How was land enclosed?
There were two ways to enclose a field. Before 1740 most
villages were enclosed by agreement. This was when all of
the major landowners in the village made a private
agreement to join their strips together. This possibly
meant buying out smaller farmers. When a small number or
farmers did not want to sell their land an Act of
Parliament had to be obtained. This became seen as
perfectly acceptable after 1750 because it had a number
of really good points:
1. Each piece of enclosed land had legal documentation.
2. It provided a forum for opposition to be heard.
3. It allowed the whole village to be enclosed at the same time.
Why did people enclose land?
Some agricultural improvers enclosed their land so as
to reduce wastage. It also meant it was easier for
them to make decisions about changing the use of the
land. Because enclosure brought a farmer’s lands
together, it was worth investing in machinery, lime,
manure or seed from one strip to another. Enclosures
would also help farmers interested in selective
breeding. It also made it worthwhile to dig drainage ditches around their fields.
Historians generally agree that farmers enclosed land in order to produce a
greater tonnage, thereby earning bigger profits. In addition, where land was
enclosed landlords could charge tenants higher rents.
Definition – enclosures are fields enclosed by (surrounded by) hedges
How they happened – there could be general agreement. In which case enclosures would go ahead very simply.
Otherwise, owners of 80 % (four-fifths) of the land had to agree (could be just a few people in number), sign a petition to be taken before Parliament so that an Act (Law) could be passed saying enclosures should happen. Commissioners were appointed by parliament (usually well-respected land-owners from neighbouring villages) and they oversaw the procedure. Surveyors were employed to take account of who owned what under the old system, then to draw up maps which redistributed the land. Local farmers had to prove that they owned what
--Local gentry tended to do well out of the process, influencing the
Commissioners who may well have been friends. They received the
--Poor farmers often could not afford the costs of enclosures (all land owners had to share cost of surveyors, new hedges, new lanes, etc).
--Commoners lost their place in the village. Although they had no legal rights they had usually been accepted as squatters on the common land, useful as extra labor at harvest time, etc, but the common land was enclosed with the rest.
--Tenants sometimes found new, higher rents difficult.