Damn those enclosures!

And then he sees it fall apart. Between 1809 and 1820, acts of enclosure granted the local landowners permission to fence the fields, the heaths and woods, excluding the people who had worked and played in them. Almost everything Clare loved was torn away. The ancient trees were felled, the scrub and furze were cleared, the rivers were canalised, the marshes drained, the natural curves of the land straightened and squared. Farming became more profitable, but many of the people of Helpston – especially those who depended on the commons for their survival – were deprived of their living. The places in which the people held their ceremonies and celebrated the passing of the seasons were fenced off. The community, like the land, was parcelled up, rationalised, atomised.

How terrible, eh?

As Jonathan Bate records in his magnificent biography, there were several possible causes of the \”madness\” that had Clare removed to an asylum in 1837: bipolar disorder, a blow to the head, malaria (then a common complaint on the edge of the fens).

Tens, hundreds of thousands not dying of malaria.

What bastards they must have been to allow the enclosures.

11 thoughts on “Damn those enclosures!”

  1. Funny how if you replace “enclosures” with “collective farms” the Left love them. True, people still worked on the collectives rather than being forced off, but ‘their’ land was still taken from them.

  2. I’ll say it again, it was a revelation to me to read a book that explained what was actually done at the parliamentary enclosures. If all you’ve ever heard is the usual literary account, you’ve almost certainly been misled.

    Earlier enclosures may well have been different: the Fen drainage of the 17th century may well have been a huge rip-off, the Tudor enclosures ditto. Though since all I know about them is literary figures echoing each others’ prejudices, I’m not very sure about that.

    I do know what happened to the funds released by enclosure in the late 18th century where I grew up: the burgh used the money it made to set up a spanking new academy. Thanks, chaps.

  3. I’ve just looked at Moonbat’s drivelling. Can anyone explain to me how re-arranging the landholdings so that proprietors owned fields rather than scattered strips managed to reduce the amount of work for agricultural labourers? It can’t possibly have done so in the short term, because at first you have to plant new hedges, construct new lanes and roads, dig new ditches – plenty of work there. Ditto if you clear scrub, heath and woodland: and the commoners have to sort out the plots they’d have got as compensation for losing their common rights, so that’s more work. Maybe those extra demands for labour were cancelled out long term out by the savings in labour made by not being required to haul a plough from one strip to another, but somebody would need to do some arithmetic to defend that point. It may well have been outweighed by the extra acreage of ploughland. Also, maybe fields let you mechanise more easily, so that there would be less demand for labour in the long term – but if so, what do the moonbats of this world want? Labour employed with the same technology as medieval serfs, but with a reduced standard of living as the population increases with each generation? Is that really what they would have preferred?

    As for linking it to poor Clare’s insanity – nobody knows, for heaven’s sake. From Wikipedia: “… in 1820. An annuity of 15 guineas from the Marquess of Exeter, in whose service he had been, was supplemented by subscription, so that Clare became possessed of £45 annually, a sum far beyond what he had ever earned. Soon, however, his income became insufficient, and in 1823 he was nearly penniless.” The poor fellow was mad – nobody knew much then about the causes of madness then and nobody knows much more today. Except, we must suppose, Mr Moonbat, whose principal souce is presumably introspection.

  4. Here’s a speculation: if it’s wrong, so be it. In WKPD there’s a photo captioned “Clare’s birthplace, Helpston, Peterborough. The cottage was subdivided with his family renting a part”. A sub-divided cottage makes me suspect that Clare’s father wasn’t a commoner – commoners’ rights were usually attached to the house you lived in. So hand-wringing about the commoners may be quite irrelevant to that family anyway. Does anyone here know?

  5. Two, JJ. For general background, Oliver Rackham’s History of the Countryside (or more recent Illustrated History of the Countryside). He’s wonderfully expert and a superb writer. He’s the chap who taught me that most historical claims about the countryside are poppycock, repeated by one historian, or literary figure, from the writings of another without any critical thought or checking of the evidence.

