Aireborough Historical Society

1779 Guiseley Enclosure

Guiseley Enclosure
Date January 1779
Location Guiseley
Photo ID

                                            "Guiseley Inclosure

The Commissioner for carrying into Execution an Act of Parliament in the Thirty Sixth year of His Majesty's Reign (King George 111) entitled "An Act for dividing and inclosing a Common called Guiseley Common and other waste grounds within the Manor and Township of Guiseley in the West Riding of the County of York".

                                       Do Hereby Give Notice

      That they have been served with objections against all and everyone of the claims delivered in at their first and second meetings for the Execution of the said Act and that they and the said Commissioners intend to meet at the house of Abraham Sladen, in Guiseley, in the County of York, on Monday the sixteenth day of January next, at 10 o'clock in the forenoon.

To hear and determine the Matters of the Said Claims and Objections respectively and to enquire and determine which and how many of the Freeholders of the said Township of Guiseley are Lords of the said Manor ; what ancient Messuages, Cottages, Mills, Old Enclosures, Lands, Tenements and Hereditaments their are within the said Manor and Township that have the Right of Common upon the said Common or Waste Grounds.

     What encroachments have been made upon the said Commons or Waste Grounds by any person or persons whatsoever.

And all persons interested in the Business of the said meeting are required to attend the same and to bring forth their evidence in support of their respective claims and objections.

            Wilson & Smith, Solicitors to the Commissioners

   Otley December 19th 1796"

Image courtesy of the British Newspaper Archives, research by Edwy Harling


Further information by Christine Lovedale

The normal practice of farming had, since Medieval times been operated by dividing fields which were owned or more usually rented.

Each section of the land would be divided into 3 strips on which crops would be rotated yearly. Wills Gill in Guiseley is a rare local example of strip fields.

As methods of agriculture began to evolve, for example the broadcast method of sowing seed by hand had been superseded by the invention of Jethro Tull's seed drill, there was a demand for enclosed fields to protect each farmers crops and livestock.

The population of England was growing, leading to a need for increased production of food.

    Common land was just that, villagers had the right to graze their livestock, gather wood for fuel and catch any wild birds or game for food.

These centuries old privileges were lost when common land was enclosed as it was increasingly in the 18th  and 19th centuries.

The division of land during the enclosures usually gave advantage to large landowners or the more wealthy farmers.

The loss of the common rights was the cause of many poorer subsistence farmers leaving the land and seeking work in factories in the growing industrialised towns.

    Enclosure Acts had been obtainable for hundreds of years but it was when the agricultural improvements were taking place that application to Parliament for Enclosure Acts became normal.

Landowners and the better off farmers could petition Parliament for Commissioners to asses the area.

The enclosure would take in any common land, waste land etc., the cost would be shared between the petitioners who then, according to the amount contributed, would be awarded a comparable area of land of their own choosing.

Naturally the landowners took the most fertile and accessible parts.

Most small holders or subsistence farmers were at a disadvantage, the enclosure costs were prohibitive to them and without the advantages that common land had given them were unable to continue farming, they had the option of selling or losing their livelihood.


Gaham Branston
Gaham Branston
Revisiting the research I did as a postgrad. at Leeds Uni., there is an interesting piece about the cruel treatment of Guiseley residents who lost their common rights. Before outlining it, just to mention that the Act of 1796 was followed by the Award in 1801, this set out details of land allocations made by the Commissioners for the 400 acre common at Guiseley. Anyone without land allocations were required to work if possible. If, for whatever reason it was not possible, they became paupers and were in receipt of parish relief. It must have been a real stigma because they had to wear a large 'P'with 'G' beneath it on their right arm, rather like Jewish people had to wear a 'J' on their arm in Nazi Germany.If this form of social branding was ignored, Overseers handed out punishments such as withholding payment of relief resulting in hunger / extreme deprivation, or even a whipping. So, it is no wonder there was widespread opposition to the enclosure of common land. It made the old saying of 'living off the land' an impossibility for many poor people, while many of the landowners promoting enclosures had much to gain. It was seen by many as being socially devisive and in some places enclosures ( walls and fences) were initially destroyed and rewards offered for informing on offenders. It happened at Armley for example.
09 December 2018
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