Category Archives: Scrapbook

Correspondence from Northumberland

I recently had this correspondence with Alistair who saw the show in Norham, Northumberland last month back. He gave us permission to post our exchanges online which I wanted to do as they made me cry (in a good way).


15 October 2016 21:52

Hi Robin and Naomi,

Good performance. Thank you for coming to Norham. Tweed Valley is a conservative area, and your message is revisionist of establishment posturing, so I wonder if you got a positive reaction? Seems like Marion Shoard is a gatekeeper person: if she was for you, who could be against you! It was an interesting evening for us, in lots of ways. We saw the ad for your show in Berwick High Street, but we live three miles north of Norham, across the border into Scotland at Horndean, the next settlement beyond Ronnie, your guest singer, who lives at the first settlement north of Norham Brig and over the border, at Ladykirk.

Interesting for me. When I worked in agricriculture as a farm worker, I was a NUAAW rep and had training at Southend where I bought ‘The Painful Plough’ way back then. That was 1975.

Interesting for me because I studied at Oxford University Institute of Agricultural Economics 1969-72. In those days, the Common Agricultural Policy was at an early stage, and was seen as a device to 1. Protect the small acreage farmers of France by holding up prices with subsidies and 2. Reducing the European tendency to overproduction with quotas for each commodity and 3. Withdrawing produce from the marketplace into storage when there was overproduction e.g. the grain mountain. In those early days it was seen as adverse to British Interests. I’ve been away from agriculture for years now, apart from a family farm extended family owns, and I haven’t really followed the single farm payment developments closely, so I was really interested in your summary, and in the views of the Welsh farmers you have spent time with, and I do not doubt, knowing the general mindset of the preset Westminster elite, that the direction is to consolidate into larger land units that then become attractive to fund managers and insurance interests, and cease to produce food as their prime concern.

Interesting for me because I am quite close to the Scottish Greens, and have followed Andy Wightman’s work in recent time. Following your exposition, I will look more closely at his site.

Interesting for me because we ramble, and have enjoyed the Right to Roam in Scotland, which as I have understood it permits access onto all PRIVATE open spaces unless and until the landowner requests that you leave the site for a genuine and defensible reason e.g. timid or frightable stock. Your summary of the Right suggested it referred to PUBLIC open spaces, which are surely not 80% of Northumberland? Clarification needed for me here.

In general your narrative was well supported by facts, and was not long on opinions, which made it enjoyable, as one could think, and buy in with one’s own conclusions. Too many facts, too fast, can become a barrage, and the mind closes, hence of course the value of your songs. Anyhow, in general you got it right. At the end, saturated with impressions, we needed a more stark arrival point i.e. the Land Reform groups names and logos appearing on your string line.

Anyhow, I really mustn’t criticise your content, as it was original (in its collected form), and superbly researched and presented. You are both immensely multi-talented, and I will certainly do my best to commend your presentation to contacts wherever you go. What you are doing is most worthwhile – to rightly judge the English and other UK countries, and Eire, in our past internal struggles, and in our past overseas activities, is a proper road to understanding ourselves and our place in the world today. For me you did not put a foot wrong, and my over-riding reflection is your positivism – you were not embittered as many revisionists are, or grinding axes at us, which is the angry face of revolution. You were, I think, true revolutionaries, seeking sound values for yourselves and offering them as tenets of worth to those willing to accept them. That is a most civilised and companionable modus vivendi, and I am sure it will win you many friends.

So, I thank you for your cultural contribution of  “Three Acres and a Cow”.

Alistair MacKichan.


 

On Sunday, October 16, 2016 11:07am, Robin wrote:

Hey Alistair,

Thanks so much for your letter – it was a delight to receive. So good to get feedback from someone with a depth of knowledge on the topic.

We got a good reaction from the people we talked too… As it was our third day on the road and I was knackered, I prioritised singing songs with the people who had traveled a long way and missed some of the first half, rather than trying to gather as much feedback as I could have. The messages in our guest book were positive.

Ronnie, Gail and Joan enjoyed the evening hugely and as most of the audience were known to them, I am sure that they will collect more reactions and feedback in the coming weeks.

