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Page history last edited by emily@... 5 years, 3 months ago

This page will try to examine the eighteenth-century enclosures, looking at the way this subject is presented in contemporary texts, and describing how it diffuses into a wide range of texts produced for readers from many different backgrounds, not just those written for farmers and landowners, as might be expected. It will also show the way that pressure to enclose was built up by the constant publication of supportive texts.


Oxford English Dictionary definition:


enclosure, n., also inclosure, 

1. The action of enclosing.

a. The action of surrrounding  or marking off (land) with a fence or boundary; the action of thus converting pieces of common land into private property. 

 An Enclosure Act is a private Act of Parliament authorizing the ‘enclosure’ of common land in some particular locality. In many cases, however, the land dealt with by these Acts was not ‘common’ land in an absolute sense, but was private property encumbered with the right of commoning during a few weeks in autumn; and the usual procedure was to give each of the commoners a piece of land in absolute ownership as compensation for his surrender of this right.


Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755) definition 2:



Fig. 1. 'Enclosure' n., Samuel Johnson, Dictionary of the English Language, 1755 

https://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/page-view/?i=695  9-2-19


Johnson seems to look at enclosure as an act of appropriation, selecting his quotations to support this, since the majority refer to improvement, riches, possession, especially South's Sermon, which highlights the profit motive lying behind the process of enclosure.




Although this page is about the eighteenth-century Enclosures, these in fact occurred over many centuries. The gradual enclosure of openly farmed land took place as part of the transition from feudal land use for survival towards the profit-based agriculture which has typified most land use from the eighteenth century onwards.  Raymond Williams describes the concentration of land ownership: by the early eighteenth century five thousand families owned almost half the agricultural land, in the country and four hundred owned almost a quarter (138). Under this overall ownership, land would be worked by farmers and labourers, paid in kind, with rights to farm land around each village communally on what was effectively a subsistence system. Medieval charters enabled the poorest to survive, permitted to run one cow per household on common grazing land which provided crucial food and produce.  Among numerous other rights of access, smallholders were allowed to collect fuel, forage for food, run pigs in coppiced woodland, and gather nuts.  These rights were valuable: by way of comparison, permission to collect firewood brought in the same income to a family as a ploughman's wage.  This was a communal way of life and the open farming system needed cooperation and consensus to agree all decisions, which ensured the village's cohesion but it was also inefficient in terms of land use with almost no flexibility, needing a 3-year rotation which included a fallow year, and it was not conducive to improvement: as an all-but-subsistence process, the need to maintain access to cropping, grazing and harvesting took priority over taking land out of production for, say, drainage (In Our Time)Once most of the farmed land was enclosed and 'owned', the process was moved to embrace commons and waste land, so that the enclosures seem to have had two phases. 




Fig. 2. Medieval Ridge and Furrow, Gloucestershire,  2007

Source: Geograph.org.uk, accessed 28-1-19.


This photograph taken in 2007 shows the archaeological legacy of pre-enclosure strip cultivation used in medieval England, and until land was enclosed.



Fig. 3. Graph showing frequency of hits for Enclosure or Inclosure in Historical Texts between 1700 and 1800



This graphic shows how relatively few mentions there are of enclosure, until the latter half of the century, when the pace and frequency of enclosure bills increased dramatically.  IN the mid 1770s there were far more enclosure bills presented to Parliament, hence the increased number of hits.  1791.......... During the early part of the century mentions generally refer to enclosures with letters, or to bushes in gardens,. Throughout the century many property advertisements mention an enclosure surrounding a house, which generates a hit. 




During the eighteenth century almost fifty percent of all English parishes were enclosed, either by the local large landowners' petition or by mutual agreement between smaller landowners., such as in North Warwickshire (Wedge).


Until the early eighteenth century enclosure was organised by separate petitions by villages and landowners, an inefficient process which was liable to failure. From the mid-century more efficient parliamentary processes sped things up and fewer petitions failed.  In 1801 Parliament passed a General Enclosure Act, under which any village could enclose its land, provided that three-quarters of the landowners agreed.  Land was inexorably tied into structures of power in England, in that landowners had the right to become a magistrate, and only they could stand as an MP, forming a circular, closed-shop process: the levers of power for enclosure within Parliament were held by those who would most benefit from statutes to permit enclosure.  Land ownership became both the route to, and signal of, great wealth, as newly-wealthy families, exemplified by Austen's Rushworths in Mansfield Park, rushed to buy property in the country and once enclosed, land could be sold easily to such ready buyers. The capital value of land far exceeded the wealth that could be earned by work (In Our Time). Owners of large estates therefore stood to gain most from the enclosure process.


Enclosure suited the Enlightenment desire to categorise and measure - new mathematical principles enabled this to be carried through onto landscape. The process also fed (and fed back into) contemporary exploration, travel, land appropriation and exploitation abroad. At the same time, the agricultural revolution brought science-based innovations such as crop rotation, fertilisers and early forms of mechanisation into farming and encouraged the search for more efficiency, again encouraging enclosure as larger farms were easier to work with the new methods and machines.


