UPPER SIXTH
ENCLOSURES
Between the 16th and 19th century, farming became increasingly commercial. Discuss three effects on features of the rural landscape, e.g. field system and settlement pattern.

During this time, the crop rotation pattern changed from a three to four year rotation. The type of cropping and fallow techniques adopted depended on the region and soil in which the farm was located. The crucial factor involved in the rotation of land between crops and fallow periods of recovery was the time taken to restore the quality of the soil after successive crops—with the best known form of rotation associated with open-field cultivation. Leaving the field untilled or unsown was important for allowing the essential element nitrogen to enter the soil via nitrogen fixation. Consequently, a major innovation during the Agricultural Revolution was the introduction of new fodder crops (especially turnips and legumes) with nitrogen-fixing properties, which reduced the need for the fallow period. Animals fed on the crops, and thus raised the quality of the manure spread on the land. Since manure was the main fertilizer used at the time, its increased supply enlarged the productivity yields per acre. It was the light soils of southern and eastern England which proved the most accommodating to new crops and rotations. These areas enjoyed a longer working season than the clay soil of the Midlands, which at one time was the principal grain-producing area of England. As a result, the Midlands gradually transferred land into pasture farming under the stimulus of the stagnant and falling grain prices which hit Europe between 1650 and 1750. This in turn proved to be a significant factor in labour productivity, since developments in mixed farming increased the role of cattle and sheep in field rotation. Thus, at a time of falling grain prices the increase in animal manure stimulated higher cereal yields. Furthermore, the increased use of horses in agriculture during the 18th century allowed soil to be heavily tilled, and enabled the spread of chalk, lime, shells, sand, and organic manure into the land.

During the 1830s and 1840s, the Norfolk four-course rotation, the most celebrated of the new crop rotations, which involved successive annual crops of wheat, turnips, barley, and clover, rapidly became the major process of cultivation. Farmers also looked beyond their own supply of manure and fodder for supplies, and from the late 1840s capital-intensive high farming took the lead. Most farmers during the 17th century practiced some form of livestock-farming, but it was always considered secondary to the central importance of the corn crop. It was not until the 19th century that livestock-farming was seen to be profitable in its own right. Scientific developments to improve stocks by breeding began in the early 18th century.

To feed Britain's rapidly expanding population required an efficient transport system, which in turn altered the traditional location and importance of market centres. Accompanying these changes were more regularized rules governing weights and measures to assist large-scale dealing. Consequently, the supply of grain, animals, fruit, and vegetables to towns greatly improved. In this way, the turnpike road improvements, coastal shipping, canal routes, and later the building of a railway network, were significant factors in agricultural distribution and development. The isolated settlements became linked by small networks of roads, between the hedges of enclosed land, and the largest settlement in a region developed as a market centre. The development of the hamlet ended, and the development of the market town stepped up a gear. The English settlement pattern developed a nucleus around the market centre, within travelling distance. The sphere of influence around each market town was rapidly established.

Parliamentary enclosure was an important change on the rural landscape. The primary reason for enclosure was simply land reclamation, rather than the reorganization of arable land for increased efficiency. Reclamation of waste and common land enabled a shift to larger farms, in which it was often pointless to enclose small farms. Consequently, numerous small farm owners could not manage to feed their families, because their subsistence had relied on customary rights of grazing, hunting, and other activities embedded within the ancient usage of the common lands. As a result, these small landowners were forced to sell up to large landowners. Enclosure resulted in the fields varying enormously in size. The traditional furlongs were replaced by fields from 5 to 60 hectares in size; dependent on the landowner’s wealth. The hedged ‘patchwork quilt’ field pattern of England appeared, and altered the landscape irrevocably.

The traditional view that enclosure was enacted to replace the supposed inefficiency of open-field farming has been disproved by historical evidence. Open fields were actually much more responsive to economic and technological changes than was once thought. However, enclosure did result in a significant alteration in the mix between arable and animal farming. It gave farmers the freedom to be flexible in the use of their land, and it rationalized tenancies at the poor end of the land market while greatly increasing land turnover. The growing number of farm animals also implies that the population was becoming less dependent on grain alone for its food, and therefore a more mixed and healthy diet was emerging. Agricultural output between 1750 and 1850 roughly doubled, with produce like wheat increasing fourfold. This was mainly through an increase in the land available for cultivation, and to a lesser extent via changing farm practices.