Slimbridge Diggers Walk July 2

The Diggers were a group of 17th century religious and political dissidents in England, seeking to establish agrarian socialism. The famous Digger settlement in 1649 at St George’s Hill,  Surrey is well known and celebrated, but our local area also saw a Digger experiment. Radical Stroud plan to go in search of the elusive Digger settlement at Slimbridge.  The exact location has been lost so may be an exploratory expedition. If you are interested then please join us  on Tuesday July 2, at St John the Evangelist, Slimbridge at 10.30. Not sure how long the walk will be. Join us for as long as you wish. There will be readings, context and a song or two too.
Bring some food and refreshments. The walk will take place mostly over meadows and fields. Some stiles to be climbed. Likely to be muddy in places.
Any queries please contact Stuart Butler stfc12@hotmail.com

Tudor and Stuart Gloucestershire

Tudor and Stuart Gloucestershire Riots

Tudor and Stuart Gloucestershire Riots

 

Written after reading

In Contempt of All Authority

Rural Artisans and Riot in the West of England,

1586-1660

Buchanan Sharp

 

When I walk the banks of the River Severn,

Those turbid waters seem a barrier:

Something liminal and divisive:

It all looks so different on the other side,

Whether you stand on the east or the west:

Dense forest one way, Cotswold hills the other.

 

But rethink the river, land and skyscape,

Forget the turnpike roads and railways,

Slip back half a millennium of time,

And the river becomes a corridor,

Not just down and upstream, but also across:

With a nascent rural proletariat,

In the mining, charcoaled Forest of Dean,

Linked with the broadcloth east bank weavers,

And the fields and farms of Gloucestershire.

 

The spring of 1586 was a season

Of high food prices and unemployment –

This led to attacks on ‘barks’ with their cargoes

Of malt at Framilode by around

Five hundred of ‘the commone sorte of people’.

This action was followed by congregations

On both sides of the river to stop vessels

Taking cargoes downstream towards Bristol:

so great was their necessitye as that dyvers of them justifye they were dryvers to feede their children with oattes dogges* and rootes of nettles …’ (* dog-grass).

 

Resistance remained firm and steadfast

Despite the readings of the Riot Act,

And when two ringleaders faced possible charges,

The summoned forces of law and order,

Were intimidated by some hundreds

Of the local Gloucestershire populace

Who ‘lay in awayte in the woodes and other secret places.’

 

This riverine and littoral action

Was repeated again in 1622;

Individual and familial begging,

Tramping, pilfering and petitioning

Eventually led to collective riot

As a response to high food prices,

And also unemployment in the cloth trade,

And so, the indigent workless,

through want doe already steale

and are like to starve or doe worse’;

Numbers were so vast that good hearted charity,

And politic efforts to assist

‘by raising of public stockes for their imployment in worke’

Were doomed to inevitable failure:

JPs could not compel clothiers

To give work when they had no markets –

And so, the judges of assize then thought

That they should write to the privy council:

‘Craveinge pardon for our bouldnes,

wee humbly leave this greate and weighty cause

to your grave and juditious consideration’.

Gloucestershire Justices of the Peace

Were of similarly bleak outlook

Later in the year of 1622:

‘the complaints of the weavers and other poore workefolkes depending upon the trade of clothinge …

doe daylie increase in that their worke

and meanes of reliefe doe more and more decay.’

In consequence, it was impossible

‘to releeve the infinite number of poore people residing within the same drawne hither by meanes of clothing.’

 

What of over on the river’s other bank,

In the charcoal-burning free-mining

Forest of Dean?

Enclosure (‘privatisation of land’)

In the Forest of Dean was met in 1631

By some five hundred inhabitants who

‘did with two drummes, two coulers and one fife in a warlike and outrageous manner assemble themselves together armed with gunnes, pykes, halberds and other weapons.’

They tore down enclosures in the Snead,

And also, in Mailescott Woods, where they also

Fired muskets, threatened to destroy the house

Of an agent of Lady Villiers,

Threw cut timber of oak into the Wye,

And filled up three iron ore pits,

Together with an effigy of loathed

Sir Giles Mompesson, aka

‘The odious projector’.

Just a fortnight later, some 3,000

Gathered with the steady beating of drums

And the flying of pennants and banners,

To destroy enclosures and burn houses.

