Public right of access to land has lately been much in the news. In addition to the confirmed, and growing, number of national footpaths, such as The Cotswold Way in our area, there exists a 140,000-mile network of defined footpaths, and many less well-established trackways, which attract the dedicated enthusiast and the recreational walker alike.
Although most pathways belong' to the owner of the land they cross, legislation requires that they shall be maintained in good order and free from obstruction by the landowner, or in default, by the County Council. Customarily, this form of access to the land has been our inalienable right; but it has been something of a privilege, also, which has demanded our respect and our care in its exercise.
Recent national debate has been about the loss of right to traverse land owned by others, whether common or not. Over the years, use of the land has been at the heart of many disputes, and much ill-will has been generated by one side seeking to deny the rights of the other. A series of 19th century Inclosures illustrated the way in which individuals were deprived of their rights, to the benefit of others perhaps more devious, more dishonest or, usually, more powerful.
Studley's Inclosure Act of 1817, confirmed in 1824, was concerned, principally, with three pieces of waste at Mappleborough Green, Studley Common and Littlewood Green: most of the open fields and meadowland had already been inclosed by private agreement. The Award cannot have been welcomed by many Studley Freeholders, for eleven years earlier, in September, 1806, a number of them signed a determination, a copy of which has only recently come to hand. It reads as follows:
"We, the undersigned freeholders of the Parish of Studley, Warwickshire, have this day met and determined as follows..
First it is our wish that a meeting of the Freeholders may be as soon as convenient called to enter on the encrochments & waste lands and to lay them again open to preserve our rights and privileges in the same and to consider on any other method which may be advantageous to us in preserving our rights & regulating ye present encrochments and any expence arising therefrom to be jointly paid by us: the day of this intended meeting to be published in the Parish Church & cried at one Market Town at least preceding the time of the meeting".
Signed by John Moore on behalf of Francis Holyoak Esq.,Wm.Williams Esq., and himself, W. Bartleet, W.H.Whitehouse,John Reeve jnr.,H. Heming, Joseph Ruston, John Haynes and
John Bate, the document clearly set out their intention to recover their lost rights and privileges; and with some weight, for its principal signatory, the occupier of Studley Castle, subsequently became Lord of the Manor of Mappleborough Green.
Certain of these names appear in the reciting of the Award. Holyoak, Whitehouse, Williams, Reeve and Moore are described as "respective Lords of the several Manors of Studley" Mappleborough Green otherwise Studley Hay, Skilts, Gattax, St. John of Jerusalem and IHolt. The Act which divided, allotted and enclosed Open and Common fields, meadows, commons and wastelands compensated for the loss of common rights with the award of land "equal in value". For example, Holyoak was given land in Castle Meadow sufficient to allow for his loss of right to pasture one horse, in the same place. Others were treated in similar fashion.
History tells us that the Awards received under the provisions of the 1817 Act of Inclosure were of greater benefit to these Worthies than the rights and privileges they sought to preserve when in 1806 they so determinedly signed their proclamation.
Spring 1996 Index