Enclosure was frequently initiated and driven by local large landowners, who also tended to be allocated the largest portion of the enclosed land (the Southam Enclosure Act of 1760, for instance, exemplifies this: Lord Craven, a dominant landowner in the area was allocated the largest share of the local land around the town). Similarly, Sir Charles Mordaunt (?1697 - 1778), was the uncontested MP for Warwickshire from 1734-1774, and not coincidentally the first local landowner to petition for enclosure in 1730 (Parliament online and Martin, 332).   Since the costs  of the enclosure process such as legal fees, surveying, hedging and fencing were disproportionately high on smaller allocations, those allocated larger shares of the new land stood to gain most, in turn enabling them to buy up smaller allocations of enclosed land (engrossment), which further stoked local resentments.  As a result of this frequent subsequent sell-off, previous tenants and smallholders were forced off the land and tended to move to cities to find work in new industries, or became labourers on the new farms.


Food production increased because of efficiencies enabled by enclosure, so support for the process was stoked, in the later eighteenth century, by inflated prices for food, as well as by supply anxieties associated with the blockades of the Napoleonic Wars which in turn increased the pressure to increase food production, again strengthening the trend towards enclosure. This was not least because the main beneficiaries of increased agricultural prices would be the major landowners, who could push through the enclosure bills in Parliament.


Evidence of resistance to enclosure is quite thin on the ground but survives in the form of news reports, extensively discussed by J.M. Leeson, and it also survives in ballads and poetry. However, it has proved impossible to track down any protest pamphlets.  It is clear that there was resentment at enclosure, exemplified by David Hennell, a Northamptonshire lace maker who wrote in 1788 'I lament that this field is now agoing to be enclosed. Some that have large quantities of land are set upon it, and pay no regard to the many little ones that many be injured, and I fear many ruined' (History of Wollaston, online). Objectors, being generally poorer people, had few effective means of resistance available to them, and constant Parliamentary reports in newspapers and periodicals of Enclosure Bills being passed helped to build the impression of an inexorable movement towards enclosure, with any resistance all but invisible, since it would have taken place at a more local level. Examples of these include:



Fig 4. World and Fashionable Advertiser (London, England), Wednesday, March 28, 1787; Issue 75. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.



Fig. 5.  World (London, England), Tuesday, April 22, 1788; Issue 410. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers.


Respected contemporary authorities otherwise unassociated with agriculture and land ownership also seemed to normalise enclosure:  in John Locke's 1689 Two Treatises of Government the essay 'Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government' seems to push for enclosure: 


As much land as a man tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of, so much is his property. He by his labour does, as it were, enclose it from the common. Nor will it invalidate his right to say everybody else has an equal title to it, and therefore he cannot appropriate, he cannot enclose, without the consent of all his fellow-commoners, all mankind. (Chapter V, para. 31)


33. God gave the world to men in common, but since He gave it them for their benefit and the greatest conveniences of life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed He meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. (Chapter V, 32-33)


However he also points out that enclosure deprives those who had the benefit of access to common land: 


34. It is true, in land that is common in England or any other country, where there are plenty of people under government who have money and commerce, no one can enclose or appropriate any part without the consent of all his fellow-commoners; because this is left common by compact—i.e., by the law of the land, which is not to be violated. And, though it be common in respect of some men, it is not so to all mankind, but is the joint propriety of this country, or this parish. Besides, the remainder, after such enclosure, would not be as good to the rest of the commoners as the whole was, when they could all make use of the whole; 


Later, in Wealth of Nations (1776) Adam Smith takes the example of English enclosure, which was by then well on the way to completion, to press for the same process in Scotland, again bolstering support for this trend:


[22] In an open country too, of which the principal produce is corn, a well-enclosed piece of grass will frequently rent higher than any corn field in its neighbourhood. It is convenient for the maintenance of the cattle employed in the cultivation of the corn, and its high rent is, in this case, not so properly paid from the value of its own produce as from that of the corn lands which are cultivated by means of it. It is likely to fall, if ever the neighbouring lands are completely enclosed. The present high rent of enclosed land in Scotland seems owing to the scarcity of enclosure, and will probably last no longer than that scarcity. The advantage of enclosure is greater for pasture than for corn. It saves the labour of guarding the cattle, which feed better, too, when they are not liable to be disturbed by their keeper or his dog.


It is interesting to read an economist like Smith dealing with agricultural matters in such fine and clearly knowledgeable detail, again indicating the degree to which consciousness of enclosure permeated into different cultural fields. Smith emphasises the efficiency of management and financial value of enclosed fields, which would perhaps have appealed to his landowning readers.


A contemporary auction advertisement shows that even small landowners read up on the subject too: - these books formed part of a sale from the library of The Rev Sir William Keat, Bart in 1757: 



Fig. 6.  A Catalogue of a large ... collection of books ... to be sold on Monday 1 August 1757 ... 

Historical Texts Online. accessed 21 -11-2018


Keat's ownership of books on enclosure may reflect the way the Church was a major land owner at this period, with the incumbent churchman the nominal landowner on its behalf.  In the enclosure Bills rectors (and their successors) are almost always identified by name.  I live in Southam and found the original Southam Enclosure Act of 1760 in the town's museum. This  shows that the Rev Joseph Davie was fifth in the list of beneficiaries behind other large local landowners Lord Craven, Thomas Brockhurst, Gery Packwood and Robert Hanslapp (2). They were all allocated shares of the enclosed land in various proportions, but Davie receives 'one full seventh part of all the Lands...' (4) including named fields and meadows in compensation for lost tithe taxes payable to the church on local land.  He was also excluded from the  beneficiaries' obligation to fence 'each Publick Road or Way with a Ditch four Feet wide and a Quickset Hedge' (10).  These texts indicate the extent to which a churchman might have a keen interest in enclosure and land management and hence why his library might include books on the subject.  


