Inclosure Acts

The Inclosure Acts, which use an old or formal spelling of the word now usually spelt "enclosure", cover enclosure of open fields and common land in England and Wales, creating legal property rights to land previously held in common. Between 1604 and 1914, over 5,200 individual enclosure acts were passed, affecting.


Prior to the enclosures in England, a portion of the land was categorized as "common" or "waste". "Common" land was under the control of the lord of the manor, but certain rights on the land such as pasture, pannage, or estovers were held variously by certain nearby properties, or in gross by all manorial tenants. "Waste" was land without value as a farm strip – often very narrow areas in awkward locations, but also bare rock, and so forth. "Waste" was not officially used by anyone, and so was often farmed by landless peasants.
The remaining land was organised into a large number of narrow strips, 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 collective control. So what might now be termed a single field would have been divided under this system among the lord and his tenants; poorer peasants were allowed to live on the strips owned by the lord in return for cultivating his land. The system facilitated common grazing and crop rotation.
Any individual might possess several strips of land within the manor, often at some distance from one another. Seeking better financial returns, landowners looked for more efficient farming techniques. Enclosure acts for small areas had been passed sporadically since the 12th century, but the new agricultural knowledge and technology in the 18th century made them more commonplace. Because tenants, or even copy holders, had legally enforceable rights on the land, substantial compensation was provided to extinguish them; thus many tenants were active supporters of enclosure, though it enabled landlords to force reluctant tenants to comply with the process.
With legal control of the land, landlords introduced innovations in methods of crop production, increasing profits and supporting the Agricultural Revolution; higher productivity also enabled landowners to justify higher rents for the people working the land. In 1801, the Inclosure Act was passed to tidy up previous acts. In 1845, another General Inclosure Act instituted the appointment of Inclosure Commissioners, who could enclose land without submitting a request to Parliament.
The powers granted in the Inclosure Act of 1773 of the Parliament of the Kingdom of Great Britain, were often abused by landowners: the preliminary meetings where enclosure was discussed, intended to be held in public, were often made in the presence of only the local landowners. They regularly chose their own solicitors, surveyors and Commissioners to decide on each case. While in 1786 there still existed 250,000 independent landowners, in the course of only thirty years their number was reduced to 32,000.
The tenants displaced by the process often left the countryside to work in the towns. This contributed to the Industrial Revolution – 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; the former country tenants and their descendants became workers in industrial factories within cities.

List of acts

The Inclosure Acts 1845 to 1882 mean: