Knock-Off at 2:00, Kick-Off at 3:00 - The Legacy of Enclosure

I studied A Level Geography at school. Occasionally, my teacher would arrive at the start of the lesson, give us a chapter to read from the course text, and then leave us to it. This may not pass for great teaching these days but I loved it. I remember those lessons fondly, and more to the point I remember what I learnt.

The textbook was ‘The Making of the English Landscape’ by W.G. Hoskins. I learnt that the layout of the land both restricts and enables, that hedgerows are symbols of power, and that Acts of Parliament have consequences that are far-reaching and unintended.

Prior to 1773, much of the land of England was held in common. Lords would allow peasant farmers to either cultivate or graze livestock on the land. There was also waste land, or ‘wastes’, which was good for little besides grazing. In 1773 however, the Enclosure Act literally changed the shape of England for ever. The Act allowed landowners to demarcate their own land - the boundary of choice being the now quintessentially English hedgerow – and then, crucially, remove common right of access. Though a multitude of amendments and additions followed, including (in 1845) the removal of the requirement for parliamentary approval to enclose land, the Act is still in force today.

Wide scale enclosure, occurring at the same time as huge advances in farming technology, set the conditions for the agricultural revolution. Farming became much more intensive, enabling a massive surplus of production. This food surplus fuelled the subsequent industrial revolution, in which millions relocated to towns and cities to work in the new factories. It also had an immeasurable and lasting impact on Sport and Leisure in England.

One of the first and earliest impacts of enclosure was a direct result of restriction of admittance to previously accessible fields. The folk games of earlier centuries could no longer take place. Many town-wide games required participants to traipse across vast swathes of the countryside between ‘goals’ sometimes many miles apart. Enclosure put a stop to much of this, though some vestiges of these early sport forms have endured (e.g. Royal Shrovetide Football in Ashbourne, Derbyshire). It is also worth noting that for a while numerous mob football matches were played with the express purpose of flouting the law by way of protest against the enclosures.

The lack of available common land pushed many of those who had previously supported themselves through small scale agriculture into the burgeoning towns and cities. Life was suddenly very different. Production in factories was, by and large, no longer ruled by the seasons. Gone was the traditional annual schedule of long, lazy summer days sandwiched between hectic sowing and reaping seasons. Industrial workers toiled long days all year round, and there was certainly little chance of enjoying a two-day-long game of football! 

Since Sundays were still considered sacred by the majority of the populace, it was the introduction of the Saturday half-day (in the Factory Act of 1850) that enabled working folk in cities to have just enough time to enjoy some recreation. Many did not have the wherewithal to participate in active recreation, but many could afford to watch it. These social conditions (knock-off at 2:00, kick-off at 3:00) produced the structures of spectator sport which have persisted into the present.

Every time you turn on the big match at 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, you are sharing in the legacy of Enclosure.

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