been compiled and never for commercial reasons.

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