And The Surrounding District



The Effect of Enclosure on Castlemorton

The shape of our villages today was formed as a result of enclosure which began as early as the middle ages and continued up to the middle of the 19th century. From about 1770 in our part of Worcestershire, what would have been a collection of homesteads dotted across the landscape became the villages we are familiar with today. Maps pre-enclosure would have shown an open expanse of land which we would struggle to recognise as being Castlemorton, Birtsmorton and Hollybush. The most productive land was laid out in large areas, which were divided into furlongs and these were then divided into strips of land whose dimensions made them ideal for ploughing with a team of oxen. Crops were planted on a rotation system and people who had land would hold strips in each field, sharing out the best and poorest soils and ensuring no one was disadvantaged as each field was left fallow in turn. Although the separate strips were owned or rented by individuals, the fields and furlongs were held ‘in common’. Everyone’s animals would graze together and any fallen corn was available to everyone after harvesting. Less productive land which may produce furze or gorse was also shared. Because only a few people would own a team of oxen, ploughing was also a communal activity.

Pre-enclosure village life seems idyllic. We can just imagine the band of happy and well-fed villages living out their lives in harmony and prosperity. However, it only functioned well when everyone agreed. How many arguments took place as a result of someone not doing their fair share of work, or allowing their animals to become diseased so that everyone’s suffered? Who decided what to grow and when to harvest?  I wonder how we would have all got on in those times?

Enclosure allowed private individuals to buy any land that was part of or outside the communal fields. They could enclose the land with fences and keep it exclusively for their own use. In the case of our three villages, the land enclosed (see map 1839) transformed our landscape forever and the social and economic impact must have been considerable. It is interesting to note that the 1839 map is recognisable to this day and man of the field names are still used.

The economic, social and psychological effects must have been significant. What must have been a clear landscape suddenly became a mass of fences and hedges through which none but the owner could pass, No one but the owner or tenant could graze their cattle or plant their crops therein.

There were clear winners in this change. Looking at the ownership of land, one cannot but admire women such as Ann Hart, who, from a small gift of a field from her husband, managed to enclose many acres of land within her lifetime. She farmed some herself, she rented out much to tenants and she even rented some land to farm as well. Another John Rayer Lane, one of the most notable farmers in the area, supported a very affluent lifestyle through his farming endeavours in Castlemorton.

In terms of national wealth, the enclosure of land had a tremendous impact. First of all, the efficiency of farming was greatly improved. For the first time in history, the country was able to produce an excess of food.  In addition, people through necessity, were encouraged to move to the industrial areas of the midlands and thus provide the much-needed manpower needed to fuel the Industrial Revolution. Some would argue that, without enclosure, Britain would never have risen to be the world power of the 19th century.

However, enclosure significantly affected the lives of the commoners who did not own land. Having lost their ability to farm wheat on any appreciable scale, they had to rely on their commoners’ rights, which still enabled them to graze sheep and to enclose small parcels of land around their abodes. However, between 1720 and 1799, the price of wheat almost doubled from £1.62p for 12kilos (33 shillings per imperial quarter) to £3.75 (54/-)for 12kilos. A doubling of prices over that period seems nothing to us, but things were very different then. At the same time, the price of wool was halved.  In 1759, 500gm  earned the farmer 24p but by 1850 it had fallen to 10p per 500gm. Villagers were often left not only unable to feed themselves adequately, but also unable to make a living from the sale of wool. To make matters worse, toll houses were erected on many extra places, so they had to pay to transport what little they had. As an example, a farmer travelling between Ledbury and Newent, a journey of 8 miles, had to pass through three separate tolls. Feelings ran high at this time and the destruction of a toll house in Ledbury resulted in one of the perpetrators, Thomas Reynolds, facing the death penalty. A rather gruesome account of his final hours was reported at the time. Thomas was hanged at Tyburn in 1735, but when he was being ‘screwed into the coffin, he thrust back the lid’ The executioner tried to ‘stuff’ him back in, but the crowd of sympathetic unlookers intervened and took him to a house. He did not survive, however, and died several hours later.

The lasting effect of enclosure, however, may have been the psychological effect it must have had on people living in places like Castlemorton. From being a close-knit community of people whose lives centred on their immediate neighbours, their church and their family relationships, the landscape, familiar to them for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, was changed forever. Newcomers took over their pastures; families were split up; they would have had difficulty recognising the new structure of their environment. Luckily for us, however, large areas of common land do still exist. Let’s hope future generations will be able to enjoy it!


Bagwell, Phillip 2002 The Transport Revolution 1770-1985 Routledge (tolls in ledbury)

Clark, G 2003 The Price History of English Agriculture 1209-1914 Faculty of Econmics, University of California.

Hurle, Pamela 1996 Castlemorton Farmer John Rayer Lane 1789-1871 pub Pamela Hurle,Storridge, Malvern

Leicestershire History : Enclosure

Longford, Paul 1998 A Polite and Commercial People England 1727-1783 Clarendon Press Oxford

Randall, Adrian 2006 Riotous Assembly: Popular Protests in Hanoverian England  pub OUP

Snookes, Med 1986 Castlemorton Common (a handbook for locals and visitors) pub. Castlemorton Common Association

Williams, Merryn and Raymond (ed) 1986 John Clare Selected Poetry and Prose pub Methuen & Co, London

The law locks up the man or woman

Who steals the goose off the common

But leaves the greater villain loose

Who steals the common from the goose.

The law demands that we atone

When we take things we do not own

But leaves the lords and ladies fine

Who takes things that are yours and mine.