Search Copy

Beauty and Art in Gardens

England -A Historical Look at Enclosures

January 30th, 2012 By Karen Elzinga

England- A historical look at Enclosures.

England's enclosures saw many changes over numerous centuries, most of which were levelled at satisfying the landowning elites desire for sustainability, growth, management power, and undeniable procurement of wealth. How England's enclosures changed over centuries, from the division and sharing of land, to the semi private land titles that came with conditions. How these changes heralded important economical advancements in how England was able to procure viable agriculture, and live stock industries will all be addressed. The introduction of Parliamentary enclosures saw the wealthy landowners, legally able to squeeze out small landholders and tenants, evicting them and pulverizing on mass entire villages, this and how landholders increased rents to astronomical figures to guarantee land productivity. The influence that master landscaper Lancelot (Capability) Brown had on the landholding elite, and how they used his influence for creating "natural" gardens by vigorously excavating whole forests, before replacing them with strategically placed shrubs and bushes are issues that will be touched upon in this blog post.

The enclosure of land signaled an important change to the viable and sustainable economic history of England (Bradley, 1918), by the fifteenth century enclosed land made up 45% of English land (Warde, 2004). In its earliest form, community land was segregated by un-plowed turf that was designed to boarder individual strips of land; the landholders were then given limited access to this land for private use, whereby crops were planted. After harvest the private land again became common pastoral land, where the villagers were able to share and flocks would graze. Under this law there was no room for initiative in crop development or individuality, when and what crops were planted was the decision of the parish or village collectively. Later a new system was introduced that placed no restrictions on land usage or individuals, this period became known as the enclosure movement.

During the enclosure movement land became separated into compact land plots that were methodically divided by ditches or hedge trees planted in a line. This was done in order to screen off and divide land masses, to provide a natural looking environment that didn't infringe on the look of land holder estates, and were simple enough to be altered or changed with little fuss. With the new private landowning system set in motion, the problem of where the sheep were to graze became a high priority issue. The price of wool was on the rise, and it was deemed a viable and sort after commodity. Landowners recognized this and the need to have more room for grazing sheep, they decided to use surrounding land otherwise being used by peasant villagers, as a result many people were displaced in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in favor of sheep (Bradley, 1918). This unsettlement lead to major unrest, and placed food supplies in jeopardy (Warde, 2004).

At the conclusion of the sixteenth century the first of the enclosure movements came to an end, the reason thought to be that the wool price fell and was not as strong as the wheat price, thus the re-conversion of individual enclosed land was returned to open pastures. This continued unattested into the seventeenth century after the land was deemed infertile, thought to be due to over productivity in the preceding centuries. Gradually after years of resting the soil they were able to use the land for crops again; (Bradley, 1918) this saw a rapid expansion in enclosures once more through the seventeenth century.

With new improved techniques in farming (Bradley, 1918) such as a mechanical seeding machine pulled by horses, that planted seeds into neat rows, and new techniques by Charles Townshend, who insisted on crop rotation, and William Coke who instilled new fertilizing ideas, a better management of estates was able. Exponential rise and demand for pastoral products was at its highest peak and resulted in Landlords seeing the need to work with tenants in order to fill quotas. Peaceful agreements, and understanding about its use followed between the two parties during this time of transition, into mass farming (Warde, 2004), (Kreis, 2001).

From 1760 to 1820 saw the introduction of Parliamentary enclosures; under new parliamentary acts landholders who owned 80% of land titles, were able to overrule any ideas or objections from landholders who owned only small land lots (Warde, 2004). In order for the elite landowning farmers to gain efficient land use they required the freedom to do to the land as they saw fit, which was impossible at the time. The nature of the three field system which had previously dominated English land for centuries, meant they could not cultivate what or how or even when they wished to. With a vested interest the landowners set out to change this attitude, which proved a difficult and expensive venture, but one that eventually was written into law.

Between (1750 -1760), 150 acts of law introduced to parliament were passed. Between (1800-1810) over 900 enclosure acts were added (Keish, 2001), and by 1845 a total of 4,000 private acts of enclosure existed and had been written into law. These acts covered 7,000,000 acres of English land which was officially enclosed and it was believed that another 7,000,000 was enclosed unofficially (Slater, 1913). The enclosure acts were passed into parliament in order to increase the rate at which agriculture could be grown, as it was expected that the population of people would double in the eighteenth century, and they needed to increase food resources to cope with the level of population explosion (Keish, 2001).

In the eighteenth century the manufacturing industry was booming, factory owners, brokers and bankers, who had acquired their fortunes through the industrial economic and colonial investment expansions, were for the first time able to purchase land that had previously only been afforded to the aristocracy. This rising middle class proved a powerful mix that used their power and influence within the parliament to their advantage. They enforced the appropriate enclosure acts on the peasant folk which lead to the destruction and the ultimate relinquishing of common rights amongst small land owners. Although compensated for their losses, they could ill afford to produce fertile crops for little costs, and thus were simply not able to compete with the competitive pricing structures of the wealthier land owners (Warde, 2004). Eventually peasant farmers had their land reprocessed and had to find work in new industrial factories that had begun emerging throughout England (Kreis, 2001). After the acquirement of their own personal wealth through the acquisition of large land masses, large land owners in turn had expansive residences built on their new found estates, and had their gardens lavishly landscaped. (Lead catalog essay from the exhibition, 2005).

