Background to Enclosure
This is included as as background to the main article on the 1778 enclosure.
Prior to the enclosures in England, a portion of the land was categorized as "common" or "waste". "Common" land was under some kind of collective control. Called the open field system, a single plot of land was divided among groups, often a lord and employed or participating peasants. This facilitated common grazing and crop rotation. "Waste" was the only land not officially claimed by any group, often cultivated by landless peasants.[
Enclosure Acts for small areas had been passed sporadically since the 12th century, but with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, they became more commonplace. In search of better financial returns, landowners looked for more efficient farming techniques. Enclosures were also created so that landowners could charge higher rent to the people working the land. This was at least partially responsible for peasants leaving the countryside to work in the city in industrial factories.
The Inclosure Act of 1773 was the first to lay down the general rules and procedure to be followed. Many more Acts followed in the C19th century. The long title of the Act was “An Act for the better Cultivation, Improvement, and Regulation of the Common Arable Fields, Wastes, and Commons of Pasture in this Kingdom”. It created a law that enabled enclosure of land, at the same time removing the right of commoners' access.
The Act required the procedure to start with a petition delivered to Parliament signed by the landowner, tithe holders and a majority of people affected. The petition then went through the stages of a bill with a committee meeting to hear any objections. The petition would then go through to Royal Assent after passing through both Houses of Parliament. Commissioners would then visit the area and distribute the land accordingly.
The powers granted in the Inclosure Act were often abused by landowners: the preliminary meetings where enclosure was discussed, intended to be held in public, were often made in the presence of only the local landowners. They regularly chose their own solicitors, surveyors and Commissioners to decide on each case. In 1774, Parliament added an amendment to the Act under the Standing Orders that every petition for enclosure had to be affixed to the door of the local church for three consecutive Sundays in August or September.