This is the account of two inclosures (or enclosures) which took place in the early nineteenth century and had their genesis in Dulwich although they were separated by a distance of over 800 miles. The first was Dulwich Common where Royal Assent was given in 1806 and the inclosure enacted three years later, the second was Fetlar, one of the farthest islands of the Shetland Islands measuring 15 square miles and where clearance and enclosure took place over a period pf forty years from 1816. What bound these two virtual extremities of the British Isles? And what, indeed, is inclosure?
In medieval England, agriculture was carried out with what were termed the two or three field systems where the land around villages or manors was divided into strips shared out on a proportional basis between the lord of the manor and his tenant farmers. Over time, and certainly by the period of the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century, this system had gradually fallen into disuse, mainly because of the shortage of labour when it was found to be more efficient to have larger fields for arable farming and fields enclosed by walls or hedges to contain animals, particularly sheep.
Tenants were granted, as part of their agreements with their manorial landlords, the use of common land on which to graze animals as well as to gather underwood for domestic heating . This too began gradually to be phased out as farming became more consolidated and coal became widely available for fuel. Between the early 17th century and start of WW1 over 5,200 Inclosure Acts affecting 6.8 million acres were passed creating legal property rights to land previously held in common.
Dulwich Common’s enclosure was enacted on 4th June 1809 bringing an end to centuries of use. Some twenty years earlier however common rights had been removed from leases granted to Dulwich landowners as the manor, or what we now call the Estate, was increasingly being tenanted by a merchant class who required paddocks around their houses for their horses, instead of land for farming. The number of actual farmers, who increasingly specialised in milk production, declined.
John Coulter, local historian for Lambeth, argues that in the local area landlords took advantage of the frantic climax of the Inclosure movement during the Napoleonic Wars when need to grow more food at home gave a welcome political justification for “this huge land grab.”
Croydon Common’s Inclosure dates from 1797, Sydenham and Norwood 1810 and Penge Common 1827. Interestingly, one of the surveyors for the Croydon inclosure was Robert Boxall who also was retained by Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift for its survey of Dulwich Common . Boxall, who had a long connection with Dulwich as a contractor, land valuer and one-time proprietor of the Greyhound inn,was joined by two other surveyor, William James and Thomas Crawter.
William James had in 1805 been retained to draw up plans for sweeping changes to Dulwich which under its previous administration had been slow to adapt to changing circumstances. William James was a clever man; he initially trained as a lawyer but specialized as a land agent and drew up and carried out a scheme for levelling Lambeth Marsh in 1804. He also envisaged a bridge over the Thames as part of this scheme and his suggested site would later be that of Waterloo Bridge. In that same year he was involved in coal mining and was the first to open the West Bromwich coalfield. James was also a pioneer in the establishment of railways.
James’s plan for the development of Dulwich included the granting of longer leases, the laying out of five new roads across the estate to provide building frontages, building a new church and also, a particularly novel feature; the retention of the Common as essentially what we would term today, a conservation area. He proposed that the area surrounding the Common, rather than the Common itself, be developed for housing. The estimated cost of his scheme was £3000-£4000, which, in a period of economic uncertainty, clearly alarmed the College. James’s plan was thus abandoned although his concept for surrounding the Common with housing would later influence the blueprint which Charles Barry Jnr would adopt some fifty years later as the College’s surveyor. Although James’s scheme was not adopted, two features were retained - the granting of longer leases and the idea of preserving the Common. The latter’s attraction seems to have prompted the College to contemplate applying for an Act of Inclosure. William James was thus retained as a commissioner together with Boxall and Crawter.
Robert Boxall, in a letter to the College pointed out that enclosure of Dulwich Common would require gates, fences and hurdles around its perimeter and he proposed to offset this cost by charging for cattle and horses to graze on the Common from April or May each year until they had to be brought into barns in winter. He suggested that a cow should be charged at 3/- and a horse at 5/- and a herdsman employed. The herdsman would also need to level the numerous molehills ‘which at present encumber the whole of the Common, preventing an eighth part of the herbage from being useful and such a disgrace to the present management’.
