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Promulgation of the General Enclosure Act by the British Parliament

The enclosure movement started in England in the 16th century. It gained pace in the 18th century before really accelerating as a result of the General Enclosure Act of 1801. This law enabled landowners - and notably nouveau riche farmers - to enclose their land without a prior Parliamentary act, as had previously been the case. This reform hit the poor hard as they had been previously entitled to cultivate land without necessarily owning it and especially those landless peasants who used common land for pasture and crops.

The effects of the act were contrasted. On the one hand, enclosure deprived many peasants of their sole means of subsistence and forced them to seek work in the towns and cities. On the other hand, the enclosure of common land resulted in the productivity gains that many historians believe were a prerequisite for the industrial revolution.

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