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Open Fields and Commons

During the 18th and 19th century, drastic changes occurred on the agricultural front, all over the world. These changes were notable in three countries.


  • England
  • The U S A
  • India
  • In England the Enclosure Movement brought about the change.
  • In the USA the Westward Movement of White Americans brought about the change.
  • In India Opium cultivation brought about the change.

Let us first look at the changes that took place in England.

Agricultural Scenario in the sixteenth century in England

  • During the sixteenth century, the countryside fields were open and it was not partitioned into enclosed lands
  • Peasants cultivated on stripes of the land around the village they lived in.
  • Each village was allocated a certain number of stripes to cultivate.
  • This was done to make sure everyone got good and bad quality of land equally.

Open Fields and Commons

  • Beyond this land there was a common land where all villagers had access.
  • This common land helped them to graze their cows, collect wood for fuel and hunt small animals.
  • For the poor, the common land was essential for survival.

In the 16th century open fields and common land started changing . Rich farmers wanted to enpand their production. They started fencing of the common land and called it their own. This was the beginning of the ‘ enclosure movement’.


Enclosure Movement

The dividing and fencing–off , of the green common land by the rich framers was called the ‘Enclosure Movement’.

The Enclosure Movement started two centuries ago and continued till early nineteenth century. It had an enormous effect on the landscape of Britain. There were different methods of enclosure. In the lowland part of Britain, hedgerows, which are huge tall bushes, became the most common method of enclosure. In the upper areas of Britain it was the Dry Stone Wall. The Dry stone walls were built entirely without any kind of mortar.

Dry Stone Wall

Enclosure movement was predominant during two phases:

The reasons for the Enclosure Movement during the early sixteenth century

  • When the price of the wool went up in the world market, rich farmers wanted to expand wool production to earn profit.

The out come of this Enclosure Movement was.

  • They drove the villagers from the common land enclosed it and used it for breeding sheep. 

The British Parliament legalised the enclosures. 6 million acres of grass land was enclosed, putting the poor villagers to great hardship.

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