Turvey in Turmoil

The shape of the village as we now know it dates from the late eighteenth century and is largely, though not entirely, the result of the work of the Inclosure Commissioners.  It was they who decided where the roads would run and how the field boundaries should be laid out.  Its effects on the village were profound – it was a complete change from all that had gone before – a revolution in fact. Even the methods of farming the land changed.  Those who owned land were in favour of rationalisation but for ordinary villagers life was not so simple.  They had been able to graze a cow on the common and set their pig lose to feed on acorns in the woods. What would happen now?  Even smaller landowners were anxious about their allocation of land and how they would afford to fence it.  Documents from the time reveal some of the anxieties and the politics involved.

How did Inclosure Commissioners Work?

John Higgins led the Commissioners responsible for the Inclosure of Turvey.  Once it had been established by a majority of landowners that enclosing the Common Land and Wastes and sharing out land in the Open Fields was wanted and needed, it should have been simple to achieve.   All Commissioners were legally required to keep a Minute Book of their meetings and discussions.  The Turvey Minute Book gives fascinating detail of the process of Inclosure.  It also shows that the process was not simple – for one thing the villagers still needed food so the land had to be cultivated even when no one was sure which land would eventually be theirs.   There were also tensions about good land and less good land, about access to local amenities, like the Stone Field, about where the roads would run, and about the costs of physically enclosing land; fences cost a lot of money to erect.

Selected entries from the Inclosure Minute Book

(It should be noted that the Commissioners met almost daily for several weeks. Some of these meetings have no recorded content but that the Commissioners were ‘walking the fields’.  To help understanding of the significance of some of these points, the author’s comments on the minutes are in red).

17th March 1783.

The first recorded minutes of the Meeting of the Commissioners was at the Three Fishes on 17th March 1783.  Permission had been granted to cut roads through old enclosures belonging to the Earls of Peterborough (the Mordaunts).  The Commissioners met daily until 21st March.  It was decided that the roads in the village should be staked out first – this was to be done by 1st April when the Commissioners would meet again.

4th April 1783.

At this meeting it was agreed to fix a notice to the Church door on the Sunday following, 6th April.

It read as follows:

Notice is hereby given that all leases and other Agreements, for letting or holding any of the Lands or Grounds, Rights of Common or other Rights in the Open and Common Fields and premises within this Parish (which by virtue of an Act of Parliament are intended to be divided and enclosed) at Rack Rent, shall cease – determine and be utterly void on the 5th day of April next ensuing – And the said Commissioners Do further Order and Direct that the Fallow Fields within this Parish shall be ploughed once in a husbandlike manner by the present Occupiers or Tennants thereof, they receiving for such ploughing after the rate of Seven Shillings for every computed Acre so ploughed as aforesaid. (Sic)

(Rack Rents are generally considered to be rents that are extortionately high. The date of 5th April is interesting as that is the end of the Financial Year and the date when rents and leases on land may be reviewed.  It would seem that any tenancy agreements were ended in order to allow landowners to do as they wished with the land.  The words ‘5th Day of April next ensuing’ are difficult to interpret – the order was written on 4th April but not exhibited until 6th April.  Does it mean 5th April 1783 or 5th April 1784?  The Award itself was not granted until 1785. The Commissioners were entitled to ‘direct the course of husbandry’ during the Inclosure process and it was important that the Fallow Field should be kept from becoming too overgrown. The amount of money offered for ploughing seems generous).

14th April 1783

On this day there was much debate about the most sensible road routes.  The Minute Book records that the Skevington and Woodings families were ‘much involved’.

(The Skevingtons and Woodings were two notable village families who still have connections in the Village.  They objected to the route of the new roads which they considered would not be helpful to them.  Landowners wanted roads near to their new farms but did not want to lose their own land to road ways).

17th April 1783

This meeting noted that the Fallow field was again to be ploughed.  There was a fine of 15 shillings per acre for any not done.

All stock was to be removed from the fields by 24th April.

(It would appear that offering money for ploughing the fallow field hadn’t worked so fines were to be imposed instead.  The simple order to take animals off the open fields would have far reaching effects for those with no other space to keep a cow or a pig.  Many families kept animals on the Common for milk and for meat even if they had nothing else.  A famous quotation from this time is ‘All I know is I had a cow, and an act of Parliament has taken it from me’).

