The Trials and Tribulations of the Enclosure of the Common
He called meetings and circulated pamphlets enthusiastically listing the benefits of enclosure. Villages would have large plots for allotments and recreation grounds. There would be increased employment and sheep would no longer be ravaged by the scab.
But all of this fell on deaf ears. Both the Doringtons and the vicar, Thomas Keble, received anonymous death threats as a result of this campaign. As an example, in February 1864 John Dorington received the following letter :
I hope you will not be surprised when you read this short note merely pointing out to you the position you both stand in at present. your lives are in danger and will very shortly meet with a sudden surprise for your behaviour in trying to enclose the Commons of Eisley parish you think that althings are quiet and smoothe on your side, But you shall soon know to the Contrary. Recollect Mr D. you are robing the working Class of this Parish and their off springs for ever in fact you are not gentlemen but robbers and vagabonds. however if it is enclosed you shall never receive any benefits thereby as there are several on the lookout for you both and so help me God I am on the Alert for you and if I have one chance of you I will shoot you dead as mortal. instead of trying to do good for the working people of this Parish you want to deprive them of the little benefit they have.
I most solmnly hope that an opportunity will come soon and I will resign my life for the sake of yours,
I Remain Sirs, your obedient Servant
P.S. I shall be happy to wait upon you soon
Undaunted, Dorington pushed ahead and on 17 March 1866 all the footpaths were closed, walls were erected and the rights of commons suspended.
The loss of age-old footpaths and ancient tracks was bitterly resented. Samuel Phelps was charged with 'throwing down part of a wall in Eisley'. A witness, Alfred Butts, was lying in bed when he heard the rattling of stones from a wall. He hastily got dressed and went outside where he saw Phelps. In court Phelps defiantly stated 'that he had come across the common where he had been accustomed to go before enclosure and he had made a place in the wall and should do so again if he had occasion to pass that way'.
Phelps was fined but another episode reported in the Stroud Journal in 1866 ended less happily. Two policemen were on duty on Saturday night in Oakridge, on the lookout for anyone knocking down the new walls. They found two local men, George and Jethro Haines, hiding in a quarry. The policemen persuaded the two men to go away and 'they went towards the Nelson Inn with a great deal of cursing'. The situation started to become menacing when a crowd of twenty or thirty men surrounded the policemen and started throwing stones at them. At that point the police 'retreated to hoots and name calling'.
However, later George and Jethro Haines were arrested and sentenced to two months hard labour at Gloucester. A local stonemason, Matthew Gardner of Iles Green, added a note in his account book: Jethro died in 12 days after he came home from the treatment he received undergoing his punishment. This is the first martyr to the common inclosure.
There is no doubt that many of the villagelost out as a result of the enclosure. Over the centuries most of them had acquired commorers' rights and the meagre award of land they received in lieu did not compensate for the loss of the right to graze livestock.
One old man had managed to earn a living as a carrier from the donkeys he could turn out to graze. Whilst some villagers had an acre or so of land they could conveniently add to their gardens, others had awards so small that they sold them off for a few pounds.
The landscape was changed forever. New roads were built and the common land was turned up into fields. A great open space where once crowds of several thousands had gathered to listen to travelling ministers preach or assemble around their leaders during years of industrial unrest was gone. And the people didn't forget. John Darington was pursued for years with the cry 'Who stole the donkey's dinner' and he never fulfilled his ambition to become Member of Parliament for Stroud.
The above includes extracts from 'Oakridge a History' by Pat Carrick, Kay Rhodes and Juliet Shipman, available from Oakridge History Group, price £15 through the ‘Contact Us’ page or from the Village Shop.
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