“An interesting thing about the Homefront squatters of the late 1940s is that they found support from both left-wing and right-wing politics. For the left – especially the Communist Party – the argument was that, just as the state had taken the lead in the war effort, ‘now a similar national effort to build houses was needed’ (Burnham 2009, p2). Whilst for the right, this was a perfect example of post-war national pride and the continuation of the ‘Blitz Spirit’, with The Daily Mail celebrating the squatters ‘robust common sense… [in taking] matters quietly but firmly into their own hands’ and presenting them as ‘exemplifying an English traditions of self-help made necessary by the government’s failings – a view which the squatters were happy to share’ (Webber 2012, p146). Overall, then, the actions of the ex-servicemen were well-received in the press and publicly celebrated as an expression of English patriotism.”
Burnham, P. (2009) ‘The Squatters of 1946’ Tenants’ History Conference
If you read our blogs often, you’ll know that we are massive fans of the podcast in the herd. This one was sent over to us by Peter Bearder who has recently launched an excellent book called Stage Invasion, on the history of spoken word and poetry.
Mo mhallachd aig na caoraich mhòr My curse upon the great sheep Càit a bheil clann nan daoine còir Where now are the children of the kindly folk Dhealaich rium nuair bha mi òg Who parted from me when I was young Mus robh Dùthaich ‘IcAoidh na fàsach? Before Sutherland became a desert?
Tha trì fichead bliadhna ‘s a trì It has been sixty-three years On dh’fhàg mi Dùthaich ‘IcAoidh Since I left Sutherland Cait bheil gillean òg mo chrìdh’ Where are all my beloved young men ‘S na nìonagan cho bòidheach? And all the girls that were so pretty?
Shellar, tha thu nist nad uaigh Sellar, you are in your grave Gaoir nam bantrach na do chluais The wailing of your widows in your ears Am milleadh rinn thu air an t-sluagh The destruction you wrought upon the people Ron uiridh ‘n d’ fhuair thu d’ leòr dheth? Up until last year, have you had your fill of it?
Chiad Dhiùc Chataibh, led chuid foill First Duke of Sutherland, with your deceit ‘S led chuid càirdeis do na Goill And your consorting with the Lowlanders Gum b’ ann an Iutharn’ bha do thoill You deserve to be in Hell Gum b’ fheàrr Iùdas làmh rium I’d rather consort with Judas
Bhan-Diùc Chataibh, bheil thu ad dhìth Duchess of Sutherland, where are you now? Càit a bheil do ghùnan sìod? Where are your silk gowns? An do chùm iad thu bhon oillt ‘s bhon strì Did they save you from the hatred and fury Tha an diugh am measg nan clàraibh? Which today permeates the press?
Mo mhallachd aig na caoraich mhòr My curse upon the great sheep Càit a bheil clann nan daoine còir Where now are the children of the kindly folk Dhealaich rium nuair bha mi òg Who parted from me when I was young Mus robh Dùthaich ‘IcAoidh na fàsach?
I was told about Hamish Henderson a few weeks ago and just spent a delightful hour making friends with his best known song ‘Freedom Come All Ye’.
There have been a few translations into English but I didn’t really like any of them so I’ve written my own, building on unattributed previous efforts. It’s such a shame that ‘down’ and ‘bloom’, and ‘more’ and ‘bare’ don’t rhyme in my southern English accent!
Roch the wind in the clear day’s dawin Blaws the cloods heilster-gowdie owre the bay But there’s mair nor a roch wind blawin Thro the Great Glen o the warld the day
It’s a thocht that wad gar oor rottans Aa thae rogues that gang gallus fresh an gay Tak the road an seek ither loanins Wi thair ill-ploys tae sport an play
Nae mair will our bonnie callants Merch tae war when oor braggarts crousely craw Nor wee weans frae pitheid an clachan Mourn the ships sailin doun the Broomielaw
Broken faimlies in lands we’ve hairriet Will curse ‘Scotlan the Brave’ nae mair, nae mair Black an white ane-til-ither mairriet Mak the vile barracks o thair maisters bare
Sae come aa ye at hame wi freedom Never heed whit the houdies croak for Doom In yer hoos aa the bairns o Adam Will find breid, barley-bree an paintit rooms
When Maclean meets wi’s friens in Springburn Aa thae roses an geans will turn tae blume An the black lad frae yont Nyanga Dings the fell gallows o the burghers doun.
