The borough of Stratford-upon-Avon: Commons, inclosures and mills

A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 3, Barlichway Hundred. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1945.

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'The borough of Stratford-upon-Avon: Commons, inclosures and mills', in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 3, Barlichway Hundred, ed. Philip Styles( London, 1945), British History Online [accessed 25 July 2024].

'The borough of Stratford-upon-Avon: Commons, inclosures and mills', in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 3, Barlichway Hundred. Edited by Philip Styles( London, 1945), British History Online, accessed July 25, 2024,

"The borough of Stratford-upon-Avon: Commons, inclosures and mills". A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 3, Barlichway Hundred. Ed. Philip Styles(London, 1945), , British History Online. Web. 25 July 2024.

In this section

Common Fields and Inclosures

Stratford was surrounded on all sides by the common fields which, until the Inclosure of 1775, abutted directly on the north and west on to the outer limits of the town.

The only common for the borough was the Bancroft, and rights of pasture there were, according to orders of the Court Leet in 1634, confined to freeholders, who were limited to one horse or beast per person, sheep being prohibited altogether. (fn. 1) For this reason the corporation petitioned for exemption from purveyance, 'in respective we have noe Breedeinge of any thinge to serve to thatt purpose butt have hytherunto paied out of thatt we Buye or selves for or owne provision'. (fn. 2) At the close of the 16th century it was even necessary to have 'milk from the Villadges about us brought into or toune to the relievinge of or children and others'. (fn. 3)

The earliest reference to inclosures at Stratford occurs in Wolsey's Inquisition of 1517–18, when Thomas Thomason was accused of having depopulated a messuage and 40 acres here. (fn. 4) The land between the Shipston and Banbury roads, probably known as Bridgetown Field, (fn. 5) was inclosed in the last quarter of the 16th century. A 'measure of the towne land' taken in 1574 gives 18 lands in various parts of this area; (fn. 6) but a map of 1599 shows the whole as inclosed, with the 'Towne Lande' consolidated into a single holding. (fn. 7) Fifteen years later began the well-known controversy over the inclosure of Welcombe. (fn. 8)

Arthur Mainwaring, steward and kinsman to the Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, (fn. 9) was the original promoter of the inclosure, but as a complete stranger to the neighbourhood he relied on the co-operation of his cousin, William Replingham of Great Harborough, who was also agent for the principal landowner in Welcombe, William Combe. (fn. 10) It seems to have been intended to inclose by the method of agreement ratified in Chancery or the Exchequer, and on 28 October 1614 Replingham entered into an agreement with Shakespeare to recompense him and Thomas Greene for any damage they might suffer as lessees of the tithe. Although Mainwaring declared that 'there is no entendment of depopulation, nor no decay of tillage', the corporation of Stratford was strongly opposed to the whole project, fearing the loss of the tithe which formed the principal part of their revenues and that the decay of tillage would increase the distress of the poor 'who have ever been much relieved by the works of husbandry'. (fn. 11) An appeal was made to Mainwaring, entreating him 'to call to mynde the manifold greate and often miseries this borough hath sustayned by casualties of fires fresh in memorie and of a late one lyeinge in the Ashes of desolacon'. The whole town was to be canvassed, and efforts were made, with considerable success, to enlist the support of the other proprietors and commoners and of the neighbouring gentry. (fn. 12) But in spite of all these measures and of Shakespeare's and Dr. Hall's surmise that 'there will be nothing done at all', (fn. 13) the inclosure went forward with unexpected rapidity. Whereas Shakespeare had assured Greene that the land would not be surveyed until the following April, the actual digging of the ditches was begun as soon as the frost had broken, on 19 December. (fn. 14) The area of the land to be inclosed was 7 or 8 yardlands, or 400–600 acres, of which 200 acres was arable and the rest common greensward. (fn. 15) It lay to the north of the town, probably between the present Clopton Road and the Golf Course, including the southern portion of what is now the park of Welcombe House and, on the north-east, a part of the Dingles. Combe estimated that after inclosure it would be worth £250: nor was opposition conciliated by his confessed intention to sell at a profit.

