The Enclosures, 1807 (Ann Meakin, 2013)


In this article, which first appeared in 2013 in the Great Yarmouth  Local History and Archaeology Society journal, Ann Meakin reports on her research into the enclosures in Martham at the beginning of the 19th Century.  We are very grateful to Great Yarmouth Local History and Archaeological Society for permission to use this article.

“The Act for Inclosing and Draining certain Lands in the parish of Martham, 1807”

During a study of the claims made to the General Commissioners at the time of “An Act for Inclosing and Draining certain Lands in the parish of Martham, in the County of Norfolk” in 1807, I made some interesting discoveries.


Martham was one of the parishes bordering on the Rivers Bure, Ant and Thurne where enclosure (or Inclosure) of the common land was rather more complicated than in other places.  This was because enclosure involved an extensive project to strengthen the banks of those rivers and drain the marshes alongside them.  It was therefore necessary for the Enclosure Commissioners to oversee the work and ensure its maintenance in the future.


It was during the time of the Napoleonic Wars between England and France when shipping in the English Channel was almost totally disrupted that the government realised it would be necessary to ensure that the United Kingdom was as self- sufficient as possible in food production.  If the marshes bordering the rivers of east Norfolk were drained, it was thought that there would be considerable additional acreage of arable land available for food production.  Drainage could not be done in a hurry.  At Martham there were numerous wide drainage channels to be dug and a wind pump to be constructed to pump the water from the drainage channels up to the River Thurne.  For each parcel of land awarded under the Inclosure from the area which had been the common grazing land, ditches had to be dug to mark its boundaries.  


In addition, it was also realised that in many places the ancient method of open field arable farming was no longer economical and steps were taken to phase it out in favour of creating fields, surrounded by hedges, belonging to individual farmers.  At Martham, there were still extensive areas of open fields although many hedged fields were already in existence.  Some land owners had fields which they wished to exchange for others, presumably in more convenient situations.  The planting of hedges, which were of hawthorn around former open fields, took some time to complete.  It is therefore not surprising that the Inclosure Act took five years to implement.


Martham, on what had once been the Island of Flegg had an upland area of sandy loam covered many millennia ago with “loess” deposited by strong winds, making it extra fertile for arable farming.  On the northern edge of the parish alongside the River Thurne was a vast area of wet and dry common at more or less sea level but subject to flooding if the river overflowed. This can be seen on the accompanying copy of an extract from Faden’s Map published in 1797 (see below).  The common was used for grazing and numerous other purposes such as the turf cutting and a supply of firewood.   This common land belonged to the Lord of the Manor who kept careful control over it to ensure that it would be maintained in a useable state for the various functions it provided and that it was not overgrazed.  Many parishioners had various rights over it.   The actual soil in many places was the sort of sandy clay that was ideal for brick making.


Before the Award of land could be considered, land owners who wished to make a claim for a part of the common had to explain in detail exactly what they already owned and a document drawn up giving “A State of the Claims”. Only those who held their land as freeholders, copyholders or leaseholders were considered to be eligible to make claims. The claims were to be taken into consideration at a special meeting on 30th November [1807] at the Kings Arms (the local public house) before queries could be considered and resolved and allocation of the awarded land could be authorised by the Commissioners.


A document was printed detailing the claims made by the 90 landowners concerned – 77 men and 13 women – not all of whom appeared to live in the parish. 


From this document I made a detailed analysis of the claims and was amazed to discover the wealth of information obtained.  In addition I copied the Ordnance Survey 6” scale maps of 1884 in order to show on it as accurately as possible the land inclosed and awarded and was surprised to realise that almost all of the field boundaries created at the enclosure still existed. 


Analysis revealed that 64 of the claimants appeared to occupy part or all of the property they claimed whereas the property of the remainder was let to tenants. 


The claims had to be signed by either the claimant or the person acting on their behalf. 


The claimants themselves signed 57 of the claims, indicating that nearly all were literate people.  All claimed, “a right of common  pasture for all his commonable cattle levant et couchant upon the said commons and waste grounds in the said parish of Martham, at all times in the year.”


