From “A History of Agriculture” T. Bedford Franklin
Chapter 13 The Inclosure of Cosgrove
“28th November 1616. Exemplification under the seal of the Common Pleas of a recovery suffered in Michaelmas Term, 14 Jas 1, between John Bett, gent., damandant, and Richard Francklyn, gent., and John Bushye, gent., tenants, concerning a messuage and land in Hoggeshawe, Co. Bucks. Seal £2. Vouchees Paul Wentworth Esq., Richard Howse.”
This bald statement of fact records my ancestor’s lawsuit but gives no hint of the causes that underlay it: but at that time there was little security of tenure for farmers as landlords often dispossessed a good farming tenant and released the farm in attractive good order at a much higher rent. The Berkshire saying:
He that havocs may sit.
He that improves must flit.
probably not only expressed a truth which was the cause of many lawsuits, but was also a pointer to one of the most potent reasons for bad farming.
Whatever may have been the cause, it is certain that when John Bett brought Richard Francklyn to court, to recover possession of the farm that Richard rented from him, he forged a chain of happenings whose links held together the subsequent history of my ancestors for two hundred and fifty years. For Richard, fresh from the verdict of the court in the landlord’s favour and determined to hold some land of which he could not be dispossessed, rode over to Cosgrove and bought there Hisworth farm. From this small beginning in 1616 grew the 250 acres that my family owned after the Inclosure of Cosgrove in 1767.
Fortunately I have a copy of their claims and the map used by the Commissioners for the Inclosure of Cosgrove, showing the land they received in lieu of their many strips in the open fields when the inclosure took place. This map is full of history and gives an insight into the way this greatest change in the history of farming methods for over a thousand years was brought about.
There were no powers to compel any one villager to fall in with the wishes of the others who wanted to improve the three field system of open fields so as to be able to grow turnips and clover for winter feed for the animals; nothing but inclosure could give the up-to-date farmer the opportunity of growing these crops and so farming their land to the best advantage.
The differences between those who had strips on the open fields and those who owned inclosed farms were too deep for argument. The open field farmers admitted that their method was wasteful, because a compact farm could be managed more economically than a number of strips; but they rightly claimed that their ill-arranged strips and rights of common supported more families than the inclosed farms. And they pointed out that in the open fields few were rich, but few were destitute, and they claimed that the open field system brought the greatest good to the greatest number.
Inclosure by agreement had been going on long enough to have earned almost the sanctity of a country custom, but inclosure by the force of law, under the cloak of a mixture of patriotism, private greed and scientific argument was something quite different. By this sort of inclosure all nature became somebody’s property, and to a man descended from those who not so long ago had almost been the property of the lord of the manor this struck a cold chill of foreboding in his bones. And no doubt many knew in their hearts that they could never rise to the new scientific standard necessary for a well-run inclosed farm, after many years of farming in the open fields where their work had been governed for them by tradition.
These two fears made general agreement impossible and failing general agreement an Act of Parliament for the inclosure of a parish was necessary to give the majority of the farmers the right to inclose the land in spite of the wishes of the minority who wanted to go on in the old way. The open fields of Cosgrove were about 1700 acres in extent and were inconveniently intermingled with portions of the adjoining parish of Potterspury so that part of Cosgrove village green belonged to Potterspury and part of Brownswood and Kenson Field in Potterspury belonged to Cosgrove. If an Act of Parliament was submitted it was proposed to return these outlying places to their proper parishes. So about 1766 the landowners of Cosgrove got together and secured enough support to put a bill before Parliament whose preamble ran as follows:
1767 An ACT for Dividing and Inclosing the Open and Common Field, Common Meadows, Common Pastures, Common Grounds and Commonable Lands within the Township and Liberties of Cosgrove, in the County of Northampton (exclusive of Brownswood Green and Kenson Field, in the Parish of Cosgrove, in the said County).
