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Rural England Pre Enclosures

At the beginning of the 18th century the population of England was estimated at just under 5,500,000 of which over 4,000,000 were rural.

It was virtually impossible to travel except on foot as the roads were mostly rough tracks, the farmer might get to the nearby market town and the squire ride out on his horse but the majority of the people lived in their own small world.

There were lesser gentry living in the country and there was the aristocracy also with larger landed estates. These farmed their own lands but the villagers had their strips of land in the open fields of the Manor and could graze some stock on the common, poor though the grass might be, off which they could provide for their families.

However rural England was prospering. Large quantities of corn were being exported to the Continent from the farms where there was a surplus to their own requirements. It's price was pushed up by a protectionist policy and land became a good investment.

Meanwhile the cottager had his right to the use of the Common for grazing and the Common Woodland to collect his wood. He, together with other land owners had his strip or strips in the Open Field. This was the better land considered suitable to plough. Lower down where the ground was often wet being near streams, poor grass would grow which was grazed or made into hay. There were very few cattle, but what there were were mostly grazed up at the top on the Common.

The ploughland strips were organised by the parish and farmed according to rules set by twelve jurymen chosen annually by the vestry or at the meeting of the court leet. These jurymen dictated what should be grown, when the ploughing, sowing and harvesting should be done. The crops chosen to be grown were wheat for export and bread for the upper classes. Barley for bread for the poorer people and brewing, and some oats for horses.

The farms had their share of strips of this better land according to how much land they owned, with the smaller landowner maybe having only one strip. In order to divide this huge open field it was divided by leaving boundaries of course grass.

At the time given the village ploughman ploughed all the strips designated for arable that season. Each strip had to lie fallow every three years. The strips were too narrow to turn a plough, which until the middle of the 18th century were still made of heavy wood needing four horses to pull it. On heavy clay land up to twelve oxen might be yoked to do the job. Fortunately here the land is comparatively light.

In the mid seventeen hundreds the metal ploughshare became accepted. Once ploughed the seed was sown broadcast. The drill had been invented but was not in general use. It was virtually impossible to keep the land clean. If a man did try to hoe his crop, the poppies, thistles and dandelions from his neighbours', the fallow land and the poor grass boundaries blew onto it making his labour a waste of time.

The grass areas which were not suitable for arable were marked out with posts or pegs and allocated out, the biggest plot for the man with the most arable and so on down.

At the jurymens' word every one went haymaking. The farmer took his labourers and sometimes extra hired help, the cottager his wife and children all turned out to scythe, rake and carry. The grass would be of poor quality as it would have been sown broadcast from seed shaken out of old hay which would have contained all sorts of weed seeds so there was no telling what had been sown. In the Risborough parish this grassland was on low lying land as was the norm. This area, now the land all through the Manor Park area, was still prone to flooding and being swampy even in the 1940`s

What little livestock there was, with the exception of horses, was watched over by the village herdsman, swineherd and shepherd. The village pinder put stray animals in the pound. The field Foreman, a farmer appointed to see no-one put more animals on the grazing than he should. If they bounded a hedge it was kept repaired. Pigs had to be ringed in their noses so they didn't root up the grass. Sheep and cattle could be folded on the fallow land at night, or they could be taken back to the town or village, and then grazed on the common by day.

When harvest time came everybody turned out, leaving whatever else they might do to get the crops in. Barley and oats were cut with a scythe but the wheat was cut with a sickle, a handful at a time, a much slower process. After the last sheaves were carried in, the women and children could turn to gleaning helping to swell their winter rations. The cottager took his bit of corn to the mill to be ground. There was, for some,still not enough to live on and they would turn their hand to carpentry, blacksmithing, labouring and other jobs required from time to time, to augment it. The larger farmer would export his surplus. Harvest home was celebrated with much feasting. It was truly "Merry England"

The animals could be turned onto the stubbles for a while before most had to be slaughtered and salted down, there being only enough hay for a few breeding animals over winter.

At the end of the eighteenth century, the eighteen hundreds dawned to a very different picture. The corn laws had been repealed. England was at war. No corn was being exported, in fact it was being imported. The population had increased from five and a half million to over nine million and the agricultural labourer was now unable to manage and was living in abject poverty and facing starvation. What happened...

During the seventeen hundreds some men of big estates had made great strides in inventing new ways of husbandry. The seed drill replaced broadcast sowing. Hoeing had been introduced, crop rotation had been improved so proper fallows could be done to rest the land. Improved stock breeding was taking place. Medium landowners and farmers heard of the advantages of the bigger fields and realised how much better it would be without the "Open Field System."

Applications were made to Parliament for Enclosure Orders to be approved. Once done, the strips went, the fields were fenced or hedged round and owned by men who could work them properly and choose which crops to grow. Turnips, mangold-wurzels, turnips to produce winter feed for cattle could enable stock to be kept all year round.

Without any doubt production increased and crops and livestock improved out of recognition. But the Commons had also been Enclosed. The cottagers were hard pressed before, now they were poverty stricken. The Enclosures had been happening for over a hundred years by 1800 and by then most of England had been Enclosed.

Maybe it was the Napoleonic wars but times were hard all round, and none more so than for the country villager. Strangely enough the Enclosures had not been done in the parish of Princes Risborough so although times were bad the old system was still in place and the people still had their strips of land and their Common.

It was not until 1823 when the enclosures were implemented here and the cottagers discovered what poverty really meant.

See The Enclosures of Princes Risborough, Lord Cavendish and the influence of the Church.


ROADS 1788

by Joan Smith.

In 1766 Thomas Jefferys was commissioned to survey and make a map of Buckinghamshire. Bucks was surveyed in the years 1766, 1767 and 1768, and engraved in 1788.

(Curiously one of the people who commissioned it was Thomas Stone - See Thomas Stone - who had in latter years lived at Hartwell, but had been born in Lacey Green.)

By chance this survey came up for sale at Hartwell House when the contents were sold in the 1960s. Was this his own copy? Was fact becoming stranger than fiction?

It actually was remarkably clear considering the map covered the whole of Bucks. Dennis Clayden, whose calligraphy is much neater than mine, made a drawing of such that could be made out - see map. It must be born in mind that all roads at that time were made of stones picked off the fields.

There were no roads marked on the Common but there were tracks. At this time most of Lacey Green was The Common. Most importantly the main High Wycombe to Risborough Road came through Speen along Highwood Bottom and became a track straight across the Common over the Hillock passed Widmer Farm. There were no roads in Lacey Green as what houses there were, were on the edge of the Common. There was a track across the Common from Parslows straight to the edge of the Common at the bottom of what is now Loosley Hill.

The Road from Speen came down the Coll, passed Highwood Bottom, turned at "Devil`s Elbow" continued down to Flowers Bottom up Darvells Hill, passed a track on the right going off to Highwood Bottom as it curved round and continued ahead to become, at the next bend to the left, the road to Walters Ash and High Wycombe by-passing Lacey Green.

Lacey Green had a track going through it between the houses otherwise sticking tightly to the edge of the Common.

Loosley Row was better furnished with roads. Lower Road was a track, but became a road joining up with the other roads in the village which ultimately led down to the Turnpike Road (A4010). There was a small road going off to Coomb Farm (See Coombs - the lost hamlet) at the bottom of Smallridge Wood.

You can also read more on roads in the 19th century.