There is a tendency nowadays among a certain school of economists and social reformers to overlook the important part which the land question plays in problems of to-day; because it is seen that in a great many cases the actual price or rent of land forms but a small proportion of the value of the property which is erected upon it there is a tendency to assume that an improvement in our land system could produce but small results. This appears to me to be a fallacy for several reasons.
In the first place all forms of wealth, when traced to their source, are products of the soil, and one should look at the toll which the ownership of land has levied upon them at every stage of production in order to form an idea of its importance. Moreover, the share which the land-owner is able to exact tends to absorb, and sometimes more than absorb, the narrow margin between profit and loss in even a substantial proportion of the enterprises which are or might be undertaken by industrious folk, while he has contributed nothing towards the success of those enterprises. It seems to me to follow that, even if that rent is only a small proportion of the total cost of production, it is just that element which forms the decisive factor in producing stagnation and unemployment. It is an interesting speculation to consider how differently the great industrial development of this country might have worked out if it had not been preceded and accompanied by the vast enclosures of land to which Mr. Geary calls attention.
There appears to be no doubt that on the one hand agriculture conducted under the system in force under the land laws of Great Britain for many years past has failed, and still fails, to make full use of the resources of our country; and on the other hand that the development of our industrial life and the growth of great cities have by the same laws been forced into unnatural channels with unsatisfactory results. If, moreover, we include in the land question, as undoubtedly we should do, the subject of taxation, local and Imperial, as applied to real property, we see at once an influence of a most far-reaching and sinister character upon the development of agriculture, industry, and building.
Anyone who will study Mr. Geary's book cannot fail to be convinced that here is a vast problem for solution. If it stimulates many to the further study of that problem I am sure that Mr. Geary will have rendered a valuable service.
A.S. COMYNS CARR
1. Unemployment definition. Work only a means to an end the obtaining of wealth
The greatest evil in any community is unemployment, that strange state of affairs where certain members of the population find themselves quite unable to provide for their subsistence, although they are perfectly strong and quite able and willing to work. It is the purpose of this inquiry to discover, if possible, the cause of unemployment, and to indicate the remedy.
What man really wants is not work for work's sake, but the opportunity to work as a means to an end, that end being the obtaining of the wealth that labour brings. If there are men in existence who, able and willing to work, are yet unable to procure the wealth which they need, it must be that somewhere in the circle of exchanges between goods and services, production has been prevented and has ceased. Obviously production has ceased on the part of the unemployed man, and it is equally clear that production has been restricted on the part of those who would gladly give him goods in exchange for his labour.
2. Land and labour the essential factors of production. Capital a derivative factor. Land affords opportunities for employment
It will be as well to see at the outset whether we can limit our inquiry as to direction, so as not to be groping blindly in the dark; and to ensure this, we must be quite clear in the first place as to how wealth is produced.
The essential factors of production are land, which includes all the natural physical resources of the country, and labour; and all wealth is produced by the application of labour to land. This production is brought about by adapting, changing or combining natural products to fit them for the satisfaction of human desires, by utilising the reproductive forces of Nature, and by exchanging the products of labour.
Capital is not an essential factor in the same way as land and labour are essential, for it is itself the product of labour and land is, in fact, wealth used for a particular purpose, the production of more wealth. It is, however, a necessary factor for all but the lowest forms of production; but the fact that it is a derivative factor and not a primary factor like land or labour must be borne in mind. All production, therefore including both the production of wealth and the production of services requires that labour should have access to land, some forms of production requiring land to a greater extent than others, but all requiring it nevertheless.
The land of Great Britain may thus be regarded as affording opportunities for producing wealth, opportunities for employment. Every acre is, as it were, an opportunity for producing so much wealth, varying from that land from which little can be produced to land in the City of London which provides opportunities for the production of enormous wealth.
3. Supply and demand with reference to labour
The supply of labour may be defined as that part of the population capable of working, and the demand for labour as the aggregate demand of the whole population for commodities and services to satisfy their wants that is, a demand not only of those who form the supply of labour, but also of the dependent members of the family. It is this demand for goods for consumption which determines the direction of production; and human wants being unlimited in number, the total demand is always increasing.
4. Man's labour capable of satisfying his own demands directly access to land necessary
Every man, then, possesses the supply of brain and muscular energy, his labour, for satisfying his own demand for wealth, and for this reason the exchange of labour for commodities ought to present no difficulties. But labour by itself is insufficient, and can produce neither wealth nor services without access to land.
Man can thus satisfy his desires by exchanging his labour with someone who can give him the goods he wants, or by going directly to the land, producing his own subsistence, and exchanging his surplus for other goods he needs. In each case access to land is essential.
5. Supply of labour apparently in excess of the demand actually demand is ahead of supply
The continuance of widespread unemployment makes it appear as if the supply of labour must be in excess of the demand. When, for every opportunity for employment "provided," as the phrase goes, by some employer, the applicants far outnumber the men required, it really seems that there is no work for the surplus who remain unemployed that they are, in fact, part of an excess supply.
If we consider this carefully, however, we shall see that whatever else may be wrong, it cannot be that supply is in excess of demand. While wants are unsatisfied, how can supply be greater than demand, and as human wants are unlimited it is difficult to see how supply could ever exceed demand. It must also be remembered that every unit of supply is also a unit of demand, and usually each unit of supply has other units of demand to supply in addition to its own.
The progress of inventions and labour-saving devices, though it may, and certainly should, lessen the amount of toil that each unit of supply need undergo in order to satisfy the dependent units of demand, can never make the supply of labour of any unit superfluous; for wealth only resulting from labour and land, each unit of supply must supply some labour in order to obtain the wealth it requires. It would seem, therefore, not incorrect to say that demand is always in excess or ahead of supply.
6. No shortage of capital. Capital the product of labour and land
Is there, then, a shortage of capital? Can we say that it is an insufficiency of capital that causes unemployment, that makes men unable to obtain the wealth they want, or to produce from the land for themselves? Obviously no, when everywhere we see idle capital as well as idle labour. But even if there were a shortage of capital, this would soon be made good, for capital itself is a product of land and labour. It is for this reason that capital cannot limit industry, but only the form of industry, and not even this for long, where there is the opportunity for producing more capital, and security afforded for its growth.
7. Unemployment inconceivable as long as "opportunities for employment" are available
If, then, the supply of labour is sufficient and not in excess of the demand, and if there is also ample capital, there is only one other factor of production to look to, namely, land. Is there sufficient land in this country, or are men without the goods they so urgently require, because there is insufficient land from which their labour might produce wealth? This, it seems to us, must be the crux of the whole question; for if there is insufficient land this would explain why the supply of labour could not produce wealth directly to meet its own demand and the demand of others.
In considering this question it will be necessary to understand exactly the meaning of sufficient land. It will not be enough to show that there is a sufficient area of land, for that done it will be necessary to proceed farther and inquire whether this land is easily accessible to labour for the production of wealth. Though the actual area of land be sufficient, yet if it is not available to labour for the drawing forth of wealth, for all practical purposes it might as well be nonexistent.
Land, as we have said, is Nature's provision of "opportunities for employment," or what is the same thing, "opportunities for producing wealth," and it seems quite clear, therefore, that as long as there are any such opportunities available, what we know as unemployment would be inconceivable.
8. Something preventing supply of labour from satisfying demand. If area of land sufficient, what is obstacle preventing the access of labour?
We now arrive at this point, that if the supply of labour is not in excess of the demand, and yet there are men who lack the goods they want, the reason must be that the supply of labour is in some way prevented from satisfying demand; and this can mean either that those in employment are unable to produce (or obtain) sufficient to enable them to satisfy their demands, and so have no use for the labour of others, or that those unemployed are unable to go to Nature to the land and produce wealth directly for themselves. In either case it must be that there is insufficient land or that labour is denied access to the land.
Our inquiry must, then, be directed towards ascertaining whether there is a sufficient area of land in this country to provide opportunities for employment for those who need the results of labour; and if we arrive at the conclusion that there is and there will be little doubt that this must be the conclusion we shall have to see what is the nature of the obstacle preventing labour from getting to the land to produce wealth to satisfy its wants i.e. what it is that is preventing the supply of labour from meeting and satisfying the demand for labour.
9. Historical inquiry into the relation between land tenure and employment
We shall pursue this inquiry on historical lines by investigating from before the Conquest until the present day the relations existing at various times between employment and the availability of land. "Availability" of land, once we have seen that the area is sufficient, must depend on the method by which that land is held or on the system of tenure obtaining at any particular period. We shall also endeavour to show the actual extent of the opportunities for employment afforded by the land of this country.
By such an inquiry we hope to be able to point to the cause of unemployment,
to show if possible how it originated, and also to indicate the remedy.
SAXON ENGLAND LAND TENURE AND EMPLOYMENT
1. Village communities with much arable land
In order to understand the economy of Saxon England in the years immediately preceding the Conquest, we must picture to ourselves a land of vills or village communities, each of which was self-sufficing save for a few commodities such as iron and salt. Each of these vills had a very large area of arable as compared with grass or meadow lands, and was usually separated from others by more or less extensive stretches of waste and unappropriated land, which was often dense forest. The arable land stretched away from the village in two or three great open fields, one of which lay fallow, and the various holdings of the peasants lay scattered in acre and half-acre strips throughout these fields. Each house was usually surrounded by a small enclosure, and there were often small consolidated holdings of a few acres scattered round the fields. Ploughing was done co-operatively and the meadow-land was open, except at hay harvest. The waste was used as common rough pasture.
From Domesday Book, 1086, we learn that the vills were most thickly
populated in the east, south-east, and east Midlands, and that population
diminished towards the west, some few of the royal vills possessed 100
families and more, but the average was much less. The Hundred of Armingford,
in Cabridgeshire, had approximately 32 families per vill, while Cornwall
often had only 5 or 6 families.* Domesday records some 25,000 servi or
serfs, and the number of these in each vill increases from east to west,
many vills in Cornwall and the west consisting of half slaves. The free
members of the community varied from sokemen to cotters, according to
status, etc., the thane corresponding to some extent with the lord of Norman
times. The normal holding of a free household was probably the hide of 120
* Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond.
2. The lordship of the community. Folkland and Bookland
All land was either "folkland" or "bookland," but it is not at all clear
exactly what these terms meant. According to Maitland, "bookland is land
held by book, by a royal and ecclesiastical privilegium. Folkland is
land held without book, by unwritten title, by the folk-law."* He also
states that "bookland" was only held by churches and very great men, and
that ordinary freemen certainly did not have "books" or charters; also that
the term "folkland" meant that the folk or community owned "a superiority or
seigniory over land," and land held by "book" by a church might be held as
"folkland" by the freemen cultivating it.
* Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond, p.257.
Grants out of the "folkland" by "book" could only be made by the King with the consent of his Witan as representatives of the whole community. But even in the case of such a grant the community did not lose all control over the "bookland," for if the terms of the "book" were not kept, the community might resume control. Also the land was not granted out and out free of all services and dues to the community. King Alfred, in his Blossom Gatherings out of St. Augustine, speaks of a settler on loan-land hoping to obtain some day "bookland" and "permanent inheritance." This may mean that "bookland" was not unknown among small peasants, or that settled and occupied land with permanent inheritance became known as "bookland," although no actual "book" or charter was in existence. Bede also referred to "folkland" as the common stock from which grants might be made.
Whatever, therefore, may have been the exact meaning of these terms, it
seems clear that the unoccupied and unappropriated land of the country was
called "folkland," and that when such land became "bookland" the chief
characteristics of "folkland" usually still adhered to it that is, the
"seignory or lordship" of the community remained. The term "folkland" would
seem to have arisen from the fact that the land of each province belonged
originally and ultimately to the folk of that province, and that although
permanent inheritance might be granted in this land, either with or without
a "book," to an individual or to a community, yet the community as a whole
retained the absolute ownership.* At the end of the Saxon period "folkland"
had come to be known as the "King's folkland," probably because the King, as
head of the community, shared with the community their rights in the
* See also Pollock, The Land Laws.
3. The free and unfree vill. Commendation
Vills were of two kinds, the lordless or free vill and the vill dominated by
a thane. These free vills, where the peasants were free to leave or to sell
their land when they liked, predominated in the counties of the Danelaw, and
as half the then population of England was within these counties, it will be
seen that the free and lordless village community was by no means the
exception. As Maitland says: "Any theory of English history must face the
free, the lordless village, and must account for it as for one of the normal
phenomena which existed in the year of grace 1066.... We have before us
villages which, taken as wholes, have no lords."*
* Maitland, Domesday, p.141.
As regards the vills dominated by a thane or lord, this great man was not
originally the landlord of the vill, but more nearly resembled the highland
chieftain, who was chief or lord of his clan, but not the owner of the land
occupied by the clan. The lord was the protector of the community, who had
surrendered a part of their freedom to him in return for his help, a
practice known as "commendation." This did not give the lord any rights of
ownership over the arable land of the vill outside his own demesne, but only
to the dues paid by the cultivators in return for his protection. This
relation of chief and man was, however, gradually becoming a relation of
landlord and tenant, and as this change came about, the waste or unoccupied
land of the village community came to be known as the "lord's waste," not
meaning that it was the absolute property of the lord, but that he, in
common with the rest of the vill, had rights over it. In referring to the
rights of the village community over this waste land as affected by the
Statute of Merton, Digby says: "It is worthy of observation that the rights
of common here contemplated must have rested on ancient custom; it could not
have been supposed by the framers of this statute that the right had at some
former date been granted by the lord according to the theory of later
* Digby, An Introduction to the History of the Law of Real Property.
4. Landless and lordless men anomalies
Every man in the Saxon village community and the town was only a large
village depended wholly or in great part for his livelihood on work on the
land. The landless man or the lordless man was an anomaly in the Saxon
economy. The landless consisted of followers and serfs, and the follower was
a freeman who might become a holder of land. After a year's satisfactory
service he was allotted 2 acres of land, one of which was sown, and he might
better his position, for, according to the R.S.P.,* "if he earn more
let it be to his own advantage." The lordless man, too, was regarded as an
outlaw, one whom "no law can reach," but there would seem to be no reason
why the law should not reach a lordless man provided he had land, and so the
early laws dealing with these men are plainly directed against the landless
man in particular, and the lordless man because he is also a landless man.
The landless man who was without a lord was regarded as a wastrel or
criminal, and rightly so, for his position was an unnecessary one.
Aethelstan's laws deal with these men as follows: "And we have ordained
respecting those lordless men, respecting such an one as no law can reach,
that the kindred be commanded to appoint a home for him according to
'folchriht,' and to find a lord for him in the folk-moot; and if they will
not or cannot produce him at the day appointed, then let him be henceforth a
'flyma,' and let whoever can come at him slay him as a thief." And again:
"And we have ordained if any landless man shall become a follower in another
'shire' and again seek his kindred, that they shall harbour him only on the
consideration that if he do evil there they will present him to 'folchriht'
or do bot for him."
* Rectitudines Singularum Personarum.
5. Access to land. New Settlements
Cultivators and settlers were in demand in Saxon times and for many years
after, and the demand furnished by the thanes' need for help on the demesne,
and the opportunities afforded by the unoccupied land of the vill, were far
greater than the supply of labour. King Alfred* has described to us how a
new settlement was begun, and pictures a man building a cottage on
"loan-land," cultivating the land and employing himself in fowling and
fishing, in the hope that after a time he would be allowed to hold it as
"bookland." New vills or hams were started in clearings in forests or on
waste land, and a grant of the "folk-land" would be made to the new
community. Sometimes these settlements consisted of a single household, and
often, in the west country especially, did not exceed four or six families.
New fields and holdings were from time to time carved out of the unoccupied
land adjoining the open fields, and the thane frequently provided new
settlers with an outfit. The R.S.P. speaks of the gebur as receiving
2 oxen, 1 cow, 6 sheep, and 7 acres of his usual holding of 30 acres ready
sown, together with agricultural implements and household utensils and the
first year free of the usual services. In Wales, too, every freeman received
5 acres, with hunting rights and rights over the waste, and the unfree were
not without land and cattle of their own. Land was easily transferable in
Saxon England. It could be devised by will and possessory rights could be
* Blossom Gatherings.
Seebohm, English Village Community.
6. No lack of work. Land for all
It has been seen that landless men, and especially landless men who were not under the protection of a lord, were anomalies in Saxon times, and the law compelled such a landless man to get him a lord, which was probably the surest way of getting him settled on the land. No man need be without land, and all were able to live in rude plenty from the produce of their farms, forests and fish-ponds. There were no freemen who had to depend for their living on work offered by an employer, for the land was open to all and new settlers were welcomed; even the serfs, who were not very numerous, were able to accumulate some property of their own, and in many cases farmed small holdings of land.
Poor there probably were through lack of diligence or infirmity, but the
latter at any rate would be looked after by their families or assisted by
the Church out of the abundance of the food produced. But paupers,
able-bodied men unable to obtain work, we do not hear of, for the simple
reason that they did not exist, and it will be readily seen could not exist
in Saxon England.
DOMESDAY BOOK STATISTICS NEW THEORY OF TENURE
1. Domesday Book its information. The Manor
The great inquest of 1086, known as the Domesday Book, was, in fact, the first Royal Commission in this country to inquire into and report on the size and value of agricultural holdings, number and status of the cultivators, and numbers of cattle, etc., both as they were in 1066, in the time of Edward the Confessor, and as the Commissioners themselves found them under the Feudal System of William. This Report supplies us with a great deal of useful information, statistical and otherwise, which will help us considerably as we proceed with our inquiry.
We are introduced for the first time to the manor, which was a taxable unit,
and although it is not clear exactly what the Domesday manor comprised, it
coincided sufficiently often with the Saxon vill to enable us to refer to
the Norman village community as a manor. The place of the thane is now taken
by the Norman lord, and often the thane has been degraded to the status of a
villein. We also find many former free tenants holding by unfree services.
The villein of Domesday corresponds in some respects to the gebur of Saxon
times, but he was unfree in the sense that his services and dues were far
more exacting than anything paid before 1066. The normal holding of the
villein was about 30 acres of arable land in the common fields, and he held
this at the will* of his lord. Villeins made up about 38% of the recorded
population, and the borders and cotters about 32%. Serfs are recorded to the
number of 25,000, but the number of these had diminished since 1066,
especially in the eastern counties and in Essex. In most cases the lordless
vills have been provided with Norman lords.
* See Chapter IV, par.11, and Chapter VIII, pars.12, 13.
2. New theory of tenure
Before considering some of the statistics furnished by Domesday Book it will
be as well to notice the new theories of land-ownership introduced with the
Conquest. We no longer hear of "folkland," for this has become terra
regis, the "King's land," his absolute property, and the manor,
including the unoccupied waste land within its limits, has come to be
regarded as the property of the lord of the manor, held of the King, it is
true, but nevertheless subject to the rendering of certain services, for all
practical purposes his land. "And the Domesday description, let us repeat,
shows that all these claims were advanced on the morrow of the Conquest and
went with the Conquest settlement." "The legal theory of the feudal state
treats them (the rights of the several dwellers and cultivators of the
locality) as derived from a private and exclusive ownership of the lord. The
lord's ownership itself may be considered as a dependent tenure and traced
ultimately to a grant of the King as eminent owner of the whole land of the
* Vinogradoff, The Growth of the Manor.
3. No land without a lord
"No land without a lord" was the principle which necessarily followed from these new theories of tenure, and the idea of land being owned by the community as distinct from the King and the lords had no place in the Norman Feudal System. The small tenants of the manors each looked to a superior lord, who had also become now for most purposes a landlord. This new theory, however, was one which would not be likely to show itself as revolutionary or dangerous all at once, especially if the King insisted on the lords rendering all the services which they owed in respect of their land. For the King to share with the whole community the rights over the land was a very different state of affairs from the King being owner of the land without any reference to the community. Similarly, for the Saxon thane to have recognized rights over the waste in common with the other cultivators of the vill was very different from the lord being the owner of the waste and unoccupied land, who of his grace permitted the villagers to have certain rights of common over his land.
4. Population and cultivation. A vast area of arable land
The information given by Domesday Book is confined chiefly to England south
of Yorkshire and Cheshire. If we reckon the recorded men as heads of
families and multiply these by five we get a population of 1,375,000.* There
are 75,000 teams recorded, and allowing 120 acres to each, we arrive at a
total of some 9,000,000 acres of arable land. We obtain much the same result
from the number of hides at 120 acres each. The hide was 120 acres of arable
land, and included in addition sufficient pasture and waste to provide for
the animals kept on such a holding. This is an enormous extent of arable
land, and when we come to analyse county by county we find that often more
than half the county area was under the plough, and frequently the arable
land was considerably more than it is to-day, and this with a population of
one and a half millions or less. We shall have more of these comparisons to
make in a later chapter, but to give two examples now: The area of
Buckinghamshire is now 477,308 acres and that of Sussex 928,735 acres.
Domesday Book gives 269,000 acres of arable for Buckinghamshire and 371,000
for Sussex. The area of arable in Buckinghamshire in 1924 was 119,829 acres
and in Sussex 217,916 acres.
* Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond.
Agricultural Statistics, 1924.
5. Arable not in excess of requirements
By way of corroborating these calculations, based on the team and the hide, Maitland shows that the acreage of arable land arrived at would not be too great for the satisfaction of wants at that time. He estimates that out of the 9,000,000 acres, 5,000,000 would be sown annually, and as the English were great drinkers of barley beer, a third of this must be deducted for beer-land, on which barley and oats would be grown. This leaves little more than 2 acres per head of population, without taking into account the animals that have to be fed; and even leaving 2 acres for each person and reckoning 4 bushels per acre (produce 6 bushels per acre and 2 bushels allowed for seed a high estimate), we are only allowing 1 quarter of grain each, and this is none too much.
"In the twelfth century the corn-rents paid to the Bishop of Durham often
comprised malt, wheat and oats in equal quantities. In the next century the
economy of the canons of St. Paul's was so arranged that for every 30
quarters of wheat that went to make bread, 7 quarters of wheat, 7 of barley,
and 32 of oats went to make beer. The weekly allowance of every canon
included 30 gallons."*
* Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond.
6. Cattle and pigs
Domesday records 600,000 beasts of the plough, exclusive of bulls, cows and calves, which would make a considerable addition to this number. Fleeces were required for clothing, and according to Maitland, "if we look only at the flocks which belong to the holders of manors, we may have to feed a million sheep south of the Humber." Very large numbers of sheep also were kept in Norfolk and Suffolk and on the dairy farms of Essex. Meadow-land was very scarce at this time and was greatly in demand, and its relative scarceness as compared with arable land may be gathered from the fact that it was usually two or three times the value of arable land.
Bacon bulked largely in the food of the peasant, and the number of pigs kept
must have been very large. "Before we have gone through a tenth of the
account of Essex we have read of 'wood for' near 10,000 pigs. If the woods
were full, and this rate were maintained throughout the country, the swine
of England would be as numerous T.R.W. as they are now.... This mode of
reckoning the capacity of woodland would only occur to men who were
accustomed to see large herds."*
* Ibid. p.443.
7. The effects of the Conquest. Labour in demand and tenure secure
The results of the Norman Conquest gathered from Domesday Book show us that the Conquest was a bad thing for the English peasants. It was not only that thanes were replaced bv Norman lords, and Norman lords appeared where there was no thane or lord before, or that dues were increased and freemen degraded in status, but the new theory of land tenure, which regarded the King as the absolute owner of the soil of the country, and the lords as practical owners under him of all the land, both occupied and waste, of their manors, boded ill for the future. As long as the lords had no special reasons for interfering with the peasants' rights over the waste of the manors, these rights were allowed to go on, subject to payment of dues for the privilege of exercising them. But we shall see later the effect of the new theory when the peasants' rights of common clashed with the lords' private interests.
Maitland has no doubts as to the effect of the Conquest. He writes: "We are not left to speculate about the matter. In after days those who were likely to hold a true tradition, the great financier of the twelfth, the great lawyer of the thirteenth century, believed that there had been a catastrophe. As a result of the Conquest, the peasants at all events some of the peasants had fallen from their free estate; freemen, holding freely, they had been compelled to do unfree services. But if we need not rely upon speculation, neither need we rely upon tradition. Domesday Book is full of evidence that the titles of the soil are being depressed." He then gives as an example the rural population of Cambridgeshire as recorded in 1086. This shows:
But when we look at the figures for the same county in the time of Edward the Confessor, we find that there were then at least 900 sokemen.
Apart, however, from the effects of the Conquest, such as the oppressive
dues and the degradation of the peasants, there was no great change in the
rural economy of England. Labour was still valuable and the demand for it
exceeded the supply, and although many peasants held at the will of the
lord, their tenure was in fact secure, and by the law of the land they could
not be removed as long as they paid their dues. "Those who cultivate the
land ought not to be harassed beyond their proper fixed amount; nor is it
lawful for the lords to remove the cultivators from the land so long as they
are able to render the due service." (Laws of William the Conqueror
* Thorpe, Ancient Laws and Institutes, p.480.
THE NORMAN MANOR ORIGIN OF RIGHTS OF COMMON
1. The Norman Manor. Distribution of land
We shall deal in this chapter with the growth of the manor and the condition of employment in England from Domesday to the time of the Black Death in 1348.
Cultivation on the manors was carried on on the two-or three-field system,
and the former probably predominated during the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries.* The lord's demesne or home farm consisted chiefly of strips
scattered about the open fields, and was tilled by the services of the
villeins, cotters and serfs, who rendered so many days' service per week in
return for their holdings. The villeins were the most numerous class of
landholders and the freeholders the smallest. The normal holding of the
villein was still about 30 acres, and below these came the cotters and
serfs, who held plots varying in size up to about 5 acres. The holders of
such plots would put in a good deal of work on the lord's demesne. By the
end of the twelfth century the serfs had risen from the state of actual
slavery, and were generally ln possession of plots similar to those held by
* Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond.
Part of the lord's demesne was often leased out in plots called "forlands,"
which were farmed in severalty by artisans or by ploughmen and other
servants, who had received such plots as payment for their services. Such
enclosed plots, too, were often found on the outskirts of the open
* Vinogradoff, Growth of the Manor.
2. Common rights appendant and appurtenant. Their value
The interest of the tenants of the manor in the land did not cease with their holdings of arable land, for they enjoyed many rights of "common," a term which is itself significant when we come to consider the origin of these rights. There were three main divisions of rights of common:
There were other valuable customary rights, such as common of estovers for
cutting wood, gorse and fern; common of turbary for cutting turf for fuel;
pannage, or the right of feeding swine in the woods; and house-bote, which
permitted the cutting of material for the construction of houses.*
* Gonner, Common Land and Inclosures.
The right of common of pasture for beasts of husbandry over the waste
attached to every holding of a freeholder in the manor as of right, and came
to be known as common appendant; other rights of common enjoyed in respect
of holdings were known as common appurtenant. Strangers who had "squatted"
on the waste appear to have acquired rights of common, and there was common
by way of vicinage over the wastes of adjoining manors. Grants of sites for
houses were usually made by the homage, or the whole body of villagers.
"These rights supply the means or the conditions whereby the ploughing,
manuring, and other agricultural acts are carried on. Further, they furnish
in large measure the meat which is eaten, the wool which is woven, the wood
required, and the fuel for heat and cooking in the homestead."*
* Gonner, Common Land and Inclosures.
3. Development of the manor assarting, subinfeudation
With the development of the manor new holdings came into being. Squatters
often appeared on the waste, and new villages would be started in clearings
in the waste or forest land. Land reclaimed from the waste was sometimes
added to the open fields or enclosed and added to the lord's demesne, and
small plots were frequently enclosed from the waste and rented by the lord.*
These plots were usually held by tradesmen, but might be taken by villeins
in addition to their customary holdings, or by the sons of villeins, for
there was no subdivision of the villein's holding at death, the land usually
going to the youngest son.
* Ashley, Econ.Hist., bk.i, ch.i.
Garnier, Annals of the British Peasantry.
Vinogradoff, Villainage in England.
This policy of taking in and fencing off plots of the waste was known as
"assarting," and was done with the consent of the freeholders of the manor
or in some manors with the consent of the homage. It will be seen that all
land so enclosed diminished to some extent the common pasture of the manor,
but as long as these encroachments on the waste did not seriously affect
pasture rights there would be little opposition. The meadow-land, being very
scarce and precious, was not allowed to be enclosed for several
* Vinogradoff, The Growth of the Manor, p.173.
Up to the time of the Statute of Quia Emptores, 1290, it was the custom, as
manors grew large, for the lord of the manor to create smaller manors to be
held by freehold tenants under him.* This had the effect of withdrawing more
of the waste from common pasture, and was the source of disputes as to
whether the new manors had rights of pasture over the whole of the original
waste or over part only.
4. Approvement of the waste
In addition to the foregoing methods of dealing with the unoccupied land of
the manor the lord frequently, and without the consent of the freeholders,
made grants of portions of the waste to be enclosed and held in severalty
either for arable or sheep-farming. This process was called "approvement"
(Latin, appropriare to appropriate), and in time this seems to have
become synonymous with "improvement," so that the approvements or
appropriations of the lord came to be spoken of as "improvements." We read
in the anonymous Seneschaucie,* a writing of the latter part of the
twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth century, that "the lord ought to
inquire by his own men and others on his manors as many as there are, about
his seneschal and his doings, and the approvements he has made since his
* Trans. R. Hist. Soc., 1890.
The increasing exercise on the part of the lord of this right of approver seems to have aroused the antagonism of the tenants of the manor, as was only to be expected; and this hostility to what was regarded as an encroachment by the lord on communal rights of pasture must have reached such a pitch as to make it difficult for the lord to continue the process, for in 1236 was passed the Statute of Merton, the first Enclosure Act.
5. The Statute of Merton changes the common law
By this statute it was enacted that lords of manors might approve or enclose
the waste of their manors providing they left the freeholders "as much
pasture as sufficeth to their tenements, and that they have free egress and
regress from their tenement unto the pasture."* Thus legal sanction was
given to the encroachments of the lord on the rights of pasture attached to
the freeholders' tenements, and although the freeholders still had the
remedy of the assize of novel disseisin, yet the onus was put upon them of
showing, if they objected to the approvement, that it left them with
insufficient pasture or affected their ingress or egress. This statute did
not apply to common rights enjoyed by persons not tenants of the manor or to
* Statute of Merton, 1236.
It seems clear that before the Statute of Merton the lord had no right to
approve as against the freeholder and to deprive him of his common law right
without his consent, and that in so far as the statute gave the lord this
right it altered the common law of the realm. This view was held by Bracton,
a judge living at the time the statute was passed.*
* Br., lib.iv, cap.38, fol.237: "Et unde in hoc casu si dominus soli et proprietatis sibi velit aliquid appropriare et includere, hoc facere non poterit sine voluntate et litentia pruedietorum, et, si fecerit, per assisam recuperabunt."
6. Statute of Westminster II and common appurtenant
In 1285 was passed the Statute of Westminster II, which extended the
application of the Statute of Merton to common appurtenant, which included
common of pasture enjoyed by those outside the manor who were not tenants of
the lord.* Advantage was taken of these statutes by lord of manors to
increase greatly the frequency and amount of their approvements and it is
certain that "sufficiency of pasture" would be interpreted differently by
the lord and the commoner. But the commoners at this period were not
downtrodden slaves and did not shrink from asserting their rights against
the lord, or if need be of demolishing enclosures on the waste.
* "It is ordained that the Statute of Merton, provided between the lord and his tenants, from henceforth shall hold place between lords of wastes, woods and pastures may make approvement of the residue, and this shall be observed for such as claim pasture as appurtenant to their tenements."
Two examples of approvements at this time may be quoted. In the reign of
Edward I the Earl of Warenne was permitted to enclose for colonizing
purposes some 40,000 acres of waste land.* In 1313 we have an example of
approvement on a smaller scale by deed. By this deed the lord makes a grant
of 40 acres of the waste to be enclosed, and binds himself in a bond for 50
marks to indemnify the grantee should any commoner break down the enclosure
on the ground that insufficient pasture had been left.
* Vinogradoff, The Growth of the Manor, p.330.
Arch. Journal, XXIX, 1872 (86).
7. Origin of rights of common. The lord encroaches on communal rights
Much controversy has raged around the question as to the origin of rights of common, one theory holding that these rights originated from the time when the community owned the land, and the right of common was the right of each shareholder in the village community to a share of the common property. The other theory maintains that rights of common resulted from grants from a lord or from encroachments by the tenants on the lord's waste. The former view, however, seems to be the sounder, both historically and legally, and is supported by strong evidence.
With reference to common rights Vinogradoff says: "Behind the minimum
standard contemplated by the Statute of Merton lay a body of custom devised
by the ordinary routine in the management of the common, and this ordinary
routine applied quite as much to the tenants in villeinage as to the
freeholders, and must have applied even more uniformly to the ceorls of a
Saxon tϊn."* Also: "The notion of the lord's private right ran
counter to all notions of communal property, which were bound up with
ancient usages as to the waste."
* Vinogradoff, The Growth of the Manor, p.172.
That the lord's approvements were encroachments on communal rights would
seem to be substantiated by the use of the term "common" land as applied to
the waste, and by the opposition and often successful opposition of the
villagers to the lord's approvements; and the Statute of Westminster II,
dealing with rights of common appurtenant to the holdings of those who were
not the tenants of the lord of the manor, negatives the idea that those
rights had originated in grants from the lord or were encroachments on his
rights. The statute shows, in fact, that these rights of common rested on
ancient custom, and the tradition of the villagers and the opinion of a
contemporary lawyer* support this.
8. The presumption of a lost grant. Lord Hatherley and Pollock
In Bracton's time a servitude such as a right of common appurtenant could be
acquired by long and peaceful user, but later such long and peaceful user
came only to be recognised as evidence that a lord had originally made a
grant and that this grant had been lost. And it is because inhabitants as
such could not take by grant that rights of common claimed by inhabitants as
such have been held to be invalid, in spite of the fact that they may have
been so enjoyed from time immemorial. Such rights were recognized up to the
time of Elizabeth,* but it was decided in Gateward's case in 1606 that such
claims were invalid.
* 43 Eliz., cap.11.
6 Coke's Reps. 59b.
Lord Chancellor Hatherley in 1871 said that it was the duty of the court to
presume a lost grant to validate a right of common enjoyed for a long
period, and his remarks in the case of Warwick v. Queen's College,
Oxford,* are interesting:
* L.R., Ch. App., vol.vi., 1870-71 (720).
"This brings me to what has really been the difficulty in the case, which I have anxiously considered, to see whether it could or could not be overcome, it being the duty of the court to seek a way of overcoming it, by finding, if possible, the legal origin of the right. I rather think that the difficulty arises from our somewhat artificial system of law. I am not, of course, venturing to overrule or shake any of the established authorities, but the real difficulty is this: In ancient records traces are to be found of customs (prevalent anterior, I think, to our feudal history, and belonging to a period of greater freedom), such as having lammas-field that is, fields which are used during a certain portion of the year by all the tenants of the manor and during a certain other time are lying waste."
Pollock also supports this view with reference to the rights of villeins:
"It would be nearer the truth, to say that by a long series of encroachments
and fictions the lords, and lawyers acting in the interest of the lords, got
people to believe that the lord's will was the origin of those ancient
customary rights which before were absolute."'*
* The Land Laws.
9. Approvements increase to what exent harmful
Apart from the controversy as to the origin of these rights of common, the important matter is the fact of their enjoyment, and it will now be seen how the Norman theory of tenure adversely affected the interests of the villagers and their enjoyment of these rights. There is also ample evidence that advantage was taken of the two enclosing statutes, and the manorial records show that enclosures on the waste increased as time went on.
Approvements of the waste, in so far as they provided plots for additional
tenants or additional land for existing tenants, certainly enabled these men
to earn a living and put the land to a good use; and great colonizing
approvements, such as that taken in hand by the Earl of Warenne, must have
opened up further opportunities of employment for the increasing population
of the manors. We have no evidence of approvements for game preserves, nor
do we hear of any damage being done to crops by game,* and it is quite
certain that no lord would approve land and hold it out of use. But when
portions of the waste were enclosed for sheep-walks, the small amount of
labour required made the approvement far less useful than it otherwise would
have been. It is also important to realize that in the case of most of these
approvements the land was fenced in, and so the rights of all forms of
common to the extent of the enclosure were diminished for all time.
* Thorold Rogers, p.84.
10. Labour in great demand. Little oppression
Although approvement progressively increased during the period under review, the amount of waste enclosed was not so great as seriously to affect the rights of the commoners or to lessen the opportunities for employment on the manors. During this period and for many years after men were of far greater value than the land on which they worked, and the value of a manor was represented largely by the number of villagers residing and working there. It is for this reason that there could not have been any great oppression of the villagers at this time, and, indeed, we hear little of it. Labour was too precious to drive away, and many regulations existed for preventing the villeins from leaving the manor for the towns or from apprenticing their children.
11. Copyhold tenure. The villeins' security
Many villeins and other smaller tenants of the manors developed during this
period into copyholders. The incidents of their tenure were determined by
the custom of the particular manor,* and although their tenure was in
theory "at the will of the lord," this was certainly not interpreted to mean
that the lord could eject the villein or copyholder at a moment's notice.
The custom of the manor and the general feeling of the village community
would ensure that, subject to paying heriots and in some cases fines on the
admission of a new tenant, the villeins' tenure was absolutely secure. It
may be noted here that in 1369 the court held that it was lawful for a lord
to eject a copyholder who had not rendered the customary services, thus
implying that it would have been unlawful if he had rendered his services;
and in 1468 it was finally established that if a copyholder were wrongly
ejected he might maintain an action for trespass against his lord.
* See Chapter VIII, pars.12 and 13.
Year Book, 42 Edward VIII, 25, pl.9.
Year Book, 7 Edward IV, 18, pl.16.
12. Condition of the peasant prior to the Black Death. Wealth plentiful and well distributed
Although, then, by the fourteenth century the peasant was not in such a
favourable position as in Saxon times,* there was as yet little to complain
of. Food was plentiful for all, and pigs and poultry would seem to have
figured largely in the villager's diet. There were certainly bad harvests
and scarcity at times, but, according to Thorold Rogers, there was only one
period of actual famine in the whole economic history of this country, and
that was from 1315 to 1321. He adds, too, that even during this period no
agrarian robberies are recorded or any thefts of live-stock, apart from
those committed by the marauding bands that often toured the country-side.
We have seen how all the villagers had comparative security, and even the
smallest cultivators were able to save and increase the size of their
holdings. Wealth was well distributed, the great mass of the people being
assured a comfortable living. As there were opportunities for all to
produce their own subsistence, and as labour was valuable, the supply
falling short of the demand, there was a limit to what some could make at
the expense of others. The position is well summed up by Thorold Rogers:
"They ate wheaten bread, drank barley beer, and had plenty of cheap, though
perhaps coarse, meat.... The grinding, hopeless poverty under which
existence may be just continued, but when nothing is won beyond bare
existence, did not, I am convinced, characterize or even belong to mediaeval
life. That men died from want I can believe, but I do not think they lived
and died by inches, so to speak."€
* Vinogradorf, Villeinage in England, p.298.
Thorold Rogers, p.51.
€ Six Centuries, etc., p.415.
13. Real Wages high. Most people associated with agriculture
It is also evident from the results of the researches of Thorold Rogers as
to prices and wages that food prices were low at this time and real wages
high, and we have seen how villeins and cotters were able to accumulate
savings and increase the size of their holdings. Landless agricultural
labourers as we now know them did not exist, and there was therefore no
sharp dividing-line between farmers and labourers. He who cultivated the
smallest area earned sufficient to live in rude comfort, and he had
security. There would also appear to be very few people who were not
concerned to some extent with agriculture,* for craftsmen and artisans
living in towns usually went to the country for the harvest, and the King,
in dismissing his Parliament, sent his "Commons to the harvest."
* Thorold Rogers, p.169.
14. Landless inhabitants of towns. Employment regular the building trade
The rise of a distinct artisan class in the villages is noticed in the
thirteenth century,* and most of these would possess plots of land. In the
towns there were landless craftsmen and servants of various kinds, whose
numbers were probably supplemented from time to time by absconding serfs and
the sons of villeins. The population of towns was under 200,000, and,
according to Rogers, the town population to rural population was as 1 to
12.34. But many of these towns were only like large villages, and the number
of those who had no interest in land cultivation was small. Nothing is heard
of unemployment, and in the case of town artisans, if work were discontinued
for a time, there was always work to be done on the fields of the
* Ashley, Econ. Hist., bk.i.
Employment was regular, as there was no violent fluctuation in the demand
for artisans' products. Every man had an opportunity of producing his own
subsistence, and consequently his demand was effective and regular; and in
trades such as building, where work could not always be continuous, it seems
that wages were high enough to allow for all gaps. This industry is
specially noted by Thorold Rogers* on account of the remarkably low cost of
the finished product. Even when the prices of material and labour are
brought up to present-day levels it is found that the present cost of the
completed building would be about three times as much as then. Rogers
attributes this to the fact that middlemen were dispensed with, but there is
no doubt that it also largely resulted from the fact that access to raw
materials and building sites was cheap and easy.
* Six Centuries, etc, p.145.
15. No unemployment. Demand for labour exceeds supply. The sick and impotent
There were, then, during this period no unemployed that is, no men who
wanted work but were unable to find it but there were, of course, vagrants
and wandering friars who did not want work, and also marauding bands roving
the countryside. Some of these in the earlier days of Norman rule may have
been turned out of their homes when the Conqueror afforested large areas of
land,* but the demand for labour on the manors and the extent of the
opportunities must have provided an opening for all who wanted work.
* Ribton-Turner, History of Vagrants and Vagrancy.
The impotent and sick were either cared for by their families or were
assisted by the hospitals and monasteries. These institutions dispensed
considerable charity to the sick and unfortunate, and in addition supplied
the wants of many professional beggars, a form of indiscriminate charity
which went a long way towards creating the very class which it
* Ashley, Econ. Hist., vol.i, bk.ii, ch.v.
THE BLACK DEATH AND THE PEASANTS' REVOLT
1. The Black Death reduces supply of labour by one-half
There was a period of prosperity after the great famine, years of 1315-1316
until 1348. In this year came the catastrophe known as the Black Death,
which continued with great violence for some two years. This plague attacked
rich and poor, town and country dwellers alike, and from one-third to
one-half of the population perished. Contemporary accounts tell us that this
great wastage in the population was rapidly made good, and that for some
time after the Plague population increased faster than formerly. "The
repressive check of a high standard of living was removed by the ease with
which the survivors could obtain that standard, and accumulate from a
considerable margin beyond it."*
* Six Centuries, etc., p.226.
It has been seen already that prior to the Black Death the opportunities for employment were normally in excess of the supply of labour, and the immediate result of the Plague was to reduce the available supply by roughly one-half, while the demand for labour in the shape of untilled fields and untended flocks and herds remained much as before.
2. Labour dues commuted for money payments. Wages doubled
During the thirteenth century and the early part of the fourteenth labour dues on the manors were being gradually commuted for money payments, and as a result of the Black Death this process was practically completed. Peasants and artisans now found themselves in an exceedingly strong bargaining position, and wages increased rapidly by 100%, and in many cases even higher.
Real wages may be high because the opportunities for employment exceed the available supply of labour, and these opportunities may consist in the demand for labour by employers or the possibilities of self-employment; and on the other hand they may be high owing to a sudden diminution in the supply of labour, the demand remaining more or less constant, and the opportunities for self-employment continuing. The former conditions were in existence prior to 1348, and after that date the latter condition was super-added. It is little wonder, then, that wages rose enormously.
3. Food prices remain low. Peasant in strong position
Although wages rose with such rapidity and to such a great height, prices of
most agricultural products and articles of food, with the exception of fish
and wool, varied but little from what they were before the Plague. But
goods, the production of which required a large amount of labour, did rise
considerably in price.*
* Six Centuries, etc., p.237.
There was no monopoly of food production, and because the lord of the manor had to pay high wages to those who assisted in the cultivation of his land, he was not enabled thereby to obtain any more for the food he grew. He had to contend with the competition of all the tenants of the manor, and the land was open to all who wished to produce.
Lords of manors were at their wits' ends to provide enough labour to till even a part of their lands. High money wages were offered and paid, and in many cases rents were excused altogether, sometimes even for a period of years, in order to tempt the peasants to remain on the manors.
4. Rents diminish. Landlords seek remedy in Statute of Labourers a failure
As can well be imagined, such a state of affairs did not suit the lords of
manors and great landowners, for as wages soared they saw their rents
diminishing, and they therefore sought a remedy in the Statute of Labourers.
