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Enclosure

Detail from Hand-drawn and coloured plan of Earl Manvers’ estate in Laxton, 1862, showing enclosures

Between 1726 and 1732, the manor of Laxton was run by the trustees for the 2nd Duke of Kingston. They decided to consolidate the estate by buying and exchanging land with some of the other freeholders. Document 16 is an example of an agreement for an exchange of land. The trustees gradually enclosed their new pieces of land in the late 1720s and early 1730s. They created four new farms with clear boundaries - Westwood Farm, Brockilow Farm, Knapeney Farm and Copthorne Farm - each of which was made up of closes. In contrast to the old farms on the village street, the farmhouses for these new farms were built out in the fields, in the middle of the land the farmer worked.

The 2nd Duke of Kingston was able to achieve this partial enclosure because he owned all the land involved. One of the reasons why more extensive enclosure did not happen in Laxton was because the land was divided between a large number of freeholders. It was possible for the major landowner in a parish to enforce enclosure by Act of Parliament, but the 2nd Duke did not own enough land to be able to do this, and neither did his successor Charles Pierrepont, Earl Manvers.

Economic conditions worsened after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, and enclosure was an expensive business. The soil at Laxton was adequately drained by the surface drainage of ridge and furrow, but any attempt to change this would require ditches to be dug and tile drains to be installed in the new fields. The expected increase in wheat yields after enclosure may not have been considered to be big enough to offset the expense.

Document 17 and Document 18 relate to discussions about enclosure in the 1840s, when economic conditions began to improve. The 2nd Earl Manvers was succeeded in 1860 by his son, Sydney William Herbert Pierrepont, 3rd Earl Manvers (1825-1900). He employed the surveyor Thomas Huskinson to undertake detailed reports on all his estates. Document 19 is an extract from his report on Laxton, recommending enclosure.

It was not until 1867 that exchanges of land with John E. Denison of Ossington Hall, and Henry Savile, the heir of the 8th Earl of Scarborough, ensured that the 3rd Earl Manvers was the only substantial landowner within the parish. The way was now clear for enclosure, but the 3rd Earl apparently chose not to. From 1867 onwards he was spending large amount of money on rebuilding Thoresby Hall. There was also an agricultural depression from the 1870s to the 1890s.

Charles W.S. Pierrepont, 4th Earl Manvers (1854-1926), became the only owner of open field land in Laxton in 1906. He was still unable to enclose unilaterally, because of common rights enjoyed by the villagers. However, he and his agent R.W. Wordsworth made significant changes to the open fields in the years between 1903 and 1908. The changes made the fields easier to work with modern farm machinery, without the expense of a full enclosure. Document 20 is a plan showing the new arrangement in West Field. Overall, the number of strips in Laxton was reduced from 1,162 to 263. [Source: Beckett, A History of Laxton, p.277].

The Pierrepont family had owned the manor of Laxton since 1640. However, Gervas E. Pierrepont, 6th Earl Manvers (1881-1955), was aware that death duties could force the sale and break-up of the manor. In 1952 he sold the manor and the open field farms to a sympathetic purchaser, the Ministry of Agriculture. The Ministry promised to maintain the open field system, which was recognised as unique. However, in 1979 it was announced that the government would sell Laxton. There was great concern amongst heritage groups and the Laxton farmers about the future of the open fields. In 1981 Laxton was sold to the Crown Estate Commissioners for £1 million, who are still (in 2008) the owners of the estate. The Commissioners also undertook to maintain the open field system as long as there were tenants able and willing to continue the tradition.

 

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