The popularity of landscaping increased during the late seventeenth century and continued into the eighteenth century with the "Natural" English garden, and the influence of Lancelot Brown evident. His nickname was Capability, which referred to his strengths in identifying and resolving problematic estates, and turning them into splendid natural beauty (Lead catalog essay from the exhibition, 2005). In the late seventeenth century when the 1st Duke of Northumberland inherited Alnwick Castle, he hired Capability Brown to landscape his gardens; he did this by clearing entire forests and re-planting trees that ran along the estates perimeter, giving the impression that the estate was very large. He even moved the river Aln, changing its direction so that it would not impede his design. Brown, although very methodical and brutal in his approach, was still able to render his designs to resemble a natural looking landscape (Capability Brown Landscape, n.d.).

Brown even went so far as to simply move anything that got in his way, Milton Abbas a village in Dorset was relocated to the left in 1773, after Brown declared that he wanted that area to build a new lake for the landowner, Lord Milton (Titchmarsh, 2003, 97). Although Brown died in 1783, his legacy for creating natural looking gardens lived on. (Lead catalog essay from the exhibition, 2005). Like Brown, many gardeners of the Georgian era, felt that because of worsening relations with the French, that copying their garden styles was unpatriotic, they longed for change seeing the French mathematically precise style gardens with straight lines, geometric shapes and precisely clipped evergreens to formal, thus taking England in a new garden direction which would eventually become a leading style across Europe (Titchmarsh, 2003, 94).

Only the extremely wealthy landholders with excessive land mass could afford these style gardens, as they required a certain amount of land for the desired look to be accommodated, in certain cases only achieved with certain take no prisoners attitude. Land was often completely re-arranged with landscapers reshaping whole hills, and building make shift dwellings to look like ruins that were visible from stately homes, allowing for classical but very natural rustic feeling gardens (Titchmarsh, 2003, 97).

Short mowed lawn expanses, vistas, serpentine footpaths, the naturally situated placement of tree groves and shrubs, the excavation of large trees, transplanting of others, and the creation of large man made lakes that were purposely created to reflect and resemble naturally derived ones, were also favorites amongst large landholding elite (Lead catalogue essay from the exhibition, 2005). The need for land estates to look more impressive and expansive was high on the order, landholders used every available garden trick including the use of ha-ha's which were ditches or sunken walls that replaced outer estate ground level walls or hedges, the idea was to give the impression that estate went on and on, whilst they were also able to keep animals enclosed (Titchmarsh, 2003, 98), (Tatter, 1997). Horace Walpole a writer, even went so far as to use a dwarf cattle breed to give the illusion of larger expansive looking grounds (Titchmarsh, 2003, 98).

With this style garden at its peak, the eagerness by landowners to improve estate grounds and further agricultural resources came once again the enforcement's by the landlords utilizing enclosure acts, to squeeze out small land holders and tenants. The ideology in theory was enterprising, but undeniably it came at a high price to the poor. Many tenants were evicted in favor of tenants who could develop and sustain the land more productively, thus providing landlords in turn with higher returns on rent. Some landlords going so far as to place rents up by seven times to dispose of unworthy, lazy, and unmanageable tenants. The consequences on villages by the enclosure laws was immense, it meant whole villages were devoured in favor of landscaping gardens and furthering of sustainable agriculture. The once manageable 2-3 acre strips of farming land that tenants were able to afford previously, became non discript. Re-zoning of land into larger defined farms, meant that the small land renters could no longer afford to farm for themselves, thus they were forced to move or become laborers on farms of the wealthy; leaving landholders free for leisure activities whilst leaving the humble peasant, crushed, impoverished and despaired working their fields. (Slater, 1913), (Titchmarsh, 2003, 97).
In conclusion early history throughout England has taught us that though brutal and barbaric at the times to villages and the poor, the introduction of the parliamentary enclosure acts did do a measurable service to England's economic position in industry and manufacturing, and had huge impact around the world in influencing garden aesthetics, mythology and ideology. This essay has spoken about the earliest forms of enclosures being formed from tufts of grass through to the introduction of parliamentary enclosures made from ditches and hedges, it discloses how the enclosure acts were implemented, who influenced them, and the landowners that exploited it for their own benefit. Gardens were a huge feature of the estate of wealthy landlords, the impact of how popular culture impacted how these gardens were designed and built is addressed, here the work of Lancelot Brown is spoken of and how his desire for a natural looking landscape was born from a desire for change from the style of the French in the Georgian era. The desire of landlords to make small estates appear larger by the use of clever gardening tricks is one that still exists today, even in the smallest of outdoor spaces. Although the landlords of the time had an agenda, it is easy to acknowledge that as world community much has been learnt from their actions, both good and bad.

By Karen Elzinga (Copyrighted)


This product has been added to your cart