Enclosures in Britain 1750–1830 by Michael Turner

By Michael Turner

Enclosures in Britain, 1750-1830 (Studies in fiscal and Social heritage)

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The inflexibility was not so much within arable farming as in limiting choice between arable and pastoral or mixed farming. The pressures upon common grazing in Buckinghamshire, for example, created by the undesirable but unavoidable practice of overstocking animals, resulted in bottlenecks in the local economy once the desire to increase pastoral farming at the. expense of arable farming gained momentum. Adjustments in local field and stinting rules inhibited this desire and halted the expansion of animal activities, or even reduced existing ones.

Statutory process was fon11ed with the Scottish one in some ways a precursor of the Westminster General Acts of the mid-nineteenth century [150: 100-10; 144: 454-5; 146). From 1661 to the end of the century a series of acts was passed to promote agrarian reforms and innovations. The first, in 1661, was a general enclosure act obliging, in principle at least, every proprietor whose lands were worth at least £ I 000 Scots in annual rentto enclose a minimum of 4 acres per annum for ten years. Smaller landowners were obliged to enclose proportionately smaller areas.

Were accountancy procedures, however crude, employed? As historians we are wont to analyse the outcome of enclosure in terms of cost-benefit, but did the encloser also view his investment in this way? Purdum's rental analysis rests heavily on an interpretation of opportunity costs, as do those arguments which seek a relationship 44 between chronology of enclosure and movements in the rate of interest, in which the rate of usury is the assumed opportunity cost [ego 72; 74: 136-7]. This question of opportunity costs must be taken further and must not be ignored in examples where enclosure was not financed out of borrowed capital.

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