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Agriculture in England

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Agriculture in England - Lesson Summary

Until the 18 th century, land in England was not divided into any enclosed, private agricultural fields. The strips of land around a village were used for cultivation.

At the onset of every year, each villager was allocated different strips of land to cultivate. This ensured that each villager got a balanced mix of both good and bad quality of land, so everyone was able to harvest and earn nearly equally.

The common land that lay beyond the agricultural strips of land was open to all villagers and was used for a variety of purposes like pastures for their cows, grazing their sheep, and for collecting fuel wood, fruits and berries. The common land served as a back-up for every household in the event of a bad harvest.

The landscape of England however changed suddenly during the late 18 th and early 19 th centuries. Poor peasants were no longer allowed to enter the common land and carry out activities. The strips of land allotted to them for cultivation were taken over by the richer landlords and surrounded by private enclosures.

In the 16 th century, as the price of wool shot up the rich landlords to increase their wool production, improve their sheep breeds and provide a better feed for them, started drawing up hedges around their lands to increase their wool production.

They drove out people who had built small cottages on the common land and prevented anyone from entering their land. The enclosure movements grew in the late 18th century and by 1850 large areas of land were enclosed for grain production.

Such a drastic change was stimulated by the rapid increase in population which was nearly 4 times between 1750 and 1900. This was also the age of industrialization in England.

The demand for food grains increased to meet the needs of the large number of people who had moved to the urban areas to work in industries. France entered war with England around the late 18 th century, disrupting the import of food grains from Europe.

Taking advantage of this, the rich landlords started a frenzy of enclosing lands for grain cultivation, to make bigger profits. The early enclosures were not supported by the Government or the Church. Eventually, after the mid-18 th century the Parliament passed 4000 Enclosure Acts.


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