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How Did Enclosure Movement Change Agriculture?

by Freeha Sabir
how did the enclosure movement change agriculture in england

The enclosure movement, also known as the inclosure, was a process that was used to take away people’s traditional rights and has been accompanied by force, opposition, and even violence in the past. This is “one of the most contentious eras of British agriculture and economy.”

The enclosure movement was a period of time in which land ownership became more consolidated and enclosure fences were erected to delineate property. This change had a profound impact on agriculture, as it led to the displacement of many small farmers who could no longer access common grazing land.

What Is Enclosure?

The enclosure of common land was a gradual process that started in England and eventually spread to other countries. The enclosure is a term used when somebody takes apart something (such as an animal or land) so you don’t have its parts anymore. It could be either through a formal or informal process. This is the act of depriving commoners of access to their land by enclosing it and canceling out any rights that they had in regards to said property.

In English land ownership, enclosure or inclosure means the appropriation of “waste” or “common land” surrounding it.

There are normally three ways to accomplish the process.

  • Firstly, the fencing of common fields began with the creation of “closes,” or sections, taken out by their owners from larger common fields.
  • Secondly, there was enclosure by proprietors, owners who acted together, usually small farmers or squires, leading to the fencing of whole parishes.
  • Finally, parliament also passed laws enclosing land “Enclosure Act”.

The Enclosure Movement

The enclosure movement was a push in the 18th and 19th centuries that sought to take land formerly owned by all members of the village, or at least available publicly for grazing animals and growing food. Now the landowners have the opportunity to change their properties into privately-owned ones with walls, fences, or hedges surrounding them.

In pre-enclosure times, farmers used to cultivate their land in scattered strips under individual control. At that time, it was common for farmers to own only those patches that they had themselves cultivated during a given season and up until their next harvest.

After that, the area was utilized for feeding cattle in the village and for other purposes throughout the winter and spring until the next growing season. It was the act of fencing or enclosing a part of this open ground in order to prevent cattle from exercising common grazing and other rights on it.

The English were among the first to develop and use fencing for industrial purposes, but they were not alone. The practice had its roots in Northern Europe during this time period when countries began transforming from rural economies into urban ones with factories producing goods by machine instead of hand labor or animal power; eventually, these practices would spread throughout England too- becoming known there as “enclosure movements.”


Enclosure movement in England began over one thousand years ago and proceeded rapidly during the 1450-1640 period. This was mainly done to increase land available for full-time pasturage by landlords who needed more stock feed than they were getting from their lands alone.


What Is Enclosure


The movement that led up to these changes saw many people get sucked into an ever-expanding cycle where you had big farms run off beef export which then supplied London’s great kitchens but at what cost? The number one solution: enclosure – creating small closes around villages so there would be no competition between growers or sellers on any particular patch; this made everyone dependent upon someone else.

But in the 17th century it became much more common, and in the next century Parliament enacted the General Enclosure Act 1801 and the Enclosure Act 1845 allowing for the enclosures of certain lands throughout England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Many lands were enclosed for agricultural purposes between the 1750s and 1860s. As a result, the enclosure of the Commons in England was almost completed by the end of the 19th century.

Until the 19th century, enclosures made little headway in Europe. Although Germany had enclosing agreements for centuries, the government did not begin to encourage enclosure movement until the second half of the 18th century. Despite this, western Germany did not make much progress until the 1850s. After the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, a similar policy was followed by France, Denmark, the Czechoslovak Republic, and Poland after World War I.

Common rights to arable land, the greatest obstacle to modern agriculture, have now been largely abolished, but some European lands are still cultivated in the stray swaths characteristic of common fields, and common rights are maintained over extensive pastures. and forest.

Parliamentary Enclosures Enclosure Acts

Essentially, the Enclosure Acts ended England’s open-field system of production, which had dominated the farming industry for centuries. They were stripped of their ownership of all the common lands and wastelands that belonged to peasants and lords. There were no more rights to the land for them. A new field and road system were created, and finally, the land was redistributed among various farmers and lords.

In the 17th century, Parliament came to power, changing the process from an informal arrangement to one regulated by law. For this purpose, more than 5,200 bills were passed by Parliament between 1604 and 1914 covering roughly a fifth of England’s territory. In the meantime, the enclosure act was the subject of a great deal of argument, some in favor, some against.

In support, the following arguments were made:

  1. that open field systems were ineffective because individuals were unable to innovate, for example, clover, turnips, and four-course rotations
  2. the lack of vegetation, or the overpopulation of half-starved beasts on the wastelands and common pastures
  3. the commoners were essentially lazy and poor (i.e. unwilling to work for wages), so fencing of the commons would force them into employment

Those who were against it presented the following arguments:

  1. the overgrazing of the commons and wastelands was caused by overstocking by the wealthiest commoners who were the ones advocating enclosure
  2. enclosing land would result in greater wealth for landowners, as well as displacing poor people to urban slums and reducing the population

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Enclosure Movement And Agricultural Efficiency

The Enclosures Movement helped greatly increase production because farmers could now focus on just one crop rather than having many responsibilities including producing haystacks while also tending vineyards, grapes, tomatoes, etc. It was claimed by the British parliament and elite that fencing off the land would allow better breeding of animals and crops. The elite argued that large fields could be farmed more efficiently than individual allotments taken from common lands and that the profits could be retained by those who had legally taken possession of the lands. According to some, this was the start of commercial farming.

