Category Archives: Geographical Area

Alder Moor, Glastonbury

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.”

ORFC19 Oxford Real Farming Conference 2019

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.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Sing ORFC
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

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

The Ascott Martyrs

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”.

Read more via
https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Ascott-Martyrs/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ascott_Martyrs
https://www.ascottmartyrs.co.uk/

Excellent new short film on Kinder Scout trespass and direct action

Have a look at this excellent short film by Well Red Films on Kinder Scout trespass and direct action

Mass Trespass from wellredfilms on Vimeo.

https://www.facebook.com/wellredfilms/
https://twitter.com/wellredfilms

BBC ‘In Our Time’ radio show and the Highland Clearances

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:

In Our Time but not ‘in our voice’

BBC radio documentary on 15th anniversary of the 2003 Scottish land reform act

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.

Marking the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter Of The Forest in Sherwood Forest with a sing-a-long

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.

https://www.facebook.com/events/530204757394442/

What’s the Charter Of The Forest, I hear you say… see hear for more information… https://thenewputneydebates.com/

Newton Rebels of 1607 in Northamptonshire

Nick Hayes just put me on to this amazing page about the Newton Rebels of 1607 in Northamptonshire which was part of the Midlands Revolt concerning enclosure. Have a look at the photos from their 400th anniversary in 2007

http://www.newtonrebels.org.uk/rebels/history.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midland_Revolt

 

The Ballad Of The Green Backyard

The Green Backyard in Peterborough have just signed a 12 year lease, winning an amazing victory saving land from some dubious business people and a council which has some amazing people in it …and others with more questionable motives. Read about it in the Peterborough Telegraph:

http://www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk/news/environment/we-are-naturally-delighted-future-secured-for-peterborough-s-the-green-backyard-after-signing-new-12-year-lease-1-8181733

The Ballad of the Green Backyard

In twenty zero eight, two enterprising souls
Set to work to realise their very worthy goals
They met allies and met baddies, now listen as i tell
A tale of Peterborough’s finest and some pond scum straight from hell

There’s pair of Antonelli’s, both grafters through and through
Give them tools and wellies… there is nothing they can’t do
I sure want them on my team when we build the barricades
As we fight the fight for all that’s right with rascals and comrades

Three cheers for the green backyard, ’tis a glorious hour for people power

On two acres of good land that never knew concrete
They set to work creating a paradise complete with
Veg and flowers and people, and ponds and compost loos
But a few in power (with faces sour) had some other views

In twenty and eleven, the council battle began
Machen and Kneally, they worked an evil plan
And we mustn’t forgot Cereste, they don’t get more corrupt
Someone should him soon arrestie, cos he’s such an evil fuck ….refrain

But in our growers’ corner we’ve Gillian Beasly who was
A very early ally and the council chief exec too!
And props to Jay and Allan, more people joined the team
Now the scene is set, the players met, all captured in one tune

We mustn’t forget ‘Metal’, who invite arty sorts
And let them loose around here, to sow creative thoughts
Like ‘if this were to be lost’ and ‘this land is our land’
And ‘people before profit when when we all together stand’ ….refrain

‘For sale’ the sign was raised, this was a big mistake
Gave our growers marching orders, even set a date
But the town and country planning act, a couple of VIPs
Plus a tonne of people power brought the blighters to their knees

so to conclude my story, there’s still much work to do
but this is quite a victory, so credit where its due
and i hope our children’s children can be nurtured by this land
and people far from peterborah will know of this fine stand ….refrain

East Yorkshire Historical Society booklets on enclosure and the open field system

I’ve just finished reading these three excellent booklets about enclosure and the open field system in East Yorkshire… Two were written in late 1950s and the third in the mid eighties. All were thoroughly researched, succinct and insightful.

Continue reading

Song about the Swing Riots – Eight shillings a week

Eight shillings a week

This dates from the winter of 1830, when starving farm-workers in the Southern Counties riotously demonstrated for a basic wage of a half a crown a day. They committed a breach of the peace but otherwise harmed no one, yet after the demonstrations three of them were hanged and over four hundred were transported. At that time a loaf of bread cost a shilling.

Come all you bold Britons where’re you may be,
I pray give attention and listen to me,
There once was good times but they’re gone by complete,
For a poor man now lives on eight shillings a week.

Such times in old England there never was seen,
As the present ones now but much better have been,
A poor man’s condemned and looked on as a thief.
And compelled to work hard on eight shillings a week.

Our venerable fathers remember the year,
When a man earned thee shillings a day and his beer,
He then could live well, keep his family all neat,
But now he must work for eight shillings a week

The nobs of old England of shameful renown,
Are striving to crush a poor man to the ground,
They’ll beat down his wages and starve him complete
And make him work hard for eight shillings a week.