              Fig. 7.  From: An Act for dividing and inclosing the Common Fields... in the manor and Parish of Southam, 1760, p. 2.

Southam Heritage Collection, Warwickshire 



 Fig. 8. From:  An Act for dividing and inclosing the Common Fields... in the manor and Parish of Southam, 1760, p. 4.

 Southam Heritage Collection, Warwickshire


Similarly in Priors Marston, a few miles from Southam, the map drawn after enclosure  two years earlier, shows how the largest local landowners, Lord Leigh and John Spencer (ancestor of Diana Princess of Wales) acquired most land, although the number of names on the map indicate a much fairer share-out of land than that at Southam (interestingly some of the names are those of families still resident in the village):




Fig. 9. Map of allocations in the Inclosure Award for Priors Marston, 1758

Warwickshire County Records Office, document reference: Z0250(U)/2



While the overwhelming impression is that the interests of the poorest were overlooked and sidelined during the enclosures, some areas bucked this trend: Southam's neighbouring villages Napton, Harbury and Tysoe, each reserved specific areas for fuel-gathering rights, presumably for poor villagers, as did Pillerton and Brailes (Martin, 331).  As an aside, Martin also observes that along the major livestock-droving routes from Wales, more common grazing areas were preserved, to accommodate the needs of the cattle and sheep en route from Wales to markets East and South of Warwickshire.  Another landowner Edward Parry wrote to a national magazine to describe how 'at enclosure in Little Dunham [he] arranged for  a small piece of land to be let out on lease for the benefit of the poor ... with the rent and profits to be shared out and delivered at the cottages of the poor, in such proportions as the trustees should think proper’. Rent was £50 per year, which he contrasts the amount of time a poor labourer would spend fetching fuel compared to the money he could make by working for that time. (The European Magazine and London Review, 367). 



Enclosure in Visual Arts


Landscape artists generally depicted unenclosed land lyrically, even if they were doing so retrospectively (the picture below was painted about 15 years after the Mousehold Heath area in Norfolk was enclosed in the early nineteenth century), indicating the way these 'primitive' landscapes were idealised in memory and perhaps reacting to prevailing Romantic ideals:


Fig. 10. John Crome, Mousehold Heath, Norwich, c.1818–20, Source:  Tate.org, accessed 9-2-19.


In Fig. 2 Crome shows the haphazard tracks that develop from droving and travelling, as well as cattle grazing freely on the land, and his nostalgia for the lost landscape even embraces the identifiable wildflowers growing beside the track, as if critiquing the destruction of biodiversity which resulted from enclosure.



Fig. 11. WILLIAM TURNER OF OXFORD 1789–1862, Haymaking – study from nature, in Osney Meadow, near Oxford, looking towards Iffley

Source:  Lowell, Libson Yarker Ltd  accessed 9-2-19.


Turner painted this scene of haymaking on Osney Meadow during the last summer before it was enclosed in the following December, seeming to imply a form of  'anticipated nostalgia' for the traditions and views that would be lost under enclosure. 


There are few representations of enclosure in pictures, just as there are few mentions in literary texts. So in a similar way, one has to seek them out 'between the lines' as in this portrait by Gainsborough:


Fig. 12. Thomas Gainsborough, Mr and Mrs Andrews, (c. 1750)

 Source: The National Gallery, London, accessed 9-2-19.


By contrast to the landscapes shown in figures 10 and 11,  Thomas Gainsborough's famous portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews shows them seated in a typical enclosed landscape on their estate, The Auberies. The portrait was commissioned to celebrate the marriage of two children of wealthy local Sudbury families, and, tacitly, to highlight the prosperity resulting from the merger of two fortunes.  Gainsborough positions the couple so that he can depict more of the view than of the subjects. The nearer fields had been enclosed relatively recently, since there are railings protecting the younger hedges and sheep  are shown in the distance to the couple's left (detail 1), and cattle graze behind Mr Andrews's right hip (detail 2).  Corn has been harvested in a field which has been ploughed as a whole rather than in the medieval strip pattern.  Everything in the portrait implies that these are the owners of an 'improved', forward-looking estate, although their pale rather etiolated elegance demonstrates that they do no manual labour. 





Allied to the presentation of enclosed and unenclosed land within art, is the attitude of contemporary commentators. Descriptions of unenclosed land,whether in literary texts or newspapers, are usually detrimental, highlighting their danger, such as the comment by James Tyley, rector of Great Addington, who described unenclosed heaths as 'unbroken tracts [that] strained and tortured the sight'  (McDonach and Daniels, 10). Again, the traveller and diarist John Byng wrote in 1791 that 'a staring black moor' was 'a wild dreary prospect,' demonstrating a typical contemporary dread of wild places which would be overtaken shortly by Romanticism (Andrews, 346).In The Weekly Entertainer  of March 3 1783, the writer expresses his disdain for the 'barrenness of Bagshot-Heath, in the heart of well-cultivated country, [which] must strike a stranger with wonder' (200) and goes on to extol the Duke of Cumberland who has  presumably enclosed some land and 'set an example of turning very extensive waste into an useful purpose; and converted to an ornament, what was before a deformity' (200).  He goes on with fulsome praise for the landscapes created by by various English aristocrats at Painshill and Woburn, clearly flattering their endeavours.  By contrast he is bored by the unenclosed downs of Wiltshire:  'what appears pleasant at first sight, if too long and uniformly continued, tires the eye. Thus the uninterrupted verdure in Wiltshire, and westward, with the general naked face of the country loses its first impression of beauty and the traveller wishes for an intermixture of trees' (202).  These strongly-held attitudes seem to contrast with the imminent Romantic movement, with its admiration of wild landscapes and untouched natural views - the antithesis of the enclosed landscape. 



