Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: enclosure from Philip's Encyclopedia

In European history, the fencing-in by landlords of common land. Complaints against this practice date from the 13th century. Enclosure usually led to increased agricultural productivity at the cost of depriving people of free grazing and firewood. It was a cause of popular rebellions, especially in the 16th century. The Agricultural Revolution of the 18th century produced another spurt of enclosure.


Summary Article: enclosure from Environmental History and Global Change: A Dictionary of Environmental History

The process of converting common land (open field, meadow or common grazing) into private ownership and surrounding it with a boundary, creating fenced, hedged or walled fields in which farming was undertaken by specific individuals in contrast to open field systems with their communal farming. ‘Enclosure’ can also refer to a field created by this process. In areas like W Cornwall and W Brittany enclosures may date from the Bronze Age. In N England individual small enclosures or closes developed around the original areas of open fields. In areas where open fields were small, enclosure by private agreement was often undertaken on a piecemeal basis from late medieval times. Enclosures could also be created by the intake of land from common pastures. In England larger-scale enclosure for sheep farming through unity of ownership was a feature of some lowland areas from the C15 and attracted the concern of Tudor authorities because the change from small-scale arable farming threatened to reduce employment and grain supply, leading to anti-enclosure legislation. In upland marginal areas of N England enclosure by squatting was widespread in the late C16 and early C17 by people who combined part-time farming with domestic industry. In the C17 the official attitude to enclosure in England and Wales was more permissive and large areas were enclosed by private agreement. Parliamentary enclosure under government acts was characteristic of the C18 and C19 in England and Wales. In Scotland the more devolved system of government enabled enclosure to be undertaken by estate owners without supervision from central authorities. Once the benefits of farming within enclosed fields had become accepted by Scottish landowners the pace of enclosure from the 1760s to the 1830s was rapid, creating a landscape of revolution rather than evolution (Chambers & Mingay 1966, Overton 1996).

Copyright © 2013 Ian D. Whyte

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article enclosure
The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

In Britain, seizure of common land and change to private property, or the changing of open-field systems (farming in strips apportioned over two or

Full text Article Inclosure (less technically Enclosure)
The Companion to British History, Routledge

1. Is to be distinguished from three other similar operations involving consolidation or alteration of English land holdings; these...

Full text Article What were the effects of enclosure on 18th-century Britain?
The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Background Before 1750 much of Britain's farmland was divided up into strips. Each person owned or farmed strips in the village's fields. Villages us

See more from Credo