BBC Radio 4 - The Enclosures (In Our Time)

Gerrard Winstanley tony at
Tue Aug 12 12:51:30 BST 2008

It's actually still on line here from May this year

In the early 19th century, the Northamptonshire poet John Clare took a
good look at the countryside and didn't like what he saw. He wrote:

"Fence meeting fence in owners little bounds
Of field and meadow, large as garden-grounds,
In little parcels little minds to please,
With men and flocks imprisoned, ill at ease."

He was referring to the effects of the Enclosures – literally the
fencing in of land to stop others from using it. This apparently
simple act has been hugely controversial. For some Enclosure
underpinned the economic and agricultural development of Modern
Britain. For others it was an act of theft – the turning of common
land into private property that impoverished the many for the sake of
the few.

But what really happened during the era of 18th and 19th century
enclosures? Who gained, who lost and what role did Enclosures play in
the agricultural and industrial transformation of this country?


Rosemary Sweet, Director of the Centre for Urban History at the
University of Leicester

Murray Pittock, Bradley Professor of English Literature at the
University of Glasgow

Mark Overton, Professor of Economic and Social History at the
University of Exeter

Audience reactions to this edition
mark- enclosure
It would have been interesting to briefly contrast the English
experience with the French, where the open field system, subsistence
agriculture, and healthy small peasant land holdings persisted into
the 20th century. Productivity of English farms was clearly far higher
than in France post enclosure, but perhaps the French system allowed a
relatively vital and diverse local artisanal agriculture to survive
and develop in the countryside while the English rural economy became
increasingly a mixture of manorial farms and playgrounds for the rich?

William Brown, on "Enclosures"
This was an excellent program, and a nicely balanced look at a
sometimes very heated subject (even among academics). If I could
greedily wish for more, it would have been to expand the subject
outside of the period of Parliamentary Enclosures to discuss earlier
enclosures, particularly as it has been estimated (by Professor
Overton, and others) that just about as high a proportion of land in
England was enclosed in the seventeenth century as in both the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I, too, would like to know more
about enclosure by agreement, and the structures by which they were
confirmed and reinforced. Were the central courts, such as that of the
Chancery or the Exchequer used?

Christopher Draper, "Enclosures"
As the author of, "Llandudno Before the Hotels" I think today's
otherwise excellent discussion overlooked examples where Parliament
promoted enclosure schemes designed to achieve the exact opposite of
the scheme's professed rationale of increasing agricultural
production. Llandudno's 1843 Enclosure Act, for exanple, was
progressed through Parliament by Edward Mostyn Lloyd Mostyn M.P. whose
family consequently acquired freehold rights over much of the old
village of Llandudno. Smallholders were then evicted, their fields
paved over and an ancient agricultural settlement transformed into a
fashionable bathing resort. A century and a half later Mostyn Estates
still own and control most of our town. Fortunately nowadays we can we
can rely on our Parliament to never again enact the transfer of
resources away from the poor to enrich better off members of society!

Peter Household - Enclosure Acts
I hoped Melvyn would press for a fuller reply to his question as to
why Acts of Parliament were felt to be necessary in the 18th century.
Rosemary Sweet explained that they were petitioned for by landowners,
as legal authority was required. But why had this not been felt to be
an issue with previous enclosures? I think Rosemary said that in
earlier centuries enclosure was achieved by agreement with the
peasantry, but this sounds implausible to me, therefore I fear I
misheard. Can anyone shed light? And what about the dissolution of the
monasteries? Did this not have a part to play in the story?

Jane - The Enclosures
George Bernard Shaw once said something on the lines of "reasonable
people accept life the way it, unreasonable people do not accept life
the way it is. Therefore all change is brought about by unreasonable
people". There are two sides to the unreasonable sword. Our greatest
thinkers are often considered unreasonable people in their
anachronistic perspectives. Larger in number are those who dominate
and distort life for others. The Enclosures was another story of the
unreasonable use of power and 'creaming off the top' and although it
wasn't totally disastrous in its effect it wasn't exactly great.
Knowing what being human is about is a bit of a 'piece of string'
situation and if we are evolving, the most important thing about
history is that we learn from it.Our self-made history is one of
domination and much suffering which has presently culminated in
(amongst other things) a growingly capitalist world that continues to
reduce and restrict the lives of most people. The counter argument
simply won't do any more. Much of the media are hugely complicit in
this and they're doing quite nicely out of it too. If we take an
Emperor's New clothes perspective on capitalism, whose beginnings were
mooted at this morning, surely we can see that it is a catastrophe for
the majority of people. A few do well, granted, but not enough.
Also,whatever sits on the back of capitalism is corrupted by it - look
at our own country and it's evident at every turn. When our health
care is about money more than people - the finest modalities are often
at best overlooked and at worst deliberately overridden. (Post office,
water, trains etc.) As humans we are born into a strange situation of
inner and outer realities - both of which are incredibly tortuous as
well as vivid in nature and both of which are, fundamentally, a
complete mystery. All we can do is take up the situation and get on
with it in our own way. I was brought up to be egalitarian in my
outlook and it stays with me. On this earth I find the the unclear
thinking with its consequences quite unbelievable but thinking is only
part of our function. Recently, whilst pondering the nature of
conditioning - (from atavism through to recent) and questioning good
and cruel tendencies in myself I put on the second movement of
Mozart's 23rd piano concerto and in my imagination conjured up
pictures of grief and suffering in as many countries as I could think
of (a bit like they do in films). My tears flowed readily and I found
my compassion to be fundamentally present. I don't know unequivocally
how we are to measure ourselves or how we can change things when
globalization and centralization have disenfranchised us so profoundly
and compassion is so often relegated to picking up the pieces which a
wiser world would have avoided. Imagine, as well as you can, the
entire planet at this minute sitting on it's little known but
seemingly difficult history and maybe enjoy the fact that the
programme we listened to this morning is like a beacon - a clue. Its
power is of a different nature. Also, why is it that the rich are
remembered for philanthropy but rarely for their wealth much as it is
prized in the moment.Posterity is often, perhaps, another clue to a
truer picture. So - to the 'In Our Time' team - thank you, once again,
in our troubled times, for that beacon.

Christopher Hall - Enclosures
I fully expected this to be quoted:'The law locks up the man or
womanWho steals the goose from off the common;But lets the greater
villain looseWho steals the common from the goose.'

John Calton: enclosures
Excellent discussion of a very complex topic. Many thanks, not least
for the wry(rye?) and, some might argue sly, apportioning of examples,
ditching (Dissing?) of some iconic reputations and fielding of
expertise.To take my immediate and local context, I am constantly
fascinated by claims that the Finnish word 'kylä' bears only a
tangential relationship to the word 'village', and the programme
helped shed (oops, sorry) some light on that lexical anomaly. Will
recommend the programme to students of British cultural studies with
enthusiasm, and meanwhile go out and pick up more litter from the
ditches with renewed interest and commitment. Happy Labour/May Day (in
Finnish: 'Hauskaa Vappua!')Best wishes,John Caltonlecturer in
EnglishUniversity of Helsinki

davidmurray-Bragg and class
Bragg mentioned E P Thompson's best-known work as 'The Making of the
English Working Classes'- in fact it was 'The Making of the English
Working Class'. Bragg may find it hard to conceive that someone taken
seriously on his programme should advance any kind of marxist view,
rather than a banal social-stratificationist one, but Thompson did, of
a kind. 

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