AND WHEREAS the most noble Augustus Henry Duke of Grafton is seised of and intitled to the Yearly Sum of Eight Shillings, as incident to and Parcel of the Honour of Grafton called Cosgrove Certainty Money, payable and issuing out of the Lands of the other Estates and Rights within the said Field, and John Mansell Esq, John Rye, Robert Watson, John Willimas, John Wilmer, William Corbett, Nathan Franklin, Richard Rands, Joseph Scrivener, Thomas Horton, John Boswell, and other Landowners, are together seised or possessed, and are the Owners or Proprietors of all the said open and common Field and commonable Lands lying in the said Township and Liberties of Cosgrove (exclusive of Brownswood Green and Kenson Field); and the said Owners and Proprietors, in respect of their several Lands are intitled to and do enjoy Common of Pasture for their Cattle, in, over and upon all the said Field, common Pieces and Parcels of Pasture and also in, over and upon the said Green called Cosgrove Green, at Stated Times in the Year by a determinate Stint and in a certain Proportion, exclusive of all other Persons whomsoever:
The Act included the names of three Commissioners landowners in neighbouring parishes whose duty it was to investigate all claims to the ownership of land in Cosgrove, to measure the acreage claimed by each farmer, to decide where the piece of land in lieu of his strips was to be, to decide who was to do the fencing, and how the new roads were to be laid out so that each farmer could get to his new farm.
The Commissioners put a notice on the Church door ordering all who claimed any rights to lands in the open fields or grazing on the common to send in their claims by a fixed date. My ancestor, Nathan Franklin one of those who supported the act in the preamble had a claim to 96 different strips and was entitled to an addition of over 100 acres to his already inclosed land at Hisworth farm in lieu of them. His list of claims contains a good deal of evidence of the methods of farming by the open field system, which had gone on for so many years before any inclosed farms came into existence.
Nathan’s list abounds in furlongs - the name for a bundle of parallel strips in the open fields most of them with a descriptive adjective, such as Path Furlong, Middle Furlong, Stony Furlong, and Thick Thorn Furlong. The Cosgrove craftsmen evidently had to supplement their living from their crafts by farming as well, and gave their names to Smith’s Furlong and Miller’s Furlong. The Hades - or headlands where the plough oxen turned at the edge of the arable fields were evidently grassed over to give access to all strips at harvest. They were valuable for grazing tethered cattle and mowing for hay, and many of these, such as Path Furlong Hades and Brownsmore Hades, were all included although of very small acreage; even so small a piece as 5 poles not being overlooked in the list of claims.
The quality of the soil must have varied greatly in the fields; in Stony Furlong portions of every quality up to the fifth quality are mentioned in the list, and it is noticeable that in this field the size of the strips was small, so that every villager probably had a small piece of each quality rather than one large piece. The meadows on the alluvial soil by the rivers Tove and Ouse were more uniform in quality, and doles of 3 acres in Mansell’s Meadow and 2 acres in Sow Meadow are mentioned. Of the 96 strips claimed by Nathan in the open fields and Meadows the largest was 3 acres and the smallest 5 poles.
Amongst many ordinary names, a few given in the list stand out Mortar Pits, Water Furrowes, Short Wails and Flaxland these, though unusual, are of fairly obvious derivation; but Boscoe the Wayes and Shuloing Le Green Sward have puzzled the experts in medieval field names.
The map accompanying my copy of the claims shows the result after the Commissioners for the Inclosure had come to a decision and made their awards. It gives a good example of what Mildred Campbell, in her book “The English Yeomen” calls the doctrine of degree, priority and place, and so often exhibited in documents of that time.
The priority given in the map ranges from the Rev. Dr. Forrester, John Mansell Esq Lord of the Manor John Biggin Esq, Mr Williams, Mr Whalley, Mr Franklin, Mr Rye, through yeomen without prefix such as Corbett, Watson, Gurney, down to husbandmen, Kingston, Gibbins, Benson, whose names are printed in small letters.
Not all the yeomen who could have aspired to a Mr. did so. Thrift and constant practice of economy had been the means whereby they had acquired their land and arrived at riches, and more money was demanded for Royal subsidies, benevolences and assessment ratings from the gentlemen than from the yeomen or husbandmen. In some of these the yeomen escaped altogether, in others they paid only about half what was required from a gentleman or esquire. William Corbett, a wealthy yeoman and a friend of Nathan Franklin’s, stood out resolutely against changing his staus of which he was rightly proud. His daughter Martha was imbued with the same spirit, and after marrying Nathan’s eldest son persuaded her husband to revert to being a plain yeoman and drop the Mr.
