HISTORY ESSAY By Alex Nathan March 2001
“THE POSITIVE EFFECTS OF ENCLOSURE OUTWEIGHED THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS”
This essay will discuss whether the good effects of enclosure outweighed the bad effects.
In Britain in 1750, the farming system was changed from the open field system to the enclosure system by the government because there was not enough food being grown in the open field system. The open field system consisted of every farmer having his own strips of land, scattered about a few different fields. The number of strips the farmer had depended on how rich he was, so the poor peasants would have no more than four strips. The name open field system comes from the fact that there were no fences between the strips, just mounds of soil (which could have been used for growing crops). The peasants had just enough land to survive, and everyone (rich or poor) kept their cattle on common land. So, sometimes the peasant’s thin cattle, mated with the rich people’s fat healthy cattle, giving the peasants a chance to bring up fat healthy animals.
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But, when the open field system was abolished and the enclosure system brought in, there were many changes. Each farmer’s land was put together into a plot. The common land was also used for plots, so everyone had to keep their cattle on their own land, giving them less space for growing crops and giving the peasants no chance of having their animals mating healthier ones. The mounds of soil were replaced by fences, making the land enclosed, hence the name enclosure. The last period of the enclosure system was helped by a series of Acts of Parliament allowing the changes.
This section will describe the negative effects of the enclosure system.
The poor were unhappy about this system because their animals took up too much room and they didn’t have enough space to grow crops. So, the poor couldn’t survive with that small amount of land, and some couldn’t even afford enclosure. They ended up having to sell their land to the rich. The rich then made the poor work on the land that they had sold.
Then the situation got even worse for the poor. The enclosure system had given the rich the space to put machines on their land. The machines meant that less people were need so many became unemployed.
The poor, unemployed, helpless people felt humiliated but they would not take the matter lying down. They joined together to fight to get their land and jobs back. They made up an imaginary leader…Captain Swing.
Their action included sending letters to the rich farmers and rioting. These riots were called the Swing Riots. If their jobs weren’t returned, they burned the crops of the rich farmers.
If that didn’t work, the poor burned the rich farmers’ houses. But all this was stopped in the end, as the supporters of enclosure were stronger. The riots were unsuccessful, and rioters were arrested, imprisoned or hanged.
These riots contributed to the agricultural revolution.
This section will describe the positive effects of the enclosure system.
Though the negative effects were bad for many poor people, without enclosure life could have been much worse. The population was growing rapidly and doubled between 1750 and 1825. Without enclosure, 50 per cent of the growing population would have died because not enough food would have been grown in the open field system. Under the open field system, one field a year was left fallow so that it would be fertile next year. In the enclosure system, the crops grown fertilized the land so no land was wasted fallow. This crop growing system was called the Norfolk crop rotation. If the open field system had continued, the country would have been struck down with famine.
More food was grown in the enclosure system because there was more space for machinery, making the farming process quicker. Also, because the animals were kept on the farmers’ own land, selective breeding was possible.
As fences went up, and enclosure was bought, crop disease was eliminated. If the fields had been open, diseases would have spread easily.
Enclosure caught on quickly, with some other countries thought that enclosure was a good idea. In Italy, Germany and some Scandinavian countries, the enclosure system began to appear.
In conclusion, it seems that, in the long term, the positive effects of enclosure outweighed the negative effects. The main reason being that without enclosure, 50 per cent of the growing population of Britain would have died of hunger. But more should have been done to help the poor farmers.
So this essay agrees. “The positive effects of enclosure outweighed the negative effects.”