On 9 January, William Walford and William Chandler, two of the aldermen who were also commoners, 'went together in peaceable manner to restrain the said digging and diggers'. But they were assaulted and thrown to the ground while 'the said Mr. Combe for a long space together sate laughing on horseback and said they were very good footeball players and badd the dyggers get on for those that did sett them on worke would bere them out'. (fn. 16) Nevertheless, to avoid further disorders, the parties agreed on the following day to a compromise by which the rights of way stopped up were to be restored and there was to be no further ditching and no ploughing on the commons until Lady Day. But while the agreement was being signed, women and children came out from Stratford and Bishopton and filled in the ditches already made. (fn. 17) The corporation petitioned the judges at the Lent assizes, (fn. 18) where, on 27 March 1615, Sir Edward Coke issued an order by which any inclosure or ploughing up of ancient greensward was prohibited until good cause had been shown. (fn. 19)

Mainwaring had by this time abandoned the project and William Combe, who had at first kept in the background, appears henceforth as the sole promoter. Through Replingham and other agents he acquired estates in Welcombe or short leases of common rights, under colour of which an inclosure might be rushed through. (fn. 20) By March 1615 an inclosure of 400 acres of arable and pasture was 'almost fully finished'; and in the course of the following year he 'paled and stopped upp the common streate leadyng thoroughe the Towne of Welcombe' and was said to have depopulated the whole place. (fn. 21) He was also during 1615 attempting to negotiate with Sir Arthur Ingram for the purchase of the whole manor of Stratford. (fn. 22)

Combe next tried to negotiate with the corporation, offering for loss of tithe either an equivalent in lands or rents or the tithe of Drayton, amounting to 18 yardlands as against the 7 yardlands he wished to inclose. He also promised to compensate all the other tenants if the corporation would procure their consents. These seemingly reasonable terms were, however, rejected, and meanwhile Combe had embarked upon a new series of encroachments. In the summer of 1615 and again in the following year he turned 400 or 500 sheep into Welcombe Meadow, which was customarily reserved after haymaking for the tenants' cattle. During the following winter 14 acres were inclosed out of the common fields adjoining Welcombe meadow, which lay by the river; and at about the same time he began more inclosures in Ryeham, the Hurst, the Moor, and Watt Furlong. Most of these lands lay rather more than a mile from the town along the Warwick road, approximately between the Old Toll Gate Cottage and the Avon. (fn. 23) More appeals to the Justices of Assize produced decisions in favour of the corporation, which Combe evaded. At last an appeal was made to the Privy Council, who on 12 March 1619 wrote to Combe and required him to throw open the more recent inclosures and restore the land to tillage'. (fn. 24) The controversy was still proceeding in October 1619 (fn. 25) but the final issue of it does not appear.

A century and a half later we find the corporation adopting the same attitude towards proposals for a general inclosure of the common fields. These appear first to have been mooted in 1766, when it was resolved 'if a Petition should ever be presented to Parliament', to oppose it by all lawful means. (fn. 26) The Petition was presented and a bill ordered on 31 Jan. 1767, (fn. 27) but it met so much opposition that it was dropped. The chief promoters of the inclosure were Thomas Mason, a Stratford lawyer, and John Payton, the landlord of the 'White Lion', who was interested in building development. In 1771 Mason once more approached them, declaring his willingness to abandon the scheme if it seemed likely to diminish the value of the tithes and proposing that the corporation allotment should include the Gild Pits 'that they may have it in their power to prevent any buildings that might appear to them prejudicial to the Borough'. (fn. 28) These negotiations appear to have broken down because the corporation rejected the usual allotment of one-seventh by value in lieu of tithe as inadequate. (fn. 29) Agreement seems to have been reached in the autumn of 1773, the corporation making its consent conditional on that of the Duke of Dorset. (fn. 30) The Bill ordered to be drawn up on 18 February 1774 became law on 31 March; (fn. 31) and the award is dated 21 January 1775. (fn. 32)

The inclosure covered Stratford, Welcombe, and Bishopton and allotments in lieu of land were made to 20 different persons. The land to be inclosed lay in the four fields known as the Rowley, Bishopton, Windmill Hill, and Gild Pits Quarters and in the Common Meadows. (fn. 33) It was estimated at about 50 yardlands and the allotments in the award total 1,583 acres. (fn. 34) Compensation to the corporation and the vicar for tithe was fixed by the Act at 2/13 of the value of the lands inclosed. The corporation received altogether 182 acres, including 10 acres for the land of Tyler's Charity. There was no manorial allotment either in Stratford or Bishopton, though 3 acres were awarded to James Keating as lessee of the Duke of Dorset. The largest individual allotment, of 286 acres, was made to John Payton of the 'White Lion' and included the land beyond the Gild Pits on which the 'New Town' soon afterwards grew up.