Wages were to be the same as those current before the Plague, and severe and
barbarous penalties were to be enforced against those who asked and those
who gave higher wages, and there were also penalties against those who left
one manor to seek work elsewhere. That this statute was largely ineffective
is evidenced by the necessity for frequent re-enactments and by the
complaints in Parliament of its failure. There is also direct evidence that
higher wages were paid from the entries in the bailiffs' accounts. These
accounts frequently show a striking out of the higher wage and the
substitution of a smaller sum, this smaller sum, however, being considerably
in excess of the wage customary before the Plague. Thorold Rogers gives it
as his opinion, from a study of large numbers of these accounts, that
erasures point to evasions of the Statute of Labourers, and that even if the
lower wage were paid there would be compensations in some other form to
bring it up to the full amount.*
* Six Centuries, etc., p.229.
There is no doubt that with such a scarcity of labour the lord would be compelled to pay the high rate of wages in order to retain his labour, and that if he refused, there would be plenty of employers only too ready to receive absconding villeins or serfs, and who would not be likely to give them up once they had them.
5. All benefit except landlords. Stock and land lease
All except the great landowners and lords of manors would seem to have benefited largely as a result of the conditions following on the Black Death. Freeholders and villeins would not be affected by the price of labour, except advantageously, in so far as their children would be in a position to earn high wages; and cotters and serfs and even landless workers were in a very strong position, for they could obtain a high price for their own labour, and produce or purchase most of the goods they required as easily as before.
This great shortage of labour led to an increase of the system of stock and
land leases, for farming on a large scale by the lord of the manor had
become almost an impossibility. Under this system the farm was leased,
usually for a short term of years, with all stock, live and dead, at an easy
rate. If the stock were not returned when the lease expired compensation was
paid at a valuation which was from 30 to 40% below the market value.* This
system resulted in a large increase of tenant farmers.
* Six Centuries, etc., p.57.
6. The Peasants' Revolt ultimately a success
The Peasants' Revolt of 1381, which came to a head under Wat Tyler, seems to
have been due to an attempt on the part of lords of manors to recover
something of what they had lost by reimposing labour dues which had long
since been commuted for money payments. Wastage of labour must have been
largely made good by this time, but the peasants who had experienced the
freer conditions obtaining since the Plague were in no mind to submit to the
reimposition of these dues. For the moment the Revolt failed, but actually
it might be said to have succeeded, for economic conditions were on the side
of the peasants. The remaining labour dues were commuted for money payments
and copyhold tenure among villeins and serfs was greatly extended. According
to Thorold Rogers, "the English labourer, for a century or more, became
virtually free and constantly prosperous."*
* Six Centuries, etc., p.256.
7. "Piers Plowman." Beggars who will not work denounced. Work for all who want it
During the latter part of the fourteenth century we hear of many wanderers, "sturdy rogues" and beggars throughout the country. Men travelled from manor to manor and from manor to town in search of the highest wages, and wages were such that it could not have been necessary to work continuously in order to make a living. As we have said, there was no lack of work at this time, and all regulations referring to beggars seem to assume that work is available.
William Langland, in Piers Plowman, written between 1360 and 1400, gives us a description of England at this time as he saw it. His picture of the times is rather dismal and pessimistic, but this is probably due to the fact that he judged from the point of view of religion. It is quite evident from his description, however, that there was no lack of opportunities for work, that provisions were abundant, and that no man need lead a lazy life. He rails against the beggars and thieves who did no work, but never seemed to want:
The whole burden of the poem is that God's law that man should earn his living in the sweat of his brow must be kept. Langland is in no doubt that there is work for all who want it.
8. Commutation of labour dues and high wages increase vagrancy
As has been seen, the disorganization of the manors consequent on the Black
Death caused large numbers of workers to wander in search of the highest
wages;* and the high rate of wages obtainable, and the abundance of
opportunities for employment available, doubtless increased the numbers of
those who wandered, and added to the ranks of vagrants who found they could
obtain a living without working, or at any rate with very little work.
* Leonard, English Poor Relief: "So far the wanderers were men who bad no difficulty in obtaining work, but who wanted better terms."
In 1359 London suffered from the inrush of vagrants from the country-side, and a proclamation was issued by the City against them. This proclamation makes it clear that the authorities realized that work was obtainable, and that those who came begging to the City were depriving the sick and aged of the alms which were their due.
The House of Commons complained in 1376 and again in 1378* of beggars
wandering to the towns, and an Act of 1388, which draws a distinction for
the first time between beggars able to work and those who are impotent,
aimed at preventing the latter from wandering. Again, in 1391, the Commons
complain to the King that serfs and the sons of serfs are going to the towns
and cannot be got back, but the King refuses to take any action.
* Eden, The State of the Poor.
Ribton-Turner, History of Vagrants and Vagrancy.
THE LORDS WIN UNEMPLOYMENT
1. Labour shortage after Black Death leads to sheep-farming
It has been seen how the great manorial lords suffered through the labour shortage consequent on the Black Death a shortage which caused many holdings of villeins and the smaller tenants to fall into the lords' hands, and made it quite impossible for the lords to farm such holdings or even a large part of their own demesne lands. For this reason after the Black Death an enclosing movement started, slowly at first, but afterwards increasing in speed and volume, whereby arable land, for which neither tenants nor sufficient labour could be obtained to work as arable, was turned into pastureland for sheep-farming. This, of course, necessitated the fencing or enclosing of the land, and so withdrawing it from the communal scheme of husbandry; and as little labour was required to tend sheep as compared with that required for arable culture, the lord was enabled to obtain a profit where otherwise the land would probably have remained idle for many years.
2. Demand for wool further stimulates growth of sheep-farming
So long as this process was confined to laying down arable land to grass in
a small way it probably did little harm at the time, for although it
curtailed the opportunities for employment, labour was so scarce that the
demand for labour and the available opportunities still exceeded the supply.
But during this period the woollen manufacturing industry was gradually
developing in England; the demand for wool both for home manufacture and
foreign export was growing, and during the first thirty years of the
fifteenth century wool was at a very high price.* This high price obtainable
for wool, and the small amount of labour required to raise it, acted as a
stimulus to landlords to lay down more and more land to grass and enclose it
for sheep-farms. Whereas formerly their "wealth" had consisted in the number
of men on their manors, they were now coming to find that sheep-farming
would bring them great monetary wealth, and that their gain would be greater
than ever it had been under the old system.
* Thorold Rogers, Six Centuries of Work and Wages, p.444.
This was the beginning of the first great enclosure movement of our history. By about the middle of the fifteenth century this creation of sheep-farms reached a point where any further extension would of necessity encroach on the arable land for the cultivation of which there was sufficient labour. But in spite of this the movement continued to progress, until in the latter years of the fifteenth century the legislature took action.
3. Enclosure of demesne, waste and woods, and common pasture. Evictions of villeins, etc., and hardships of cotters. Merchants buy land
Before considering the results of these enclosures it is important to see
exactly in what they consisted. The lord's demesne ordinarily comprised from
one-third to one-half the area of the manor,* and for the greater part lay
in strips scattered over the common fields. When parts of this land came to
be put down to grass it was necessary to consolidate the strips affected and
enclose them with a hedge. A certain amount of exchange with the other
tenants would be necessary in order to effect consolidation, and as time
went on villeins and other small tenants were evicted in order that their
holdings might be amalgamated with the lord's land as one great
* Ashley, Econ. Hist., bk.ii, ch.iv.
See Gonner, Common Land and Inclosure, p.48.
This enclosing of demesne lands dispensed with a large amount of labour, and had a disastrous effect on the cotters, who depended for some employment on the lord's land in order to supplement what they could produce from their own small plots. The followers, sons and relations in the various peasants' households, would also find themselves deprived to a large extent of opportunities for employment, and, of course, enclosure and laying down to grass prevented any further enjoyment of rights of common over this land after the harvest was reaped.
In addition to enclosing demesne lands and evicting villeins and cotters,
much of the waste land of the manors was also enclosed for sheep-farming.
This policy forcibly deprived freeholders and other tenants of the manors of
rights of common which they had enjoyed over the waste, and was specially
hard on the neighbouring cotters,* who lost thereby invaluable rights of
common, and received short shrift if their presence stood in the way of any
"approvement." There is little doubt that considerations as to whether these
enclosures left "sufficient" waste for the tenants did not trouble a lord
who saw good profit in sheep-farms. The Highland enclosers of the eighteenth
century were not affected by such considerations, and we have no reason to
suppose that the fifteenth-century lords were any better. There were also
considerable enclosures of woods at this time, and a consequent
extinguishment of common rights over them, for charcoal-burning was a
growing industry, and many lords were able to derive large incomes in this
* Gonner, pp.31-2.
During the fifteenth century trade was prosperous, and many merchants who
had made fortunes in the towns began to purchase land in the country, and
many copyhold tenements were so purchased.*
* Ashley, Econ. Hist., vol.i, pt.ii., bk.ii. ch.i.; Thorold Rogers, p.288.
4. Manor Rolls disclose encroachments
The Manor Rolls of this period disclose many small enclosings and encroachments on common rights not necessarily connected with sheep-farming. Individual tenants would sometimes enclose a holding in the open fields or make small private enclosures in the waste, and complaints that large landholders and even outsiders overburden the common pastures with sheep and cattle are frequent. It is true that these enclosers and encroachers usually appear to have been "presented" by the homage, but it is doubtful whether this would be effective in every case in getting the matter put right.
In the Manor Rolls of Wimbledon the homage often "present" and fine tenants
for enclosing common land. There are also many presentments for
overburdening the common at Putney with cattle and sheep, and the Dean of
St. Paul's is among those so presented. "The twelve Jurors of the Great
Assize of the Lord the King... say that John Hood overburthens the common
pasture at Rokehampton with cattle... tenant of the lord: therefore he is
amerced. And that John Hoke overburthens the common at Puttenhyth with his
sheep beyond the quantity."*
* Manor Rolls Wimbledon, 7 Edward IV.
"Also the same Robert inclosed with live thorns and great ditches, 3 acres
of land lying in the Nethershot of Baston in Putneth, and holds for his
severalty, whereas the tenants there from the time of which the memory of
man exists not, had and ought to have common there, for all their cattle,
from the Feast of St. Michael the Arch. A. to the feast of the Purification
of S. Mary then following, by which they could not have their common there,
to their great prejudice."* The said Robert was ordered to show cause why he
should not throw the land open again.
* Manor Rolls Wimbledon, 13 Edward IV.
5. Theory that enclosures due to declining productivity of soil disproved
There is a theory supported by Denton, Dr. Bradley (Vassar College,
Columbia), and by Lord Ernle and others that the enclosures of the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were largely due to "the inevitable and
progressive decline in the productivity of the soil."* "The enclosure
movement is explained, not by a change in the price of wool, but by the
gradual loss of productivity of common-field land."
* Lord Ernle.
Lennard* seems to demonstrate quite conclusively, however, that there is no
evidence to show that the open fields declined in fertility in the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Lord Ernle takes as an average yield of
wheat in the thirteenth century 10 bushels per acre, and states that by the
fifteenth century this had fallen to between 6 and 7 bushels. Lennard,
however, points out that these figures are certainly not substantiated by
any available evidence, and, on the contrary, that the average yield of the
thirteenth century was between 6Ό to 6½ bushels, and that out of 45 wheat
yields examined, only that of 1284, at Witney, reached 10 bushels. The
average figures for the fourteenth century agreed by Thorold Rogers, Sir
John Cullum and Davenport are 7½ to 7Ύ bushels, and for the fifteenth
century, for which evidence is scanty, there are examples of 8½ bushels and
* See Econ. Journal, March 1922.
"The Enclosure of Open-Field Farms," Journal of the Ministry of Agriculture, December 1920 and January 1921.
Account Roll of Ansty, Herts., 1401 harvest. See appendix to first volume of Cunningham.
€ Abisham, Kent. Undated document in Canterbury Cathedral. Thorold Rogers assigns to middle of fifteenth century.
Far from pointing to a great decline in the yield of wheat, these figures show a progressive increase in the yield, and, making all allowances for defects, it can certainly be said that at any rate no decline at all is indicated. Lennard suggests that it would be interesting to know from what figure the wheat had come if, gradually declining, it had reached 10 bushels in the thirteenth century. He also draws attention to the fact that a diminished yield would tend to increase the area under arable cultivation, and the wastage of population due to the Black Death was certainly made good before enclosures started on a large scale.
6. Official notice taken of enclosures
The first official reference to the enclosures of this period is found in a
speech prepared by Lord Chancellor John Russell for the opening of the first
Parliament of Richard III, 1483:* "And yet, be he never so gret, yff by hys
doynge thys body (the English people) fallethe yn decaye, as we see
dayly hyt doothe by closures and emparkynge, by dryvynge away of tenauntes
and lattynge downe of tenauntries; and yet, that ys most to be sorowed, by
unlaufulle assembleus and insurrections, puttyng not only the peuple but
allso the nobles to extreme jupertu and peril of lyff and londes, where by
thys... is gretly dispeupled."
* Camden Society, 1854, 1ii.
This is strong contemporary evidence, fully corroborated, as will be seen later, that enclosures were causing involuntary unemployment and depopulation of the manors.
Six years after this, in 1489, the first Act of Parliament against enclosures was passed, entitled an Act "Agaynst pullying down of Tounes." The preamble to this Act states that unemployment was due to enclosures, and the Act itself was directed against those who were letting arable lands for sheep-farms, and allowing farm-houses and buildings to fall into a state of decay. Houses and buildings necessary for tillage were to be maintained on all holdings of 20 acres or more which had been let to farm during the preceding three years or which should be so let in the future. This Act, like several others with the same purpose which we shall have occasion to mention, was wholly ineffective.
7. More's "Utopia" contemporary evidence
Sir Thomas More, for some time Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor, in 1516 wrote
his famous Utopia. In this book we have a detailed description of
England while the enclosure policy was in progress. Some modern writers have
held that this description is exaggerated, but apart from the
picturesqueness of some of the language, the evidence seems to bear out and
to be corroborated by the evidence of other contemporaries, and is also
confirmed, as will be seen in Chapter VIII, by a Report of a Government
Commission in 1517-18. We shall also have occasion in a later chapter* to
consider a period of enclosing in Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries for a similar purpose, and the reports of eyewitnesses then
describe scenes similar to those referred to by More, and one would hardly
expect hardships to be less, or evictions less harsh, in the fifteenth than
they were in the nineteenth century. It would also seem to be self-evident
that where arable land was laid down to grass for sheep-farming there would
be local depopulation.
* Chapter XIV.
8. Sheep-farming causes demolition, of houses and depopulation. Harsh measures taken by enclosers
The story of the enclosures is told by one Raphael Hythloday, a traveller. He speaks of the sheep as having eaten up the men, and says: "They consume, destroy, and devour whole fields, houses, and cities." The cause of the growth of sheep-farms is no mystery to him. "Noblemen and gentlemen, yea and certain abbots... not contenting themselves with the yearly revenues and profits, that were wont to grow to their forefathers and predecessors of their lands... yea much annoying the weal public leave no ground for tillage, they inclose all into pastures; they throw down houses; they pluck down towns, and leave nothing standing, but only the church to be made a sheep-house." But these are not the only enclosures: "And as though you lost no small quantity of ground by forests, chases, lawns, and parks, those good holy men turn all dwelling-places and all glebe land into desolation and wilderness."
He then gives us an insight into the methods of the enclosers, and tells how one man may enclose "many thousand acres" within one hedge, and get rid of the husbandmen "by cunning and fraud," or "by violent oppression," or by so harassing them "that they be compelled to sell all." They are then compelled to depart with all their households, "small in substance and much in number." "Away they trudge, I say, out of their known and accustomed houses, finding no place to rest in. All their household stuff which is very little worth, though it might well abide the sale; yet being suddenly thrust out, they be constrained to sell it for a thing of nought."
9. Employment unobtainable. The lords win
He then follows the dispossessed, and asks what they can do but steal or
beg. If they steal they will be hanged, and if they beg "they be cast in
prison as vagabonds, because they go about and work not: whom no man will
set a work, though they never so willingly proffer themselves thereto."*
The reason for this lack of work is clear to him: "For one shepherd or
herdsman is enough to eat up that ground with cattle, to the occupying
whereof about husbandry many hands were requisite. And this is also the
cause why victuals be now in many places dearer."
* The italics are ours.
The lords of manors had at last solved the problem which faced them after
the Black Death, and found a means of increasing rents in spite of a
shortage of labour. It is worthy of note in this connection that whereas in
the fourteenth century land sold at ten years' purchase, in the middle of
the fifteenth century it sold at twenty years' purchase.*
* Thorold Rogers, Six Centuries of Work and Wages, p.288.
BEGGARS COME TO TOWN
1. The town working class. The coming of the beggars
It has been seen how the City of London was complaining in the latter part of the fourteenth century of the influx of wanderers in search of higher wages, and there are indications that in the latter half of the fifteenth century this influx of beggars was becoming troublesome.
It was during this period, too, that the system of division of labour
developed, and the capitalist artisan came into being.* Industries began to
be carried on on what was then a large scale, and a distinct "working class"
began to appear in the towns. This was a class of what might be called
dependent wage-earners a class, that is, who had little hope of rising to
be master-men, and for whom the opportunities of finding alternative
employment in the villages or of employing themselves on holdings of their
own were rapidly diminishing. These men consisted of villeins and cotters
and their families whose lands had been "eaten up" by the sheep, of
disbanded soldiers and discharged retainers, whose masters had been ruined
as a result of the Wars of the Roses.
* Thorold Rogers, p.338; Ashley, Econ. Hist., vol.i, pt.ii, bk.ii, ch.ii.
Most of the beggars and wanderers in the towns in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries had originally started on their travels in search of higher wages, and work was available for them on the manors had they wanted it. But the wanderers who were coming to the towns towards the end of the fifteenth century had not that alternative; they came in search of work, and not merely to find higher wages.
They were the forerunners of those crowds of beggars and sturdy rogues who in the sixteenth century invaded the towns and terrorized the country-side. It was of these beggars that the old rhyme was first repeated:
2. Rise of large-scale industry enclosures provide cheap labour
The manufacture of woollen cloth was increasing rapidly during the fifteenth century, and many other small industries were springing up, not always in the towns, for at this time there was a movement from the towns to the country on the part of many industries. This was caused to some extent by restrictive ordinances of the gilds, and often resulted in the decay of the town.
These industries must have provided openings for many workers, but the gilds, the prototypes of the modern Trade Union, saw the time coming when there would be a surplus of labour in the towns, and as they realized the results of this, there early developed a struggle between the gilds and the free workers. An ordinance of the City of London of 1387 forbade the acceptance of any villein as an apprentice, and in 1406 an Act of Parliament forbade the apprenticing of children of men who earned less than 20s. a year. The trouble was that the free labourer was increasing faster than he could be absorbed in industry. The policy of enclosures for sheep-farms was providing cheap labour for the new large-scale industries, and the rich, merchants who had acquired fortunes in the towns were buying estates and becoming landed proprietors. And although wages were high for the most part-through the fifteenth century, yet the trek from the villages was going to make itself felt in wages in the early part of the sixteenth century.
3. Beggars for whom no work is available
In addition to those who were actually deprived of their livelihood on the manors by the enclosures, the ranks of the "beggars" in the latter half of the fifteenth, century were augmented by discharged personal servants of great men, described by More as "idle and loitering serving-men," and by soldiers disbanded from the French wars. But for the enclosure movement and the growth of sheep-farming it is probable that all of these who wanted work would have found it, but when it is realized that those who had a means of livelihood had been deprived and turned adrift, there is little wonder that these others drifted into the class of beggars "whom no man will set a work, though they never so willingly proffer themselves thereto."
At a time when the old Feudal System, as established by the early Normans,
was breaking up, when men whose employment furnished by war and service was
coming to an end, the opportunities for employment were enormously curtailed
1. The Government moves against ingrossers and enclosers
In the beginning of the sixteenth century the enclosure movement assumed
such serious proportions, and its evil results were so apparent, that the
Government began to take further and more energetic measures in an attempt
to stem the trouble, for the Act of 1489 against the pulling down of towns
had been inoperative.*
* 20 Henry VIII, cap.22. recites that this act had been enforced only in lands held immedialely of the King. Leadam, Select Cases. Court of Requests: "A search of the Exchequer Rolls reveals that he allowed it to remain inoperative."
In 1514, therefore, there was issued a proclamation against ingrossing farms or the absorbing into one hand of a large number of holdings. In this proclamation the scarcity of grain and other foodstuffs was said to be due to the ingrossing of farms and the conversion of arable land to pasture. This view was supported by evidence from a wide area, for it was based on information which the Government had received from "justices of the peace and commissioners of every shire within his said realme." Those holding more than one farm were ordered to cultivate the land as it had been up to the first year of Henry VII, but again subsequent enactments show that this decree was inoperative.
2. The first Enclosure Commission, 1517-18
Another Act was passed in 1515,* "concernyng the pulling downe of Townes."
This enacted that all habitations that had fallen into decay since the
beginning of that Parliament were to be rebuilt within a year, and all land
that had been put down to pasture in the same period was to be ploughed up.
In 1516 there was yet a further Act concerning the decaying of houses.
* 6 Henry VIII. cap.6.
The failure of any of these Acts or Proclamations to take effect led to the
appointment of a Royal Commission, the Enclosure Inquisition of 1517-18, to
inquire into the evil. This Inquisition made returns to Chancery, and the
reports extant form what has been called the Domesday of Enclosures.* It is
probable that Sir Thomas More was concerned in the establishment of this
Commission, and Wolsey certainly did his best to counteract the evils
reported on by proceeding against those presented by the Commissioners.
* Trans, R. Hist. Soc., "Domesday of Inclosures," vols.i and ii. edited by Leadam.
3. Statistics incomplete, but a widespread movement indicated,
The information furnished by the reports of this Commission is incomplete, and from what we know of the difficulties encountered by subsequent Commissions, and taking into consideration the insecurity of the class most effected, this incompleteness cannot be wondered at. Those who held by precarious tenure would not be ready to come forward and give evidence against the lord who might immediately turn them adrift; and we know that some of the Commissioners were themselves enclosers, and might be disposed to let down lightly some of their fellow offenders. Intimidation of witnesses was probably rife; Hales tells of it in connection with the Commission of 1548-9, and Commissioners reporting in comparatively recent times have told similar tales.
The original Chancery Returns, still extant, deal with the counties of
Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire,
Leicestershire, Cheshire, Essex, and Lincolnshire, but only for the first
five of these do the returns attain any degree of completeness. There is,
however, in the Lansdowne MSS.* a summary, probably made from the original
returns of this Commission shortly after the death of Henry VIII, of
information dealing with several other counties, viz. Norfolk, Yorkshire,
Herefordshire, Staffordshire, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight, London and
suburbs, Berkshire, Gloucestershire, Cambridgeshire, and Shropshire.
* Lansdowne MSS. I, 153, published in Trans. R. Hist. Soc. 1892, 1893 and 1894.
In estimating the value of the Returns made by this Commission it is
important to note that, where enclosures had been made by Royal Licence, the
Commission makes no report, and that only those enclosures made since 1488
were reported on. Although, therefore, the extant Returns and the summaries
in the Lansdowne MSS. are incomplete, and the figures given in many cases
not as large as one would expect,* the evidence goes to show that the
movement was widespread throughout the country, and was everywhere attended
by serious consequences.
* See par.19.
4. Complaints against ingrossing, consolidation, and conversion of arable to pasture
Among the evils complained of was the "ingrossing" of farms that is, the absorbing into one hand of several holdings and this led to the destruction of houses and farm buildings on some of the holdings, whether the whole area were put down to grass or whether it were run as a large-scale arable farm. When the farm-house and buildings were destroyed or allowed to fall into decay, the farm to which they belonged was said to be "consolidated."
There are also a large number of presentments for enclosures of arable land, whether or no this was converted to pasture; for the enclosure of arable land for large-scale arable farming usually led to consolidation of farms, with the consequent destruction or decay of farm-houses and buildings and depopulation.
5. Lay and ecclesiastical landlords compared
There is much information to be gained from the Returns of this Commission
as to the relative qualities of lay and ecclesiastical owners as landlords.
As regards cotters, we find that on lay land there are some twenty cottages
with land as against nineteen without, whereas on ecclesiastical estates
there are twenty-nine with as against two without.* This would seem to show
that the Church was usually an easy landlord, and that changes were slow in
coming on its land.
* Domesday of Enclosures, vol.i, p.51.
When we come to figures for displacing of population consequent on
enclosures, it is found that depopulation is 10% less on ecclesiastical than
on lay estates, but, on the other hand, some ecclesiastical rents are higher
than those on corresponding lay lands. From the Returns for Buckinghamshire
it is found that freeholders on lay estates were evicted at nearly twice the
rate of those on ecclesiastical lands.* But in the case of Northamptonshire
it is found that the Abbots of Peterborough were in the forefront of the
enclosers with a total of 998½ acres enclosed and 100 people evicted, who,
according to the jury presenting, "are become unemployed and despairing."
The total rental value per acre of ecclesiastical land in this county is 1s.
4Όd., as compared with 8Ύd. for lay land.
* Leadam: "There was a more rapid change upon lay estates from tenure to contract, or from a holding of which the conditions were fixed by custom to one in which they were determined by competition, for leaseholds form 54.4% of the total lay land let."
"Et dicunt quod racione predictarum inclusionem in Peterburgh predicta octo aratra deponuntur et centum persone que circa Culturam terrarum predictarum occupari solebant modo ociosi fient ot miseri facti sunt."... (Domesday of Enclosures, p.255.)
Taking one county with another throughout the country the balance, if any, seems to be slightly in favour of the ecclesiastics as landlords.
6. Enclosures largely to pasture a profitable proceeding
Comparing the rental values of arable and pasture lands generally, it is found that on an average the value of
|Open arable is||7.76d. per acre
||Enclosed arable||10.21d. per acre
||And enclosed pasture||13.03d. per acre|
This shows that land enclosed to pasture had an improved rental over open
arable of 67.9%, or over enclosed arable of 27.61%. The rental of enclosed
arable over open arable was 31.57%, and, "treating each county as a unit,
the improved profits on enclosure and conversion to pasture as compared with
enclosure of arable average nearly 28%."*
The county of Berkshire is, however, an exception, for there arable land brings a higher rent than pasture-land, and in this county 61.04% of the total enclosures returned was enclosure to arable. Corresponding figures for other counties are:
PROPORTION OF TOTAL ENCLOSURE
|To Arable||To Pasture
These figures plainly show that the movement was one largely of enclosure and conversion to pasture, and the fact that such conversion gave an increased profit of 28% over enclosure to arable would naturally lead us to expect such a result.
7. Acreage disclosed in available returns. Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire
Taking the few counties for which the original returns are extant, it is recorded that some 9,878 acres were enclosed as arable and 30,443 acres to pasture, and in addition several thousand acres were ingrossed. The particulars given in the Lansdowne MSS. account for a further area of approximately 27,000 acres enclosed. In considering these figures it must be borne in mind that the original returns are incomplete, and the Lansdowne MSS. statistics very much more incomplete. But even with these figures it can be seen that the results were serious.
In the case of Berkshire there are 4,163 acres ingrossed and 6,615 acres enclosed, of which 274 acres were enclosed for sport. This brought about the eviction and displacement of 670 persons and the demolition of 119 tenements a considerable number, having regard to the area concerned.
In Buckinghamshire the area ingrossed is 7,905 acres and the area enclosed
9,000 acres, bringing about the eviction or displacement of 1,131 persons
and the decay of 172 houses.*
* Professor Gay.
The Northamptonshire returns are very deficient, but these show 7,097 acres
as ingrossed and 8,688 acres enclosed, of which 221 acres were for sport.
This brought about the eviction or displacement of 1,405 persons and the
destruction of 354 houses.*.
* Prof. Gay.
8. Enclosures, etc. in Oxfordshire and Warwickshire
There are figures given for each of the 14 hundreds in Oxfordshire, showing that 11,587 acres were ingrossed and 8,570 acres inclosed, of which 69 acres were for sport. In the hundred of Bullingdon 3.5% of the whole area was enclosed, equalling 1,634 acres, and 92% of this was enclosed to pasture; and in the hundred of Wootton the whole area enclosed was enclosed to pasture.
The returns give an example of an extensive ingrossing in this county by one
William Bedyll. of London. His ingrossings are calculated at about 6,398½
acres of a value of £180 13s. 4d. There were 720 persons evicted in this
county and 186 houses decayed.*
* Prof. Gay.
The returns for Warwickshire show 5,795½ acres ingrossed and 7,948 acres
enclosed. There were 1,018 persons displaced and 207 houses decayed.*
Dugdale affords us an example of enclosing in the Knightlow Hundred in the
reign of Henry VII. "That Thomas Twyford in 4.H.7. depopulated foure
messuages and 3 cottages in Stretton-Baskervill whereunto clx acres of land
belonged; and soone after solde the whole lordshipp to Henry Smyth
gentleman, who in 9.H.7 inclosed and depopulated y rest."
* Prof. Gay.
Dugdale MSS., Inquis. Super. Depop., 3 Edward VI., 1549.
"That Thomas Marquesse Dorset in 12.H.7 impaled nynety acres of errable land, lying within the lordshipp of Arley, within his parke at Astley called the old parke."
9. Norfolk, Staffordshire, and the Isle of Wight
The statistics in the Lansdowne MSS. are plainly fragmentary, but they
indicate the prevalence of the same state of affairs as is disclosed in the
original returns. The figures for Norfolk are most complete, and here we
find 10,454 acres enclosed or converted to pasture, causing the destruction
of 76 houses and the eviction of 380 persons. In addition to these there is
the complete enclosure of a hamlet at Castellacre,* with the destruction of
all the tenements.
* "Unum integrum hamelett cum omnibus tenementes."
In Staffordshire, although only 488Ό acres of enclosures are mentioned, 63.93% of these were enclosed for sport.
The small area, 355 acres, given as enclosed in the Isle of Wight would seem to show that the extensive enclosures prior to 1488 had slackened since that date.
10. Wolsey acts on findings of the Commission
As soon as the returns of this Commission began to come in, Wolsey instituted proceedings in Chancery against those presented, but these proceedings were frequently stayed when the defendants entered into recognizances to rebuild decayed houses and to restore arable land. In 1518 Wolsey issued a decree, ordering those who had pleaded the King's pardon or had thrown themselves on his mercy to restore enclosed lands within forty days under penalty of a heavy fine, but there is evidence that these proclamations and decrees were seldom specifically enforced, the enclosers usually preferring to pay a lump sum or annual fine by way of composition a method which would appeal to the King, who was always looking out for new means of raising money.
There was also a proviso to Wolsey's decree which no doubt went a long way
to render it nugatory, for the offenders might be excused if they could
bring evidence to show that what they had done was for the public benefit,
or that they not not broken any of the statutes against the decaying of
houses.* Such evidence was, as we should anticipate, frequently
* S.P. Dom., Henry VIII, II, ii, App.53.
11. The Commission reports decay of houses and depopulation of villages
The findings of this Commission, then, seem to bear out and substantiate exactly what Sir Thomas More wrote in Utopia. Over and over again do we read in the Returns that so many houses have been decayed or laid waste and that so many persons have left. One short extract from a presentment will give an example of this: "Within the vill of Chaysell the houses aforetime of John Willyers are laid waste., and the inhabitants have departed; and there pertain to the said houses 300 acres of land, whereof 30 are arable and the rest are in pasture. And the houses of Burton Lazars in the same vill are laid waste, and the inhabitants have departed; and there belong to the same houses 300 acres of land, whereof 40 are ploughed, but the rest pasture; and by this downfall the church has fallen in ruins."
In their reports on the various counties the Commissioners always stress the fact that all presentments for the decay of houses are correct, and that the kingdom is being impoverished and the country-side depopulated.
12. Copyholders and tenants among the evictors. The copyholder had legal security of tenure
The returns show that freeholders as well as lords of manors were
responsible for evictions and enclosures, and it also seems clear that there
were copyholders among the evictors. The Act of 1488 "concernynge the Isle
of Wight" stated that "farmers"* were responsible for consolidations, and
the Act of 1562 "for the mayntenaunce and encrease of tyllage" specifies
copyholders as among the "owners" referred to in the statute of 1488.
Farming tenants are frequently mentioned as evictors, and 5 of the 125
enclosers in Norfolk seem to have been copyholders. Copyholders were also
sometimes among the dispossessed, for at a time when might was right legal
security of tenure availed little.
* According to an anonymous Memorial to Vicar-General Cromwell, the "firmas" wore often chiefly responsible for "laying ground to pasture." (Quoted by Ashley, Econ. Hist., bk.ii, ch.iv.)
Leadam, Trans. R. Hist. Soc., 1892.
According to Ashley,* customary tenants had no legal security at this time,
and "the lords knew this and acted upon it"; also, "Custom would seem to
have been on the point of becoming law when a change in the economic
situation the increasing advantage of pasture over tillage prompted the
lords to fall back on their old rights." Against this theory, however, the
evidence seems to be strong in favour of the full legal security of all
customary tenants. It is, of course, important to distinguish between tenure
"at the will of the lord according to the custom of the manor" (copyhold),
tenure "at the will of the lord" on customary land, and tenure "at the will
of the lord" at common law. The two cases quoted in Chapter IV that of
1369 and that of 1468 had established that the copyholder had security of
tenure provided he rendered the customary services. Writing before the
decision of 1468, Littleton said: "But the lord cannot break the custom
which is reasonable in these cases," and in his judgment in the case of 1468
Brian, C.J., laid down the law in no uncertain language.
* Econ. Hist., bk.ii, ch.iv.
Danby, C J., said: "Et sir si le Roy entre en ma terre jeo naura remedie mes mon peticion, etc., mes e roy est tenus de droit de moy restorer, issint est le seigneur tenus de restorer son tenant a volunte secundum consuetodinem."
13. Villeins holding customary lands "ad voluntatem" had legal security
Again, as early as 1304,* it was laid down that a "nativus," or "villein in
gross," who held customary lands "at the will of the lord," had security
against the lord so long as he performed his services. Britton defined
"villeinage in gross" as "a holding of demesne of any lord, granted to hold
at his will by villein services... and delivered by verge and not by written
title." In 1487 it was decided that a villein in gross receiving a grant of
land for a term of years was thereby manumitted, as he had an interest in
the land which he could maintain against the lord.
* Year Book, 32 and 33 Edward I, p.514.
Briton, III, ii, 12.
Year Book, 11 Henry VII, p.3.
Littleton also differentiates between these tenures: "And these are divers diversities between tenant at will, which is in by lease of his lessor by the course of the common law, and tenant according to the custome of the manor in forme aforesaid. For tenant at will according to the custome may have an estate of inheritance (as is aforesaid) at the will of the lord, according to the custome and usage of the manor." Coke, commenting on this, writes: "Here note that Littleton alloweth that by the custome of the manor the copyholder hath an inheritance, and consequently the lord cannot put him out without cause."
14. Some copyholders among the dispossessed
The majority of those evicted, then, belonged to the class holding at the
will of the lord at common law, on tenancies from year to year, or on leases
for lives or a term.* Copyholders, however, could be, and were, dispossessed
by the lord, who refused to admit the heir or demanded an exorbitant fine on
admittance; and although copyholders and tenants of customary lands had
legal security of tenure, this legal security often availed them
* J. Musand, a monk of Worcester, writing to Cromwell, January 31, 1536: "He (the abbot) and his predecessors have taken 200 or 300 acres of land from the tenants to enlarge his park" (Gairdner, L. and P., x, 216).
In referring to the dispossession of a tenant, Crowley* says: "Yea, though
he have been honeste, true, faythfull, and quiete tenant many yeares, yet at
the vacation of his copie or indenture, he must paye welmoste as muche as
would purchayse so much grounde or else voide in hast."
* MS. Brit. Museum, f.8., Furnivall's Intro, to Ballads from MSS., i.24.
15. Further measures against conversion of arable land
The results of the widespread enclosure movement continued to trouble the Government, and an Act was passed in 1534 to prevent consolidations and the conversions of arable land to pasture. The Act recites how churches and towns have been demolished to make way for sheep because of "the great Profit that cometh of Sheep," and how rents have been raised and fines enhanced so that "poor men are not able to meddle with it." Some are alleged to keep as many as 24,000 sheep, and the Act fixes a maximum of 2,000 under penalties. It is also enacted that no man may have more than two farms, and these not in the same parish.
In 1533* there are complaints against the Abbot of Pershore for interfering
with commons and expelling tenants from copyholds.
* S.P. Dom., Henry VIII, vi, 298.
A further Act was passed in 1536 reciting that the Act of 1489 had only been operative on lands held immediately of the King, and enacting that half profits should be paid to the crown where there had been conversion until a house had been built to at least every 50 acres. This statute applied principally to twelve Midland counties, which were named, to Lincolnshire and to the Isle of Wight.
16. Confiscation of monastic lands leads to fresh enclosures
About the year 1536 Henry began dissolving the smaller monasteries and handing their lands over to various favourites and courtiers; and by 1539 the rest of the monasteries were dissolved, and their estates confiscated and given or sold to lay landlords.
There has been much controversy as to the part played by the monasteries in
helping the poor,* but whatever may have been the value of their activities
in this direction, the important point is that the monastic landlords were
replaced by the King's favourites and wealthy merchants, who, for the most
part, were rapacious absentees, who meant to squeeze all they could out of
their newly-acquired property. This confiscation of the Church estates of
course led to fresh enclosing activities and consequent evictions. "As
actually happened, the transfer occurred at a moment when the impoverishment
of the landlords by foreign wars, taxation, and extravagance, and the
enrichment of the commercial classes in a period of internal peace, had
created a new order of men, whose instinct was to become possessors of land
and to treat their acquisitions, not simply as an accession of feudal
dignity, but as an investment to be made remunerative." It has been said
that the monastic lands formed from one-fifth to one-third of the land of
the country, and even if the former estimate be taken, the revolutionary
nature of the change is apparent.
* Fuller, the Church historian: "Yea, those abbeys did but maintain poor which they made." Eden: "Notwithstanding this opinion and expression in the Statutes, I very much doubt, whether the monasteries generally and greatly troubled themselves with relieving Poor that did not immediately belong to their own demesnes."
Leadam, Select Cases, Court of Requests (Selden Society).
Thorold Rogers, Six Centuries of Work and Wages, p.322: "The annual value of the monastic lands was estimated at over £160,000. This is certainly not an exaggeration if, as is so frequently alleged, these instituitions held a third of the land in the kingdom, and that not the least fertile portion.... But it may be the net value after the charges on the property, created by Henry himself.... and after the beneficial leases, which the corporations were said to have extensively granted in view of the coming storm, are deducted or allowed for."
By a statute of 1536* persons who had received monastic lands were required,
under a penalty, to keep as much in tillage as had been usual during the
preceding twenty years, and this requirement would seem to suggest that a
grant of monastic lands frequently resulted in enclosures for sheep-farming,
with a consequent displacement of the population.
* 27 Henry VIII. cap.28.
17. The rising in the north. Government's instructions to the Council of the North
In 1536, partly as a result of the confiscation of the Church estates and
partly on account of the enclosing movement, the rising known as the
Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in the north of England. Considerable feeling
was shown against erclosures and also against the increased fines which were
being demanded of copyholders.* "What with the spoiling of them now and the
grossing of them so marvellously sore in time past and with the increasing
of lords' rents by inclosings, and for lack of the persons of such as shall
suffer, this border is sore weked and specially Westmoreland; the more pity
they should so deserve, and also that they have been so sore handled in
times past, which, as I and all other here think, was the only cause of this
* "As the end of the rebellion trailed off to the 'high and wild countries' of the north, the anti-enclosure feeling, coupled with bitterness at the increase of 'gressoms,' found vent in the casting open of parks and closes." (Gay, Trans. R. Hist. Soc., N.S., vol.xviii)
L. aud P. Henry VIII, xii, i., 478 and 200.
The Government also seem to have been alive to the enclosing movement and
high fines in the north of England, for the Council of the North in 1538 is
directed "from time to time to make diligent inquisition who hath taken in
and enclosed any commons, called intakes, who be extreme in taking gressoms
and overing of rents, and to call the parties that have so used themselves
evil therein before them; and, leaving all respects and affections apart,
they shall take such order for the redress of the enormities used in the
same, as that the poor people be not oppressed, but that they may live after
their sorts and qualities."*
* Quoted by Dr. R.R. Reid in The King's Council of the North.
18. Enclosures and the deprivation of common rights a lasting injury to the community
Gonner,* writing of the enclosures for sheep-farming in the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries, says: "The change was hardly progressive. In some cases
it meant slight use of the land and a corresponding degree of desolation."
He further adds: "On the other hand, it by no means follows that the
movement implied national or widespread evil. It meant local disturbance,
and local disturbance where the mobility of labour was slight, entailed
individual injury ; but on the other hand much land was exhausted, and the
rest enjoyed brought about an increase when later on it was reconverted."...
"Thirdly, in the sixteenth century parks and demesnes were often inclosed
and commons or land over which people had exercised common rights of pasture
and the like curtailed in many counties."... "While further there seems
ground for believing that wastes over which common right had been in active
use were interfered with to the loss and discontent of the commoners."
* Common Land and Inclosures.
It is true, of course, that enclosures did cause "local disturbance" of population, but the evidence already adduced indicates that the disturbed localities were sufficiently numerous to designate the "disturbance" a "national" and "widespread evil." Also it must be constantly borne in mind that the "injury" was not so much '"individual" as communal. An injury to the community, such as the loss of various forms of "common rights" over the land, endures beyond the lifetime of the individuals first affected, and is a fresh loss to each succeeding generation.
19. The testimony of FitzHerbert. Omissions from the Returns of the Enclosure Commissioners
John FitzHerbert, in his "Boke of Surveyinge"* (1539), throws further
light on the enclosures of this period: "And it was of old tyme that all the
landes, medowes and pastures lay open and unclosed. And then was theyr
tenementes moche better cheape than they be nowe, for the mooste part of the
lordes have enclosed their demeyn landes and medowes, and kepe them in
severaltie, so that theyr tenauntes have no commyn with them therin. And
also the lordes have enclosed a great parte of their waste groundes, and
streytened their tenauntes of their commyns therein, and also have gyven
lycence to dyvers of their tenauntes to... take in new intackes, or closes
out of the commens, payeng to their lordes more rent therefore, so that the
commen pastures waxen lasse." FitzHerbert advocates enclosure of arable as
labour-saving, but adds: "Peradventure some men would say that this should
be against the common weale, because the sheepe herdes, heerdmen, and
swynheerdes shulde then be put out of wages."
According to Gonner, in addition to the enclosure of demesne lands, "other
land previously brought into cultivation from the wild was changed in its
use." Commenting on this Gonner says: "This latter feature needs to be borne
in mind, since in some counties and regions it adds considerably to the area
over which change was possible. It seems doubtful if such land would be
included in the returns to inclosure commissions.* Certainly the figures of
these do not seem very striking. Possibly this was the case in Warwickshire,
where the gradual disappearance of forest must have brought and been
bringing much new land into cultivation."
* See par.3.
With reference to the discontent and risings of the sixteenth century,
Gonner writes that these were "not necessarily associated with the
conversion of arable. They were probably just as much due to the inclosures
of commons, with the consequent deprivation of common rights."
RESULTS OF ENCLOSURES
1. Methods of evicting tenants heavy gressoms and short-term leases. The Court of Requests
Before considering the further progress of enclosures in the sixteenth
century, it will be as well to note exactly how evictions came to be carried
out, how those whose forefathers had been on the land for centuries with
security of tenure came to be deprived of their livelihood. Many villeins
and small tenants who had become copyholders were deprived of their holdings
by a refusal to admit the heir, or by extortionate fines demanded on
admission.* This was the "gressom" referred to in the demands of the
Pilgrimage of Grace, when it was asked that those who had taken abbey lands
should charge "two years' rent for gressom and no more."
* Ashley, Econ. Hist., bk.ii, ch.iv.
