Awards were drawn up by enclosure commissioners in accordance with the Act, and are therefore a permanent legal record of the enclosure. Their primary purpose was to register the change from the ancient farming methods of open fields, common meadows and pasture, to the modern system of landownership, tenure and cultivation in severalty. In cases where title deeds to lands do not exist, the award can therefore serve as ultimate proof of title.
Enclosure awards come in a variety of formats. Pre-nineteenth century awards can be comparatively long, wordy documents, written on large sheets of parchment, often sewn together at the foot, or head to tail to form a long roll. These early awards are less likely to be accompanied by a map, so they include detailed descriptions of the location of the areas enclosed. By the end of the eighteenth-century it was usual for an award to include a map of the area enclosed; in consequence the awards became less detailed and therefore shorter. The majority of these later awards are written on parchment, although some are on paper, and are often bound in book form.
Although written in English, the awards are usually written in a legal hand that inexperienced users may find difficult to read. For help with reading old handwriting see: E. McLaughlin Reading Old Handwriting, H.E.P. Grieve Examples of English Handwriting 1150-1750, or L. Hector The Handwriting of English Documents.
Every award begins with the words ‘To all to whom these presents shall come…’, followed by the names of the enclosure commissioners and the local landowners. The background to the award is then recited, each new paragraph beginning ‘And Whereas…’ This is followed by the actual detail of the award, beginning with the words ‘Now therefore…’ This section may include details of new public carriage roads, private roads and public footpaths, drainage or public watercourses, public stone quarries and gravel pits created under the award. Sale allotments to finance the cost of the enclosure, and details of exchanges of allotments between allottees may also be included. The main bulk of the award then follows, with details of the new allotments and the names of those to whom they were allotted, usually arranged by rank, beginning with the lord of the manor and ending with the cottagers. The completed award is then dated and signed and sealed by the commissioners in the presence of an attorney.
A complete list of all persons and institutions receiving land at enclosure,
together with the locations and acreages of each of the plots that they
were awarded can be extracted from the award. The course and dimensions
of all new public and private roads, footways, and public and private drains
and watercourses established by the award can also be ascertained.
[ Further details on finding information on specific subjects is available here ]
Yes. All the awards have been individually indexed as part of this project.
A copy of this index is linked to each entry in the database. The index
gives the allotment number, the name of the allottee or organisation, and
the page/image number. It will also tell you which pages hold details of
public and private roads, public footpaths, drainage, public watercourses,
public stone quarries and gravel pits.
[ Lists of the allotment numbers made in each enclosure award can be found in the Awards Index Search results ]
At least two copies of each award were made: one was to be held in the parish chest, and the other enrolled at the Quarter Sessions. Sometimes a third copy was also made for the local landowner. In most cases these copies are now with the County Record Office where they can be found in the parish collections, Quarter Sessions papers, or the estate and family papers.
The survival of background papers is sporadic. If any do survive they may include commissioner’s minutes, correspondence and papers, claims, surveyor’s working maps, surveys and terriers, and will usually be found in the estate and family collections of the Record Office. Details of any surviving papers will be found in the database under ‘Related Material’.
A full set of all Acts of Parliament is held by the House of Lords Record Office; an online catalogue of these Acts is available at the Access to Archives website [ http://www.a2a.org.uk/ ]. Copies of some local Acts may also be found at the Berkshire Record Office.