The third commissioner retained by the cautious Master, William Allen who had earlier been a civil servant in the office of the Lord Privy Seal, and the Warden, Lancelot Baugh Allen, previously a solicitor, was Thomas Crawter, a long-established Surrey land surveyor and valuer. The remaining two commissioners for the inclosure of Dulwich Common were Charles Druce, the College’s steward and solicitor George Tappen its own surveyor.
So where was the Common? The modern appropriation of the name implies that Dulwich Common consisted of all the land eastwards from College Road as far as Lordship Lane on the south side of the road also named Dulwich Common. A look at the 1806 map of Dulwich however tells us otherwise. The Common occupied all of the area currently covered by Dulwich College’s sports fields on both sides of College Road together with some land west of Alleyn Park as far as Croxted Road . It included the Mill Pond and Pond Cottages and in all totaled roughly 120 acres.
Within a very short time (1812), the shine had worn off of the project of the Common as an amenity area. War with France still raged on, money was tight. The prospective housing development was now a fading memory. The offer by from Thomas Lett, a prosperous timber merchant and Dulwich resident, to take on a lease of the Common for 21 years at £2 an acre and to lay it out with plantations, single trees and clumps with no internal fences and with a possible use for hunting, was seized upon by the College, not least because Mr Lett would pay to fence the Common off. And there for this article at least the story should end.
However, at the eastern end of the road which today is named Dulwich Common stood Dulwich Grove, which at the time of Messrs James, Boxall and Crawter’s survey was a progressive private academy run by Dr William Glennie
The Second Tale of Enclosure
You may have read about Dr Glennie’s academy and the progress of his twelve sons in the Spring 2020 edition of this Journal which you can of course still view online.
Someone who did see the article was Jane Coutts who now lives in Spain but for fifteen years was the curator of the Fetlar Interpretive Centre in the Shetland Islands. Last year her book; Borrowed Time: Debt, social mobility and the Fetlar Clearances: The Nicolsons of Brough Lodge was published. She very generously pointed me in the direction of the archive of the Nicolson Letters held at the Shetland Record office in Lerwick.
The principal subject of her 400 + page book is Sir Arthur Nicolson, who at the time of the Dulwich Common Inclosure, was a 16 year old pupil at Dr Glennie’s Academy. Arthur Nicolson was an orphan and through an extensive network of support from his uncles, other relatives, friends and lawyers and found himself in Dulwich in 1807 where he was prepared by Dr Glennie for entrance into Edinburgh University. Nicolson, it appears was on arrival in Dulwich in somewhat delicate, indeed Dr Glennie’s Academy seems to have been the choice of not only boys with a physical disability (Lord Byron for example in 1798-1800) but often (also like Byron) with Scottish connections.
It would not be surprising if, one day, someone wrote a book about Dr William Glennie and Dulwich Grove. Totally unlike so many such institutions of the time that were so graphically recounted in Tom Brown’s Schooldays or Nicholas Nickleby, Dr Glennie and his Academy stands out as an example of something quite the opposite. He managed to be Incredibly well-read, and acquainted with all the scientific developments of his day as well as being extremely sociable. He was also immersed in the running of his school. Essentially, what William Glennie strove for was a well-rounded and patriotic student who would become a useful citizen and a brother to his fellow man. Clearly young Arthur Nicolson’s guardians, or ‘friends’ as he habitually speaks of them, were very concerned for all aspects of his welfare - Arthur wrote back in October 1807 to assure his guardian, Thomas Bolt - that not only had he recovered from illness but that also he “need not be anxious on the score of morals for particular attention is paid to them here by W. Glennie nor have the boys any bad inclinations in that particular.”
Thomas Bolt a merchant with business interests in the Shetland Islands was in his seventies when this correspondence took place. He and his wife invariably accompanied their letters to Arthur and also to Glennie with a gift of a couple of pairs of stockings, which inevitably must have caused some amusement at Dulwich Grove; “…….we express our obligations to you for the valuable present of two beautiful pairs of stockings to each of us. They are indeed very handsome as well as most pleasant and comfortable stockings to wear.”
Correspondence was difficult; often it took weeks for letters to and from the Shetlands to arrive. Among the archive of letters in Lerwick is a school report sent by Dr Glennie:
it is probable Mr Nicolson’s friends might wish him after completing his school education with me to finish his studies at the University of Edinburgh. It is most natural to suppose this will be the case and I have hitherto directed his education upon this plan. His principal attention is turned to the Greek and Latin Classics. He has gone through a course of Arithmetic and will in proper time be introduced to Mathematics He has already acquired such familiar knowledge of French as to be able to read it with the greatest ease and to write it with tolerable accuracy and finds more amusement than labour in prosecuting the study of History and Geography.