In the 1700s most of the land in England was cultivated under the old system of open fields. This system has ruined northern and eastern European agriculture for centuries, exemplified with its three large fields sown in a community-controlled crop rotation, its conventional pastures and barrens, and its rows of farms on hundreds of acres each.

Enclosure Movement And Agricultural Efficiency

English enclosure was never universal and from the outset ended up eroded on the edges, when tenant farmers agreed on the compact fencing or landowners forced them to do so by force. However, by 1700, this system had become almost complete over a large area of England, from the North Sea through the Midlands to the English Channel.

Since then, parliaments have passed more than 5,000 laws and countless voluntary agreements have swept it away, resulting in the encroachment of fences and the gradual possession of fenced-in lands. British social and economic historians have been fascinated by the enclosure movement since the 18th century, and their interest is justified by the scale of the event: by the statistical haze, roughly half of England’s agricultural land was fenced in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Historically, most fences were constructed so that productive farmland could be turned into less productive sheep pastures. Thus, the last and most controversial wave of land enclosures in England took place between 1750 and 1850. However, now that Scotland had become a major source of wool products, and India and the South had become a source of cotton, advocates of the enclosure were forced to employ a different tactic: they wanted to turn the open fields, pastures, and wastelands into more productive arable and mixed farmland.

Implementation Of The Acts

Increasing farm productivity caused many villages to lose their land and grazing rights. The Industrial Revolution brought thousands of people to the cities in search of work in the factories. In addition, millions of people immigrated to England in search of employment in the colonies. To assist these newly poor, the English passed the Poor Laws.

Several enclosure practices were denounced by the Church and legislation was proposed to prohibit them. Yet during the 16th to 18th centuries, agriculture prospered in large, enclosed fields. Later, In response to this controversy, the government initiated a series of acts, culminating in the General Enclosure Act of 1801, which approved extensive land reform.

Implementation Of The enclosure Acts

During the 1801 session, several parliamentary enclosures were passed, consisting of various strips of open fields into more compact units, and covering the rest of willow and waste. Citizens were usually compensated for the loss of their rights to commons by parliamentary enclosures which, although of poor quality and limited area, were often poorly located.

In addition, lands such as swamps, moors, lowlands, and bogs (originally uninhabited) were used to share and privatize common wasteland. Meanwhile, the practice of voluntary cloisters was also common at that time.

After 1529, population growth solved the problem of abandoned farmland. Shepherd sharecroppers with their flocks were outraged by the desire for more arable land. In the mid-1520s and early 17th century, rents rose sharply due to increased demand and a lack of arable land. Much of the legislation in the 1530s and 1540s deals with efforts to remove old enclosures.

Beginning Of Industrial Revolution

It is thought that the Agricultural Revolution played a major role in causing the Industrial Revolution. Innovations in farming led to dramatic increases in food production during the Agricultural Revolution, which led to the flourishing of the industrial sector around the world. One such innovation that played a large role during this time period was crop rotation and seed drills which allowed farmers to grow more food while using fewer resources because they could do so with faster efficiency.

In addition, the Enclosure Movement was a significant aspect of the Agricultural Revolution. As a result of the Enclosure Acts, enacted in the 1700s, the common areas were able to be owned privately. In response to this, wealthy farmers began buying up large lands and creating more complex farms.

Beginning Of Industrial Revolution

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Ultimately, this resulted in smaller farmers being forced off their land. Later, most of these farmers moved to local towns and cities looking for work after losing their way of life. A workforce for the factories and mines was created, which played an important role in the Industrial Revolution as a whole. It is therefore often viewed by historians as a major cause of the Industrial Revolution.

Meanwhile, during the Industrial Revolution, technological advances also enhanced the productivity of lands. Improvements to the irrigation system, seed drills, and threshers transformed agricultural life. During the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, the productivity of English land increased, thus boosting profits from farming.

Consequences Enclosure Movement

However, expropriation did not provide any real benefits to large landowners, rather they benefited from an increase in the value of their land. In its case, smaller landowners could sell their plots to larger ones for a higher price. An enclosed plot of land was worth twice as much, with its higher productivity being sufficient to justify its high price. In spite of the fact that many villagers received plots in the newly enclosed manor, these compensations were not always the best way to make up for it and fencing costs.

Smallholders and landless laborers suffered considerable financial hardship due to this fencing system, therefore it faced considerable opposition. As parliamentary enclosures continued to be constructed, protests continued both inside and outside of Parliament, often in the affected villages, and sometimes as organized mass revolts.

Although employment in agriculture did not fall during the period of parliamentary enclosures, it was not able to keep up with the growing population. As a result, millions of people moved from rural areas to urban centers to work in the Industrial Revolution.

It is believed that this fencing system contributed to the British Agricultural Revolution. It was the farmer’s responsibility to manage enclosed land in a better way. In contemporary accounts, there was broad consensus that enclosed land held more possibilities for profit-making. As a result of the increased labor supply, the Industrial Revolution became more feasible. However, several historians believe it also reduced small land ownership in England relative to the Continent, while others believe it began earlier.


The enclosure movement was a push in the 18th and 19th centuries to enclose public lands for private use. This led to the displacement of many people who had been using the land for grazing or other purposes. It was a major factor in the development of capitalism in England and other parts of Europe. It had a major impact on agriculture. It was introduced by the British during the Industrial Revolution, as they needed to be able to grow enough food for their growing population. It also led to the development of new farming techniques, which shaped the modern farming system.

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1 comment

wepea March 1, 2021 - 1:54 am

best post, i love it


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