The Enclosure Movement

The Enclosure Movement or inclosure is the process which was used to end traditional rights, and has historically been accompanied by force, resistance, and bloodshed. It has been referred to as “among the most controversial areas of agricultural and economic history in England.”

The Enclosure Movement was a push in the 18th and 19th centuries to take land that had formerly been owned in common by all members of a village, or at least available to the public for grazing animals and growing food, and change it to privately owned land, usually with walls, fences or hedges around it. The most well-known Enclosure Movements were in the British Isles, but the practice had its roots in the Netherlands and occurred to some degree throughout Northern Europe and elsewhere as industrialization spread. Some small number of enclosures had been going on since the 12th century, especially in the north and west of England, but it became much more common in the 1700s, and in the next century Parliament passed the General Enclosure Act of 1801 and the Enclosure Act of 1845, making enclosures of certain lands possible throughout England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

The English government and aristocracy started enclosing land claiming it would allow for better raising of crops and animals (particularly sheep for their wool). They claimed that large fields could be farmed more efficiently than individual plots allotted from common land — and the profit could be kept by the aristocrats who now owned the legally confiscated land. Some claim this was the beginning of commercial farming.