Thurcaston Enclosure

(What was enclosure?)

The Thurcaston Enclosure Act was passed by Parliament in 1798. About a third of the village had already been enclosed by a private agreement in 1600 (giving rise to a dispute in the Court of Chancery some years later) but the Enclosure Act said that all of the lands should be “thrown into hotchpot” and re-allocated by the commissioners who were appointed to oversee the process.

The Thurcaston and Swithland enclosures were carried out together by the same commissioners. They were:

  • Thomas Paget of Scraptoft, a pioneering breeder of farm animals and a founding partner in Leicester’s first bank.  He was appointed by Sir Charles Hudson of Wanlip Hall.
  • Samuel Wyatt of Burton upon Trent, member of a leading family of architects, appointed by the Hon. A.R. Butler Danvers of Swithland Hall.
  • John Davis of Bloxham in Oxfordshire, son of the enclosure commissioner for Cropston of the same name.  John Davis Snr was involved in at least 114 enclosure commissions nationwide and his son also followed him into what was evidently a very profitable family business.

The Thurcaston commissioners’ minute book is a rare survival held at the Record Office. From it we know that they met 12 times between July 1798 and July 1799, mostly at the Griffin Inn in Swithland, though John Davis did not attend his first meeting until March. Notices of the meetings were published in Leicester newspapers and on the door of All Saints’ Church. The commissioners heard petitions from those claiming rights in the land and they carried out their own inspections, though on Boxing Day 1798 the snow lay too heavily for them to proceed. The Act directed the commissioners to pay due regard to the quantity, quality and situation of the land and to make the allotments as near as convenient to existing dwellings of the proprietors.

The allotments of land ranged from 523 acres for Mr Butler Danvers of Swithland Hall to just 2 perches (about 60 sq. yds) for Samuel Simpkin, being the plot of his cottage on Mill Road. The Surveyor of Highways for Thurcaston was allotted a 1 acre field (opposite what is now North’s Delicatessen) for obtaining sand and gravel to repair the roads.

As well as allocating the land, the commissioners were asked to settle a dispute over the level of water at the mill; they ordered that the level should be reduced to prevent flooding and that a new weir should be constructed.

Despite being appointed by the largest landowners, the enclosure commissioners seem to have been as fair as they could to owners of all sizes. However, the payments made by the Thurcaston Overseers of the Poor show a big increase in about 1800 and the enclosure of the previous year was surely a contributory factor. This was probably the result of agricultural labourers losing their employment when the arable fields were converted to pasture and it is likely that many of them eventually moved away from the village to find alternative work in Leicester or other cities.

©  Peter J Smith 2017