The legal process of gaining an enclosure could be long, complicated and expensive …. It could take up to six years, during which time a farmer did not know what was happening or how to farm. (S. Wade Martins, Farms and Fields (1995), p. 81).
The impact of parliamentary enclosure in England has been a subject for debate since at least the 1870s. A series of issues has been identified and discussed including the costs of enclosure; the effect of enclosure on small farmers, small owners, and cottagers; the role of the commissioners; the implications for farm sizes; the impact on agricultural productivity and rents; and the significance for the landscape. Yet the quotation with which we open this paper suggests that there is a subject which has slipped through the historical net, the impact of enclosure on farming. In their work published early in the twentieth century the Hammonds noted of the enclosure of Stanwell in Middlesex (Act 1789) that the nominated commissioners were empowered to direct the course of husbandry ‘as well with respect to the stocking as to the Plowing, Tilling, Cropping, Sowing, and Laying down the same’. W.H.R. Curtler, in 1920, quoted the main substance of the clauses from the Cold Aston (Gloucestershire) enclosure act of 1795: ‘from the passing of the Act until the Award the Commissioners were to direct the course of husbandry in the open fields’. He noted also that earlier acts had stated that the existing course of husbandry should be retained until the award was completed. W.E. Tate wrote as recently as 1967 that during enclosure ‘the general course of agriculture in all the open fields was being carried out under directions laid down by the commissioners’.