Mesnes Conservation Area Group

Wigan Rectory Glebe Act 1837

During the 1830's plans for Enclosure of the 'Mesnes' by the Wigan Rector, Henry John Gunning, met strong local opposition, since the usual Enclosure process was very much weighted against traditional property access rights for English villagers and townsfolk.

Local Acts of Parliament were typically raised to define access, where former 'rights to use land had been shared by the landowners and villagers (commoners)' 1. Often the legal arrangements meant increased revenue for the landowner, enclosed property attracted higher rents and opportunities, yet acted to the detriment of locals having livestock and agricultural interests, where the access impact could be devastating to family incomes.

Against this contentious background, Reverend Gunning, obtained the Wigan Rectory Glebe Act 1837 to enable mining for coal under the Mesnes land. During a debate in Parliament, the Earl of Darlington said;- 'Agreeably to the wishes of the inhabitants of Wigan, the Committee had resolved that space should be left vacant for recreation and enjoyment to which the townspeople had long been accustomed on these common lands, part of which should be held on the same tenure and not be liable to be built upon'. 2

Mr. E. Ellis noted;- ' There had never been an Inclosure of the property hitherto and there was a Well in the centre of the ground to be enclosed, which was of great use to the inhabitants of Wigan, who had strongly petitioned against the Bill and the only person that would be benefitted was the Rector'.

The sole object of the Bill was to allow buildings to be erected and the land to be mined for coal. However, Lord Stanley pointed out ' A complaint was made that there was on the land a public Well and that several public footpaths crossed it, which would be unjust to shut up. These points were referred to the two Hon. Members for Wigan and an arrangement was made, whereby not only the footpaths and the Well were secured to the inhabitants, but twelve acres of land were given to them for recreation'.

Reference to the Schedule of the Act lists seven areas of land, notably;- ' A Close or Parcel of Land in Wigan aforesaid, called the 'Mesnes' in the occupation of the Reverend Henry John Gunning, containing the like measure 33 acres 2 roods and 20 perches'. 3

Section VIII of the Act states the Rectory House, gardens and pleasure grounds are not to be leased together with, significantly;- 'the whole Twelve Statute Acres lying in the north-west corner of Mesnes and commencing five yards south of Mesnes Well and extending in a north-easterly direction two hundred and fifteen yards, bounded on the west side by Bull Field and on the north side by lands of John Fowdler Hodson Esquire'.

This Act gave public footpath access to the Mesnes Well sited near to where Parson's Walk was later constructed. The twelve acres were located in the northern part of the Mesnes. Reference to the 1849 Map extract indicates the approximate area allocated to the Wigan public. It is interesting to note the 1837 Glebe Act, in addition to ancient footpath use, granted just over one third of the publicly accessible Mesnes land of some 33 acres, for the benefit of Wigan inhabitants recreational activities and enjoyment.

The southern boundary of the twelve acres ran across the present Mesnes Park near to the position of the Powell Memorial and over to Bridgeman Terrace. Access to Mesnes Well by the Wigan public was obtained from the northerly end of Hope Street in the town centre, by footpath across the present location of Mesnes Field and along the field boundary which represents the Wigan Sports Club boundary with Parson's Walk.

Before his resignation Reverend Gunning 'sold the manorial rights to the Mayor and Wigan Corporation in 1860, with the consent of the patron the Earl of Bradford'. 4

Brian Parr
Mesnes Conservation Area Group

1. Wikipedia; Enclosure; Section 3, Parliamentary enclosure and open fields.
2. Hansard 9 th June 1837: Vol. 38. cc 1332-6.
3. Wigan Rectory Glebe Act 1837: Schedule, p. 507.
4. British History Online: A History of the County of Lancaster: Vol. 4 (1911), fn. 78.