Cottenham in Chaos - Life at the time of the Enclosures, by Olwyn Peacock

Cottenham in Chaos - Life at the time of the Enclosures, by Olwyn Peacock


Published by the Cottenham Village Society, 44 pages. A5 size booklet (N7659)


This booklet provides an account of the enclosure of land in the Cambridgeshire village of Cottenham, and how this completely changed the life (and landscape) of the village and its people. It begins with a fascinating account of land ownership before the enclosures began, and this is followed by an account of the land enclosures and its impact on every aspect of life.

From the introduction: Jacob Sanderson was 13 years old when Cottenham's 7.000 acres were enclosed. The complete change of landscape made a vivid impression on his memory. The open fields divided into thousands of strips with twice the area of common land. were swept away and replaced by geometrically shaped fields bounded by hedges and ditches. Cereal production increased greatly.

There must have been immense confusion when over two hundred people laid claims for their allotment of land and discovered where the two Commissioners had allocated them. The old democratic system with Ordermakers disappeared. Instead of farming on a communal basis there started to be individual farms. Parishioners lost their rights to pasture their animals on the commons. and. with the loss of cows came the end of the famous Cottenham cheese. With the ploughing up of the fens came the closing of minor tracks and paths. which were replaced by completely straight roads made from furrows ploughed across the fens with right angled bends.

Other changes which came about with the Enclosure included the opportunity for landowners to charge higher rents. the Tithe Commutation Act. the Corn Laws and their repeal. the 'Poor Law Reform Act' and income tax. Cottenham's population increased dramatically from 1.088 people living in 196 houses in 1801 to the post-closure number of 2.314 in 490 homes in 1851. The number of religious dissenters grew and they built their own cemetery in 1845. In the same year the London to Cambridge railway line opened. thus speeding up travel. Incendiarism changed the village scene. Thrashing machines caused winter unemployment and discontent. Some people emigrated, garden allotments were formed, whilst others took to drinking ale instead of the polluted water.

From the early section of the book on the Ordermakers: Cottenham's five open fields were called Church Field, Two Mill Field, Dunstal Field, Farm Field and Further Field. Each field was divided into furlongs, an indefinite area of land not an eighth of a mile, running in a north­east to south-west direction. These furlongs were again divided into roughly parallel half acre selions or strips which took advantage of the best drainage. Map B shows Farm Field, which went south from the Green between Histon Road and Oakington Road showing its furlongs and strips.

People tried to have strips in all five fields in order to get a consistent crop as the crops were moved or rotated each year in order to make the best use of the land. The rotation used was the first year fallow with sheep folding, the second year wheat with the stubble winter fallowed and highly manured ready for barley in the third year, peas and beans in the fourth, then barley again in the fifth with roots, turnips and potatoes. Every man's land laid cheek by jowl with every other man's so the entire field had to be under the same crop

Orders were made, and agreed upon, for the greatest benefit to everyone and to obtain the most convenient use of all the common ground in Cottenham. These included the rule that swine had to wear a ring through their noses 'so that they roote not', and where, on the common, the pigs had to go. Cattle had to be branded and a copy of the brand given to the Ordermakers to be kept in a book. There were rules about where and when cattle and sheep could go on the common such as, 'No person to drive cattle through Smithey Fen from March 25th until the first of August'. The Lotts, so called because the inhabitants drew lots for the hay land, had to be laid out on 25th June. Other regulations covered the digging of clay, gravel. turfs and the breaking down of osiers, willows or any other sort of woods or hedges. In all there were over fifty orders....

Condition of the booklet is generally very good. The covers have one or two minor scuffs but are clean and bright, the staple spine is intact, and all pages are clean, intact, unblemished and tightly bound.