Enclosure Movement



  • Linda McQuaig, All You Can Eat
    • endnotes re sources for this subject: " My account of the impact of the enclosure movement on the peasants and their resistance to it is drawn from a number of sources, particularly Hill, Liberty Against the Law; R. H. Tawney, The Agrarian Problem in the Sixteenth Century (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1912);Thompson, Customs in Common; Brian Manning, The English People and the English Revolution 1640—1649 (London: Heinemann, 1975); and Roger B. Manning, Village Revolts: Social Protest and Popular Disturbances in England, 1509—1640 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988)"

Clean this up

The farmers and villagers fight back with every
(limited) means they possess.They pursue legal actions, often pooling
their resources; they appeal to Parliament in the later years, even
though Parliament is oftenthe source of their troubles. Butabove all,
theyfight backwith spirited,spontaneous andoftenpatheticattempts
to physically re-open the common land, using their crude farming
toolsto hack through hedges, rip out fence posts, fill inditches, poach
fish or game from suddenly restricted lands or do anything else neces
sary to restore access to what they feel is rightfully theirs. There are
extensive legal and administrative records of these anti-enclosure
protests taking place over awide swath ofEngland over the course of
many centuries. Insome cases, they involved perhaps only a farmer or
twoand their families cutting down ahedge inthemiddle of the night
or filling in a ditch where ahedge isabout to be planted. But they also
included hundreds of rowdy and sometimes violent "riots," and even
several large-scale revolts.
Whatwas clear in all of these protests was the strength of feeling
and sense of violation on the part of those losing their rights. In one
typically bitter feud thatraged over two generations, for instance, the
villagers of Finedon, Northamptonshire, were enraged when, in
1509, the lord of the manor, John Mulsho, enclosed their common,
aswell asa crucial raised paththat allowed themto pass betweentwo
connecting fields and that they had regularly used for village proces
sions. There was much litigation on both sides, and a local commis
sion settled on a compromise thatobliged Mulsho to keep some ofthe
common land openfor part of the year. In 1529, his enclosures were
removed byorder of the sheriff. Following that, a number of farmers
decided to chop up Mulsho's gates and gateposts. Some sixty rowdy
villagers arrived on the scene to dig upthe rootsof the hedges sothat
they couldn't grow back. For eight days, the villagers continued with
their protest, hooting and shouting against the enclosures and defi
antly ringing the village bell. Mulsho responded by seizing their
cattle. The protestors then broke into his pound to set their cattle
free, even turningthe animals loose on one ofMulsho's lush pastures,
where the hungry beasts made quick workof the tall grass. In subsequent litigation, the villagers wereorderedto replanthedges that had
been removed illegally. They did so, only to organize another riot to
rip them down.
Many of the protests were larger in scale. In June 1535, four
hundred people forcibly removed the enclosures erected by the
unpopular earl of Cumberland at Giggleswick, on his estate in
Craven.This resulted in indictments against eighty-two of the rioters.
Within a month, in an apparent response to the Craven situation,
anti-enclosing riots broke out in Lancashire, Westmoreland,
Cumberland and Northumberland. Five months later, there was
riotingagainst enclosures in Galtres Forest in EastYorkshire. Another
more extensive wave of anti-enclosure rioting broke out in i£48 and
continued the following year. Increasingly, rioting seemed to involve
large groups that went from village to village, urging others to join
them in widespread destruction of enclosures. To discourage such
large, roaming bands, it was made a treasonous offence for twelve or
more people to band together for more than an hour. If the rioters
kept theirnumbers below twelve (three to eleven was specified) and
worked quickly, they could get away with being charged only with
"riot and maintenance," a misdemeanour punishable by a mere one
year in prison.
But the harsh laws did little to discourage the protests, which
picked upin number and intensity inresponse to the more aggressive
enclosure actions on the part of landowners by the end of the
sixteenth century. From the early 1500s to about 1625, there were
anti-enclosure riots recorded in every county. In theMidland Revolt
of 1607, there were a number of riots with more than one thousand
participants, and sympathetic riots occurred across the countryside.
They also became bolder in format. In Ladbroke, Warwickshire, in
1607, a band of four hundred protestors, led by a "captain" on horse
back and a piper, openly marched inmilitary-style formation as they
advanced to the task of levelling hedges and pulling out hedge roots.

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