    Secondly, for enclosure: G E Mingay “Parliamentary Enclosure in England … 1750 -1850”. It’s full of fascinating examples e.g., according to my jottings, in Heacham (Norfolk) there were 55 common right houses, each bringing the right to gather fuel and graze two “large” cattle on the Commons. Compensation to each commoner was 2 acres of middling land and 1.5 acres of good.

    I can just imagine the fuss as each commoner tried to ensure that his new land abutted conveniently on the land attached to his house or to some other land that he owned or tenanted. I dare say there was plenty of vexation for the surveyors as everyone argued the toss.

    I’m pretty sure that it was Rackham who taught me that when it came to enclosing the common fields iof Cambridge there was one potential problem – nobody knew who the Lord of the Manor was. It was lost to history.

  6. An afterthought: my jottings don’t reveal whether the landowners (including now the commoners) of Heacham got rid of the need to pay a tithe, but this was a common feature of enclosure. The parson (or other tithe-owner) would be compensated with some land, and the tithe would cease.

  7. dearime’s example fits with what I had read of parliamentary enclosures – that they turned partial rights over a large area into full ownership of a small part of it.

    No doubt there were some shady practices in the surveying, and I’m not sure that 1.5 acres of good land plus 2 acres of middling is enough to graze 2 cows and collect firewood.

    But the principle is sound, and by allowing more productive agriculture it led to a much-needed increase in the food supply.

  8. Problem with people like Monbiot is their persistence in looking at history through a telescope. Backwards with all their modern thinking filters in place. History needs understanding from the other direction.
    OK, let’s start with the Conquerer. He comes over & grabs the whole shooting match. Keeps some of it under his personal control. Divis the rest up amongst his cronies, the church. Gives them the land & the people. They collect his taxes. Wasn’t popular with the Saxons, hence Hereward. But shit had happened.
    Feudal manor’s an economic unit. Serfs get enough ground to grow their food. In return they do labour service. The ‘common’ land iswhere the lord let them graze their animals.
    Fast forward a few hundred years & the serfs are small holders & tenant farmers. Agriculture changes. They may or may not have legal rights to the commons. Depends. But to Monbiot & his pals, with their latter day blinkers on,there’s ‘moral’ rights. Complete bollocks. No such animal. Even legal rights depend on the holder’s ability to enforce them. Not easy in olden times. Earlier enclosures were tough but those days landowners didn’t give much thought to the small guy. That’s the way it worked. Same way as the landowner could lose the lot by backing the wrong faction at court. Trying to enforce a 20/21 st century morality play on it doesn’t make any sense.

  9. Tim,

    Who’s Clare?

    Enclosure had been practiced in England since at least the 13th Century – see (sigh!) G. M. Trevelyan ‘English Social History’. Elizabeth I’s revulsion at the consequences of Tudor enclosure is recorded by Heilbroner in ‘The Worldly Philosophers’ (‘everywhere is paupers and shepe (sic) ‘.

    Good Tory Establishment man that he was, Trevelyan ascended to a level of even-handedness usually only expected from the BBC in his narration of how enclosed areas were those in which food was most bountiful. However, as he was also honest he did not fail to omit that the Hanoverians were a shower of thieving bastards, no matter how over-evolved their senses of duty might have been.

    Dearieme is a retired academic at the University of Cambridge who originally hails from Edinburgh and whose academic specialty was yeasts. He was once dumb enough to leave his work email address on a blog post, and I know his real name.

    Thought I’d add that for effect.

  10. The problem here is that Monbiot and others of his ilk have the post romantic take on the arts that they represent the objective truth through personal feelings. Clare suffered from mental illness and lived at a time of social change in the countryside, therefore the two must be connected and his poetry is the proof of this. It is unhistorical and a cloth eared misunderstanding of what poetry actually is.

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