Robin’s English translation
Rough the wind in the clear day’s dawning Blows the clouds topsy turvy about the bay, But there’s more than a rough wind blowing Through the great glen of the world today.
It’s a thought that will make our tyrants (Rogues who fancy themselves so fine and gay) Take the road, and seek other pastures For their ill ploys to sport and play
No more will our bonnie callants March to war when our braggarts crousely craw, Nor wee ones from pit-head and hamlet Mourn the ships sailin’ down the Broomielaw.
Broken families in lands we’ve harried, Will curse our names no more, no more; Black and white, hand in hand together, Will drive the tyrants from every shore
So come all ye at home with Freedom, Never heed the crooked hoodies croak for doom. In your house all the bairns of Adam Can find bread, barley-bree and painted room.
When MacLean meets with friends in Springburn Sweet the flowers will all bloom that day for thee And a black boy from old Nyanga Will break his chains and know liberty
He came across an essay about a political pageant from the 1930s which has an interesting overlap with the structure of our show. The published essay is behind an academic paywall here but the author Mick Wallis has kindly provided his private copy of the essay which you can download from here if you don’t have an academic login to download from the link above.
Taken from the essay, here is the structure of a pageant performed to thousands of people in a stadium in the late 1930s:
Music and the People
1. Feudal England. A canon from 1350; songs ‘that have lived in the peasant tradition for centuries, only lately collected because they were beginning to be forgotten’; a primitive fertility ritual dance; a Hebridean spinning song. (No dramatic action.)
2. The Massacre of the Innocents. Parts of two pageant-plays are performed, as if to the villagers: after the famous complaint from the Second Shepherds’ Play, Herod and the Innocents – ‘no doubt much of its popularity owed much to the memory of the massacres of their own people after the rising of 1381’; the song King Herod and the Cock in which ‘the invincible spirit’ wins against the oppressor; a choir of early Christians, following an introductory verse by Paul Robeson; and, since ‘the play’s not finished yet’ (i.e., of history) the Basque Lullaby.
3. Peasants in Revolt. A return to 1381: John Ball addresses the crowd; a signal arrives from him; the march on London, singing The Cutty Wren; Tyler’s meeting with Richard II, and murder (‘All words spoken in this scene, except for the commentary of the Speaker, are taken from authentic records’); all the men of the Mass Chorus (nine choirs) sing The German Peasants’ Song.
Interlude. ‘The ancient ritual carried on / And the forbidden message spoke’: members of the Woodcraft Folk ‘come on in small numbers, like conspirators, and perform the Stag-Dance’, part of the cult which was ‘the bond of unity between the harassed peasants’.
4. Soldiers of Freedom. Two Announcers briefly set the scene for 1649 (the episode is not concerned with celebrating Cromwell). ‘One king may be dead, but who still owns the land? Six Levellers and the actor-singer Parry Jones sit at tavern tables and sing; an Announcer recounts their talk as they remain in tableau; a group of dancers; some Diggers brought on in ropes by soldiers; an Announcer hails them in verse while the soldiers order drinks; the Diggers sing Stand up Now.
5. Village Green to Concert Hall. Announcer’s verse reports the break-up of rural communities and the appropriation of their culture by bourgeois institutions; ‘A group of dancers enters and performs to the tunes from which The Beggar’s Opera was concocted. At the end of their dance, a proscenium arch appears over the platform, and a scene from the play is performed to the dancers as audience.
6. Changing Europe. 1792. French revolution, singing the Carmagnole, verses 1 and 2, dressed as French peasants of 1790
7. Prisoners. ‘Ludwig van Beethoven descends from rostrum’; ‘But who are these / In modern clothes appearing / Their haggard eyes / The brand of torture like a web of scorpions wearing?’; prisoners from the Nazi concentration camps enter and sing the Peat-Bog Soldiers’ Song.
8. Slaves. ‘Following this train of thought’, John Payne and his Negro Choir enter as slaves, singing a chain-gang song, a cotton-picking song, and some ‘songs of freedom, led by one of the foremost champions of freedom’, Paul Robeson’.
