“They hang the man and flog the woman
That steals the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.”
The entrance to Chobham Place Woods.
The people who lived on the ancient heath lands had rights on the common land. They could graze their livestock, and gather fuel and building materials. When the common land was enclosed to be cultivated, it had a massive effect on rural society.
One example of enclosed land is Chobham Place Woods. These are now a public space with a car park off Valley End Road, near the junction with Windsor Road.
In the 1850s they were part of the common and Denis Le Marchant, the owner of Chobham Place, wanted to enclose them.
Sir Denis Le Marchant, 1st Baronet. 1795 – 1874. National Portrait Gallery.
He was virulently opposed by Richard Gude, a local landowner, who lived at Valleywood Farm and was therefore a neighbour of Le Marchant.
Where litigation was concerned, Gude had previous form. He took a dispute over an annuity, Gude v. Mumford, (descendants of the family still live in the village today,) as far as the Court of the Exchequer in 1837.
But Le Marchant was the Clerk to the House of Commons, and a powerful man. Gude was too incensed to care. Between 1853 and 1854 he petitioned the Queen and Parliament three times, writing to Lord Palmerston, the Secretary of State, who must have known Le Marchant well.
“The House of Commons, 1860″(including Denis Le Marchant) by Thomas Oldham Barlow, after John Phillip, mezzotint, 1863 or after. National Portrait Gallery.
Gude wrote bitterly, “I am goaded by the scandalous and oppressive nature of the proceedings of Sir Denis Le Marchant and the Inclosure Commissioners.”
One of his arguments was that the poor would suffer when the common land was enclosed. This sounds suspiciously like special pleading; Gude he had been such an unpopular Guardian of the Poor that he was subject to arson attacks.
Gude complained that Le Marchant bought the land at his own valuation, while William Abdy’s offer, of three times the amount, was rejected. But the real cause of frustration shines through when he complains that the other adjoining landowners, William Abdy and himself, would get no part of the woods.
The Avenue in Chobham Place Woods.
He claimed that Le Marchant had twisted the law in his own favour, secretly putting clauses into a Public Bill for his personal benefit.. And he was clearly infuriated that Le Marchant, a relative newcomer, should profit over old Chobham families. Such as the Gudes.
The issue was settled in 1854, by the Inclosure Commissioners.
They looked at the deed by which Le Marchant claimed the to have bought the land, and accepted it. But they refused to let Gude see it, as it was a private document.
No wonder he was so frustrated.
The Commissioners complained that Le Marchant’s Agent had interfered with the appointment of the second valuer. They found this so objectionable that they refused to accept him. Maybe some of Gude’s fury was justified.
Le Marchant won, and took Chobham Place Woods. For many years they framed the approach to his house, Chobham Place.
Chobham Place from the woods. It is now known as Wentworth Place.
But during the Second World War part of the common was taken for the Tank Factory. To compensate the village, Chobham Place Woods and Round Pond Woods were given as a replacement, and now, after a century and a bitter dispute, they are once again common land.
National Archives HO 45 /5530.
Reports of cases argued and determined in the Court of Exchequer in Equity…Vol. II, 1838.
With thanks to Rob Searle.
If you would like to know more about Richard Gure’s case against Denis Le Marchant, here is the text of his 1853 petition.
Sir Denis Le Marchant’s Inclosure.
Reasons against the inclosure.
That CHOBHAM COMMON is 25 miles from London and easily accessible by railway, – midway between Windsor and Guildford, and near Virginia Water, Sunning Hill, Staines, Bagshot, Chertsey and Woking, and therefore likely to be resorted to, as Railway facilities increase, by the London Population.
That the intended Inclosure of these 32 acres of Common, adorned with 300 trees and upwards, the growth of centuries, and some 12 feet in circumference, is a wrong to the Public, and a case not contemplated by the Inclosure Acts, which were passed “ for the Improvement of Commons, subjected to rights of property, which obstructed cultivation and the productive employment of labour.”
That no cultivation can improve this spot, beautiful by nature, and no employment of labour upon it can be so productive as its fuel to the poor, and its shade, shelter and food to their cattle and pigs, and to those of the adjoining proprietors and their tenants.
That a Public Highway is included in the Inclosure, the diversion whereof will increase the distance, already about Two miles from the Village, and send the public up two steep bleak and scarcely traversable dusty hills.
That the two adjoining Proprietors have about equal frontage to this Common with Sir DENIS LE MARCHANT, and have therefore an equal right with him to the Common proposed to be inclosed, whereas he is to take the whole, and access to their lands is to be stopped.
That Sir DENIS LE MARCHANT proposed to give £10 an acre, which he considered more than the value and claimed the trees as his property; whereupon Sir WILLIAM ABDY offered £30 an acre and to pay for the trees by valuation, and insisted that at all events this Common should be submitted to public competition by a sale by Auction.
The Inclosure Commissioners however direct this Common be sold by valuation to Sir DENIS LE MARCHANT, by virtue of their Act of Parliament passed in June 1852, after he had been informed he would not be permitted to put up further embankments until he had thrown open his previous Inclosures, pursuant to his written undertaking to the Parish, and no notice of such an intended Act of Parliament was given to the parties greatly interested in preventing this Common being inclosed.
That by such an Act of Parliament, seemingly passed for this express purpose, this part of the Common, of importance only to the public, to the promoter of this scheme, and the two adjoining Proprietors, is to be transferred from the two to the one, and the price thereof given for public purposes, to the majority of the Parish, to whom any rights over it were of little or no value.
That the inclosure of the 32 acres will tend to delay bringing into cultivation the remaining 7000 acres of Common, which have not the same recommendations to promote their inclosure.
That the estates of some of the opponents of this Inclosure have descended to them through centuries, whereas Sir DENIS LE MARCHANT purchased his house abutting the Common, in the year 1840.
That all the documents and papers relating to this Inclosure ought to be laid before Parliament, that full justice may be done to the Public and the parties interested, this however is opposed by the Secretary of the Treasury, so that the right by sanction of Parliament to all Inclosure Bills is reduced to a mere sham, as it can have no materials upon which to form a judgement as to the propriety of an Inclosure, directed by the Commissioners of Inclosure, and will account for their utter defiance of all legal rules and the acknowledged rights of property.
It is hoped Parliament will erase “CHOBHAM” from the schedule to the Inclosure Bill about to be brought in, and show the public that the machinery of the Inclosure Commission is not to be set in motion and worked by the Chief Clerk of the House of Commons, that he may monopolize advantages equally belonging to his neighbours.
RICHARD GUDE Jun.
8, George Yard, Lombard Street,
 Quoted in “Surrey Heath in the 18th century,” by Phil Stevens. Surrey Heath Local History Club and Phil Stevens, 2007.