Enclosure in Literary Texts


Travel writers, such as Defoe and Cobbett observe the process or outcomes of enclosure with apparent approval, certainly in terms of their attitude to unenclosed land. In general writers whether novelists or travellers or agricultural professionals seem to have deplored waste land and commons - as late as 1822, William Cobbett described unenclosed land in harsh terms, while tacitly comparing it with the 'better' enclosed land: 


This country of Surrey presents to the eye of the traveller a greater contrast than any other county in England. It has some of the very best and some of the worst lands, not only in England, but in the world.

We were here upon those of the latter description. For five miles on the road towards Guildford the land is a rascally common covered with poor heath, except where the gravel is so near the top as not to suffer even the heath to grow... we entered the enclosed lands, which have the gravel at the bottom but a light black mould at top; in which the trees grow very well.


However he is not above criticizing poorly-executed land management (presumably post-enclosure): 


Mr. Baring, not reflecting that woods are not like funds, to be made at a heat, has planted his trees too large ; so that they are covered with moss, are dying at the top, and are literally growing downward instead of upward. In short, this enclosure and plantation have totally destroyed the beauty of this part of the estate. The down, which was before very beautiful, and formed a sort of glacis up to the park pales, is now a marred, ragged, ugly-looking thing...  Everything that has been done here is to the injury of the estate, and discovers a most shocking want of taste in the projector. 


Daniel Defoe's writings, whether as travel reportage or fiction, reflect his attitude towards enclosure, which pervades his 1711 Tour of Great Britain, where he clearly expresses his approval and preference for enclosed land over common areas: he describes them as 'islands of improvement in a sea of open field' (Daniel Defoe, A Tour )  and in Scotland he criticises local farming methods:


The greatest thing this country wants is more enclosed pastures, by which the farmers would keep stocks of cattle well foddered in the winter, and, which again, would not only furnish good store of butter, cheese, and beef to the market, but would, by their quantity of dung, enrich their soil, according to the unanswerable maxim in grazing, that stock upon land improves land.

(A Tour..., South Eastern Scotland Letter XI, http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/travellers/Defoe/36)


In another  letter about the New Forest, Defoe describes at length the benefits of enclosing the New Forest 'that wast and wild part of the country', a process which would allow the land to be turned to profit.   ( Letter 2 part 3, Hampshire and Surrey, http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/travellers/Defoe/8)


Defoe's preference for enclosed, controlled landscapes feeds into Robinson Crusoe (1719) where Crusoe's appropriation of 'his' island reflects contemporary colonisal expansion: intimidated by the wilderness he finds, having built a shelter his immediate instinct is establish control by pitching 'two rows of strong stakes, driving them into the ground till they stood very firm like piles' (kindle edition p 32 location 797). The spiked branches that he uses as a barricade eventually sprout to make shady hedge, seeming to recall the millions of 'quickset', hawthorn cuttings used to form the enclosing hedges in England.  Throughout his stay on the island he continues to enclose land for his goats, barley and other crops, betraying a continuing instinct to control, settle and colonise in the form of his enclosures. 


There are almost no overt mentions of agricultural enclosure in literary texts of the eighteenth century, perhaps because most of the authors tended to be either city folk such as Richardson, or else uninvolved with agriculture generally. Token 'farmers' appear in this period, such as  Fielding's Squires Allworthy and Western, and  Sir Roger de Coverley is one of the stock characters in The Spectator, however, these are not hands-on farmers who work the land, they are landowners and at one remove from real agriculture, more akin to Gainsborough's Mr and Mrs Andrews.


Enclosed fields and hedges can be seen as representative of England:  in Smollett's Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (1753) , Ferdinand returns to this country from travels in Europe, and equates the landscape with a jingoistic national spirit: 'On the road, he feasted his eye sight with the verdant hills covered with flocks of sheep, the fruitful vales parcelled out into cultivated inclosures; the very cattle seemed to profit by the wealth of their masters, being large, sturdy and sleek, and every peasant breathed the insolence of liberty and independence.'  (Kindle Ch. 27). This strongly traditional presentation of England as a land of fields and hedges runs through to today, and dates from this period. 


While Jane Austen generally does not describe landscapes in her writing, enclosure appears fleetingly within her novels, even if not overtly mentioned. Even the title of Mansfield Park (1814) betrays the enclosure which underpins the estate - the park will have been taken in from the surrounding land, and with the much-discussed improvements, an imitation of unenclosed countryside has been constructed within the boundaries of the park.  Similarly on the visit to the Rushworth's Sotherton estate, the visitors are taken to inspect the ironically artificially-constructed 'wilderness', which has been carved out of the original enclosed wilderness (chapter 9). Later in Chapter 19, Tom tries to distract Sir Thomas from the play with discussion of pheasant shooting, referring to the copses and woods which provide cover for the pheasants to be shot. Again, this is a subtle link to the way the enclosed landscape  is artificially managed for sport; pheasants are not native birds and do not survive unless provided with the right habitat of woods and thickets.  Pheasant numbers increased with enclosure as the suitable area for them increased exponentially with the newly planted hedges (The Field).   In an overseas parallel to his English estate, the Bertrams' lifestyle is funded by family estates in Antigua, again associating the family wealth with another variant of enclosure, the colonisation of imperial lands, and by implication, slave-ownership. 