The show has been performed to conservative audiences in the past, but not in such a rural area. I must confess to being quite nervous about this, but am growing in confidence now due to the feedback from so many people from extremely differing backgrounds over the years. I also know that the Norham area has traditionally elected Liberal MPs, and that land reform has historically always been a cornerstone of Liberal policy.

You will be glad to know that Marion Shoard and I have been in conversation and are about to start exploring making podcasts and radio shows together. She is very happy to hear that people are talking about land again and that more singing is involved this time around! I also encouraged her to get a wikipedia page which she has – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marion_Shoard.

I am so glad to hear that you know of Roy Palmers book ‘The Painful Plough’… His work has been a huge source of information and inspiration over the years, and I was incredibly lucky to have him mentoring me and sending unpublished ballads he’d collected, the last few years of his life. Sadly, he does not have a wikipedia page and I am yet to work out how I can make this happen, as his contribution to English culture has been huge and largely unrecognised outside of certain niche circles.

I have read and heard that the CAP was set up as a behind-the-scenes face-saving way of Germany compensating France for war time damage and was indeed never framed in British interests. It has morphed into quite a different beast since then. I generalise this into supporting farmers as i hope this is a useful summary of what is a hugely complicated topic (as they all are under the microscope!!)

Our statistics on Northumberland rambling %’s is taken from the Ramblers Association factsheet ‘The Right to Roam’ which can be found here – http://www.ramblers.org.uk/~/media/Files/Go%20walking/AccessFactSheet-FS8.pdf – It states in a table on the 2nd page that the amount of publicly accessible open land in Northumberland went from 19% to 85% in 2003 and I trust them on these figures. Please do let me know if you interpret this differently.

Thanks for your thoughts on the pacing and balance of the piece – a conscious effort has been made to keep opinions to a minimum and deliver it in as gentle and fun way as possible, allowing people to make their own conclusions. There are a few topics where I do offer my own opinion sometimes and I am glad you think we get the balance largely right.

The ending – ha… if there was anything resembling an English land reform movement we would indeed be signposting people to it! but there isn’t really yet… we are trying to support one into being under the rubric of ‘Land for What?’ but alas are a long long long way behind Scotland – http://landforwhat.org.uk/.

I usually mention the Landworkers’ Alliance and Ecological Land Coop (and their names are on the line) who are doing ground work to challenge the status quo around land but I was super tired and did not talk about them at the Norham show you saw.

Your last paragraph or two were very nourishing, thank you. At times, it can be a long and lonely road that we’ve been walking and if you’ll forgive me mixing metaphors, words such as yours give wind to our sails.

Best wishes

Robin


Hi again Robin,

Appreciate your full response to my letter, thanks.

What you say about the origins of the CAP does ring true to my understandings. I spent time in Germany in the early seventies, as secretary of the United Kingdom and Ireland Agricultural Students Association, representing UK at the 15th International Agricultural Association of Students at Stuttgart and Kiel, and also in a hosted group of international ambassadors for change allied to a group called MRA, visiting the Ruhr industrial area which had been the scene of much conflict. There was still a vast dammed reservoir of guilt in Germany about the events of the thirties and forties, and it drove much of what they were doing at that time.

Also, I note that my confusion about the Right to Roam in Northumberland is entirely cleared up by your reference to source material.

Like yourself, I have down the years been at first surprised, and then more often scandalised, by revelations about “Great Britain’s” past. We have had an extraordinarily selfish and cruel ruling class, possibly from the Norman Conquest onwards, as your overview suggested.

My own clan were Highlands and Islands folk in the C17th, C18th and C19th centuries, and were forced by a combination of malicious social forces to emigrate to the Southern States (where there is a Clan Reunion for 350 of them each year now) to Canada where one of my great, great grandfathers was born in Nova Scotia (and your description of the ships which took them there was spine chilling), and to South Africa, and to Australia where John MacKichan blew himself up at Lobo whilst clearing land with dynamite. The decision to move to lands of opportunity was driven not by ambition, but by desperation, and the terrible injury inflicted on the aboriginal native peoples as a result is a crime by proxy by those who forced the emigrations.

The sharp thrust of your delivery in Three Acres and a Cow is that there are areas of the world in which the UK establishment, and you were not specific, is still connected to genocidal activity. That was a telling insight about the repetition of learnt behaviour, and it should arouse indignation among our people to think that the worst we have known is now being dealt, perhaps in our name, to others.