In writing to Mr Innes (Arthur’s uncle and friend of Glennie) and in conversing with Mr Nicolson’s Friends in London I have remarked to them that my young Friend shewed some inclination to expense, the consequence I am so convinced of youthful inattention and inexperience for he did not seem to be aware that a Guinea will by no means go so far as in Scotland . I feel it my duty to converse with him seriously on this topic, and I owe him the justice to say that he has since been more considerate and moderate in his personal expenses. Still however I find that the general expense of his education and that of all my pupils increases with their increase in years and with the increasing pressure of the Times. After Christmas last Mr Nicolson begged I would let him learn Fencing along with several of his companions of the same age. In this I felt great pleasure to gratify him and would even have proposed it to him but was more happy the request came from himself. It is a fine exercise and is of use to his health. Fencing, like music which can be taught only to one at a time and not to a class is a very dear branch of education and I pay my Fencing Master a French officer, a guinea a month for each Pupil.
In the summer of 1808, some of the boys at Dulwich Grove did not go home for the holidays. Instead they joined the Glennie family at Ramsgate where Glennie usually rented a house, In September Glennie wrote to Thomas Bolt:
“….. Mr Nicolson could not be accommodated last summer with his friends, Mr and Mrs Hay who were obliged to disperse with their own family on account of repairs they were making at their house. This made me determined to take my young Friend along with some of my pupils to Ramsgate where I frequently pass the summer holidays with my family. There they had the benefit of sea-bathing, riding on horseback and I indulged them in the innocent amusements of the place suitable to their years.”
Arthur also wrote - I have spent the vacation with Dr Glennie & his family at Ramsgate on the seaside - the bathing has had an excellent effect on my health, for I can walk upwards of 20 miles a day with the greatest ease. We had a most disagreeable passage from Ramsgate it rained violently the whole day and owing to the number of women & children in the cabin who were all sick & the confined air (the windows were shuttered on account of the rain) I laid on deck and got quite wet & slept in that state all night, yet I received no harm from it.
Dr Glennie tended to dislike having to spend time keeping the accounts of his school, he much preferred letter writing and frequently was behind with his business affairs. He liked to reserve the tedious matter of invoicing his pupil’s fees for “the long winter days”. Nevertheless, these once mundane records make fascinating reading two centuries later.
Arthur Nicolson left Dulwich Grove at the end of Christmas term in 1809 after more than two years under Dr Glennie’s supervision. With so rounded an education he must have been ready for what the future might hold. And there our story might have ended happily, instead it would later take a particularly calamitous turn.
The local talk in Dulwich, which would certainly have gone around the dining table at Dulwich Grove during the years Arthur Nicolson was a boarder, was the matter of the enclosure of nearby Dulwich Common. With his family background in mercantile affairs and his own landed inheritance the subject would have, almost certainly, remained in his memory.
We next hear of Arthur shortly after he leaves Dulwich Grove. In March 1810 he wrote to Glennie asking advice in his further studies. Glennie responds at length:
“I had great pleasure in receiving your letter of the 12th of last month, and am happy to see you continue to like your mathematical studies. ………Wishing you well as I do, and valuing your abilities and the promise you give of being a useful man I cannot help feeling a little alarm at some of your expulsions….” This referred to Arthur’s undervaluing of Latin. Glennie reminds his former pupil of the Greek and Roman writers’ role in defining character. “ …Now wisdom, and virtue and good morals are essentially necessary to every man whatever his profession or civil occupation will be. For human wisdom, human virtue, and human morality the Greek and Roman writers have never been equalled.
Glennie remarks on Arthur’s interest in the science and applauds the advances in the subject. He suggests that Arthur confine himself to the ones which will be useful to him in his own life. However he thinks his former pupil is right to study the elements of chemistry and points to the example of the England having the first chemist in the world and the discoveries made by Davy since the founding of the Royal Institution.