Another fairly common method by which copyholders were deprived of their
holdings was by getting them to accept, or compelling them by force and
threats to accept, short-term leases instead of their copies, and then
evicting them when the leases ran out. There were several cases in the Court
of Requests* dealing with this point. The case of Kent and Other Inhabitants
of Abbots Ripton v. Seyntjohn, 1543-4, is an example of oppression by
the lay transferee of the lands appertaining to the Abbey of Ramsey. The
copyholders were compelled to accept short-term leases instead of their
copies, the steward advising them "to relynquyshe their coppie holdes beynge
allwayes voydable in the law at the wyll of the lord." This was, of course,
bad law, the copyholders' tenure being "at the will of the lord, according
to the custom of the manor," and in interpreting this to mean "at the whim
of the lord," the lord was illegally depriving the copyholders of their
* A court established to deal with poor persons' complaints. See Select Cases, Court of Requests (Selden Society).
Another bad case before this court was that of the Inhabitants of Whitby v. York in 1553. Sir John York was a London merchant who had purchased monastic lands. On taking over, he had increased the rents by 122.48%, and exacted a further sum of £23 15s. 8d. by way of a fine. Both copyholders and leaseholders complain that Sir John had compelled them to give up their leases so that they became mere tenants at will, and they had even been threatened with imprisonment if they refused to accept these terms. It can well be imagined, too, that at this time landlords had many ways of compelling tenants to accept their terms.
2. Cotters and small tenants forcibly dispossessed. Case of the Inhabitants of Burnam
Tenants of customary lands and cotters and serfs who farmed plots on the
demesne and elsewhere, who had neither leases nor copies, were evicted
straight away.* Those whose holdings were too small without some rights of
common or the opportunity to work on the demesne lands would of necessity be
compelled to go when the demesne was enclosed to pasture or the commons
* See Leadam.
Ashley, Econ. Hist.: "Of all forms of inclosure, it was the inclosure of the common fields which most vitally affected the medieval village economy."
A Court of Requests case of 1543, Inhabitants of Burnam (Somersetshire)
v. Richard Ffynes, illustrates how tenants were deprived of their
lands. The petitioning tenants, copyholders and freeholders, recite how they
have enjoyed time out of mind a common known as the "brode warthe,"* and how
from time out of mind several tenants have held small parcels of demesne
lands by copy of court roll with common in the "overland." They continue:
"So it is most gracious soueren lorde that sithe the sayd Richard ffines
hathe sued liuerie owt of your graces handes of the said maner by means of
sinistrie and ill councell entendinge the vtter vndoinge of your said poor
subiectes for a singular lucre and profitte to him selfe and to one or twoe
more at a courte there laitly holden hath not only discharged diverse of
your saied subiectes of their overland granted unto them by the said Edwarde
ffynes his father as shall & may apere by ther seuerall copies but also
hathe taken from your said orators & other his freeholders the said common
called the brode warthe & discharged them of the common in the same. And the
same brode warthe entendithe for his own singular lucre and promt to dike
and enclose & to make seuerall & to graunte & let the same to ferme & holy
to expelle & exclude your pore subiectes their children & posterite from
ther lawfull common in the same contrare to equite & right & conscience."
Cases such as these and many more before the Court of Star Chamber show that
the commons at this time did not submit to a loss of all their rights
without strong protest.
* Water meadow.
See Chapter VIII, par.18 and Chapter IX, par.11
3. Harrison describes the changed estate of the peasant
Harrison,* in his Description of England, in referring to the
enclosure movement, writes: "They speake also of three things that are grown
to be uerie grievous unto them, to wit, the inhansing of rents, latelie
mentioned; the dailie oppression of copiholders, whose lords seeke to bring
their poore tenants almost into plaine servitude and miserie, dailie
devising new meanes, and seeking up all the old, how to cut them shorter and
shorter, doubling, trebling and now and then seven times increasing their
fines; driving them also for everie trifle to loose and forfeit their
tenures, (by whome the greatest part of the realme dooth stand and is
mainteined), to the end they may fleece them yet more, which is a lamentable
hering." And in an interesting passage he throws light on the changed
circumstances of the peasant: "But to leave this lamentable discourse of so
notable (and greevous) an inconvenience, growing (as I said) by incroching
and joining of house to house, and land to land, whereby the inhabitants of
manie places of our countrie are devoured and eaten up and their houses
either altogither pulled down or suffered to decaie by little and little,
although sometime a poore man peradventure dooth dwell in one of them,
who, not being able to repaire it, suffereth it to fall down, and thereto
thinketh himself verie friendlie dealt withall, if he may have an acre of
ground assigned unto him whereon to keepe a cow, or wherein to set cabbages,
radishes, parsneps, carrets, melons, pompons, or such like stuffe, by which
he and his poore householde liveth as by their principall food, sith they
can doo no better. And as for wheaten bread, they eat it when they can reach
unto the price of it, contenting themselves in the meane time with bread
made of otes or barleie; a poore estate Got wot! Howbeit, what care our
great incrochers? But in divers places where rich men dwelled sometime in
good tenements, there be now no houses at all, but hopyards, and sheads for
poles, or peradventure gardens, as we may see in castell Hardingham, and
diverse other Places."
* William Harrison, B.D., Rector of Redwinter and Canon of Windsor, Description of England, 1577-87. Edited by F.J. Furnival.
Chapter XII, p.242.
4. Risings in the west (1548-9)
The reign of Edward VI opened with widespread discontent and risings resulting from enclosures and the rapacity of the lay landlords who had taken over Church estates.
Enclosures in the west seem to have been chiefly to arable, and the rising
in Cornwall in 1548 was for the most part of a religious character, but
"early in 1549 fresh uprisings were taking place in another section of the
south-west, beginning in Wiltshire and Somersetshire and thence spreading
eastward. These seem to have been animated in large measure by hostility to
inclosures of parks and commons, but there are signs in Hampshire, as in the
midland movement, of Papist stirrings."* There is a reference to this rising
in a letter of John Paston of May 25, 1549 to the Earl of Rutland: "Ther ys
a gret number of the commonse uppe abowte Salssebury in Wylleshere and they
have pluckyd downe Sir Wyllyam Harberde's parke that ys abowte hys new
howse, and dyverse other parkysse and commonse that be inclosyd in that
cuntre, but harme they doo too parson (nobody). They saye thay wylie
obaye the Kynges maister and my lord Protector with aile the counselle, but
thay saye thaye wyll not have ther commonse and ther growendes to be
inclosyd and soo taken from them."
* Gay, Trans. R. Hist. Soc, N.S., vol.xviii.
Hist. MSS., Comm. XII, iv, 36, Rutland MSS.
5. Somerset's anti-enclosure proclamation. Loss of common rights causes rising in eastern counties
In 1548 Somerset issued a Proclamation against Enclosures and appointed
Commissioners to inquire into the matter. Shortly after the Commissioners
started on their work there were enclosure riots in Buckinghamshire and
other parts of the country, accompanied by a levelling of fences and
ploughing up of parks, and in Kent 500 villagers levelled the fences of an
enclosure made by the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.*
* Spanish Chron. of Henry VIII, ed. Hume, 169.
In 1549 the eastern counties rose under Robert Ket, a wealthy man who
himself possessed several manors. Somerset, in a letter to the English
Ambassador at the Court of Charles V, said that he was unable to say whether
this rising were due to the dissolution of the monasteries, game preserves,
or enclosures of commons.* But though enclosures were not specifically
mentioned in the rebels' demands, there is little doubt that agrarian
troubles were at the bottom of the rising, for "in the eastern counties the
tenacious opposition to change was directed not to the conservation of the
familiar church ceremonial, but to the perservation of long exercised common
rights." Thomas Lever in 1550 said: "The greatest griefe that hathe been
unto the people in thys realme, has bene the inclosing of the
Sermon in the Shroudes, 1550. Arber reprint, p.39.
6. John Hales' Defence. Difficulties encountered by Commissioners. Government ignored
John Hales, a member of Somerset's Enclosure Commission, gives us some
first-hand information as to the difficulties encountered by the
Commissioners, and incidentally throws considerable light on the results of
Henry VIII's measures against enclosers and the incompleteness of the
figures of the earlier Commission. In his Defence* to the Council, written
from Coventry in September 1549, he says: "They destroye Townes, they pull
downe houses, they enclose poore mens commens and take awaye all ther
lyvynges, and yet the Kynges Majestie and his Councell to refourme the state
of the Realme, to restore it to his parfection, maye vse no alteration.
* Minutes of P.C. and Miscellany, Lansdowne MSS. 238, f.292.
"After that the Kynges Majestic had sent forthe the proclamation and
Commyssion, what dyd they not to hynder it? Somme founde the meanes to have
ther servantes sworne in the Juryes, to thyntent to have them hasarde ther
soules to save ther gredynes. And as I have lernyd syns, it is not possible
in any of the Shires wher we wer, to make a Jurye without them, suche is the
multytude of Reteynours and hangers on.... Somme poore men were thretened to
be put from ther holdes if they presented, somme also as I further lerned
have no certentie of ther holdes which were wonte to be letten by Copie for
lyfes and otherwise for yeares, because they at no tyme nor in nothynge
shulde offende ther land-lordes, but do and saye what soever they will
commaund them.... Somme also were Indicted because they presented the
truthe, and somme were persuaded that thende of the Commyssion shulde but a
monye matter, as it had byn in tyme paste.*
* Cf. Commission of 1517-18; see also Chapter VIII, par.10.
"Somme of the Ritchemen assone as they had the pardon, they retourned to ther olde vomyte, they beganne immedyatlie to enclose, to take awaye the poore mens Commens, and wer more gredie, then they wer before. They thought and some saied, that the Commission was but a storme for a tyme and soon wolde passe over as a great many hoope it will also do nowe."
Hales goes on to refer to the three Bills he sent to Parliament a Parliament of landlords and says it was as if "the lambe had byn commytted to the wolfe to custodie"; and in considering whether the peasants and their supporters were to blame for the risings, he likens Parliament to a physician who does nothing to help a patient, and asks: "Who is the cause of this frenesie and sedition, eyther the syckeman and those that laboureth for the syckman to the physycyan or the physycyan himself?"
7. Strype corroborates Hales
Strype,* writing in 1549, quotes John Hales's Defence and corroborates the
statements therein. He tells how Hales asked the King to pardon the rich
enclosers as well as the poor who had revolted, with what result we know
from Hales himself. He says that enclosures were nothing new, but had been
going on for sixty years. "These were great graziers and sheepmasters, that
ceased tilling the ground and sowing of corn; pulling down houses, and
destroying whole towns, that so they might have the more land for grazing,
and the less charge of poor tenants, who had dependance on them as their
ploughmen and husbandmen. Whereby the poor countrymen being driven to great
poverty, began thus to shew their discontents."
* Memorials Eccles of Edward VI., vol.ii (1), ch.xxi, p.268.
8. Statute of Merton re-enacted. Complaints against enclosures and depopulation continue
Somerset's anti-enclosure proclamation was followed by a re-enactment of the
Statute of Merton. With reference to this re-enactment Gonner says: "The new
statute reads like the definite reassertion of a right, which otherwise
might nave been deemed in suspense owing to Somerset's proclamation."* He
adds that it may be also due "in part to a desire to introduce new arable in
the place of that which had been converted to pasture." There seems little
doubt, however, that approvement was continuing and that the Council of
Landlords wished the statute to be emphasized by a re-enactment.
* Gonner, Common Land and Inclosures, p.51.
FitzHerbert, Surveying, p.20: "The lords have inclosed a great part of the waste grounds."
Latimer frequently denounced the enclosers in his sermons. He described how his father's farm had increased in rent from £3 to £4 per annum to £16, and how, in consequence, the farmer had been reduced to poverty.
One John Higgins* in 1550 was indicted at Hereford for inciting others to
break up enclosures, saying that by the King's proclamation all enclosures
were to be broken up.
* Hist. MSS. Comm. XIII, iv, 317.
In Wyatt's rebellion in 1554 there were some complaints of enclosure of pastures, and from the Midland counties there were frequent complaints of enclosures of open fields causing depopulation.
9. Enclosure to pasture slackens, but enclosures and depopulations continue throughout reign of Elizabeth
It seems probable that towards the end of the sixteenth century enclosing to
pasture slackened off, and enclosures began to consist more of a
consolidation of strips in the open fields and enclosure for arable.*
Pasture was becoming less profitable, and there was a demand for foodstuffs,
and these factors, and a growing movement to improve arable husbandry, would
account for the gradual change in the direction of the enclosure movement.
Enclosures, however, still continued, and there were frequent small
disturbances throughout Elizabeth's reign, and in Oxford during the scarcity
of 1596 there was considerable feeling against enclosers.
* Gonner: "In the sixteenth century... the skilful farmer wishes to be freed from his slovenly or less skilled neighbours. From FitzHerbert on there is a constant succession of writers advocating inclosure from the farming point of view."
Cal. S.P. Dom., Eliz., vol.iv, ff.316, 343, 345.
Harrison, in his Description of England, deplores the progress of
enclosures and the great extent to which tillage has decayed. In 1592, in
order to satisfy the land hunger to some extent, it was enacted that no
labourer's cottage should be erected without 4 acres of land being attached.
In 1576 it was stated by one Alderman Box* that "the fourth part of the
ground that some time was agreeable in this realm to maintain the plough to
breed corn is now in pasture to maintain sheep."
* Lansdowne MSS. CXXXI, 2., f.2.
The preamble to the Act 39 Eliz., cap.2 (1597-8) states: "Since which time
(when the tillage laws were dropped in 1594) there have grown many
more depopulations by turning tillage into pasture than at any time for the
like number of years heretofore"; and in a letter* from Sir Anthony Cope to
Lord Burleigh concerning depopulation we find: "who, being driven out of
their habitations, are forced into the great cities, where, being very
burdensome, they shut their doors against them, suffering them to die in
the streets and highways."
* Lansdowne MSS. CXXXI, 83, f.68.
See Chapter X, par.19.
10. Great decay of tillage since Domesday sixteenth-century writers do not exaggerate
We must now investigate a little more closely the result of the enclosures of the sixteenth century, and see what measures were taken by the Government at various periods to combat the evil results.
It has already been seen that there is strong evidence for the belief that at the time of Domesday there was a very large area of the country under the plough, amounting in several counties to one-half and more of the area of the county. If we do not bear this in mind, but only consider the amount of open-field land in England in the eighteenth century, it might be thought that those writers who bewailed enclosures in the sixteenth century were exaggerating when they spoke of the great decay of tillage. But taking note of the probable area of arable land in the reign of the Conqueror, it becomes evident that these sixteenth-century writers had good cause for deploring the decay of tillage and the turning of arable to pasture. From the time of the Black Death onwards a very large area must have been turned to grass from arable or enclosed from the waste as pastureland. The Inquisition of 1517-18 shows how this was done, and the remarks of John Hales make it clear that the returns made by the two Commissions were incomplete.
Reliable men, therefore, like Sir Thomas More, Fitz-Herbert, Harrison, and John Hales, who spoke from experience and actual observation, do not seem to have been exaggerating when they deplored the widespread decay of tillage, for the decay had, in fact, been widespread, and, as we shall show later, has continued to the present day.
11. The open-field village still predominant, but most accessible land monopolized and communal rights lost
With the exception of Kent and the south-west, the open-field village was still the commonest type at the close of the sixteenth century, and in the seventeenth century it is said that one-third of the country was still open and unenclosed.
Enclosures had not deprived the peasants of access to all the land in
England, nor had all waste land and commons been enclosed, but the movement
had resulted in the enclosure of a large area of common and waste land and
also open arable land. In this way a great proportion of the land, which was
sufficiently accessible to make it worth while to work, had become
monopolized. As has been seen, in bringing this about, common rights, which
were really the communal property in the land, were forcibly extinguished,
and those who in law and equity had a right to remain on their holdings were
evicted. Land-holding had by now become, in fact, practically land owning,
and these communal rights were lost for all time.*
* See par.2 and Chapter VIII, par.18.
12. Natural opportunities for employment artificially restricted, and no alternative employment for dispossessed
When arable land was enclosed and put down to grass, and the waste and
commons were enclosed, a considerable lessening of the opportunities of
employment resulted. When a villein or cotter was evicted or displaced, and
his holding put down to grass or his common enclosed, the opportunities of
employment on that manor were to that extent diminished; but when at the
same time the lord and other freehold or copyhold tenants did the same, and
also took in large stretches of the waste,* the evicted and displaced
tenants found that no other easily accessible land was available, and they
had to leave. The opportunities were, of course, there, as they were before,
but access to them was denied.
* Enclosure of waste to arable gave employment, but deprived community of common rights.
The actual result, then, of the enclosures and consolidations was to deprive
the community, as a whole, permanently of their interest in the land
affected, to put it in the power of a much smaller number of men to say
whether or no there should be access to the land, and to lessen to a very
large extent the opportunities for employment and self-employment. Unless,
therefore, at the same time as these men were driven from the country-side,
there were sufficient jobs available to absorb them in industry,* we should
expect to find widespread unemployment unemployment, that is, in the sense
of able-bodied men unable to find an employer or to get access to land to
* Gonner, p.384: "It is generally admitted that where conversion to pasture takes place to any great extent, there is risk of depopulation unless the loss of employment directly on the land is compensated for in other ways."
13. Advent of landless agricultural labourer. Great increase of beggars savage repression
Ashley* speaks of the agrarian changes as having driven large numbers from
their holdings, and in depriving the cotters and other small tenants of
their land and commons as having laid the foundation for the landless
* Econ. Hist., vol.i, bk. ii, ch.v.: "They deprived great numbers of the agricultural labouring class small customary tenants and cottagers of the means of support in their old places of abode, and sent them wandering over the country."
Eden, State of the Poor: "I admit, however, that... the race of cottagers was going fast to decay."
Unemployed beggars, as has been seen, became a pest and a public danger in
the reign of Henry VIII, and for some time they were all treated alike and
harshly. Henry "strung up rogues apace," and by an Act of 1530 beggars able
to work were to be whipped,* but a further Act of 1535 recited that the Act
of 1530 had made no provision for setting the beggars to work or for giving
relief. A statute of 1531 against vagrancy recites that "Vacabundes and
Beggars have of long tyme increased and dayly do increase in great and
excessyve nombres by the occasyon of ydelnes, mother and rote of all vyces";
and in an Act of 1534 we find "a merveylous multitude and nombre of the
people of this Realme be not able to provyde meate, drynke, and clothes
necessary for theym selfes, theire wyfes, and children, but be so
discouraged with myserye and povertie that they fall dayly to thefte,
robbery, and other inconvenience, or pitifully dye for hunger and colde." In
this recital it seems to be realized that in the case of a great many people
it is not their fault that they are starving.
* Sir T. Moore in Utopia: "Doubtless unless you find a remedy for these enormities, you shall in vain advance yourselves of executing justice upon felons."
22 Henry VIII, cap.12.
25 Henry VIII, cap.13.
There was a savage Act against vagrants in the first year of Edward VI which
was repealed by 3 and 4 Edward VI. But in spite of this and other repressive
legislation, vagrancy continued to increase and to worry the Government; and
while the Government's endeavours to prevent the drain and evictions from
the country-side were unsuccessful, "it was no earthly use for the
legislature to insist merely that all these wandering impostors must work
the difficulty was to find them any work to do."*
14. Vagrancy increases and repression fails
In spite of harsh and repressive measures and imprisonings of vagrants,
unemployment continued and increased throughout the reign of Elizabeth.
Harrison,* writing of the years 1577-87, said: "It is not yet full
threescore years since this trade began, but how it hath prospered since
that time, it is easie to judge, for they are now supposed of one sex and
another, to amount unto above 10,000 persons, as I have heard reported." A
statute of 1572€ punished vagrants, but made some provision for the relief
of "Poore and Impotent."
* Chapter X, p.218.
This seems to be a conservative estimate.
€ 14 Eliz.
The repressive work of the courts, however, seems to have had some temporary effect, for in 1575 Stow writes: "By the care of Fleetwood the Recorder, and the other Magistrates, there were few or no Rogues and Thieves in Gaol." From Strype, however, we learn that "about the year 1593, and before, the City, as well as other Parts of the Kingdom, was grievously pestered with Beggars; and they many of them poor disbanded soldiers, become poor and maimed by the wars in the Low Countries, and with Spain; and many more that pretended themselves to be so who committed many Robberies and Outrages." A letter written to the Lord Treasurer in 1596 by a Somersetshire Justice of the Peace refers to large numbers of lazy vagrants and robbers.
In Hales's pamphlet, published in 1581, which consists of a dialogue between a husbandman, a manufacturer, a merchant, a knight, and a doctor, the husbandman complains "that arable land is enclosed and turned into pasture, that rents are raised and labour unemployed."
15. Statute of Apprentices Justices to regulate wages. Wages fall
Gonner speaks of town labour, which "tended to withdraw people from agricultural labour," but the towns held out no great attractions at this period, and we have already seen that the withdrawing from agricultural labour was chiefly compulsory. There is little doubt either that the clauses of the Statute of Apprentices, 1563, seeking to compel workers to assist in harvesting, etc., were not inserted by reason of any shortage of labour, for the evidence is abundant that there was great unemployment at this time, but merely copied those statutes which had previously ordered the unemployed to obtain work.
The preamble* to this Act deplored the current low wages and high prices,
and to remedy this state of affairs justices were to limit and appoint the
wages for every kind of manual labour. But as those appointed to assess the
wages were usually those interested in keeping wages down, and as there was
a surplus of unemployed labour, wages fell.
* Chiefly for that the wages and allowances limited and rated in many of the said Statutes are in divers places too small and not answerable to this time respecting the advancement of prices of all things, belonging to the said servants and labourers."
16. Government tackles the pauper problem. Poor Law Act, 1601
The army of unemployed, which had been steadily growing, finally brought
about the great Poor Law Act of 1601.* This statute continued punishments
for those who would not work, but provided relief for the sick and impotent
poor and work for the genuine unemployed. In order to administer this
comprehensive scheme, the Act provided for the levying of rates on
parishioners for the upkeep of the poor and the workhouses. Thus we see that
the State, having countenanced a policy which drove peasants off the land
and caused unemployment, was compelled to levy rates on householders to
maintain the unemployed, to "make work" for them because they had been
denied access to the natural opportunities for employment. As has been well
said, the pauper was to be "quartered on the occupier."
* 43 Eliz., cap.3.
17. Harrison deplores increase of game and parks. Enclosures have filled land with beggars
Harrison gives a striking account of the increase of coney warrens, game
preserves and parks during Elizabeth's reign, and also of the destruction of
houses of which he speaks of his own experience: "Where in times past, manie
large and wealthie occupiers were dwelling within the compasse of some one
parke, and thereby great plentie of corne and cattell seene, and to be had
among them, beside a more copious procreation of humane issue, whereby the
realme was alwaies better furnished with able men to serve the prince in his
affaires; now there is almost nothing kept but a sort of wild and savage
beasts, cherished for pleasure and delight; and yet some owner, still
desirous to inlarge those grounds, [as either for the breed and feeding of
cattell,] doo not let dailie to take in more, [not sparing the verie commons
wherupon manie townships now and then doo live] affirming that we have
alreadie too great store of people in England; and that youth by marrieng
too soone doo nothing profit the countrie, but fill it full of beggars, [to
the hurt and utter undoing (they saie) of the commonwealth]. Certes, if it
be not one curse of the Lord, to have our countrie converted in such sort,
from the furniture of mankind into the walks and shrowds of wild beasts, I
know not what is anie. How manie families also these great and small games
(for so most keepers call them) have eaten up, and are likelie hereafter to
devoure, some men may conjecture, but manie more lament, sith there is no
hope of restraint to be looked for in this behalf, [because the corruption
is so generall]. But if a man may presentlie give a ghesse... he shall saie
at the last, that the twentith part of the realme is imploied upon deere and
conies alreadie, which seemeth verie much, if it be dulie considered
* Harrison, ch.xix, 306-7.
18. No question of over-population until enclosure movement. Access to the land denied
It is interesting to note how Harrison refers to those who think that
over-population is the cause of the poverty and unemployment,* and one would
imagine from what he says that he had a shrewd idea as to the cause of the
unemployment namely, the enclosure movement and evictions from the
country-side. His statements might be compared with the pessimistic writings
of a parson of a later generation and the utterances of a certain Dean of
our own times.
* "Some also doo grudge at the great increase of people in these days, thinking a necessarie brood of cattell farre better than a superfluous augmentation of mankind... But if it should come to passe that any forren invasion should be mayde... then should these men find that a wall of men is farre bettr than stackes of com and bags of monie"
There does not seem to have been any talk of over-population before the enclosure movement started, but as soon as the unemployed appeared and the beggars came to town there have always been those ready to argue that if these unemployed had not been born there would have been no unemployed. The fallacy here can be readily appreciated when we know that these men were driven from the land where they had employment, that the natural opportunities which once afforded them employment still existed, and that they could have been employed again had they, or even some of them, been able to get back there.
19. Thorold Rogers and cause of sixteenth-century poverty. Pauperism before debasement of coinage. Regulation of wages inoperative until assisted by economic force
Thorold Rogers* attributes the misery and poverty in the sixteenth century
to (1) the issue of base money by Henry VIII in 1543; (2) the confiscation
of the guild funds; and (3) the regulation of wages by justices, which was
first begun by the statute 5 Eliz., cap.4. Writing of this act, he says:
"This expedient was at last successful, and was the third in the set of
causes from which pauperism was the inevitable effect.... Had, however, the
first two acts to which I have so often referred not been committed, the
third would have, I am persuaded, been nugatory. It was nothing more than
had been enacted in the reign of Henry IV, and had been wholly inoperative,
at any rate in the direction which it was intended to take the reduction
of agricultural wages for these, as we have seen, improve after the
* Six Centuries of Work and Wages, p.353.
Statute of Labourers.
Rogers here seems to lose sight of the reason why the Statute of Labourers was inoperative namely, because there was nothing in the way of labour's access to the land, and opportunities for employment far exceeded the supply of labour. Had he remembered this, he might have seen that, even had there been no debasement of the coinage and no confiscation of guild funds, the economic force of a surplus of workers seeking employment, where the opportunities of employment have been artificially restricted, would of itself cause low wages. Given two men after one job and no alternative employment, it will not be necessary to look to any statute to see why the wages of the one employed are low or why the other is unemployed. And if the pauperism of the sixteenth century was due to these three causes, it may be asked what it was that caused the pauperism and unemployment in the reign of Henry VII and early years of the sixteenth century, before the coinage was debased or the guild funds confiscated?
20. Debasement of coinage in earlier period did not cause high prices and unemployment. Elizabeth reforms the currency
Without denying that the debasement of the coinage and confiscation of
benefit funds would cause hardship, it is difficult to see how they could
have caused unemployment if access to the land had remained unrestricted. It
is, too, a curious fact that there had been a previous debasement of the
coinage, which, according to Rogers,* was followed by no bad results. He
admits that he can only explain this on the ground that payments were made
by weight and not by tale, and, writing of the debasement of 1543, he says:
"Whether payments were made by weight or not before the debasement, they
were certainly made by tale speedily afterwards, and when Elizabeth reformed
the currency, the new system, to her evident disappointment, was permanently
* P.341: "It has been stated before that at various periods of English history the English sovereigns lessened the weight of the unit, the silver penny, tiil, in the year 1464, the penny of Edward IV was almost exactly half the weight of the Penny of Edward I. It is remarkable that, notwithstanding these successive diminutions, no effect is traceable in the price of commodities, and no discontent is expressed at the action of the Crown. If anything, after the last change, commodities became cheaper."
Elizabeth reformed the currency* in 1560, and referring to this Rogers says:
"Its nominal value is said to have been a little more than £638,000, which
gives an additional illustration to my theory that payments were made by
weight and not by tale. The actual amount of sterling silver contained in
the mixture was 244,416 lb.... Elizabeth coined £733,248 in the new coinage
out of the silver she refined." If, as Rogers says, payments were formerly
made by weight, this certainly supports his view, and would also seem to
show that payments were still being made by weight in 1560; so that if this
is so, there is no reason why the debasement of 1547 should have been any
more harmful than that of Edward IV.
* The average debasement was 60%, or a little more than 7 oz. in 12 (Rogers).
As Rogers said: "Henry and his son had at last, though unwittingly, given
effect to the Statute of Labourers," but it was the enclosure movement that
had made it possible for them to do this.
THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY MODERN CONDITIONS BEGIN
1. Improved arable culture in seventeenth century and enclosure of wastes
Enclosures continued throughout the seventeenth century, but their purpose
was to some extent different from what it had formerly been. The movement
which we saw beginning during the latter part of the sixteenth century,
enclosing to arable for improved cultivation, continued to progress, and
with it there was much ingrossing and consolidation of farms. "Arable
agriculture enters on a period of progress, and new methods of cultivation
are within the power of the careful and enlightened tenant."* Houghton,
writing at the end of the century, speaks of enclosure on light lands, as,
for example, the sands of Norfolk, where new grasses and root crops
flourished, and also states that the growth of agriculture was then leading
to even more extensive enclosures than formerly.
* Gonner, p.326.
Houghton edited a weekly paper with articles on agriculture, etc., 1691-1702.
There was also much enclosure of waste land during this century, especially
in Cornwall and the west, and in Cornwall* and Devonshire enclosures had
probably proceeded farther than in any other county.
* Carew in a book on Cornwall dated 1600, quoted by Slater.
Leland in 1537 found no "champaigne," or open land, in Devonshire or Cornwall.
2. Much conversion to pasture, especially in Midlands
In addition to this enclosure to arable there was much enclosure and
conversion to pasture for sheep and dairy-farming, especially in the
Midlands. "Thus in the third place, where conversion is a feature, it
probably takes place far more thoroughly* and uniformly than was previously
the case.... In particular, a part of the Midlands is turned more and more
to pasture, and in the east, land begins to bear its present aspect in
respect of grain. Taking the compositions for depopulation for the years
1635-8, the only counties where these bear a high proportion to area are, in
their order, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Rutlandshire, Hampshire and
Lincolnshire. Very much below them stand Hertfordshire and Nottinghamshire,
while in the other counties mentioned these payments are insignificant!"
The increase in the price of cattle during this century would probably
contribute to the extension of pasture and grazing.
* Gonner, p.139: "Thus we hear that inclosure is worse than in the time of Henry VII, and the sheep figures as a destroyer of farms and devourer of men in the pages of various writers. Further, the proceedings of the Privy Council with letters to the Sheriffs, and the levy of compositions, emphasize the anxiety."
3. Enclosure by agreement confirmed by Chancery Decree widespread
The method of effecting enclosures during the seventeenth century was
usually by agreement confirmed by Chancery Decree and sometimes by Act of
Parliament. But probably the largest areas dealt with were enclosed by
so-called agreement confirmed by a Chancery Decree. The demesne land
continued to form the subject of enclosure as well as the common fields and
pasture, and we are told that many tenants enclosed their land piece by
* Leonard, "The Inclosure of Common Fields in the Seventeenth Century," Trans. R. Hist. Soc., 1905, N.S., vol.xix.
As to agreement, there can be little doubt that a large landowner or farmer
would have many ways of enforcing agreement amongst the small holders, and
we have evidence of several collusive actions* in Chancery to compel
dissentients to agree. Poor tenants would have little chance to appear in
London and maintain their claims, and if they took such action, it would be
likely to result in their eviction.
* P-C Register VII, ch. i, pp.506-7; P.C. Register X, 197 (October 31, 1634)
With reference to these Chancery Decrees, Miss Leonard says: "The Inclosure
decrees and Awards of the Courts of Westminster are not indexed, but after
months of searching I feel justified in asserting that these decrees were
more numerous than has been usually supposed, and that they refer to many
different parts of the country to Yorkshire and Warwickshire as well as to
Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, to Hampshire and Oxfordshire as well as
to Lincolnshire and Huntingdonshire."* Dealing in detail with the county of
Durham, she shows that between 1634 and 1700 about 4% of the area of the
county (25,000 acres common fields and 3,518 acres common pasture) was
affected by agreements and decrees, and from 1585 about 6Ό% of the area.
* Trans. R. Hist. Soc., N.S. vol.xix.
4. Instructions to Council of the North concerning depopulation
Depopulation of the country-side and the increase of vagrancy continued to trouble the Government, for the Poor Law Act of 1601 was only a palliative, and made no pretence at striking at the cause of the trouble.
The Instructions to the President and Council of the North in 1603 again
dealt with enclosures, in the following terms: "Further our pleasure is that
the said Lord President and Council shall from time to time make diligent
and effectual inquisition of the wrongful taking in of commons and other
grounds and the decay of tillage and of towns or houses of husbandry
contrary to the laws... and leaving all respects and affections apart they
shall take such order for redress of enormities used in the same as the poor
people be not oppressed and forced to go begging."*
5. The Midland Rising (1607)
In 1604 the people of Northamptonshire, through Sir Edward Montague, a
county member, complained of the "depopulation and daily excessive
conversion of tillage into pasture." According to Professor Gay,* "Sir
Edward, though himself impressed with the inconvenience of the open-field
husbandry, in reporting these complaints to Parliament, said that the 'cry
of the county' had 'so strongly enjoined' him that he could do no less than
present this request to the 'consideration of your wisdomes.'"
* "The Midland Revolt and the Inquisition of Depopulation in 1607," Trans. R. Hist. Soc., N.S., vol.xviii.
See Hist. MSS. Comm., MSS. of Lord Montague of Beaulieu, 42
Enclosure and conversion in this county and in the Midlands generally
continued, and feeling at last became so strong that in June 1607 there was
a fairly widespread rising in those counties against enclosures. This rising
began in Northamptonshire. The Earl of Shrewsbury, writing* to the Earl of
Kent, June 2, 1607, said: "They answered, that if the sayd sheriff and
Justices wolde acquaynt his Matie that the cause of theyr rysing was oute of
no vndutifull mynde to his Matie but only for reformation of thos late
inclosures wch made them of ye porest sorte reddy to pyne for wante, and yt
they myght heare answere from his Matle within vi dayes and that his Hs
wolde promis to reforme thos abvses, they wolde then all departe home, and
rely upon his Mate promis and performance thereof &c." He goes on to say
that if he had been dealing with the matter, he would not have parleyed with
"such insolent base and rebellious people,"and that force should have been
used against them if they had not returned home instantly.
* Lansdowne MSS., 90, f.23.
This rising was speedily repressed, and we learn from a parish register
entry* by Thomas Cox, Rector of Addington Magna, dated June 8, that "many
were taken prisoners, who afterwards were hanged and quartered, and their
quarters set up at Northampton, Oundle, Thrapston, and other places."
* Bridges, Northamptonshire, ii, 206.
6. The Enclosure Proclamation action to be taken against offenders
On June 28, 1607, there was issued an Enclosure Proclamation* in which the
blame for the continuance of depopulating enclosures is put on the people
who "have been wanting to themselves in the due and ordinary meanes which
they ought to take, by presentment of, such as are or have bene guilty of
these oppressions." He must indeed have been a bold man who would present his
landlord as an encloser at this time, and, as has been shown, there is
considerable evidence that those who did present were harshly treated, and
that fear of eviction kept large numbers from presenting. It was, moreover,
the continued failure of presentment and of the Government to bring any
redress to the peasants that brought about the rising.
* Rot. Pat., 5 James I.
The Proclamation states, however, that the judges had been assembled to discover enclosure offenders and "to consider how farre they may be touched in law, and in what course, and accordingly to proceed against them with all severitie."
7. Government appoints a Commission. Returns show wide-spread movement
Following this Proclamation the Government set up another Commission to
inquire into the enclosure and conversion of arable land. The instructions
issued did not mention the enclosure of waste and pasture, but there are
some presentments for such enclosures and also for the conversion of arable
land apart from enclosure. The Returns* supply the acreage converted and the
acreage severed, this latter term apparently referring to cases where land
was severed from farm-houses, resulting in the decay of the houses. Lands
severed would thus form part of an ingrossing and consolidating scheme.
* See Trans. R. Hist. Soc., N.S., vol.xviii, 1904.
In Northamptonshire open-field farms varied from £50 to £150 a year, in newly enclosed parishes from £100 to £300 a year, and in old enclosed parishes up to £500; in South Wilts common field farms £18 to £25 a year, and enclosed farms £100 to £300 (Leonard, Trans. R. Hist. Soc., N.S., vol. xix).
The Returns comprise the counties of Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire, and date back to 1578. In comparing the five counties returned in 1517 and 1607, the percentage of the acreage returned to the total acreage of the counties was respectively 1.72% and 2.46%. The acreage represented in 1607 was 69,758 acres scattered among 393 places, thus showing that the movement was a general one throughout the Midlands. But again we hear of the intimidation of jurors and witnesses, which would account for the incomplete character of the Returns.
The figures for the six counties* are as follows:
|Warwickshire||Area affected,||5,373 acres, of which|
|Leicestershire||Area affected,||12,290 acres, of which|
|Northamptonshire||Area affected,||27,335 acres, of which|
|Buckinghamshire||Area affected,||7,077 acres, of which|
|Bedfordshire||Area affected,||10,004 acres, of which|
|Huntingdonshire||Area affected,||7,677 acres, of which|
8. House of Lords finds poverty due to ingrossing and overpopulation
On July 5, 1607, the House of Lords published a "Consideration"* of the
cause of depopulation, and it is interesting to note their conclusions and
suggested remedies: "In-grossinge beinge truly the disease and not
conuertinge wiche may be iustified for.... By redressinge the fault of
Depopulation and Leaueing encloseinge, and conuertinge arbitrable as in
other shires the poore man shall be satisfied in His ende; Habitation; and
the gentleman not Hindred in his desier: Improvement. But as thear is now a
Labour to sute out Dwellinges for as muche stocke of people as the Comon
Wealth will beare it must likewise be fitt, as good husbandes doe withe
their groundes to provide that you doe not over burthen it. But as they doe
wth their increase remove them to other places: soe must the State either by
transferring to the Warres or deduceinge of Colonies vent the daylie
encrease that ells will surcharge the State; ffor if in London a place more
contagious then the Countrye the nomber of Cristenings doth weekly by 40
exceede the burialls, and that the Countries proportionally doth equall if
not outgoe that rate, It cannot be but that in this State, as in a full
bodie theare must breake out yearely tumors and Impostures as did of
* A consideration of the cause in question before the Lords touchinge depopulation."- Cottonian MSS., Brit. Museum (quoted by W. Cunningham, D.D. The Growth of English Industry and Commerce, vol.i).
Cf. the view taken by the Council; see par.9.
Thus it will be readily seen that the Commons had little chance of any real redress of grievances from such a body as this. The Lords calmly say that the gentleman should have his desire improvement, which meant an increase of rent, but that the so-called surplus population should be shipped off to the Colonies or the wars. They seem to have overlooked the fact that the dispossessed who revolted had been robbed of their holdings, and but for this would still have been in employment.
9. Complaints continue. Council instruct justices to take action. Council and justices agree that depopulation results from enclosure and conversion
As in previous times, the Government's measures against enclosers seem to
have had little effect, for in 1630, in consequence of continued complaints
from the Midlands, the Council have to instruct the justices of several
counties to remove the enclosures of the previous two years. Writing to the
justices in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire the Council say:* "There
appeares many great inclosures... all wch are or are lyke to turne to the
conversion of much ground from errable to pasture and be very hurtfull to
the commonwealth although they beare a fayre shewe of satisfaccon to all
parties who are concerned in those grounds inclosed. But wee well know wth
all what ye consequence will be, and in conclusion all turne to
* "These letters issued by the Privy Council show that the official opinion of the time coincided with that of the pamphleteers in the belief that as late as 1631 inclosure in the Midland Counties tended to depopulation even when all the commoners were well treated" (Leonard, Trans. R. Hist. Soc., N.S., vol.xix).
Trans. R. Hist. Soc., N.S., vol.xix; P.C. Register VI, f.385, 1630.
In replying to similar letters from the Council, the justices of Norfolk
write: "Most Honorable; We; Wee have caused a view* to bee made according to
yor lops late lres of all inclosures & convrsions of arrable land to meadow
and pasture wch are now in hand or have beene made wth in two yeares last
past. And wee have signifyed yor lops direccons unto such persons as are
causers of any such inclosures & convrsions & have given them notice that
they ought not to proceede wth hedgeing or dytchinge in of any such grounds
but to let them so rest untill wee shall have furder orders from yor honors.
And wee further conceave that if depopulacons may bee reformed it will bring
a great good to the whole Kingdom, for where houses are pulled downe the
people are forced to seeke new habitations in other townes and countryes by
meanes whereof those townes where they get a setling are pestred so as they
are hardly able to live one by an other and it is likewise the cause of
erecting new cottages uppon the waste & other places who are not able to
relieve themselves nor any such townes able to sustaine or set them on worke
wch causes rogues and vagabondes to encrease. Moreover it doth appeare that
in those townes wch are depopulated the people beinge expelled there are few
or none left to serve the King when souldjours are to be levyed to appeare
at musters for his Mat's service wch is also a cause that poore Townes where
many people are, are put to greater charg in setting forth of souldjours &
depopulated Townes are much eased and the subsidie decayed. All wch wee
humbly submit to yor lops great wisdome."
* See S.P. Dom., Charles I, 1631 (vol.206), 69-71.
S.P. Dom., Charles I, Vol.CLXXXV, No.86 This is signed by ten justices.
Other Commissions were appointed in 1632, 1635 and 1636; and in 1633 special
instructions were given to Judges of Assize on the matter of enclosures, and
they had to attend the Council and report their proceedings.*
* P.C. Register IX, f.267, October 18, 1633.
10. Winstanley and the Diggers. Poverty due to withholding of land from use
The Digger movement, under the leadership of one Gerrard Winstanley, began
about 1648, and is of interest in throwing light on the views held by a body
of people of that time concerning the cause of poverty and unemployment.
Winstanley, who had been a small trader in London, had lost his money by
reason of the Civil War. We find something of his views in a pamphlet issued
in 1649 entitled The New Law of Righteousness.* He held that the land
belonged of right to all the people of England, and that no man should be
denied access to land if he wished to work it. The buying and selling of the
earth from one particular hand to another was the beginning of "particular
interest," and the result of this was that he who had bought land was able to
compel the landless man to work for him for low wages. The Norman Conquest
had resulted in a robbery of the people of England of their rights in the
soil, and that, and the gradual establishment of private property in land,
had brought poverty to the country.
* Jesus Coll. Lib., Oxford. This and other documents referring to the Digger movement are quoted in The Digger Movement in the Days of the Commonweath, L.H. Berens.
Among his practical proposals we find the following: "Divide England into
three parts, scarce one part is manured. So that here is land enough to
maintain all her children, yet many die of want, or live under a heavy
burden of poverty all their days. And this misery the poor people have
brought upon themselves by lifting up particular interest by their
labours.... Let those that have hitherto had no land, and have been forced
to rob and steal through poverty; henceforth let them quietly enjoy land to
work upon, that everyone may enjoy the benefit of his Creation, and eat his
own bread with the sweat of his own brows. For surely this particular
propriety of mine and thine hath brought in all misery upon people. First,
it hath occasioned people to steal one from another. Secondly it hath made
laws to hang those who did steal. It tempts people to do an evil action, and
then kills them for doing it.* Let all judge whether this be not a great
* Cf. Sir T. More in Utopia.
11. The Diggers start to cultivate waste land
Winstanley and his followers endeavoured to put their beliefs into practice
by starting work on the wastes at St. George's Hill, Surrey, and elsewhere.
At the former place they were harried, we are told, by the surrounding
tenants at the instigation of the "gentlemen of the County," and some were
fined and imprisoned. Arising out of this incident, Winstanley and others in
1649 sent an Appeal* to the House of Commons in the following terms: "The
main thing that you should look upon is the land, which calls upon her
children to be free from the entanglements of the Norman Taskmasters. For
one third part lies waste and barren, and her children starve for want, in
regard the Lords of Manors will not suffer the poor to manure it... let the
Common People have the Commons and Waste Lands set free to them from all
Norman enslaving Lords of Manors."
* King's Pamphlets, Brit. Museum Press Mark E., 564.
General Fairfax, who visited St. George's Hill in May 1649, said: "They carry themselves civilly and fairly in the country, and have the report of sober, honest men." (Brit. Museum Press Mark E., 530).
