In school I learned about the British Agricultural Revolution - at the time this was explained as 'increased efficiencies due to crop rotation'. (This now seems a bit simplistic.

We know that in Scotland, the Highland Clearances were in part driven by the fact that farming sheep became more profitable than having farming tenants.

In this particular situation - something must have changed the economics of sheep farming. Was there increased demand for wool due to mechanisation of wool processing? Did a national market for mutton increase the price of sheep meat?

But there were many improvements in agriculture at this time:

  • crop rotation
  • enclosures
  • mechanisation of farming equipment
  • national markets for farming produce
  • better transport infrastructure for farming produce
  • decreased relative income of living on a farming lot compared to city factory jobs

My question is: What changed to make British Enclosures more profitable than tenanted subplots?


Edit: Explanation:

My reason for asking this question is that somewhere around the 16th-18th centuries - enclosures became profitable. Why did they become profitable? What changed?

Here we read:

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.

  • What do you mean by "the drivers for the"? Certainly there improvements in agriculture, as you mention; but why the indirection in your question, and what do you intend by such use ? Jan 6, 2018 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


I see the struggle (edits you've made) with understanding the issue but it comes down to legal process of creating land owners - concept of enclosure, where previously it was not used as such (private ownership of land). Put it another way, motivation for pecuniary benefits. All the other factors matter, of course, but if the (previous) tenants were not motivated, they would not work the lands.

This article explains it.

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