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Lines of Enclosure

Julia Heslop | Artist

A painted line across Alexandra Square marking historical boundaries in the land.
Lines of Enclosure at Alexandra Square (Credit: Lancaster Arts).

When moving across an urban or rural landscape have you ever considered what’s beneath your feet? What did the land look and feel like before it was filled with concrete and brick, new buildings and infrastructure? Lancaster University campus was built on 560 acres of farmland, on a plateau to the south of Lancaster. It houses an original central campus built on a north-south axis and numerous newer buildings beyond this. In 2021 I was commissioned by Lancaster Arts to develop a new piece of artwork which responded to, and activated, the University campus.

Lancaster Arts wanted to bring art out of the gallery space and into the social spaces of the campus to allow people to experience and engage with it in new ways. My work is often site-specific and draws upon the histories of landscapes, with particular reference to the use and politics of the land itself. I have always been interested in what is lost as a result of new development. Over the past few years, I have been working closely with residents in an estate called Shieldfield in Newcastle upon Tyne. This is a neighbourhood which has undergone rapid urban development in the form of new build student accommodation. As part of this I produced a screenprint series called Felling which depicted trees that had been cut down in the locality to make way for new development. In developing this new work in Lancaster, I wanted to (metaphorically) dig deep into the history of the University landscape and make it visible in the present day.

A painted line across a field marking historical boundaries in the land.
Lines of Enclosure (Credit: Julia Heslop)

When I began the commission, I walked around the campus and found the physical remnants of the past agricultural life of the site – the old farm buildings that still exist and how local vernacular architecture is retained in places like Barker House Farm with its huge roof slates. Yet in most places around the University, it is difficult to get a sense of what was here before and what lies beyond the layers of concrete.

To get a better understanding of this history I met Marion McClintock, the University archivist, who has a wealth of knowledge about the history of the campus. She showed me the original plans for the University as well as photos of the area before, during, and after the construction process. The architects Peter Shepherd and Gabriel Epstein designed the University and its buildings, with work starting on the site around 1965. Prior to this there existed a rich tapestry of copses, small patches of water, grassland and stone farmhouses and buildings, some of which are preserved to this day.

I became particularly interested in the history of land enclosure in the area and how this altered the landscape physically, as well as socially and economically. Part of the University site used to be within the boundaries of Scotforth Moor which was common land. This meant that whilst it was owned by a local landowner, it was free to be used by ‘commoners’ – landless agricultural workers - to graze livestock, forage, cut turf or peat for burning and to collect wood. Poorer workers of the manor relied upon these areas to feed and warm themselves. Following the Enclosure Act of 1806, landowners were able to fence in the land of Scotforth Moor and Bailrigg Moor and occupy the new fields with livestock. This deprived the poor of their livelihoods and often resulted in rural depopulation as people moved to the cities to find work in new industries. Many landowners and the Government of the time insisted that enclosure was necessary for economic development in order to ‘improve’ the land through new drainage systems and a focus on livestock as opposed to growing crops. As a result of the Enclosure Act, Joshua Hind, the landowner, created new rectangular fields on the pasture of the former moor thereby transforming the landscape of this area dramatically.

A painted line across a pavement and field marking the historical boundaries in the land.
Lines of Enclosure (Credit: Julia Heslop)

In order to find out the exact location of the enclosure in this area, one of the curators at Lancaster Arts went to the Lancashire Archives and took photos of the original Enclosure Awards and Tithe maps. I wanted to ‘reinsert’ these boundaries back into the campus landscape in some way, to show the lines of enclosure that used to exist prior to the building of the University. I looked at Ordinance Survey maps from the 1840s onwards to see where exactly these field boundaries existed. In order to do this I layered old maps onto new maps of the area and then remapped these back into this landscape physically with spray chalk lines. Whilst there were many field boundaries, I chose to recreate two in Alexandra Square and a long boundary that ran north past Bailrigg House and towards the Health Innovation Campus at the edge of the campus. In essence, the viewer was able to follow the lines across the campus, walking the enclosures that were created as part of the Enclosure Act.

A painted line across Alexandra Square marking the historical boundary lines.
Lines of Enclosure at Alexandra Square (Credit: Lancaster Arts).

The work aimed to aid the viewer in considering the origins of this site, how it was laboured, cultivated and cared for, and how fences were built to highlight ownership, creating borders and boundaries. It offers a glimpse of the campus’ history and its transition from open to enclosed land, and from farming to educational uses. More broadly the work is about landownership and humanity’s continuing desire to fence land in, to put up ‘keep out’ and ‘private’ signs, thereby excluding others from the enjoyment and use of landscape.


Special thanks to Marion McClintock, Richard Smith, Ian Sturzaker, Danielle Ash and Emma Morley for helping in the research process and to realise this work.

Further Reading:

  • McClintock, Marion, Shaping the Future: A History of The University of Lancaster 1961-2011 (Lancaster: University of Lancaster, 2011).

  • McClintock, Marion, Quest for Innovation: History of the First Ten Years of Lancaster University, (Lancaster: University of Lancaster, 1974).

  • Shoard, Marion, This Land Is Our Land: The struggle for Britain’s countryside (London: Paladin Books, 1987).

  • Shrubsole, Guy, Who Owns England? How we lost our land and how to take it back (London: William Collins, 2019).

Julia Heslop is an artist living and working in Newcastle upon Tyne. She has a BA in Fine Art from the Glasgow School of Art, a Master of Fine Art from Newcastle University and a PhD in Human Geography from Durham University. She is currently a research fellow in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape at Newcastle University. Her work often takes the form of large-scale architectural installations, painting and printmaking and video. The potential for deep participation in re(creating) environments and landscapes are at the centre of her practice and she often works in participatory, slow ways with groups and communities. She uses her work to ask questions about the ecological impacts of development, land and property ownership, housing precarity, urban planning and local democracy.

Twitter: @juliahheslop


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