12. Declaration of the poor of Wellingborrow
Some of the poor in Wellingborrow, Northamptonshire, had followed the
example of the Surrey Diggers, and in a printed broadsheet,* dated March 12,
1649, there is a Declaration setting forth their policy. They say: "We find
that no creature that ever God made was ever deprived of the benefit of the
Earth, but Mankind.... We are in Wellinborrow in one parish 1169 persons
that receive alms, as the Officers have made it appear at the Quarter
Sessions last. We have made our case known to the Justices: the Justices
have given order that the Town should raise a stock to set us on work, and
that the Hundred should be enjoyned to assist them. But as yet we see
nothing is done, nor any man that goeth about it. We have spent all we have;
our trading is decayed; our wives and children cry for bread.... If we
steal, the Law will end our lives. Divers of the poor are starved to death
already; and it were better for us that are living to die by the Sword than
by the Famine. And now we consider that the Earth is our Mother; and that
God hath given it to the children of men; and that the Common and Waste
Grounds belong to the poor; and that we have a right to the common ground
both from the law of the Land, Reason, and Scriptures. Therefore we have
begun to bestow our righteous labor upon it, and we shall trust the Spirit
for a blessing upon our labor, resolving not to dig up any man's propriety
until they freely give us it... some of those rich men amongst us that have
had the greatest profit upon the Commons have freely given us their share in
it... and the country farmers have profered, divers of them, to give us seed
to sow it.... And truly those that we find against us have been constant
enemies to the Parliament Cause from first to last." News of the activities
of these Diggers reached the Council of State, and word was sent to a
Justice of the Peace for the County: "Let those men be effectually proceeded
against at the next Sessions, and if any that ought to be instrumental to
bring them to punishment fail in their duty, signify the same to us, that we
may require of them an account of their neglect."
* Brit. Museum, under Wellingborrow. Press Mark, S. Sh., fol.669, f.15(21).
Cal. S.P. Dom., Green, p.106, April 15, 1650.
13. Edward Sexby speaks for the private soldier, who owns no estate in the land
In the Army Council debate on the question of the right to vote, Edward
Sexby,* a representative of the private soldiers, in reply to Ireton, said:
"We have engaged in this Kingdom and ventured our lives, and it was all for
this: to recover our birthrights and privileges as Englishmen; and by the
arguments urged, there are none. There are many thousands of us soldiers
that have ventured our lives, we have had little propriety in the Kingdom as
to our estates, yet we have had a birthright. But it seems now that except a
man hath a fixed estate in this Kingdom, he hath no right in this Kingdom. I
wonder we were so deceived. If we had not a right to the Kingdom, we were
mere mercenary soldiers."
* Clarke Papers, vol.i, pp.322-3, 325.
14. Law of Settlement, 1662, makes agricultural labourer a landless serf
The administration of the Poor Law Act of 1601 had been lax for several
years,* and in 1630 a Commission was appointed to inquire into the
administration of the Act, the justices being ordered to see to its due
execution. Lords of manors and town authorities were also ordered to see
that work was provided to relieve the poor.
* See Cunningham, Growth, etc., vol.ii, p.208.
In 1662* the Law of Settlement came into force a law which aimed at
keeping the labourer to the parish of his birth or residence, and preventing
him from wandering in search of work. If he did wander and came to another
parish, he could be removed within forty days to the place from whence he
had come, if there were any danger of his becoming chargeable. Thus the
agricultural labourer became "a serf without land the most portentous
phenomenon in agriculture." Commenting on the results of this Act, Thorold
Rogers says: "Those persons who possessed the whole of a parish took care,
whenever they could, to pull down cottages on their estate and rely on
labour from a distance. By this system they hired labour at quarter sessions
rate i.e. at factitiously low wages while the parish of the man's
residence had to supplement his wages and to bear all those contingencies
which were enhanced by the labourer being constrained to travel a
considerable distance to his work in all weathers.... The wealthy landowners
clung to it with desperate tenacity, for it increased their rents at the
expense of the occupier and the poor."€
* 13, 14 Charles II, cap.12.
"It interfered with the employment of the industrious and it chained the unemployed to districts where no work could be obtained "(Cunningham, p.208).
€ Id., Six Centuries of Work and Wages, p.434.
15. Depopulation increases poor rates
Enclosures and the consequent depopulation of the countryside frequently
resulted in an increase of poor rates, not necessarily in the depopulated
districts, but often in the neighbouring towns whither the dispossessed
found their way. "The seventeenth-century complainants who lived in the
agricultural and more thinly populated districts traced the effect of
inclosures too clearly to imagine that the increase of rates would of
necessity be in the inclosed parishes. Holhead and Moore (Inclosure
Thrown Open, p.5.; The Crying Sin of England, p.11) alike show
that the increase was more often in the neighbouring towns, where the people
swarmed when deprived of their holdings and employments.* The same estimate
of cause and effect is confirmed by the official report of the justices of
Nottingham (S.P. Dom., ch.i, CLXXXV, 86) and also by the rule of the Book
of Orders (January 1630, Eden, i, p.158), providing that extra rates should
be imposed where depopulations had taken place."
* See par.9.
Leonard, Trans. R. Hist. Soc., N.S., vol.xix.
16. Contemporary evidence of depopulation. Results of enclosing the waste
Thus not only are enclosures deplored on account of their depopulating
tendencies, but for the increased burdens placed on the occupier by aiding
the pauper out of the rates. Many contemporary writers supply evidence of
depopulation, and the continued decay and frequent wilful destruction of
farmhouses. Moore says he does not complain of enclosures in counties where
there are alternative occupations, as in Kent, but as regards other parts of
the country, "surely they may make men as soon believe there is no sun in
the firmament as that usually depopulation and decay of tillage will not
follow inclosure in our inland countryes."*
* John Moore, A Scripture Word, etc, 1656.
Gonner, referring to the enclosures of this century, says: "It is obvious
that two of the most serious charges urged against inclosure on public
grounds would not be tenable as against that of common or waste. Inclosing
these could not lead to a depopulation by reducing employment, nor could it
occasion a decrease in the grain supply."* It is difficult to understand
how, in the face of the evidence of contemporaries, it can be said that
enclosure of waste and common could not cause depopulation. When these lands
were taken in for sheep-farming or grazing, the evidence is clear to the
effect that many more peasants were displaced by reason of deprivation of
common rights than were given employment arising out of the new use to which
the lands were put. It must also be remembered that land once enclosed
became for all practical purposes absolute private property, so that the
encloser might withhold it from use or keep it for sport as he chose. It
will be seen, too, in subsequent chapters, that even when enclosed waste
was used to produce corn, it was frequently put back to grass when prices
fell. Had, however, this land been colonized by the peasants, as it would
have been but for enclosure, a large part of it of necessity would have
remained arable. So that even if immediate unemployment were not caused, the
power of withholding that land from use in the future lay in the hands of
* Gonner, p.295.
See Chapter XI. par.9; also Chapters XII and XIII.
17. Lupton's satire. Land hunger prevalent. The repeal of the tillage laws
Lupton,* a satirist, writing in 1634 on enclosures and the condition of the
country-side, said: "The poor of the parish and other places are his chief
pioneers, who like mould-warps cast up earth. The parish he either wins by
composition, or banters down by force of his lawless engines. Most of the
inhabitants are miserably pillaged and undone. He loves to see the bounds of
his boundless desires; he is like the devil; for they both compass the earth
about. Enclosures make fat beasts, and lean poor people.... Husbandmen he
loves not; for he maintains a few shepherds, with their curs. He holds those
that plough the land, cruel oppressors; for they wound it, he thinks, too
much, and therefore he intends to lay it down to rest."
* London and the, Country Carbonadoed! (Harleian Misc., ix, 326).
Moore also gives us an idea of the prevalent land-hunger. He writes: "Truly
it would make a charitable heart bleed to come now into our markets where we
are now so busie upon such inclosures in Leicestershire where the markett is
full of inquirie and complaint of such tennants to all they meet: 'Can you
help me to a farm or a little land to imploy my team?'"*
* The Crying Sin of England, p.9.
The tillage laws of Elizabeth were repealed in 1624,* and an increase of
enclosures followed, but it was then decided by the Court of Star Chamber
that "depopulation" was a common law offence, and for such offence there
were several prosecutions, Coke himself being active against enclosers.
* See P.C. Register IV., January 26, 1619. Low price of corn affects landlords.
S.P. Dom., Charles I, No.95, v, 187.
18. Law of Settlement results in decay of cottages. A tendency to large-scale farming
We have seen how the Law of Settlement encouraged the destruction of
cottages and the employment of labour from a distance. Evidence of this
movement, and of the tendency to ingross and farm on a large scale, is given
by Lord North,* who wrote towards the end of the century. He said: "It is
another very great destruction of people as well as an impediment to the
recruit of them that gentlemen of late years have taken up an humour of
destroying their tenements and cottages whereby they make it impossible that
mankind should inhabit upon their estates. This is done sometimes barefaced
because they harbour poor that are a charge to the parish, and sometimes
because the charge of repairing is great, and if an house be ruinous they
will not be at the cost of rebuilding and repairing it, and cast their lands
into very great farms which are managed with less housing: and oftimes for
improvement as it is called which is done by buying in all freeholds,
copyholds, and tenements that have common, and which harboured very many
husbandry and labouring families, and then enclosing the commons and fields
turning the managery from tillage to grazing." And once consolidation has
been accomplished, "the English land laws with the custom of primogeniture
and the difficulty of transferring land tend to make consolidation
* Roger North, A Discourse of the Poor published 1753.
Leonard, Trans. R. Hist. Soc., N.S., vol.xix.
19. Dispossessed drift to the towns. Measures taken by the towns
The goal of many of the dispossessed in the seventeenth as in the sixteenth
and fifteenth centuries was, of course, the towns. "Inclosure proceedings as
conducted in England conduced to the destruction of this rural society. The
labourers gradually ceased to own or occupy land; the farms increased in
size; the possession of land became more exclusively the privilege of the
rich; and an ever-increasing proportion of the people left the country for
* Leonard, Trans. R. Hist. Soc., N.S., vol.xix.
In Nottingham and other towns the inrush from the country-side was becoming
a menace. Among the many references in the Nottingham Borough Records to
this matter there is the following order: "Itt ys lykewise ordered and
agreed, thatt from henceforthe noe Burgesse or freeman of this towne shall
receave, admitt, or take in any tenant, or person, or persons to be his
tenant to anye cottage or poore habytacion here nowe in beinge cominge oute
of the countrie and nott beinge a towne dweller here, without the lycence
and consent of the said Maior, Recorder, and Aldermen."* This order was made
because the burgesses had complained of the great house shortage caused
through the drift of peasants from the country-side. Countrymen taken in as
tenants within the last three years were to be removed, or else the
burgesses were to stand surety for them, that they should not become
chargeable to the parish. Also, to try and prevent the inrush, both London
and Nottingham prohibited the erection of cottages or the conversion of
barns into dwelling-houses or houses into separate tenements.
* Nottingham Borough Records, 1612.
See Cunningham, The Growth of English Industry, etc., p.171, vol.ii.
Act of 1593: No new buildings within three miles of the city unless for inhabitants of better sort."
20. Insecurity of tenure prevents improvements
That tenure was at all times insecure throughout this century will be
gathered from the continuance of enclosures. Gabriel Plattes,* a writer on
husbandry, voices this grievance and draws attention to its evil results: "I
see no reason why tenants at will, for life or a term of years, should be
industrious whereas the benefit of their labours is to fall into other men's
purses, unless there be a contract between landlord and tenant, whereby a
just share may redound to both parties answerable to their merit, which, if
this were done, then would the husbandmen be much stirred up to try
experiments." And given security of tenure, "men would labour cheerfully,
as for their posterity, if they were sure that another should not reap where
they have sown."
* Treatise on English Husbandry, 1638.
Walter Blith,* dealing with the same matter in 1649, wrote: "If a tenant be
at ever so great pains or cost for the improvement of his land, he doth
thereby but occasion a great rack upon himself, or else invests his landlord
with his cost and labour gratis, or at best lies at his landlord's mercy for
requital, which occasions a neglect of good husbandry, to his own, the land,
the landlord, and the Kingdom's suffering."
* On Husbandry, preface.
21. Industry and commerce prosperous rents and prices rise, wages fall
Referring to rents* during this period, Thorold Rogers says that it "is
exceedingly probable, if not certain," that "in the course of the seventeenth
century they were increased six or eight fold." But while rents and prices
were rising, wages were falling, so that although the country was developing
and industry and commerce were expanding, the dispossessed had no share in
this. "The English people who lived by wages were sinking lower and lower,
and fast taking their place in the contrast with the opulence which trade
and commerce began, and manufacturing activity multiplied, as the beggarly
hewers and drawers of prosperous and progressive England. In 1651 the
magistrates of Essex in quarter sessions at Chelmsford fixed the wages of
artisans and labourers at 1s.6d. and 1s. a day respectively; and this was
the price which they generally secured. The price of wheat in this year was
nearly 50s. a quarter." Wheaten bread was still probably the most customary
food of the peasant, although in 1626 it is stated in the grant of a
monopoly€ from King Charles that barley bread was the usual food of the
people. Houghton, however, writing during the last decade of the century,
said that wheaten bread had always been the customary food, and that barley
bread was only used when wheat was scarce.
* John Taylor the Water Poet in 1630 wrote:
The painful Plowmans paines doe never cease,
For he must pay his rent, or lose his lease,
And though his Father and himselfe before,
Have oft reliev'd poore beggars at theire doore;
Yet now his Fine and Rent so high is rear'd,
That his own meat, and cloathes are scarcely clear'd.
Six Centuries, etc., p.449.
€ Eden, i, p.561.
See Thorold Rogers, p.462.
22. Gregory King's statistics
In 1696 were published some very interesting and important statistics, the result of calculations and estimates by Gregory King. These calculations seem to have been made with great care and in a scientific manner, and are generally considered to be reliable. These estimates, which will be found very useful later for purposes of comparison, are as follows:
|Population of England||5,318,000|
| Income of freeholders|
averages £55 to £90
| Income of farmers|
averages £42 10s
|Shopkeepers and tradesmen||50,000|
|Artisans and craftsmen||60,000|
The above, with nobles and professional men, number nearly one-half of the population.
Agricultural labourers and country people engaged in small industries inhabit 849,000 houses, which at four persons to a house gives us 3,396,000 for this group.
|Pasture and meadow||10,000,000||acres|
|Sheep and lambs||11,000,000|
|Swine and pigs||2,000,000|
ENCLOSURES AND THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
1. Extent of enclosures in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Reasons for fresh outburst
Although, as we have seen, enclosures did not cease after the great movement
of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, yet after the first outburst it
was more in the nature of a steady progress. Now in the eighteenth century
the movement again intensifies, and continues with varying force up to the
middle of the nineteenth century, accounting for the enclosure of over
one-third of the area of the cultivated land of this country,* or, roughly
speaking, for all land not previously enclosed and appropriated. It is
computed that some 3,000,000 acres were enclosed in the eighteenth century
and 6,000,000 acres in the first half of the nineteenth century, but even
this enormous total is probably exceeded when account is taken of all
* See First Report of Royal Comm. on Agric. (1867), issued 1896.
See Slater and Gonner.
The enclosures of these centuries had several contributory causes.
Improvements in agriculture, introduced by such men as Tull and "Turnip"
Townsend, which took the line of growing new root crops and artificial
grasses; the introduction of the system of rotation of crops; improvements
in the breeding of stock, such as the improvements in sheep-breeding by
Bakewell, led to much enclosure of both arable and pasture, to conversion of
arable,* and to the establishment of large-scale farms. The increase in
prices due to the Napoleonic wars gave a great impetus to enclosures,
especially of waste lands for corn-growing. There was also a great demand
for land, especially in the latter half of the eighteenth century, by rich
merchants and traders who had made fortunes during the commercial prosperity
of the earlier part of the century. This class of people, and also many
smaller folk, evinced quite a "craze" for farming, and all this contributed
to increase the demand for land. Lastly, there is the rapacity of the
landowners to take into account, for enclosure and the demand for land
increased their rents, as did also the conversion of arable to pasture a
movement to which the term "improvement" was applied.
* Gonner: "After 1750 the Midland inclosures increased rapidly. Without doubt the increased demand for animal products and the improvements in breeding and feeding combine to associate inclosure from 1750 to 1780 with frequent conversions to pasture. This tendency decreases after 1780.
Cf. the term "approvement."
2. Great events of the period. Industrial Revolution. Large-scale farming. Widespread poverty and unemployment
In considering the enclosure movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries and its results, it is important to bear in mind other great
changes which were taking place in the country at this time. Commerce and
industry flourished in the eighteenth century, especially in the first half,
and foreign trade continued to grow rapidly.* Then came the series of great
discoveries and inventions which were to give this country the lead in the
world's manufactures. These inventions, and the use of steam power, brought
about what has been called the Industrial Revolution, which extended from
about 1770 well on into the nineteenth century. This great change in
industry, coupled, as we shall see, with the enclosure movement, led to the
supersession of the "domestic system" of manufacture by the "factory
system,"and a consequent shifting of the centre of gravity of the population
from the south and east of England to the north and west.
* Cunningham, The Growth of English Industry and Commerce.
In agriculture the movement was towards large-scale farms and the elimination of the yeoman farmer and cotter. The latter mostly became landless paupers, while the average produce per acre was six or seven times what it was in the fourteenth century.
This period also saw the greatest war there had hitherto been, lasting from 1792 to 1815, and the greatest degradation, misery, and unemployment.
3. Enclosure affects all lands. Largely carried through by private Act of Parliament
Enclosures during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries affected all lands
the open arable field, the common pasture, and the waste. According to Dr.
Slater,* from 1727 onward about one-third of the Enclosure Acts are for
commonable waste and two-thirds for enclosing all the open and common arable
and other lands of a parish.
* The English Peasantry and the Enclosure of Common Fields.
The enclosures of this period were carried out to a large extent by private
Acts of Parliament, and later by public General Enclosure Acts; but at the
same time probably an almost equal area was enclosed without any
parliamentary intervention. An Act of Parliament for this purpose was not a
new idea, for in the reign of Charles II there had been an Act for the
enclosing of Bedford Level.* When these Acts became regular in the
eighteenth century, they at first took the place of the Chancery Decree,
which had been used to confirm an agreement, but later they were used to
effect enclosure, with little suggestion of previous agreement. Whatever the
method of enclosure, however, we shall find that it was attended with great
hardship and distress.
* 15 Charles II, cap.17, revoked by 1 James II, cap.21.
4. The early Acts usually confirmed an agreement
Some idea of enclosure by agreement, and the object of the movement can be
obtained from The Duty of a Steward to his Lord,* written in 1727:
"If the Free holders cannot all be persuaded to sell, yet at least an
Agreement for Inclosing should be pushed forward, by the Steward, and a
scheme laid, wherein it may appear that an exact and proportional share will
be allotted to every proprietor, persuading them first, if possible, to sign
a Form of Agreement, and then to chuse Commissioners on both sides.... If
the Steward be a man of good sense, he will find a necessity of making use
of it all, in rooting out superstition from amongst them, as what is
so great a hindrance to all noble Improvements." And in the same
work we find the following advice: "The Steward should endeavour to lay all
the small Farms, let to poor indigent People, to the great ones.... It is
unwise to unite farms all at once, because of the odium and increase of
* E. Laurence, Art. XIV, p.35 (quoted by Dr. Slater).
I.e. increases of rent.
The italics are ours.
5. Method under the Private Act Petition, Commissioners, and Award
After the middle of the century the private Act became the rule. The
movement to enclose was usually started by petition, which necessitated some
expenditure; and it was just this procedure which gave the large landowner
the dominant voice in the whole arrangement.* A Commissioner or
Commissioners were appointed, and the onus was put on the commoners to prove
their rights of common. Of course, in a large number of cases they were
unable to prove a legal right, and so were not entitled to compensation.
Part of the land was let or sold to defray the expenses of the enclosure,
which were usually large, and after new roads were laid out, the
Commissioners proceeded to redistribute and allot the holdings. The lord
would receive the lion's share of the waste and common pasture, and those
who had succeeded in proving rights of common would be given a small
allotment, in many cases so small as to be useless. Also if the occupier of
the cottage were only a tenant, the allotment in lieu of common rights went
to the owner of the cottage, the tenant getting nothing. All allotments
had to be fenced by the allottees, and the expense of doing this, and the
smallness of the allotment, frequently led the holder to sell to the large
farmer, who was only too willing to buy. In this way rights which the
commoner should have handed down to posterity were lost for ever.€
* Gonner: "Still it is no doubt true that in the first two-thirds, and to a considerable extent throughout the whole eighteenth century, the real a tf ln determining on inclosure and in devising the particular form and detail of the petition lay with the few and not with the many" (p.74).
See Gonner and Slater.
€ Sir R. Peel, P.M., speaking in the House in 1844: "As to the actual rights, the House must be cautious how they deal lightly with those rights.... The rights of common connected them (the peasantry) with the soil. The right of turning a goose on a common made a man feel interested in the tenure of land. It might be more beneficial to him to accept two or three pounds, but recollect that you are not dealing with the rights of the individuals, but with those of his successors." (Hansard, vol. lxxiii, p.976).
By the General Act of 1801 the Commissioners were empowered to purchase the
rights of small proprietors, and could give payment in cash up to £20.
Between £20 and £200 the money was to be invested for them. This provision
was, of course, useful in helping to obtain the necessary two-thirds
majority for the enclosure, and there is little doubt that these small sums
were soon frittered away.*
* See Slater, p.264.
6. The three periods of parliamentary enclosure
Gonner divides parliamentary enclosure into three periods: "The first, which
extends through the eighteenth century to the general Act of 1801,* by
reason of the very uniformity and complexity of the provisions included on
each occasion, a general Act was rendered not only feasible and useful, but
essential. The second period ia from 1801 to 1842-5, and includes the
private Acts which were passed in accordance with the provisions of the
general Act. After 1845 the powers hitherto exercised directly by
Parliament, and through Commissioners specially appointed by Act, were
delegated to different permanent bodies established by Act, and subject to
parliamentary control, inasmuch as their decisions or orders had to remain
on the table of the Houses before becoming operative."
* There had been an abortive Bill in the Lords in 1666 "for confirming of inclosures made by decrees in Courts of Equity," and a similarly abortive Bill in the Commons in 1664 "to inclose and improve commons and waste lands."
7. Advocates of enclosure testify to the oppression of the peasant. Commoners usually unable to prove a legal right
The advocates of enclosure themselves, at this time, were almost unanimous
in saying that most of the enclosures were badly managed and very oppressive
to the peasant. Stone, referred to by Gonner as "one of the most trustworthy
writers on the subject in the latter part of the eighteenth century," said:
"That inclosures have most generally been mismanaged may evidently be seen by
their present condition."*
* Suggestions, etc., p.81.
John Cowper,* writing in 1732, said: "When these commons come to be inclosed
and converted into pasture, the Ruin of the Poor is a natural consequence,
they being bought out by the lord of the Manor, or some other person of
* "Inclosing Commons and Common Field lands is contrary to the interest of the Nation."
The Board of Agriculture General Report on Enclosures, published 1808, also
shows that the peasants suffered great losses as a result of enclosure. Loss
of fuel is stated to have been a great injury, and the benefit of enclosure
to the poor "by no means unmixed." The Report adds: "In some cases many cows
had been kept without a legal right, and nothing had been given for the
practice. In other cases where allotments were assigned, the cottagers could
not pay the expense of the measure, and were forced to sell their
allotments.* In others they kept cows by right of hiring their cottages or
common rights, and the land going, of course, to their proprietor, was added
to the farms, and the poor sold their cows. This is a very common
* According to Board of Agriculture calculation, average number of acres in each Act was 1,162, and average expense of each Act was £1,650.
8. Investigation into working of Enclosure Acts in most cases the poor lose heavily
An investigation* was held into the working of sixty-eight Enclosure Acts,
for the most part in the eastern counties, and it was stated that in
fifty-three cases out of the sixty-eight the poor were injured. Commenting
on this inquiry, Dr. Slater says: "The general tenor of the statement in
these cases is to the effect that the condition of the poor has become very
much worse, that they have lost all their cows, and they no longer are able
to buy milk for their children."
* Board of Agriculture General Report on Enclosures, published 1808.
In the same Report a Mr. Forster, an Enclosure Commissioner for Norfolk,
"lamented that he had been accessory to injuring 2,000 poor people at the
rate of twenty families per parish. Numbers in the practice of feeding the
commons cannot prove their right; and many, indeed most who have allotments,
have not more than 1 acre, which being insufficient for the man's cow, both
the cow and land are usually sold to opulent farmers. The right sold before
the allotment produced much less than the allotment after it, but the money
is dissipated, doing them no good when they cannot vest it in stock."*
Another Commissioner, Mr. Ewen, "observed that in most of the enclosures he
has known the poor man's allotment and cow are sold five times in six before
the award is signed." Arthur Young himself, the great advocate of
enclosures, wrote: "By nineteen Enclosure Acts out of twenty, the poor are
injured, in some grossly injured.... The poor in these parishes may say, and
with truth, Parliament may be tender of property, all I know is, I had a
cow, and an Act of Parliament has taken it from me."*
* Enquiry into the Propriety of Applying Wastes to the Better Support and Maintenance of the Poor, p.42.
Lord Lincoln (afterwards Duke of Newcastle), in introducing the Bill of 1845, compared it favourably with the private Act system. He said: "This I know, that in nineteen cases out of twenty Committees of this House on private Bills neglected the rights of the poor... Committees being permitted to remain in ignorance of the claims of the poor man because, by reason of his poverty, he is unable to come up to London, to fee counsel, to produce witnesses, and to urge his claims before the Committee." From such opinions expressed by advocates of enclosures it would be safe to conclude that the Enclosure Acts worked a great wrong on the small tenant and commoner and were responsible for untold misery. This becomes even more apparent when the dispossessed are followed from the country-side.
9. Much waste land enclosed. An enclosure in Oxfordshire
Many of those who opposed enclosure of common fields did not object to
enclosure of wastes, on the grounds, presumably, that it would give more
employment than it displaced. This point has already been dealt with in a
previous chapter,* and, referring to such enclosures, Dr. Slater says:
"Perhaps the greatest evil of Acts for the enclosure of waste in the past
was that they prevented such gradual reclamation and enclosure by peasant
* See Chapter X, par.16.
The English Peasantry, etc, p.262.
Dr. Slater gives an example of the enclosure of the parish of Ewelme
(Oxfordshire): "This gives a typical instance of the effect of enclosure of
commonable waste* on the poor. One of the commons enclosed was known
as the 'Furze Common,' and it supplied the poor of the neighbourhood with
their fuel, for every inhabitant had the right of cutting furze on
it. After enclosure the Furze Common was allotted to one man, who
allowed no trespass on it, and the owners of cottages were awarded
allotments of land in consideration of rights which the cottagers had
exercised. The lands so allotted became part of ordinary farms, and the poor
simply lost their supply of fuel without any compensation whatever. This was
done under the sanction, not of an Enclosure Act rushed through Parliament
before 1845, but of the Enclosure Commissioners appointed expressly to
prevent any injury to the class least able to guard its own interests, as
well as to facilitate enclosure."
* The italics in this paragraph are ours.
The Engliah Peasantry, etc., p.51.
Between 1702 and 1845 there were 1,385 Acts for enclosing common pasture and waste only, and Dr. Slater puts the total acreage at 1,765,711 acres (stated and estimated).
10. Cobbett on the enclosure of wastes. The fallacy of calling them unproductive
There is an illuminating passage in the Political Register* showing
what Cobbett, an experienced farmer and a man who knew the country-side,
thought of the enclosure of the wastes. He had refused to support a general
Enclosure Bill introduced in 1813, and wrote: "Those who are so eager for
new inclosure seem to argue as if the waste land in its present state
produced nothing at all. But is this the fact? Can anyone point out a single
inch of it which does not produce something and the produce of which is made
use of? It goes to the feeding of sheep, of cows, of cattle of all
descriptions, and, what is of great consequence in my view of the matter, it
helps to rear, in health and vigour, numerous families of the children of
labourers, which children, were it not for these wastes, must be crammed
into the stinking suburbs of towns amidst filth of all sorts, and
congregating together in the practice of every species of idleness and vice.
A family reared by the side of a common or forest is clearly*,
distinguishable from a family bred on the pestiferous stench of the dark
alley of a town."
* Selections from Cobbett's Political Register, 1813, vol.iv.
11. Great cost of enclosures. An example from Brecknockshire. The "tai nos."
Mr. John Lloyd, a J.P. for the county of Brecon and a landowner, in giving
evidence before the Royal Commission on Land in Wales and Monmouthsire,*
cites an example of enclosure of waste on a Crown manor between 1815 and
1819, and also draws attention to the fact that, although there were in this
county many enclosures by private Acts, yet the Parliamentary Return of
Enclosure Acts between 1760 and 1820 gave "nil" for Brecknockshire.
* 1896, Cd.8221.
The 40,000 acres of waste referred to were grazed over by some 500 or more farms, and were used for sheep all the year and also for young cattle in the summer. "Down came the valuers, surveyors, and commissioners... and inspected and surveyed, and so on, and apart from the immense expense they put the people to, to prove all their titles and claims to common rights, and the lawsuits which they had to maintain in order to keep certain rights that they had... the cost of the Commission alone for dealing with this 40,000 acres of land was £16,000 of money in those days. To provide that money they sold 8,000 acres of the land, the best parts and the slopes of this great tract of land. That produced about £15,000 or £16,000 to pay for the work.... The Crown took 13,860 acres of the middle portion, and the best portion, and the commoners had some little more than that, viz. 17,000 acres of land, but a good deal of the worst of it, some of it being hardly worth anything at all.... The effect is now visible upon the agriculture of that district."
There is also a reference in this Report to the interesting survival of "tai
nos" or "hafod un nos" "houses of a night" a custom by which a holding
of 5 or 6 acres was claimed from the waste if a hut with smoking chimney
could be erected in one night. Only a small garden surrounding the hut was
enclosed, and the custom seems to have been that this became freehold after
sixty years. Dr. Slater* refers to these holdings, and quotes Mr. John
Swain, a Commissioner, who said that the cottager not only grew sufficient
produce for himself and his family, but obtained a money return of £35 15s.
in addition. Enclosure Acts prevented the creation of any more of these
holdings, and, although those over twenty-one years old were not interfered
with, more than half the holdings fell into the hands of the lord of the
* The English Peasantry, etc., p.119.
12. Enclosure of common fields, etc., leads to large-scale farming and depopulation. Consolidation and conversion give higher rents, but smaller gross produce
Enclosure of the common fields was usually followed by consolidation of the
small holdings into large farms, and in many cases the arable was converted
into pasture for grazing. Dr. Cunningham* says: "Despite the reiterated
allegation, it is impossible to believe that enclosing in the eighteenth
century implied either more pasture farming or less employment for labour."
There is, however, direct evidence that considerable areas were put down to
pasture; and when we see the increased rent which pasture-land commanded,
there was obviously every incentive for the laying of arable to grass.
* The Growth of English Industry, etc., vol.ii, p.384.
Apart from the conversion of arable land, there was a considerable amount of new land ploughed up, especially during the period of the Napoleonic wars; but, as has been seen, such enclosure resulted in large-scale farms, with probably a net loss of employment. And taking the two movements together, there is no doubt that there was a net loss of employment in agriculture, to say nothing of other rural industries which were affected.
Dr. Slater, quoting from a tract* published in 1786, gives an account of an
enclosure, probably in the Midlands: "Before enclosure it contained 82
houses, of which 20 were small farms and 42 were cottages with common
rights. It had 1,800 acres of common field arable, 200 acres of rich common
cow pasture, and 200 acres of meadow, commonable after hay harvest. The
common pasture fed 200 milch cows and 60 dry ones till hay harvest, at which
time they were turned into the meadows, and their place taken by about 100
horses; 1,200 sheep were fed on the stubbles." Before enclosure the
gross produce amounted to £4,101 5s. "As a result of enclosure the 20 farms
were consolidated into 4, the whole area devoted to grazing, 60 cottages
were pulled down or otherwise disappeared, and the necessary work was done
by 4 herds (one for each farm), at £25 a year each, board included, and 8
maidservants at £18 a year each, board included." After enclosure the
gross produce was £2,660. "But while gross produce was thus reduced by about
one-third, the gross rent was raised from £1,137 17s. to £1,801 12s.
* Thoughts on Incloaures, by a County Farmer.
13. Increased rents the incentive to enclose and convert. Enclosure results in decrease in wheat acreage
On this question of consolidation and conversion, John Wedge, the Board of
Agriculture reporter for Warwickshire, in 1793 wrote:* "About forty years
ago the southern and eastern parts of this county consisted mostly of open
fields. There are still about 50,000 acres of open-field land, which in a
few years will probably all be enclosed... "These lands being now grazed
want much fewer hands to manage them than they did in the former open state.
Upon all enclosures of open fields the farms have generally been made much
larger. For these causes the hardy yeomanry of county villages have been
driven for employment into Birmingham, Coventry, and other manufacturing
* Warwickshire, p.40.
Arthur Young speaks of a great enclosure of waste from 1744 to 1774 in the
east and north, resulting in an increase of tillage, and of enclosure of
arable fields and conversion to pasture in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire,
Warwickshire, Huntingdonshire and Buckinghamshire.* This resulted in
consolidation into large farms and the turning of the peasants into town
labourers. Referring to Bedfordshire in 1768, he says: "The open fields let
at 7/- and 7/6 per acre, and the inclosed pastures about 17/-. Hence
we find a profit of 10/- an acre by inclosing and laying to grass"; and he
expressed surprise that many landlords did not in this county lay down their
land to pasture.
* Political Arithmetic, published 1774.
Tour through the North of England, 1768.
John Mortimer, The Whole Art of Husbandry: "I shall only propose two things that are matters of fact, that I think, are sufficient to prove the advantages of inclosures; which is first, the great quantities of ground daily inclosed, and, secondly, the increase of rent that is everywhere made by those that do inclose their lands." (p.1).
In the Board of Agriculture General Report,* previously mentioned, there are
the results of an investigation into the increase and decrease of wheat
acreage after the enclosure of all commonable lands under Acts between 1761
and 1799, excluding those Acts under which waste only was enclosed. Taking
all counties, in 239 cases the wheat acreage was increased by 14,507 acres,
and in 407 cases it was decreased by 30,894 acres. By far the greatest
decrease was in the Midland counties, where in 262 cases the decrease was
22,036 acres, against an increase in 59 cases of 3,033 acres.
* Pp.39 and 232 (quoted by Slater).
Slater points out that "in estimating the significance of these figures it must be borne in mind that the figures for acreage in wheat after enclosure were collected at a time of famine prices for wheat."
14. Fallacy that enclosure and dispossession were necessary preliminaries to improvement
It was, of course, widely held that no agricultural improvements were
possible while the open-field system of husbandry prevailed, and many
opponents of enclosures seem to have agreed with this. Dr. Slater, however,
refers to one or two survivals of the old system which have adopted
improvements and are flourishing, and it certainly is not clear why an
interchange and consolidation of strips, without enclosure and
dispossession, would not have made it just as easy to effect improvements.
One of these survivals is a parish in the Isle of Axholme: "To catch the
spirit of the common-field system, to see that system no mere historical
survival, but developing in harmony with modern needs, one must go to the
Isle of Axholme.*
"Axholme may be described as a district of allotments, cultivated, and in great part owned, by a working peasantry.
"The Isle of Axholme has been singularly successful in preserving the spirit
of the common-field system, social equality, mutual helpfulness, and an
industrial aim directed rather towards the maximum gross produce of food
than towards the maximum net profit; while at the same time it has discarded
those features of the system which would have been obstacles to agricultural
progress. The 'barbarous omission'* to enclose the open arable fields has
been abundantly justified."
* Arthur Young.
Another such example is the parish of Weston Zoyland, Somersetshire, which in 1830 was divided and allotted, but not enclosed. In this parish are 500 acres of fertile open fields, and all under tillage.
15. Urban population and total population increase rapidly. Allowance system causes recklessness and large families
When we speak of depopulation caused by enclosures, it must, of course, be
understood that this refers to rural depopulation and not to a general
depopulation of the whole country. On the contrary, during the period under
review, the population of the country as a whole increased rapidly.* About
7,000,000 in the middle of the eighteenth century, it had risen to 8,892,536
in 1801, to 12,000,236 in 1821, and by 1861 had reached 20,066,224. This was
an increase almost solely in urban districts, and we have already seen how,
in addition to the natural increase in the population, the towns were fed
from the country-side. This was the period of the growth of the "wens," as
Cobbett called London and the great manufacturing towns not a healthy
growth, but a growth in slums and in crowded tenements, a growth of paupers
and so-called wage-slaves who were little better than paupers. Wages fell
until they were far below the subsistence level, and the occupiers were
rated in order that wages might be supplemented. "Early marriage was
particularly encouraged by the change from the open-field condition to
enclosure. After enclosure, the enriched farming class preferred to pay
board wages, and the young labourer, with nothing to gain by waiting, with
the assurance of Poor Law assistance if needed, naturally preferred to marry
* William Cobbett, Rural Rides, vol.ii.: "Is it not something rather damnable... to talk of transporting Englishmen, on account of the excess of their numbers, when the fact is notorious that their labour produces five or ten times as much food and raiment as they and their families consume." - p.55 (1826).
16. Enormous increase in poor rates. Allowance system and wholesale pauperism
Poor rates began to increase enormously towards the end of the eighteenth
century. From £2,004,238 in 1785 they increased to £4,267,965 in 1802, and
to £8,640,842 in 1813.* But the full increase in poor rates was not always
apparent in the enclosed villages, for, "in judging the rise of poor rates,
it must not be forgotten that where the rent rises at the same time as the
nominal rate, the sum of money actually raised for Poor Law purposes is
increased in a greater ratio than the nominal poor rate. If, for example, by
enclosure, the rental of a parish is increased 50%, but the poor rate
doubled, the yield of the poor rate is increased threefold. And if a
considerable number of labourers are driven elsewhere, the amount of
destitution produced by the change is far greater even than that indicated
by a threefold increase in the amount of relief given."
* Thorold Rogers, p.410.
It was the "allowance system" of supplementing wages out of the rates that
was responsible to a large extent for the huge increase in poor rates; and
the result of this system was that none but those in receipt of poor relief
could hope to obtain employment. Commenting on the position at this time,
Thorold Rogers says: "For centuries the law and the Government interposed on
the side of the employer in order to lessen the labourer's share. For a very
long period two centuries the efforts of law and Government were
unsuccessful. At last they gained their object and gradually reduced the
labourer's share to a bare subsistence so bare, that in order to get their
necessary work from him, they supplemented his wages by a tax on the general
public."* The allowance system was stopped and the poor law reformed in
1834, but we shall see that starvation and distress continued.
17. Landlords and farmers prosperous labourers starving. Rents, wages and prices
The poverty and unemployment of the last years of the eighteenth century
continued into the nineteenth, and even increased at the close of the Great
War (1815), when disbanded soldiers were returning home. Rents were high,
however, and the landlords and large farmers were flourishing. Young put the
average rent of land at 10s. per acre, and referring to this Thorold Rogers
says: "The payment therefore made for the occupation of land has risen
twenty times. The average rise in the price of wheat is about six and a half
times, and the average rise in the price of labour is almost exactly three
and a half times... and it should be remembered that while the labourer in
Young's time had his earnings of hay and harvest time included in the
aggregate average, the labourer of the earlier period (Middle Ages)
had his harvest earnings over and above."*
In 1795 the labourer procured about one-eighth of what he earned by the same
labour in the fifteenth century,* and according to Eden's collection
from various counties of the actual wages received by agricultural labourers
in 1795, they everywhere fell short by 1s. or more a week of their necessary
expenditure on food, without taking any account of rent, fuel,
clothes, or extras. It was in this year, too, that, owing to a
poor harvest, wheat rose to 104s., and although many died of starvation,
landlords and farmers were prosperous. But when peace came and prices fell
to some extent many farmers who had purchased their farms during the period
of enhanced prices lost heavily.€
* Thorold Rogers.
€ Writing of the period 1776-1815, Dr. Cunningham says: "The pressure of poverty was felt not merely among those who were unemployed, but aiso among those who were over-worked" (p.443).
18. Cobbett's account of a rural pariah in 1826
We get a very interesting and informing description from Cobbett of the
Valley of the Avon and the Parish of Milton, which he visited in August
1826. After commenting on the fact that in a length of thirty miles there
were thirty large parish churches, and that there was a very fine supply of
wheat, oats, barley, sheep and lambs, he says: "A very fine sight this was,
and it could not meet the eye without making one look round (and in vain) to
see the people who were to eat all this food, and without making one reflect
on the horrible, the unnatural, the base and infamous state in which we must
be, when projects are on foot, and are openly avowed, for transporting those
who raise this food, because they want to eat enough of it to keep them
alive; and when no project is on foot for transporting the idlers who live
in luxury upon this same food."*
* William Cobbett, Rural Rides, vol.ii, p.41.
And then, referring to Milton, he writes: "The parish of Milton does, as we
have seen, produce food, drink, clothing, and all other things, enough for
502 families, or 2,510 persons upon my allowance, which is a great deal more
than three times the present allowance, because the present allowance
includes clothing, fuel, tools and everything. Now, then, according to the
'Population Return'laid before Parliament, this parish contains 500 persons,
or according to my division, 100 families. So that here are about one
hundred families to raise food and drink enough, and to raise wool and
other things to pay for all other necessaries, for five hundred and
two families! Aye, and five hundred and two families fed and lodged,
too, on my liberal scale. Fed and lodged according to the present scale,
this one hundred families raise enough to supply more, and many more, than
fifteen hundred families, or seven thousand five hundred persons! And yet
those who do the work are half starved! "And taking the twenty-nine rural
parishes, he says: "Here are 9,116 persons raising food and raiment
sufficient for 45,580 persons, fed and lodged according to my scale; and
sufficient for 136,740 persons according to the scale on which the unhappy
labourers of this fine valley are now fed and lodged! And yet there is an
'emigration committee' sitting to devise the means of getting rid...
of these working people, who are grudged even the miserable morsel
that they get!"*
* Rural Rides, vol.ii, p.46.
19. "Domestic System" killed by enclosures. The "Factory System" flourishes on its ruins, and much labour is unemployed. Workers blame machinery
As we have already seen, the eighteenth century witnessed the inauguration of the Factory System, which took the place of the old Domestic System of manufacture. This latter was a system under which manufacturing and agriculture went hand in hand, the former frequently being a part-time occupation and subsidiary to the farm-work. In this way, production was carried on in the farm-houses, cottages, and in small workshops scattered among the various country towns; capital was diffused and held in small quantities, and markets were on the whole steady.
Into this system came the revolutionary enclosure movement, driving the
yeomen and cottagers in large numbers to the towns, and at the same time, of
course, putting an end to many industries which had been carried on by them
in the country districts. While this process of dispossessing the peasant,
putting an end to cottage manufacture, and increasing the competition for
work in the towns, was in progress, there came the great inventions destined
to revolutionize industry. Machines began to do the work of many men, and
these machines were collected into large factories, where cheap labour was
required to tend them. And the cheap labour was there ready, provided by a
system which had for generations and centuries been gradually restricting
the area of land available for the labourer. No Acts of Parliament or
assessments of justices were necessary to limit the wages of the factory
workers, for they were driven by hunger and the lack of alternative
employment to offer themselves, and even their small children, for a
pittance which scarcely enabled them to live.*
* Most eighteenth-century writers agreed that poverty was due to idleness and improvidence. (See Cunningham, p.381.)
Nor was there work for all, for the machines were "labour-saving," and in too many cases the labour saved became or remained unemployed, and labour which was still exerted on the hand machine began to find it difficult to compete with the power factory and had to close down, thereby anticipating, probably only by a brief period, a result which the enclosure of the village would bring more thoroughly. With such a state of affairs it is little to be wondered at that many hand-workers regarded the power machine as the cause of all their misery and unemployment.
20. The domestic system dependent on access to land. Machinery increases productive power of all labour, but the advantage is lost when the competition is all on the side of labour for work
But the real cause of the misery and unemployment among the hand-workers
would seem to have been the fact that they had lost their footing on the
land,* that enclosure had deprived them of alternative and supplementary
occupation. The domestic system, the cottage and farm industries, depended
on the workers having access to land, and when this was denied, their power
of resistance had gone, their fate was sealed. If there had been no
enclosures, and if the opportunities for workers on the land had exceeded
the supply of labour, power machinery would have caused no unemployment.
There is nothing inherent in labour-saving machinery to cause unemployment.
Its nature is to save labour, in the sense that a man can, with its
assistance, produce the same wealth with less labour than before, or more
wealth with the same labour, and the man who acquires these goods by
exchange will get them with a smaller expenditure of labour than he
previously did. In this way the worker will have saved labour in acquiring
the machine-made goods, which labour he will be free to exercise in other
ways, and the advantages of the machine will be diffused among all the
workers by exchange. Thus labour becomes more productive, and wages should
* See Massie, A Plan for the Establishment of Charity Houses: "To small portions of land, right of commoning, and cottages, England is much indebted for the mighty achievements in war which are recorded in the annals of the English nation."
