Those who had been wealthy enough to invest in machinery and improved agronomy were in a strong position to ‘persuade’ their less well-off neighbours to move off their holdings, so that they could occupy their fields and enclose them to improve their productivity still further. Enclosing by Act of Parliament required a two-thirds majority not of landholders, but by acreage, so farmers with small holdings were at a serious disadvantage.
The rate of Enclosure accelerated between 1750 and 1850, with 4,000 Acts of Parliament which compulsorily appropriated 6.8 million acres and awarded the best lands to the wealthiest farmers in exchange for smaller allotments to the less prosperous. Commoners were forced out and became casual labourers. Most recorded Enclosures in our area related to Oxenbourne and Ramsdean.
In 1839, An Act was given Royal Assent ‘for Inclosing certain Open and Common Downs of Sheep-Walks within the several Tithings of Oxenbourn and Ramsdean – 1,395 acres in all. The Bishop of Winchester as ‘Lord of the said Manor of East Meon, is entitled to the `lord’s rights in the Soil of the said Common Downs within the said Tithings …while ’Sir Samuel Clark Jervoise, Sir Richard Jackson, John Bonham Carter Esq, Daniel Quarrier Esq, William Weeks, and George Hellyer, Sen, and divers other persons, are the Owners and Proprietors of divers Lands and Hereditaments’. The Act was printed and most of its clauses were standard; it appointed Charles Osborne of Hayling Island as Commisioner, with responsibility for ‘dividing, allotting and inclosing the said open and common downs or sheep walks’, authorised to ‘widen any of the public roads or highways… and to make full compensation for the value of the land or ground to be taken for the widening’.
The largest enclosures in East Meon were enacted in 1845. Downland and Open Fields in Oxenbourne were enclosed, the most land allotted to wealthy landlords like John Bonham Carter, Sir William Hylton Joliffe, William Weeks and John Christmas, or retained by the Diocese; lesser farmers such as Blackmore, Berry and Humphrey were allotted small strips on the south of the tithing. Closer to the village, shown in the map on the left, strips were allotted to the doctor, George Pink, shopkeeper John Nathaniel Atkins, miller John Lillywhite and others, possibly for growing vegetables.
A second Act in 1857 awarded further Enclosures, mainly in Stroud and Ramsdean. Joliffe and Bonham Carter are the main recipients, and there is an emphasis on building and maintaining access roads. Enclosure was an expensive business, incurring not only legal fees at around £1 an acre, but the costs of building fences and, as in this case, new roads specified by the commissioner.
In Hampshire as a whole, only ten per cent of arable land was enclosed by Acts of Parliament. The vast majority was fenced or hedged in by smaller sales between neighbours. The countryside we see today, with regular fields divided by hedges, walls and fences, is the result of this process, but at a price paid by the dispossessed. By the 1870s, 4,000 families in England and Wales owned more than 1,000 acres, which represented half of all agricultural acreage. By 1895 70% of the land was held by 20% of the population, and 75% comprised holdings of more than 100 acres.
To alleviate the plight of poor farmers who had been forced off their land, two “allotments or parcels of land on Oxenbourn [sic] Down” were awarded “for the growth of furze and fuel to be cut and used by the occupiers of small cottages not exceeding the annual value of four pounds”, and a second strip “for purposes of exercise and recreation of the neighbouring population.”The Oxenbourn Fuel and Recreation Ground Allotments Charity was formed to administer these allotments; Pill Meadow also was settled on Oxenbourne Trust, with a view to income from its letting being used to provide fuel for poor people, to compensate for them losing their rights to collect fuel from places including Hogs Lodge Lane. It is now the Recreation Ground in East Meon village on which cricket is played.