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By Michael Turner

Enclosures in Britain, 1750-1830 (Studies in financial and Social heritage)

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From 1661 to the end of the century a series of acts was passed to promote agrarian reforms and innovations. The first, in 1661, was a general enclosure act obliging, in principle at least, every proprietor whose lands were worth at least £ I 000 Scots in annual rentto enclose a minimum of 4 acres per annum for ten years. Smaller landowners were obliged to enclose proportionately smaller areas. The wording of the act is sufficiently ambiguous to raise doubts over its effectiveness. Was it a device which helped reafforestation as much as it improved animal and crop husbandry?

It is not merely that parliamentary enclosure diverts attention from his own views of the origin and progress of agricultural revolution but also he wishes to reduce the importance of all enclosures, seeking other changes as the heart of agrarian reform. Earlier summaries in this chapter suggest that 21 per cent of England was enclosed by act, which, if Kerridge is correct in his own appraisal of the survival of open fields and commons, does not leave much margin for enclosure by private agreement during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Purdum, however, has set up a descriptive model of the responsiveness of landlords to monetary 41 benefits [87]. If the efficiency gain of enclosed over open fields is measured by rental changes then enclosure was easily financed by these rental improvements. There is the hint of cost benefit when Purdum introduces the idea of discovering what factors influencing -gains from enclosure 'were known prior to enclosure', because such factors may have influenced the timing of enclosure. For the owner of a single estate such prior knowledge was probably only guesswork or based on information from neighbours, but for the owner of more than one estate the potential to predict future rates of return based on existing experience may have been crucial in the timing of enclosure.

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