In Sense and Sensibility (1811) John Dashwood discusses his purchase of neighbouring East Kingham farm, by implication part of the post enclosure shake-out when many smaller farmers sold their allocations to more prosperous landowners:  'where old Gibson used to live ... I felt it my duty to buy it' (location 6219 Kindle_).  Similarly, it is safe to assume that the landowners such as Messrs Darcy and Knightly would have enclosed their estates, increasing their income from their lands., making them increasingly attractive as  potential catches.



Poetry as resistance


By the later eighteenth century, verse seems to be the preferred vehicle for rebellion and protest against enclosure, rather than supporting it. It is difficult to deconstruct the reason for this, apart from the fact that the surviving poems generally come from the romantic writers, or from rural poets.  Wordsworth's Goody Blake and Harry Gill (1798) refers to the fast-fading tradition of gathering wood for fuel, one of the many  pre-enclosure commoners' rights. Wordworth contrasts the prosperous drover Harry Gill with his poor tenant Goody Blake. In winter Goody is unable to earn enough by her spinning and other work,and resorts to traditional solution of gathering wood from Gill's hedgerows, and is caught red-handed: 


... on tip-toe down the hill 

He softly creeps--'tis Goody Blake; 
She's at the hedge of Harry Gill! 

Right glad was he when he beheld her: 
Stick after stick did Goody pull: 
He stood behind a bush of elder, 
Till she had filled her apron full. 
When with her load she turned about, 
The by-way back again to take; 
He started forward, with a shout, 
And sprang upon poor Goody Blake. 

And fiercely by the arm he took her, 
And by the arm he held her fast, 
And fiercely by the arm he shook her, 
And cried, "I've caught you then at last!"-- 
Then Goody, who had nothing said, 
Her bundle from her lap let fall; 
And, kneeling on the sticks, she prayed 
To God that is the judge of all.                  (Lyrical Ballads, 1798)


Similarly, in the traditional 1802 song Wandering Mary, by James Mumford, a deserted single mother harvests fruit from the hedges to fend off starvation: 


"No thief am I, as some alledge,

Though sore have cold and hunger tried me;

I pluck the berry from the hedge,

When human aid is oft' denied me."


Suffolk-born poet Nathaniel Bloomfield's long Elegy on the Enclosure of Honington Green mourned the loss of the village green, with all it meant to the village.  He seems quite pragmatic at the start


'Enclosing Land doubles its use;

'When cultur'd, the heath and the moor

'Will the Riches of Ceres produce,

'Yet feed as large flocks as before.' V1


but stokes himself into fury at the landlords, while expressing a surprising realism about their motives:


For who such advantage wou'd miss?

Self-int'rest we all keep in view.

By it, they still more wealth amass,

Who possess'd great abundance before;

It gives pow'r to the Great, but alas!

Still poorer it renders the Poor.  v 2


He refers to 'prospects of beautified ground,/Where cinctur'd the spruce Villas stand'  as if to decry the use of the countryside to build new homes, seeming to be an early NIMBY in his rage. His regrets extend to all aspects of the enclosure, even to the hard surface of the new roads, 'he no more the green carpet may tread ... but long, hard, tiresome sameness of road / Fatigues both the eye and the feet.' (verse 4), and even the post-enclosure view distresses him on behalf of the local land workers:


Sighs speak the poor Labourers' pain,

While the new mounds and fences they rear,

Intersecting their dear native plain,

To divide to each rich Man his share;

It cannot but grieve them to see,

Where so freely they rambled before,

What a bare narrow track is left free

To the foot of the unportion'd Poor.  v5


Bloomfield overtly criticises enclosure, referring to 'the Tyrant's hand ... one only master grasps thy whole domain' (ll 37, 39), with his comments 'Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,/where wealth accumulates, and men decay;' (ll. 51-52) contrasting it with the pre enclosure idyll: '


A time there was, ere England's griefs began,

When every rood of ground maintained its man,

For him light labour spread her wholeseome store.

Just gave what life required by gave no more' (ll57-60)


The man of wealth and pride,

Takes up a space that many poor supplied;

Space for his lake, his park's extended bounds,

Space for his horses, equipage and hounds;


personifying the landowner's new wealth as a robe which 'wraps his limbs in silken sloth, / [and] robbed the neighbouring fields of half their growth' (ll  281-282). His attack on enclosure also refers to the way land was being taken to construct private parks surrounding the new country houses, not just for farmland. 


Goldsmith's The Deserted Village (1770) takes a perhaps overly romantic and picturesque view of real life, describing the poor benefiting from land which provided 'what life required ... [but] gave no more'  (l. 60), implying they had little more than a subsistence-level existence.  Again he criticised the appropriation of land for status-enhancing parks by wealthy landowners, rather than for agricultural enclosureBased in London, Goldsmith was commenting from a detached position, and in any case may have had more of an an eye towards those who subscribed to and bought his poems and therefore reined-in his critique of the landowning classes.


In contrast, Lord Byron takes aim at poets such as Bloomfield and Goldsmith works in his long satire English Bards, perhaps reflecting his family's enthusiasm for enclosing:   'No common be enclosed without an ode', continuing with the gibe 'Ye tuneful cobblers / Still your notes prolong, compose at once a slipper and a song' (p. 434). He seems to be one of the few poets to go against the prevailing trend to decry Enclosure.




