Source: Raymond Williams, “Enclosures, Commons and Communities,” in The Country and the City (Oxford University Press, 1973), pp. 96-107.
From 1776 to 1825, the English Parliament passed more than 4,000 Acts that served to appropriate common lands from commoners, chiefly to the benefit of politically connected landowners. These enclosures of the commons seized about 25 percent of all cultivated acreage in England, according to historian Raymond Williams, and concentrated ownership of it in a small minority of the population. These “lawful” enclosures also dispossessed millions of citizens, swept away traditional ways of life, and forcibly introduced the new economy of industrialization, occupational specialties and large-scale production. “The many miles of new fences and walls, the new paper rights” – and the many “great houses” that came to dominate the rural landscape – “were the formal declaration of where the power now lay,” writes Williams.