9. The People Advance. As Robeson’s Kneelin’ Low ends, the Mass Chorus sings the Chartist We’re Low and the Speaker takes up a prose narrative to take us forward to trade unionism – ‘To every trade its club, to every club its song’ – and ‘the Trades Unionists sit round a table and sing their song’ (unspecified), ‘the verse sung solo’; ‘the tide rose apace’, and in a few sentences taking in the Co-operative Movement, the Speaker takes us to the late 1880s – a crowd headed by William Morris enters, singing People of England; the Speaker relates the killing by the police of the demonstrator in Trafalgar Square in 1880, and William Morris gives his famous ‘Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay’; the Chorus marches off to the Russian 1905 Funeral March, ‘that now commemorates all those who have fallen in the fight for freedom’.
The Speaker makes a summation in verse of the Pageant, and reflects on its meanings for us now:
And having present struggles and despairs Sharp in our minds, remember too The past whose urgent influence prepares The issues of today, and know that you By today’s action map the future’s road…. Never so needed was that single will That unity of the people, to fulfil The claim for freedom, and to ensure our peace… It is time we answered, as they answer now In Spain, in China, in every tortured land…. Let our song rise whose simple power Can flood the boundaries that divide us still And make our common hope, our single will.
Then a procession of groups: Christian Hymn; Levellers’ Song; Marseillaise; People of England; ‘Bandera Rossa’ ; German Solidarity Song; Chinese Student Song; Spanish National Anthem; (and now not representations but actual) veterans of the International Brigade led by Fred Copeman; the Negro Choir. Paul Robeson sings The Land of Freedom, ‘the great song of liberated Soviet humanity’, with the Acting Chorus (twelve choirs); Tom Mann, the Dean of Canterbury, and Fred Copeman speak briefly on the theme ‘Music and the People’ . Finally, all (audience included) sing the American Men Awake! the Day is Dawnin
This is a lovely old Germany song which may be super old, but as ever, no one really knows… Here is what wikipedia has to say, and below is Pete Seeger’s adaptation into English. Note that these words are slightly different to the version embedded above. You can hear another version here but for some reason it will not embed outside of YouTube.
Die gedanken sind frei, my thoughts freely flower Die gedanken sind frei, my thoughts give me power No scholar can map them, no hunter can trap them No man can deny, die gedanken sind frei
I think as I please and this gives me pleasure My conscience decrees, this right I must treasure My thoughts will not cater to duke or dictator No man can deny – die gedanken sind frei
Tyrants can take me and throw me in prison My thoughts will burst forth like blossoms in season Foundations may crumble and structures may tumble But free men shall cry – die gedanken sind frei
Original German lyrics (with translation below)
Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten, Sie fliegen vorbei wie nächtliche Schatten. Kein Mensch kann sie wissen, kein Jäger sie schießen Mit Pulver und Blei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Ich denke was ich will und was mich beglücket, Doch alles in der Still’, und wie es sich schicket. Mein Wunsch und Begehren kann niemand verwehren, Es bleibet dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Und sperrt man mich ein im finsteren Kerker, Das alles sind rein vergebliche Werke. Denn meine Gedanken zerreißen die Schranken Und Mauern entzwei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Drum will ich auf immer den Sorgen entsagen Und will mich auch nimmer mit Grillen mehr plagen. Man kann ja im Herzen stets lachen und scherzen Und denken dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Ich liebe den Wein, mein Mädchen vor allen, Sie tut mir allein am besten gefallen. Ich sitz nicht alleine bei meinem Glas Weine, Mein Mädchen dabei: Die Gedanken sind frei!
Thoughts are free, who can guess them? They fly by like nocturnal shadows. No person can know them, no hunter can shoot them With powder and lead: Thoughts are free!
I think what I want, and what delights me, Still always reticent, and as it is suitable. My wish and desire, no one can deny me And so it will always be: Thoughts are free!
And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon, All these are futile works, Because my thoughts tear all gates And walls apart: Thoughts are free!
So I will renounce my sorrows forever, And never again will torture myself with whimsies. In one’s heart, one can always laugh and joke And think at the same time: Thoughts are free!
I love wine, and my girl even more, Only her I like best of all. I’m not alone with my glass of wine, My girl is with me: Thoughts are free!
The Deserted Village is a poem by Oliver Goldsmith published in 1770. It is a work of social commentary, and condemns rural depopulation and the pursuit of excessive wealth.
The location of the poem’s deserted village is unknown, but the description may have been influenced by Goldsmith’s memory of his childhood in rural Ireland, and his travels around England. The poem is written in heroic couplets, and describes the decline of a village and the emigration of many of its residents to America. In the poem, Goldsmith criticises rural depopulation, the moral corruption found in towns, consumerism, enclosure, landscape gardening, avarice, and the pursuit of wealth from international trade.
Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain, Where health and plenty cheared the labouring swain, Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid, And parting summer’s lingering blooms delayed.
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease, Seats of my youth, when every sport could please, How often have I loitered o’er thy green, Where humble happiness endeared each scene!
Sweet smiling village, loveliest of the lawn, Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn; Amidst thy bowers the tyrant’s hand is seen, And desolation saddens all thy green:
One only master grasps the whole domain, And half a tillage stints thy smiling plain; And, trembling, shrinking from the spoiler’s hand, Far, far away, thy children leave the land.
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay: Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade; A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride, When once destroyed, can never be supplied. A time there was, ere England’s griefs began, When every rood of ground maintained its man; For him light labour spread her wholesome store, Just gave what life required, but gave no more: His best companions, innocence and health; And his best riches, ignorance of wealth. But times are altered; trade’s unfeeling train Usurp the land and dispossess the swain;
Sweet was the sound, when oft at evening’s close, Up yonder hill the village murmur rose; There, as I past with careless steps and slow, The mingling notes came soften’d from below; The swain responsive as the milk-maid sung, The sober herd that lowed to meet their young, The noisy geese that gabbled o’er the pool, The playful children just let loose from school,
The watch-dog’s voice that bayed the whispering wind, And the loud laugh that spoke the vacant mind, These all in sweet confusion sought the shade, And filled each pause the nightingale had made.
But now the sounds of population fail, No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale, No busy steps the grass-grown foot-way tread, For all the bloomy flush of life is fled.
All but yon widowed, solitary thing That feebly bends beside the plashy spring; She, wretched matron, forced in age, for bread, To strip the brook with mantling cresses spread, To pick her wintry faggot from the thorn, To seek her nightly shed, and weep till morn; She only left of all the harmless train, The sad historian of the pensive plain.
These days it is
a common assumption that the ‘improvement’ of land is of itself a good thing;
however, we should bear in mind that “the majority of commoners were opposed to
draining, or to any alteration of the commons that did not benefit them; and,
what is more, because of their large numbers they could make their wishes
commoners were freeholders and relatively prosperous farmers, their opposition
could be played out in the courts. Attempts to drain King’s Sedgemoor, for
instance, continued from 1618 until well into the 1650s, when Sir Cornelius
Vermuyden – the only Dutch drainage engineer who ever took a serious interest
in the Somerset Levels – withdrew from the proposed project in frustration
after endless litigation and delays, and continuing opposition from ‘the good
opinion of the country.’
commoners had fewer resources, and their ‘good opinion’ was less likely to be
paid heed to, it was also true that their rights of commonage were all the more
crucial to their survival. These included summer grazing for cattle and pigs;
cutting of wood for firing, fencing and building; and peat cutting. Access to
such resources could make the difference between life being tolerable and life
being close to impossible. It was these common rights that were threatened by
the enclosure and draining of the moors, and a particular case in point was
Alder (or ‘Oller’) Moor, on either side of the River Brue just south of
Glastonbury. It took its name from its particularly valued Alder groves.