Reports to the Board of Agriculture


These reports were commissioned by the Board of Agriculture on every county in England. Written in the heyday of the Agricultural Revolution, by experts such as Arthur Young and other local agriculturalists these texts are inevitably politicised and very supportive of enclosure. By 1813 when Adam Murray wrote his report on Warwickshire for the Board of Agriculture, his attitude towards enclosure seems to accept that it is almost a fait-accompli in the county - he seems almost surprised to report that the only common of any size remaining is near Long Compton north of Chipping Norton, and even there,


an Act has been obtained for enclosing it. There are small commons still remaining in different parts of the count, the greater part of which would not pay the expenses of obtaining a bill for enclosing them. Although the expense of enclosing is very great, yet the beneficial effects resulting from enclosures are generally felt throughout the county. With regard to an increase of produce, that is evident to every person, for it must be admitted, that the land that formerly kept a few half-starved sheep, is now yielding abundance of both grass and cord [wood] (62-63). 


This attitude may be due to author bias:  James Wedge who wrote the 1794 report on Warwickshire, was also the agent for the Earl of Aylesford at Packington House, one of the larger Warwickshire landowners (Cambridge Alumni database and Transactions of the Society of Arts). While Wedge's report does not give much detail about enclosure, the later 1813 report on Warwickshire by Adam Murray, is clear and once again seems to imply the inexorable progress of enclosure, although he qualifies his enthusiasm by recommending a focus on existing enclosed fields:


 Fig. 13. From Adam Murray, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Warwick: with Observations on the Means of Its Improvement,

(London: G&W Nicol, 1813), p. 185, accessed 23-2-19


Summaries of these reports, including those by Arthur Young on Sussex and James Wedge's on Warwickshire were published in the Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure in 1796, so they were available to a far wider and less- involved readership; other reports and letters to the Board of Agriculture were also printed in periodicals, although it is difficult to confirm from the databases whether this was always the case. These articles are strongly supportive of enclosure and go into immense detail about the processes and benefits of enclosure, with almost no mention of the counter-arguments. This extract from a periodical reports the Minutes of the Board of Agriculture, which seems to contradict the title's promise of 'pleasure'!


Fig. 14. LLOYD, M. and TURNER, 1796. 'Minutes of Agriculture, from the Reports of the Agricultural Board: Continued from Vol. XCVIII, Page 399.'

 Universal magazine of knowledge and pleasure, June 1747-Dec.1803, 99, p. 20.


Given its publication date of 1803, at the height of the wars against the French, this may have reassured readers that enclosure  increased rents, land value and food production, with the implication that the resulting prosperity would filter through to the wider population. 


While they are general overviews of all the agriculture in an area, these reports to the Board of Agriculture go into minute technicalities of farming, describing how to plant hedges to fence off the new fields, using blackthorn and hawthorn cuttings (quick-sets) set at 45 degrees, on a built-up bank, with ditches either side and post and rails to protect the hedge until it is large enough to be plashed (cut and laid). Richard Mabey has since estimated that over 200,000 miles of hawthorn was planted during the enclosure processes of the 18th and 19th centuries (Flora Britannica,).  Other writers dispensed wisdom in letters to newspapers and periodicals: one to The Lancaster Gazetter gives painstaking instructions as to how hedges should be planted using young plants, and even encouraged farmers to grow their own from seed, which entailed gathering the ripe haws, putting them in a jar, which is buried in the garden and left for two winters and one summer, then the seeds are sown and grown on, with regular attentions for 10 years before planting out (Issue 393). This clearly indicates the value of the hedging plants, even if the suppliers are difficult to track down. It can be assumed that nurserymen supplying the young plants must have cashed in on enclosure, although it has been impossible to find any evidence of this.


Fig. 15. Example of laid hedge in 20th century

Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/wellbeing/outdoors/4973957/Laying-hedges-Keeping-hedges-lean-and-mean.html

accessed 23-2-19



Thomas Hale's clearly successful A Compleat Body of Husbandry as it was reprinted in several editions in Dublin between 1756 and 1760. Hale was clearly a supporter of enclosure and he devotes entire chapters to unpicking the pro and con of enclosure and describes how


'upon the edges of all great Commons we see a miserable Set of Cottagers. Hunger is in their Faces, and Misery upon their Backs: they idle away their Time in tending their own and other People's Cattle and breed their Children ot this poor Employment. The Profits of this are not at all comparable to what they would have from the common Price of their Labour and their Childresn. And if these Lands were inclosed, they would be at once compelled to Industry; and always found in Employrment' (229).


In the same vein he continues 'This is certain, Inclosure is always profitable; and there is no Kind of Land whatsoever, that may not be inclosed by some Fence or other, with Profit to the Undertaker.' (232), highlighting the way this was geared towards making more money.


Another hefty chapter, Of Hedges, in the same book, is given over to growing hedging plants, even to the fact that the soil for the plant nursery should be poor, so that the young plants develop woody growth rather than lush vulnerable leaves. (266) In his discussion he points out that, although the cost of planting the hedges falls to the landlord, the tenant farmer incurs the cost of maintenance.



Fig. 16. Enclosure commissioners measuring out Henlow, at the height of the enclosures in the eighteenth century.

