The Enclosure Act
The Enclosure Act of 1812, in the reign of King George the Third, changed the way of life and the look of the countryside for ever. Every part of every parish in the country, common land, fields, gardens, orchards and all the buildings, were surveyed and maps drawn up. Land was then sold off to those who could afford to buy and was enclosed with thorn hedges. Private roads were set up for the use of the new land owners.
The part of Whissonsett now called Hamrow and beyond was the ‘Great Common’ where the ordinary people had commoners rights to keep live stock, collect firewood, and generally wander where they pleased. They had pieces of land where they could grow vegetables and keep fowl. There were large areas of other common land on all sides of the village. Now this way was changed drastically.
The Common land was parcelled up into private ownership and the land owners became farmers employing labourers at low wages.
Three Public Carriageways were set up. The first was to be called the Fakenham Road and ran from the end of London Street, across the Great Common to the end of af lane leading to Fakenham.
The second road ran from the village to join up with the Fakenham Road, this is now called New Road.
The third road was from High Street across the common land called Whissonsett Green, and the Patch Common to the enclosed road leading to Stanfield.
A public bridleway was made from the Fakenham Road across the Back Common to an ancient lane over Hurn Common towards Rainham, this is now called Hurn Lane or Clay Lane.
Five Private Roads were made, two of them were to the cottages on what is still called the Common at Hamrow, being Giants Lane and Green Lane.
The third private road was from what is now Signpost corner to the boundary of Horningtoft, and the fourth was a lane also near Horningtoft called Horninghams.
A private road was also made from the High Street across the Camping Land for the use of carriages taking the gentry to church.
After the Enclosure Act
In the village today, almost 200 years after the Enclosure Act, there is still some evidence of the changes that occurred.
The two ancient Parish or Church Lanes that run from London Street to what was King Street but is now New Road, and from High Street to Springwell Road intersect at the rear of the Church in the area that we know now was the Saxon settlement.
They have been used possibly for well over a thousand years. When the land was enclosed around 1812, metal turnstile or kissing gates were put at the four entrances to the Lanes. They were made in Fakenham by the firm of Garood and are listed as of historical interest. They are maintained by the Parish Council.
At the same time the beech and oak trees were planted on three sides of the Church. The area under the trees is a beautiful part of the village with celandines, snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells flowering among the grass. Some of the old thorn hedges, interspersed with oak, holly and ash trees still mark field boundaries, but most of them have been removed as the small fields and meadows were merged into large fields for modern methods of farming. Luckily there is a successful on-going scheme of hedge and tree planting on much of the farmland in the parish.
From date plaques that can be seen on the walls of several buildings in London Street and some of the farm houses, we know that some places built before 1812 still survive. Most of the farm houses, now known as Hamrow Farm, Hamrow House, Hamrow Villa, High Farm, Lower Farm, Smallholdings, Church (or Glebe) Farm, Hill Farm and Brick Kiln Farm and the pubs date from the late 1770s.
The Rectory and Whissonsett Hall are Victorian Houses that replaced much earlier buildings. Most of the farm cottages were built around 1820 to replace the old wattle and daub thatched homes of farm labourers.
Bricks and tiles from Brick Kiln Farm, lime from Lime Kiln Lane and flints from the Stone pit on Swan Hill were used in the construction of cottages in the village. Wood from woodlands on the local farms was used by the parish carpenters and joiners. Many farm workers were employed as glaziers, brick makers and bricklayers when needed.
The village hall is built on the site of the Potters’ Barn where pipes, tiles, chimney pots etc were made and stored.
The accounts book of William Skinner 1827-1847 gives some fascinating information about life in the village at that time. He lived at the farm now called Smallholdings but at that time was known as ‘Skinners’.
There are eighty nine names, not all from Whissonsett, in the list of those who were alloted land.
The smallest sum paid was two shillings by William Mason and the largest £495 by Lancelot Robert Brown and Henry Bence.
To make up in some small degree for the loss of the use of common land three pieces of Highway Surveyors’ Land were allocated to be rented out to those who wished to work them and the income was to be used for the distribution of wood and coal to the poor of the parish.
The land has now all been sold and the income is still allocated for charitable needs by the Parish Council.
The Whissonsett Enclosure map and documents, which some years ago were discovered in the boiler room at the village hall, can be seen at the County Records Office in Norwich.
There is a copy of the map in the village hall.