In the 19th century landlords exercised unrestricted control over their tenant farmers. They controlled the way that land was used for agricultural purposes, and had the power to evict tenants.
During the 1860s and 1870s, however, farmers began to campaign, through bodies such as the Farmers’ Alliance, for greater fairness in the law in relation to land tenure.
A keenly-felt grievance was that farmers were never compensated for expense incurred in upgrading or transforming the holding during the period of tenancy, such as for new buildings, drainage, or soil improvement.
Agricultural Holdings Acts
Following largely unsuccessful legislation in 1875, the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883 recognised farmers’ rights to compensation for improvements. The Act represented a major first step in the protection of the individual tenant farmer.
The Agricultural Holdings Act of 1906 went much further and allowed the farmer to farm his leasehold exactly as he chose, provided he maintained the fertility of the soil.
At the beginning of the 20th century nearly nine-tenths of all agricultural land was in the hands of tenant farmers. But comparatively little was done to give them greater security of tenure and livelihood. They were still mostly subject to short-term agreements with no guarantee beyond the current term. Landlords also still had the power of fixing rents, though in 1917 laws were passed that forbade them from raising rents during the wartime emergency.