Your summary on Ireland named one Englishman viewing the Irish potato famine as “An Act of God”. I have read that there was stored grain available in England, and that it was indeed promised to the desperate Irish, but then deliberately withheld, which corroborates your judgement of genocide of a million Irish who died in those years. There is a loch in Ireland where a wandering, starving band inscribed their heart feelings on a stone – I have visited it and seen it but do not remember detail, except to note that it is most moving. The Gaels are a different race, driven in early centuries AD to the “Celtic Rim”, and in culture and values see themselves as different from the English. That is not a antagonistic difference, but a dignified ontology and identity. You will have felt it in your time in Wales, and for what it is worth, in my own performing days I sang a national celebration in Welsh in Bangor Cathedral, “Ee gumree ganav. uist tervisk dwicht a don” (phonetic spelling now – a distant memory) and I felt the rose and bloom of the Welsh culture then.

For the self-interested English to exploit, and to dishonour, other racial groups than their own seems to have been a terrible and constant theme of history. This inter-necine animosity strays from your main points of Land Rights and food security, but they are strongly linked in our history. One of my clansmen, starving, was imprisoned for the act of stealing one turnip, from the owner of a field he had toiled in all day, in an attempt to feed his family. That harshness was imposed not by the native clan system, but by the annexing of lands after 1745 by a vindictive English oppression. The tales go on.

All power to you, always find the performer’s balance between intensive output and gentle restoration!

Best Regards,
Alistair MacKichan.

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…

The Bold Poachers (The Oakham Poachers)

Peggy Seeger just pointed us at this old poaching ballad called The Bold Poachers or The Oakham Poachers.

If you look at this page you can see how most versions have a poacher killing a keeper but in one, the keepers kill one of the poachers… https://mainlynorfolk.info/martin.carthy/songs/theboldpoachers.html

Digging into Roy Palmer’s Ballad History Of England, the first poaching song I come across again had the keepers killing a poacher… Which makes one wonder which is the ‘correct’ version of the The Bold Poachers or The Oakham Poachers!

War in Syria, land and agribusiness

This is an excellent read by Jonathon Porritt exploring the overlap between land, agribusiness, war and migration. It includes the following quote by Megan Perry:
https://www.forumforthefuture.org/blog/re-inventing-limits-growth-debate

“The (Syrian) Government had been pursuing a policy of agricultural intensification and economic liberalisation, based on the expansion of irrigated crops for export such as wheat and cotton that were reliant on chemical fertilisers. The chemical inputs and monocultural cropping contributed to the degradation of Syria’s soils, while poor irrigation infrastructure led to salinization, particularly in areas such as the Euphrates. And with the Government’s decision to cut subsidies to fertiliser, diesel, pesticides and seeds in the 2000s, many small-scale farmers could no longer afford the inputs on which their crops had come to depend.

Syria’s grazing land also struggled under intensification. Former Bedouin commons had been opened up to unrestricted grazing, turning the fragile ecosystem of the Syrian steppe, an area that covers half the country’s land mass, into an eroded desert. In 1950, there were three million sheep grazing the steppe, but by 1998, there were over fifteen million.”

That particular tale is all too familiar in all too many countries – and there are many experts in the world of mainstream agribusiness who are still keen to do exactly the same across the whole of Africa, regardless of the vast weight of evidence we now have as to the calamitous consequences of that process of intensification.

The calamity in Syria could not be starker, with 80% of the remaining population facing dire poverty, with sky-rocketing food prices, and with all factions involved in the conflict using ‘food as a weapon’ to secure their military objectives.

 

On 1st January 2026, old footpaths and bridleways that are not recorded will be lost

People have been asking us for links about this – here are some links:
http://www.ramblers.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-with-us/dont-lose-your-way/historic-paths-and-definitive-maps-timeline.aspx

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/25/countdown-begins-to-prevent-loss-of-thousands-of-footpaths-and-alleyways

http://www.oss.org.uk/what-we-do/rights-of-way/the-deregulation-act/

Article about EU referendum and CAP land subsidies

Socialism for the rich – a good article about land subsidies (or Common Agriculture Policy Single Farm Payments as they are confusingly and rather misleadingly know!)

David Cameron has said that he sees the purpose of these CAP payments to ‘rationalise the agriculture sector’… which means ‘to put small scale, family farmers and anyone who cares about soil and the environment out of business’ in politics speak.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2016/apr/21/why-our-landed-gentry-are-so-desperate-to-stay-in-the-eu

New community land trust project in London

A Community Land Trust, self build, coop design with space for food growing… Some nice work going on in Lewisham… and when I say new, I mean new to me! It looks like they have been planning this for ages and ages.

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/lewisham-residents-build-their-own-dream-homes-to-beat-the-housing-crisis-a3240966.html

A place called England – Maggie Holland

I was lucky enough to hear The Young’Uns open with ‘A Place Called England’ at a gig in Bristol last night. Here’s the original version by Maggie Holland – it won the award for Best Song at the BBC Folk Awards 1999. It’s all about gardens and English soil and has a nice reference to the diggers!

I rode out on a bright May morning like a hero in a song,
Looking for a place called England, trying to find where I belong.
Couldn’t find the old flood meadow or the house that I once knew;
No trace of the little river or the garden where I grew.

I saw town and I saw country, motorway and sink estate;
Rich man in his rolling acres, poor man still outside the gate;
Retail park and burger kingdom, prairie field and factory farm,
Run by men who think that England’s only a place to park their car.

But as the train pulled from the station through the wastelands of despair
From the corner of my eye a brightness filled the filthy air.
Someone’s grown a patch of sunflowers though the soil is sooty black,
Marigolds and a few tomatoes right beside the railway track.

Down behind the terraced houses, in between the concrete towers,
Compost heaps and scarlet runners, secret gardens full of flowers.
Meeta grows her scented roses right beneath the big jets’ path.
Bid a fortune for her garden—Eileen turns away and laughs.

So rise up, George, and wake up, Arthur, time to rouse out from your sleep.
Deck the horse with sea-green ribbons, drag the old sword from the deep.
Hold the line for Dave and Daniel as they tunnel through the clay,
While the oak in all its glory soaks up sun for one more day.

Come all you at home with freedom whatever the land that gave you birth,
There’s room for you both root and branch as long as you love the English earth.
Room for vole and room for orchid, room for all to grow and thrive;
Just less room for the fat landowner on his arse in his four-wheel drive.

For England is not flag or Empire, it is not money, it is not blood.
It’s limestone gorge and granite fell, it’s Wealden clay and Severn mud,
It’s blackbird singing from the May tree, lark ascending through the scales,
Robin watching from your spade and English earth beneath your nails.

So here’s two cheers for a place called England, sore abused but not yet dead;
A Mr Harding sort of England hanging in there by a thread.
Here’s two cheers for the crazy diggers, now their hour shall come around;
We shall plant the seed they saved us, common wealth and common ground.

NEF piece on housing and land

Josh-Ryan Collins from the New Economics Foundation has produced a lovely piece of prose which ends with these lovely sentences:

“There is a strong case for fundamental changes in the way land is taxed, controlled and used. The speculative profits arising from owning desirable land need to be either taxed or captured by local or national governments — or perhaps communities — by owning the land themselves.

In many East Asian countries, such as South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, the majority of land is controlled by state corporations — public ‘land banks’. In the US and Canada, there are similar schemes at state or local government level.

These may seem like radical structural interventions for the UK. But the alternative is worsening inequality, rising prices and rents and, eventually, economic and financial collapse as the bubble bursts yet again.”

https://medium.com/@neweconomics/why-you-can-t-afford-a-home-in-the-uk-44347750646a#.blbly27s4

Summer Youth Residency

Toby and Georgie sing a duet

Way back in warm, sunny August, seven young people gathered somewhere in the depths of the East of England; the outskirts of a town called Diss (plenty of puns were made) in a lovely cottage, previously home to the writer Roger Deakin.

Five of us were from the youth organisation Woodcraft Folk, and we were glad to be joined by Molly and Kathleen who we hadn’t met before but quickly made friends with.

We were joined by Robin and Rachel and spent the week reading, singing and learning all about the history of our land and the struggles that have been fought for it. We listened to podcasts, taught each other songs and shared food together between practicing sections of the show ready for a performance.

