The B676 and cow gatesJoan Shaw
At first glance, Burton's wide verges may appear the same as those at Wymeswold; this isn't the case. Wymeswold's verges were laid out by the Enclosure Commissioners in 1759. Burton's enclosure came about in a different way and was much earlier (see Burton enclosure for more details). It was complete by the mid-sixteenth century and would have been a more gradual process. The verges along the B676 probably evolved during this period, but they don't appear to have any ridge and furrow and, if this really is the case, it suggests that even when the open fields were in use this could have been where the parishioners grazed their animals.
The Victoria County History for Leicestershire includes Burton among those places with English names where the Scandinavian word 'wong' is substituted for furlong and the word 'gate', also an element of early Scandinavian place-names, is used to denote local grazing rights. Several houses and cottages in Burton have attached to them one or more beast or cow gate, giving them the right to graze their animals on the common, and many a Burton lass would have trudged out of the village and up the Six Hills Road twice a day to milk the family cow.
Owners of several of the older properties in Burton still hold the right to graze their animals on the Common along the south side of the Six Hills Road. These were known as 'cow gates' or 'beast gates' as shown in these advertisements from the local press.
When the Burton Hall Estate was put up for sale in 1834, it referred to the 'Cow Commons – a piece of Land extending from Six Hills to Burton, on the side of the Road, of various widths and quantities, 38 Cow gates upon it, of which 28 are attached to this Estate – 63 acres 1 rod 1 pole.'
Across the road, close to the Wymeswold Lane, was a different kind of gate, one known affectionately known as the pasture gate, the favourite haunt of village children hoping for a tip from drivers, and young swains hoping for a kiss from their sweethearts.
The road itself, although straight and undoubtedly ancient, is not thought to be Roman. The length of Cotes Bridge and causeway suggests that this was once a very marshy area and early travellers may have found it easier to cross the river at Barrow.
The road was macadamised ('metalled') in the mid-nineteenth century under the instructions of Lord Archibald St Maur, brother of the Duke of Somerset, who owned Burton Hall and its estate; this modern road is slightly to the north of the original trackway.
The pasture gate was probably installed at the same time, but since Burton still needed a pinfold to impound straying animals and iron rails to prevent them churning up the village grass, the gate obviously wasn't the complete answer.
The village pound or pinfold was at the east end of Burton where the brook emerges from beneath the road. It can just be seen on the left of the undated postcard, the brick structure behind the white railing (also shown in close up). This area was once known as The Green and is now The Orchards, a modern housing development.
More thoughts about Enclosure
Looking north along Willoughby lane, Wymeswold. Photograph taken near the entrance to Field Farm, a few hundred yards from the Turnpost junction. As well as indicating the width of the Enclosure Award road, this shows the ridge and furrow of the arable field preceding enclosure.
Photograph taken in mid-1980s by Alec Moretti not long before a ditch was dug near the road.
More recently the land ceased being used for making hay and has become partially overgrown. The rental from this verge forms part of the income of the Wymeswold Parochial Charities.
Apart from creating 'closes' one of the explicit requirements of Enclosure Awards was to improve local roads. These roads were set out as straight as possible. It should – in principle – be possible to estimate when a parish was enclosed by the width of the lanes as the normal maximum width of enclosure roads was at least 60 feet in the late eighteenth century, but from the 1790s this was decreased to 40 feet and later to 30 feet.
Although the parishes around Charnwood Forest had been steadily enclosed in the late eighteenth century, the last major place in Leicestershire to be enclosed was Charnwood Forest itself. The Award was passed in 1808 but not implemented until 1829, when the various long straight roads were created.
For first-hand recollections of grazing – and milking – cattle on roadside verges see Before the Milk Marketing Board by Vic and Bea Collington.
And see Hoton Parish council versus the Air Ministry by Joan and Peter Shaw for the value of roadside grazing lost because of the construction of RAF Wymeswold.