The Inclosure Acts were a series of Acts of Parliament that empowered enclosure of open fields and common land in England and Wales, creating legal property rights to land that was previously held in common. Between 1604 and 1914, over 5,200 individual enclosure acts were passed, covering 6.8 million acres (2,800,000 ha; 28,000 km2).
Prior to the enclosures in England, a portion of the land was categorized as "common" or "waste" or not in use. "Common" land was under the control of the lord of the manor, but a number of rights on the land (such as pasture, pannage, or estovers) were variously held by certain nearby properties, or (occasionally) held in gross by all manorial tenants. "Waste" was land without value as a farm strip – often very narrow areas (typically less than a yard wide) in awkward locations (like cliff edges, or inconveniently shaped manorial borders), but also bare rock, and so forth; "waste" was not officially used by anyone, and thus was often cultivated by landless peasants.
The remainder of the land was organised into a large number of narrow strips, with each tenant possessing a number of disparate strips throughout the manor, as would the manorial lord. Called the open field system, it was administered by manorial courts, which exercised some kind of collective control. Thus what might now be considered a single field, would under this system have been divided among the lord and his tenants; poorer peasants (serfs or copyholders, depending on the era) would be allowed to live on the strips owned by the lord, in return for cultivating his land. This system facilitated common grazing and crop rotation.
Any particular individual might possess several strips of land within the manor, often separated by some distance from one another. In search of better financial returns, landowners looked for more efficient farming techniques; enclosure Acts for small areas had been passed sporadically since the 12th century, but with the rise of new agricultural knowledge and technology in the 18th century, they became more commonplace. Because tenants (even copyholders) had legally enforcable rights on the land, substantial compensation was provided to extinguish them; as a result, many tenants were active supporters of enclosure, but the Acts enabled landlords to force reluctant tenants to comply with the process.
With securer control of the land, landlords were able and willing to make innovations that improved the crop yield, which led to the Agricultural Revolution; the higher productivity also enabled landowners to justify higher rents for the people working the land. In 1801, the Inclosure (Consolidation) Act was passed to tidy up previous acts. In 1845, another General Inclosure Act allowed for the appointment of Inclosure Commissioners who could enclose land without submitting a request to Parliament.
The tenants displaced by the process often left the countryside to work in the towns. The greater availability of food caused population numbers to rapidly expand, which meant that within a few generations, the compensation the tenants had received was spread so thinly among their descendants that many found themselves in penury. This made the industrial revolution possible – at the very moment new technological advances required large numbers of workers, a concentration of large numbers of people in need of work had emerged, together with a food supply productive enough to ensure the workers had the necessary energy; the former country tenants and their descendants became workers in industrial factories within cities.
List of acts
- The Inclosure Act 1773 (13 Geo.3 c.81)
The Enclosure Acts 1845 to 1882 means:
- The Inclosure Act 1845 (8 & 9 Vict. c.118)
- The Inclosure Act 1846 (9 & 10 Vict. c.70)
- The Inclosure Act 1847 (10 & 11 Vict. c.111)
- The Inclosure Act 1848 (11 & 12 Vict. c.99)
- The Inclosure Act 1849 (12 & 13 Vict. c.83)
- The Inclosure Commissioners Act 1851 (14 & 15 Vict. c.53)
- The Inclosure Act 1852 (15 & 16 Vict. c.79)
- The Inclosure Act 1854 (17 & 18 Vict. c. 97)
- The Inclosure Act 1857 (20 & 21 Vict. c.31)
- The Inclosure Act 1859 (22 & 23 Vict. c.43)
- The Inclosure, etc. Expenses Act 1868 (31 & 32 Vict. c.89)
- The Commons Act 1876 (39 & 40 Vict. c.56)
- The Commons (Expenses) Act 1878 (41 & 42 Vict. c.56)
- The Commons Act 1879 (42 & 43 Vict. c.37)
- The Commonable Rights Compensation Act 1882 (45 & 46 Vict. c.15)
- "Inclosure" is an old or formal spelling of the word now more usually spelled "enclosure". Both spellings are pronounced //.
- "Enclosing the Land". www.parliament.uk. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
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- The Short Titles Act 1896, section 2(1) and second schedule
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- An Analytical Digest of the Reports of Cases Decided in the Courts of Common Law, and Equity, of Appeal, and Nisi Prius. By Henry Jeremy. Pg 40
- The Fence. By Washburn & Moen Manufacturing Company. Pg 21
- The Contemporary Review, Volume 67. Pg 703
- Alienated tithes in appropriated and impropriated parishes. 38
- Chambers, Jonathan D. "Enclosure and labour supply in the industrial revolution." Economic History Review 5.3 (1953): 319-343. in JSTOR