At the end of the week, we performed a full show of Three Acres and a Cow as a group, complete with poetry, sketches and, of course, singing.

Since the residency, Anna has successfully applied for funding to develop a Quaker version of the show alongside Robin, and I have been involved in various performances of the show in my new role as youth apprentice.

Here is a selection of photos from the week:

– Naomi, apprentice of Three Acres And A Cow

Tony Benn and Roy Bailey’s show ‘The Writing on the Wall’

roy and tony

Tony Benn and Roy Bailey used to tour a show called ‘The Writing on the Wall’ which has much overlap with the spirit, content and format of ‘Three Acres And A Cow’.

There is a newspaper review of one of the shows here and it can be found on iTunes, Spotify and many other virtual and real places… You might be able to stream it from the player below if you are lucky!

More info on Roy Bailey’s website but he has sold out of cds! http://roybailey.net/shop/items/writing-on-the-wall


thewritingonthewall_cfcd405

Good blog by Dr Calum Macleod on Scottish land reform movement

I can’t remember where I stumbled across this but it has some good posts useful for staying up to date with where the Scottish land reform movement is at.

https://calummacleodblog.wordpress.com/

Here is the personal website of Dr Macleod – more interesting stuff on it but i confess to having not given it the reading time it undoubtedly deserves right now – http://www.calummacleod.info/projects.html

A good New Statesmen article on Land Value Tax

This is worth a quick read. It is to the point and well written.

http://www.newstatesman.com/society/2010/10/land-tax-labour-britain

“It will be said that in a world of internationally mobile capital and people it is counterproductive to tax personal income and corporate profit to uncompetitive levels. That is right. But a progressive alternative is to shift the tax base to property, and land, which cannot run away, [and] represents in Britain an extreme concentration of wealth.”
Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat conference, Liverpool, 22 September 2010

Whiteway Colony in the Cotswolds

whiteway colony

A group of socialists bought 41 acres of land in the Cotswolds in 1898 and then burnt the deeds… Pretty radical stuff and one of the only ones still keeping many of its ideals alive today, largely as they have no choice!

We’d like to visit Whiteway Colony very much indeed – if anyone knows someone who lives there please do give them a nudge 😉

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiteway_Colony

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/property/3310858/What-a-carry-on-in-the-Cotswolds.html

The Land – The Liberal’s Land Value Tax song

“The song became a Liberal radical anthem in the aftermath of David Lloyd George’s “people’s budget” of 1909 which proposed a tax in land. During the two general elections of the following year, ‘The Land Song’ became the governing Liberals’ campaign song.” (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Land_%28song%29)

Sound the blast for freedom, boys, and send it far and wide,
March along to victory, for God is on our side,
While the voice of nature thunders o’er the rising tide:
“God made the land for the people”.

The land, the land, ’twas God who made the land,
The land, the land. The ground on which we stand,
Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hand?
God gave the land to the people.

Hark! The shout is swelling from the east and from the west!
Why should we beg work and let the landlords take the best?
Make them pay their taxes for the land, we’ll risk the rest!
The land was meant for the people.

The banner has been raised on high to face the battle din,
The army now is marching on, the struggle to begin,
We’ll never cease our efforts ’til the victory we win,
And the land is free for the people.

Clear the way for liberty, the land must all be free,
Britons will not falter in the fight tho’ stern it be.
‘Til the flag we love so well shall wave from sea to sea,
O’er the land that’s free for the people.

Michael Perelman and the Invention Of Capitalism

michaelPerelmanSome interesting brain food here which resonates with much else of what I have read:

“Perelman outlines the many different policies through which peasants were forced off the land—from the enactment of so-called Game Laws that prohibited peasants from hunting, to the destruction of the peasant productivity by fencing the commons into smaller lots—but by far the most interesting parts of the book are where you get to read Adam Smith’s proto-capitalist colleagues complaining and whining about how peasants are too independent and comfortable to be properly exploited, and trying to figure out how to force them to accept a life of wage slavery.”
http://www.filmsforaction.org/news/recovered_economic_history_everyone_but_an_idiot_knows_that_the_lower_classes_must_be_kept_poor_or_they_will_never_be_industrious/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Perelman
https://is.vsfs.cz/el/6410/leto2013/BA_ETD/um/3968033/The_Invention_of_Capitalism.pdf