26th May 1783

The Revd Thomas Jones was appointed Surveyor at a salary of £10.0.0 per annum. His first task was to ‘put into sufficient repair’ the roads over the Common Land.

27th May 1783

Notice was given that the ‘Quality and Value’ documents could be inspected at the Three Fishes and at the house of John Sanders, The Sign of the Tinker.  There would be a meeting for objections which was set for the 17th June 1783.  However, no meetings are recorded until 8th July when it appears that the claims on the Common Land were approved.

(This document would be hugely important – who got what land?  Why is there no meeting minuted for 17th June when objections were meant to be heard?)

22nd July 1783

This meeting was held at The Bull in Olney – this appears to be the meeting for objections postponed from June.

(Oh dear! Perhaps this gives the answer!  It was held outside the village!  Although it was customary for people to walk longer distances then, holding the meeting in Olney probably reduced the chance of ordinary villagers getting there. Did the Commissioners feel it was safer to have this meeting away from the village?  There is no record of anyone objecting except Lord Peterborough – see later).

31st July 1783

This meeting was held back at The Fishes.  It confirmed that the land had been laid out and staked and the new arrangements were ready for approval.

Land in the Stone Field had been allocated.

 9th August 1783

At this meeting Lord Peterborough (Charles Henry Mordaunt) objected to the way the ‘Old Enclosures’ had been reorganised.  The Commissioners also:

 Ordered that an Allotment be staked out for the Lord of the Manor (Lord Peterborough) in lieu of Manorial rights of the value of sixteen shillings per annum.

More ploughing of the fields was ordered.

(Even though Lord Peterborough would have the major share of the village, he was still claiming more land in place of the old Feudal Rights he held as Lord of the Manor).

23rd October 1783

The meeting dealt with the problem of ascertaining the amount of tithes to be paid.

An Act for Inclosure 

The Following Clauses are taken from the Act that went before Parliament.  They shed more interesting light on the process  of reorganising the village.

  • Fences could be built before the Award was granted by Parliament. Trees could be cut down for six months to do this.
  • Streams could be diverted for watering provided it did not affect Mills or old enclosures.
  • Old enclosure rights were guarded.
  • The Preamble to the Act allows the Commissioners ‘to direct the course of husbandry’ until allotments were made.
  • The Commissioners were responsible for determining rents from October 1783.
  • They were to make sure the watercourses were kept clear.
  • They were to set out roads and appoint a Surveyor.
  • Leases at Rack Rent were to be avoided.
  • The Petitioners for Inclosure were to pay all the expenses. The Act makes an allowance for borrowing money to do this if necessary – there was a kind of mortgage system in place.
  • There was also provision for those not able to account for themselves ‘minors, ideots, lunatics, or beyond the seas.’

John Higgins’s Oath as Chief Commissioner

I, John Higgins, do swear that I will faithfully, impartially and honestly according to the best of my skill and judgement and without favour partiality or prejudice hear (sic) adjudge and determine all such matters and things as shall be brought before me as a commissioner by virtue of an Act of Parliament made for dividing allotting and inclosing the open and common fields common meadows and common pastures wastes and other commonable lands and grounds in the Parish of Turvey in the County of Bedford so help me God.

Signed by all the Commissioners

17th March 1783

The Act for Inclosure for Turvey was finally granted by Parliament on 7th April 1785.  On that date all land allocated and transferred by the Commissioners would have new ‘owners’. For two years the Commissioners for Inclosure had directed the way the land was farmed in the village, and it seems from their Minute Book that much of the physical work in changing the village landscape had already been achieved.  Fences had been built and new roads made.  There has been much debate amongst historians about the level of distress caused to ordinary country people about the eighteenth and nineteenth century enclosures.  Certainly villagers with no land rights would be unable to graze cattle on the Common or turn pigs into the woods to forage for food.  On the other hand, many became labourers for their wealthier landowning neighbours and earned good money working on the fences and roads as well as farming the enclosed fields.  It is difficult to imagine their feelings; no doubt there was a very mixed reaction!  What is certain is that the appearance of the village changed dramatically.  After two years of turmoil Turvey had almost become the village we now know.

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