THE HOPE ENCLOSURE ACT OF 1791 By D. G. EVANS The second half of the eighteenth century witnessed an unprecedented growth in Britain's population as a result of which some three million additional mouths required to be fed, the situation being further exacerbated by the wars on the Continent in which the British government was required to supply not only her own troops but also to subsidise those of her allies. Further difficulties arose from growing industrialization, in the Midlands and in the North, attracting into the mills and mines many who had previously engaged in agriculture, and simultan- eously creating new markets for agricultural produce. Something of the consequent disequilibrium in supply and demand can be seen in average wheat prices for this period, climbing from the 28s.10d. per quarter of 1750 to the 78s.7d. of 1796, and similar increases occurred in other produce markets. A succession of bad harvests produced not only severe economic difficulties but social disorder, disrupting com- munal and industrial relationships in those areas where shortages were most severe. Solutions to these problems came not from central governmental action, but from the responses of landlords and farmers, who saw in increased food prices the possibility of increased profits and were willing to invest in the improved techniques of production, in machinery, in crop rotation, marling and liming, selective breed- ing and land drainage. This involved not only a more intensive cultivation of the existing stock of farmland, but also added to this stock that land which was out- side the investor's direct control i.e. the commons and wastes, and those areas subject to flooding or to tidal action but which, with proper engineering works, could be added to the total acreage under cultivation. A major obstacle to these desirable changes lay in the contemporary structure of land ownership and land use, traditionally based on the manor. In medieval times such units had been granted to some retainer by the king in return for specific feudal duties, but by the eighteenth century, whilst the duties had become extinguished, the control of the manorial lands remained in hands of the legally recognized 'lord', generally a descendant of the individual to whom the grant had last been made, or it might even be a group of individuals, as in the case of the manor of Mold. By this time, too, the rights of the freeholders i.e. those who had bought their land from the lord, were recognized as having certain privileges within 1 Report of Royal Commission on Land in Wales and Monmouthshire (1896), diagram showing fluctuations in wheat prices opp. 771.