E. R. Chamberlin: Changes in English Agriculture

Agricultural efficiency has been continuously improving since the very beginning of food production.  In the 1700’s, land enclosure was a major factor in this increase in efficiency.  In his article Changes in English Agriculture, Chamberlin addresses the part that English government played in regulating the enclosure of land.  Because of the government’s role in land enclosure, agricultural food supply in 18th century England increased dramatically.

Throughout the mid 1700’s, Parliament helped increase agricultural efficiency, passing hundreds of private Bills of Enclosure.  It became clear that larger pieces of land were easier to farm than individual plots, and for this reason, Bills of Enclosure became very popular.  Prior to these bills, land was publicly shared and enclosed as smaller plots through informal agreements between neighbors.  However, a Bill of Enclosure served as a formal way to share farming land while individually owning smaller pieces.  With a Bill of Enclosure, all land holders specified in the bill combined their smaller plots, making one larger enclosed land plot.  Instead of several smaller plots, one shared larger plot made farming much more efficient.



The landscape of England changed dramatically as a result of the new enclosure of land.  Towns that had been composed of vast, communal fields were now broken up by hedges or fencing to separate pieces of land.  Although the shrubbery made for a more attractive landscape, it also made for a more secluded feel compared to the once open, unbroken view.

Though Bills of Enclosure did a great deal to increase food production, maintaining hundreds of individual bills became a tedious job for the English government.  To make bill maintenance easier, Parliament passed the General Enclosure Act in 1801.  Under the General Enclosure Act, entire villages could enclose their land as long as three-quarters of the population was in favor of doing so.  Parliament now only had to regulate a single bill from each village instead of the multiple that they had to maintain previously.  The General Enclosure Act led to increased efficiency in agricultural and organizational areas.

In addition to immensely increasing agricultural efficiency, the General Enclosure Act brought an increased sense of community.  Towns had to collectively advocate for and share land instead of smaller groups of individuals sharing land prior to the General Enclosure Act.  Other positive effects of the General Enclosure Act included decrease in land wastage, decrease in labor, and the usage of crop rotation, which added to the increase in food production.  With larger plots for farming, more land was occupied, leaving less wasted space.  Farming also became more efficient as larger land plots were easier to maintain, thus decreasing the amount of labor needed to supply food.  Because of the efforts made by the English government in the 18th century, food supply and agricultural efficiency increased dramatically. 


Word Count: 463