From Tate, English Village and Enclosure movements. Online http://tlio.org.uk/uk-land-rights-ownership-bettany-hughes-breaking-the-seal-enclosures-2000/




Crime Reports


Crimes associated with hedges seem to be absent from the court reports, perhaps due to the urban base for these. Any that appear are generally many years later, presumably because hedges were not established enough to be damaged, and again with most newspapers based in cities and towns, hedges would not be a focus of interest. One of the very few examples was as late as 1900, when the Essex Standard reported that in Dunmow, 'A labourer was summoned for damaging a quick-set hedge. The defendant cut up the hedge and took the tops away - witnesses estimated the value at 20/- (equivalent to 3 days' wages).



Fig. 17. Aerial view of typical post-Enclosure English fields and hedges

‘373,919km (232342 miles) of England’s farmland hedges have been accurately mapped…’ 

Farming UK, Online, https://www.farminguk.com/News/Farmers-and-environment-to-benefit-as-Ordnance-Survey-creates-new-data-layer-of-hedges_44921.html


After the enclosures, rural village life was permanently altered: a common shared way of life was permanently lost, driving smallholders into working as farm labourers or into the newly industrialised cities. Rather than farmers living in villages, they built new farms at the centre of their land: these were often named 'Fields Farm', so can be identified now. Part of the enclosure legislation required new roads and lanes to be constructed at the expense of the enclosure petitioners, which improved transport links greatly, but also led to the loss of many local routes:  this can be seen around Priors Marston, near Southam, where the post enclosure map (fig. 8) shows by-roads which have fallen out of use, although they still survive as footpaths and bridleways.



Links to related wiki pages within this module:     


Waste Land 


Gardens and Gardening 



External links:


Radio 4 In Our Time

A 45 minute programme giving a clear and helpful overview of the prevailing issues before during and after Enclosure.


This Land is Ours- a Land Rights Campaign for Britain 

A long piece on the loss of commoners' rights at Enclosure, and especially on the way the issue is still current in this century.  


Vision of Britain

Invaluable source for historical travel writing. Especially useful for tracking author attitudes to landscape in general and farmland in particular. 


Warwickshire County Records Office

Local archive material including maps, enclosure awards and other documents. Very helpful staff!


Hathi Trust Digital Library

An apparently bottomless resource for easy to search digitised texts. Excellent and helpful to see writing in context - I found this rather easier to navigate than Gale and other databases, once I had found a resource


Southam Heritage Collection 

At the other end of the scale from Hathi. Tiny and very useful for my home town's Act of Enclosure



Primary Sources


C. B. Andrews (ed.), The Torrington Diaries: A Selection of the Tours of the Hon. John Byng between the Years of 1781 and 1794 (London, 1954)

Nathaniel Bloomfield, 'Elegy on the Enclosure of Honington Green' from An Essay on War, in Blank Verse; Honington Green, a Ballad . . . and Other Poems (London: Hurst, Vernor and Hood, 1803) 11-2-19

William Cobbett, Rural Rides: Sept 25th to 29th 1822, Kensington to Uphusband,  http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/travellers/Cobbett/9, 8-12-18

Daniel Defoe, A Tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies: South Eastern Scotland Letter XI, http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/travellers/Defoe/36) 8-12-18

Essex Standard (Colchester England), Saturday, April 28, 1900, Vol. 70, Issue 3620, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9QpZG0 , 10-3-19

Oliver Goldsmith, 'The Deserted Village', from Eighteenth-Century Poetry: An Annotated Anthology, 2nd edn., ed. David Fairer and Christine Gerrard (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003)

Thomas Hale, A Compleat body of husbandry. Containing rules for performing in the most profitable manner, the whole business of the farmer and country gentleman, in cultivating and planting of land, Vol. 1, Dublin, printed for Pl Wilson, 1757, https://bit.ly/2TEs4Nd, 8-3-19

John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/7370/7370-h/7370-h.htm,  8-1-19

Thomas More (ed.), The Poetical Works  of Lord Byron: with explanatory Notes and a Life of the Author, Vol. 2, (London Johnson, Fry, 1867) 11-2-19

James Mumford, 'Wandering Mary, As sung by Mrs Bland', Google Books, https://bit.ly/2TIE5Bi. 9-2-19

Adam Murray, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Warwick: with Observations on the Means of Its Improvement, (London: G&W Nicol, 1813), 23-2-19

Edw. Parry Esq., 'HINTS ON INCLOSURES', The European magazine, and London Review, London Vol. 32,  (Dec 1797): 367-367, https://search.proquest.com/britishperiodicals/docview/4596979/D0F585BE6BC446E6PQ/1?accountid=14888, 3-3-19

J. "QUICK-SET HEDGE." Lancaster Gazetter, 24 Dec. 1808. British Library Newspapers, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/9Qpov3.  10-3-19

Adam Smith, An Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), http://geolib.com/smith.adam/won1-11.html, [22] 10-2-19

Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of Count Ferdinand https://www.gutenberg.org/files/6761/6761-h/6761-h.htm, 28-1-19

Weekly Entertainer; or, Agreeable and Instructive Repository, Jan 6 1783- Dec 27 1819, Sherborne, https://search.proquest.com/britishperiodicals/docview/4066720/abstract/C7EB24D407874B01PQ/53?accountid=14888  3-3-19


Secondary Sources


Margery Brown, 'Aspects of Parliamentary Enclosure in Nottinghamshire', (1995), https://lra.le.ac.uk/bitstream/2381/35536/1/U071859.pdf, 22-2-19

Robin Ganev - 'Ballads and Poems' condemnation of Enclosure in 18th century Britain ', (2008)   https://www.researchgate.net/publication/42762854_Ballads_and_Poems_Condemnation_of_Enclosure_in_Eighteenth_Britain, 9-2-19 

In Our Time,  BBC Radio 4,   https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00b1m9b, 5-2-19

History of Parliament Online, 'Mordaunt, Sir Charles, 6th Bt', https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/mordaunt-sir-charles-1697-1778, 8-3-19

History of Wollaston http://www.wollastoncc.co.uk/the_village.htm   22-2-19.