To find so many female landowners was a surprise.  From searching the Parish Registers I discovered that of the 13, Sarah Deary, Elizabeth English and Rebecca Benslin were widows.  Lucy Conyard, Mary Warner, Elizabeth Gray, Eleanor Drake and Mary Boult were married. Eliza Cookson and Diana Creasey both lived in London and had inherited their land from their father William Creasey.  Sarah Littleboy appeared to be unmarried.  Of the other two I could find no information.  When the awards were made, it was the husbands of the married claimants who were awarded the land. 


The Inclosure “State of the Claims” described dwellings as houses, messuages or cottages.  This proved interesting.  I counted eight houses, 52 messuages and 77 cottages, some of which were described as ‘double cottages’ but there were no further details about how each category was defined. 


There were 42 barns listed, which in those days would have been threshing barns.  It seems therefore that there may have been about 40 farms as in some cases more than one barn was listed by a claimant.


There were 36 stables listed.  Did this indicate roughly the number of horses owned in the parish?  Horses were precious animals.  The farmers who owned large acreages had more than one stable but some people who owned only small acreages of land had a stable, which may indicate that some horses were kept for riding and domestic use as well as for farm work. 


There were 33 outbuildings listed.  These included buildings such as shops, and blacksmith’s shops, a windmill and granaries and a ‘baking office’.  By this time there were numerous craftsmen and tradesmen living in the parish, even though this was not evident from the claims made.  The Parish Baptism Register gives details of the ‘professions’ of the fathers of children baptised from 1813 onwards, recording a variety of occupations.  It is possible that their workshops were part of their living quarters or that they were tenants.


There were 26 yards, 36 gardens and 4 orchards.  Moregrove Manor held a fishery which may have been Martham Broad. The Lord of the Manor owned the staithe alongside the river Thurne.


The tenure of land-holding was extremely complicated because nearly all the claimants had some pieces of land that were freehold and other pieces that were copyhold. There were 93 freeholdings.  Other land was leasehold from the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral and comprised the Rectorial Tithes. Other pieces of land were copyhold, presumably of the Manor of Martham, however there was also the Manor of Moregrove and Knightleys and a small amount of land was copyhold of the Manor of Scratby Bardolph.  Many of the records until 1928 of the Manor of Martham survive, as do some of those of Scratby Bardolph but those of Moregrove and Knightleys appear not to be traceable. 


Martham Manor was before 1066 held by the Bishop of Elmham and was passed on through the changes in the Bishopric to the Priory of Norwich until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, after which it passed into private hands.  Moregrove Manor was always held privately.  When the ‘Domesday Book’ was compiled Martham had about 43 free men.  Is it possible that the freeholders of 1807 held land that had passed down in that way for over 700 years?


Discovering that several of those who made claims in 1807 were still alive in 1842/43 when the Tithe Commutation document was made, it was therefore possible from studying the Tithe and Inclosure Maps to discover where they lived.  A few had died and their properties had passed on to their heirs or had been sold to others.  


From this information I was also able to identify the very few buildings which have survived to the present day even though they have been drastically altered or extended.  It is remarkable that farm buildings have survived longer than dwellings.  There are still a few magnificent threshing barns standing around the village.


For some claimants I could find no award of land.  It is possible that for some, the cost of receiving an award was too great.  For each award made, a payment was required to cover the cost of the legal fees, the cost of the parchment on which the title deed would be written and the cost of stamp duty.  For one piece of land awarded, near where they lived, the claimants were required to pay £1 11s. 6d. That sort of cost may well have been prohibitive for those who owned only a very small amount of land and were on the verge of poverty.


The Award, effective from 12th June 1812 is an enormous document written on 45 pages of parchment.  It is very cumbersome to handle and difficult to read with very long lines of handwriting.  Therefore it needs very careful concentrated scrutiny to be sure of acquiring the correct information.  Some of the detail on the map is very hard to decipher without magnification.  There is still much research to be done on this most fascinating and interesting topic.



Sources of information


A copy of a ‘State of the Claims Delivered to the General Commissioners named and authorised, in and by an act of Parliament passed in the 47th year of the reign of His Majesty King George the Third, entitled, “An Act for Inclosing and draining certain Lands, in the Parish of Martham, in the County of Norfolk”’ is included in a large green book kept in Martham Branch Library.


Martham Enclosure Award and Map held at the Archive Centre, Norwich.  N.R.O. Reference PC 125/9/1 


Faden's map


An extract of Faden's 1797 map prior to the Inclosure Act of 1807)

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