The Manuscript Collection #1: The Armley Enclosure Act & Award, 1793

In the first in an occasional series, Antony Ramm, Assistant Librarian for the Local and Family History department, takes a look at an item in the Central Library’s collection of manuscripts. Many of these manuscripts have not yet been added to our online catalogue, and can only be found in our traditional card catalogue; it is hoped these articles will draw increased attention to these important treasures.

A partial glimpse of the card catalogue, as seen during a Light Night event in 2016

Described as being a ‘copy made by Benjamin Edmondson, in 1850,’ this manuscript is evidently part of a wider series of Acts made in the late-18th-century and which were designed to “empower enclosure of open fields and common land in England and Wales, creating legal property rights to land that was previously held in common.” Some historical context for the document is given in a Leeds City Council Conservation Area Appraisal document for Armley, while you can find more general information about researching Enclosure Awards on the National Archives website.

The card catalogue entry for the 1793 Act
The title page

The material contained within these pages will be of huge interest to local and family historians in the Armley region, giving, as it does, a descriptive commentary of the land situated in that “manor or township” – albeit that the  script is ornate, and the language legalistically technical, making the text opaque and alienating to work with.

The first page of Edmondson’s transcription

Thankfully, the Central Library also holds a magnificent 2005 book that provides a full transcription of the 1793 Act: E.A. Holmes’ A Moment in Time: The Armley Inclosure Act and Award of 1793.

Title page for Volume 1 of the Holmes’ edition

A Moment in Time is actually much more than “just” a transcription or account of the Act itself, however. Holmes’ two volumes are, in fact, a full and comprehensive snapshot and record of Armley in the late 18th-century; the result of nine-years’ diligent research, which includes detailed descriptions of land usage, ownership and occupation ( placing the text among a select set of our collections that illuminate individual identities in Leeds prior to the establishment of the Census ‘proper’ in 1841).

Of particular interest are a copy of the Armley Township map that accompanied the 1793 Act (and which doesn’t feature in the Edmondson transcription), alongside Holmes’ own map correcting and amending that original document.

Extract from Holmes’ copy of the 1793 Act map
Extract from the same author’s amended and corrected map

These are invaluable resources for any student of Armley (and Leeds) in the 18th-century. Several photos are also present in the book, including some of buildings since demolished. A full list of the book’s contents is available to download as a PDF.

At the very end of the 1793 Act we find a few details about Benjamin Edmondson, who describes himself in a note as being “Clerk to Messrs Porritt and Swithinbank, Solicitors, Leeds” and who states that he completed his copy of the Armley document on the 26th of December, 1850: commitment, indeed (or, perhaps, not). No further information is given – either by Edmondson himself, or by Holmes, although we know Holmes certainly used the Edmondson edition of the 1793 Act, as he quotes the note shown below.

Edmondson’s note at the end of his 1850 transcription

A search of Census returns from the mid-19th-century reveals one very likely candidate for Edmonson – born in 1835, in Armley itself, this Edmondson was working as a ‘Solicitor’s Articled Clerk’ and living in Wakefield. If this is our Edmondson, his year of birth tells us that – incredibly – he completed his 1850 transcription when he was no older than fifteen (shedding light, perhaps, on the working conditions of the professional clerk in the Victorian period).

1881 Census return for Benjamin and his family, www.ancestry.com

To arrange an appointment to view either of these items relating to the 1793 Armley Inclosure Act, please contact the Local and Family History department on 0113 37 86982, or by e-mail: localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk.

Image shows Moor View, a row of stone built cottages with gardens situated off Town Street. They overlook Armley Moor, an area of common land which once encompassed 125 acres (recorded at the time of the Enclosure Act of 1793). Armley Moor had various ancient ways which eventually became roads like Town Street, Wortley Road to the south and Theaker Lane to the east. The open space of the moor was used by hand weavers as a tenter ground before the Industrial Revolution took place. After the cloth was ‘finished’ it was stretched out to dry on tenter frames, hence the saying ‘being on tenterhooks’. www.leodis.net
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