Enclosure resistance in Middlesex, 1656 - 1889: a study of common right assertion

Carter, Paul (1998) Enclosure resistance in Middlesex, 1656 - 1889: a study of common right assertion. PhD thesis, Middlesex University.

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Abstract

This study provides a detailed examination of resistance to enclosure in Middlesex from the closing stages of the English Republic to the late Victorian period. The evidence presented in the following chapters establishes that resistance was widely spread both over time, (before, during and after any individual enclosure) and geographical location within the county. The study itself is divided into four general sections. The first section is divided into two chapters each having a separate function in setting the scene prior to examining any of the Middlesex evidence. The first chapters sets out both the terminology used by contemporaries and later by historians to describe farming practice in general and the enclosure process in particular. Contemporaries, whether agriculturists or commentators on rural life, and historians have a myriad of terms and conventions to explain the way in which life was organised in the countryside of the past. This introduction to the terminology is necessary. Although I am primarily concerned with labour, and the transition from a rural community with access to the material benefits of common rights to one of exclusive wage dependence, it is still required that we are able to understand the description of agricultural practices as this transition progresses. The second chapter is an examination of previous historians' analysis of enclosure, and their accounts of the responses of commoners to enclosure and the threat of enclosure. The part played by this chapter is to summarise the historical record regarding the commoner as an active player in history or a passive casualty of capitalist improvement. The second section concentrates on the Middlesex rural experience. This is divided into three chapters each dealing with a specific aspect of rural life and work, and acts as a background for the later examination of enclosure resistance. The first of these chapters establishes the agricultural setting of Middlesex throughout the period and assesses the landholding patterns within the county. The second examines how common rights operated locally from parish to parish and from manor to manor. The third chapter shows the use of rights of common in the community and what value was placed on those rights by the commoners themselves. This chapter also surveys the county in order to establish geographically how widespread common rights were in Middlesex. The three following chapters make up the third section and respectively examine the evidence for enclosure resistance between 1656 - 1765; 1766 - 1825 and 1826 - 1889. The reason for this is that each period represents a different era of enclosure. The first era is that of the pre-parliamentary period from 1656 up until 1765. By 'pre-parliamentary' I am referring to local experience. In the sixteenth century the Crown initiated a largely unsuccessful act for the enclosure of Hounslow Heath and this is further discussed in chapter seven. However it was not until 1766 that Middlesex landlords began to use parliament to enclosure their Middlesex estates. Enclosure by personal coercion was a popular device of Middlesex landlords in the seventeenth and eighteenth century and one which they were well prepared to use. Enclosure by act of parliament did not of course remove the coercive element in restricting or extinguishing common rights, however the process was different as was the role of the state; thus the period from 1766 to 1825 has a chapter to itself. This period ends with the 1825 enclosure act for Northolt; the last parliamentary enclosure act for the county. The third chapter deals with the period 1826 to 1889. This final period saw no further individual acts of enclosure although the common fields of several parishes were enclosed under the general enclosure acts of 1836 and 1845, and other commons were enclosed through purchase. Although by this time common rights were severely diminished people were nevertheless willing to fight to keep those rights which had been retained, as well as expressing their dissatisfaction at the loss of previous common rights. The fourth and final section is divided into two chapters. The first examines how the way of life of the commoners was criminalised as the ruling class looked to enclosure as a means of extending their control into every aspect of the lives of those around, (or rather below) them. The purpose of this chapter is to examine how the physical commonfields and commons, and the ideas of common use right and access, interfered with the ability of the local ruling class and their representatives to control the English people. It charts how ideas of crime and anti-social behaviour were attached to the existence of commonlands and how the eradication of the latter would lead to the control of the former. The second chapter of this section examines the evidence in relation to the Marxist interpretation of class struggle and expropriation of the rural peasant. It is also within this chapter that I relate those struggles to the conclusions of earlier historians who have investigated the activity or passivity of the commoners to enclosure. Finally I argue that this struggle was vitally important to class formation, and establishes rural struggles as central to an understanding of class and class consciousness in England during its time as an emerging and maturing capitalist economy. Such conclusions concur with the Marxist view regarding the social and economic condition of commoners and the position of the rural proletariat after enclosure.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas:School of Science and Technology > Natural Sciences
Theses
ID Code:6313
Deposited On:21 Jul 2010 13:09
Last Modified:20 Jul 2014 01:28

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