background to industrial revolution in England

Around 17th and 18th centuries, the Europe underwent a series of changes, which eventually changed the entire society.

One thing that must mention is the enclosure movement took place in England. The enclosure movement started from an early time around 13th century but only reached its peak at around 18th and 19th centuries, when the England Parliament passed a number of Acts. The enclosure refers to the join of pieces of land, whether it is a pasture or a meadow. And the enclosure movement is democratic to some extend: while poor men-such as peasants-giving out their land, they still hold a share of the benefit.

Just like everything that first jumps out, the pro and con of the enclosure movement is also obvious.

The population in England began to explode from 17th century, and the increasing population also increased the demand of crops. While under the old agricultural institution, where peasant grew the crops individually, the production of food became a major problem. Usually it cannot support the exploding population, so the government and some landlords began to come up with new methods to cope such a difficult. That is when the Parliament decided to pass more laws that back up the movement. By gathering the land together and then use the land more scientifically-for example, allocate certain land to grazing and other part of the land for grain planting-a larger amount of crop output could be guaranteed. Besides, “[T]he small size of the strips meant that a poor but thrifty man could hope to add a few more to his holding during his life time. The common grazing land reared very poor cattle-but that was better than no cattle at all. The commoner could hope to maintain at least a cow, which would yield some milk for his children. The woodlands could support a few skinny pigs which, slaughtered in autumn, helped tide the family over the long, hungry winter. The common lands also provided wood, or at least dung, for fuel as well as a certain amount of timber and stone for building.” (E. R. Chamberlin, Change in English Agriculture, page 2)


Nevertheless, enclosure movement’s drawback is also apparent. Even though there is one prerequisite of land combining that four-fifth of land area owners has to agree in order to enclosure, “In fact, four-fifths of the strips could be owned by two or three wealthy farmers while the remaining one-fifth was split up among scores of men.” (E. R. Chamberlin, page 1).

What is worse is that as time flies, those peasants who hold only a small portion of the land share gradually lost their benefits: “[B]ut lawyers’ fees were high; so too was the cost of fencing. Even when he went ahead and paid the fees and the cost of fencing, his small poor holding certainly could not support the cow and two or three pigs that were denied their ancient right of access to the common. There was little choice but to sell what little land he had and either hire himself out as a laborer or take the road that led to the industrial towns-the road which promised so much but which, for so many, was merely the path to a living hell.” (E. R. Chamberlin, page 3) It is not hard to see that peasants have to find another way to support themselves.


While working on the land does not fit for peasants any more, then there is no point to stay in the countryside any more: then, many peasants began to move to major cities. In short words, due the enclosure movement, which set free more human resource, there is more labor force could be allocated in industrialization.


Another social change that need to be noticed is the population explosion between 17th and 19th centuries in Europe.


Several factors contributed to such a dramatic increasing. At first, death caused by war has decreased. Second, “Better methods of hygiene, particularly in the cities, accounted for some of this decline. English cities kept streets cleaner in the late eighteenth century and paid more attention to sewage disposal. In parts of England vaccination reduced the incidence of smallpox, a major traditional killer. There was also an improvement of border controls against entry of diseased persons and animals. The growing efficiency of the Hapsburg government was particularly important in blocking the traditional route of plagues from the Middle East into Europe.” (Peter N. Stearns, Population Growth, published 1975, page 64) Third, what is more important is the improved health and deduction of famine, and it further encouraged birth rate-more sexual activities[y]. (Peter N. Stearns, page 63) Another important aspect lied in the introduction of new crops. At first, farmer rejected potato due to religious reason, but gradually “[But] eighteenth-century governments and enterprising landlords promoted the crop, for increased population was a source of military and economic strength. And peasants gradually converted on their own. For the potato initially answered two traditional needs. It helped assure against periodic famines, and grain failures in the eighteenth century played a major role in spreading reliance on the new crop; and it protected the peasant with only a garden plot, particularly in areas where landlord dominance or repeated division of plots through inheritance left a family with insufficient land to survive. A sensible decision, to adopt the potato, but one that had immense consequences.” (Peter N. Stearns, page 65)


The explosion of population prompted both the commercialization and industrialization. For one thing, the increasing population led to an increasing demand of commercial goods, such as clothes and food. In respect to such a change, farmers and merchant had to expand their production as well. Finally, commercial exchanged increased too.


The increasing exchange helped accumulate the original capital. More peasants lost their farmer position and became workers, and the increasing population consistently provided more workers to the entire society. Gradually, the old institution began to fade, and a brand-new society surfaced: more organized agricultural production, excessive labor force and the emerge of hiring relation between large landlords and workers. When such a new society kept developing, new elements have to show up in order to meet the increasing demands:

then, the industrial revolution began.

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