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The Inclosure or Enclosure Acts were a series of United Kingdom Acts of Parliament which enclosed open fields and common land in the country, creating legal property rights to land that was previously considered common. Between 1604 and 1914, over 5,200 individual Enclosure Acts were put into place, enclosing 6.8 million acres of land (almost 11,000.)
Prior to the privatization of England, the majority of the land was categorized as “common” or “waste.” “Common” land was under some kind of collective control. Called the open field system, a single plot of land was divided among groups, often a lord and employed or participating peasants. This facilitated common grazing and crop rotation. 'Waste' was the only land not officially claimed by any group, often cultivated by landless peasants.
Enclosure Acts for small areas had been passed sporadically since the 12th century, but with the rise of the Industrial Revolution they became more commonplace. In search of better financial returns, landowners looked for more efficient farming techniques. Enclosures were also created so that landowners could charge higher rent to the people working the land. This was at least partially responsible for peasants leaving the countryside to work in the city in industrial factories.
In 1801 the Inclosure (Consolidation) Act was passed to tidy up previous acts. In 1845 another General Inclosure Act allowed for the appointment of Inclosure Commissioners who could enclose land without submitting a request to Parliament.
Some enclosures had to be carried out by force, and many sparked resistance from people with rights to the common land, including the tearing down of fences used to enclose the land. As a historically significant process of land privatisation, the Enclosure Acts are sometimes seen as building blocks of capitalism and theft by major landowners from the peasantry.
The Enclosure Acts 1845 to 1882 means: