We can read about the Scottish Highland clearances. It does appear that the driving motivation was that sheep pastures were more profitable.

This was the time of the Industrial Revolution, when many people came to the cities, houses were overcrowded, and the surplus of labour meant that working conditions were poor.

It seems to me that the Highland clearances can't have been unique - but were part of a broader pattern across Britain.

My question is: Was it widespread during the 17th and 18th Century for British country people to be evicted and replaced with more profitable agriculture?

1 Answer 1


Yes, the was a process called enclosure. It started in the 16th century in England, and picked up momentum in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Prior to the enclosure times, farming had taken places in small plots, with less fertile "common" lands in between for grazing or pasturing that could be used by anyone. Based on the economics of the Middle Ages, such "patchwork" agriculture was the best use of land.

An agricultural revolution that began in the 16th century, and extended to later centuries changed all that. Growing economies of scale made it more efficient to farm land in "bulk," even if some of the pieces didn't fit so well with others. So large landowners began to combine small pieces of lands into larger ones, "annexing" the small patches of formerly common land in between by "enclosing" them, and making them off limits to others. Sometimes, people were bought out of their lands or rights to common lands; fairly. At other times, rich people bent the law to "condemn," or otherwise "privatize" land that was formerly held by others, or by the public in common.

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    IIRC, Thomas More quips somewhere about sheep devouring men , meaning former arable land had been turned over to sheep pasture for the booming wool trade.
    – TheHonRose
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 21:04

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