A poor man to labour believe me ‘tis so,
To maintain his family is willing to go,
Either hedging or ditching, to plough or to reap,
But how does he live on eight shillings a week?

So now to conclude and finish my song,
May the times be much better before too long,
May each labouring man be able to keep,
His children and wife on twelve shillings a week.

Song about the Swing Riots – Owslebury lads

Lovely track about the Swing Riots

In 1830, on November the 23rd, there was a riot in Owslebury. This was part of the wave of discontent among agricultural workers which had spread across southern England and expressed itself as the Swing Riots. A large mob formed and moved from farm to farm demanding money and threatening to destroy agricultural machinery. At Rosehill they assaulted Lord Northesk’s steward, Moses Stanbrook, wrecked a winnowing machine, and extorted £5. John Boyes, a local farmer, accompanied the mob demanding that farmers and landlords sign an undertaking which read “We, the undersigned, are willing to give 2s. per day to our married labourers, and 9s. per week to single men, in consideration of having our rent and tithes abated in proportion”. At Marwell Hall the lady of the house, Mrs. Alice Long, gave the mob £5 and signed John’s document. Eventually the mob retreated to Owslebury Down. Nine people had signed John Boyes’ document.

The rioters were tried in Winchester at the end of the year and several were executed. There was a good deal of sympathy for John Boyes and he was twice acquitted before eventually being found guilty and sentenced to be transported to Van Diemen’s Land for seven years. The trials were reported in The Times in December 1830 and January 1831. John Boyes did not complete his sentence. In 1835 the Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne, pardoned him and he returned home to his wife, Faith, and their children, in June of that year to continue farming in Owslebury. He died in Hensting in 1856.

Who Owns England blog – one year on

Guy Shrubsole is doing some excellent work here digging into data to find out who owns our land – https://whoownsengland.org/2017/09/12/who-owns-england-one-year-on-what-we-now-know/

The Cottagers Complaint – Anti-enclosure ballad from Sutton-Coldfield

The full title is ‘The Cottager’s Complaint, on the Intended Bill for Enclosing Sutton-Coldfield’ and it was written by John ‘Poet’ Freeth (1731-1808) the owner of Freeth’s Coffee House in Birmingham and a well known poet and songwriter. He published a book called ‘The Political Songster: Or, a Touch on the Times, on Various Subjects, and Adapted to Common Tunes’ which went to at least 6 editions.


How sweetly did the moments glide, how happy were the days!
When no sad fear my breast annoyed, or e’er disturbed my ease;

Hard fate! that I should be compelled my fond abode to lose,
Where threescore years in peace I’ve dwelled, and wish my life to close.

Chorus

Oh the time! the happy, happy time, which in my cot I’ve spent;
I wish the church-yard was his doom, who murders my content.

My ewes are few, my stock is small, yet from my little store
I find enough for nature’s call, nor would I ask for more!

That word, ENCLOSURE ! to my heart such evil doth bespeak,
I fear I with my all must part, and fresh employment seek.

Chorus — Oh the time, &c.

What little of the spacious plain should power to me consign,
For want of means, I can’t obtain, would not long time be mine:

The stout may combat fortune’s frowns, nor dread the rich and great;
The young may fly to market-towns, but where can I retreat?

Chorus — Oh the time, &c.

What kind of feelings must that man within his mind possess,
Who, from an avaricious plan, his neighbours would distress?

Then soon, in pity to my case, to Reason’s ear incline;
For on his heart it stamps disgrace, who formed the base design.

Chorus

Petition of the Pigs in Kent

More info at a folk song a week blog – https://afolksongaweek.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/week-103-petition-of-the-pigs-in-kent/

Original text in 1809 magazine can be found here

Petition of the Pigs in Kent

Ye owners of woodlands, with all due submission,
We humbly beg leave to present our petition,
That you will be pleas’d to recall your decree,
Which tells us that acorns no longer are free.

In Sussex and Surrey and Middlesex too,
Pigs may ramble at large without such ado;
And why, then, in Kent should pretences be found,
To drive us like culprits and thieves to the pound,

Since we, and our fathers, and others before ‘em,
Have rang’d in your woods, with all proper decorum?
No poachers are we, for no game we annoy
No hares we entrap, and no pheasants decoy;

Contented are we, if an acorn we find,
Nor wish for a feast of a daintier kind.
Besides, we are told (and perhaps not mistaken)
That you and your friends love a slice of good bacon;

But if of good bacon you all love a slice,
If pigs are to starve, how can bacon be nice?
For these and for other wise reasons of state,
We again our petition most humbly repeat,

Ye owners of woodlands, with all due submission,
We humbly beg leave to present our petition,
That you will repeal this severest of laws,
So your woods shall resound to our grunting applause.

