Class 9 History

The Age of Enclosures

Before 1780s, rapid population growth was usually followed by a period of food shortages in England. But after that, food production matched with population growth. In 1868, England was producing about 80% of the food it consumed and the rest was imported.

This growth in food-grain production could be possible because of bringing new lands under cultivation. Pasturelands, open fields, forest commons, marshes, etc. were taken over by landlords and turned into agricultural fields.

Turnip and Clover as Innovation

The simple innovation used by farmers in this period was growing turnip and clover. These crops helped in improving soil fertility, by replenishing the nitrogen in soil. Moreover, turnip was a good fodder crop also.

Enclosures were now seen as important for making long-term investments on land and for planning crop rotations to improve the soil. Enclosures also helped rich landowners to expand the land under their control and produce more for the market.

What Happened To the Poor?

With the expansion of enclosures, the poor could no longer have access to the commons. They could not collect firewood or graze their cattle, or collect apples or hunt small animals for meat. The poor were displaced from the land. Most of the poor from the Midlands were forced to move to southern counties in search of livelihood. The southern part was most intensely cultivated and hence there was a great demand for agricultural labourers.

During earlier period, the labourers usually lived with the landowners. They used to eat at the master's table and helped him through the year. But this practice was disappearing by 1800. Labourers were now being paid wages and employed only during harvest season. The landowners also cut the wages in order to increase profitability. Thus the poor suffered from job insecurity and unstable income.

Introduction of Threshing Machines

During the Napoleonic Wars, prices of foodgrains were high and farmers vigorously expanded production to grab the opportunity. This was the time when new threshing machines had come into the market. The farmers began buying those machines, as they feared a shortage in labour.

Agricultural Depression

Once the Napoleonic Wars ended, thousands of soldiers returned to the villages. They were looking for work to survive. This was also the time when grain from Europe began coming into England. Prices declined as a result and an Agricultural Depression set in. The landowners reduced the cultivated area and demanded a ban on imports. They also tried to cut the workforce and wages. The unemployed poor moved from village to village in search of job. This was the situation which gave rise to the Swinging Riots.