The Nottingham Inclosure Act 1845: Why it is important today

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Nottingham Inclosure Act, 1845: Why is it important today?

© June Perry

AN INCLOSURE is the changing of open fields, moorland and wastes into fenced areas, basically a change from the mediaeval three-field system with all the farms together in the village, to the later one of a farm away from the village, surrounded by its own fields. The large fields became small fields, some of the rough areas became cultivated. These enclosed plots were individually owned and common rights were extinguished.

Some Inclosures were done by agreement, when there were only a few owners of common fields and they could see the advantages of having their own fields within a small area close by, with the management under their own control, instead of in separate strips at a distance with different holdings every year, the management controlled by the set pattern of tradition.

Laxton remains today as the only example of the old system.

In other cases there were large areas in the possession of one or two wealthy men who enclosed the great moorland commons or other as yet uncultivated places to increase the value of the land by cultivation, to make themselves exclusive sheep-runs at a time when wool was at a premium and to sell bits if they wished. An Inclosure Act of Parliament was required if there were dissenting owners. This was not necessary in Nottingham for the Castle Park, with only the duke of Newcastle as owner, but was needed for St. Mary parish.

The outrage expressed over the enclosure of commons, as in the famous poem asking why it is such a crime to steal a goose from off the common, but not the common from the goose, I believe came in the late 18th century, when the village commons, or village greens, of which a few still survive today, were enclosed by the lord of the manor. This remains the popular image of an enclosure, as the benefits of the poor being stolen by the rich.

This sort of enclosure is referred to in the evidence of Mr. Browne, lawyer, of Nottingham, at a parliamentary enquiry in the 1860s. He has nothing but good to say about the Nottingham Inclosure, but referring to that of Eastwood, he points out that a famous 15-acre cricket ground was wiped out there, mainly because, as in other places, the humble people of the area owed their livings and their houses to the man doing the enclosing and would not dare speak out.

THE NOTTINGHAM INCLOSURE ACT, ST. MARY’S PARISH, 1845 – before

The Nottingham enclosure was unlike any other. There had been other Inclosure Acts for the town, such as for the Derby Road area and the General Cemetery, where land with common rights was sold by the Lord of the Manor, (in this case the Mayor and Burgesses), but the changing of use of most of the huge stretch of land from the river to what is now Gregory Boulevard and over Mapperley Hills as far as the Plains, and from Sneinton to Lenton, involved dealing with a great number of different rights.

The Town was notoriously overcrowded to a disgusting and dangerous degree, and it needed to extend over the fields that surrounded it. The infant death rate was extremely high. The town was no longer pastoral but industrial, but as long as the land brought small amounts of wealth to a great number of people, mostly those who could claim to be a Burgess but also others who thought they had a claim to common rights or received another related benefit, it was going to be contentious to change.

The pattern of use of the Three Fields of mediaeval Nottingham, and its Wastes, had been altered at some time in the late seventeenth century. William White, in his History of Nottingham of 1840, says that the owners found it inconvenient to cultivate the fields for two years but then have them entirely commonable the third. They agreed that henceforth each would fence his own small plot and open it for commonable use each year at agreed times, with two gaps in the hedges of each field.

In the Sand and Clay Fields this was from 12th August to 12th November. The meadows were open from 6th July to 2nd February but closed from 13 August to 3rd October and the East Croft could be used at a payment of a fee from 19th September to 11th November. From 2nd February to 6th July there were no Fields open but the Wastes of the Forest and Mapperley Hills were available all the year round to all comers.

Many of the Freeholders wanted change, but the Common Hall (Town Council) consisting entirely of burgesses was consistently against it. So it remained until the shake-up of the way in which councils were to be elected in the future, by the Municipal Reform Act of 1835.

NOTTINGHAM INCLOSURE ACT 1845 ST. MARY’S PARISH – after

An Act to enclose the Fields and Wastes of Nottingham, St. Mary’s Parish, was given the Royal Assent on June 30th 1845. There had been much opposition but this time the Act which would allow the town to build out over the fields in all directions had been passed into law. The Award was not made until twenty years later, 1865, which must indicate the number and complexity of the different issues raised.

At first all those making a claim, for land, rights of common, a burgess part (which was a small sum annually for the most aged burgesses) or other benefit that would be lost were asked to present them in writing on such a date. The days given for this were extended and eventually there were over 550 claims.

These were then set out for public view and objections to the claims were asked for, again in writing on a particular date. This had to be put back as clearly too many people were trying to comb through too many documents.

When at last the claims and objections, many of them multiple, were in, the Commissioners discussed how they were going to deal with them, and had Schedules made which put everything into understandable tables. When they started to hear the claims, in December 1846, a year and a half had already gone by. Some claimants had died and fresh claims had to be put in.

One aspect of this Inclosure, however, was agreed and pursued by the council with vigour, and was one that was perceived to promise great benefit for all the townspeople. This was the giving of 130 acres of the newly freed land for the use of the public for recreation, and so known as Allotted Recreation Grounds. The open fields around Nottingham had given the inhabitants plenty of space for walks and games in the fresh air, and now it was intended to keep something of this facility in spite of the building that was about to cover all the fields. The first idea was of long, wide walks that would nearly encircle the town, and a few cricket grounds. After the idea of an arboretum gained ground, the extent of the walks was cut back, but was still five miles in all, with five parks more or less linked by them. Eight acres were to be used to add to the two new town cemeteries, one already established and one yet to be laid out, which are the General Cemetery and the Rock Cemetery.

WHY IS THE 1845 INCLOSURE ACT STILL IMPORTANT TODAY?

Nottingham was the lucky possessor of 130 acres of Allotted Recreation Ground, more than any other community in the country. Those Inclosure Acts which included some recreation ground usually gave one or two acres, rarely more, and many gave none.

As a result of our Act, we now have: Queens Walk, Queens Walk Recreation Ground, Victoria Park, Robin Hood Chase, Corporation Oaks, St. Ann’s Hill (round Belle Vue Reservoir), Elm Avenue, The Arboretum, Waterloo Promenade (which is really part of The Forest), and The Forest. There are also parts of the two well-laid-out General and Rock Cemeteries, both of which give the pleasures of a park with their winding paths over hilly landscapes, richly supplied with trees and fascinating monuments.

All this land is given to the citizens of Nottingham “forever” by the Act, which furthermore requires the council to maintain it and keep it fenced. There have been further Common Acts which point to various offences that may spoil the enjoyment of these spaces, and which have proved powerful when invoked in court against encroachment on or attempted private use of land that belongs to us all. Anything that is not of benefit to the users, or interferes with their use of the land is not allowed.

So what has happened in Nottingham? Enough to make us realise that we must keep a watch all the time for encroachments and misuses.

Land in the centre of a city is at a premium, and these parks, in particular, are vulnerable to being used for other purposes by the council, who always plead the need for whatever facility they wish to put there, for example the open-air schools for delicate children that sprang up across the parks in the 1920s, some of which remain to this day in the guise of a scout hut and The Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall. Once part of a park becomes so divorced from its original purpose it is easy to sell it off without the illegality of it being evident. There appears to have been no dissent when they were built.

Any opposition to these ventures is looked on as “nimbyism” when in fact it is supporting the intentions of the Act, and unless proposals are challenged right at the start they become embedded so that it is near impossible to remove them. There used to be a little park near the bottom of Huntingdon Street called St. Michael’s Recreation Ground, but it was used for a car park, then a bus station, then sold off. Nobody questioned this so now it is gone for ever, and although the population around has changed in character, a local park right by so many high-rise flats would be most welcome today.

Another example of an illegal change of use was the gradual build-up of cars allowed to park on the Forest, at first for three days before Christmas, then for a little longer for the Sales after Christmas, then every week end, and finally all the year round. Had this been challenged at the start it would not have been allowed, and we would not now have the ugly tram car park at one end of the Forest, which is there mainly because the previous one was given as a precedent.

The creation of the first line for the tram required an Act of Parliament, and this was used to legalise the taking of the Forest ground. It was contested at that time, but taken on the plea that the viability of the tram depended on having that car park. Did it, I wonder?

Now the middle of Queen’s Walk is being ripped out to make way for the second line. Of course it is the cheapest solution but is it the best? We have a Bridge Estate with over a million pounds profit each year to spend for new bridges and their approaches. Why did we not use that? This time there was no need for a separate Act of parliament to take allotted recreation ground as recent transport legislation covered it, but there was a local enquiry at which there were objections raised. As required, some replacement land elsewhere is being designated as simple recreation land, but not very handy for the locals, and in any case it cannot replace the pleasure previously given by walking to the city between a double row of ancient trees, St. Mary’s church visible directly ahead on the skyline.

My last example of threat to our land is of the Arboretum, where some years ago the Council tried to lease the old Refreshment Rooms and some surrounding land to the High School, with option to buy later. This was challenged and stopped, with a useful “advise” given by a barrister which, by the F.O.I. Act we managed to have made public. The same piece of land was then leased to the High School for a car park, but that was also stopped. As I said earlier, eternal vigilance is necessary to keep what’s left of our 130 acres, and a thick skin when objecting to the latest desirable projects.

14th April 2013

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