Parliamentary enclosure

Mixture of regular and irregular fields at Aston Clinton

The traditional open fields that had been around since the medieval period were seen as old-fashioned and unproductive by the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The government made enclosure compulsory in the General Enclosure Act of 1801. Can you think of the benefits of enclosing fields with fences instead of having large open fields? 


If a landowner wanted to enclose land in their parish then they would get a private Act of Parliament. The Act would appoint commissioners who would visit the parish and survey it.


The commissioners would then enclose the open fields. Each landowner would be given one big plot of land equal in size to the areas he formerly held in separate smaller bits. The commissioners would also divide the common.


If there were only a few large landowners in a parish, then enclosure tended to happen quite early, in the mid-late eighteenth century. However if many smallholders owned the farmland it was more difficult to get agreement to enclose the land.

Irregular fields with curved boundaries at Ashendon


Field shape

Early enclosure follows the line of the medieval ridge-and-furrow and therefore has a curved boundary. Later enclosure is very straight and regular, cutting across earlier patterns.


Look at the examples of field shapes your teacher gives you. One is an example of early irregular enclosure (in purple) at Brill. The other shows fields (in blue) at Marsh Gibbon that were enclosed by Act of Parliament and so were laid out in a more regular pattern.


Look at maps of your area on Buckinghamshire's Heritage Portal and try to work out from the field patterns what date they were enclosed. Remember the principles:



Early enclosure

Parliamentary enclosure



Curving field boundaries

Straight field boundaries

Grubbed up field boundary, across the middle of the picture, north of Upton



Some modern fields have been made very large and regular and old field boundaries have been dug up or filled in. Look at the detail from an Ordnance Survey First Edition map from 1880 of Beaconsfield and compare it to the modern map, your teacher will give you both. Can you see where boundaries have been lost? Draw in the modern map where the old field boundaries were.


In other areas, large fields have been divided into smaller fields with new field boundaries. Look at the map sections in Great Marlow that your teacher gives you. On the Ordnance Survey First Edition map of 1880 , there are several irregular large fields. On the modern Ordnance Survey map the fields have been subdivided. Mark the new field boundaries with a highlighter pen on the modern map.


Why do you think farmers want either bigger or smaller fields? Think of some reasons and write them here:



Bigger fields

Smaller fields








Go back to find more Changes in the landscape.