Like much of the
remaining Somerset wetlands, Alder Moor belonged to the Crown, having been part
of the abbey’s estates until 1539. James I became king of England as well as
Scotland in 1603, and “upon assuming power south of the border, the new King
of England was genuinely affronted by the constraints the English Parliament
attempted to place on him in exchange for money. In spite of this, James’
personal extravagance meant he was perennially short of money and had to resort
to extra-Parliamentary sources of income.”
difficulties of the Stuarts meant that on the one hand they were keen for land
such as they owned on the Somerset Levels to be drained and sold, and on the
other that they could not afford to invest in the reclamation themselves. The
result was that the work would be made the responsibility of an agent, and that
the only way the agent could take his percentage as payment was by taking
possession of a portion of the land. This meant, in approximate round figures,
that the best third of the land would provide an extensive and desirable farm
that was a saleable asset belonging to the king; the second third would provide
the agent with a worthwhile property for himself; and the last third,
supposedly drained and improved, would be what was left available to the
Charles I succeeded to the throne in 1625, and in the 1630s attention was paid
to enclosing and draining Alder Moor. Instead of being “worth to the owners as
much as nothinge,” it would now be “even the richest, worthiest and most
notable feeding in all these parts.” However, it had also been described as
“very large, capacious, fruitful marshes”. Far from being ‘as nothinge,’ its value to the commoners was huge; when the commissioners
came to Glastonbury to order the digging of ditches, they were besieged in the
house where they met by people saying that they “should be undone if the said
moor was enclosed.” One of their number was charged with sedition as an example
to the rest.
The scheme was
going ahead against the will of the majority of local people, but the on-going
difficulties with enclosing King’s Sedgemoor had hardened the attitude of the
Crown and its agents. Furthermore the chief of the commissioners, Sir Robert
Phelips, had been out of royal favour, and King Charles had made it clear to
him in a personal letter that this would be rectified so long as “you will
rather use your best endeavours and care for the preservation and increase of
our ancient rent, and inheritance, than for the favour of the multitude.”
and division of the moor thus went ahead. The ‘best and commodious part’ was
retained by the Crown, and later sold for £1,000. The rest was distributed
proportionally amongst the tenants from Glastonbury, Street and Butleigh,
though tenants from Edgarley were entirely excluded. The drier parts of these
allocations were then taken by the agents, whilst the remainder, the most
frequently flooded areas, were returned to the commoners. The land taken by the
agents was said to be wprth 20 shillings per acre whilst that allocated tpo the
commioners was valued at only 12 pence; the access droves severed by the new
rhynes. The alder groves, subjected to indiscriminate felling, had been ruined.
had formerly been ‘a great reliefe to the poor’; now, however, poverty was
noticeably increased and many houses in Glastonbury, for instance, were soon in
a state of decay. James Lovington, the gentleman farmer who had purchased the
land from the Crown, did undertake to recompense Edgarley for its loss of commonage
with one hundred acres. This land was never entrusted to the people of Edgarley
however, for “the agents who handled the transfer then appear to have
expropriated the ground.” Frustration and anger finally reached boiling point.
“The commoners broke down the walls and fences, filled in the rhynes and
stopped the flow of water, so that most of the moor … reverted to its original
state.” Normal legal processes in relation to such relatively minor matters were
then suspended since the civil war broke out, in 1642, and continued until
1651; so that “for the next nine years at least, the commoners of the four
parishes pastured their cattle as of old, without hindrance.”
“I don’t think songs themselves can alter societies. It takes a movement to do that. It takes political engagement to do that. But songs have always been a part of those movements. They have always been the lifeblood and spirit of the movement.
There’s no political movement of the people that I can think of, that hasn’t produced a wealth of songs and those songs are usually made illegal by the power structure that they’re seeking to topple. So if they recognise that these songs have got power I think that’s a confirmation that we are right in that hunch.”
Over the years we’ve had a number of people expressed interest in being patrons of the show, so we are really happy to announce that we now have a ‘support us‘ page where you can make a one-off or monthly donation.
Last week a dear friend of ours was sent to prison for 16 months for a peaceful protest against fracking. Fracking is a reckless technique to get fossil fuels out of the ground which is banned in France, Holland and Ireland amongst others, which we often discuss in the show.
Please excuse the language, but this is a f*cking disgrace.
Most people have heard of the Tolpuddle Martyrs but how many know about the Ascott Martyrs? These were 16 indomitable women of a little known village in Oxfordshire.
In 1873, 16 women of Ascott-under-Wychwood were sent to prison for the part they played in the founding of the Agricultural Workers Union. The newspaper in 1873 printed the story under the heading, “Rioting in Chipping Norton”.