Explain briefly what the open field system meant to rural people in eighteenth-century England.
Look at the system from the point of view of :
(i) A rich farmer
(ii) A labourer
(iii) A peasant woman
(i) As the prices of wool increased, rich farmers wanted to expand wool production to earn profits. They were eager to improve their sheep breeds and ensure good feed for them. They were keen on controlling large areas of land in compact blocks to allow improved breeding. So they began
dividing and enclosing common land and building hedges around their holdings. They drove out villagers who had small cottages on the commons, and they prevented the poor from entering the enclosed fields.
(ii) For the poor labourers, the common lands were essential for survival. They used to live with landowners, doing a number of odd jobs for them in return for board and lodging and a small pay. However, when the open field system began to disappear, labourers were paid wages and employed only at harvest time. This left them at the mercy of rich landowners and farmers.
(iii) For peasant women, the open field system was a good way of community living wherein everything was shared between the rich and the poor. They would use the common lands for grazing their cattle, gathering fruits and collecting firewood. However, all these activities were negatively affected because of the disappearance of open fields.
The factors which led to the enclosures in England were:
→ Increasing population and due to it increasing demand for food grains and other things led to the enclosure in England.
→ The rising prices of agricultural products such as wool, wheat, milk, fruits etc. also played a role as a factor in promoting enclosures in England.
→ Industrialisation and war needs made foodgrain prices soar, making it necessary to take steps to increase its production.
→ In the nineteenth-century, enclosure were seen necessary to make long-term investment on land and plan crop rotations to improve the soil.
→ Enclosures also allowed the richer landowners to expand the land under their control and produce for the market.
Threshing machines were opposed by the poor in England because they thought that these machines would deprive workmen of their livelihood. They believed that with the help of machines the richer farmers and big landlords would encourage enclosure movement. The commons would be distributed among rich farmers, and poor farmers, labourers, peasants women would have to- struggle for their jobs and they would be jobless.
Captain Swing was a mythic name used in threatening letters, written by the workmen against the use of threshing machines by rich farmers.
The name symbolised anger or unhappiness of the labourers against the use of threshing machines by rich farmers or big landowners
The westward expansion of settlers in the USA led to a complete annihilation of American Indians who were pushed westwards, down the Mississippi river, and then further west beyond that. They fought back, but were defeated; their villages were burnt and cattle destroyed. Also, with the cultivation of land for agricultural purposes, all grass and trees were razed. This led to terrible dust storms and blizzards in the 1930s, causing much death and destruction.