View across Hundred boundary from 'West End'

Wrentham is an excellent historical model to research the processes by which, in the 1790s, one of Suffolk's last large tracts of common clayland was converted to fields, which were subsequently enlarged in the 1970s to gain the economic advantages of farming with big machines.

Common land
Process of enclosure
Sotterley Common
...Wrentham allotments
...Henstead allotments
Mill Common
Additional enclosures
Parish boundary

Common land

Common land is a remnant of the old manorial system which during the medieval period formed the basis for this country's economy. Centred around the Lord's Manor House the countryside was divided into the demesne (the Lord's land), open fields (cultivated strips) and the waste (poorest unenclosed pasture). As part of this administrative system rights of common were exercised by the peasantry over the `open fields' and `waste' taking produce in common with the landowner.

Amongst the rights practiced and still recognised today were:

Common of pasture - a right to graze livestock (cattle, sheep & ponies)
Common of estovers - a right to take underwood, loppings, braken & furze
Common of turbary - a right to cut turf (peat) for fuel
Common of piscary - a right to take fish from lakes or streams
Common in the soil - a right to take sand, gravel, stone or minerals
Common in pannage - a right to graze pigs on acorns & beech mast

The whole system was governed by local legal entities such as court leets and a set of detailed and ancient laws, which are still alive and in use today.

Common land came under a great deal of pressure from the late middle ages until the turn of the nineteenth century. The breakdown of the manorial system, improvements in agriculture and a growing population encouraged the widespread enclosure of commons and the loss of `rights'. This process of `approvement' was hastened by the General Inclosure Acts resulting in the demise of most of England's lowland commons. Today the largest remaining areas were formerly the waste of the manors representing the backbone of the upland landscape.

Before the beginning of the 19th century the common land was extensively used by smallholders to keep their animals. But by the last quarter of the 18th century the process of enclosing land had begun. Enclosure was the process by which the land was up between those who had rights to use it. The rights of each owner were reorganised and consolidated into separate holdings, fenced off from the land of their neighbours. The process made agriculture more efficient and it also exerted a major impact upon the communities affected.

The process of enclosure generally began by landowners in a community obtaining a local Act of Parliament. This authorised the appointment of enclosure commissioners, local men, one of whom was often a surveyor. They would investigate the rights of each owners, survey the land, allocate fields to owners and lay out new roads. Their final decision was then embodied in a formal written document, the 'enclosure award', which from the later eighteenth century was often accompanied by a map.

An enclosure award gives an overview of a community at a crucial moment in its history. For family historians, enclosure awards give the names of landowners who owned land at the date of the enclosure and identifies the land which they owned. The same information is just as important, from another perspective, to local historians, who will also be aware that the process of enclosure usually made major changes to the local landscape.

Enclosure is the separation of a piece of land from neighbouring land by putting a hedge or fence around it. Usually the land would either have been part of a larger open field or a piece of the village common. The process of enclosing parts of large fields has been going on for many hundreds of years. It could be done by agreement among the landowners involved. However Parliamentary enclosure meant the whole process was formalised. The commissioners would then enclose the open fields. The amount each individual landowner was given would depend on their total landholdings in the parish and the amount of access they had to the common.

During the late nineteenth century widespread concern was expressed at the rate of enclosure particularly in our Urban or Metropolitan areas. The government responded to the public mood by moving away from approvement, towards a climate of preservation. This was subsequently transpired into Acts of Parliament to prevent the loss of common land and forms the basis of today's legislative framework. It argues that there was not one 'agricultural revolution' but many. The enclosure of open fields and the reclamation of heath and downland-spearheaded by aristocratic improvers and large capitalist farmers-mesmerised contemporaries. But most enclosures had little to do with the improvement of arable farming, large landowners played a minor role and the really revolutionary changes took place elsewhere, in parts of England which were not characterised by large estates, and were the work of tenant farmers rather than landowners.

In Europe an increasing part of the public subsidies for food production has been transferred towards the production of goods and environmental services. Today, farmers hesitate to engage with the technical and econmomic innovations of their profession as food producers, because of the environmental concerns that have been expressed by those outside their industry since the mid-1980s. The ecologisation of agriculture towards the maintenance of landscape as defined by non-farmers makes farmers question their professional identity.

Process of enclosure

In the second half of the 18th century, the major landowners in Wrentham, Sotterley and Henstead agreed to enclose the heaths, fen grounds, commons and waste lands in the three parishes. In total these were estimated to occupy about 700 acres. This story begins with a proposal for an Act of Parliament, the preamble of which is set out below as follows.

