St Mary Bourne Revisited


Swampton Allotments of 1753


Between 1766 and 1832, enclosures of common lands were general throughout the country, the enclosure Acts being similar in character. There were some earlier enactments, but they were general in their operation. Thus, Act, 29th Georg e 2nd 1756, was an Act for enclosing, by the mutual consent of the lords and tenants, part of any common for the purpose of planting and preserving trees fit for timber or Underwood, and for preventing the unlawful destruction of trees. Recompense was agreed ( In the Act ) to be given to those who common rights, either by a grant of a share of the profit from the sale of timber, or by a grant of other lands, or by some annuity or rent charge issuing out of the said ground. Act, 31st George 2nd 1758, was for the purpose of rendering more effective the former Act; but in it some alterations were made in the mode of recompensing those interested in rights of common.

Act, 13th George 3rd:For better Cultivation, Improvement, and Regulation of common Fields, Wastes, and Commons of Pasture. The act, in brief:

“This Act regulated the usages of common lands, such as the opening and closing of commons at particular times, which could be done by a majority of two-thirds of the commoners; the election of field reeves (every year on the 21st May, or within three days after) to superintended the fencing, cultivation, and improving the common lands.

The lands cultivated were to be done so at the expense of the occupiers ; as should be determined by three fourths of the occupiers, with the tithe owner or rector, twenty one day's notice being given on places of worship, signed by one third of the occupiers. All the expenses were to be paid proportionately by the occupiers.

The balks, slades, or meers which may be waste, lying among arable land (inconveniently) with the consent of the lords or ladies of manors- that is to say, any wastes in open or common fields adjoining such balks, slades, or meers, being wastes, and having also the consent of three-fourths of the value of the occupiers obtained at a meeting, such lands could be ploughed up and tilled.”

From the year 1760 to 1844, 4000 enclosure Acts were passed showing how general was the open field system in England at so late a period. The abandonment of this system was necessitated by the increase in the population, and by the improvements made in agriculture. The Acts were drawn in the same form, reciting that the open and common fields lie intermixed, and situated inconveniently, owned by divers persons, who are entitled to rights of common on them, and being in their present state incapable of improvement, and that it is desirable that they should be divided and enclosed, each commoner having a specified share set out. On this enclosure Commissioners were appointed, and under their award the "balks" were ploughed upland the fields divided into parcels for the separate owners. The rearrangement and planting of hedges consequent on this quickly changed the aspect of the country.

It was previous to the Act, 29th of George 2nd. 1756, that the common fields of Swampon were devided from the accompanying map, which is copied from the original in the possession of Mr. Robert Colebrook, of St. Mary Bourne, the date of forming the allotments, is 1753. The map is rendered half the scale of the original, or four chains or sixteen poles in half an inch, instead of one inch. A special order was obtained for setting out the common lands, when three referees were appointed, whose names are stated on the map, "to allot, divide, and lay out the common fields at Swampton agreeable with their indenture of award". From the list of names on the map it appears that there were thirteen individuals who participated in the use of the common fields before the enclosures took place, and William Bray, who shared in the sheep common only, and in lieu of which an acre of land was allotted to him. The commoners held in yardlands or virgates representing a bundle of so many scattered strips in open fields. The number of yardlands at Swampton varied from 3 to 1 -1/2, and 1/2 virgates, down to the holding of a 1/4 virgate in the case of Rabnutt, in all representing 12 -1/4 yardlands. Taking the yardland at 30 acres, the quantity of land contained in the common fields would have been 367 1/2 acres; while the estimated quantity, when allotted, according to the map, is only 125 acres, 1 rood, and 22 perches, and which, with the land taken up in the road ways etc, brings the total to rather over 130 acres, or about 11 acres to the yardland. It is evident, therefore, that the yardland named on the map differs largely in quantity from the ordinary yardland, and might refer to the half virgate, to some standard which had been originally fixed. At all events, some further explanation is necessary. The sheep common was on “Heaven Hill"; and in addition to his share in the common fields, each had his close or closes for pasture or hay. In these common rights the clergyman, then the Rev. John Burrough, participated. In lieu of his 2 yardlands, he had 3 allotments, containing 21 acres, 3 roods, and 32 perches, or at the rate of about 11 acres to the yardland. It will be noticed that the "droves" or early roads were necessary to the usage of the common fields. Without the plan of the common fields, as they stood when cultivated in common, it is impossible to make any statement concerning the arrangement of the strips. The map expresses that the exchanges of land took place, doubtless for mutual accommodation; and the difference in quantity obtained by some over others in lieu of their holdings in yardlands, was due most likely to the difference in the quality of the land.

The aspect of Swampton as it stood at the time of the new distribution is discernible in its present features. The houses were then all thatched, as many of them are now, and frequently lie detached, and have a small outbuilding such as a barn, stable, or granary adjoining, and behind all a strip of meadow land. If you survey the tithing from a neighbouring elevation, it is striking how regular the small plots of pasture are seen to extend in strips of different widths from the backs of the houses, each one divided from the next by its neatly trimmed hedge, showing that at the time of the allotments every villager was a small farmer. The allotment system brought to an end a class, ranking above that of the labourer, and beneath that of the modern farmer, who tilled their few acres of land, and kept their geese, pigs, and cows. They were habited in the old British smock frock, and worked on the land themselves, and were succeeded in their holdings by their sons, and they again by their children. It was the period--" When every rood of ground maintained its man ".

It is worthy of remark that of the allotees whose names appear on the map, the names of three only are now to be found in the parish of St. Mary Bourne, vizHoldway, Gale, and Wedge. And showing how in the course of a century land may change owners, not one of the allotments belongs at the present time to any member of the family of its original possessor, although the names of the original allotees still cling to some of the holdings.

The allottees represent the old forty shilling freeholders, who were the mass of the county voters previous to the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832. They were poor, and most of them mortgaged or sold their property, and became labourers. One remarkable character of this kind, living in Stoke tithing, I well remember, named Piper, who obtained a precarious livelihood by collecting wood ashes from the cottagers, which he sold to the better class farmers. It was his custom to traverse the parish every Monday with a string of donkeys, each bearing a bag to carry the ashes. (Dr. Joseph Stevens)