The Old Commons

There used to be a lot of Common Land. The Commons were considered unhelpful in maximising agricultural production and, in the late 1700s it was decided to sell off as much as possible; the mechanism to achieve this were enclosures acts – enclosure often being written: “inclosure”.

The process was spread over many years, and there were over 5,200 separate enclosures acts across the nation. The passing all the associated parliamentary “acts” took a lot of time. The Wreningham Enclosures Act was in 1777.

The Wreningham Act

An Act for the dividing, allocating and enclosing the Commons and Waste Lands within the parish of Wreningham in the County of Norfolk“. The allocations were determined by three commissioners.

Wreningham’s three Commissioners were: Robert Quince – from Honington in Suffolk, Jehosaphat Postle – from Norwich and Philip Meadows – from Diss. In due course, they produced a report – the narrative of which comprised over three dozen pages. As described below, a dedicated “allocation” document for each property was also created.

The larger of these is shown in the following table:

The 10 largest Commons Land purchasers
in the Wreningham enclosures “allocation”
…… and what they paid
in pounds, shillings and pence
Charles Harrison – esquire£221 13s 1d
Sir Thomas Beevor – esquire£220 16s 19d
Mr Brand Fuller£40 12s 0d
Mr Edward Parkes£21 4s 8d
Mr Peter Turner£20 4s 8d
Mrs Mary Day (wife of James)£18 4s 3d
Mr John Long£15 16s 7d
Harry William Wilson – esquire (The Manor?)£11 9s 2d
Mrs Ann Bales (wife of Archibald)£10 11s 9d
Mrs Ann Bensley (wife of John)£8 15s 3d

In all, 25 individuals paid a total of £656 14s for “Common” and “Waste” land in Wreningham – although the greater part of the total was divided between Charles Harrison and Thomas Beevor.

Charles Harrison lived at Palgrave, near Diss where he owned a large estate. Being from the Diss area he would probably have been an acquaintance of Philip Meadows, one of the Commissioners! At some point, Charles Harrison had come into possession of other land in Wreningham. By the time of the Great Farm Auction of 1869, after the death of his last surviving daughter, Mary, the Harrison land-holding in Wreningham included three farms – amounting to more than 600 acres.

Thomas Beevor bought only slightly less land than Charles Harrison. Beever – eventually a Baronet, lived at Hethel Hall. In 1750, Thomas Beevor had married Elizabeth Branthwayt of Hethel Hall and, on the death of her father, he inherited a great deal of land in Hethel, East Carlton and Wreningham.

A map showing the various Wreningham commons would probably have been produced at the time. Whilst maps survive from commons “awards” for other Norfolk villages, sadly, none has been found for Wreningham. Perhaps Westminster has retained a copy with its original documentation? However, there is a Wreningham tithe map from c1838 which shows certain groups of fields outlined with heavy lines – suggesting possible common land boundaries. (Unfortunately, for 3rd party copyright reasons, we are unable to display this map.)

Mary Day, wife of James Day, bought a large part of Lows Common – a wedge shaped piece of land straddling the north end of Ashwellthorpe Road and running along the south side of Mill Lane. James Day had been a thatcher and was the first of the Day family to arrive in Wreningham. The Day family subsequently divided some of this land into orchards and also built a small number of houses.

Each “sold off” enclosure had its own legal documentation. Here is the first of a two page “Allotment” document for the purchase of the “Penny Green” Common by “Ann the wife of Archibald Bale”. She paid £10 11s 9d which resulted in her owning 2 acres, 1 rood and 14 perches of land. Ann Bale lived in Morley – not far from Wymondham. Like today, it was not unusual for landlords to live elsewhere.

There are two of these original and complete Allotment / Award documents still in Wreningham that we know about. Do you know of any others?

We understand from a consolidated report, also prepared by the same commissioners, that the entire “Common and Waste Ground” in Wreningham amounted to 260a 2r 1p.

Penny Green Common purchase document – page 1 of 2. The signatures of the three commissioners are in the left margin.

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