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 wall
s or hedge
s 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 enclosure
s had been going on since the 12th century
, especially in the north and west of England
, but it became much more common in the 1700
s, 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
, and Ireland
The English government and aristocracy started enclosing land because it would allow for better raising of crops and animals (particularly sheep for their wool). Large fields could be farmed more efficiently than individual plots alloted from common land. Sheep or cattle could graze in the enclosed fields without wandering into crops; the enclosed fields also allowed for better breeding, since some wandering bull couldn't sire calves that didn't have the tender meat the breeder was striving for. This was really the beginning of commercial farming.
However, the consequence for the people who had been tilling or grazing their animals on the land was often eviction, sending many of them to slums in the cities in hopes of finding work in the low-paying factories spawned by the Industrial Revolution. Even if they were employed on the now-enclosed land by its owner, the formerly self-supporting peasants became much more dependent on the success of the owner's farming plans (as well as having more risk of eviction) and lost access to places where they used to gather firewood, fruit, nuts, and other supplements to their own crops. The enclosures done by Parliamentary Act were not quite as bad; each peasant received an amount of land that was supposed to be the equivalent of the common land they had used. But still, this changed the distribution of labor by taking many people out of agriculture. Oliver Goldsmith's poem "The Deserted Village" is one of the many works written about the changes in society resulting from enclosures.
Many different things have been referred to as a "second Enclosure Movement" (such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) when a writer feels that formerly-public goods, services, or information is being claimed by private owners who will not let it be used by others.
Carlson, Laurie Winn. Cattle: An Informal Social History. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001.