Inclosure cost a great deal of money. The Parliamentary officials had to be paid, and witnesses had to attend in London and be lodged there or make several costly journeys to town. After the Bill was passed, the expenses of the Commissioners, surveyor and their clerks began, as well as fees for lawyers in proving or contesting claims and in preparing the award. Finally the cost of new roads, gates, fences and perhaps drainage had to be met. Sometimes, if the parish was a large one, some land was sold to pay these expenses; but more often the cost fell on the proprietors. For a smallholder, his expenses might well be more than the value of his allotment, and in some parishes his costs were paid for him by the big landowners.
The cost of the Inclosure of Cosgrove was about £1600 or nearly £1 per acre. It was probably made up roughly as follows:
Law Costs - - - 500
Survey - - - - 250
Fees of Commissioners - - 350
Roads, Fences, etc - - 500
The money was found by levying an assessment on the proprietors based on the poor rates they paid.
As soon as the Inclosure awards were made a period of minor adjustments began. The more important landowners had been given the opportunity of saying where they would like their new land in lieu of their strips to be situated, and when they put in their claims they had naturally chosen land adjoining their own farms. As far as possible the Commissioners tried to fall in with their wishes. But in consequence the smaller holders had to take land far away from where they lived and very likely cut off from easy access by the land of others.
Thus the two yeomen Thomas Horton and Richard Rands, whose land was in the adjoining parish of Yardley Gobion, and Benson, a husbandman of Cosgrove, had allotted to them small fields adjoining Nathan Franklin’s land. As these outlying fields were a nuisance to them and involved a lot of expense in fencing, they were only too glad to sell them to Nathan, who thereby became the owner of a compact farm on the northern boundary of Cosgrove.
And so the adjustments went on until the larger landowners had rounded off their estates and were left with no outlying portions. The small farmers who had claimed only a few strips and rights of common were less fortunate, because the land they were given in place of these amounted to only a few acres, on which they could no longer grow corn and pasture the sheep they had previously run on the commons. For them there was nothing to do but sell their plot to an adjoining owner to avoid the expense of fencing, and give up hope of ever being a larger farmer. Inevitably they had to fall back on working for a few shillings a week for one of the bigger owners.
This was the cruel side of the Inclosure; rich farmers became richer, but poor farmers disappeared as such, and became paid labourers after years of trying to own a small farm by hard work and saving. This was probably the fate of several at Cosgrove, whose names did not appear in the preamble of the Inclosure Act, and who were wise in not wishing any change from the open fields system. Some few were still more unfortunate. For years they had lived on the edge of the common, and had fenced in a piece of it as a garden and had grazed their animals upon it. But when the Commissioners asked for proof of their rights they could give none and so lost their garden and the use of the common for grazing.
The good side of the Inclosure was the fact that it brought much land under better farming, and more corn and meat became available to feed the population of the ever growing towns. To Nathan Franklin it must have been a godsend. Previous to the Inclosure he had farmed his own inclosed farm according to the new methods, but had in addition to cultivate his 96 strips in the open fields in accordance with the customs of the open fields. Now he had a nice compact farm of 250 acres with a good house and cottage, he could employ more labour from the ranks of those who had been obliged to sell their land and become labourers, and he could carry out schemes of drainage and improvement of the extra land he had obtained in place of his strips.
He was no idle gentleman, but a very practical farmer as well and soon converted the poverty stricken fields he had been given into splendid grass and clover pastures. On these he fattened good bullocks, where previously, as the saying went, “There was only one blade of grass and the rabbits fought for that.” How successful he was can be gathered by his will, where he describes his property as, “All my messuages, lands, hereditaments and premises in the parishes of Cosgrove and Furtho and elsewhere in Northants.” This was obviously the beginning of the golden age of the family estate.
Inclosures did not automatically produce better farming. In the difficult transition years from the open field system to inclosed farming, progress was slow and confined to certain counties, parishes, or even individuals. In Hertfordshire, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Leicestershire and North Northamptonshire, a good standard of farming was established after inclosure; but over much of the country the tyranny of custom caused many farmers to stick to antiquated methods long after they could have enjoyed the freedom of enterprise which came with include farms.