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."
† Id., p.328.
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 6¼% 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).
‡ Thorold Rogers.
¤ 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.
† Chapter IV.
‡ Chapter VII.
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.
‡ Ibid., p.432.
¤ 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.
† Thorold Rogers.
‡ 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 par.7
‡ 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.
† Pp. 12-13
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).
† Slater, p.264.
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.
† Slater, p.102.
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. Bents, 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.
† Id., p.487.
¤ 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.157
‡ 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:
|Urban || Rural
In several counties there is an absolute decline in the rural population, shown as follows:
| 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 23¾ cwt.†
* Rider Haggard, Rural England, vol.i, p.103.
† Long, p.118.
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).
And finally —
"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.
† Long, p.24.
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 this monopoly.