We have said that the worker would be able to exercise the "saved labour" in other ways; but suppose there are no other openings for this labour suppose, in fact, that men are fiercely competing for jobs that are too few to go round, and that those who succeed in getting work must take the bare subsistence offered what, we may ask, will be the effect on these men of the advent of a new labour-saving machine? Will it not be that some will be put out of employment altogether, and that the wages of the others will tend to be reduced by competition to the extent of the advantage which would, under other conditions, accrue to each individual?
21. Access to land essential. Landlords and capitalists share benefits of labour's increased productive powers. Depression in industry followed by unemployment
Thus it seems plain that labour-saving machinery does not do away with the need for access to land, but does, in fact, enable labour to produce more from the land. And it seems safe to say that if labour had had a firm hold on the land at the time of the Industrial Revolution, the new system would have grown up very differently. There would have been no starving crowds ready to work in factories for a low wage, and the probability is that work on the new machines would have been frequently combined with agriculture.
The capitalist was blamed for the low wages and the bad conditions in the factories, but it was the power of the new land monopoly that was providing him with his cheap labour, and was sharing with him the benefits of the new machinery. And the new industry proved unstable, for it depended to a large extent on foreign orders. When these fell off, workers were turned adrift, and wholesale unemployment resulted, for now there was no plot of ground to work, no alternative occupation.
In 1840 and several succeeding years there was terrible distress in the
manufacturing towns. In Nottingham,* in 1841, nearly one-fifth of the people
were on poor relief; in Coventry one-third of the population was unemployed;
and in Spitalfields 24,000 persons were in receipt of poor relief.
Lancashire was in a terrible condition, and it was calculated that the
receipts of 2,000 families in Wigan were only sufficient, if all spent on
bread, to buy each person 22oz. of bread a day. At Hinckley one-third of
the inhabitants were paupers and more than one-fifth of the houses were
empty, and in Leeds the Guardians offered the paupers 6s. per week for doing
nothing rather than 7s.6d. per week for breaking stones.
* For particulars of Nottingham, Coventry, Spitalfields, Lancashire and Wigan, see Dunckley, The Charter of the Nations, 1854.
For Hinkley and Leeds, see Martineau, iv, p.157.
Under such conditions it is little wonder that the labourers became reckless, that drunkenness was prevalent and population increased rapidly.
22. The rising of 1830 harsh repression
During the latter part of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth
centuries there was much rioting and rick-burning, for enclosures and the
resulting misery were not taken lying down. But against combination there
was the most severe repression, and ringleaders and others were often hanged
or transported as felons to Australia.* The same fate usually befell those
who, to satisfy their hunger or to supplement a low wage, helped themselves
to preserved game.
* Rural Rides, vol.ii.: "This is, I verily believe it, the worst used labouring people upon the face of the earth. Dogs and hogs and horses are treated with more civility; and as to food and lodging, how gladly would the labourers change with them!" (p.55).
In the winter of 1830 broke out what may be said to be the last active revolt of the agricultural workers. Conditions Were bad and the labourers starving, men and women in many parts living on roots and sorrel. The rising was almost spontaneous in the eastern and south-eastern counties. Better wages were demanded, and only when these were refused did the men proceed to rick- and farm-burning. Revolt was, however, useless. A special commission of judges was sent to the affected parts, and there were hangings and transportations for life for many trifling offences.
23. Result of the last enclosure movement land monopoly
As a result, then, of the great enclosure movement of the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries a revolution in tenure we find depopulation* of the
country-side and a vast increase in town populations, widespread poverty and
unemployment. The "commons" of England had disappeared, their place being
taken by the so-called "lower classes." By far the greater part of the land
of this country was monopolized and enclosed; farms were concentrated into
fewer hands, and vast tracts of what had hitherto been waste and often
inaccessible land had been reduced into the ownership of comparatively few
people. Capital also was becoming more and more concentrated, and the town
labourers had no alternative but to sell their labour to the capitalist for
what he would give.
* Professor Nicholson, History of the English Corn Laws: "Between 1821 and 1831 there was an absolute decrease in the number of families in agriculture, in spite of an increase of about 19 per cent, in the aggregate number of families in Breat Britain.... Again... if we compare 1831 with 1811, with an absolute increase in population of over two millions, there was an absolute decrease in the number of adult males employed in agriculture" (p.119).
Comparing the open and enclosed village, Slater says: "In the open field
village the entirely landless labourer was scarcely to be found.... If he
had no holding, he still might have a common right; if no acknowledged
common right, he might enjoy the advantage of one in a greater or less
degree.... From the poorest labourer to the richest farmer, there was, in
the typical open field village, a gradation of rank.... It was easy for the
efficient or fortunate man to rise on such a social ladder.... After
enclosure the comparatively few surviving farmers enriched, elevated
intellectually as well as socially by the successful struggle with a new
environment faced, across a deep social gulf, the labourers who had now
only their labour to depend on."*
* Slater, p.130.
DEPOPULATION OF RURAL ENGLAND
1. The last revolt. Joseph Arch and the Labourers' Union
It has been seen that the last active revolt of the agricultural worker took
place in 1830, and now, in the year 1872,* a revolt of another kind is
attempted. It is true, of course, that by this time the mischief was done
the land was monopolized, the country-side denuded of the commons, and the
peasant turned into a landless serf but a final effort was to be made to
increase starvation wages and to better conditions.
* Trade Unions were legalized in 1871.
In March of 1872 Joseph Arch, a Warwickshire peasant, came forward as the leader of the landless, and formed the Warwickshire Agricultural Labourers' Union. The idea spread rapidly, for conditions were desperate, and by May was formed a National Union of Agricultural Labourers, whose membership in May 1873 had risen to some 70,000, and to over 86,000 in the following year.
Enormous difficulties attended the formation of such a Union, for rural districts were so sparsely peopled that there was little feeling of cohesion between the labourers of different districts, and the expense of propaganda among a people so widely scattered was very great; also wages were so low as to make it difficult for any to pay even the smallest subscription to a Union, and the prevalence of the "tied cottage" system made many a labourer hesitate to join.
The skilled agricultural worker was starving on a wage which averaged 10s. per week, but rents were high, for they had doubled since the beginning of the century, and the price of wheat was 57s. a quarter. With such a starvation wage there was little possibility of purchasing meat, and this article of food was often not seen in the labourers' cottages for months on end. What a difference from the way in which the peasant lived in the time of Domesday, and even for some centuries after!
2. The Union's demands. Labourers beaten by landlords and farmers
The demands of Arch and the Union were not exorbitant; they wanted a 9½-hour
day and a wage of 16s. per week. But in spite of the yeoman work done by
Arch and others, the movement to a large extent failed, and the Union broke
up. In 1879 the membership was down to 20,000, and by 1889 it had sunk to
4,000. From the start of the Union there had been much victimization of the
labourers, farmers often discharging their workers from their work and their
cottages at a week's notice if they refused to leave the Union.*
* A lock-out was started in the eastern counties in 1874, and some 10,000 labourers were affected.
In revolts prior to 1830 the small tenants and labourers had usually received help from copyholders and freeholders against the landlords and great farmers, but from now onwards it was the landless labourer against the farmer and the landlord. For the farmer was now in the clutches of the landowner; he was usually a yearly tenant, and he had no security for any improvements he might put into the soil. The labourer was an outcast and helpless; he had become a landless serf, and except for some small increases in wages in a few localities, this, his last effort to throw off his bonds, only resulted in a lucky few being helped to migrate to other parts of the country or to emigrate to the Colonies.
3. The work of the Union supply of agricultural labour reduced. Farmers labour-starve their land
Joseph Arch and the National Union received, in addition to members'
subscriptions, a certain amount of money from well-wishers outside the
movement; and this was used to a large extent in finding the labourers work
in industrial towns and in assisting them to emigrate. Arch himself believed
that, as the farmers would not raise wages, the best way to compel them to
do so was to make agricultural labour scarce. Giving evidence before the
Royal Commission on Agriculture, 1882, he was asked: "How do you set about
ensuring the labourers getting higher wages?* He replied: "We have reduced
the number of labourers in the market very considerably. We have emigrated
about 700,000 souls men, women, and children within the last eight or
nine years. I went over to Canada, and I made arrangements with the Canadian
Government to give them so much, and we found them so much from the funds of
* Question 58421.
There can be no doubt that this was harmful to agriculture, although it merely did in a short time what would have happened in the course of a few years.
Arch goes on to say that this did not result in higher wages, for farmers
continued to labour-starve their land, and he states that many cottages had
been pulled down and decayed during the previous twenty years. He further
adds:* "I do not say that a farmer is compelled to keep them, but I do say
this, and I say it from forty years' experience, that it has been the policy
of the farmers to labour-starve the land, and their policy has been that,
although they have suffered great losses (and some of them have suffered
losses this fall) through not having sufficient labour to get their wheat in
at the proper time, they would not employ the labour. I am going to give
facts, whether they are agreeable or not, and I say that it has been the
policy of the farmer, notwithstanding that the land has wanted labour, to
turn the labourer off as soon as the harvest has been got in on purpose to
get a miserably low winter wage as the stipulated wage of the district."
Arch was then asked: "He may do it out of ignorance; but do you think it is
from any other reason than from ignorance?" And his reply was: "I cannot
conceive how a man can be ignorant when he sees a field of corn just coming
up full of rubbish and wanting labour, and he says, 'I will not employ the
4. Enclosures in latter half of nineteenth century
Enclosures still continued after the general Act of 1845, and even after
1873, but they were small in extent. Parliamentary enclosure of common
fields since this latter date has accounted for some 14,842 acres.* It has
been estimated that since 1845 some 100,000 acres of common-field arable
and commonable meadow have been enclosed, of which some 30,000 acres alone
were enclosed by Act of Parliament. Common fields and commonable meadows
were estimated to comprise not more than 30,000 acres in 1903 a fact which
testifies to the thoroughness of the enclosures of the eighteenth and
* Slater, p.191.
For these and following statistics, aee Slater.
In enclosures after 1845 some allotment had to be made for parks or for allotments for the poor, but from that date until 1875, out of a total of 590,000 acres enclosed only 1,758 acres were for recreation grounds and 2,195 acres for allotments for the poor. In 1876 the administration of the Enclosure Acts was taken over by the Board of Agriculture, and referring to this Slater says: "The administration of the Act since 1877 is... a very severe condemnation of its administration in the earlier period."
After the middle of the century enclosures were of little consequence, and
by means of the public-spirited action of a few people, some open spaces and
commons which were threatened with enclosure were saved for the public. One
such instance was when the lord of the manor of Berkhampstead enclosed the
common of about 500 acres in 1866, and Mr. Augustus Smith, one of the
commoners, with the assistance of a train-load of navvies from London, broke
down the enclosure during the night, and won the ensuing lawsuit.*
* Reports of the Commons Preservation Society.
5. The New Domesday Book the land monopoly in practice
In 1876* was issued a Government paper, purporting to be a return of all
owners of land in England and Wales. This was the first survey since the
time of the Conqueror, and has been called the New Domesday Book. The return
is inaccurate, but it enables us to obtain a very good idea of the change in
tenure wrought by the enclosure movement and of what is meant when we have
spoken of land monopoly.
* Inquiry of 1874-5. Abstract presented as House of Commons paper May 1876, intitled "Summary of Returns of Owners of Land in England Wales."
The story told by this Return is even worse than it appears at first sight, for the number of owners is considerably overstated. Persons owning land in different districts were counted as separate owners; copyholders and leaseholders for ninety-nine years or longer were counted as owners. Woods, wastes, and commons, and lands not rated were not included in the enumeration. But more important than all this is the fact that the number of those owning less than 1 acre is two-thirds of the total, and as these holdings are usually only very small allotments or gardens attached to houses, they might quite well be omitted, as the total area is negligible.
The Return itself, without any correction, gives 972,836 persons as owners of 33,000,000 acres, of whom 703,289 own less than 1 acre. The Hon. George C. Brodrick, in English Land and English Landlords, calculates that 4,000 persons owning estates of 1,000 acres and upwards have 19,000,000 acres, or four-sevenths of the area dealt with, and, making allowances for double entries and other errors, 150,000 persons own all holdings above 1 acre. Arnold, in Free Land, working on this Return, was of opinion that 525 members of the peerage were counted as 1,500, and he gives 7,000 persons as the owners of four-fifths of the land of the United Kingdom. Taking the enclosed land of England and Wales as dealt with in the New Domesday Book, we may say, roughly speaking, that a little more than 2,000 persons own half the land.
In order to appreciate the significance of these figures, and to realize the extent to which the land of England had become concentrated in the hands of a few, we might recall Gregory King's estimate, that in 1696, before the last great enclosure movement had begun, there were 160,000 freeholders with incomes from £55 to £90 per annum.
6. Landowning in the counties great majority of people landless
The position appears even more startling when we look a little closer into the figures of a few agricultural counties:
In Essex 5 peers held one-sixteenth of the area; 1,471 persons more than three-quarters of the total area; 14,833 persons owned less than 1 acre and shared 4,033 acres; and 444,656 persons were landless.
In Hertfordshire 10 peers owned over one-fifth of the county; 439 persons owned over three-quarters; 9,556 persons owning less than 1 acre shared 2,339 acres, and 180,047 persons were landless.
In Hampshire 859 persons owned nearly three-quarters of the county, and 517,467 persons were landless.
In Oxfordshire 57 persons owned nearly one-third of the total area, 534 persons three-quarters of the area, and 168,118 were landless.
In Surrey 556 persons owned three-quarters of the land and 325,032 were landless.
All counties tell the same tale of consolidation and monopoly, but we have cited sufficient to show that in 1876 the great majority of the people of this country were without a foothold in the land, without a claim to a square inch of it. We shall learn later that matters are little better at the present day.
7. Agricultural Returns of 1876. England becoming more dependent on foreign supplies. Some Domesday comparisons
The Agricultural Returns of 1876 afford some interesting comparisons with earlier and later statistics of production in this country, and are an indication of the fruits of denuding the country-side of workers, and so making this country dependent on foreign food supplies.
The population of Great Britain had probably more than quadrupled since the time of Gregory King's estimate, but whereas his estimate of the area of arable land in England and Wales was 11,000,000 acres, it was only 14,519,613 acres in 1876, or including Scotland, 18,028,137, and of this 4,540,000 acres consisted of artificial grasses.
Referring to wheat, the Report says: "The acreage under wheat in the United Kingdom in 1876 was 3,124,000 acres, being 11% less than in 1875 and 22% less than in 1869, when the area under that crop was greater than in any other year from 1868 to 1876. In Great Britain alone the decrease from 1875 was 10%, and from 1869, 19%.... The still larger decrease appears in the stock of sheep, which is less by 1,000,000 since 1875, and by more than 2,000,000 since 1874." King estimated sheep at 11,000,000, and in 1876 in England and Wales there were 21,183,232. Cattle and pigs seem hardly to have increased at all since 1696. In this year King puts the cattle at 4,500,000, and in 1876 there were 4S715,215, and pigs had only increased from 2,000,000 to 2,139,521.
Corn crops, including beans and peas, grown in England in 1876 covered 7,278,286 acres, of which less than one-half would be wheat. The Domesday estimate of 5,000,000 acres for corn alone, of which nearly 3½ million acres were probably wheat, makes this amount look very small, especially when it is remembered that the average produce per acre at this time was about seven times the Domesday yield.
To take two counties as an example. Buckinghamshire at the time of Domesday had 269,000 acres of arable land. In 1876 corn crops, beans, and peas accounted for 132,707 acres, and 191,250 acres were permanent pasture. The Domesday Sussex had 371,000 acres of arable, and in 1876 corn crops, beans, and peas covered 209,026 acres, and permanent pasture 267,000 acres.
Is it any wonder that, with such scanty use made of the land, England had long since ceased to feed her population?
8. Commission on Agricultural Depression, 1882. Landlords and large farmers suffer from bad seasons and foreign competition
Having denuded the country-side, turned the remaining labourers into
landless serfs, brought unemployment and destitution to the towns, and
allowed the ownership of the land to become concentrated into the hands of a
few thousand territorial lords, the Government has periodically appointed
Commissions to inquire into agricultural distress. Agricultural distress
since the eighteenth century usually meant a period of low prices,
when large farmers were in a bad way and landlords had difficulty in getting
their rents; it had no reference to the condition of the agricultural
labourers, for they were permanently depressed. One such Commission was
appointed in 1882, and reported that the depression was due to a succession
of four bad seasons and foreign competition. The Report states: "While the
difficulties of the farmers have been thus increased, higher wages and more
general employment have proportionately improved the condition of the
labourer.* It is most satisfactory to be assured that the labouring class
has been scarcely, if at all, affected by the distress which has fallen so
heavily upon owners as well as occupiers. Provisions have been cheap and
employment abundant, while wages in a few districts only have been slightly
reduced." This is followed by a complaint about the deterioration in the
standard of work of the labourer. Joseph Arch, in giving evidence on this
point, said it was wrong to say that the standard had fallen, but that owing
to the great migration from the villages only the inferior labour was left;
and judging from the evidence of Arch and others, there is little indication
that wages or conditions had improved. From the tables of wages in
Prothero's English Farming, Past and Present, we find that in every
district in England money wages had fallen since 1872.
* The improvement was microscopic.
The Report also states that many farmers had complained of the Education Act as seriously affecting labour. They admit that it may have benefited the labourers, but say that it had compelled them to employ men where they formerly had boys. Not content with the reduction of the peasant to a landless serf, objection was now raised to his education.
9. The effect of high rents
In a Supplementary Memorandum to this Report Mr. John Clay throws light on another side of the question. He writes: "With reference to the subject of rent, ample evidence has been given before the Commission on this most important subject, its increase during the last twenty-five years, and the great losses that tenant farmers have sustained thereby. The Report does not sufficiently deal with this increase as an important factor in the agricultural depression and one which has helped to bring about the present crisis in the agriculture of the country.... Sir James Caird puts the rise of rent in England for the last eighteen years at 21%, and in Scotland at 26%, but I have no doubt that if we went back twenty-five years the rise would be 25% for England and 30% for Scotland."
10. Arable land reverting to permanent pasture
Sir Robert Giffen, in giving evidence before the Commission, speaks of the continued conversion of arable to pasture. Between the years 1867-9 and 1878-80 1,800,000 acres, formerly waste or unreclaimed, were added to the cultivated area of the United Kingdom. "But, on the other hand, we find that in the same period there is the well-known fact of a diminution of the arable land and an increase of the permanent pasture to the extent of about 1,000,000 acres; and I think that that would justify us in saying that, against the increase of production at home, which might be due to the increased area, we may set the transfer of land from arable to permanent pasture, so that thre is no reason why we should say that there ought to be more production in the last three years than there was in the three years from 1867-9, and so far as I have conversed with agricultural authorities they seem rather to agree with that."
11. Government small-holding schemes a failure
In 1889 there was appointed a Select Committee of the House of Commons on
small holdings, and in 1892 a Small Agricultural Holdings Act came into
force. This Act empowered County Councils to purchase or lease land for
small holdings where there was a demand, and was apparently intended as an
attempt to replace some of the dispossessed on the land. It will be seen,
however, in the next chapter* that there were forces at work making it
difficult for a labourer even to make application for a holding, and
unfortunately the administration of the Act was in the hands of the
landlords and farmers, who were opposed to the increase of small
* See Chapter XIII, par.3.
In the Final Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, issued in 1897, it was stated that from 1892 to 1895 only eight counties in the whole of Great Britain had taken any proceedings under the Act; that only 483 acres had been bought and let as small holdings; and that these were generally overburdened with debt. The rent charged for holdings purchased in this way is always considerably higher than that of surrounding land, and sinking fund charges and a sum to be paid as an instalment of the purchase price have usually made it difficult for the small holder to keep free of debt or to compete with the farmer.
12. Tenants in better position than owners. Prosperity of allotment holders in Axholme
As with County Council small holdings, so with other peasant-proprietorships, it is found that tenants at a fair rental are always better off than those who have bought their holdings, generally in a boom year, and are heavily involved in the hands of mortgagees; but it is also found that small holders and small farmers not so heavily involved are able to weather periods of bad times better than the large farmer,
In the Final Report of 1897 the Assistant Commissioner for Lincolnshire, reporting on the Isle of Axholme, said that the position was gloomy, but that tenants were better off than owners. Of those who had bought their holdings fifteen or twenty years before, 90% had either been sold up or were struggling on in a hopeless condition at the mercy of the mortgagees. Referring to these cases, Dr. Slater says: "Their prosperity with steadier prices revived exceptionally quickly."
The same writer also quotes a table submitted to the Select Committee of 1889, showing holdings of land in the parish of Epworth as follows:
|Of holdings over||200 acres there are||. . . . .||2 occupiers|
|" " "||100 " and under||200 acres||12 "|
|" " "||50 " " "||100 "||14 "|
|" " "||20 " " "||50 "||31 "|
|" " "||10 " " "||20 "||40 "|
|" " "||2 " " "||10 "||115 "|
|" " "||½ acre " "||2 "||80 "|
He says: "The 80 holders occupying from ½ to 2 acres would all be men in
regular employment,* as a rule agricultural labourers. A body of these sent
their deposition to the Select Committee in the following form: 'We, the
undersigned, being agricultural labourers at Epworth, are in occupation of
allotments or small holdings, varying from 2 roods to 3 acres, willingly
testify to the great benefit we find from our holdings. Where we have
sufficient quantity of land to grow 2 roods each of wheat, barley and
potatoes, we have bread, bacon and potatoes for a great part of the year,
enabling us to face a long winter without the dread of hunger or pauperism
staring us in the face.'"
* Slater states that the general wage level was high, although the district was a long way from any large town.
13. Joseph Arch supports small holdings
All reports on Agricultural Depression testify to the fact that the small
tenant is in a better position than the man who has purchased, and also that
where the labourer has access to a little land he is in a sounder position
than when he is entirely landless. When he was examined before the
Agricultural Commission of 1882, Joseph Arch was asked about the Chartist
allotments established by Feargus O'Connor in the neighbourhood of Witney
and Dodwell, near Birmingham, and at Snugg's End in Gloucestershire.* Many
of these holdings varied in extent from 3 to 6 acres, and Arch said that the
occupiers had done well. Of those with smaller holdings of 2 or 3 acres,
many worked as labourers for about half their time. "The advantage to the
farmer will be that he will get a good, well-fed, hearty, strong man; but
where you keep him down on a miserable wage, and he has no other means of
getting a shilling, he is a poor, half-starved being not fit for work." He
added that some of these 3- or 4-acre men were entirely independent of the
farmers, as they bred poultry, did carrying or hawking, and carried on
* See No.60192 et seq.
When asked whether the sites of the estates were not bad, he replied: "The
Minster Lovel Estate was almost a barren and useless waste when they took
it; so was the Dodwell Farm, near Birmingham, where they grow more
strawberries on an acre of land than they do on two acres in some parts of
"Then they have improved the land, and they have fairly managed to sustain
themselves?" "Yes, they have turned the waste and wild, and made it a
He was further asked: "We have evidence from all parts of the country
showing us that farmers instead of making any money have lost far more than
the rent they paid; what would have been the position of your 5-acre man
during any period of these last five or six years? I will tell you what
the position of them is in Minster Lovel: the men that had their 4 and 5
acres there in 1872 and 1873 hold them to-day; that is their position, they
have got their land."* "The opinion that I have is this: I saw one of them
the other day, and he has been upon the farm since 1873, and he said: 'With
all the losses that the farmers complain about, I can keep my chin above
14. Prosperity of the New Forest commoners and small farmers
In the Final Report of the Royal Commission of 1897 there is an interesting account of how, amidst the depression in agriculture, which was said to be due to bad seasons and foreign competition, the small holders and commoners of the New Forest were faring.
The Commissioner for this district reported that their prosperity was remarkable, their land highly cultivated, and rents averaging £2 per acre tithe free. The commoners enjoyed practically three livings:
He states: "It is extraordinary to me; the more I look into it and the more I learn about the state of things in the New Forest, the more astonished I am. The way in which these people work, and the way in which they save, and the way in which they seem to have money whenever they want it for their own purposes is sometimes quite a mystery to me how they do it; I know they do do it." The comparative prosperity of these commoners will not be so mysterious to those who have studied the history of land tenure in this country.
15. Prosperity due to small farms, intensive culture, and valuable common rights
Mr. Channing refers to this district in his Report, and testifies to the prosperity of the small holder and commoner. He states that the policy of consolidating farms in the New Forest had failed, and that the largest type of holding was only 100 acres. The holdings of the commoners varied from 6 to 20 acres, those of about 12 acres being the best, and the common rights had been secured by Act of Parliament. Land that would sell for £20 to £25 per acre in large farms fetched about £40 per acre in small holdings; and in sales held at that time some land in small parcels had fetched £100 per acre. Owing to the depression, farm land in the neighbourhood had fallen one-half, but the small holdings had not decreased in value. With reference to the produce of these farms, the Commissioner reports that a quarter of the area of the holding is usually arable, cultivated intensively and with the spade. This produces turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and winter food for the cows. The remainder is pasture and orchard. Cows and pigs are very profitable, and pork, butter, poultry, and eggs are produced and sold to itinerant dealers.
Mr. B. Eyre gives further testimony as to conditions in this district:
"Everybody turns out something. Many labourers double their wages by
stock-keeping, and some have been known to save all their wages for a series
of years, making their living by forest rights. A labouring man will get
hold of one animal somehow a cow or a mare and then that makes the
foundation of his fortune.... When once they have something like £5 either
in stock or money, they then go steadily up in the social scale.... They
reckon that if a man turns out a lot of pigs of all sizes in a good mast
season he will clear 10s. per pig."*
* This throws light on the value of common rights.
16. Report of 1897 depression due to fall in prices. Consolidation of farms, decay of buildings and conversion of arable. Small farms and mixed holdings suffer least
The depression reported on in 1897 was again a period of abundance and low
prices, and rents were in danger. The Report stated that: "With a few
exceptions the seasons since 1882 have been on the whole satisfactory from
an agriculture point of view; and the evidence before us has shown that the
existing depression is to be attributed mainly to the fall in prices of farm
produce." This fall was most marked in the case of wheat and wool, and the
Report continues: "We find that the effects of agricultural depression have
made themselves most apparent in the arable counties; and that in counties
where the surroundings are such as to favour dairying, market-gardening,
poultry-farming, and other special industries the conditions are somewhat
* Large-scale farming did not pay.
The evidence obtained by this Commission throws considerable light on the
evil results of land monopoly, the consolidation of farms starved of labour,
the rack-renting and insecurity of tenure.* Some of the effects of enclosure
can now be seen, for whenever there is depression, back goes arable land to
pasture, and the labourer drifts to the town. Mr. Hunter Pringle,
Commissioner for Essex, reported: "Between 1880 and 1884 the number of farms
given up, either in despair or for reasons over which the occupiers had no
control, was stated to have been enormous.... On poor estates no attempt was
made to bring the land round; it was left alone, and gradually 'tumbled
down' to such coarse and inferior herbage as Nature produced.... Many farms,
after lying derelict for a few years, were let as grass runs for young stock
at nominal rents." He adds that rents had had to be reduced from 25% to
* See Report of Welsh Land Commission, 1896, p.300: "With reference to almost every district that we visited... we were repeatedly assured by an overwhelming preponderance of the witnesses that many tenants were afraid to come forward to give evidence, and the main consideration in producing that fear was stated to be the precarious and insecure nature of the tenancy from year to year under which nearly all the farms are held in Wales."
Reporting on Suffolk and Cambridge, Mr. Fox stated that the condition of the
land had gone back, and was frequently foul and choked with weeds, buildings
were falling into disrepair, and owners were worse off than occupiers. Mr.
Rew, referring to Norfolk, said that farmers of considerable capital
formerly living in good style* were now on the verge of ruin.
* See Question 60256 in the Report of 1882. Arch considered that many farmers wasted their money in high living.
From Berkshire, Hertfordshire, and Oxfordshire came the same story of land
tumbling down to grass; and in Somersetshire, Devonshire, and Cornwall there
was also much conversion to pasture. Mr. Pringle, referring to other
counties in the arable section Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, and
Northamptonshire said: "Those who have not put their eggs too much in the
wrong basket corn-growing grass farmers, fen farmers, market-gardeners,
and dairy-farmers, have done best of all."*
* The "gentleman farmer" scorned to grow anything but wheat or to keep pigs.
With regard to Leicestershire, the evidence was said to be "conflicting" and the "depression less manifest." But there, we are told, the farms were mostly mixed and under 200 acres. In the north and north-east there was competition for farms.
17. Further great increase of pasture at expense of arable. Depopulation continues at a rapid rate
This Report discloses the enormous extent of arable land converted to pasture. It states: "One prominent feature of the depression has been the great contraction of the area of land under the plough in all parts of the country. The actual loss of arable area in the interval covered by the last two decades, which may be said to enclose the period of depression, is 2,137,000 acres, and that the diminution of the wheat acreage alone accounts for more than 1,900,000 acres of this loss." The figures given are for Great Britain:
||1875 ||18,104,000 ||13,312,000
So that with an increasing population the country was producing less and less food.
Referring to the further depopulation of the country-side, the report states: "We find that in the purely arable counties of the east of England, and in some of the counties in the south and west, there has been since 1892 a further and considerable reduction of the number of men employed, while those still engaged have in many instances suffered from irregularity of employment and from a fall in wages."
The Commissioner for Essex reports that "on holdings where grass has been
substituted for cultivated crops, and on three-horse farms where land has
gone out of cultivation, few labourers are employed on the land.... Where
formerly three labourers earned a livelihood, not one will be found now." In
the twenty years 1871-91, the population of England and Wales had increased
by 6,955,888, but the number of agricultural labourers had decreased by
242,053. As the Report says: "It is unnecessary for us to enlarge on the
significance of these figures." Unfortunately, however, the story does not
end in 1891, for the 1901* Census disclosed the fact that over 150,000 more
agricultural labourers had gone, making some 400,000 since 1871, who with
wives and children would be little less than 2,000,000 souls. Between 1881
and 1901, while the population of England and Wales increased by 25%, the
number of agricultural workers decreased by 27%.
* The 1901 Census shows that out of 674 rural districts in England and Wales, 408 had declined in population. To give a few examples, population declined in Lincolnshire by 8.1%; in Surrey by 15%; in Sussex by 16%; in Oxfordshire by 18.7%; in Buckinghamshire by 20.2%; and in Bedfordshire by 23.8%.
Booth, Occupation of the People (1886): "Between 1851 and 1881 the numbers of those engaged in agriculture declined from 1,759,600 to 1,341,000."
18. Majority Report again overlooks importance of high rents and delay in reducing rents
The Supplementary Reports of Mr. Channing and Mr. Lambert draw attention to
the question of rents and the depression. The Majority Report
dismisses the tenant farmers' evidence on this point as being "interested,"
but it is difficult to understand in what way the landlords' evidence was
any less "interested." Mr. Channing says: "These instances from the accounts
supplied are more than confirmed by the mass of evidence substantially
unchallenged to the effect that excessive rents* have brought, and are
bringing, vast numbers of farmers to ruin; that rents have been
insufficiently and too tardily reduced; and that the soil has been steadily
deteriorated by the ruin and impoverishment of tenants, owing to the
disproportionate share of the diminishing receipts which has had to be taken
* Mr. Fyshe, in giving evidence, put "high rents" before low prices as a cause of depression. (Question 53946).
Mr. Lambert reports to the same effect, and quotes the Lincolnshire
Commissioner who said: "It certainly does seem strange to go into a great
agricultural county like Lincolnshire, which possesses splendid stock and
much fine land, and to find New Zealand and Danish butter* largely sold in
the towns." It is, indeed, strange, and one wonders if there had been no
enclosing movement, and if the community had retained its interest in the
soil, whether such a phenomenon could be possible.
* The import of dairy produce in 1896 amounted to £24,000,000, an increase of £10,000,000 over 1876.
Mr. Lambert further adds that in a large proportion of cases the reductions in rent did not come until many of the old tenants were ruined, or came too late to save them. He also refers to a very general complaint that the farmer who farmed well did not get the reduction obtained by the farmer who farmed badly, for in the case of old tenants on land highly improved there is "not a shadow of freedom of contract."
19. Owners of small farms again worse off than tenants. Farms purchased in times of high prices
There is valuable evidence in this Report as to the relative conditions of
small owners and small tenants. Those who own their farms are usually worse
off than tenants on account of mortgage indebtedness; and the purchase seems
to have been made in times of high prices,* often "at double value." The
Commissioner for Norfolk says: "A good many of our farmers some twenty-five
years ago were told that the best thing that they could do was to buy their
farms, and they did so. But they had not enough cash, and they had to
mortgage their farms."
* As was done during the Napoleonic wars and the Great War (1914-18), the results being similar in each case (see Chapter XIII).
The Commissioner for Lincolnshire, referring to the same matter, says: "But the position of these men is not only worse than tenants, because they have a higher rent in the shape of interest, but because to the land they have bought they are irrevocably bound, for they cannot sell it without going out as ruined men, and they cannot let it for a sufficient rent to pay the interest on their mortgages."
20. Small Danish farms scarcely affected by depression
A Report* on Agricultural Depression in Denmark was obtained for this
Commission from Mr. R. Schou, Secretary to the Royal Danish Agricultural
Society. His Report showed that in the majority of cases the depression was
little felt, and not at all amongst the small farms. His figures are
Smaller farms (94% worked by owners), 74,000.
These were affected, but less so, "chiefly owing to their size."
Small farms of 7 to 10 acres, 150,000.
These scarcely felt the crisis, and the prices of these farms had, if anything, risen.
Mr. Schou also drew attention to the fact that, as far as agriculture was concerned, protective duties did not exist.
21. Land workers flock to towns, causing sweating and unemployment. Periodical industrial depressions increase pauperism and unemployed surplus. Overcrowding and value of town sites enhanced
All through the period under review there was a large amount of unemployment in the towns, with recurring periods of exceptional depression. Trade and industry fluctuated, and in periods of bad trade the unemployed surplus expanded. The continual drain from the country-side made wages low and caused unemployment in the towns, for the country labourer, being usually strong and healthy, was frequently able to displace the town worker.
The Transactions and Reports of the House of Lords Committee on the Sweating System (1888-90) provide an enormous mass of evidence to the effect that sweating and unemployment in the towns were largely caused by the inrush of agricultural workers. Lord Dunraven's Report (Fifth Report) disclosed a terrible state of affairs among the London dock labourers, who were suffering from the evils of casual work and the competition of workers from the villages.
The great trek to the towns during the previous twenty years seems to have been largely responsible for the increase in the numbers of casual workers at the docks and the reduction of wages to a microscopic point. Mr. Tillett, a dockers' leader, in evidence said:
(12853) "There are 50 per cent, of the dock labourers that really have
either come from the land themselves or are the children of the farm
* An investigation conducted for the Royal Commission on the Poor Law in 1906 gives a good example of this. It was found that 66% of the men in the Inner Division of the Metropolitan Police Force were country born, and 25% had been used to farm work. Of the Glasgow police, 91% were country born, and 47% had worked on farms. The Report also states that, "taking 12,558 workpeople employed by sixteen large municipal corporations in England, 37% were country born and 22% had been farm labourers."
With reference to the origin of these competitors for work at the docks, Mr. Tillett said:
The Rev. J. Munro (First Report, 1417-18, 1436, etc.) also gave much evidence to the same effect, and, referring to sweating among women, said: "If we could stop the people coming up from the provinces we would materially aid the seamstresses (and, we may add, the working women generally) of East London."
This evidence is similar to that given by a large number of other witnesses, who saw clearly enough the connection between the depopulated villages and the crowded dens of East London. There is also considerable evidence which goes to show that not only agricultural labourers, but small tradesmen and artisans, whose living disappeared as the villages declined, also came to the towns and competed with, and displaced, town workers.
In the Final Report of the Royal Commission on the Depression of Trade and Industry, Appendix K (1886), Mr. Arthur O'Connor referred to many witnesses who had shown how the general depression had begun in agriculture, and that the diminished purchasing power of the villages had affected the whole community.
22. Unemployment statistics. Wages low and a large section of the population below the poverty line
There are no complete statistics of unemployment during this period, but Trade Union figures give some indication of the state of things. In 1873 the percentage of unemployed among members was 1.2, and this rose gradually to 11.4% in 1879. In 1880 it was 5.5% and in 1882 2.3%, and this rose to 10.2% in 1886. In 1887 it was 7.6% in 1890 2.1%, and in 1893 it had risen to 7.5%. In 1894 it was 6.9%, and this fell to 2% in 1899. By 1904 it had risen to 6%, and after falling to 3.6% in 1906 and 3.7% in 1907, it rose to 7.8% in 1908, and 7.7% in 1909, and then fell again to 2.1% in 1913.
In 1867 a Mansion House Relief Fund was opened for the unemployed, and in
subsequent years appeals were frequently made. In 1886 there were riots in
Trafalgar Square, and 1893, 1904 and 1908 were years of exceptional
depression. In the year 1905-6 there were 110,000 applications to Distress
Committees for relief. In 1881 the mean number of paupers relieved was
790,937, and in 1904 the number was 837,680.*
* Local Government Board Reports.
Taking the matter generally, we may say that throughout the period under
consideration there has always been a surplus of unemployed, increasing to
large proportions during periods of bad trade, and that a very large
proportion of the population has struggled along on a wage which placed them
below the poverty line.
LAND MONOPOLY BEFORE AND AFTER THE GREAT WAR
1. Results of land monopoly accentuated by the Great War
The condition of the country-side in 1914, on the eve of the Great War, differed but little from the description already given of the latter part of the nineteenth century. In the five years preceding 1914 the Government had conducted a campaign throughout the country with the ostensible object of reforming the land system and striking a blow at land monopoly. Such a campaign naturally roused the antagonism of the landed interests. It had, however, a large following in the country, for public opinion was roused against the continuance of widespread pauperism, unemployment, bad housing, and the exodus from the country-side. Then came the Great War, and all thoughts of reform were forgotten. At the present day, therefore, all the bad conditions of 1914 exist in a more accentuated form pauperism and unemployment are rampant, the country-side further denuded of labour, arable land again being converted to pasture, the slums and towns overcrowded, and a shortage of houses such as never before experienced.
2. Pre-war conditions. The Land Inquiry Committee
In order to appreciate fully the conditions of the towns and country at the present day, and the trend of events during the last decade, we must consider for a moment our land system as it had come to be in 1914.
In 1913 an unofficial Inquiry Committee was appointed at the instigation of the Prime Minister for the purpose of inquiring into the position of the agricultural industry and land holding in general. The inquiry was conducted through independent investigators a method which has advantages over that of hearing witnesses and the Report was issued in 1913. Separate reports were issued for England, Scotland and Wales, and all contain much valuable information of undoubtedly dependable quality.
In 1913 the holdings of over 300 acres made up 25% of the total cultivated acreage, or in other words, the large farmers with more than 300 acres held nearly 7,000,000 acres; the holdings of from 1 to 5 acres comprised only 1% of the total cultivated acreage; and those of 5 to 50 acres 15%.
3. Small holdings and allotments in great demand, but difficult to obtain. The dependence of the labourer
The Report* of the Land Inquiry Committee confirms what has already been
learnt from various Government Reports, that access to the land is barred
for the small man, the small holder or allotment holder, and owing to the
tied cottage system and insecurity of tenure generally the labourer is often
afraid to ask for a holding. The Report states: "Over and over again our
informants say that the demand for allotments and small holdings is not
voiced, as the men are afraid of losing their work, their cottage, or both.
To apply for a holding often means becoming a marked man. As one of our
informants in Somersetshire says: 'To get a small holding means as a rule
years of publicity of the fact that one is trying for it. And as this sort
of thing is very unpopular among farmers, it can be imagined that a labourer
thinks twice before risking the goodwill of his employers. I think that it
is sufficiently understood by the labourers generally that they must not
apply for land.... There is a sifting and selecting continually going
* The Land, vol.i., Rural.
Ibid., p.164: "The labourers' fears, no doubt, are often groundless, but the occasions upon which they are justified are sufficiently numerous to cause widespread fear."
The Land, p.163.
It was found that only about two-thirds of the villages in England and Wales had allotments, and that where these were not utilized it was for one or more of the following reasons:
The Report adds that "where they do apply, they are frequently unsuccessful,
either because of (1) the apathy of the Council; (2) the hostility of the
farmer; (3) the high price demanded for the land; or (4) the difficulty of
putting the compulsory powers into force through the County Council."*
On this subject of allotments a farmer writes; "A man with 1 or 2 acres
under absolute fixity of tenure can supplement his wages by growing abundant
vegetables and fruit for his family, and can keep poultry and pigs. Even
when temporarily out of work he has thus good food and healthy means of
employment. I have known many men driven to emigrate because they could get
neither land nor cottages here."*
4. Security of tenure wanted, not ownership
The conclusions of the Committee on the question of small holdings are that
"there is a large unsatisfied demand... which frequently is not voiced owing
to the fear of applying."*
As regards small holders under private landowners, these have "suffered
considerably both from insecurity of tenure and high rents."* County Council
small holders have also suffered from high rents, largely due to
The Land, p.163: "The Small Holdings and Allotments Act has to a large extent been deprived of its full value by the labourer's lack of independence."
We have already had occasion to see that during the periods of so-called
agricultural depression owners of small holdings were usually in a worse
plight than tenants. Arthur Young spoke of the magic of ownership, but
security of tenure is the real essence of the magic. As the Haversham
Committee reported in 1911: "It is clear from the evidence that the main
thing which the tenant farmers desire is to be able to remain on their
farms, and it is usually when a farmer is unable to remain as a tenant,
owing to the breaking up of estates, that he desires to become an occupying
owner. There is little desire for ownership in itself, and it is only
advocated as an alternative to being turned out of his home."*
* P.12 of the Report.
5. Failure of County Council schemes. Small holders who do not slavishly copy large farmers successful
The provision of small holdings by County Councils is shown to have been
more or less of a failure. From 1892 to 1907 nine County Councils acquired
880 acres, but after the Small Holdings and Allotments Act of 1907 more was
done. Up to 1912 County Councils acquired 155,000 acres, of which 105,000
were purchased and 50,000 leased,* and only 2% of the holders provided for
wished to purchase. Of these holders, agricultural labourers comprised
about 33%, but this proportion varied from 73% in the Isle of Ely to 54% in
Cambridgeshire and 7% in Somersetshire. These figures seem to suggest that
in some districts at any rate the wrong class of men had been obtaining
* Annual Report on Small Holdings, 1912.
Less land has been cultivated by owners each year since 1887. In that year 15.22% of the total cultivated area was cultivated by owners; in 1912 the percentage was 10.87 (Agricultural Statistics).
The reports from investigators, farmers, etc., are almost unanimous to the
effect that small holdings can produce more than large farms,* especially
with stock and poultry. Many small holders, however, endeavour to copy the
large farmer, and so lose money. "On the other hand, dairy-farming,
market-gardening, and pig and poultry rearing, which require much personal
attention, lose rather than gain by large-scale production, and can
therefore be carried on with success by small holders." With reference to
this point, an Essex informant states: "In this district small holders very
seldom grow any produce beyond corn, wheat, barley, oats, and beans, and as
they have to compete with larger farmers of, say, 300 to 500 acres, who work
with modern machinery and wholesale methods, the small holder has to work
early and late, and often very severely, to make a living." Since 1908 the
number of small holdings has actually declined.
* The Land, p.207. A Berkshire land steward, formerly farmer's bailiff, writes: "One farm, 447 acres. The farmer employed in his busy time, 6 men, 1 boy. He possessed 6 horses and 20 milch cows. There are now upon the farm 14 small holders themselves and their families, 2 labourers, 3 boys, 19 horses, 9 colts raised this year, 37 milch cows, 1 bull, several calves, 300 head of poultry, 128 sheep, and 48 acres are used as common for grazing about 40 head of cattle extra."
A calculation from figures furnished in the Report on Agricultural Output of
Great Britain for 1908* shows that the average number of males regularly
employed per 100 acres on different classes of holdings was as follows:
* Cd.6277, Table 18.
||Males per 100 acres
||1 5 ||acres ||8.0
||5 50 || "||4.3
||50 300 || "||2.5
||Over 300 || "||2.3|
6. Wastage and under-cultivation the fallacy of "too many acres"
The material collected by the Inquiry Committee contains abundant evidence
of the under-cultivation of the land, especially in the case of the large
farms. Mr. Prothero (Lord Ernle), writing in 1912, said: "Thousands of acres
of tillage and grass-land are comparatively wasted, underfarmed and
undermanned. Countries whose climate is severer than our own, and in which
poorer soils are cultivated, produce far more from the land than
* English Farming, Past and Present, R.E. Prothero, p.401.
In the Annual Report on Small Holdings for 1910 the Commissioners state: "It
is no exaggeration to say that a considerable quantity of the soil of this
country might be made to return at least twice as much as it does at
present,* and if the results of scientific research can be brought home to
the agricultural community, there is no reason why this result should not be
achieved." As Professor Long says, "there is no greater fallacy than 'too
* "That our cultivated land is not made the most of is too true." James Long, in Making the Most of the Land (1913), p.31.
Much evidence is also given to show that more could be produced if the system of mixed farming were extended, and the high rents per acre of small holdings compared with the lower rentals of large neighbouring farms are everywhere testified to. The large farms are usually too large for the farmer's capital, with the result that the land is labour-starved and rapidly deteriorates.
The conclusions arrived at by the Committee as to the causes of
under-cultivation and low production are as follows:*
* The Land, pp.251-4
All of these apply equally well to present-day conditions, but more will have
to be said later about the possibilities of the soil in this country.*
7. The drain from the country-side continues reasons
In spite of the vast unpeopling of the country-side during the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries, the movement was still continuing in the twentieth
century. From Census figures we find that in 1891 the rural population
formed 28% of the total population, in 1901 23%, and in 1911 only 21.9%.
Many of those who left the country-side went overseas, and the emigration
figures for this period are alarming. In 1900 some 9,000 male agriculturists
(mostly labourers) left for non-European countries. This number rose each
year, until in 1907 26,000 left these shores. In 1908 the number fell to
15,000, but rose again to 23,000 in 1912.*
* The Land, p.31.
The number of agricultural labourers fell from 756,557 in 1891 to 609,105 in 1901. The figure 643,117 for 1911 shows an increase, but when we take into consideration the facts that many labourers were absent owing to the South African War in 1901, and that a different and more accurate method of classification was adopted in 1911, this increase dwindles considerably.
The Land Report attributes the continued drain from the country-side to low wages, long hours, shortage of cottages, and lack of outlook and prospects for the future, and to these we must add the laying down of arable to pasture and the consolidation of farms.
8. Great shortage of cottages and bad condition of existing cottages results
There is abundant evidence in the Report testifying to the great shortage of
cottages, and this, coupled with the inability to obtain land, made it
impossible for young labourers who wished to marry to remain in the villages.
In large numbers of villages it would be difficult to find anyone who could
remember the building of a labourer's cottage, and the Report states that in
approximately 50% of the villages of this country no new cottages had been
built within the previous ten years. "In the course of our inquiry 2,759
parishes in England and Wales have been investigated. In 1,396 of these a
shortage of cottages is reported, quite apart from the replacement
of existing insanitary cottages."* The estimated number required is put at
The Select Committee on the Housing of the Working Classes Acts Amendment Bill, 1906, reported: "The Committee have had abundant evidence before them as to the insufficiency of cottages in rural districts. Cases have been brought to their notice in which people have had to leave a village because of the lack of housing accommodation."
The evidence as to insanitary and broken-down leaky cottages comes from all over the country, and is indeed testified to by all writers on agricultural questions. Medical Officers of Health everywhere deplore the damp, dark cottages in which so many labourers are compelled to live, and the overcrowding is often said to be worse than in town slums.
A Sussex farmer's evidence resembles that obtained from every county: "More
men are driven off the land into towns through lack of cottage accommodation
than for any other reason. Hundreds of the cottages are not fit for
habitation. I have farmed for twenty to thirty years, and I am convinced
that this is a crying need. Over and over again my young men when getting
married have had to leave and go to the towns for want of accommodation."*
* P.85. Shortage of cottages causes loss of efficiency when labourers have to walk long distances to their work.
9. Labourer's wage insufficient to pay economic rent. The insecurity of the "tied cottage"
The real cause, however, of the migration to the towns is not so much the
shortage of cottages as the fact that the labourer is a landless serf,
without the wage, or the possibility of obtaining the wage, necessary to pay
an economic rent for a cottage. If the labourer had access to land and the
possibility of earning or making an economic wage, the cottages would be
built. An extract from the Report of the Select Committee on Housing, 1906,
seems to show that this was appreciated: "One main reason is the difficulty
of building cottages to yield an adequate interest on the outlay to the
owner. Cottages, without adjacent land,* cannot be built in agricultural
districts to secure a return to cover interest and sinking fund, in addition
to the other usual outgoings, if let at the prevailing rents paid by farm
* The obtaining of this "adjacent land" would be a great difficulty.
The "tied cottage" system also contributes to the rural exodus, for many
will not put up with the insecurity of tenure,* where the farmer, in
dismissing the labourer from employment, can at the same time turn him into
the street homeless. This system renders the labourer and his wife and
children complete serfs, for the wife is often compelled to do work on the
farm for fear of offending the farmer. Sir Rider Haggard in Rural
England quotes a correspondent as saying: "You may depend upon it, men
are not going to be tied in cottages and be ruled by the iron hand of
employers. Create hope in the people and provide for its realization. Oh!
the hopelessness of village life! No wonder people flee from it, as from the
haunted castle of Giant Despair."
* Mr. George Edwards, Sec. Agric. Labs. Union: "There are villages where the Union has never been able to gain a footing simply because 95 per cent of the cottages were tied, and if the men joined the Union they would go." (quoted in The Land, p.146).
Vol.i, p.49. At p.283 of the same volume, in referring to the "tied cottage," Mr. Thomas Hardy is quoted as saying: "The prime cause of the removal is unquestionably insecurity of tenure."
10. Low and falling wages cause rural depopulation
Low wages have already been referred to as conducing to rural depopulation.
In 1913 more than half the agricultural workers in England received total
earnings of less than 18s. per week, and of these 20,000 to 30,000
received less than 16s. In Oxfordshire the average total was about
15s. per week, and in South Warwickshire total earnings in many cases
did not amount to more than from 13s. to 14s. per week; and from these sums
there would be deductions for loss of time through wet and frost, while very
few of the workers received a weekly half-holiday. A labourer's wife is
reported as saying: "During the past fifteen weeks I have only been able to
buy 2s. worth of meat, and I have now very nearly forgotten what it is
like."* Another wife, quoted by Rowntree and Kendall in How the Labourer
Lives, said: "I haven't bought meat or bacon for weeks and weeks."
* The Land, p.28.
On the question of wages the Inquiry Committee arrived at the conclusion
that, "when the increased cost of living has been taken into account, the
real earnings of nearly 60% of the ordinary agricultural labourers have
actually decreased since 1907."*
11. Consolidation and conversion continue, and result in depopulation
The consolidation and conversion of farms continued to account for the
depopulation of the country-side, and the Land Report furnishes widespread
evidence of these movements. The large farms deteriorate and are
labour-starved, and when farms are thrown together a large portion is
usually put down to grass. Two extracts from the evidence on this question
may be given. An Essex overseer reports:* "Where farms have been
consolidated, fewer labourers and tradesmen are required; less intensive
cultivation is adopted; less interest is taken in the farm; and less
poultry, live-stock and bees are kept; lack of attention to details, and the
profitable working up and marketing of odds and ends of produce, the keeping
down of vermin, and the growing of fruit."
A Buckinghamshire farmer states:* "The tendency of one occupier to get
possession of several farms is the great evil of this district. It reduces
the number of labourers about 50%, places an abnormal local power in the
hands of one man, and embitters the feeling of small men who are unable to
get land. A great portion of the land is allowed to fall down to grass, and
the remainder does not receive the cultivation it should, and thereby the
production is decreased."
12. Arable and pasture compared
Foreign competition seems always to have been met in this country by putting down arable land to pasture, what a Lincolnshire landowner aptly described as "reducing the cost of cultivation" as distinct from reducing the cost of production; and he drew attention to the fact that on the Continent competition was usually met by increasing the yield per acre and seeing that the "in-put" was economic. In this connection we might refer to Denmark, where 90% of the land is under arable cultivation, and yet she was in 1914, and is still, our chief rival in dairying.
The Report quotes an example of a comparison between arable and pasture land
from the presidential address to the Surveyors' Institute, 1912, of the Hon.
E.G. Strutt. The accounts are of two farms in the east of England of about
2,000 acres in which he had been interested for the past eighteen years.
During the first twelve years the net profit from the arable land was £1
14s.3d. per acre and from the grass-land 8s.7d.; and "during the last six
years, with the prices of all agricultural produce increased, results from
the arable land were £2 14s.9d. per acre, and from the grass-land 6s.6d."*
13. Vast areas of waste and rough pasture which could be improved afforestation
Referring to waste land, the Report states: "There is much land lying waste
at the present time which might profitably be cultivated. Sometimes it is
not reclaimed, owing to the fact that the owner does not see sufficient
prospect of getting a return on the capital he expends in reclamation. In
such cases the land can often only be reclaimed by the State. There is also,
however, much waste land which could well be brought into cultivation by
private individuals, and the evidence shows that this has often been done.
Some moorland has already been reclaimed by tenants who practically have
security of tenure, and there is little doubt that this would happen more
frequently if greater security of tenure were given."* Professor Long quotes
the case of a Mr. Passmore, a farmer on the South Downs, who enormously
improved the herbage on his farm with dressings of basic slag, and he
states: "There is practically no class of land in this country which we may
regard as unimprovable. To the occupier of hill and down land, of heath and
peat, improvement seems impossible; but it is not so." He also refers to
"the many millions of acres of rough grazing land which potentially
represent the wealth of a new nation."
Long, p.ix (Introduction).
The Royal Commission on Coast Erosion and Afforestation,* 1909, arrived at
the conclusion that in England and Wales there would be quite 1,500,000
acres of land fit for afforestation, and that another million acres might
be added to this, consisting of poor tillage land that would pay better
under forests. The possibilities of afforestation, however, will be further
discussed in the next chapter.
* Cd.4460, vol.ii, pt.i, p.32.
14. Increase of game and gamekeepers diminishes employment and production
The vast preserves of game in England call forth the condemnation of the Land Report, both on account of the amount of land so withheld from use and the great damage to crops. There was considerable evidence before the Royal Commission of 1897 as to the destruction caused by ground game, and much evidence was before the Inquiry Committee to the effect that small tenants, and especially labourers cultivating allotments, were often afraid of taking advantage of the provisions of the Ground Game Act, 1906, and that the restrictions on the methods of killing rendered the Act less useful. The increase in the number of gamekeepers in this country since 1851 is significant. The figures are as follows:
|1851||. . .||9,000|
|1881||. . .||12,633|
|1901||. . .||16,677|
|1911||. . .||17,148|
A report furnished to the Inquiry Committee by an assistant overseer from
Norfolk contains statements which, from other returns made, appear to apply
widely: "The damage is so great in many places that corn cannot be grown, as
the seed is taken from the land by the large number of winged game, while
the ground game, which the tenant under his lease agrees not to kill,
destroy the corn when more matured. The tenant knows that he cannot legally
contract out of his right to kill ground game, but he also knows that his
tenancy would be terminated if he shot a hare. On the other hand, he knows,
as he is informed by the owner, that he hires the land cheaper for this
cause. The owners in this district also claim and exercise the right to stop
the occupier from keeping fowls in the fields, as the fowls eat material
required by pheasants and partridges."* Commenting on the evidence, the Land
Report states: "Further, as already shown, there is evidence that not merely
is land under-cultivated, but large areas are altogether out of cultivation
owing to the preservation of game. This land, instead of providing food for
the people, provides sport and delicacies for the few, and is the source of
much damage and annoyance to neighbouring farmers."
It is thus quite clear that game preservation, by restricting the opportunities for employment and otherwise diminishing production, is a cause of unemployment.
15. Conversion and depopulation still continue. Arable area steadily decreasing
We have already seen that depopulation and unemployment result from the conversion of arable land to pasture, but this devastating movement has continued through the twentieth century and is still continuing. From 1901 to 1912 a further 942,000 acres of arable were laid down to grass, making a decrease in arable in thirty years of nearly 3,000,000 acres. This area under the plough, under prevailing conditions, would employ 100,000 labourers. It is important to note the movements in the areas of arable and permanent pasture since 1912:
|Year || Arable
It will be seen from these figures that arable land decreased in area from 1912 to 1915, when the movement was arrested by war conditions. By 1918 1,400,746 acres more were under arable cultivation than in 1914; but the war over, the old movement of conversion to pasture was resumed to such an extent that in 1924 the area of land returned to arable is actually 406,000 acres less than it was in 1912, and is the lowest yet recorded.
Although it appears from these figures that the area under permanent grass has diminished considerably, this is by no means certain; but if it were so, it would mean that the total area under cultivation was diminishing. There are, however, other figures which must be considered in conjunction with those for permanent grass namely, the area of mountain and heath land actually used for rough grazing. The areas for land in this category are as follows:
|Year ||Rough Grazing|
(Mountain & Heath)
If we take the totals for permanent grass and rough grazings for 1914 and 1923 the decrease will be found to be 278,839 acres.
|Year ||Permanent Grass|
& Rough Grazings.
The Ministry of Agriculture comment on this fact in Agricultural Statistics
for 1921: "The disquieting feature of the returns, however, is that the loss
of this land which is being withdrawn from arable cultivation is not being
made good by a corresponding increase in the area under permanent pasture.
For many years, from 1871 to 1916, there was a more or less continuous
decrease of ploughed land, but this was to a very large extent
compensated for by an increase in permanent pasture there was, in
fact, evidence of a turnover from one category to another. Since 1918, on
the other hand, notwithstanding the great decrease in arable cultivation,
the movement in permanent pasture has been insignificant."*
* Agricultural Statistics, p.4.
No doubt a part of the actual decrease in permanent grass is due to the
withdrawal of land for building purposes, and the explanation given in the
Ministry's Report, 1922, probably accounts for the greater part of the
remainder. They say: "It is clear that a somewhat fuller definition of the
class of land which should be classified as rough grazings and the use of
rather more prominent type in the schedule since 1919 has led occupiers to
return under the head of rough grazings some land which they had previously
returned as permanent grass. In many of the returns examined the increase in
the area of rough grazings was exactly the same as the reduction in the area
of permanent grass."* But even when we take all these facts into
consideration, there is a suspicion that some land at any rate has gone out
of use altogether.*
* P.7 of the Report.
16. Wheat area now below pre-war level. Earlier figures compared
The acreage under wheat in 1914 had fallen to 1,807,498 acres, and in spite
of increases during the war, it was only 1,741,000 acres in 1923 and
1,545,000 acres in 1924. In 1914 the acreage under turnips and swedes had
declined by one-third in the previous thirty years, and the acreage under
root crops in 1923 is below that of 1914. The bare fallow recorded in 1914
was 340,737 acres, and in 1923 it was 435,300 acres.*
* In 1924 it had fallen to 355,599 acres.
The statistics for cattle, sheep and pigs are as follows:
| Year ||Cattle ||Sheep ||Pigs
|| 1914||5,877,944 ||17,259,694 ||2,481,481
17. County Statistics
The following statistics of some English agricultural counties and the Channel Islands throw considerable light on present-day conditions of the country-side, and furnish instructive comparisons with earlier times:
|Arable||144,600|| 147,908|| 144,870
||Permanent Grass ||110,148||109,272
18. Census of 1921. Decline in rural population
The 1921 Census results show a further proportional decline in the rural population, and in many instances an absolute decline over the 1911 figures. The total population of England and Wales was returned as 37,885,242. There were 1,126 Urban Districts* with 30,034,385 persons, and 672 Rural Districts with 7,850,857 persons. The percentage decline in rural population may be shown as follows:
In several counties there is an absolute decline in the rural population, shown as follows:
| Rural Pop.|
| Rural Pop.|
||Isle of Wight||94,697||31,059||30,925
19. Productivity of the war-time allotments. The minimum wage
As has been shown, there was an increase of arable land during the war, and
during the latter part of the war period large numbers of allotments were
made available, and the food supply was enormously increased. Unfortunately
many of these allotments have had to be given up since the war, and arable
land is again lapsing to pasture, a further extensive conversion being
threatened as a result of a recent fall in prices. It has been estimated
that there were some one and a half million of these allotments, covering
180,000 acres,* or approximately 1/8 acre to each allotment,
and that the annual value of the food produced amounted to £40,000,000. The
productive power and value of these small allotments will be realized when
it is seen that the food production equals £222 per acre, but it should
also be borne in mind that the Government had to exert its powers to make
the necessary land available.
* Agricultural Statistics for 1924 estimate that at the end of 1923 there were in England and Wales 1,190,000 allotments, covering an area of 170,000 acres, a decrease of just over 10% as compared with the 1920 total.
Lord Leverhulme, speaking at the Guildhall in September, 1922.
One and a half million acres worked in this way would produce food to the value of £333,000,000.
The farmers endeavoured to meet the war shortage of labour by the cheap
labour of boys still at school, and in spite of a great rise in prices,
wages, as usual, were very slow in following. The author of The English
Agricultural Labourer* met able-bodied men in the Isle of Purbeck in
September 1916 receiving 13s. and 14s. a week, and the wage in Norfolk at
this time, including harvest earnings, was £1 3s.1½d., although the cost of
living was up 65%, and at the end of 1916 wheat was 75s.10d. and barley
67s.5d. In January 1917 wages had risen by 42% and the cost of living by
87%, and the labourers were thus worse off than they were in 1914. In August
1917 however, the Corn Production Act fixed a minimum wage of 25s. for
agricultural workers, and Trade Boards were empowered to fix a local
minimum in different districts. Now for a time the labourer began to enjoy
better times, but his prosperity was short-lived. In 1921, owing to a fall
in prices and the outcry of the farmers, the minimum was abolished and the
Trade Board ceased to function. The labourer is now probably worse off than
* F.E. Green, a member of the Royal Commission on Agriculture.
Wheat then stood at 78s.7d.
The part of the Agriculture Act of 1920 dealing with the Board was repealed in July 1921. "As soon as the Government saw that the bargain was about to become operative, they tore up the scrap of paper on which it was written." (Lord Ernle).
20. Great land sales during period of high prices. No farms to let
As in former periods of high prices, landlords and farmers have done well,
and many fortunes have been made. Farmers were encouraged to buy their land
at boom prices, and, in fact, often had to buy in order to retain
possession, and nowhere was there any land available for renting. Messrs.
Knight, Frank & Rutley, estate agents, in their brochure, The Land
Question, published in 1922, state that between 1913 and 1922 in Great
Britain they have disposed of 2,365,000 acres of land, amounting in value to
£31,231,052. This affords some indication of the vast area which must have
changed hands in the last ten years. Now, with the fall in prices in 1922
and 1923, many of those who bought at the top of the market have been
ruined, and again there is a so-called "depression" in agriculture.
Referring to recent conditions, it is stated in The Land Question
that, "in spite of critical conditions, there are practically no farms to
let at present. Farmers who from various causes have had to relinquish their
farms and have no training or inclination for any other calling are thus
still constrained to buy, and this fact has its bearing on
21. The Government Land Settlement Scheme. Councils compete for land
After the war many thousands of ex-soldiers, who had grown accustomed to an open-air life, wished to take up small holdings and settle on the land, and the hope that this would be possible had been encouraged by many Government promises. In 1919 a Land Settlement (Facilities) Act was passed, making many alterations in existing small-holding legislation, and empowering County and County Borough Councils to acquire land for holdings. The Councils were not to be restricted to the acquisition of land which could be let as small holdings at a rent sufficient to cover loan charges and other outgoings, and the Ministry of Agriculture was to guarantee the Councils against loss up to 1926.
The Councils were thus entering the market to purchase when the prices of
land, building material, and equipment were abnormally high, and the
competition was so great that land could only be acquired by purchase. The
position at this time is well stated by Messrs. Knight, Frank & Rutley:
"During the period of the greatest activity in land sales competition was
often keen, and high prices were realized, based as a rule on the fair
market rental value* at the time of the sale and not on the actual rent
payable. A sitting tenant, in order to secure his holding, had sometimes
undoubtedly to give a high price. County Councils have been powerful
competitors. Successful business men and ex-officers, attracted by country
pursuits, have also been purchasers, especially of the smaller farms."
* I.e. monopoly value.
On p.11 the authors state that the increase which a tenant who buys has to pay annually is from 23 to 136%.
22. Extent and cost of the scheme
Some idea of the difficulty of obtaining the necessary land, and the costliness and small results of the scheme, may be gauged from the statistics provided at various intervals during the last three years. From a Ministry of Agriculture statement, issued in January 1922, it appears that up to December 1921 there were 47,943 applications in England and Wales, the amount of land asked for being 826,540 acres. Of these applications, 11,104 had been rejected, and 11,503 provided with 163,778 acres. A further 15,847 applications from ex-service men had been approved, but land had not yet been provided.
On March 9th 1922 the Marquis of Lincolnshire, speaking in the House of Lords, said that 14,297 men had been settled, and that 21,000 applicants were not yet provided for. Speaking in the House on the same day, Lord Ernle said that the Government had settled 15,000 men, and it had cost £15,000,000. The Geddes Report stated that the average annual loss on 260,000 acres was estimated at £2 per acre i.e. £500,000 and that the cost of the headquarters establishment was £75,000. There had also been heavy losses on various Government Settlements.
A Ministry of Agriculture Report* on this scheme was issued in April 1923,
and this shows that up to January 1923 only 18,960 men had been settled on
268,407 acres. Something of the delay in providing the holdings can be
gathered from the fact that "of the 18,960 men settled, about 11,000 have
taken occupation of their holdings since harvest of 1920."
* Report on the Present Position and Future Prospects of Ex-Service Men settled on the Land in England and Wales."
23. Comparative failure due to delay, high prices, lack of co-operation
Besides those who applied and failed to obtain holdings, large numbers, of
whom the writer met many,* did not apply because they saw the delay in the
case of others, and realized the remote chance of ever obtaining a holding.
Also many of those who had had sufficient capital to start a holding had
long since exhausted this on living by the time the holding was allotted.
Rents were high owing to the high price of land and the cost of building,
and these entailed a heavy burden of rates. Co-operation would have helped
to make the scheme a success, but unfortunately the first thought of so many
prospective small holders was, and is still, that the first thing they must
buy, however small the holding, is a horse and cart.
* During service as a Government official.
As it is, however, the complete failures to January 1923 only appear to be 6.5%, or 1,226, but the Report adds that "if the 1923 season proves as bad as either 1921 or 1922, and agricultural prices continue as unremunerative, the number of failures is certain to show a serious increase." With reference to the "depression" the Report states: "The agricultural depression has unquestionably affected ex-Service smallholders no less than other farmers. Few, if any, have succeeded in getting through their first two or three years on the land without losing money.... Taking the country as a whole, nearly 20% of the aggregate half-years' rent-roll on the postwar estate was remitted at Michaelmas 1922."
But in spite of all this, it is stated that the demand for holdings is almost as keen as ever.
24. Mixed holdings the most successful
The Report gives details of the progress made by these ex-Service small
holders in various parts of the country. In the east the fall in the price
of corn and potatoes had hit the tenants hard, but those who kept some stock
were pulling through.* Mixed holdings were more general in the Midlands, and
there was little wastage, and this also applies to the south of England
generally and to Wales. In the southeast the small holders are largely
settled in big estates, a circumstance which should facilitate co-operative
methods; but, according to the Report, "at present there is little, if any,
evidence of a tendency in this direction." Between 1918 and 1923 the
failures in this part of the country amounted to 15%.
* Cf. par.5.
Everywhere high rents and rates are complained of, and in some of the industrial districts of Wales rates are said to equal the rents.
25. Can this country feed itself? The case of wheat some comparisons. Scientific discoveries and production per acre
It is frequently stated by agriculturists and others that it is quite impossible to grow sufficient foodstuffs in this country for the present population, or, what amounts to the same thing, that the country is over-populated, and must depend to an increasing extent on foreign food supplies. Let us see by taking a few examples whether the opportunities for producing food in this country have been exhausted, or whether it is that those who have taken the place of the dispossessed peasant on the land have failed to make use of the opportunities at their disposal.
We will start with the case of wheat. In 1924 the acreage under wheat was
1,545,000 acres, which at an average of 31 bushels to the acre gives
47,895,000 bushels. The total annual consumption is approximately
240,000,000 bushels,* so that at 31 bushels to the acre, this would require
a little over 7,700,000 acres. But 31 bushels to the acre is not a great
deal above the average of fifty years ago. Since that time there have been
many discoveries in agricultural science which would enable a much greater
amount to be produced, but unfortunately these discoveries have not been
adopted. Denmark, with a soil very much poorer than that of England,
produces on an average some 44 bushels of wheat to the acre, and in 1921,
when England produced 35.4 bushels, Denmark produced 51 bushels. So that if
the English average per acre were raised to the Danish level, we could grow
all the wheat we required on less than 5,500,000 acres.
* Long gives the amount of wheat required as 6 bushels per person.
Mr. Caird in the Statistical Journal, 1868, p.130, estimates average production per acre at 28 bushels. (Quoted by Porter, The Progress of the Nation, p.198.)
But, having regard to the results obtained by scientific agriculturists,*
and on the best farms in this country, there seems to be little doubt that
the average could be easily doubled and the necessary wheat grown on less
than 4,000,000 acres by only adopting a few of the discoveries of recent
years. All Government Reports on Agriculture, referring to production
generally, state that in many cases the produce per acre might be doubled.
Sir Rider Haggard, when touring England, speaks of several farms where the
wheat crops reached 50 and 57 bushels to the acre, and Professor Long refers
to skilled farmers who habitually grow 50 to 80 bushels. He instances Lord
Rosebery's farm, where "in 1911, a year of almost unparalleled drought, Lord
Rosebery produced 80 bushels of wheat to the acre," and he adds, "there is
no reason why this figure should not be frequently reached."
* A land agent writing in the Daily Telegraph, January 20, 1922, says: "Within the last few years certain pioneers have evolved theories which, if brought into general practice, would more than double our food production." He then gives an example of wheat-growing in Essex, where by shallow sowing 114 stems and nearly 3,000 kernels were produced from one grain.
Long, Making the Most of the Land, p.7.
Even thirty to forty years ago as much as 70 to 90 bushels to the acre were
obtained by planting out seed and growing wheat more as a vegetable,* and
with such wheat, yielding 600 grains on the average, about
1/12 acre would be required to grow the annual wheat for one
person. Recent experiments with electricity show that the wheat yield might
be enormously increased with its help at a very small expense.
* See Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops.
It must be remembered that the cultivable area of England and Wales is over 27,000,000 acres.
26. Persons per square mile fed on home-grown produce in Great Britain and other countries
In Great Britain nearly 3 acres of the cultivable area are required to grow
the food for one person, or, in other words, home-grown food supplies
125 or 135 persons out of 466 per square mile. France produces food for 170
out of 188 per square mile, and Belgium supplies nearly all the food for a
population which is only a little under 600 to the square mile. Between 1880
and 1885 Belgium produced home-grown food for 490 persons per square
mile, and in addition exported £1,000,000 worth of agricultural produce to
Great Britain every year. Immediately before the war Belgium grew some
two-thirds of the necessary cereals for its population and a far greater
quantity of other foodstuffs. In 1910 this densely populated little country
was exporting agricultural produce to the value then of 48s. per
head of population, and at the same time was exporting home-manufactured
goods to the value of 198s. per head and half-manufactured goods to
the value of 150s. per head, while the total exports from the
United Kingdom in the boom year of 1911 only amounted to 201s. per head
* Figures from Kropotkin, pp.115-16; see also Chapters III-V, 1912 edition.
27. What Denmark can produce cattle, poultry, dairy produce, pigs. Britain neglects her own market
In Denmark, with a poor soil, far below that of this country in fertility,
some 90% of the cultivated land is under the plough, and yet the Danes are
our great rivals in dairying. In 1881 they kept 899,000 cows, and in 1914
1,310,000, meeting a fall in prices, not by allowing arable to tumble down
to grass, but by increasing the arable area and by co-operative
methods. Denmark owns one cow or heifer per 2.1 persons, while in this
country the proportion is one per 16 persons.* The butter export from
Denmark in the years 1881-5 averaged 15,630 tons, and in 1911-15 it was
99,420 tons. The number of fowls kept in 1893 amounted to 5,900,000, and in
1914 these had increased to 15,100,000.
* Long, p.15.
The way in which this country has failed to supply its own huge market with
pig-meat, and the manner in which Denmark has stepped into the breach,*
afford some striking comparisons, and point to the possibilities of future
development in this country. The number of pigs in England and Wales in
1923 only exceeded by a few thousands the total of 2,586,000 in 1872, but
during this period the imports of bacon rose from 2,000,000 cwt. to nearly
6,000,000 cwt., and the imports of hams, lard, and pork increased in a
similar way. The present annual imports of pig products amount to nearly
10,500,000 cwt., of a value of almost £55,500,000. It will thus be seen that
England has done practically nothing to serve the great market in her
* Imports of butter, eggs, and bacon from Denmark in 1921 amounted to £37,000,000.
"That the larger number of pigs kept in continental countries is chiefly owing to the system of small farming we cannot doubt. A Danish farmer owning 50 acres breeds a larger number of pigs than an average British farmer in occupation of 200 acres." (Long, p.18).
Figures from Journal of the Ministry of Agriculture, September, 1923.
The pigs in Denmark have increased from some 500,000 in 1881 to about 2,500,000 at the present time, and over 2,100,000 are killed annually. Mr. W.A. Stewart, M.A., B.Sc.Agr., writing in the Journal of the Ministry of Agriculture for September 1923, says: "There is no reason why the whole of British requirements in pig products should not be produced within the British Isles." And to show how unenterprising the English farmer is, he adds: "Although it is true that there are many more good pigs in the country now than there were in 1914, the common pig is still more or less a mongrel, with little merit to recommend it, and there is great scope for general improvement. Mongrel-bred boars are still used for breeding, and this is altogether wrong."
28. What the Channel Islands produce. Dense population and intensive culture beats Great Britain in crop averages
The Channel Islands afford some striking illustrations of what can be got
out of the land by intensive culture and a land system which induces the
holder to get the utmost out of his land. Jersey feeds a population of about
two to each acre, or 1,300 to the square mile, and at the same time exports
a large amount of agricultural produce, and this in spite of the fact that
there are climatic drawbacks and the soil is of no special fertility.* All
crops have much higher averages in these islands than in England. Potatoes
average 10-12 tons per acre against 6 in this country; barley 50 bushels
against 33 here; turnips and swedes 60 tons against 14; parsnips and carrots
25 tons against 14; and hay 50 cwt. against 23Ύ cwt.
* Rider Haggard, Rural England, vol.i, p.103.
Kropotkin,* referring to potato-growing in Germany, says: "Extensive
experiments have lately been made... and the crops were, 9 tons per acre for
the poor sorts, 14 tons for the better ones, and 32.4 tons for the best
varieties of potatoes; 3 tons to the acre and more than 30 tons to the acre
are thus the ascertained limits, and one necessarily asks oneself: Which of
the two requires less labour in tilling, planting, cultivating and
digging, and less expenditure in manure, 30 tons on 10 acres, or the same 30
tons grown on 1 acre or 2? If labour is of no consideration, while every
penny spent in seeds and manure is of great importance, as is unhappily very
often the case with the peasant, he will perforce choose the first method.
But is it the most economic?" Professor Long refers to many farmers in this
country who obtain yields of potatoes varying from 12 to 18 tons per acre.
* Kropotkin, p.173.
Long, p.viii (Introduction).
Kropotkin* also refers to Jersey and the Saffelare district of Flanders,
where they keep one head of cattle to each acre of green crops, meadows and
pasture, while elsewhere 2 or 3 acres are needed for each head of cattle.
* Kropotkin, p.174.
29. Kropotkin on the possibilities of agricultural production in the United Kingdom
From a survey of a few countries Kropotkin draws the following conclusions, which seem, if anything, to be an underestimate of the possibilities:
"2 If the cultivated area of the United Kingdom were cultivated as the soil
is cultivated on the average in Belgium,* the United Kingdom would have food
for at least 37,000,000 inhabitants; and it might export agricultural
produce without ceasing to manufacture, so as freely to supply all the needs
of a wealthy population.
* The average yield of meadow hay in England is 23.8 cwt., but there are individual yields of 50-60 cwt. Mangels average 20 tons per acre, but there are individual yields of 40-100 tons (Long).
"3. If the population of this country came to be doubled, all that would be
required for producing the food for 90,000,000 inhabitants would be to
cultivate the soil as it is cultivated in the best farms of this country, in
Lombardy, and in Flanders, and to utilize some meadows which at present lie
almost unproductive, in the same way as the neighbourhoods of the big cities
in France are utilized for market-gardening. All these are not fancy dreams,
but mere realities nothing but the modest conclusions from what we see
round about us, without any allusion to the agriculture of the future."*
* Kropotkin, p.119.
There seems little doubt that with small farms, intensive culture and a
development of co-operation,* and the adoption of only a few of the many
scientific discoveries, this country could support now a population
enormously greater than it has, or is likely to have, for some time to
* Long, pp.33-4: "One of the chief causes of the limited means of farmers is found in the almost entire absence of co-operation."
Note the possibilities of the use of electricity and the value of French culture, enabling four or five successive crops to be grown in one season.
30. Rider Haggard and productiveness of small holdings. The apathy of the farming class in adopting improvements
On the subject of small farms Sir Rider Haggard says: "Broadly, however, I
may say that where the farms are large and corn is chiefly grown, there is
little or no prosperity, while where they are small and assisted by pastures
or fruit culture both owners and tenants are doing fairly well."* Professor
Long frequently refers to farmers who have too much land and to the
increased produce which small holders are able to get from their land; and
with regard to these small farms he says: "Success, indeed, can be commanded
in no other way."
* Rural England, vol.ii, p.57.
As an example of how good land is often allowed to fall to waste in this
country, we may take the case of Potton, in Huntingdonshire. Rider Haggard*
refers to this district as a stronghold of small cultivators who send a
large amount of produce to London. But within a short distance "thousands of
acres are quite or very nearly derelict, and the farm-houses, buildings, and
cottages are slowly rotting down.... All this land was cultivated and grew
crops up to the eighties."
* Vol.ii, p.59.
Professor Long deplores the fact that the farmers of Great Britain should be
fed by the farmers of other countries, but has not much hope of the present
farming class. He writes: "With the best will in the world to make full
allowance for the difficulties under which so many tenants farm, it is
impossible to ignore the fact that if an angel were to assure the
unbelievers among them that, by adopting similar methods, they could obtain
similar results, they would not make the attempts. We are speaking of those
who regard experiments as the fads of the rich or as part of the routine of
the agricultural college, of those who read and decline to take the pains to
understand, or, lastly, of those who never read at all; and we think we may
regard these three sections of the tenant-farming class as forming a large
proportion of the total number."
* Long, p.105.
31. Agricultural depression country-side labour-starved, and Government without a remedy
Our country-side at the present day presents in most districts a dreary
spectacle a dwindling population,* half-starved and discontented
labourers, poorly farmed lands and derelict houses. One may survey hundreds,
and even thousands, of acres in many parts of England and scarcely be able
to find a single worker in the fields. Farm buildings often more nearly
resemble heaps of ruins than anything else, and the many miserable crops and
wasted fields are heart-breaking. In 1918 and 1919 the agricultural labourer
experienced better times, but now he is back again in his old position. But
since 1914 the labourer has had his eyes opened to many things. He knows of
the large profits made by farmers during the war, and he sees farms selling
for high prices in spite of "depression," but he himself has been unable to
rent a piece of land for any money. And with the country-side in this
derelict state the Government is spending £3,000,000 per annum for fifteen
years to assist emigration, apparently because it considers that there are
no further opportunities for employment in this country.
* Agricultural Statistics, 1923: Since 1921 number of regular agricultural workers has declined by 8.7%, and taking male workers alone by 7.5%. Agricultural Statistics 1924 show 34,000 more workers employed than in 1923, but 63,000 less than in 1921.
Compare the state of England after Waterloo.
Once more, in 1922 and 1923, prices have fallen, with the result that there
is again the cry of agricultural distress. The labourers' wages are to be
further reduced, and the farmers threaten to lay down more arable land to
pasture* unless the Government grants them protection or subsidies. We have
seen from the Agricultural Statistics that this threat is being carried into
effect, for the arable area in 1924 was 381,000 acres less than in 1922.
* Messrs. Knight, Frank & Rutley are under no delusions as to what will be the result of this. If present conditions continue, they say, "land will continue to go down to grass at an increasingly rapid rate, unemployment and depopulation in rural areas will follow, and the total of food production will decline" (The Land Question, p.21).
32. The beggars again come to town extent of post-war unemployment
So far we have only been dealing with one side of the picture, but there is another. Since the year 1920 the beggars have come to town in numbers greater than ever before. Tramps wander about the country-side, and our towns and cities are filled with beggars. Many of the great industrial cities of this country during the last three years have presented a devastated appearance owing to lack of trade and consequent unemployment, and to find parallel descriptions we must go back to 1844.
More reliable figures are obtainable at the present day as to the number of
unemployed. Some 12,000,000 workers are registered under the Unemployed
Insurance Acts,* but no figures show the actual total, although the
Government figures are sufficiently alarming. From 600,000 in 1920 the total
reached 2,000,000 in 1921. Throughout 1922 it never fell below 1,414,000,
the average being about 1,580,000, and the average for 1923 was only a
little below this. It has been computed that, from 1919 to the middle of
1923, the central and local governments have expended some £400,000,000 on
* Agricultural workers, domestic servants, and employees of local authorities are not included. The total number of employed adults amounts to about 16,000,000.
33. Official figures do not disclose full extent of the evil. Value of allotments to unemployed
With reference to these figures, the Report entitled. "The Third Winter of
Unemployment" states: "The general average conceals the intensity of the
depression in the worst trades. One man in 8 is the unemployed proportion in
industry generally; in shipbuilding it is more than one in 3; in engineering
almost one in 4; in iron and steel, cutlery and tool over one in 4; in
constructional industry, brass and copper, linen and hemp, and the docks one
in 5."* In estimating the extent of unemployment it is necessary to take
into account short-time work, and the Report considers that this is half as
considerable as total unemployment. The Report states: "In other words, in
industry proper the insufficiency of employment is not the 11.9 of the
insurance returns, but something between 20 and 20.5%; nearly 14% of the
workers are totally unemployed, while the time lost by those who are in
employment, if concentrated instead of being spread out, would add another 7
to 9% to the totally unemployed. A fifth or more of the industrial power of
the country is running to waste."
* P.4 of the Report.
It is estimated in this Report that 1,500,000 unemployed would have 2,580,000 dependents, making in all 4,080,000 persons.
Testimony is given in the Report to the value of allotments to the
unemployed in Sheffield.* "One of the most valuable assets to the unemployed
has been allotments, and there is no doubt that these are having a decidedly
beneficial effect in keeping large numbers of men off the streets. In
Sheffield there are no less than 11,000 allotments, and those who are in a
position to judge estimate that about 4,000 of the holders are at present
out of employment. The ordinary sized allotment, if properly cultivated,
will provide vegetables for a family of five for the whole year, and one can
easily judge the valuable contribution this made to the standard of living.
There is a long waiting list for allotments in Sheffield, and the
authorities have been held up for some time for the want of land."
A House of Commons White Paper of 1913* furnishes interesting comment on
this so-called "want of land" for allotments in Sheffield. From this White
Paper it appears that in the year 1911-12 the total area of Sheffield was
23,662 acres, of which 9,944 acres, or between one-half and
one-third of the total, were rated as agricultural land. The
total rates paid amounted to £830,135 to which the so-called agricultural
land contributed only £2,357.
* White Paper No.119 of 1913.
34. How Rating System encourages the withholding of land from use housing
For some years prior to 1914 house-building was failing to keep up with the
demand; houses which were old and out-of-date were not rebuilt or
reconstructed, and many thousands of houses which were totally unfit for
human habitation remained standing.* The system of tenure which enabled
land-holders to become, in fact, absolute owners, and which concentrated the
ownership of land in this country into a few hands, besides depopulating the
country-side and preventing access to land there, had put a stranglehold on
the development of our towns by enabling owners to hold up the surrounding
land. This land is either held out of use altogether, or used for some
agricultural purpose when it is urgently required for building, the owners
knowing that, when demand has become sufficiently urgent, their price will
be given. Also the system of rating in Great Britain, under which land which
is unused escapes rates altogether, and land under-developed only pays a few
shillings per acre as agricultural land, whatever its value for building
purposes may be, actually encourages the withholding of land from use, or
keeping it in an under-used state.
* See Report of the Land Inquiry Committee, vol.ii, Urban.
In 1885 the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes in the Majority Report stated: "At present land available for building in the neighbourhood of our populous centres, though its capital value is very great, is probably producing a small yearly return until it is let for building. The owners of this land are rated, not in relation to the real value, but to the actual annual income. They can thus afford to keep their land out of the market, and to part with only small quantities, so as to raise the price beyond the natural monopoly price which the land would command by its advantages of position. Meantime, the general expenditure of the town on improvements is increasing the value of their property."
The Report of the Land Inquiry Committee,* 1913, referring to the rating
system, states: "Under our present rating system there is no strong
inducement for him to sell his land at the price buyers are willing to offer
to-day. He can afford to wait until the demand becomes more active."
* The Land: Urban, p.95.
35. Evidence before Land Inquiry Committee as to difficulty in obtaining land for building before the war
The latter Report also provides ample evidence of the difficulty of
obtaining land before the war in most of our towns, either at a reasonable
price or at all, and how, in consequence, building and improvement schemes
were held up or abandoned. The Town Clerk of Hampstead is quoted as
stating:* "My experience in Hampstead has been certainly that schemes of
public improvement, especially road improvements, have in the past been
postponed or abandoned owing to the prices asked for land being
The Town Clerk of Middlesbrough said:* "Our Corporation have postponed, and
even abandoned, schemes for public improvement owing to such difficulties."
The Clerk to the Tonbridge U.D.C. also stated that "schemes of public
improvement have been postponed here owing to the difficulty of
An informant from a Nottinghamshire Rural District wrote:* "When I wanted,
some twenty years back, to build half a dozen workmen's houses, as my
workpeople were shamefully overcrowded and other labourers worse, the
landlord would only sell the land, rented nominally at 20s, per acre (but
with a rebate), for £150 per acre. The land has since for twenty years been
let at 20s. per acre, and is still assessed at that rate."
The late Mr. Arthur Chamberlain, referring presumably to Birmingham, is
reported as saying:* "In 1906 my company (Kynochs, Ltd., explosive
manufacturers), for the purposes of the health and happiness of a large body
of workpeople (2,000) wanted to obtain land for the purpose of erecting by
easy stages their own houses. The scheme was brought to a full-stop and
finally abandoned because of the inability to get land. We could not get
land at a reasonable price. There was plenty of land in a suitable position,
which we would have paid a fair price for, but the owners chose to hold the
land up for the unearned increment. They asked such a price as made it
impossible for me to build anything but slum property."
36. Dear land leads to overcrowding
The Report of the Land Inquiry Committee on the subject of overcrowding
states:* "The crowding of houses to the acre, producing wildernesses of
long, mean streets, although it was originally due to the high price of
land, has become a custom which may tend to prolong itself even when land is
cheapened. But, unless rents are to be materially increased, the size of
building plots must always be determined by the price of land.... There is
abundant evidence that in many towns, under existing conditions, it would be
impossible to build cottages with adequate space round them and let them at
rents which workmen can afford to pay."
37. Large areas of all towns rated as agricultural land a premium on non-use or under-use
The House of Commons White Paper issued in 1913, and already referred to,
shows for the year 1911-12 with respect to each Municipal Borough or other
Urban District in England and Wales the area of the Borough or
District and of the agricultural land comprised therein, the total amount of
rates collected, and the amount of rates collected in respect of the
agricultural land. It will be seen from this White Paper that there is a
very large proportion of the areas of all our cities and towns rated as
agricultural land,* that rates must form an intolerable burden on
industry, and that there is plenty of "agricultural" land in all those towns
from which come complaints of inability to obtain land and of exorbitant
prices charged. We may take the cases of Tonbridge (Kent) and Birmingham, to
which reference has already been made:
* It should be noted that by the Agricultural Rates Act, 1896, agricultural land is assessed at its net annual value to one-half only of the poor rates (by the Agricultural Rates Act, 1923, this has been reduced to one-quarter); and by Public Health Act, 1875, only pays one-quarter of the general district rates.
Birmingham* has a total area of 43,000 acres, of which nearly
one-half, 20,000 acres, are rated as agricultural land. The total rates
collected amounted to £1,618,000, towards which the agricultural land
subscribed £7,000, or 7s. per acre.
* The White Paper returns for Birmingham are incomplete. These figures were given in a reply in the House of Commons on April 1, 1914, by Mr. Herbert Lewis.
Bradford forms another striking example: The total area is 22,843 acres, of which 14,534 acres are agricultural land. Total rates collected amounted to £604,426, of which the agricultural land, some two-thirds of the whole, paid £3,520, or 4s. lOd. per acre.
In Rhondda there is a similar contrast. The total area is 23,885 acres, of which 19,888 acres are rated as agricultural land. Total rates collected amounted to £213,984, of which the agricultural land, nearly five-sixths of the whole, paid £258, or 3½d. per acre.
Corresponding figures for London are omitted from the White Paper, but were obtained by Mr. Edgar J. Harper, who gave them in a paper he read before the Royal Statistical Society in March 1918. The figures are for the year 1911-12. Taking the Administrative County of London, we get:
|Area of agricultural land||8,102||"|
|Rates paid by agricultural land||£2,594|
If we take the Administrative County and include thirty-five adjacent districts we find:
|Area of agricultural land||53,242||"|
|Rates paid by agricultural land||£13,661|
In the Administrative County the agricultural land paid only 6s.5d. per acre
and other land* £237 17s. per acre, and in the larger area the agricultural
land only paid 5s.1d. per acre against £141 10s. per acre for the other
* This figure is actually much higher, for the "other land" includes streets, parks, public open spares, sites of unrated churches, chapels, etc., and a large area of vacant land not assessed at all.
All the above examples would seem to prove conclusively that the system of rating in force in this country places a heavy penalty on the user of land in proportion to the use he makes of the land, and at the same time encourages the owner who is withholding his land from use for a rise.
38. Post-war housing shortage and unemployed builders. Rise in price of land and the ring round the house
The housing shortage of 1914 became intensified during the war owing to an
almost complete cessation of building, with the result that at the end of
the war it was computed that some 500,000 houses were urgently required, and
there is little doubt that the number was roughly correct. Since the end of
1918, however, in spite of the enormous demand for houses and the complete
disappearance of the house "to let," even the annual number of houses
normally required has not been built, so that the actual shortage in 1923
was greater than ever. At the same time there is the remarkable fact that
there were 142,000 unemployed in the building and constructional
trades in October 1922, and there were actually less men returned as
in these trades in 1922 than in 1914, the numbers for 1914 being 908,000 and
for 1922, 868,000.*
* "The Third Winter of Unemployment."
Private builders have been almost powerless to build, at any rate the smaller type of house, because the cost of production was such that if the finished product were offered at its economic rent, no one would have been able to pay it, and few could or wished to purchase at such a price. The result has been that the majority of the working-class houses built since 1918 have been subsidized by the Government and local authorities, and those who rent these houses are thus living to a certain extent at the expense of the community.
As an example of what the London County Council has had to pay for agricultural land required for building we may quote the three estates of Becontree, Bellingham and Roehampton:
| Area |
|Annual Net Rateable|
Value before Purchase
| Purchase |
|| Roehampton ||148
|| 951||120,000 |
Not only have enormous prices been paid for all sites, but also for all
materials, which are controlled by various rings and combines, having as
their object the maintenance of high prices and the absorption of as large a
proportion as possible of any Government subsidy. These trusts and
combinations among the manufacturers of the component parts of the house
have been described as "the ring round the house," but it is clear that these
monopolies are but subsidiary to the great monopoly which comprises all the
natural physical resources of the country, and would be powerless but for
SCOTLAND AND THE LAND MONOPOLY
1. The Clan system of tenure
In early times in the Lowlands of Scotland land was farmed on the communal
system much the same as it had been in England, but in course of time most
of this had become enclosed and appropriated by private owners. In the
Highlands, however, right up to the Rebellion of 1745, the old clan system
had persisted. Under this system the land occupied by the clansmen belonged
to the clansmen as a whole, and the chief of the clan was not lord and owner
of the land, but merely chief and lord of the clansmen. As Professor Blackie
says:* "Every man also has his share in the territory occupied by the clan
for tillage or pasturage, as the situation may dictate; and although he may
pay some acknowledgement in the shape of what we call rent to the head of
the clan, it stands more in the place of what we now call taxation for
public purposes, than a price paid for temporary occupancy under the modern
relation of landlord and tenant. Formal leases there could be none where the
right of every member of the clan to have a share in the property of the
clan was practically recognized by both parties. "And referring to the
inalienable right to security of tenure which the clansmen enjoyed, Blackie
says that the "fact that it was so is the most scientific explanation of the
belief that it is so; but the belief and the fact manifestly arose equally,
and in the most natural way possible, from the historical basis on which all
Celtic property in land originally rested, viz. on the principle that the
land belongs to the tribe, and, of course, as a rule the members of the
tribal family have a right to their portion in the common inheritance. "He
goes on to say what, of course, is perfectly true that the fact of this
communal ownership and inherited and inalienable security of tenure, was in
no way altered or less true because it was not mentioned in the Statute Book
or legally recognized.
* The Scottish Highlanders and the Land Laws, p.10.
2. The Clan chiefs become absolute owners of the land
In 1745, however, all this was changed in the Highlands. Up to this time the
northern glens had been thickly populated with a hardy race of clansmen,
always ready to leave their flocks and herds and to enter battle at the
bidding of their chief. But this period of freedom was to end, for, as a
result of the 1745 Rebellion, an Act was passed in 1752 annexing
inalienably to the Crown all the lands of the chiefs who had joined
in the rising, and the rents of such lands were to be used for the express
purpose of "civilizing" the inhabitants. The real effect of this measure was
that the Crown confiscated land belonging to the clansmen, for it had never
been the private property of the chiefs, and the evil results were seen in
1783* when these lands were restored to the original chieftains or their
descendants. The chieftains thus became absolute owners, in fact, of the
clan territories an ownership with a legal backing and the results of
this change to the country as a whole speedily became apparent.
* 24 George III, cap.57.
From that time onwards began that systematic clearance of the inhabitants from the country-side known as the "Highland clearances" a system which was to turn vast areas of Scotland into an unfertile desert. It was to be largely a repetition of what had occurred in England in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and some striking similarities will be noted as we investigate.
3. Highland clearances begin. Sheep eat up the men
These great clearances, which brought about the depopulation of the Highland glens, were caused by much the same conditions as the enclosures of the Tudor period that is, the rise in the price of sheep and wool and the consequent desire for large sheep-runs, causing the displacement of numbers of small tenants. Curiously enough, this system of clearing out the small tenants and replacing them with sheep was known as Improvement a word which in England had come to mean appropriation with a view to an increase of rent, and which in the Highlands connoted the same thing.
When this system had worked itself out, and sheep had replaced the sturdy clansmen, then the price of sheep and wool fell, many sheep-farmers were ruined, and in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the sheep-farms have been to a large extent replaced by vast deer-forests and lands used entirely for sport.
4. Large and small holders alike insulted and robbed
In these clearances the peasantry, both large and small holders, were treated alike, and none of them was recognized as having any rights in the soil. There was seldom any question of compensation for deprivation of land or house, though in the majority of cases the huts and houses had been built by the peasants themselves. Notices were issued broadcast ordering them to leave on a certain day, and those who were not out by that day were forcibly ejected with their goods, and their huts burnt; and to add insult to injury, they were informed in many cases when their notices were served that arrangements had been made to emigrate them to Canada or Australia. In many cases the dispossessed peasants were actually herded on to the ships which had been provided to transport them to the Colonies. Those who refused to emigrate either endeavoured to eke out a miserable existence on barren land on the sea-shore or migrated to the towns to Glasgow and south into England.
5. Reputable eye-witnesses and contemporaries condemn the evictions. Fertile and populous glens rendered barren and depopulated
The methods employed in carrying out these clearances in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are testified to by many eye-witnesses, and the accounts of these read more like the advance of a Turkish army in Armenia than occurrences in a civilized country in the nineteenth century. When we consider the cruelties perpetrated in dispossessing these peasants who had farmed the glens for centuries, and the hardships they suffered after eviction, all facts which are proved up to the hilt by reputable eye-witnesses, we are less disposed than ever to think that the writers of the sixteenth century in any way exaggerated when describing the methods of the great enclosers in England and the sufferings of the deprived peasants.
In the Report of the Departmental Committee on Deer Forests, 1922,* we find
this reference to the clearances: "The latter half of the eighteenth century
saw the beginning of a great change. This was the advent of the
south-country farmer with his Cheviot and Blackface stock, and the
displacement of the old population with its primitive breeds of cattle and
sheep to make way for him.... But when their action is viewed now in the
cold light of history, it is clear that the power of wholesale eviction by
private persons was one which ought never to have been permitted, and one
which was rendered doubly odious in this case by contrast with the
patriarchal relations which existed between chieftain and clansmen down to
the rising of '45.... Fair and far-sighted contemporary critics like Sir
Walter Scott condemned them out and out."
* Cmd. 1636.
P.2 of the Report.
It is often said nowadays that farming or small holdings in the greater part of the Highlands would be impossible, that a living could not be made there owing to unfertility, and that the bulk of the land is only fit for deer forests. It is well to bear this in mind when we come to examine some of the clearances in detail, and find that these so-called wild, unfertile spots formerly nourished a happy, hardy population, which the Government called uncivilized, but of whose help they were glad in time of war.
6. The Sutherland clearances. Devastation of Strathnaver eye-witnesses
The clearances began in Sutherland about 1807, and according to Hugh
Miller,* of the Witness (Edinburgh), "between the years 1811 and
1820, 15,000 inhabitants of this northern district were ejected from their
snug inland farms."
* Quoted by Alex. Mackenzie in The Highland Clearances (1883).
With reference to the devastation of Strathnaver, Professor Blackie quotes
from A Tale of the Strathnaver Clearances,* written by a lady of his
acquaintance. This writer said: "My great-grandfather, being a rather
extensive landholder, was the first to suffer, and his death-warrant could
not have caused him greater dismay than the notice to quit his home. His
flocks were scattered, and had to be sold for whatever they could realize.
His house the home of his ancestors was burned before his eyes. His
effects were turned out to the roadside, and his wife and family left
without shelter.... The inhuman laws of men made that beautiful valley what
it now is a wilderness.... My grandfather... about twelve miles farther
down the glen, like the rest of his kith and kin, was doomed.... The family
were shifted from one place to another, until in two years they had no less
than five removals. Ever as they went the black flood of eviction followed
them, until at last they landed, or stranded rather, on the stony braes of
Tongue. There they had to build some kind of abode and subsist as best they
could. Their eight milk cows had dwindled down to one, for they had to part
with them from time to time to obtain the bare necessaries of life."
* Celtic Magazine, December 1883, pp.57-60. Strathnaver contained about 2,000 inhabitants.
General Stewart of Garth, a contemporary writer, quoted by Alex. Mackenzie, said: "Over the whole of this district where the sea-shore is accessible the coast is thickly studded with thatched cottages crowded with starving inhabitants."
In 1883, while the Royal Commission was sitting, John Mackay, a civil
engineer of Hereford, took statements in Gaelic from several old people who
had been eye-witnesses of the Strathnaver clearances.* The following are
extracts from two of these, but all testify in the same strain:
* Quoted by Professor Blackie.
|"William Morrison, 89 years of age, crofter, Dalacharn, Farr. I was born
at Rossal, on Strathnaver, and remember well of seeing the following
townships on fire:
"The people as a rule were, in these townships, expected to be away from their houses before those employed in burning came around.... For people to say that there was no cruelty or harshness shown the people when they were burnt off Strathnaver is a glaring lie, which no amount of flowery language can hide.
"I declare this statement of mine is true.
"Grace Macdonald, 88 years of age, Annadale, Farr. I was born on Strathnaver, in a place called Langail, and was 19 years of age when we were evicted from the Strath. I remember well the burning of the houses. I saw the following five townships burnt:
"There was no mercy or pity shown to young or old all had to clear away, and those who could not get their effects removed in time to a safe distance had it burnt before their eyes.... The evicted people had to go down to the bleak land skirting the sea-shore, and there trench and reclaim land for themselves.
"I declare this statement of mine is true.
7. The evicted starve on the sea-shore or migrate to the towns and the Colonies. Cruelties of the factors
Hundreds of those evicted in Sutherland left the district altogether, but
for some allotments were provided on barren land by the sea-shore land so
poor that the only chance of paying the rent demanded was by fishing.
Starving peasants were even prevented in many parts from taking the mussels
from the sea-shore. "Ancient respectable tenants, who passed the greater
part of their lives in the enjoyment of abundance and in the exercise of
hospitality and charity, possessing stocks of 10, 20, and 30 breeding cows,
with the usual proportion of other stock, are now pining on 1 or 2 acres of
bad land with 1 or 2 starved cows, and for this accommodation a calculation
is made, that they must support their families, and pay the rents of their
lots, not from the produce, but from the sea."*
* Alex. Mackenzie, p.30.
Loch, in his Sutherland Improvements,* says: "After pawning
everything they possessed to the fishermen on the coast, such as had no
cattle were reduced to come down from the hills in hundreds for the purpose
of gathering cockles on the shore. Those who lived in the more remote
situations of the county were obliged to subsist upon broth made of nettles,
thickened with a little oatmeal." This rather resembles an account of the
natives of Terra del Fuego than of the peasants of a fertile land.
From 1809 for several years there were annual evictions in Dornich, Loth,
Golspie, etc., and hundreds were ejected, the heath pasture often being
destroyed by fire to ensure their departure. The Earl of Selkirk sent many
peasants to his Red River Estates in British North America, most of whom
were eventually killed by Indians.* Kildonan, with 2,000 inhabitants, was
devastated, three families only remaining. The Rev. D. Norman Macleod,
referring to the clearances of 1809, said: "I myself ascended a height about
eleven o'clock in the evening and counted two hundred and fifty blazing
houses. The conflagration lasted six days."
* Alex. Mackenzie, p.23.
Quoted by Alex. Mackenzie, p.28.
Much of the cruelty exercised in these evictions was on the part of the
estate agents or factors who acted for absentee owners. Of these Blackie
says: "No despotism exercised by a Turkish Pasha over the fellahs is more
oppressive and more grinding than that which may be exercised by a Highland
factor in remote districts, acting for an absentee landlord." And what the
Rev. T.M. Davidson, a minister of the Established Church in Skye, said of
Skye at this time might, from all the evidence at our disposal, be said of
the rest of the Highlands: "If he makes a complaint he can get no redress.
There is no law in Skye."*
* Quoted by Blackie.
8. The clearing of Knoydart and Strathglass. Destruction of crops and property
Donald Ross, an eye-witness of the clearance of Knoydart,* described this
occurrence in 1853. The whole district was cleared, houses burnt or
levelled, and many of the inhabitants shipped off to North America. He
writes: "The scene was rendered more painful as the Strath was dotted with
stacks of corn, large plots of potatoes, and with grass that could be easily
mowed down with the scythe. But the voice of man was gone he was not to be
found. The crop was there, but strangers owned it.... There is something
most melancholy in connection with the entire removal of a people from an
inhabited and cultivated district.... The decree is tantamount to
interdicting the command of the Most High, who said to man,'Go, replenish
the earth, and subdue it.'... Last spring all the crofters on the Glengarry
estates in Knoydart were served with summonses of removal, accompanied with
a verbal message from Mrs. Macdonell and her factor, that Sir John Macneil,
Chairman of the Board of Supervision, Edinburgh, had agreed to convey them
all to Australia.... The state of the neighbouring properties was such that
they could not expect one inch of land thereon no, not even one night's
shelter.... The ship came to Isle Oransay, and Mrs. Macdonell and her factor
came to Knoydart, and saw the families carried across in boats, and put on
board. The scene at this time was indescribable." When these families had
gone the work of demolition began. "The uninhabited houses were levelled
first, then the houses of those who refused to go on board the ship to
Canada.... The inmates were ordered out, and their articles of furniture
were thrown out after them; beds, chairs, tables, pots, stoneware, clothing,
were all thrown topsy-turvy down the hill.... Clouds of dust rose to the
skies, while men, women, and children stood at a distance completely
dismayed. What took them years to collect and erect was destroyed and
scattered in a few minutes."
Quoted by Blackie, pp.67-70.
Referring to Strathglass, Alexander Mackenzie writes: "Another chief's
widow... who died in 1788 gave the whole of Glencruaich as a sheep-farm to
one south-country shepherd, and to make room for him she evicted over 500
people from their ancient homes."* He also states that in 1801 Strathglass
was cleared almost to a man, 799 leaving for Nova Scotia. In 1802, 473 left
the same district for Upper Canada and 128 for Nova Scotia. In this year
also 550 left Knoydart.
*Alex. Mackenzie, p.187.
9. The "weeding-out" of peasants in Ross-shire. Loss of hill-pasture causes ruin of crofters
A special commissioner of The Times, reporting in 1845* on the Ardgay
district, Ross-shire, said: "Let me add that so far from the clearance at
Glencalive being a solitary instance in this neighbourhood, it is one of
many. The tenants of Newmore, near Tain, who, I am told, amount to sixteen
families, are to be weeded out (as they express it here) on the 25th by the
same Mr. Gillanders. The same factor manages the Strathconon estate, about
thirty miles from Newmore, from which during the last four years some
hundreds of families have been weeded out."
* May 15th. Quoted by Alex. Mackenzie.
Of Strathconon Alexander Mackenzie writes: "From 1840 to 1848 Strathconon
was almost entirely cleared of its ancient inhabitants to make room for
sheep and deer, as in other places, and also for purposes of extensive
forest plantations.... The factor, Mr. Rose... began by taking away, first,
the extensive hill pasture, for generations held as club-farms by the
townships, thus reducing the people from a position of comfort and
independence; and secondly as we saw done elsewhere, finally evicting them
from the arable portion of the strath, though they were not a single penny
in arrear of rent.... No fewer than twenty-seven families were evicted from
Glen Meine alone.... It is computed that from four to five hundred souls
were thus driven from Strathconon and cast adrift on the world.... In most
instances where they settled down and reclaimed land, they were afterwards
re-evicted, and the lands brought into cultivation by themselves taken from
them, without any compensation whatever, and given at enhanced rents to
large farmers. This is specially true of those who settled in the Black
Isle, where they reclaimed a great deal of waste, now making some of the
best farms in the district."*
* Alex. Mackenzie, pp.144-6. Ibid., p.150.
We are told that between 1851 and 1863, 2,231 had to leave the Isle of
Lewis. At Leckmelm, in the parish of Loch-broom, a Mr. Price, who had bought
the estate in 1879, in the following year "took away every inch of land
arable and pastoral into his own hands, and thus by one cruel stroke
reduced a comfortable tenantry from comparative affluence and independence
to the position of mere cottars and day labourers, absolutely dependent for
subsistence on his own will and the likes and dislikes of his
* Alex. Mackenzie, p.150.
Immediately hill-pasture, which was usually used in common, was taken the crofters were doomed.
10. Evictions in the Hebrides the clearing of Skye
Referring to the islands and the Hebrides, Alexander Mackenzie quotes the
Rev. John MacMillan, Free Church Minister of the parish:* "Thus it was that
about the year 1808 the stream of Highland soldiery, which had been
gradually ebbing, gave symptoms of running completely dry.... From the
mainland the work of destruction passed rapidly to the isles. These remote
resting-places of the Celt were quickly cleared; during the first ten years
of the great war Skye had given 4,000 of its sons to the army. It has been
computed that 1,600 Skyemen stood in the ranks at Waterloo. To-day in Skye,
far as the eye can reach, nothing but a bare brown waste is to be seen,
where still the mounds and ruined gables rise over the melancholy
landscapes, sole vestiges of a soldier race for ever passed away."*
* Alex. Mackenzie, p.157.
Population: 1841, 23,082; 1911, 12,719; 1921, 11,031.
In 1849 Lord Macdonald arranged the eviction of 600-700 persons from Sollas, North Uist, and although there was much opposition, they were all evicted in the following year. Between 1851 and 1853 the villages of Boreraig and Suisimish, Skye, were cleared, forty-two families being turned adrift, many of whom died on board the emigrant ship. From Colonel Gordon's estates in South Uist and Barra some 1,100 persons were compelled to emigrate, and some of those who attempted to escape to the hills were hunted down.
11. Sheep displace men in the small islands
The Rev. Donald Maclean, minister of the parish of Small Isles, referring to
the Isle of Rum in an article in The New Statistical Account, said:*
"In 1826 all the inhabitants of the Island of Rum, amounting at least
to 400 souls, found it necessary to leave their native land and to seek for
new abodes in the distant wilds of our colonies in America.... A similar
emigration took place in 1828 from the Isle of Muck, so that the parish has
now become much depopulated." In 1831 this parish contained 1,015 people,
although previously its population was larger. In 1851 it had fallen to 916,
and in 1881 to 550. In 1881 the population of Rum was only 89.
* Quoted by Alex. Mackenzie, pp.222-3.
Hugh Miller described the Isle of Rum as follows: "We could see among the deserted fields the grass-grown foundations of cottages razed to the ground; but the valley, more desolate than that which we had left, had not even its single inhabited dwelling; it seemed as if man had done with it for ever. The island, eighteen years before, had been divested of its inhabitants, amounting at the time to rather more than 400 souls, to make way for one sheep-farmer and 8,000 sheep. All the aborigines of Rum crossed the Atlantic; and, at the close of 1828, the entire population consisted of but the sheep-farmers and a few shepherds, his servants: the Isle of Rum reckoned up scarce a single family at this period for every five miles of area which it contained."
12. The depopulation of Argyllshire peasants become paupers
Mr. Somervill, of Lochgilphead, writing of the evictions in Argyllshire,
says:* "The work of eviction commenced by giving, in many cases, to the
ejected population facilities and pecuniary aid for emigration, but now the
people are turned adrift, penniless and shelterless, to seek a precarious
subsistence on the sea-board, in the nearest hamlet or village, and in the
cities, many of whom sink down helpless paupers on our poor roll; and others
festering in our villages form a formidable Arab population, who drink our
money contributed as parish relief." This same writer speaks of a stretch of
nine miles of country on the west side of Loch Awe, which formerly was
divided between forty-five farms, but was at that time rented by one person
* Quoted by Alex. Mackenzie, p.227.
A deputation from the Glasgow Highland Relief Board visited the Isles of
Argyll in 1849, and the particulars they g;ve in their Report enable us to
make some useful comparisons.* The Census figures for Mull show the
population in 1821 as 10,612; in 1841 as 10,064; in 1871 as 6,441; and in
1881 as 5,624. In 1921 the population was only 3,389. The deputation
reported great distress at Tobermory, where the evicted tenants were
congregated. The population of Ulva in 1840 was 360; in 1881 only 51; and in
1921 it was 45. In 1849 the population of Iona was 500; in 1881 it had
fallen to 243; and in 1921 it was 234. The population of the Isle of Coll
fell from 1,193 in 1755 to 1,162 in 1801; to 643 in 1881; and by 1921 it had
fallen to 383.
* Alex. Mackenzie, p.228.
13. The population of Argyllshire decreases and pauperism increases
There were many evictions between 1828 and 1853 in Ardnamurchan, and much good arable land was given over to sheep and deer. In one place 3,000 acres were divested of crofters to make room for one sheep-farm. In 1831 the parish of Morwen contained 2,137 persons, and in 1881 only 714. Macleod stated that when the population was 2,000 the parish received £11 per annum from Church funds for the poor, and in 1863, under the Poor Law, upwards of £600 annually.
Glenorchy, where the Marquis of Breadalbane was sole proprietor, had 1,806
inhabitants in 1831 and 831 in 1841. On this owner's Perthshire estates,
between 1834 and 1853, some 500 families were removed. Taking the population
for the whole county of Argyll* we find that it has varied as follows:
* See 1921 Census, County of Argyll, p.245. In 19 of the 28 mainland parishes and in all the insular parishes the population is at least 30% less than the maximum of any previous Census. In 9 instances there is a loss of 70% or more. The population is less than any Census between 1801 and 1861.
1831 ... 100,973 (of which rural population was about 85,973)
1881 ... 76,468 (of which rural population was about 46,081)
1911 ... 70,902 (of which rural population was about 48,419)
1921 ... 76,862 (of which rural population was about 46,751)
The following figures show an interesting comparison:
|Amount spent for|
||1846 || ...
||1881 || ...||£900,000
Thus we see that pauperism grew during this period nine times faster than population.
14. Land monopoly in Scotland causes depopulation and great restriction of opportunities for employment
We thus see that in Scotland, as in England, land had become monopolized in
the hands of a few, the majority being dispossessed and compelled to compete
for a livelihood in the crowded towns or to emigrate to the Colonies. It
will be found that in the counties of Perth, Argyll, Inverness,* Ross and
Cromarty, and Sutherland the great majority of the parishes had a smaller
population in 1911, and even in 1921, than they had in 1831.
* Inverness Population 1911, 87,272; 1921, 82,455.
Sutherland Population 1911, 20,179; 1921, 17,802.
The opportunities for employment were curtailed in Scotland to an even greater extent than they had been by the enclosures in England; for in Scotland vast areas of the land from which the peasants were evicted came to be used, as we shall see, solely for sport. Not only were the dispossessed deprived of employment, but others were shut out from the natural opportunities which they had formerly utilized.
15. Sheep give place to deer. Great increase in area of deer forests
We have now to inquire into the results of these great clearances in the Highlands, and to ascertain the condition and appearance of the country when they had been carried out.
After 1850 the value of wool began to decline, a decline which became more
rapid after 1874. The value of sheep also declined rapidly after 1884, and
the result of this fall was that from 1850 onwards deer forests
increased rapidly at the expense of sheep-farms, and by 1892 the rents of
sheep-farms had fallen by some 50%.*
* See Report of Departmental Committee on Deer Forests (1922).
The total acreage of Scotland is 19,070,466 acres. In 1891* the area devoted
to deer forests and exclusively to sport was 2,585,973 acres.
* Parliamentary Return: Deer Forests, etc.
Deer forests alone in the six Highland counties in 1883 covered 1,711,892
acres, and in 1898,* 2,287,297 acres. In 1904 the figures for the same
counties were 2,920,097 acres, and in 1908, 2,958,490 acres.
* Return of Deer Forests in Six Highland Counties, 1899.
Parliamentary Paper 220, 1908.
The total area of deer forests and land used for sporting purposes was in
1908, 3,519,678 acres, and in 1911,* 3,599,744 acres, or about one-fifth of
the total acreage of the country. The area given for deer forests in 1920
is 3,432,385 acres, but apparently this figure does not include land, other
than deer forests, used exclusively for sport. Taking, therefore, this fact
into consideration, and also that owners are not compelled to furnish
returns, and that large areas returned as agricultural or pasture are often
used exclusively for sporting purposes, it is probable that the area of deer
forests and sporting lands is nearer 4,000,000 acres.
* Deer Forests and Sporting Lands (Scotland), Parliamentary Paper 538, 1913.
If we compare the increase of deer forests, etc., in some individual counties the figures are striking:
|Ross and Cromarty||812,819||795,545||927,854|
The Deer Forest Report of 1911 tells us that there were some 200 deer forests, ranging in extent from 100 acres to 110,000 acres.
16. The spread of deer forests causes loss to neighbouring farmers and general decay and desolation
There is abundant evidence in all Government and other Reports of the harm
this extension of deer forests has done both to the land so used and to
neighbouring farms. It is the policy of the deer forest owner to render the
whole district comprised within the forest area, and also the neighbouring
land, as desolate as possible, in order that the deer may not be disturbed.
As the deer were replacing the sheep, the leases of sheep and other farms
were not renewed or were terminated with compensation before the end of
their term. At the same time houses and farm buildings have been allowed to
fall into decay, and in this way vast tracts have been completely denuded of
men in order that the deer may flourish. As the Report of the Land Inquiry
Committee (Scotland) states:* "The value of a deer forest tends to be
inversely in proportion to the number of people located on it or in its
vicinity." And with reference to the effect of the encroaching of the deer on
farm-land, the Report adds: "In addition to the utilization of this land for
the purposes of this costly sport it is to be remembered that throughout the
area devoted to deer forests there is serious deterioration in drainage, in
the quality of the grass grown on the land, etc. This is borne out by the
fact that throughout these areas there are many remains of small houses and
evidences of land which formerly was cultivated, but has steadily
depreciated ever since it has been given over exclusively to sport.... On
the eviction of the crofters, their patches of cultivated ground for many
years grew luxuriant herbage, but gradually the ground has gone back to the
more or less barren state in which it was before reclaimed by the
17. Much deer forest land suitable for crofts
It has been seen that large areas of land now under deer forests were
formerly fertile crofts, and in addition thousands of acres have been
rendered useless for crofts owing to the loss of the hill-pasture, which in
the Highlands is usually essential to the success of a small holding.* The
Royal Commission (Highlands and Islands) reported in 1895 that in the six
Highland counties there were 1,782,785 acres of land used for sporting or
grazing purposes which were quite suitable for small holdings; and in
proceedings under the Crofters Commission portions of deer forests have
often been assigned for small holdings.
* "The fact is that these higher altitudes supply only the summer grazing for the deer, and the deer winter on the low grounds and are often fed by the keepers. Indeed, as a matter of fact, a Highland sheep will survive where a deer will perish" (Scotland, p.186).
A vast amount of damage is done to crops on farms near deer or grouse
preserves, and it is stated that in some parts the owners arrange with
tenant farmers to keep only a portion of the possible sheep-stock in the
interests of game-rearing.*
* Scotland, p.165.
18. Government Reports testify to enormous damage done by deer and small game. Tillage continues to decrease
The Report of the Departmental Committee on Deer Forests, 1922, and both the Majority and Minority Reports of the Game and Heather Burning (Scotland) Committee, 1921, agree that deer forests cause a vast amount of damage annually to crops, and that small holders are the greatest sufferers, as their farms are usually at higher altitudes and fringe the game moors.
The Majority Report of the latter Committee states: "That the damage
caused by deer to crops and grazing land is widespread and serious is
clearly established by the statements of numerous witnesses."* Mr. James
Scott, S.S.C., in the Minority Report writes: "The 'unhealthiness'
has reached this point, that farmers have their crops eaten up wholesale,
their grazings ruined, and they themselves harassed and impoverished to a
degree which makes one wonder whether the evidence adduced related to some
wild and semi-civilized country instead of Scotland. Evidence bearing out
this description to the letter was given not only by small holders, but also
by large farmers, by a member of the Land Court, by executive officers and
This Report only differs from the Majority Report in the remedies proposed.
"The evidence submitted to the Committee satisfied me that the damage done
by winged game, and particularly by grouse, pheasants, and black game, is
great, and results in serious loss of food supplies. Some idea of the
possible culprits in causing damage may be obtained from the fact that about
3,000,000 grouse* alone are killed every year on Scottish moors."...
* See Majority Report, par.63: "Grouse do considerable damage to corn crops on upland farms adjoining moors in late harvests, when the corn, on account of wet weather, cannot be expeditiously ingathered."
"There has recently been published by the Board of Agriculture a statement
as to the numbers of live-stock in Scotland, based on returns made on June
4, 1920. The statement shows an alarming state of affairs. Cattle have
decreased by 63,925, or 5.2%. The numbers of sheep are the lowest recorded
since the returns were first collected over fifty years ago, being 49,111
below last year's figures, and more than half-a-million below the
decennial average.*... The acreage under wheat shows a
decrease of 25,150 acres, and is the lowest recorded since 1913. The acreage
under oats shows a further decline, the decrease this year being 78,613
acres, or 7.08%."
19. Great possibilities of afforestation in Scotland
The question of afforestation is a very important one for Scotland, where,
according to the Royal Commission on Coast Erosion and Afforestation,* some
6,000,000 acres, or nearly one-third of the total area, might be afforested.
This Report points out that the United Kingdom is the most poorly afforested
country in Europe, but the best suited to the growth of timber trees, both
by reason of soil, climate and lack of certain insect pests. But as with
agriculture in Great Britain, so with afforestation, "the sylvicultural
details have to be accommodated to the hunting and shooting, and trees must
be taken down in different places to make cover for foxes, and so on." In
Scotland deer do great damage to the trees, and through neglect poor quality
* Cd.4460, 1909.
Percentage of land occupied by forests:
Scotland ... 4.6 | Holland
England ... 5.3 | France
Denmark ... 7.2 | Germany
The Commission considers that afforestation might be a useful subsidiary
industry, and refers to its financial success in Germany. The Report of the
Land Inquiry Committee quotes an example of the economy of a German forest
in the Spessart given by Sir John Stirling Maxwell:* "The forest extends to
10,000 acres, and attached to it are about 3,000 acres of agricultural land.
This area of 13,000 acres would... in the Highlands compose one small deer
forest or a couple of fairly large sheep-farms.... As two sheep-farms it
would support two tenants and at most 13 shepherds, or 15 families in all.
Divided among a number of smaller tenants it might... support at most some
60 families." In Germany the permanent staff in this forest consists of a
head forester and clerk, 6 forest guards, 10 unskilled workmen, and 25 other
men who find employment all the year round as contractors. There is thus
permanent employment for 43 men. In addition there are 80 woodcutters
employed for about 6 months, 70 women and children for about 2 months on
nursery planting, etc., and 260 men employed in forest industries. The
forest and its industries thus provide constant employment for 303 men,
besides the 80 men employed for 6 months and the 70 women and children. The
total population of the area affected by the forest is 2,500, and of these
some 1,520 are directly dependent on the forest, the remainder being small
tradesmen, saddlers, smiths, and workers in small agricultural industries.
20. Forestry a subsidiary industry for the small holder. Large and increasing market for timber
Referring to the great benefits which sylviculture would bring to the small holder, the Royal Commission reports: "It is precisely when the small holder has leisure that sylviculture is most insistent on a supply of labour, and it is therefore not surprising that your Commissioners have had much evidence placed before them of the natural relationship that exists between small holdings and forestry. And similarly with regard to the relationship of forestry and agriculture.... Most of the witnesses examined were emphatic in maintaining that forestry promised to be a powerful agency in stemming the tide of rural depopulation and in attracting back to the country men and families who have migrated to the towns."
The Departmental Committee on Deer Forests (1922), referring to the area afforested between 1892 and 1912, reports: "We are satisfied that, even at the prices then current, a considerable part of the area afforested at this period could have been farmed at a profit after paying a moderate rent." And the Report adds: "This additional area includes a better class of land than the older forests, and embraces large tracts of first-class summer grazing from which the sheep stock had been removed for the reasons above given."
A paper on afforestation read at the Ordinary General Meeting of the
Surveyors' Institute in June 1923 contains some interesting comments on
British Forestry. The following is an extract from this paper:* "Our
woodlands are at zero because Britain has hitherto been content to think in
trees and not in forests. We possess less growing timber than any kingdom or
dominion in fact, our woodlands are infinitesimal and our reserve of
growing trees the most meagre in the world. It is doubtful if the marketable
woodlands in the country cover 3,500 square miles.... It appears to me that
there never was a time when the prospect of a reasonable financial return
was better than now. For five hundred years or more the virgin forests of
the world have been exploited or destroyed, and for every 100,000 acres of
virgin forest which has disappeared, less than 1 acre has been restored or
replanted. While this encroachment on timber reserves has been in progress
the world-demand for wood has increased with the population as well as
through the more extensive uses found for it. In 1851 we used 3.5 cubic feet
of imported timber per head. In 1911 the consumption per head was 10.5 cubic
feet. Raw wood is now used in 1,500 different ways."
* Journal of the Surveyors' Institution, September 1923.
21. Rural depopulation continues and emigration increases
The Report of the Scottish Land Inquiry Committee shows that rural
depopulation has proceeded in Scotland as in England, and in many districts
in a much more wholesale fashion. The counties of Argyll, Berwick, Perth,
and Sutherland had in 1911 a smaller population than in 1801; and in 533 of
the 874 parishes of Scotland the population was in 1911 smaller than in
1901. The Report states: "The drain of emigration has been most severe among
the younger members of the rural community, and already the loss of so many
of the best of the younger rural workers has attained the proportion of a
national calamity. There has been witnessed the complete obliteration of
large numbers of rural homes which, from time immemorial, have been the
source from which has come a large proportion of the men who have achieved
at home and abroad, in the practice of war and in peaceful pursuits, those
distinctions which have gained for the Scottish race a proud reputation all
over the world."* Emigration to non-European countries rose as follows:
1909 ... ... ... 33,366
1910 ... ... ... 58,384
1911 ... ... ... 61,328
In 1878 English emigrants formed 64% of the total from the United Kingdom and Scottish 10%, but in 1911, while the English percentage was 65%, the Scottish had risen to 19%. The Committee was informed throughout Scotland that the chief reasons for this emigration were "the lack of opportunities of access to rural land at home and the absence of the prospects of a career on it." In combating the view that it is town pleasures that attract the people from the country, the Committee point out that the majority of those who emigrate go to parts of the Colonies much farther removed from town life than any part of the Highlands would be.
22. Decline in number of agricultural workers and increase in gamekeepers
The following figures show the decline in the number of rural workers and the increase in the number of gamekeepers:
Number of persons (male and female) engaged in Agriculture
(all persons except female relatives of farmers engaged in
work on the farm and farmers' sons Under fifteen years):
1871 ... ... ... 254,842
1881 ... ... ... 240,131
1891 ... ... ... 213,060
1901 ... ... ... 204,183
1911 ... ... ... 199,083
This shows a decrease of 22%.
This shows a decrease of 32%.
The following includes all persons (male and female) aged ten years and upwards occupied in the specified classes:
|| Number returned ||Decrease
|| Number returned ||Increase
| 1881-1911 |
| 1881-1911 |
23. Conversion of arable to pasture and pasture to sporting land continues. Sporting land rapidly deteriorates
In Scotland, as in England, we find the continued conversion of arable land to pasture in addition to the conversion of pasture to deer forest. In 1912 the arable land covered 3,325,027 acres and permanent grass 1,496,307 acres, the two together comprising about 25% of the total area. Between 1882 and 1911 the arable area decreased by 251,375 acres, 123,000 acres being withdrawn from arable between 1901 and 1911. Permanent grass increased by 400,000 acres between 1870 and 1910.
Depopulation and the increase of sport has led to a great deterioration of
land of all classes and to the decay of houses. The Land Inquiry Committee
states: "We find also that there has been much deterioration of land through
growth-of bracken, rough grass, heather, etc. This has been most notable in
the case of land that is used very largely for sporting purposes. With the
reduction of the resident population and of sheep stocks and cattle in the
interest of sport, there has proceeded a great increase in the growth of
rough grass, heather, bracken, etc., so that, as a result, large areas are
now losing much of their value for the carrying of sheep and cattle. In the
deer forests also, where there are no sheep stocks, there is great
deterioration of the grasses on the lower lands, large tracts of which
formerly under cultivation now grow what is known as 'fent.'"*
The replies from all districts justify this report, the following being
typical of many: (Inverness-shire*) "All the land on the fourteen farms
in------Deer Forest, from which the tenants were evicted, is now well grown
over with heather. The arable land was as good as any in the parish. The
occupiers of the farms, who, with their families, numbered 119 individuals,
depended largely on the excellent pasture, which carried 10,000 sheep, 200
head of cattle, and 20 horses. The occupants now are 5 keepers, with 4
ghillies for the season, and the annual output now is about 100 stags and
24. The evil of the "led" farm
There is a form of ingrossing and consolidation of farms known as the "led"
farm system, which is especially rampant in the southern part of Scotland.
This is a system under which a farm is let to a farmer who does not reside
on it for grazing purposes only, with the natural result that houses and
buildings on the "led" farm fall into decay, and the land rapidly
deteriorates. The Report of the Inquiry Committee states: "The 'led' farm
has generally a dilapidated appearance, the tenant of a 'led' farm being
content, as a rule, with a little less profit per acre, so that cultivation
is not so thorough, and further deterioration of the holding continues often
The Committee further describes this system as one "which lays great areas
of the country-side practically derelict, extinguishes the business of the
local tradesmen and shopkeepers and all who are dependent on the economic
life of the district, reduces the number of homesteads, and withdraws the
land from better utilization in agricultural production in short, stifles
all possibility of the normal maintenance of the life and activity of the
locality, and conduces to still further rural decay.... In many districts,
particularly in the south-east, the complaints are very loud, and the
picture of the depleted country-side, with many farm buildings in ruins, is
quoted as a standing condemnation of the system."*
The evil of the "led" farm is testified to by witnesses from many counties.
A reply from Aberdeen states:* "There are 26 holdings in the outlaying
parish and 10 in this area that have gone out of existence of recent years;
the houses have fallen into decay and the land has been added to other
There is a strong feeling in the parish against this practice, and when a small holding comes into the market there is a keen demand for it."
25. Great unsatisfied demand for small holdings
Throughout Scotland there is, and for a long time has been, a great
unsatisfied demand for small holdings or crofts, and where access to land
can be obtained, the Scotch farmer, famous for his efficiency, succeeds in
making a living. The Report of the Royal Commission on the Highlands and
Islands* provided a mass of evidence from all parts as to the great land
hunger and the possibility of making a comfortable living on crofts which
might be carved out of the various deer forests. Witnesses from all parts
gave evidence as to the larger population and lack of pauperism before sheep
and deer turned out men.
John G. Mackay, a merchant of Portree, said:* "I wish to show that before
the introduction of these changes the people of this country were in a state
of comparative comfort, that since that time the population has been
gradually but speedily reduced, and that in adverse ratio as the
population was being reduced pauperism increased to an alarming extent....
Skye before the introduction of sheep-farming was able to maintain a much
larger population than at present, and that almost entirely on its own
resources.... Skye in its present state would not maintain itself for two
months of the year."
* Vol.i, p.2.
Donald Macrae, a crofter of Raasay, presented a statement on behalf of the
tenants:* "Townships in Raasay are, and unless relieved will remain, in a
condition of chronic poverty because:
* Ibid., p.17.
26. Crofters prefer to be tenants with security of tenure rather than owners
As in England, so in Scotland, small holders do not wish to purchase, but
prefer to be tenants with security of tenure. The Inquiry Committee,*
referring to the Small Landholders Act, 1911, say that by 1913 "25,000
persons have secured fixity of tenure... and 700 are in course of getting
small holdings." But here again those who seek to replace men on the land
are continually being thwarted by the land monopoly, by the owner who
objects to the presence of crofters and demands a prohibitive price for his
land. On this point the Inquiry Committee say: "In many districts where few
persons have made applications for new holdings, we are satisfied that if
new holdings were, in fact, made there would be many more applicants for
them.... They see no immediate prospect of getting a holding, and they
rather shrink from placing themselves in the position of being applicants
for something which does not exist. They have an idea very frequently that
it will damage them in their existing occupations."
Aberdeen is a county of small holdings, the number of holdings in 1913*
being 10,952 of an average size of 57.3 acres. This county contains the
largest number of arable acres in Great Britain except Lincolnshire and
Norfolk. Compared with the three south-eastern counties, we find that,
although its cultivated area is only 25% more, it had nearly four times the
number of farmers and bailiffs.
27. How land monopoly has killed the Government Settlement Scheme
The Report of the Scottish Board of Agriculture for 1921 shows us how
difficult it is to get access to some of the Highland territories which so
many people are in the habit of calling worthless. The Report states: "Heavy
outlays have to be incurred in acquiring Highland pastoral lands, including
the cost of acquisition of sporting rights* over the land and also of
taking over sheep stocks which are in most cases acclimatised and bound to
* These formerly belonged to the clansmen.
I.e. payment must be made for climate.
"Descendants of crofters who were removed some generations ago from the island of Raasay left Rona, erected houses on Raasay and took possession of and cultivated land there.... The Board had opened negotiations in the year 1919 for a scheme of land settlement in Raasay, but... inability to agree with the owners as to price prevented progress."
"The case of Raasay is a striking illustration. It was recognized that the circumstances of the applicants were necessitous, and had it been possible to provide for them at a reasonable cost, a scheme would long ago have been in operation; but to proceed... was impossible except at a prohibitive cost."
"The terms on which the Board can now acquire the land... are still such that they can be justified only by the exceptional circumstances of the case. If similar terms had to be arranged generally in schemes of land settlement the funds available for the settlement of ex-Service men would fall far short of meeting the demand."