The inclosure of Shottery fields was first moved in 1769, (fn. 35) but again owing, as it seems, to the reluctance of the corporation it was delayed for 17 years. At length, on 23 February 1788, a petition was presented to the House of Commons and a bill ordered, which met with no opposition from the proprietors and became law on 11 April. (fn. 36) The award is dated 24 March 1787. The allotments amounted to 1,615 acres, of which 1,162 were in lieu of the 38¾ yardlands in the common fields; 398 were for tithe, and 51 for holdings of meadowland only. The leading promoter was no doubt Viscount Beauchamp, afterwards 2nd Marquess of Hertford, who was then building up a large estate in the district. (fn. 37) In 1776 Lord Beauchamp had purchased the great tithes and 5 yardlands in Shottery for £11,183, (fn. 38) and by 1787 he held 22¾ yardlands there. He received an allotment of 886 acres. The two next largest proprietors, with 336 and 163 acres respectively, held between them what had originally been five separate estates. (fn. 39) The corporation held in Shottery, under their charter, a messuage and 2 yardlands and the greater part of the vicarial tithes, for which they received in exchange 133 acres. Four small allotments were made to freeholders of Bishopton for land in Shottery Meadow known as Bishopton Doles.

Drayton was inclosed under the same Act as Binton (q.v.) in 1779. (fn. 40) The award, dated 29 December 1779, covers 499 acres, of which 376 were allotted to Francis Brownsword Bullock as lord of the manor and lessee of the great tithes. The corporation of Stratford received 33 acres for the vicarial tithe and the residue was more or less equally divided between Lord Beauchamp and Lord Willoughby de Broke.

Luddington and Dodwell appear to have been wholly inclosed at some time before 1704. (fn. 41) Since then the ancient hamlet of Dodwell, which consisted of some half-dozen houses a little to the north of the modern farm-house, has disappeared. Between this site and the hamlet of Drayton just to the north of it there ran the old road from Evesham to Warwick, which continued through Bishopton and Snitterfield. (fn. 42) From the Stratford-Alcester road to Drayton it was a public road 40 feet wide as late as 1779, (fn. 43) and it is still traceable as a fieldpath.


In 1086 the mill at Stratford was valued at 10s. and 1,000 eels. (fn. 44) In 1252 there were three corn mills under one roof and a separate fulling mill, worth altogether £3 6s. 8d. a year. (fn. 45) The survey of 1282 mentions only the three corn mills, which then paid £4 yearly in toll of malt and £6 3s. 4d. in toll of corn. (fn. 46) By 1299 two of the mills paid in corn and the third in malt, to the total value of £9. Belong ing to the mills were 13 acres of arable land, worth 5d. an acre, besides a croft and an island. (fn. 47) Bishop Latimer (1535–9) granted a lease of the mills at a rent of £10 a year to John Smyth of Wootton Wawen; (fn. 48) and they remained in the tenure of that family until the 1st Marquess of Hertford bought out the interest of Smyth's descendant, Lord Carington. (fn. 49)

In Shakespeare's time the mills were occupied by John Sadler, who was also landlord of the 'Bear' in Bridge Street and served as bailiff of the borough 1570–1. (fn. 50) Sir Charles Smyth, in 1631, let both the corn mills and the fulling mill, then under one roof, for 90 years to John Rogers of Shottery, at a rent of about £36. (fn. 51) Four years later Rogers assigned the remainder of the lease of the corn mills to John Penn, miller of Pershore, who was one of the proprietors of the Avon navigation and who in 1637 assigned it in turn to Thomas Johnson. In 1642 Rogers, alleging that Penn had paid no rent for three years past, reentered the premises, and the destruction of the waterworks during the civil war made the mills much less profitable. The dispute resulted in a chancery suit brought by Johnson against Rogers's son John, but apparently without success, in 1647. (fn. 52) In 1686 Francis, Lord Carington, leased the mills, with the toll of boats passing through the weir, at a rent of £90 to William Martin of Evesham, (fn. 53) who assigned the lease in 1693 to James West, citizen and clothworker of London. (fn. 54)

Towards the end of the 18th century the mills were purchased from the Marquess of Hertford by William Oldaker of Stratford. They then consisted of a flour mill and an oil mill in two separate buildings. (fn. 55) Oldaker rebuilt the flour mill and soon afterwards sold the whole premises to Thomas Lucy of Cobham, Surrey (1764–1829), who is said to have come into the district with the object of making a claim to the estates of the Lucys of Charlecote and to have bought the mills with the money which the family paid him to avoid a lawsuit. (fn. 56) In 1819 Lucy pulled down the oil mill and built another flour mill in its place. His son Charles replaced them both by a single mill and added a warehouse in 1833. There was further enlargement in 1855. The business remained in the family until the death of Charles's daughter Jane, c. 1900. The enterprise of the Lucys, aided by the development of river and canal transport, made the mills into a very prosperous concern. In 1830 about 3,000 bushels of corn a week were being ground here; a great part of the corn was imported from Ireland and the first steam vessel was launched on the Avon to bring it up from Bristol. (fn. 57) The family afterwards lost money through supplying flour to the Southern States during the American Civil War. (fn. 58) The mills, which now belong to a limited company, are still known as the Lucy Mills and are among the most important in the midlands. They were burnt down in 1941, but have since been rebuilt.

The mill at Ruin Clifford, on the Stour, is first mentioned in the reign of Edward VI. (fn. 59) Francis Watts pulled it down about 1673 and built an iron-mill (fn. 60) which was used for smelting pig-iron brought up the Avon. (fn. 61) It was leased by Thomas Archer c. 1684 (fn. 62) and was still working in 1736. (fn. 63) The corn mill seems to have been rebuilt during the 18th century, but the greater part of the present building dates from 1853. It has not been used for grinding corn within the last 20 years, though it has been occupied for a time as a weaving mill. (fn. 64)


