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Enclosure Maps and Awards (Parish Records)

Nature of Source

Records from enclosure awards which effectively broke up the smallholding system of farming the land and consolidated vast open shared tracts of land in the hands of wealthy landowners with many small farmers turned into landless labourers. The process began in the 12th century but became widespread from 1750. Open land was allotted to landowners by private Acts of Parliament and later by the Inclosure Acts between 1801 and 1845. Private Acts of Parliament were enacted after failure to settle land disputes amicably between the landowner and tenants. The earlier agreements can be found amongst the equity Court of Chancery records. The actual legal process was called Inclosure.

The Acts of Parliament listed the landowner who had brought the case to parliament as well as the name of the appointed enclosure commissioner. The enrolled award itself detailed how the land was to be divided up between the landowner and others, together with the amounts of land. The survey of the land conducted by the enclosure commissioner provides a written physical description of the land and its boundaries including the names of the pre-enclosure fields, footpaths, roads and other features. Following the survey, the award lists the wealthy landowners and then the farmers and cottagers allotted land in lieu of their former common rights.

The awards do not, however, list landless people, so many parishioners are not recorded. Even if a person was known to have held land, it is not certain that his property will appear on an enclosure map as much land was enclosed by private agreement with no record made of the event. Another disadvantage is that most enclosures dealt with waste and common land and very few residents had any legal claims to these areas. Helpfully, in some parts of the open-field districts of central England the accompanying award lists not only the owners but every property in the parish with the name of the tenant. From 1836 the General Inclosure Act simplified the process and largely removed the need for parliamentary approval with the proviso that two-thirds of the parties agreed. Enclosure awards were often registered in title deed registers.

In addition to the award, a map of the land under investigation as part of the enclosure process might survive with the names of the landowners written on them. Most awards from 1801 were accompanied by a detailed map. However, the accompanying maps just deal with the part of the parish affected by enclosure.

Also see
Land and Property Records including Title Deeds

Where Found

The National Archives (Records of Equity courts and copies of enclosure awards)
County Record Offices (Deeds, copies of the awards, estate papers and maps. ARCHON Directory: Find the details of a UK archive from a searchable list of over 2,500 archives The catalogue can be found on the TNA Discovery home page)
The Parliamentary Archives (Enclosure awards by private acts of parliament which you can be searched for in the online catalogue, Portcullis)
LSE Library, also known as the British Library of Political & Economic Science
Bodleian Library (The Bodleian Library is the main research library of the University of Oxford with their holdings including estate records, deeds, rolls and maps. Their activities can be followed on Facebook and Twitter)

Period Covered

1750 - 1860

Genealogical Value

Names of farmers and landowners and the land allotted to them; Large scale maps of the consolidated land; Names of tenants might appear in the schedule. Useful for house histories.

Further References

Bradley, Harriett. The Enclosures in England, An Economic Reconstruction: HardPress, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon

Chapman, John. A Guide to Parliamentary Enclosures in Wales: University of Wales, 1992

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Curtler, William Henry Ricketts. The Enclosure and Redistribution of Our Land: Clarendon, 1920 Buy Now on Amazon
Hollowell, Steven. Enclosure Records for Historians: Phillimore, 2000  Buy Now on Amazon

Kain, Roger & Chapman, John & Oliver, Richard. The Enclosure Maps of England and Wales 1595-1918: Cambridge University Press, 2004 (Preview available at Google Books)

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Mingay, G. E. Enclosure and the Small Farmer in the Age of the Industrial Revolution: Macmillan, 1968 Buy Now on Amazon
Mingay, G. E. Parliamentary Enclosure in England: An Introduction to its Causes, Incidence and Impact, 1750-1850: Longman, 1997 Buy Now on Amazon

Munby, Lionel M. & Thompson, Kathryn (eds) Short Guides to Records: First Series-Guides 1-24: The Historical Association, 1994

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Neeson, J.M. Commoners: Common Right, Enclosure and Social Change in England, 1700-1820: Cambridge University Press, 1993 Buy Now on Amazon
Slater, Gilbert. The English Peasantry, and the Enclosure of Common Fields: Archibald Constable, 1907 Buy Now on Amazon

Tate, William Edward. The English Village Community and the Enclosure Movements: Gollancz, 1967

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Tate, William Edward. A Domesday of English Enclosure Acts and Awards. University of Reading, 1978

Turner, Michael. English Parliamentary Enclosure: Its Historical Geography and Economic History: Dawson Publishing, 1980 Buy Now on Amazon
Yelling, J.A. Common Field and Enclosure in England, 1450-1850: Archon Books, 1977 Buy Now on Amazon

TNA Research Guide: Enclosure Awards

Websites (Surrey History Centre Research Guide: Enclosure maps and awards) (Norfolk County Council: Guide to the Enclosure Maps of Norfolk) (Berkshire Record Office: Understanding and studying Enclosure) (Parliamentary Archives: Enclosing the land) (The enclosure movement in England and Wales, extract from Kain, Chapman & Richard. The Enclosure Maps of England and Wales 1595-1918) (Map Curators Group: Directory of UK Map Collections)

Online Databases

TNA Discovery Catalogue (Partial catalogue of available awards and maps)
Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A]) (The Enclosure Maps of England and Wales. A digital catalogue and description of enclosure maps held in public archives and libraries between 1993 and 1997) (Worcestershire Tithe and Inclosure Map Project: On-line access to digitised 18th and 19th century inclosure, tithe and estate maps searchable by name with transcribed entries from the original documentation) (The Norfolk Historical Map Explorer: Online access to Norfolk enclosure maps dating from the late-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century) (Berkshire Record Office New Landscapes: Access to historic manuscript maps and documents online. The maps and land awards on this site show the process of enclosing the common fields of the county of Berkshire between 1738 and 1883)
(Sherington Historical Society: 1796 Enclosure Map, showing land holdings. Sherington is a village and civil parish in the Borough of Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire)