Class 9 History

Peasants and Farmers

The industrial revolution began from England, and subsequently spread to most parts of the world. It changed the life of everyone. Farmers too were affected by industrial revolution.

In this lesson, you will read about effects of industrial revolution on peasants and farmers.

Farmers in England, USA and India

Farmers in England

Swing Rioters

Between 1930 and 1932, many farmers in England were attacked by rioters. The rioters destroyed threshing machines, burnt barns and haystack and sometimes burnt the entire farmhouse. Farmers used to receive threatening letters which were signed by Captain Swing. This was a mythical name used in the letters and the rioters came to be known as Swing Rioters. The letters urged the farmers to stop using the new machines because the new machines were depriving the poor peasants of jobs.

The government took stern action and people were rounded up on suspicion. 1,976 prisoners were tried, nine men were hanged, 505 men were exiled and 644 were put in jails.

Open fields and Commons

Before the late eighteenth century, large parts of English countryside were open. There was no partition of land to mark the ownership. Peasants cultivated on strips of land around the village. At the beginning of each year, each villager was allotted a number of strips to cultivate for which the decision was taken at a public meeting. Usually a farmer was given strips of varying quality to ensure equitable distribution of good and bad land to the farmers.

The land beyond these strips was called the common land. All villagers had access to the commons. The commons were used as pasture and for collecting firewood and fruits. Rivers and ponds were used by all for fishing and the common forests were used for rabbit hunting. The common land was essential for the survival of poor.

Enclosure Movement

But things began to change from about the sixteenth century. The price of wool went up in the world market in the sixteenth century. Due to this, the rich farmers wanted to expand wool production in order to earn profits. For improving their sheep breeds and to ensure good feed for them, the rich farmers started taking the control of large areas of land in compact blocks. They began to divide and enclose common land and built hedges around to demarcate their property. The poor peasants were driven out from the enclosed fields. The enclosure movement proceeded very slowly till the mid of the eighteenth century.

But after the mid-eighteenth century, the enclosure movement caught momentum. Between 1750 and 1850, about 6 million acres of land was enclosed. The British Parliament passed 4,000 acts to legalise these enclosures.

New Demand for Grain

Increase in English Population

The enclosures which were made in the sixteenth century were meant for sheep farming. But those made in the late eighteenth century were for grain production. The English population increased rapidly from the mid-eighteenth century. The population of England multiplied over four times between 1750 and 1900. From 7 million in 1750 the population of England became 30 million in 1900. Increased population meant increased demand for foodgrains.

This was also the time when Britain was industrializing. More and more people began to migrate to the urban areas. With an increase in urban population, the demand for foodgrain increased and so did the prices.

Demand for Enclosure Act

At the end of the eighteenth century, England was at war with France. This war disrupted trade and import of foodgrains from Europe. This further aggravated the price rise of foodgrain in England. The higher prices encouraged the landowners to enlarge their enclosures for grain cultivation. The landowners also pressurized the Parliament to pass the Enclosure Acts.