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Bockhampton: The ‘ghost’ medieval hamlet outside Lambourn with a dark past

The historic hamlet of Bockhampton, located just southeast of Lambourn, appears on signposts and street signs.

But there is one problem – it no longer exists.

Fields overlooking Lambourn where the settlement once stood
Fields overlooking Lambourn where the settlement once stood

Almost all physical evidence of this once-thriving medieval community has vanished from the landscape.

The reasons for this are political, social and environmental.

Bockhampton is listed as ‘Bochentone’ in William the Conqueror's Domesday Book of 1086, a record of all the towns, villages and individuals living in the kingdom of England.

The hamlet has had many name iterations over the centuries, but its fate was sealed with the Parliamentary Enclosure (Inclosure) Act of 1778.

Parliament also passed Enclosure Acts for Eastbury in 1776, Upper Lambourn (Uplambourn) in 1802 and Chipping Lambourn in 1803 – abolishing commoners’ rights to access common land.

Street signs recall the extinct hamlet
Street signs recall the extinct hamlet

Open, common and waste land in rural England became ‘emparked’ – either fenced, hedged or ditched – ousting traditional arable strip farming.

Such land had never been lived on but was used by peasants to grow crops and graze livestock.

However, once enclosure took hold, land ownership passed to a small collection of landowners who could now charge higher rent to fewer homeowners.

A series of maps chart the gradual decline of Bockhampton.

On Rocque’s Map of Berkshire (1761), the hamlet – marked as ‘Bockington’ – contains fewer than six houses.

Rocque's map of Berkshire shows 'Bockington' in 1761, between Lambourn and Eastbury
Rocque's map of Berkshire shows 'Bockington' in 1761, between Lambourn and Eastbury

The settlement also appears on Cary’s Map of Berkshire (1793) and Teesdale & Co’s Map of Berkshire (1830).

But the Ordnance Survey for 1877 shows it had been reduced to three farms by this time: Bockhampton Upper Farm, Bockhampton Middle Farm and Bockhampton Farm.

It also shows the former site of a 12th-century chapel on the settlement's perimeter, which the now long-gone Lambourn Valley Railway line passed through in later years.

The Grade-II listed Bockhampton Manor was built in Upper Lambourn by Thomas Blagrave in the 16th century – most likely linked to the famous Blagrave family in Reading.

The manor, still standing, absorbed the three manors of East Bockhampton, West Bockhampton and Hoppeshortlan.

But the case of Bockhampton – now deserted – is not unique.

A signpost to nowhere
A signpost to nowhere

Many settlements in West Berkshire have disappeared or been absorbed by larger neighbours.

An estimated six million acres – or 20 per cent – of common land was enclosed in rural England between 1770 and 1830.

The first Enclosure Act was passed for Dorset in 1604 and the final one for Gloucestershire in 1914.

More than a third of the surface area of Berkshire was enclosed by an Act of Parliament between 1723 and 1885, claims historian Bethanie Afton.

The first Enclosure Act for Berkshire (pre-1974 boundary changes) was passed for Sunningwell in 1723 and the last for Steventon in 1885.

Enclosure created more centralised, cost-effective farming.

Now just an empty field
Now just an empty field

Some peasants profited from this arrangement, selling their adjoining properties to migrate and pursue work in the cities.

However, critics are divided on the issue, with some characterising the move as nothing more than a ruthless land grab made by the rich preying on the poor, denying them their long-held rights to use precious common land.

An anonymous poem, known as Stealing the Common from the Goose, has come to represent the opposition to the enclosure movement in the 18th century:

The law locks up the man or woman,

‘Who steals the goose from off the common,

‘But lets the greater felon loose,

‘Who steals the common from the goose.

Speaking about a possible link between enclosure and the agricultural ‘Swing Riots’ of 1830, Newbury historian, David Peacock, said: “In many cases, there is a connection between the Enclosure Acts and the riots.

“Historians disagree about how strong that connection is.

“In my view, in the Newbury area, the connection appears to be strong, but detailed research is needed.”

A view of where the hamlet once stood — today a field and electricity substation
A view of where the hamlet once stood — today a field and electricity substation

The enclosure movement is considered by some scholars to symbolise the emergence of capitalism.

What is the legacy of enclosure today? The Foundation for Common Land estimates three per cent of England still consists of common land.

Many towns and villages did resist Enclosure. Attempts to empark Hungerford Common in the early 1800s fell through, hence why the common exists today.

And the decades-long saga of Greenham Common is nothing if not an allegory for the common people fighting to retain land rightfully theirs from the powers that be.

It is common land today, managed by different parties, with full public right to access.

But enclosure proved to be the death knell for Bockhampton.

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