Comment on the above would be superfluous. It is obvious how such a system restricts the opportunities for employment and causes widespread poverty and unemployment.
Referring to the western islands, the Inquiry Committee say: "It is astonishing how these men in the islands can make productive use of the least favoured land, often unreclaimed moorland land which would be regarded as valueless by the average small holder in England."
28. Loss of production caused by deer forests
The Reports of the Departmental Committee on Deer Forests (1922) and the Game and Heather Burning (Scotland) Committee, 1921, furnish figures to show what might be produced in the way of meat and wool if deer were replaced by sheep. One sheep is given to every 5 acres, and the carcases are reckoned as if immediately slaughtered. At this rate, if the deer-forest area of 1912 had been under sheep, it would have produced:
|1,834 tons of meat, worth||...||£169,050|
|2,455,747 lb. of wool, worth||...||94,648|
|Skins to value of||...||34,324|
|Total value at that time||...||£298,022|
|1920 figures, total value||...||£512,996|
Mr. James Scott, in his Minority Report, quotes the Ministry of Food as authority for saying that the meat consumed in Scotland in the first twelve months of the rationing period was 97,361 tons, and that an expert witness had estimated the total weight of all kinds of game at 2,225 tons. It had also been estimated by a witness before the Napier Commission in 1884 that the weight of meat provided by deer amounted to one-fifth of the mutton displaced.
29. The possibilities of water power in the Highlands
The water power resources of the Highlands appear to be very large, and Mr.
Newlands, the chief engineer of the Highland Railway Company, estimated that
it would be possible to develop some 500,000 horse power a power which, at
a small cost, would provide a large population with light and heat. Again
such a development is prevented by land monopoly. "The absence of a
considerable resident population operates against the larger utilization of
water power. The inducement to locate new industries utilizing water power
in other countries has been strengthened largely by the presence of a very
considerable resident population. There is difficulty in obtaining access to
land for the purpose of small industries on account of the opposition of the
proprietors of the land, who are unwilling to depreciate its present value
as sporting preserve by allowing small industries and small centres of
population to grow up. It is reported that several schemes for utilizing
water power have been rendered abortive owing to the difficulty of obtaining
access to the necessary land."*
* Inquiry Committee (Scotland), p.248.
THE MINERAL MONOPOLY
1. Land tenure and mineral resources. The available supply of coal
The nature of the tenure of land does not, of course, affect only land used for agriculture or building, but land in the economic sense, all the natural physical resources of the country, not only the surface of the earth, but all the mineral resources contained therein. The mineral resources comprise not only coal-mines, but all metallic ore-mines, quarries, brickyards, etc. It would be impossible and also unnecessary to deal in detail here with the various kinds of minerals; but as tenure affects them all in a similar way, it is proposed to deal chiefly with coal and mining in general, and to examine what is said on the subject in the Reports of the Acquisition and Valuation of Land Committee (Mines and Minerals), 3rd Report, 1919, and also in the Reports of the Coal Industry Commission, 1919.
Coal and iron are at the basis of the manufacturing industries of this country, and the building trade is, among others, vitally affected by the accessibility and the prices of bricks, slates, cement, metals, etc.
With regard to coal, there would appear to be no shortage of the supply, for, according to the Final Report of the Coal Conservation Committee, 1918: "Professor H.S. Jevons (1915)... gives 197,000,000,000 tons as a maximum quantity within 4,000 feet from the surface. Adopting this as an outside estimate, and deducting 15% on account of 'pit wastage' i.e. coal which is left for one reason or another in the workings we obtain a new figure for actually available coal at the surface of (say) 168,000,000,000 tons, or (say) 580 times our present annual output."
2. Land tenure and the loss of minerals to the community. Report of Acquisition and Valuation of Land Committee
The Acquisition and Valuation of Land Committee in their 3rd Report, dealing with mines and minerals, collect together causes of the loss to the nation of its mineral resources losses, they add, which may result in the permanent loss of the minerals in question. These causes, which we set out in extenso, are as follows:
With reference to par. (v) above, the Report adds: "For example, a trustee has no power to grant an option, and a tenant for life for the purposes of the Settled Land Acts is under a similar disability, since in the exertion of his powers under these Acts he is in a position analogous to that of a trustee. Options have, for many years, been frequently adopted in the development of land, and we think that the disability in this respect of trustees and tenants for life might be removed with considerable advantage. It also sometimes, though rarely, happens that a tenant for life cannot utilize the provisions of the Settled Land Acts in order to grant a mining lease, and consequently an application to the court is necessary in order to enable a lease to be granted by the trustees. This procedure entails expense and delay."
3. The mineral monopoly. Corroborative evidence in the Report of the Coal Industry Commission
The Report of this Committee is a very strong indictment of the system of
land tenure in this country, a system which, as the Report shows, enables a
few men to say whether or no minerals shall be procured at all, and if so,
at what price. It is also shown how indirectly this system leads to large
areas of minerals being untouched and so permanently lost to the nation.
Moreover, the owners of mineral lands not only possess these powers, but
they often exercise them, either in prohibiting the digging of minerals
altogether, in delaying their development, or by charging unreasonable
terms. When a cheap and abundant supply of minerals is urgently needed, it
is obvious that any obstacle in the way of procuring these raw materials
from the various mines and quarries is a plain source of unemployment.*
* Unemployment not only for those who might be procuring the minerals, but for those who depend on these minerals in other industries.
In the Report of the Coal Industry Commission we find much evidence supporting the findings of the Acquisition and Valuation of Land Committee, and evidence which goes to show that the system of tenure of mineral-bearing land results in unemployment.
4. The Chief Inspector of Mines and the difficulty of access to minerals on account of private ownership
Sir Richard Redmayne, K.C.B., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines, in giving
evidence before the Commission, said:* "In the early days of the Control of
Coal-Mines cases were brought to my notice where the inability to obtain
powers by colliery owners to work minerals was leading to loss of output.
The difficulty in the way in most cases was either (1) due to the refusal of
the owners of the minerals to treat; or (2) the fact that the ownership of
the minerals was unknown; or (3) the subdivision of the area into very small
ownerships whereby the cost of negotiating a lease in the ordinary way was
prohibitive and out of proportion to the value of the coal to be won or
* Vol.ii. of the Report, June 1919, p.1154.
Further on he states: "A number of cases have been brought to my notice of either absolute refusal to lease mines, or the demand of prohibitive and unreasonable terms, even where no grounds for asserting that mineral support was essential, existed. I venture to say that an examination of the majority of colliery plans would show cases where coal had been left unworked for one or other of the reasons given above, resulting in an absolute loss of coal for ever. I have one case in mind at the present time of divided ownership of minerals where one joint owner out of five is preventing coal being leased and the main headings of a colliery are standing at the coal in question.... Expense is incurred in so rearranging the workings as to cut round these areas, and this further involves loss of output."
Sir Richard then gives another example of how output is restricted: "A common source of trouble arises from the fact that with ownership in detached areas the whole of a mineral owner's property is leased to one colliery company, with the result that trade jealousy may prevent that company extending facilities for working of certain areas on proper terms to an adjoining colliery in whose mining area they exist. I have knowledge at the present time of a case where a colliery company have shortly to give up possession of the lease of an area now forming part of their royalty, which has been leased along with other properties to an adjoining colliery. The present lessees have to withdraw their rails and leave their present roads, although the area they are working will not be accessible to the new lessees for twenty or thirty years, and in some cases the coal to be left is actually surrounded by goaf and is of such extent that it will probably never be worked by the newcomers, though accessible to the present lessees. I maintain that such cases as these constitute grave national losses, and cannot be defended on any economic grounds."
5. Unnecessary barriers and penalties for letting down surface result in great loss of coal to the community
Sir Richard refers to the vast amount of coal lost through unnecessary barriers between mines, and the large areas left through fear of disturbing the surface. This coal has often to be paid for, though it can never be touched. On the subject of barriers he says: "Barriers separating royalties vary from 40 to 100 yards in width. A consolidation of royalties doing away with the necessity for boundaries for any but engineering purposes would bring a great part of the coal now so left into the market. The late Sir George Elliot estimated that this would, together with the saving in coal at present consumed in working circuitous haulages occasioned by these barriers, add 10% to the annual output (1893)."
With reference to surface support he says: "I maintain that where the damage
is likely to be considerable some graduation of the price of the coal should
be made, as the custom now is the royalty owners not only often obtain
payment for their coal at full value, but afterwards claim large sums for
the injury of the surface due to the working of such coal.... The mine
worker may have plenty of coal to work, and prefers to leave pillars sooner
than face the risks of onerous claims for surface damage. In other cases
where the lessee is anxious to work the coal he is prevented by the
prohibition of the lessor. The damage which would result if the coal was
swept out in a wide face would very often be negligible, and thus valuable
coal is being left unnecessarily."*
... "At the moment I am considering the coal left not so much for
mission-rooms, schools, and churches as the immense area of coal that is
left under some of the old halls, where there is as much as 20, 30, 40, or
50 acres. If they allowed us to drive narrow places, or even wide places,
through that coal and work it in a method approved by all mining engineers,
45 per cent of that coal could be recovered without any injury to the
6. Wayleaves and heavy cost of negotiating small areas
Sir Richard also gave evidence as to the onerous terms frequently exacted by mine-owners, which hindered, and often prevented, production. He said: "I have frequently met with cases where the prospective lessor has known that his particular area of coal was of vital moment to a colliery company, and in some cases opportunity has been availed of to extract extortionate terms, either of wayleaves or by unduly inflating the price. Underground wayleaves are, in my opinion, absolutely unjustifiable where the exercise of such wayleave does not inflict any loss on the owner of the property passed through. In some cases lessees are forced to take in lease and pay minimum rent for seams which they have no possibility of being able to work in a reasonable time merely to obtain the lease of vital areas."
..."I believe the cost of negotiating small areas of coal is very often out
of all proportion to their value, and is a substantial addition to the
Royalty Rent. I recently had particulars of a case where the purchase price
of the minerals was £350 and the negotiation costs were 80 guineas, and this
despite the fact that no complications of title or of working were involved.
It will be readily seen that such costs as these, coupled with stringent
regulations as to reparation of surface damages, constitute a very serious
tax on the working of coal in certain areas."*
7. Insecurity of tenure resulting in cessation of production and loss of employment
The Land Inquiry Committee, in their Report on Scotland, 1913, express
similar opinions to the foregoing, and arrive at the conclusion that land
monopoly seriously restricts the development of minerals by making access
difficult or impossible and tenure insecure. The Report states:* "We have
also evidence that the landowners' monopoly powers sometimes inserted in
mining leases are not infrequently of a burdensome and inequitable
character, and are calculated to restrict the free development of the
mineral field."... "The maximum, minimum, and average rates of royalty
charged per ton are: In Lanarkshire, Is. 4d., 3d. and 7d. respectively; in
Fife and the Lothians, Is. 2d., 3d., 6d.; while in the case of gas-coal the
rate is much higher, rising to 3s. 6d. a ton. The rates levied in Scotland,
as in the United Kingdom, are greatly in excess of those paid on the
* Scotland, p.339.
"Mineral tenants have to make a very large initial expenditure of capital in sinking shafts, erecting buildings, machinery, houses, etc., and in laying branch railways and sidings. On the expiry of their leases they are often placed in a very disadvantageous position when negotiating for a renewal. They are faced with the alternative of agreeing to the landowners' terms or sacrificing the large capital which they have laid out in developing the workings."
With reference to this latter statement an example is given of a colliery which prior to 1906, with a capital of £200,000 and 600 men, was producing 1,000 tons per day. On the termination of the lease the owners demanded lOd. instead of 6d. per ton as royalty, and as this could not be paid, the mine was closed, the men discharged, and the workings demolished.
8. An example from Wales land monopoly and development of quarries
The Land Inquiry Committee (Urban) received similar reports from
investigators in Wales with reference to the working of quarries. A report
from North Wales runs as follows:* "There are many undeveloped quarries in
the district, and where it is certain good slate may be obtained, but owing
to exorbitant or prohibitive rent they demand for wayleaves, the quarries
are not worked. In some cases land for tipping debris is difficult to
obtain.... In this case the quarry is situated less than half a mile from
the three railway lines, but owing to the difficulty of getting a small
tram-line from the quarry the produce has to be carted. There are also other
valuable slate quarries in the district undeveloped for want of land for
tipping debris, and for running inclines and tram-lines from such quarries
to the different railway stations."... "A quarry company wanted land for the
purpose of shooting debris into a lake. The owner of the land adjoining the
lake, who was also the lessor of the land occupied by the quarry, granted
leave for the use of the land and for the debris to be shot into the lake on
an annual payment of £100. Later a little more land was required for the
same purpose, and an additional £100 a year had to be paid by the quarry
company. When this accommodation proved inadequate, and a request was made
for facilities for the use of a further piece of land, yet another £100 rent
was demanded. At this point the company considered that they were unable to
meet this extra demand, with the consequence that work in that portion of
the quarry was discontinued, and nearly 150 men were dismissed."
* The Land, vol.ii, p.336.
9. Amount of royalties and some individual holdings
Certain statistics furnished for the information of the Coal Industry
Commission give some idea as to what is meant by "monopoly" as far as coal
is concerned. Somewhat less than 4,000 persons own the coal of this country,
but a large proportion of these are quite small owners. An Inland Revenue
return gives the following figures concerning royalties:*
* Coal Industry Commission Report, vol.iii, appendix No.78.
|Total income from coal royalties in U.K.
||Number of Royalty Owners
||" "||10,000|| "
||" "||20,000|| "
The following are statistics relating to some of the large owners:
Duke of Northumberland (p.625)
|Acreage of surface land
||... ... ...||169,000||acres
||Proved mineral rights
||... ... ...||244,500|| "
|| (This includes about
168,500 acres of the lands|
comprising the 169,000 acres, as both surface and
mineral rights of these form part of the estate.)
|1913-1918 average annual output
||... ... ...||1,950,044||tons
||1918 gross income
||... ... ... ||£82,450|
||... ... ...||128,682||acres
||Proved mineral rights||... ... ...
||1912-1918 average annual output
||... ... ...||3,241,962||tons
||Gross annual income for this period:|| Royalties||... ... ...
||£109,277|| Wayleaves||... ... ...
|Royalties and wayleave rents in 1917 ... £370,000|
|Surface acreage||... ... ...
||Coal area||... ... ...
||1918 output (an average year)
|| ... ... ||2,318,248||tons
||1918 royalties and wayleaves
|| ... ...||£64,370|
|Coal area (Durham)
||... ... ... ||12,411||acres
||1913 output||... ... ...
||1918 "||... ... ... ||1,526,315|| "
||1918 gross income||... ... ... ||£40,522||1918 dead rents||... ... ... ||£10,000|
10. Inequities resulting from private ownership. Mr. Smillie's examination of a Kent coal-owner
Reference is made in the Report of the Coal Commission to the question of coal going as the absolute property of the surface owner when such coal has been discovered at the sole expense of the Geological Survey a Government Department. But the inequity of such private ownership appears even more glaring when we examine some instances of how private prospectors are charged large sums by landowners to prospect for coal, and then have to pay onerous dues as soon as it is discovered. These payments are often so heavy as effectually to prevent capitalists from undertaking the task of looking for coal.
Interesting examples of how land monopoly stands in the way of development, and makes huge sums out of the efforts of the community to find minerals, are provided by the examination of Mr. John Dewrance, chairman of certain pioneer companies who prospected for coal in Kent, by Mr. Smillie, and also the examination of Mr. H.F. Plumptre, landlord of 1,062 acres in the Kent Coal Concession's area, by the same gentleman.
Examining Mr. Dewrance, Mr. Smillie said:
17283. Supposing you bored in Kent and you found the coal all right, but you could not raise money to sink pits for the coal, would you still be required to go on paying a dead rent? Yes.
17284. For what period? Some of them have periods at which you can discontinue, but not all of them.
17288. I am putting to you that it might not have taken place, and you pay for the lease, and the pioneer boring company would have to pay £2 an acre for 60,000 acres? Ultimately.
(The dead rent for Kent Concessions was £400 the first and second years, £700 the 3rd year, and thereafter a yearly rate of £3,000 for 2,323 acres. Royalties were from £35 to £95 per acre according to thickness of seam, and 6d. per ton for ironstone.)
17319 (Chairman). The fourth year that is 1911 you had to pay £3,000 a year for this and getting no coal? Yes.
17326 (Chairman). Mr. Smillie's point is, are you paying to these landlords this sum of £3,000, although as a matter of fact you have not got to the coal? We were up to the outbreak of war.
17327 (Mr. R. Smillie). Are you paying a dead rent for that 400 acres*
that is reserved, that you can never touch? Yes.
* This was under the owner's private park.
17328. In the lease you have you can never take out the coal from under that 400 acres, but you are paying a dead rent for that coal that you can never take out? Yes.
Mr. Plumptre, the landowner, was then examined by Mr. Smillie.
17423. There was no boring done on your estate until this lease 1 No.
17424. It is quite possible there may not have been any coal on your estate at all? No, there may not have been.
17425. And you did not take the trouble yourself to prove it? I got them to give me the agreement to prove the coal before the lease was granted. There was an agreement that they should bore for coal, and prove it to my satisfaction and theirs before I granted the lease.
17428. Did you yourself expend any money or promise to expend any money on the boring operations% No.
17429. We may take it that you allowed other people to spend their money to prove whether you were the possessor of coal in that land? Yes. They rather came asking me to do it.
17431. You allowed them to spend their money in proving that your estate was more valuable than you had any previous idea of? Yes.
17432. From the time boring started were you charging a dead rent to these people, or an annual rent to these people whom you had allowed to spend their money in trying to prove your property was valuable? Yes; when the lease was signed they paid dead rent.
17433. Not only were other people spending their money to prove your property was more valuable than you thought, but you charged them for spending their money? Yes.
17434. Is that just and equitable? Well, I believe it is a matter of business, and was the best way of inducing them to work the coal.
17437. But they ran the risk of losing the money they were paying to you in order to prove your property was more valuable? Yes, but it was their choice* and not mine. * There would seem to have been little choice in the matter.
11. Restricted access to mineral resources results in fewer opportunities for employment
The foregoing interrogatories require little comment, as they speak for themselves. As with the surface land of this country, both agricultural and building, so with mineral-bearing land, we see that it is within the power of a handful of owners to say whether there shall or shall not be access to these natural opportunities, and if permission is granted it is at a price which they choose to fix. If labour had easy access to these mineral resources, and owners were eager to develop them, it is easy to see that there would be a vast increase in employment, and the production of mineral raw materials would be enormously increased and cheapened. As it is, these natural opportunities for employment might, in many cases, be non-existent as far as labour is concerned, so difficult is it to obtain access to them.
12. Private ownership and monopoly of minerals unsound
Referring to the question of the ownership of minerals, Mr. Justice Sankey in his Report says: "The seams of coal are now vested in the hands of nearly 4,000 owners, most of whom are reasonable, but some of whom are a real hindrance to the development of the national asset."
Sir Arthur Duckham reports that "the private ownership of minerals has not been and is not in the best interests of the community."
On this same question Sir Richard Redmayne says: "I believe that the
incidence of private ownership of minerals is often prejudicial to the
economic working thereof. A large proportion of the cost of winning coal is
due to dead work, such as the construction and maintenance of shafts and
underground roads, and the fullest value will only be obtained where proper
regard is had to the geographical situation of the minerals in relation to
the various shafts and roadways by which they can be won. It is obviously
unsound to allow collieries to be closed from exhaustion when further
mineral areas could be profitably and economically won therefrom if
facilities were obtainable."
UNEMPLOYMENT ITS CAUSE AND THE REMEDY
1. The limits of the inquiry
Our inquiry is finished, but before we sum up our conclusions let us review briefly the nature of the problem we set out to solve. In Chapter I we limited our investigations to the relation between unemployment and the tenure of land, because it seemed clear that unemployment must be caused, if there were sufficient land, by the inability of labour to get to that land; and also because, if it were established that Nature's opportunities for employment existed in abundance, unemployment could not exist so long as these were accessible to labour.
2. Real aim of the inquiry
The terrible phenomenon of unemployment means, then, that the sellers of labour are numerous as compared with those able to buy; that only comparatively few have the means of employing labour. But as each seller of labour, now unemployed, would have the means of employing his own and someone else's labour if he had access to land, our inquiry has been directed to seeing whether he has that access, and if not, what is preventing it. In other words, we have investigated the problem in order to ascertain why only comparatively few have the means of employing labour, when really each worker himself has the supply of the active factor in production (labour), which, with the help of land, could satisfy his demand for wealth; why it is that if a worker cannot find someone who has the means of employing his labour he should not be able to employ his own labour by producing to satisfy his needs directly from Nature.
In the course of this inquiry, in addition to arriving at a definite positive conclusion as to the cause of unemployment, we have at the same time been able to see that many other so-called explanations of the phenomenon really fail to explain anything except that labour is robbed of a proportion of its just reward. They do not explain why labour must remain unemployed unless an employer "furnishes" employment.
3. Results of inquiry Saxon and early Norman England, no unemployment
Our inquiry has disclosed the origin and progress of unemployment. In Saxon and early Norman times we saw that there was no unemployment, for the very good reason that the alternative to not being able to find a man with the means of employing one's labour was not unemployment, but employing oneself directly on the land. Nature's opportunities for employment were in abundance, and land was freely at the disposal of him who wished to till it. Land required for cultivation was neither held out of use nor under-used.
4. Black Death and after enclosures and unemployment
Soon after the Norman Conquest the lords began to enclose waste and common land, which, although frequently for colonizing purposes, resulted in a curtailing of common rights and a restriction of the number of opportunities of employment to which there was free access. The number of such opportunities still, however, exceeded the supply of labour capable of using them, and there was no unemployment.
But after the Black Death, when lords of manors were unable to obtain sufficient labour to carry on the cultivation of the land which had been formerly tilled, an enclosure movement began on a very large scale began because wages had increased at the expense of rent, and continued because grass farming was seen to be profitable owing to an increase in the price of wool.
For a time, at any rate, opportunities for employment would still appear to have exceeded the supply of labour, with consequent full employment; but as the population recovered in numbers and the enclosure movement continued, about the middle of the fifteenth century, for the first time in English history, opportunities for employment began to fall short as compared with the supply of labour, and a surplus of unemployed labour appeared. This surplus was unable to obtain access to Nature's opportunities to satisfy its own demand for subsistence, etc.
The beggars came to town, but they were beggars who possessed in their own labour, if they had had access to land, the means of satisfying their own and their families' wants. They had been cleared directly off the land, and arguments about over-population or insufficiency of opportunities would not have appealed to those who had been robbed of their opportunities, and who saw a fence put round other opportunities on which they might have employed their labour.
5. The coming of the surplus of unemployed a double loss to the community
This was the beginning of unemployment, pauperism, and the drain from the country-side to the towns, which by a one-sided competition pulled down wages to the subsistence level. Then for the first time the supply of labour appeared to exceed the demand, the sellers of labour to exceed the buyers; but what had really happened was that for the first time the supply of labour was prevented from satisfying demand because it was denied that access to land which it formerly had.
Not being able to produce wealth for themselves, this surplus of unemployed either had to beg or steal, until the State imposed rates on those in work to provide for their maintenance. In this way the unemployed were a double burden on the community, for they caused loss to the artisans who formerly produced goods for them, which they were now unable to purchase, and they also had to be maintained out of the wealth produced by the rest of the community without being able to add anything to that wealth themselves.
6. Land Monopoly spreads until it covers the whole country results
The enclosure movement continued throughout the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and unemployment increased as opportunities became more and more restricted; but all through this period there were still opportunities for employment unmonopolized, but which, on account of inaccessibility and distance from centres of population, were as good as non-existent.
In the middle of the eighteenth century began the last and greatest period of enclosures, which by the middle of the nineteenth century had accounted for practically all the land in the kingdom. This period saw the wholesale depopulation and devastation of the country-side; the rise of the slums of the great industrial cities, in which the dispossessed had to take refuge; the pauperization of a large proportion of the population of Great Britain; and the growth of that terrible one-sided competition among the surplus of unemployed for the jobs which appeared to be too few to go round.
We have seen how hundreds of thousands of these who now formed the unemployed surplus were directly deprived of their right to produce for themselves from the land, and that, once evicted, they had no means of employing themselves, no alternative employment if they were unable to find anyone who could buy their labour.
7. Ample opportunities for all, but labour is fenced off
This private enclosure of the land has continued, until, at the present day, a strong monopoly holds the land of Great Britain in thrall, and a few thousand owners have the power, which they use, to deny access to the land, or to permit it only on terms which make industry difficult or impossible.
The opportunities for employment provided by the land of Great Britain are, as we have seen, more than ample to enable the supply of labour to satisfy its wants directly and to employ itself; but the land monopoly, which has grown until its tentacles reach to the farthest corners of the country, has artificially restricted these opportunities for employment, so that they are out of reach of labour. And so throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the surplus of unemployed has grown and persisted. It fluctuates in size, but the tendency seems to be for the minimum to increase as speculation in land increases, and the barrier round the land becomes more impenetrable, as we have seen it has done since the Great War.
8. Gradual confiscation of communal rights
While tracing the connection between the gradual restriction of the opportunities for employment and the growth of unemployment, we have been unable to shut our eyes to the fact that in so appropriating and monopolizing the land the landlords were, in fact, robbing the community of its rights over the land rights which originally it clearly possessed, and which should have been handed down from generation to generation.
We have seen, too, how, from the Norman Conquest and the Statute of Merton, these rights were not lost without a struggle, and how the Commons of England frequently rose in armed revolt down to the nineteenth century, until the country-side was so drained that there were few left to rise. In Scotland this wholesale confiscation of the rights of the community took place within comparatively recent times, and has turned fertile valleys into desolate wastes and depopulated the whole country-side.
9. The confiscation a continuing one
In considering this aspect of the question it is important to bear in mind that this confiscation of the land did not, as a wrong, cease with the generation in existence when it was committed; but inasmuch as the land is now wholly monopolized the community is still being deprived of its right of access the confiscation is a continuing one.
The significance of this can be seen very clearly when we recall how Professor Gonner was at pains to show that enclosure of the wastes did not result in depopulation if the enclosure was to arable. As we pointed out when considering that statement, although it may not have caused depopulation at the time, the private appropriation had given the landlords power to turn the land to grass, or even to hold it out of use entirely, at any time, because the appropriation affected all succeeding generations. We have already seen that this process has gone on all through the nineteenth century, and is even continuing at the present day. Land is in theory, of course still the property of the King, but his tenants have long ceased to pay rent, and it will be evident from our inquiry that fact and theory are now unrelated.
10. Land monopoly accompanied by insecurity of tenure
It has also been proved that, until the coming of unemployment and the beginning of land appropriation on a large scale, the Commons had security of tenure, even for those who held purely "at will," and that as enclosure proceeded and unemployment grew, so tenure became less and less secure, starting with tenants "at will," who then could show no legal right to security, and including copyholders, who, despite the fact that they had legal security of tenure, were frequently evicted or deprived of their copies. This insecurity of tenure has continued to the present day, and is exemplified in the system of yearly tenancies.
11. Conclusions as to cause of unemployment do not depend on any theory of origin of rights
But although we hold it clearly established that the land of Great Britain originally belonged to the community, and that communal rights were gradually filched away, yet our conclusions do not depend for their validity on the accuracy of any particular theory as to the origin of rights of the peasants over the soil in Saxon and Norman times. Apart altogether from the question of the rights of the community or of the landlords at that time, our conclusions are based on the fact that when access to land was free to labour and opportunities were available for all, there was no unemployment, and that as the land became monopolized, as opportunities were artificially restricted, unemployment increased. Now at the present time, when all Nature's opportunities are monopolized and access to land is denied, there is always a large surplus of unemployed, with its complement a mass of underpaid labour.
12. Land monopoly an unnatural barrier land provides opportunities in plenty
The system of absolute private ownership of land, which we have called land
monopoly, acts as a barrier around all Nature's opportunities for
employment. It was this barrier which seemed so unnatural to the Diggers of
Wellingborrow when they said: "We find that no creature that ever God made
was ever deprived of the benefit of the Earth but Mankind."*
* Chapter X, par.12.
If labour ceased to be deprived of the "benefit of the earth," our inquiry has demonstrated clearly that the opportunities afforded by the land of Great Britain would be ample in number. We have seen that there are millions of acres unused or very much under-used, and millions of acres of so-called cultivated land covered with poor grass and almost destitute of men. We have compared the agricultural production of some other countries, and have made it clear that the opportunities in agriculture and forestry alone in this country are enormous, and offer a field for the production of great wealth. Would labour be idle if it could get to these opportunities?
13. Great opportunities afforded by mineral resources
Reference to the mineral resources of Great Britain was necessarily brief, but we saw enough to be able to demonstrate that here again there are vast opportunities for employment where Nature offers the things so many men lack. But again the Chinese wall of monopoly hinders the access of labour to these various mineral resources. The opportunities provided by the stock of minerals in Great Britain the clays, building stones, and slates, in addition to the metallic ores and coal are enormous in extent, but although many want these things, yet labour is denied access, or is only allowed in on terms which make production so dear that industry is restricted by those who call themselves owners. Land monopoly has fenced off the active factor in production.
14. Land Monopoly in urban districts
An investigation of the question of land tenure in urban districts revealed the same state of affairs: everywhere land is held out of use or under-used. In all our great cities and towns a large proportion of their areas is rated as agricultural land, most of which for all practical purposes may usually be regarded as unused, and in all these districts land is urgently wanted for new houses, for roads, improvements, and for the reconstruction of slum areas. But again we have found that, although in every instance the opportunities for the necessary improvements exist in abundance, yet land monopoly in case after case prevents access, or allows it only at a price which mortgages the increase of wealth resulting from the improvement for years ahead, and causes much loss in other directions.
Thus in every case we see that the opportunities for employment are clearly greatly in excess of the supply of labour in this country. All through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, by reason of the growth of population, and improvements, discoveries and inventions in manufacturing industries, the opportunities of producing wealth afforded by the land have increased enormously, but labour, except to a very limited extent, has been unable to avail itself of these advantages. Were only some of these opportunities accessible to labour, there is no reason why labour should not employ itself, produce the wealth direct from the land and exchange the surplus, so creating a real demand for other goods, and relieving industry of the burden of supporting the unemployed.
15. Land necessary to all forms of labour man a land animal
It will be advisable once again to emphasize how essential land is to all forms of industry, and how neither wealth nor services can be produced unless labour has access to it. It may not be clear to the clerk working in the top story of a London office how his employment depends on access to land, but this was brought home to many such workers during the Coal Strike of 1921, when they found themselves without work because some men who produced wealth directly from the land had ceased work; and this same clerk is also vitally interested in land tenure and access to land as regards his housing accommodation, the means of conveyance and transport he uses, and everything he buys.
Man produces wealth by adapting and combining, with the aid of the physical forces of Nature, natural products obtained from the land, by utilizing the reproductive forces of Nature in agriculture and farming, and by trading and exchanging. For each of these methods land is needed in varying quantities. It is not only required by the man directly engaged in producing wealth from the land, but for those who work on and manufacture the natural products, and by those who transport them or display them for the convenience of purchasers in retail shops. It is obvious that not only workers such as these are directly concerned with the question of access to land, but all clerical workers necessary to these forms of production, and also all producers of services as, for example, doctors, lawyers, singers, etc. who can only be paid in wealth produced in one of these ways. Truly has it been said that man is a land animal.
16. Capitalism and unemployment
The growth of land monopoly, as we have already shown, brought many attendant evils in its train, and most of these have at various times been seized on as the cause of poverty and unemployment. Let us refer to one or two of these alleged causes.
Capital, the capitalist, or capitalism are each frequently denounced as the
arch-enemy of labour, the oppressor of industry, the cause of unemployment
and poverty. In this connection it is interesting to note what the great
apostle of this theory, Karl Marx, had to say as to the origin of
capitalism. He wrote: "The starting-point of the development that gave rise
to the wage-labourer as well as to the capitalist was the servitude of the
labourer.... The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant,
from the soil, is the basis of the whole process."*
* Karl Marx, Capital, p.739.
Marx here seems to get a glimpse of the truth, for, as we have seen in this inquiry, "capitalism," or the control of large aggregates of capital by a few, began and grew when and as land was enclosed; and people driven from the countryside to the towns without any alternative employment there engaged in a one-sided competition for the jobs that were too few to go round. Such a situation provided an opportunity for the capitalist producer, and he took advantage of the cheap labour provided by the growth of land monopoly. This process was much intensified in the eighteenth century at the time of the Industrial Revolution. The workers were driven off the land by wholesale methods of enclosure into the arms of the industrialist, who was enabled thereby to produce cheaply and on a large scale, for, having no alternative employment, they had to accept his terms or starve. These workers were frequently worse off than slaves, for the capitalist had no need to take any thought of their physical welfare, for, for every one who fell by the way, there were several clamouring for admission at the factory gates, and so he ground the last ounce out of them.
17. Capitalist has no power to oppress in absence of land monopoly
But just as one millstone cannot crush the grain without another stone to crush it against, so the capitalist could not have crushed the worker until he had been driven off the land and denied access to Nature's opportunities for employment by land monopoly this was the other millstone. Unless, therefore, there was this other millstone, the capitalist would be powerless to oppress.
While the worker still had access to land, and so an alternative occupation, he would not have worked for the capitalist for less than he could make when employing himself; and the capitalist would have been, and would still be, powerless to oppress labour if there was no crowd of unemployed clamouring at the gate for the work which the capitalist is supposed to be good enough to "furnish." It is not in the nature of capital to oppress. Capital, the instruments of production, that part of wealth which is used to produce more wealth, is the creation of labour, and should be its servant, not its oppressor; but when capitalism appears as an oppressor of labour it is because of the monopoly power it derives from land monopoly, the mother of all monopolies. Karl Marx seems to have appreciated this, but afterwards mistook the result for the cause; and most of his present-day followers do the same, and ignore, or do not know, what he said as to the origin of capitalism. If expropriation of the people from the soil, or land monopoly, gave the capitalist the power to oppress, the thing to remove would surely seem to be land monopoly, the millstone without which the capitalist could not grind labour.
18. Over-population and unemployment
There are also many supporters of the theory that overpopulation is the
cause of unemployment. It will be remembered that the question of
over-population was first mentioned in the sixteenth century, when the
beggars were crowding into the towns; and Harrison, writing in the reign of
Elizabeth, referred to those who said there were too many people. In 1607*
there was the "Consideration" of the House of Lords, which stated that the
country was over-populated, and that the surplus should be shipped off to
* Chapter X, par.8.
Throughout this period, when over-population was supposed to be the cause of poverty and unemployment, we have seen that opportunities for employment existed in abundance for those who were supposed to be surplus, but access was denied to them. The over-population argument would not have appealed to the English cotter or the Scotch crofter who saw his holding, from which he had been making a living, given over to sheep or deer.
This theory again flourished in the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the great enclosure movement was in full swing and the towns were becoming over-crowded at the expense of the country-side. But at that time again, as we know, there were more than enough opportunities for employment for all the population. We have also shown clearly that opportunities exist in abundance at the present time, and this being the case, it seems to us to follow from the principles of the co-operation of labour that the greater the population, the greater should be the production of wealth per unit of population.
But although the country as a whole is not over-populated, it is clear, nevertheless, that the towns are over-populated as compared with the country-side; and certainly to one of the unemployed at the factory gates it must seem that if there were fewer people he might stand more chance. But while there are opportunities in plenty from which labour is barred there cannot be over-population. If this country contained two men only, and one of them owned all the land and had no need of the labour of the other, and refused even to give him permission to use the land, the country would be over-populated.
19. Land monopoly and speed of increase of the population
It would, however, appear to be the case that land monopoly has been the cause of population increasing faster than it would have done under conditions where labour had easy access to land. Population seems to increase slowly where wealth is more widely distributed, as it was in England between Saxon times and the Black Death. After the Plague, when a greater population was required to ensure the maximum of well-being, population increased for a time very rapidly. The more rapid increase from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, and the very rapid increase during the latter part of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries, coincided with the reduction of an ever-increasing proportion of the "commons" to paupers and under-paid workers. A large body of men was coming into existence that had little hope of rising in the social scale or of achieving any form of independence.
Driven from the land, these men crowded into insanitary hovels, where disease took a heavy toll of infant lives, and their whole life was one weary struggle for subsistence, with no opportunity of rising. When man is thus kept down in a condition resembling that of the lower animals, with no opportunity of developing those gifts which the animals do not possess, and with no opportunity of raising his standard of living, he, like the animals, multiplies quickly. If wealth were more equally distributed, as it would be if all had access to land, a class such as we have described would not exist, and it seems clear that the economic check of a rising standard of life would bring about a much slower increase of population.
20. Currency manipulation and unemployment
Another alleged cause of unemployment frequently put forward is currency manipulation, but with this, as with other ills from which the inhabitants of this country may suffer from time to time, it is difficult to see how it could cause unemployment as long as labour had free access to land. It seems to us that the exponents of these various so-called causes of unemployment all err with regard to the same vital point, namely, in entirely disregarding how wealth is really produced and what are the factors necessary for its production. Labour may be robbed in many ways, but as long as access to land with security of tenure is unrestricted there need be no unemployment.
21. Machinery and unemployment
Again, labour-saving machinery is sometimes blamed for causing unemployment, and we can see that this may be so for a time if the labour "saved" has no opportunity of obtaining any alternative occupation. The saving of labour effected by such machinery should, of course, benefit every worker by enabling him to obtain more wealth with the same labour or the same wealth with less labour than before; but with a surplus of unemployed and under-employed this advantage tends to be lost through the one-sided competition for work and the denial of access to land. It is because labour is denied access to land that the average worker is distrustful when he hears of new labour-saving machinery; he has come to think that the unemployed surplus must be always with us, and he regards work as of more importance than the results of labour.
22. The Trade Cycle
The phenomenon known as the Trade Cycle, that recurrence of industrial depression and a maximum of unemployment at intervals of about ten years, is regarded by some as natural, and necessarily resulting in unemployment, as, in fact, the cause of unemployment. The proposals of those who support this theory all centre on schemes for making the best of an unfortunate but inevitable state of affairs, by insurance and State regulation of industry and the labour supply. An acceptance of the Trade Cycle explanation of unemployment is an acceptance of the theory that prosperity continued for a time results in poverty and unemployment. The Trade Cycle undoubtedly exists, and the supporters of this theory of unemployment accurately describe one side of the picture, but fail to disclose any causal connection between the various phases of the cycle. They do not explain how a manufacturer of boots, for example, can have produced too many boots when thousands of people need another pair and are able and willing to work. Again, looking at it from the other side, they do not explain why, when human wants are insatiable, demand should apparently diminish as long as men have their labour and there is access to the raw materials of Nature to enable them to satisfy their wants.
One side of the picture is, however, omitted in descriptions of the Trade Cycle. During the period of prosperity which precedes collapse and stagnation, there is enormous speculation in land, in the source of the raw material of all wealth. Men buy and hold for a rise in confident expectation that they will, in the near future, make a handsome profit. It is this very process of land speculation during a period of good trade which gradually strangles production by making it harder and harder for labour and capital to get access to land. The price which labour and capital have to pay is forced higher and higher, until the limit is reached, and further production is impossible. This cessation of production at some points means a lessening of purchasing power. The effect of this is felt throughout the industrial world, leading to collapse and subsequent depression until a lowering of rents and a fall in land values makes production again possible.
23. The remedy
Now that we have ascertained the cause of unemployment the remedy is clear. The land monopoly must be broken down, and labour must be afforded free and equal access to all land, so that it may be possible for a man to supply his own demands for goods by producing directly from the land, by linking his labour with the opportunities which the land provides. This might be brought about by a gradual resumption by the community of the rights over the land which undoubtedly they formerly possessed, and a change in the basis of taxation and rating, so that instead of industry being penalized, as we have seen it now is, and a premium put on the withholding of land from use or keeping it in an under-used state, industry would be freed from penalizing taxation, and the penalty fall on him who withholds land from labour. Such an adjustment would make it unprofitable for anyone to withhold land from use or to keep it in an under-used state.
Just as a high protective tariff acts as a wall round a country to keep out a large proportion of foreign goods that in the normal course of trade and exchange would come in, so the land monopoly acts as a tariff protecting the interests of the owners, the monopolists, and keeping out labour. The monopoly must be broken up, the tariff wall demolished, and labour given the access which it is now denied.
24. Results of the destruction of land monopoly
The forcing of land into use and the relief of industry from the burdens that now oppress it would have the effect of very rapidly absorbing the surplus of unemployed. It would not, of course, be necessary that all, or even nearly all, should go on the land as farmers, for the breaking down of the barriers which now shut off labour from the land would not only stimulate the industries which extract wealth directly from the land, but also village industries and all forms of manufacturing, transport, and exchange. Production in the building and allied trades would be directly stimulated by rendering sites easily available and also by cheapening the production of all building materials; and by giving labour access to all minerals, production would be stimulated in industries requiring those minerals. There would also be the greatly increased demand for manufactures set up by those who would now be working directly on the land.
But there is little doubt that a large and increasing number would become small holders. If, for example, 500,000 men took small holdings, this would account for some 2,000,000 souls and only 5,000,000 acres of land if each holder took 10 acres; and there is little doubt that less than this would be needed if the land were farmed co-operatively in village groups. In fact, with small holdings on any considerable scale, farmed on the co-operative system, it would probably be found that something in the nature of the open-field system would prove far more economical and productive.
These 500,000, then, would not only be supplying their own demands for commodities, but would also have a considerable surplus to exchange. This surplus would in turn set up a demand in the industries supplying the goods they required, and thereby increase employment in those industries. It would be exactly the same as if a new country had been discovered, with a population of 2,000,000, all with a real demand for the products of our industries.
25. State ownership of capital unnecessary. Industry after the breakdown of land monopoly
It is misleading in the extreme to say that some unemployment is necessary in order to carry on the modern capitalist system of industry. Some unemployment is, of course, necessary if the capitalist is to continue to oppress labour by taking advantage of labour's extremity, but there is no reason why industry should not be carried on quite well without the capitalist having this power, which he would not have but for land monopoly and the surplus of unemployed. It is not necessary for the State to take over capital in order to deprive him of this power.
It is probable, however, that under the social system which would arise out of the break up of land monopoly industry would tend to become more and more decentralized as the balance between agriculture and the manufacturing industries became redressed. The industrial village would become once more a feature of the country-side, and the villages of Great Britain would be more cheerful and comfortable places to live in than many of them now are.
26. Development of the "home market." Human wants unlimited in number
This breakdown of the land monopoly and the opening up of natural opportunities to labour would develop the "home market" in the only way practicable by giving all the opportunity to work and produce wealth, which would stimulate to an enormous extent home industries to meet the increased real and effective demand at home. With the relief of industry from the crushing burden of taxation, and the removal of the dead hand of landlordism, production would increase by leaps and bounds to meet the steadily increasing home demand.
Although each individual want is satiable, wants are unlimited in number, for as soon as one want is satisfied another arises. As soon as quantity is satisfied, a desire for quality arises, and so on. Man is the only unsatisfied animal. Human wants do not increase and then diminish or cease altogether, and if every man has the opportunity to satisfy his wants, demand must remain steady. At the present day, should foreign demand for a British product fall off, unemployment may result, but with alternative opportunities of employment provided by the throwing open of natural resources, and the competition among employers of labour, there would be no need for this. Moreover, the home demand would be greatly increased by reason of the fact that many previously unemployed would now have an effective demand for the products of other industries.
27. The end of one-sided competition. The opportunity of employment for all
This opening up of the land to labour would then have the result of putting an end to the one-sided competition under which workers compete for jobs but employers seldom compete for workers. This form of competition is so prevalent that it has come to be regarded as typical of competition in general of real competition. But with Nature's opportunities for employment thrown open to all, the number of potential employers would be greatly increased, and the greatest of all competitors for labour, the demand of labour itself, would have come into the market. Then for the first time for nearly 500 years there would be free competition a competition which would give to each the full product of his labour, neither more nor less.
Under such a system, where every man had access to land with security of
tenure and no one had the power to levy a toll on him before he could employ
his labour, no man need ever be unemployed. It is only by the abolition of
land monopoly and the relief of industry from taxation that this result can
be brought about, while at the same time preserving individual freedom.
STATE PAPERS, ETC
Privy Council Register:
State Papers, Domestic:
Statutes of the Realm
Transactions of the Royal Historical Society:
Historical MSS Commission:
English Historical Review: