Parliamentary Enclosure in the Upper Eden & Lune Valleys
by Dr Ian Whyte


Our speaker for the October meeting at Orton was Dr Ian Whyte who explained about the impact of Parliamentary enclosures in the north west of England ,which involved about half a million acres. Most of that land was upland rough pasture so it was not good agricultural land as it was in the south of England. In 1800 about 80% of the land in Westmorland was waste land and the enclosures took place between the late 18th and late 19th century. There still remains about one hundred and thirty thousand acres of common land in the landscape today so not all land was enclosed. In 1974 it was said that you could walk from one side of Westmorland to the other without stepping off common land. Parliamentary enclosure was not unusual as enclosures had been taking place for a long time, normally by the Lord of the Manor or his stewards. Landowners also cut up land that had been used as deer parks into nice strips and created new farmsteads in which they could put tenant farmers to make some money for them.

The first parliamentary enclosure in Westmorland was on Kendal Fell. The aim here was to enclose the land which belonged to the town and rent it out to provide money to repair roads and for poor relief. The earliest enclosure act to be completed for a substantial area, Orton in 1769, took ten years to complete and caused major problems because of the way in which it was handled. On the other side of the fell , but joining Orton, is Asby, and there enclosure did not take place until 1874, nearly 100 years later. Crosby Ravensworth was never enclosed. At the end of the 18th century most farmers in this area held their land by customary tenancy, this meant that the rents were fixed and could not just be raised. But they did have to pay fines. This often happened if the tenant died and the farm passed to his sons or the Lord of the Manor died and his son inherited. This fine may be 6 or 7 times the annual rent. Most farms in Westmorland were in the hands of customary tenants and this made it almost freehold. This meant they had a say for or against enclosures. This also meant that they were entitled to their share of what had previously been common land. This was different to what happened elsewhere where the tenants got nothing, it all went to the landowners. Because of the customary tenure in Westmorland it meant that people way down the social scale could get land awarded to them. This also meant that several small tenants could band together and counter petition the request for enclosure, and this happened in Ravenstonedale in 1767 where 91 people signed a petition against Sir James Lowther enclosing their land. Therefore, several potential enclosures were dropped. Public meetings were held in many areas to discuss the pros and cons of enclosure and there were a great many disputes. Marking the enclosures was the responsibility of the landowners and depending where you lived as to the means of marking. In this area it was normally dry stone walls built by members of the family but in other areas it would be hedgerows or fencing.

The residents of Orton and Raisbeck bought their own manorial rights in the early 17th century. Orton and Raisbeck held their own courts and then amalgamated them early in the 18th century in order to save money and the courts were held in Orton. Kendal archive office holds documents showing that the landowners of Orton were in favour of the enclosure but Raisbeck were against it. The 1769 act made no mention of the manor of Raisbeck but in 1773, when the commissioners started work in earnest, it was soon realised that they were setting out allotments on Raisbeck common as well as Orton. The inhabitants of Raisbeck protested to the commissioners and took legal advice. As a result of the upset this caused, the commissioners seem to have done nothing for five years. In 1779 an award was made which included allotments on Raisbeck common. The advice of legal counsel was that Raisgill did not have a case because, first, they had allowed joint meetings of their manor court over a long period of time and the records of the Raisbeck manor court had not survived. Secondly no one had objected when the commissioners had walked the boundaries of the land to be enclosed. The people of Raisbeck were convinced that the commissioners we biased in Ortons favour.In the end the enclosures went ahead as the objections were overturned. (Orton Manor  Court is still operating today).

So whether they were wanted or not the enclosure act changed our landscape.

An enlightening and enjoyable lecture with Dr Whyte being asked many questions from the audience.

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