J.M. Martin, 'The Small Landowner and Parliamentary Enclosure in Warwickshire',The Economc History Review, Vol 32, 3 (1979) p. 328-343

Richard Mabey, Flora Britannica, (London: Sinclair Stevenson, 1996) https://www.conservationhandbooks.com/hedging/the-hedgerow-landscape/hedges-in-history/ 10-3-19

Briony McDonach and Stephen Daniels, 'Enclosure Stories: Narratives from Northamptonshire', https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/17027988.pdf

James Sambrook, The Eighteenth Century: the intellectual and cultural context of English Literature 1700 – 1789. Addisons Wesley Longman Limited, Harlow  1997, pp. 94-95

Ian Waites, 'Cultural Commemoration and the Impact of Enclosure, c. 1770-1850' in The Land Question in Britain 1750-1950, ed. M. Cragoe and P. Readman, (Springer Online, 2010)

Williams, Raymond, The Country and the City, (London: Chatto & Windus, 2016)

Michael Yardley, ‘The History of the Pheasant’, The Field,  9 October 2015, online, https://www.thefield.co.uk/shooting/the-history-of-the-pheasant-22364,  22-2-19





Oxford English Dictionary, http://0-www.oed.com.pugwash.lib.warwick.ac.uk, 9-2-19

Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, (London: Printed by W. Strahan et al, 1755), https://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/page-view/?i=695,  10-2-19





Fig 1.         'Enclosure', from The Dictionary of Samuel Johnson, 1755, https://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/page-view/?i=695, 9-2-19

Fig. 2          Medieval Ridge and Furrow, Gloucestershire 2007, Geograph.org.uk, 28-1-19

Fig. 3.         Graph showing frequency of hits for Enclosure or Inclosure in Eighteenth-century texts.  https://historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk/

Fig. 4          World and Fashionable Advertiser (London, England), Wednesday, March 28, 1787; Issue 75. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers 28-1-19

Fig. 5.         World (London, England), Tuesday, April 22, 1788; Issue 410. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers 28-1-19

Fig. 6.         A catalogue of a very large and good collection of books, in all branches of learning, in Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and English: containing the libraries of the Rev. Sir William Keate, Bart. and of Arthur Pollard, ... to be sold ... on Monday, August 1, 1757, ... by                        Thomas Payne, ... https://data.historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk/view?pubId=ecco-1198600200&terms=inclosure%20OR%20enclosure&fuzzy&date=

                  1700-1800&undated=exclude&variant=variant&variant=printer&variant=lemma&variant=misspelling&text=fulltext&collection=ecco&collection=eccoii&filter=subject%7C%7CLiterature%20and%20Language&sort=date%2Basc , 21-11-18

Fig. 7         From: An Act for dividing and inclosing the Common Fields... in the manor and Parish of Southam, 1760, Southam Heritage Collection, Warwickshire

Fig. 8.         Ibid

Fig. 9.         Map of allocations in the Inclosure Award for Priors Marston, 1758, Warwickshire County Records Office, document reference: Z0250(U)/2

Fig. 10        John Crome, Mousehold Heath, Norwich, c.1818–20, Tate.org, 9-2-19

Fig. 11.       William Turner of Oxford 1789–1862, Haymaking – study from nature, in Osney Meadow, near Oxford, looking towards Iffley, https://www.libson-yarker.com/pictures/haymaking-study-from-nature-in-osney-meadow-near-oxford-looking-towards-iff accessed 9-2-19

Fig. 12.       Thomas Gainsborough, Mr and Mrs Andrews, (c. 1750),  The National Gallery, London, https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/thomas-gainsborough-mr-and-mrs-andrews, 9-2-19

Fig. 13        Adam Murray, Report………………………………

Fig. 14        Lloyd, M. and Turner, 1796. 'Minutes of Agriculture, from the Reports of the Agricultural Board: Continued from Vol. XCVIII, Page 399', Universal magazine of knowledge and pleasure, June 1747-Dec.1803, 99, https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006791518, 23-1-19

Fig. 15        Example of laid hedge in 20th century, Telegraph Online, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/wellbeing/outdoors/4973957/Laying-hedges-Keeping-hedges-lean-and-mean.html23-2-19

Fig. 16        Enclosure commissioners measuring out Henlow, at the height of the enclosures in the eighteenth century, from Tate, English Village and Enclosure movements. Online http://tlio.org.uk/uk-land-rights-ownership-bettany-hughes-breaking-the-seal-enclosures-2000/ 19-1-19

Fig. 17.       Aerial view of typical post-Enclosure English fields and hedges. ‘373,919km (232342 miles) of England’s farmland hedges have been accurately mapped…’  Farming UK, Online,

                   https://www.farminguk.com/News/Farmers-and-environment-to-benefit-as-Ordnance-Survey-creates-new-data-layer-of-hedges_44921.html, 17-3-19



Written and researched by Emily Jamieson  2018-19



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