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783
COMMONS


area inclosed probably exceeded 300,000 acres. Three inclosures in the Lincolnshire Fens account for over 53,000 acres. As before, the movement after a time spent its force, the annual average of acts falling to about twelve in the decade 1830–1840. Another parliamentary committee then sat to consider how inclosure might be promoted; and the result was the Inclosure Act 1845, which, though much amended by subsequent legislation, still stands on the statute-book. The chief feature of that act was the appointment of a permanent commission to make in each case all the inquiries previously made (no doubt capriciously and imperfectly) by committees of the two Houses. The commission, on being satisfied of the propriety of an inclosure was to draw up a provisional order prescribing the general conditions on which it was to be carried out, and this order was to be submitted to parliament by the government of the day for confirmation. It is believed that these inclosure orders afford the first example of the provisional order system of legislation, which has attained such large proportions.

Again inclosure moved forward, and between 1845 and 1869 (when it received a sudden check) 600,000 acres passed through the hands of the inclosure commission. Taking the whole period of about a century and a half, when parliamentary inclosure was in favour, and making an estimate of acreage where the acts do not give it, the result may be thus summarized:—

  Acres.
From 1709 to 1797 2,744,926
 ”1801 to 1842 1,307,964
 ”1845 to 1869 618,000
Add for Forests inclosed under Special Acts 100,000
  —————
  4,770,890

The total area of England being 37,000,000 acres, we shall probably not be far wrong in concluding that about one acre in every seven was inclosed during the period in question. During the first period, the lands inclosed consisted mainly of common arable fields; during the second, many great tracts of moor and fen were reduced to severalty ownership. In the third period, inclosure probably related chiefly to the ordinary manorial common; and it seems likely that, on the whole, England would have gained, had inclosure stopped in 1845.

As a fact it stopped in 1869. Before the inclosure commission had been in existence twenty years the feeling of the nation towards commons began to change. The rapid growth of towns, and especially of London, and the awakening Open Space movement. sense of the importance of protecting the public health, brought about an appreciation of the value of commons as open spaces. Naturally, the metropolis saw the birth of this sentiment. An attempted inclosure in 1864 of the commons at Epsom and Wimbledon aroused strong opposition; and a select committee of the House of Commons was appointed to consider how the London commons could best be preserved. The Metropolitan Board of Works, then in the vigour of youth, though eager to become the open-space authority for London, could make no better suggestion than that all persons interested in the commons should be bought out, that the board should defray the expense by selling parts for building, and should make parks of what was left. Had this advice been followed, London would probably have lost two-thirds of the open space which she now enjoys. Fortunately a small knot of men, who afterwards formed the Commons Preservation Society, took a broader and wiser view. Chief amongst them were the late Philip Lawrence, who acted as solicitor to the Wimbledon opposition, and subsequently organized the Commons Preservation Society, George Shaw-Lefevre, chairman of that society since its foundation, the late John Locke, and the late Lord Mount Temple (then Mr W. F. Cowper). They urged that the conflict of legal interests, which is the special characteristic of a common, might be trusted to preserve it as an open space, and that all that parliament could usefully do, was to restrict parliamentary inclosure, and to pass a measure of police for the protection of commons as open spaces. The select committee adopted this view. On their report, was passed the Metropolitan Commons Act 1866, which prohibited any further parliamentary inclosures within the metropolitan police area, and provided means by which a common could be put under local management. The lords of the manors in which the London commons lay felt that their opportunity of making a rich harvest out of land, valuable for building, though otherwise worthless, was slipping away; and a battle royal ensued. Inclosures were commenced, and the Statute of Merton prayed in aid. The public retorted by legal proceedings taken in the names of commoners. These proceedings—which culminated in the mammoth suit as to Epping Forest, with the corporation of London as plaintiffs and fourteen lords of manors as defendants—were uniformly successful; and London commons were saved. By degrees the manorial lords, seeing that they could not hope to do better, parted with their interest for a small sum to some local authority; and a large area of the common land, not only in the county of London, but in the suburbs, is now in the hands of the representatives of the ratepayers, and is definitely appropriated to the recreation of the public.

Moreover, the Commons Preservation Society was able to base, upon the uniform success of the commoners in the law courts, a plea for the amendment of the law. The Statute of Merton, we have seen, purports to enable the lord of the soil to inclose a common, if he leaves Amendment of Statue of Merton. sufficient pasture for the commoners. This statute was constantly vouched in the litigation about London commons; but in no single instance was an inclosure justified by virtue of its provisions. It thus remained a trap to lords of manors, and a source of controversy and expense. In the year 1893 Lord Thring, at the instance of the Commons Preservation Society, carried through parliament the Commons Law Amendment Act, which provided that in future no inclosure under the Statute of Merton should be valid, unless made with the consent of the Board of Agriculture, which was to consider the expediency of the inclosure from a public point of view.

The movement to preserve commons as open spaces soon spread to the rural districts. Under the Inclosure Act of 1845 provision was made for the allotment of a part of the land to be inclosed for field gardens for the labouring poor, and for recreation. But those who were interested Rural commons. in effecting an inclosure often convinced the inclosure commissioners that for some reason such allotments would be useless. To such an extent did the reservation of such allotments become discredited that, in 1869, the commission proposed to parliament the inclosure of 13,000 acres, with the reservation of only one acre for recreation, and none at all for field gardens. This proposal attracted the attention of Henry Fawcett, who, after much inquiry and consideration, came to the conclusion that inclosures were, speaking generally, doing more harm than good to the agricultural labourer, and that, under such conditions as the commissioners were prescribing, they constituted a serious evil. With characteristic intrepidity he opposed the annual inclosure bill (which had come to be considered a mere form) and moved for a committee on the whole subject. The ultimate result was the passing, seven years later, of the Commons Act 1876. This measure, introduced by a Conservative government, laid down the principle that an inclosure should not be allowed unless distinctly shown to be for the benefit, not merely of private persons, but of the neighbourhood generally and the public. It imposed many checks upon the process, and following the course already adopted in the case of metropolitan commons, offered an alternative method of making commons more useful to the nation, viz. their management and regulation as open spaces. The effect of this legislation and of the changed attitude of the House of Commons towards inclosure has been almost to stop that process, except in the case of common fields or extensive mountain wastes.

We have alluded to the regulation of commons as open spaces. The primary object of this process is to bring a common under the jurisdiction of some constituted authority, which may make by-laws, enforceable in a summary way Regulation. before the magistrates of the district, for its protection, and may appoint watchers or keepers to preserve order and

prevent wanton mischief. There are several means of attaining