Between 1793 and 1830 many Enclosure Acts were passed in Parliament to authorise the enclosure of open fields, commons, and waste land. One aim was to make farming more efficient (farmers working their individual holdings had an incentive to improve them; stock in enclosed fields could be bred purer and kept healthier). Another aim was to bring unproductive land into arable cultivation during the food shortages of the Napoleonic Wars. However, the changes often met with opposition from those championing the landless cottagers who lost their traditional rights to graze animals and collect fuel on commons. Smallholders could also find the expenses of enclosure beyond their means.
Although Enclosure Acts were passed in the neighbouring areas of Saddleworth, Scammonden, Slaithwaite, Meltham and Holme, Marsden did not have an Enclosure Act. However, a record exists of an 1810 meeting, with the Lords of the Manor (Joseph Radcliffe and his son William Percival Pickford, Esq.) or their Proxies present, "of copyholders, freeholders, and other persons interested in the proposed Inclosure of the Commons and Waste Grounds within the Manor of Marsden."19 It was agreed to apply for an Act of Parliament in the next Parliamentary session, but this never came about. Possibly there was insufficient interest because most land suitable for all but rough grazing had already been enclosed. Perhaps it was impossible to identify some of the many copyholders, or to secure 70% of their signatures as required by law.
Land could also be enclosed by private agreement, and this was done in 1828 with a part of Shaw Cow Hey Pasture. The enclosure plan20 shows that 14 people were allocated one or more plots, of acreage in proportion to their grazing rights ("Cow Gates") on this moorland pasture. Other common land, such as most of Dirker Hey, and probably Garside Hey, was also enclosed at some time during the 19th Century.
The Shaw Cow Hey enclosure plan shows that new lanes were to be built, of specified width, to give access to the fields. Crosses on each section of boundary showed who was responsible for the walling. However, not all the lanes were built, and not all the fields were walled; probably the expense and effort meant that plots were consolidated by farmers with more resources.
According to Harwood Long21, breaking in the moor was hard work – "because so much of the land was too steep for ploughing it was often done by a team of two men working together, one using a graving spade and the other a hack which performed a function similar to that of a hoe. The land was then limed and manured and was usually…planted with potatoes as the first crop. Then oats were sown and they were seeded down with grass seeds and the field was used as a meadow."
In Marsden, a "coal and lime merchant" is listed in the 1871 census, and a field at Upper Acre Head is called "Limed Pasture" in the 1886 Rates Survey22.
A "Publick Stone Quarrel" and a "Publick Stone Delph", marked on the Shaw Cow Hey plan, provided a source for walling stone. The Quarry can be seen today: the higher-level "Delph" consists of a number of shallow pits, which perhaps were dug by individual farmers. Some of the most accomplished stone walling in Marsden is to be found in these fields, but it may be of a later date; the walls which cross the cloughs and protect cattle from their steep slopes did not exist in the original plan.
Today, most high-level fields have reverted to rough pasture. Their walls are tumbling; it has not proved economic to maintain them on this marginal exposed land. Where farmers have maintained high-level fields, they have ploughed, re-seeded and fertilised them, and this shows in the brighter green
Census information shows a natural link between Marsden farming and quarrying or stonemasonry. In 1871, for example, 10 people in farming families were employed on stone work. Some enterprising farmers will have opened quarries on their own land. William Dyson of Dirtcar Bank, for example, was a "Stone Merchant employing 30 men & boys, Farming 16 acres of land". At Scout, five people were employed as quarrymen or stonemasons, including John Bottomley, Stone Getter and Farmer.
Daniel Wood of the Great Western was a "Stone Leader and Farmer" in the 1880’s, His quarry notebook survives23: he paid a pound annual rent for the quarry, whereabouts unknown, and employed about three men on a regular basis, plus other workers occasionally. Most of the stone went as "yards", probably for dry-stone walling, but flags, setts and boulders were also sold. In addition, farmers at Chain, Old Ash, Owlers, Long Fall, Redisher, Crowther Laithe, Well Lane, and Forest were described in the 1881 Census as having dual occupations as quarryman, stonemason or dry waller.