England Enclosure Records, Awards, Maps, Schedules (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Land and Property Records including Manorial Documents and Maps  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Enclosure Records[edit | edit source]

The enclosure movement was that process by which the common fields, shared pastures and scattered strips of arable land which made up the rural landscape of Mediaeval England gave way to the hedged fields and consolidated farms (Beech) of the 19th century. There was a national benefit in that agricultural productivity increased, but larger farmers benefited the most as smaller freeholders were often eased out in the process.

From 1235 manorial lords were allowed to enclose, with hedges, ditches, fences and stone walls, certain common land for arable or grazing purposes. This was known as assarting and meant that other parishioners no longer had common rights such as pasturage, pannage (letting pigs feed on acorns and beech-mast) and collection of wood etc. on these pieces of land (see TNA research guide D74). This system worked well on manors with large commons and wastes (moorland, woodland and marshland) because sufficient common lands survived. It obviously wasn’t popular in the largely arable open-field Midlands where commons were much smaller, and the large land-owners were keen on rearing more profitable sheep on the enclosed lands, thus displacing the people. Tate (The Parish Chest, 1983) has an excellent chapter on how the open-field system actually worked and how it was modernized by enclosure, and Hindle (Maps for Historians, 2002) has a discussion and good illustrations. Hollowell (Enclosure Records for Historians, 2000) is a detailed study of all types of enclosure, with many original examples and transcriptions, information about the process, the surveyors, their methods and the issues surrounding enclosure. The protest movement which resulted in much detail about participants in local newspapers, is detailed by Hugh Ward (Heroes or Villains? Family Revelations in Local Newspapers. Practical Family History Vol41, page 23-24.).

Even by Elizabethan times (1558-1603) much land had been enclosed by amalgamation of strips by common consent, thus allowing farming of land in severalty (independently of others). Closely associated with enclosure is the consolidation of two or more farms into one holding, known as engrossing.

From the 16th century landlords were allowed to enclose arable land for pasturing sheep, cattle or deer. From 1601 a series of individual private or local governmental Enclosure Acts allowed owners of 75-80% of the parish land to force enclosure (inclosure was the legal term). Enclosure commissioners were appointed to reallocate land in the parish by acreage and quality to named land-owners, farmers and graziers; ordinary tenants and labourers are not mentioned in the records.

From the mid-18th until the mid-19th centuries freeholders in most parishes in England and Wales were formally allowed to amalgamate their dispersed strips by exchange or purchase into more efficient farming units, as in this example quoted by Tate:

2 March 1765. Steeple Aston, Oxfordshire, Vestry Book
(punctuation added)
It [is] agreed to change land in the Dean by Willm Wing, Richd Prentice and Richd Fox, for Willm Wing to have Richd Fox piece above the stile for his piece below, and for Richd Prentice to have three lands of Richd Fox next to his land under the Dean hedge shooting into Short Clay Furlong for his two lands in the Dean and for six years at Saint Micahill next. By we
W. Wing, Richd Fox, Richd Prentice

The General Enclosure Acts of 1801, 1836 and 1845 eased the process but individual acts of parliament were needed; the legislation did not affect Ireland or Scotland. A rough guide to the main enclosure of counties by date is given below (from Hey).br

Chart: Dating the Enclosure Movement


Private and Piecemeal

Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Kent, Essex, Suffolk, Hertfordshire

Parliamentary (By Act of Parliament)
Midland counties of Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Rutland and Warwickshire.
Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Middlesex, East Anglia, Cambridgeshire, Surrey, Herefordshire, Somerset, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Huntingdonshire, Lake District

Enclosure Awards[edit | edit source]

The Enclosure Award was the formal document, typically a large book, giving the terms of the enclosure or regrouping of land holdings. The awards made allotments of quarries, gravel- and sand-pits for the overseers of the highways, and delineated public rights of way such as roads, footpaths and bridleways (see TNA research guide D75). Accompanying the award was a map and a schedule of the owners and their holdings. Two copies were made, one remaining in the parish chest and the other with the clerk of the peace for the county. Where they survive, both copies have usually made their way to the county archives, although there are a few in TNA where they have been enrolled by decree in one of the equity courts.

Enclosure Maps and Schedules[edit | edit source]

Enclosure maps of the new holdings were made, sometimes with pre-enclosure ones for comparison, and are cross-referenced to the relevant awards. In total, about 70% of all enclosure maps have survived, later dates being better represented. The details shown vary—some show individual fields and buildings, but mostly only the overall acreage of each landholder. If enclosure took place by mutual agreement then hedges or walls were erected around the newly created blocks following their ancient curved boundaries.

Parliamentary enclosures[edit | edit source]

Parliamentary enclosures were those done by act of parliament when the land-owners could not agree amongst themselves, and the new fields typically had straight edges and the landscape acquired a more rectangular aspect. New roadways (enclosure roads) may have been made across former open-fields, and are characteristically straight and very wide (30-40 feet) to allow grazing for farm animals on the move and for travellers to ride around holes! Aerial photographs show these features very well.

If there is no early estate map, the enclosure map may be the earliest large-scale map available for a parish or township as it usually pre-dates the tithe map and the Ordnance Survey. It is most useful to compare the enclosure map with a later large-scale map to track the ancient layout of the village and its growth. However, there are few places for which both an enclosure map and a tithe map were made. This is because early commutation of tithes was often written into the enclosure awards and thus there was no need for a separate tithe award.

Enclosure Schedule[edit | edit source]

The Enclosure Schedule gave such details as the land-owners’ names, extent of holdings, nature of tenure (freehold, copyhold etc.) cross-referenced to the map.

Enclosure documents tend to be large and unwieldy but many are filmed with the maps in sections and hence are more manageable. The survival rate is good because several copies of the originals were made. The vast majority are in English and sometimes modern transcripts of these documents are available as well. If they are not available through the FamilySearch Catalog- TOWN – LAND AND PROPERTY then contact the County Record Office. Some examples of enclosure records with maps at the FHL include:

  • Cheshire – Woodchurch 1826 on FHL film 2106348 Derbyshire - Baslow, parish of Bakewell 1826 on FHL film 1041697.
  • Gloucestershire - Frampton Cotterell 1831 and Bitton 1827, 1865 on FHL film 2093081.
  • Lincolnshire – 23 parishes in Horncastle area in FHL book 942.53 E3r.
  • Yorkshire - Monkton Moor, 1787, 1831 on FHL film 2093581.
  • Yorkshire – Stillingfleet 1753 enclosure (unusually also has 1842 and 1838 tithe apportionments).

Books about single parishes will typically have details of the enclosure awards and maps, for example Coleman’s book on Chalgrave, Bedfordshire. TNA has research guides to enclosure records - D86 general information and D87 which is an actual example with map for Anstey, Hertfordshire 1832. An example from Sheriff Hutton, Yorkshire is given and discussed by W.E. Tate (Enclosure Awards and Acts #14 in Short Guides to Records edited by Lionel M. Munby. 1972) who also produced a handlist of Buckinghamshire enclosure acts and awards.

There are no enclosure or tithe maps for most ancient cathedral cities or for the cities of London, Westminster and Southwark which had their own special arrangements.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Land and Property Records including Manorial Documents and Maps offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.