Singing history pdf’s by Sing London and EFDSS

Some good stuff in these PDF’s by Sing London

https://www.efdss.org/efdss-education/resource-bank/resources-and-teaching-tools/singing-histories

Just currently looking at the ‘Petition of the Pigs in Kent’ ballad from the Kent book… https://media.efdss.org/resourcebank/docs/EFDSS_Education_RecentProjects_SingingHistoriesKent.pdf

Duncan Bourne’s Land Corporation of Ireland song

Severine from The Greenhorns just sent me this ace song about the Land Corporation of Ireland by Duncan Bourne.

Bill Finney was an ancestor of Duncan’s. His son (William) was born in Ireland and for a long time he thought that the Finneys were of Irish decent. Given that Finney is also an Irish surname. However further research revealed a long standing Staffordshire branch of Finney.


The Land Corporation of Ireland arose out of the 1879 – 1882 Land War, which saw the rise of Irish Nationalism and gave us the word “boycott”. From the summer of 1879 the Land League carried out various activities aimed at preventing the forced eviction of tenants who had fallen into arrears due to recession. These activities ranged from ostracism (the boycott), protests at the sale of leases, riots and, although not officially sanctioned, assassinations. One organiser Michael Boyton advocated that land grabbers (people who took the land of evicted tenants) should be “given the pill” ie. shot. By 1882 the Land League had been suppressed and the Reform Bills of 1884 & 1885 gave voting rights to tenants as well as the promise of reduced rents, though these did not always materialise. The Land Corporation of Ireland was set up to work land that had fallen idle due to evictions but due to the Land War it was nigh on impossible to recruit from the local population and so “caretaker” farmers were recruited from England through letters sent to local parishes. Bill Finney was one such farmer.

Lyrics

I come from Wootton, Staffordshire Bill Finney is my name
And I sought employment where I could you name it, I was game
I started down the Holly Bush serving in that drovers inn
And through talking with those droving lads my travels did begin

Come all you eager labouring lads keen for some work to do
The Land Corporation of Ireland has just the job for you

I tried my luck in the Potteries towns but my efforts came to nought
So I travelled up to Middlewich and worked there with the salt
T’was there I saw a letter requesting men to farm
For the Land Corporation of Ireland and I thought, “well what’s the harm?”

Come all etc.

We’ll pay you ten to fifteen bob to work some idle land
Where used to live a family evicted out of hand
You’ll have a house and garden and a free allowance of fuel
But don’t expect a social life your reception may be cruel

Come all etc.

So I went to Tipperary away from England’s shore
And I learned about the hardship caused by the old Land War
I learned about the ‘Boycott’ and the giving of the ‘Pill’
And of the broken promises caused by the Reform Bill

Come all etc.

And so I am a caretaker on land of sorrows shame
Don’t blame me for being English sir there’s Irish in my name
My name it is Bill Finney come drink with me a while
The Land Corporation of Ireland are the ones you should revile

Come all etc.

Smile In Your Sleep – song about Scottish Highland Clearances

Ewan McLennan just suggested this song ‘Smile In Your Sleep‘ to me, written by Jim McLean about the Highland Clearances.

Beautiful and achingly sad, I personally wonder if it needs another few verses, as I felt from The Cheviot The Stag and The Black Black Oil, that there were a number of defiant pockets of (mostly female) resistance to the Clearances which this song doesn’t touch on.

Hush, hush, time tae be sleepin
Hush, hush, dreams come a-creepin
Dreams o peace an o freedom
Sae smile in your sleep, bonnie baby

Once our valleys were ringin
Wi sounds o our children singin
But nou sheep bleat till the evenin
An shielings stand empty an broken

We stood, wi heads bowed in prayer
While factors laid our cottages bare
The flames fired the clear mountain air
An many lay dead in the mornin

Where was our fine Highland mettle,
Our men once sae fearless in battle?
They stand, cowed, huddled like cattle
Soon tae be shipped owre the ocean

No use pleading or praying
All hope gone, no hope of staying
Hush, hush, the anchor’s a-weighing
Don’t cry in your sleep, bonnie baby

Ewan MacColl – Bring The Summer Home – 1381 The Great Revolt

Peggy Seeger also sent over this track called ‘Bring The Summer Home’ from Ewan MacColl’s 1998 reissue compilation album Antiquities.

It is about the Peasants’ Revolt (or the Great Revolt as it should be know!), the 100 Year War with France, the first attempt at an English Poll Tax and the Black Death.

Someone on the Mudcat forums has a bash at working out the lyrics here – http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=141748.

You can hear it online via this youtube mix tape…