Enclosure Roads

Seaton Ross is surrounded by enclosure roads to the north and west – mostly intact as to their original form. So the question must inevitably be asked – What is an enclosure road?

In the mediaeval period, most farming in the lowland areas of England, including Yorkshire, was done in the open field system.

Enclosure of the mediaeval open fields started as early as 1450. The initiative for early enclosures came either from a landowner hoping to maximise rental from their estate, or a tenant farmer wanting to improve their farm. it could be effected by the removal of common rights that people held over farm lands and parish commons OR the reallocation of scattered strips of land into large new fields that were enclosed either by hedges, walls or fences. Before the 17th century these enclosures were usually by informal agreement. The newly created enclosed fields were reserved for the sole use of individual owners or their tenants. [Wikipedia]

In later centuries, enclosure was accompanied by the laying our of new roads:

According to Wikipedia: “The road system of England had been problematic for some time. An 1852 government report described the condition of a road between Surrey and Sussex as “very ruinous and almost impassable.”  …The problem was that country lanes were worn out and this had been compounded by the movement of cattle. Thus the [enclosure] commissioners were given powers to build wide straight roads that would allow for the passage of cattle. The completed new roads would be subject to inspection by the local Justices, to make sure they were of a suitable standard.[51]  …The building of the new roads, especially when linked up with new roads in neighbouring parishes and ultimately the turnpikes, was a permanent improvement to the road system of the country.”

It was only in the mid-eighteenth century that parliamentary enclosure acts specified that new roads created by enclosure were to be straight and of fixed widths – 40, 50 or 60 ft. Where a bend was necessary, these were sharp – as on the road to Melbourne. Sometimes, roads built by one parish did not join up with those built by a neighbouring parish and then a, dog-leg, a double-bend was required to join the two roads.

There is a 1771 map of the area (Jeffrey’s map of Yorkshire – bottom of page) which shows a number of straight roads – which are likely to be earlier enclosure roads, resulting from the reallocation of scattered strips of land into large new fields – these have wide grass verges as the later roads.

It also shows the common lands of Ross Moor, Seaton Common and Spalding Moor which were all later enclosed (Seaton Common in 1812) with the completely straight roads which the Parliamentary Acts required. These latter are generally unambiguous and are highlighted yellow in the map immediately below.

Other roads in the area would date from earlier enclosures when such straight roads were not required, and these roads can be far from straight – Southfield Lane being the classic example. These of course include all the roads in villages.

Finally, the A163 was built as a turnpike road in 1795 – fairly straight but not as straight at the parliamentary enclosure roads. This is all shown in the map below where the features have been superimposed on a recent 1-inch OS map. Enclosure roads are highlighted in yellow and seem to include some which are mainly improvements to existing roads (probably of earlier enclosures) although most result from enclosure of common land.

Please note that the allocation of roads as enclosure roads is based on their straightness and absence/presence in the Jeffrey’s 1771 map (bottom). Please challenge if you disagree!

Seaton Ross Area; base map is OS 1-inch 7th series, 1961. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. CLICK on map to enlarge.

To see the area in 1771 when Jeffreys made his map, please see below. Click on either map and flick between them to see the changes.

extract from Jeffries 1771 Map of Yorkshire (plate xiv). Available to purchase from North Yorkshire County Council website. CLICK on map to enlarge.

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