An Act for Dividing and Inclosing the Heaths, Fen Grounds, Commons and Waste Lands within the parishes of Sotterley, Henstead with Hulver Street, and Wrentham in the County of Suffolk.

Whereas there are within the Parishes several Heaths etc, containing by Estimation Seven Hundred Acres:

And Wheras Miles Barne, Esquire, John Amyas, Clerk, Humphrey Brewster, Esquire, Sir Thomas Gooch, Baronet, Robert Sparrow, Esquire, and John Clarke, Gentleman, and several other Persons and Owners of certain ancient Commonable Messuages, Cottages, and Tofts, within the Lands, Tenements, Appurtenances thereto belonging within the said Parishes, and in respect thereof have a Right of intercommoning upon the said Heaths etc.

And Whereas the said Heaths etc in their present open uncltivated state, yield very little Profit; but if the same were divided and allotted unto and amonst the several Persons having a Right of Common thereon, and otherwise interested therein, the same might be cultivated and improved: But such Improvement cannot be made withouit the Aid of Parliament.

A list of all persons allotted lands, together with the amounts allocated, has survived for Wrentham. This has been summarised in the following table. It can be seen that Wrentham's share came mostly from the enclosure of Mill Common and Sotterley Common. In total Wrentham's proprietors gained about 420 acres, around half of the common land available to the three parishes under the enclosure act.

Total acreage
Mill Common

187.1 .09


Sotterley Common

110. 2. 18


Cornaby Green

1. 1. 07


Distribution by area

Under 1 acre























The required Act of Parliament was passed and in 1790 letters that were sent by the Enclosure Commissioners informing people of their awards. The following letter sent to Revd. Thomas Barne, Rector of Sotterley, is typical. It describes the position of his benefice’s share of the common (part of the ancient glebe) and what he had to do to secure it.

"We whose Names are hereunto subscribed being the Commissioners named and appointed in and by an Act of Parliament passed in the thirty seventh year of the Reign of his present Majesty King George the Third intitled 'An act for dividing and inclosing the Heaths Fen Grounds and Commons and Waste Lands within the parishes of Sotterley, Henstead with Hulverstreet and Wrentham in the County of Suffolk Do hereby give you Notice that we have this seventh Day of March 1799 executed our Award in pursuance of the said Act underwritten are such parts of the said Award as relate to the Rectory of this said parish of Sotterley.

We the said Commissioners do hereby assign set out and allot unto the Reverend Thomas Barne of Sotterley aforesaid Clerk and his successors Rectors of the said Parish and parish Church of Sotterley for the Time being All that piece of Land No8 containing by measuring two acres and sixteen Perches bounded by the piece of Land No7 hereinafter allotted to Mary Sayer of Sotterley aforesaid widow on the part of the North by the boundary Line dividing the said parishes of Sotterley and Henstead with Hulverstreet on the part of the East by the boundary Line dividing the parishes of Sotterley and Wrentham on the part of the south and by the Road No2 on the part of the West.

And we have by our said Award ordered and directed that the said Allotment hereby made to the said Thomas Barne and his successors Rectors of the aforesaid shall be fenced by a ring or boundary Fence at the Expense of all the proprietors of Lands in the said parish of Sotterley other than and except the said Thomas Barne and that the Fence hereinafter mentioned that is to say against the Allotment No7 the boundary Line dividing the said parishes of Sotterley and Henstead with Hulverstreet against the said road No2 shall afterwards be maintained and kept in repair by the said Thomas Barne and his successors Rectors as aforesaid."

Given under our hands 7th March 1799.

J Rede
Wm Catling
Robt Boyden

Poor's allotments
The 1844 Whites Suffolk Directory gives the allotments awarded on enclosure for the benefit of the poor as follows:-
South Cove (1799, 12 acres), Covehithe (1788, 48 acres)), Frostenden (1799, 4 acres) and Wrentham (1799, 25 acres). The scale of the poor's allocation for Covehithe is exceptional. It was in two lots; about 6 acres of Furze Hill was let for game cover at £2 12a 6d per annum (No.87 in the Tithe Apportionment) and about 44 acres of the marshy valle running down to 'Little Broad' was let at £25 per annum (Nos. 88-9 in the Apportionment). The rents were used to purchase coal for the poor of Covehithe.

Sotterley Common

gg_sotterley_common.jpgThe bulk of the area that that was enclosed on the western edge of the hundred is named as Sotterley Common on Hodskinson's map prepared in the 1780s. Adjacent areas involved were Henstead Green, around which were clustered the church and houses of the villagers, Hulver Heath, a tract of sandy rough grazing above present day Hulver Street and Mill Green on the boundary between Wrentham, Benacre. Covehithe and South Cove. Also, there was probably marshland in the valley of the Hundred River that was allocated for drainage.