Two years later, in November 1812, another letter arrives from Arthur, together with the usual gift of four pairs of stockings for the Glennies. Glennie expresses delight that Arthur is adopting plans for the bettering the conditions of his future tenants and for improving the value of his property. “These objects are not only compatible with each other, but they are the only effectual means by which the mutual benefit can be attained. No species of patriotism can be more meritorious than this. I wish you every success in such a laudable pursuit.”
So what could possibly go wrong?
Through a distant second cousin, Arthur Nicolson had inherited the the island of Fetlar, in the Shetland Isles, in 1805 after it had been acquired in lieu of payment of a debt by the existing owner. In 1825 Arthur revived the baronetcy of Nova Scotia which had been granted in 1629 and henceforth used the title. At about the same time, having returned from a Continental tour he started to build a permanent home for himself on the island. Arthur Nicolson’s extravagance first identified by William Glennie was manifested in the Gothic style ‘castle’, Brough Lodge.
According to Jane Coutts recent study, Nicolson did plan to reduce the endemic debt involved in the system of fishing tenures (the results of which turned out to be tragic for the tenants) and showed the difference between Nicolson’s theoretical education and the conditions of tenants on the ground.
The system Arthur Nicolson inherited dated back to the early days of the previous century when the Shetland economy collapsed and the lairds were forced to sell up to an emergent merchant class of which his ancestors were part. They began to lock their tenants into supplying all their fishing catch to them in return for payment of rent. The debt was endemic and rarely did a tenant escape from this precarious existence.
In 1816 as part of his ‘improvements’ to form a model estate and wishing to diversify away from fishing, he began enclosing the common grazings in order to achieve a more efficient system by the introduction of large scale sheep farming. Evictions began to be carried out and at first Nicolson tried to relocate the tenants to other areas of the island. The clearances continued down the years together with the his control of fishing - for example, the fishermen were also expected to work in the winter for him without payment but receive free rent in lieu. The younger fisherman sought to resist this system by taking work on whaling ships for which they received a cash wage and were thus able to pay their rent up front. Because of the way the system was devised it meant that the laird stood to lose money if the rents were paid in cash because he also set the rate for buying the catch at the beginning of the season and this payment just covered a tenant’s rent and maintenance. Nicolson retaliated by threatening to evict any tenants that took on whaling work. The fishermen reacted by marching on his house and forcing him to retract the threat of eviction.
Now titled, Sir Arthur, through his reactivating of the Nova Scotia baronetcy, he also started to enclose the remaining parts of Fetlar. The population declined from 859 in 1836, to 715 in 1841 and to 658 in 1851. Today the population numbers around 60. Evicted tenants went to other islands or emigrated to Canada or Australia. Some made enough money to return to Fetlar and buy their tenancies back from the laird.
Nicolson made an addition to Brough Lodge in the form of a summer house, which local legend has it, was built from the stones of the houses of the evicted tenants. He is reputed to have only spent one night sleeping inside and heard inexplicable noises after which it was only used as an office.
Arthur Nicolson spent his last days in London, dying in 1863 aged 67 and is buried in Highgate Cemetery. His wife lived in Cheltenham after his death and was thus an absentee landlord who received the financial benefits of Fetlar, extracted by her apparently bullying agent in the Shetlands.
Arthur Nicolson’s school fees for the first half year of 1809
June 24 To Board & Instruction from Christmas last £ 63 - -
Washing 3 .- -
Military Exercise -12.-
Drawing, Books, Pencils etc 3.3.6
Fencing 4½ months 4.14.6
School Books and Stationery 2. 16.6
£ 77.6. 6
Pocket money £ 6.2.-
Postage & Carriage of Parcels 2.7.6
Tailor’s Bill 14.16.-
Shoemaker’s dr 7.16.-
Cash given to him when going to Rochester last Christmas 2.- - -
Mr Ware the Occulist 2.6.-
Foils, Ruler and Compass Dumb bells etc 1.17.6
Night Shirts, stockings & sundries 3.18.-
A Hat and cleaning an old one 2.3.-
A deal packing box 27/-Bed engaged on Board the Packet 21/- 2.8.-
Cash given him when going to Scotland 10. - -
Medicine and attendance forgot on a former accout 2.7.-
Carried forward £135.8.-
Amount last account 92.8 -
Cr. By remittance of a Bill on Liverpool
paid in February last 150. ---