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Study Notes

Enclosure (Elizabethan England)

AQA, Edexcel, OCR

Last updated 10 Jun 2017

Enclosure is the practice of dividing up land which was once owned by the people, that was typically large open fields into smaller ‘enclosed’ pieces of land that instead belonged to one person only. Enclosure leads to an increase in poverty.

Enclosure came about as a result of the development of farming techniques. Breakthroughs in animal farming meant farmers wanted to keep animals together rather than letting them roam free. Furthermore, as a result of the rising price of food, it became more profitable to grow crops which needed their own dedicated fields.

Enclosure often meant that smaller tenant farmers were forced off the land when the open fields were enclosed into smaller pieces of land. Whilst, the owners of the land benefited from the increased profits as a result of enclosure, farm workers suffered as they could no longer afford the higher rents. With farmers no longer being able to afford rent, this meant they entered a life of poverty. In addition to this, the better farming techniques required fewer farmers resulting in an increase in poverty.

Prior to enclosure many villages had ‘common land’. This land was open to the public to use as they wished which included growing food, grazing animals and using the woods for fires. When the land became enclosed many common people lost their rights to use the land. Those who needed this land for survival fell into a life of poverty. 

It should be remembered that only a small amount of land was enclosed in England, but that its impact was huge.

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