I was doing a little updating of this site recently and realised that I hadn’t posted about Nick’s remarkable book yet. Nick is a dear friend and I had the joy of arguing with him on the finer details of an early manuscript as well as accompanying him on one of the book’s trespasses. Well that is not quite true, I was on the train with him and then decided not to go along as his description of the landowner freaked me out too much to want to risk it.
If you are on this website, you’ve probably already read it, but if not, please acquire it at your soonest convenience and pause your life until you’ve had the change to drink it down.
This book is basically the spiritual companion to our show.
This book is magnificent and tragically out of press with second hand copies going for silly money. I’ve tried to persuade the publisher to re-issue it or to make it available digitally but to no avail yet. Succint, throughly readable and utterly compelling, I hope your local library can sort you out with a copy.
Squatters were the original householders, and this book explores the story of squatter settlements in England and Wales, from our cave-dwelling ancestors to the squeezing out of cottagers in the enclosure of the commons.
There is a widespread folk belief that if a house could be erected between sundown and sunset the occupants had the right to tenure and could not be evicted. Often enquiry into the manorial court rolls shows this to be the case. Unofficial roadside settlements or encroachments onto the ‘wastes’ between parishes provided space for the new miners, furnacemen and artisans who made the industrial revolution, while cultivating a patch of ground and keeping a pig and some chickens. Colin Ward’s book, full of local anecdote and glimpses of surviving evidence, links the hidden history of unofficial settlements with the issues raised by 20th century squatters and the 21st century claims that ‘The Land is Ours’.
Colin presents a wealth of fascinating anecdote, analysis and polemic highlighting the sheer variety of ways individuals have created sustainable homes and livelihoods in nooks and crannies at the margins of society.” Regeneration and Renewal
“Rural squatters are now only a footnote in social history. Their families built themselves a house on some unregarded patch of land… For years, the environmental humanist Colin Ward has tried to rescue such people from the mythology of heritage museums, the indulgences of romantic novelists and the dust of local archives; and to draw lessons from them for today. Cotters and Squatters is the latest vivid instalment of his campaign.”The Independent
“Ward is not averse to a little squalor, or at least untidiness.The modern countryside is altogether too neatly packaged and sewn-up for the benefits of the well-off, he feels. Overzealous planning laws, and what he calls “the suffocating nimbyism of the countryside lobby, with its Range Rover culture,” are dismissed as an affront to rural history. His new book is an exploration of the long struggle of the rural poor to acquire and keep a roof over their heads.”The Guardian
The blog Who Owns England? by Guy Shrubsole and Anna Powell Smith has been a near constant source of excellent original research into the state of land ownership in England for the last few years. It was happy news when the learnings from this project were augmented in summer 2019 with the arrival of an eponymous book written by Guy.
Now it would be amiss of me to state at this point that both Guy and Anna are good friends of mine and I was one of the people who read Guy’s draft and fed back into the book’s journey. Luckily, I genuinely thought and do think that this is a really great read which draws the reader through the important information Guy and Anna have uncovered, illustrated with insights, stories and more than enough linguistic colour to be really quite compelling.