It's all there in popular fiction. From Jane Austen in the 1810s, via Charles Dickens' pictures of mid century London life,
to HG Wells' Time Machine in 1895, the world of literature moved from comedies of country manners to blistering portraits
of urban poverty and, finally, time travel. Not bad for 80-odd years.
'...the fastest thing on earth was a galloping horse...'
Although the Industrial Revolution had already begun, Britain in 1800 had changed little in centuries. It was a rural country,
dominated by agriculture. For most, the world was restricted to their village - where their family had probably lived for
generations - and the nearest market town, not surprising when the fastest thing on earth was a galloping horse, covering
100 miles a day at best. If you lived in Somerset, London was almost foreign, much as it had been in 1600. You wouldn't even
have been using the same time - with the sun rising around ten minutes later than in London, Bristol clocks ran ten minutes
'Horizons were limited and life was slow.'
Horizons were limited and life was slow. It was horsepower or nothing, and daylight and the seasons ruled the countryside.
But all that was about to change. Although the steam engine was first invented in 1769 by James Watt, for decades his monopoly
had prevented significant development and kept prices high. It was only in the nineteenth century that the real impact of
steam would be fully felt.
And what an impact. Steam changed everything. It was faster, more powerful, and could work independently of natural power
sources, such as water. Traction engines saw fields ploughed twenty times faster than before, and factories could be anywhere.
They chose towns and cities. At a time of massive population expansion in Britain (from 9 million in 1801 to 36 million in
1911), cities were expanding even faster. Once islands in a sea of fields, needing the agricultural economy to sustain them,
they forged ahead as farmworkers made redundant by steam migrated to the nearest town to find work. Manchester and Sheffield
quadrupled between 1801 and 1851, Bradford and Glasgow grew eightfold. Cities were the masters now.
Britain in 1700, was largey a rural, agricultural society. Most people lived on farms. They worked for many hours growing
their own food, making their own clothing, and collecting firewood to warm their houses in the damp, cold climate. Life was
simple and hard. Most people were poor and, if harvest failed, they risked starvation. There were no organized social welfare
programs, medical practices were primitive, sickness and disease were common, infant mortality was high, and the average life
expectancy was low. All of this was to change.
Between 1760 and 1830, much of the farmland in Britain was consolidated into large farms through a series of measures
callled the Enclosure Acts which were passed by the British Parliament. The purpose of the Acts was to make farming more effecient.
Over the centuries, the famrland in Britain had been divided and subdivided into large number of small strips. This happened
for several reasons. Large landowners with several children might divide the land among them, and farmers bought and sold
small strips from one another. In time, wealthier farmers owned a number of small strips of land scattered around the village.
Many wealthier farmers felt they needed to consolidate the scattered pieces of land so that effecient, large-scale production
techniques could be used.
Large blocks of common land was available for community use. This land was important to the farmers wiht small farms
because they had the right to graze their animals on it. They also had the gleaning rights. This meant that they could gather
wood for fuel in the woodlands and pick up any left over grain after harvest. The farmers with larger farms thought that the
common lands could be put to better use. They knew if the common lands were 'enclosed' by Parliament, the small peasant farmers
would not be able to continue to farm on their small strips of land and would have to sell it. The effect would be on redistribution
of the small strip farms into larger more effecient units.
Gradually, the wealthiest landowners got their way, and the Enclosure Acts were
Parliament at that time was totally controlled by men who owned the property.
After the land was enclosed, all farmers were allocated new land according to how much they had owned previously, but
now all their land was in a single parcel. Most of the common lands and woodlands were enclosed. Those people who had little
or no land of their own and relied on the use of the common land lost that privilege. Everyone was given an additional
parcel of land; however, this land was often inadequate for farmers needs, so many of these people simply sold their lands
to large landowners. A major result of the enclosure was that many of the poor people moved from rural areas to cities to
look for work. This had made the English farmer more effecient and competitive than any other farmer in the whole world.
Changes In Agricultural Methods
The Encosure Acts created large, effecient farms run by wealthy farmers who were willing and able to try new ideas. Two
such farmers, Viscount Charles Townshend and Jethro Tull, increased the effeciency of farming methods with two innovations
during this period.
Townshend introduced a new system of crop rotation. Traditionally, crops were grown in a three-field system over a three-year
period. With the three-field system, there were only two fields with crops. Each field's soil recovered its fertility during
its fallow year when no crop was sown. Townshend introduced a four-year rotation cycle using four crops, each sown in separate
fields. Instead, adding manure and sowing a crop of clover helped to restore the fields' fertility.
The new system was much more productive, yet no more harmful to the land. Growing turnips and clover as food for
cattle and sheep also gave farmers additional source of income.
Jethro Tull introduced machinery to farming in Britain. The old broadcasting method of planting by scattering seeds by
hand was ineffecient. Seeds were scattered thickly in some places, while other places received no seeds at all. To correct
this problem, Tull developed a seed planting machine that deposited seeds at the proper depth and in straight rows. Crops
planted in rows could be weeded easily and harvested by other machines. Tull's seed drill also ensured that more seeds germinated
because they were automatically covered with soil. As well, Tull developed a new plough and prepared the way for a whole new
industry devoted to the development of agricultural machinery.
The improvements that Townshend, Tull, and others made in agricultural methods were very important. These innovations
made farms more productive and effecient. Fewer people were needed to work on the farms to provide food for the country. While
machines displaced workers on the farms, extra jobs were created in the towns and cities making the machines; thus, changing
in agriculture helped spur the Industrial Revolution.