  • 1. a Sackville MSS. bdle. 35. Cf. Misc. Docs. vii, 101:—'We have noe comons to keepe ether kyne or other cattle for or uses butt att suche unreasonable rates as none butt of the ritcher sort cann attaine unto'.
  • 2. b Misc. Docs. v, 157.
  • 3. c Ibid. vii, 101.
  • 4. Leadam, Domesday of Inclosures, ii, 653. A Thomas Tomasson was elected Proctor of the Gild in 1502: Gild Reg. ed. Bloom, 195.
  • 5. Land in Bridgetown Field is mentioned in a rental of the College estate temp. Edward VI: Rentals & Surveys (P.R.O.), portf. 26, no. 28.
  • 6. Misc. Docs. xii, 28.
  • 7. Copy in Saunders MSS. 'Sketches in Warw.' fol. 16.
  • 8. Ingleby, Shakespeare and the Enclosure of the Common Fields at Welcombe. The chief source for details of the struggle is the Diary of Shakespeare's kinsman Thomas Greene, at that time town clerk; this is reproduced by Ingleby. We are indebted to the late Mr. F. C. Wellstood for the loan of his transcripts of the Miscellaneous Documents relating to the inclosure among the Birthplace MSS.
  • 9. Misc. Docs. i, 107. For the family connexion see Chambers, William Shakespeare, ii, 146.
  • 10. Misc. Docs. vii, 17, 22; xiii, 11.
  • 11. Ibid. 23.
  • 12. Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote seems to have been almost the only one of the country gentry who approved the inclosure and supported Combe: Misc. Docs. xiii, 8; Diary, 9 Jan. 1615.
  • 13. Diary, 7 Nov. 1614.
  • 14. Misc. Docs. v, 18.
  • 15. Ibid. vii, 3, 7; xiii, 8, 9.
  • 16. Ibid. vii, 2.
  • 17. Diary, 10 Jan. 1615.
  • 18. B. 282–3.
  • 19. B. 284.
  • 20. Misc. Docs. xiii, 8.
  • 21. Ibid. vii, 20, 23.
  • 22. Diary, 9 Feb., 25 July, 16 Sept. 1615.
  • 23. See maps in Ingleby, op. cit.
  • 24. Misc. Docs. vii, 6 (printed, Ingleby, Appendix 7); cf. also Wheler MSS. i, 85.
  • 25. B. 380; cf. also B. 387.
  • 26. F. 485 (5 Dec. 1766).
  • 27. C. J. 31, p. 95.
  • 28. Misc. Docs. xviii, 196: F. 562.
  • 29. F. 587.
  • 30. G. 1, 5, 8.
  • 31. 14 Geo. III, c. 31. C. J. 34, pp. 470, 519, 538, 572, 588, 611, 616.
  • 32. There are copies of the Acts and Awards for Stratford, Shottery, and Binton and Drayton at the Birthplace, and of the Awards at the Shire Hall, Warwick.
  • 33. Inclosure MSS. 39.
  • 34. 1,635 acres including roads.
  • 35. F. 528, 530, 531.
  • 36. 26 Geo. III, c. 12. Cf. C. J., 41, pp. 249, 284, 303, 333, 363, 450, 560; G. 224–6.
  • 37. Under Binton, p. 62. Lord Beauchamp was also the prime mover in the inclosure of Dunnington Heath, Salford Priors, in 1783.
  • 38. Ragley MSS. (Abstr. of Title), Shire Hall, Warwick.
  • 39. The second largest proprietor was the Rev. William Daniel of Warwick, vicar of Stretton-on-Dunsmore, who acquired by marriage the 4½ yardlands held by the ancient Shottery family of Burman: cf. Burman, The Burman Chronicle, 29.
  • 40. 19 Geo. III, c. 13.
  • 41. Estate Map at Shire Hall, Warwick.
  • 42. Cf. ibid.; Warw. Co. Rec. vi, 104, 160. The road from Miles Bush to Bishopton is described in the Shottery Incl. Awd. as 'part of the ancient public road from Alcester to Warwick'.
  • 43. Drayton Incl. Awd.
  • 44. V.C.H. Warw. i, 302.
  • 45. Extenta Manerii de Veteri Stratford, 1.
  • 46. Red Bk. of Worc. (Worcs. Hist. Soc.), iii, 258.
  • 47. Ibid. 244.
  • 48. Mins. & Accts. iv, 113.
  • 49. Wheler, Hist. of Stratford (interleaved copy at Birthplace), 9.
  • 50. Fripp, Shakespeare's Stratford, 51.
  • 51. Chan. Proc. Ser. 2, iii, bdle. 449, no. 86. The fulling mill was occupied by Richard Bartlett, dyer.
  • 52. Ibid. John Rogers, junior, died in 1650 (Par. Reg. iii, 148). His brother Thomas, 'of the Mill' (ibid. i, 147, 152) is assessed in the Hearth Tax Returns, 1662–74.
  • 53. Add. Chart. 42357.
  • 54. Ibid. 42359.
  • 55. Wheler, loc. cit.
  • 56. For information on the Lucy family we are indebted to Miss Vere Hodgson, and Miss D. J. Hutchings.
  • 57. West, Direct. of Warw. 533.
  • 58. The Birmingham branch of the family, founded by Thomas Lucy's brother William, who became a corn factor in Islington Row, was principally affected.
  • 59. Rentals & Surveys (P.R.O.), portf. 26, no. 28, fol. 4.
  • 60. Hearth Tax Returns. The new building of 6 hearths which is probably the mill, was unfinished in 1673 and taxed at 3 hearths in 1674. The iron-mill is marked in Ogilby's Britannia (1675), pl. 70.
  • 61. Account Book of Andrew Archer of Umberslade, 1708–14 About 50 tons of bar iron were then sold yearly at the forge, yielding a profit of £200.
  • 62. Recov. R. Mich. 36 Car. II, ro. 201. Thomas's son Andrew was paying £4 rent for the Forge House to Mr. Watts between 1708 and 1714.
  • 63. It is shown in Owen, Britannia Depicta or Ogilby Improved, 1736 edn. p. 184, but not in Kitchin's Map of Warwickshire, c. 1750.
  • 64. Ex inf. the Hon. Mrs. Rees-Mogg.