Mmmmmmm…. a nice academic essay called The enduring culture and limits of political song by Simon Cross – I learnt a few things from this and you might enjoy it too:
Blackstone Edge is the site of a famous Chartist gathering where Ernest Jones addressed 30,000 people on 2nd August 1846 – every year people still gather here to sing this song (and a few others!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86orh7GOLcs – you can find more about this annual gathering here – http://blackstoneedgegathering.org.uk/?page_id=12
To the tune of ‘Battle of Hohenlinden’ –
O’er plains and cities far away,
All lorn and lost the morning lay,
When sunk the sun at break of day,
In smoke of mill and factory.
But waved the wind on Blackstone height
A standard of the broad sunlight,
And sung, that morn, with trumpet might,
A sounding song of Liberty.
And grew the glorious music higher,
When pouring with his heart on fire,
Old Yorkshire came, with Lancashire,
And all its noblest chivalry.
The men, who give,—not those, who take;
The hands, that bless,—yet hearts that break;
Those toilers for their foemen’s sake;
Our England’s true nobility!
So brave a host hath never met,
For truth shall be their bayonet,
Whose bloodless thrusts shall scatter yet
The force of false finality!
Though hunger stamped each forehead spare,
And eyes were dim with factory glare,
Loud swelled the nation’s battle prayer,
Of—death to class monopoly!
Then every eye grew keen and bright,
And every pulse was dancing light,
For every heart had felt its might
The might of labour’s chivalry.
And up to Heaven the descant ran,
With no cold roof ‘twixt God and man,
To dash back from its frowning span,
A church prayer’s listless blasphemy.
How distant cities quaked to hear,
When rolled from that high hill the cheer,
Of—Hope to slaves! to tyrants fear!
And God and man for liberty!
By Bruce Garrard
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 felt.”
Where the 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.’
Where the 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.”
The financial 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 commoners.
James‘ son 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.”
The enclosure 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.
This moorland 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.”
Alistair Hulett 1951-2010
We’ve just come back from a delightful Oxford Real Farming Conference which is always a good way to start the year.
We hosted a singers circle of songs about land and farming, and Robin and Roo penned lyrics for a song that Darla Eno performed closing the conference.
by Robin Grey and Roo Bramley
(to the tune of Sing Ovy Sing Ivy)
Our Ruth and Colin had an idea (sing ovy, sing ivy)
To gather good folk from far and from near (sing holly go whistling ivy)
A place for enlightened ideas to grow
And host this whilst they schemed up the road
A few years did pass, the gathering grown
At Oxford Town Hall we found a new home
The answers here, new wisdom and old
A future for farming, our visions are bold
Good food produced with healthy soil
Fair wages paid to all those who toil
A seasonal harvest, the fat of the land
Godspeed to the plough and the watchful hand
In partnership with worms and with bees
Flourishing herds in pastures of green
The ministers and the media come
To find out about the things we have done
So here’s to the future in uncertain times
Let’s nurture the land with our children in mind
(cc) This work is reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License
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.
Much of our work is now happily paying us a living wage, but there are always projects which require subsidising, such as training up new apprentice performers, developing the Welsh show ‘Gadael Tir‘, starting to record material from the show and occasional gigs which aren’t able to cover our full performers fees in remoter places.
If you feel inspired and able to support us with money we are hugely grateful and promise that we will work ardently to make the most of your contribution.
This is a really excellent podcast, which we highly recommend you check out!
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.
Please read his words about what happened here – https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/…/fracking-climate-change_…)
…and consider donating to the fund to support him and the others – https://chuffed.org/project/free-the-three#/
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”.
I’ve posted links to Melvyn Braggs ‘In Our Time‘ podcasts/radio shows a number of times on this website but it has to be said that I’ve always been a little weary of them… something about the fact that the large majority of the guests are Oxbridge academics and the number of massively posh accents always leaves a little bell of warning ringing somewhere that I’m getting the official ruling classes imperial spin on history.
I remember having a post show email disagreement with his academic guests after their ‘Putney Debates’ show managed to completely ignore the issue of land during the civil war period which still seems a critical oversight from other things I’ve learnt and read.
I’ve had a number of people email me the recent episode on the Highland Clearances (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09tc4tm) which seemed quite revisionist to my mind when I listened to it. I thought nothing more of it at the time, but then someone posted a fine response via Bella Caledonia which I think is worth bringing to your attention:
“It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work with all the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.”
If you are able to make it out safely, please come. The temperature is staying at a dazzling 2-3 degrees tonight so no black ice
As ever we have much to learn and be inspired by from our neighbours to the north.
Last week marked the 15th anniversary of the 2003 Scottish land reform act and an event to mark this was held at the Scottish Parliament.
BBC Scotland has made a lovely 70min radio documentary about this, which interviews many of the people key to the reform bill happening – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nrtq1/episodes/downloads
It is primarily focused on the right to roam aspect of the act and it gives the best insight into how key battles were won of anything i’ve seen, heard or read.
This is taken from Steve Wyler’s latest book called ‘In Our Hands’, not to be confused with the recent Landworkers’ Alliance film of the same name!
The above (from page 73) is a good example of how strong the connection was between the foundations of the coop movement and the desire of people to be free of hideous urban slum conditions and return to a rural agricultural existence.
Robin Grey speaks with Christopher Price, Director of Policy for the Countryside Landowners Association about farm subsidies, land value tax, GMO, Right to Roam, open data and the Land Registry, fracking and more.
This extract taken from ‘The Making Of The English Landscape’ by W.G. Hoskins is brutal and telling.
We had the privilege of sharing a stage today with a hero of ours, the historian Peter Linebaugh… Here is a cheeky selfie of us in front of the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest.
Peter was a student of E.P. Thompson’s in the 70s and has written some wonderful books including ‘The Many Headed Hydra’ which I hope many of your will have read or know about…
Robin and Roo will be leading a sing-a-long this Sunday by The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest to mark the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter Of The Forest and linking this to land rights, fracking and universal basic income in our present day.
What’s the Charter Of The Forest, I hear you say… see hear for more information… https://thenewputneydebates.com/