Although the Hundred boundary between Henstead, Wrentham and Sotterley (purple) suggests that the common belonged to Sotterley, after enclosure (see below) the parish boundary after enclosure indicates that Wrentham recieved most of the land.

gg_w_end-hedgestithe.jpgThis sketch map shows the western part of Wrentham as it appeared in the Tithe Map some 50 years after the enclosure. Before enclosure, West End Farm was situated at the eastern edge of the common.

Through the process of enclosure Wrentham landed proprietors had been given the wedge-shaped piece of land at the bottom of the old common amounting to over 100 acres (see table below). Roads were made west from Westend Farm, and north from the string of southern farms (the old West End) to a new small community that became known as Wrentham West End. This is positioned between north of the north east corner of field 8. At the end of the 19th century it consisted of some cottages with small strip allotments, a blacksmith's forge and a Wesleyan chapel.

This landscape of enclosure was dominant until the late 1960s when post-war changes in the UK government's attitude to home food production had had very significant impacts on Suffolk's rural landscapes. Up to the 1980s there were grants to support the widespread intensification of agriculture causing a dramatic reduction in the extent of hedgerows, trees, species-rich grasslands and many other semi-natural wildlife habitats and landscape features.

This map shows the same part of Wrentham as it appeared in the 2006 O.S Explorer 1/25000 edition. Compared with maps for the same area pre-1970 most of the tree-lined field boundaries have now dissapeared.

This has had a significant effect on the:
-widespread loss of permanent grassland to arable cultivation;
-significant losses of hedgerows;
-substantial loss of heathland vegetation to agriculture;
-a significant decline in the condition of remnant heathland resulting from lack of management and invasion of scrub and woodland;
-loss of ponds and wetlands through drainage and ploughing of previously uncultivated land.
These outcomes tend to be most dramatic in the landscapes of farms along the entire length of the hundred boundary. The treeless and hedgeless plateau is now a boundless place with big skies where nobody comes or goes without being noticed. Wrentham ‘West End’ is a good place to experience the visual and ecological dominance of arable mass production

Wrentham allotments

gg_wrenthamw_end_allots.jpgHow exactly was Sotterley Common divided up and allocated between the three villages?

So far, the letter from the Commissioners to the Rector of Sotterley is the only documentary evidence for the process of enclosure. It states that the enclosable land amounted to about 800 acres. No map has been found showing the outcome of the process, and the only list of allotments refers to Wrentham.

Evidence for the position of the allotments is the distribution of the field name 'Allotment' on the Tithe Map.

The left hand map shows the field numbers of the Wrentham Tithe Apportionment for the West End area plotted on the 1883 OS map. For the most part the fields in 1883 were the same as those on the Tithe Map, but where there are differences the OS map has been adjusted.

The red dotted line is the parish boundary and the blue circles are all fields in the area that were designated in the Apportionment as 'Allotment' (84 acres in total). The green circles are fields with the word 'common' in their name (27 acres in total). Their distribution corresponds to the finger of Sotterley Common on Hodskinson's map that projected down towards Wrentham

whitehousefm_tithe.jpgThe fields described as 'allotments' in the Wrentham Tithe Apportionment represent only a small amount of the total common land that allocated to Wrentham. The left hand map shows the distribution of fields belonging to White House Farm and West End Farm at the Tithe Apportionment, which belonged to John and Charles Rayley, and were occupied by Charles Rayley. The two homestead's were on the south eastern corner of Sotterley Common and appear to have been allocated five of the allotments by the enclosure Commissioners. These were homesteads at 'Old Westend' that existed before enclosure which both had common rights.
One new farm appears to have been created on the new road created between 'Old Westend' and a small new community of Wrentham West End. Its name Westend Farm is the same as an older pre-enclosure Westend Farm on the eastern edge of the common.

New Wrentham West End was a small cluster of cottages with garden strips. There was also a Methodist Chapel erected in ?.

wre_wendsoil.jpgThe left hand picture shows the soil at the west end of Wrentham parish (New Westend Farm), which consists of an unusual deposit of glacial clay containing a large proportion of smooth round pebbles.

Parish boundary
After enclosure the parish boundary between Wrentham and its neighbours Sotterley and Henstead had to be adjusted to conform to the layout of the new fields. This new section is indicated in blue. The earlier sections probably followed watercourses. Where this is so on the modern map the boundary is marked in red. In other places the boundary often cuts across fields, which indicates that it was layed out before an earlier bout of enclosure. The other sections of the parish boundary, which do not seem to follow a watercourse and where there is no evidence of the date of enclosure, are marked in yellow.