 

By the early summer, the Dean enclosures

Had been pretty well removed, although some

Residual rioting took place up at Cannop Chase,

Where enclosures held by the secretary

to the Lord Treasurer, no less,

Were once more destroyed in January 1632,

While further rejections of authority

Took place when enclosures were partially restored

By the rich, as at Mailescott Woods

In July 1633, due to

‘loose and disorderly persons in the night tyme.’

 

These were the revolts of the poor and those who are

‘Condemned to the enormous condescension of posterity’,

 

But who can, or might be, identified,

From these nocturnal depredations?

 

John Williams aka ‘Skimington’,

A labourer/miner from English Bicknor,

Was identified as a ringleader;

A target for arrest in 1631,

Over 120 men advanced,

Under the orders of the undersheriff,

‘before the breake of the day towards the house of one John Williams called by the name of Skymington thinking to have caught him in his bed’

Prior warning led to his escape,

And bribes for information from the poor

Proved to be as ineffective as the force

Of horse and sword and musket.

Star Chamber then became involved

With Williams in 1632,

For this Skymington had ‘threatened and used

some violence to the agents for the King,

that he would serve them as he did others

that intrenched upon his liberties

in the forest of Deane.’

Williams was, however, captured,

And then moved from Gloucester Castle to Newgate

(Where he spent five years).

The response in the Forest of Dean to this?

William Cowse, who arrested Williams,

Was attacked at Newland parish church

By ‘the under sort of people.’

 

No one was convicted but local JPs

Were ordered to provide armed guards for Cowse,

And his assistants when they were in the Forest

Pursuing the business of King Charles 1st.

 

The Skimmington tradition and its rough music

Reflected the tradition of a moral economy

And a moral society based upon justice

And a living commonality,

So, it is no surprise to see the Skimmington symbol

Reappear on the eastern bank of the Severn

Between Frampton and Slimbridge in 1631 –

Enclosures had been torn down twenty years before,

But after restoration, peace returned,

Until June 1631, when it was said that:

‘Skymingtones leiuetenaunts and some five more of his company were come to Frampton-upon-Seaverne in the County of Gloucester with an intent to throw in the inclosures of the new groundes.’

This was all hot air, but is an indication

Of the nervousness of the local ruling class

(With some good reason) –

While rumours further circulated that

‘money and victualls’ would be given

To any who would tear down the enclosures.

 

The Privy Council was more than irritated

With the impotent local authorities,

Especially in the Forest of Dean:

‘We hold this for an extreame neglect of your duties’;

‘Hereof yee must not faile as yee tender his Majesties

heavy displeasure.’

Annoyance continued with the inability

Of the county authorities to stop riots

and arrest rioters, ‘when we

consider what expresse and carefull directions have been from tyme to tyme given by this board as well for the suppressing and preventing of the outrageous assemblies within the Forest of Deane as for the discoverie and apprehending of the offenders and proceeding with them in an exemplarie way.’

But a poorly trained and weak local militia …

The potential size of a riotous assembly

(3,000 determined souls!) …

The way in which potential witnesses

Disappeared into the Welsh Marches …

The indicted hiding within the vast forests,

Valleys, hills and hidden hamlets

Of the Dean, Herefordshire,

Monmouthshire, the Marches …

The ‘base disorderly persons’

Who confronted official ‘search parties,

All accentuated the perception of official impotence;

Sir Ralph Dutton, the sheriff of Gloucester,

Blamed the topography:

‘in regard of the Seaverne on the one side and the River of Wye, the other two shires on the other side, and the woods, hills, myne pitts and colepitts where they dwell, the apprehending of them becomes very difficult and must be effected only by policy never by strength.’

This policy included overt and covert bribery.

The result?

The grand total of just three arrests.

 

The solidarity between labourers, free miners,

And assorted artisans in the Dean,

In the face of enclosure and

Other intrusions such as ironworks

And privately owned blast furnaces,

Was, of course, as important as topography,

In the battle against authority.

Rights of common were vital to the health

And well-being of individuals,

Families and the whole community:

 

Such common rights included pasture

For sheep and cattle; pannage for pigs,

And rights of estover: For example:

Collecting deadwood for winter warmth,

Wood for fencing, housing and outbuildings;

 

This solidarity had stood the test of time:

When the Earl of Pembroke, in 1612,

Started an ironworks – ‘the King’s ironworks’

With blast furnaces, forges, and enclosure,

‘Robin Hoods’ promptly, consequentially,

Burned the wood all cut ready and waiting

For the ironworks – ‘the King’s ironworks’;

This tradition of direct action

Stretched way back, for example,

Back in 1594, 15 tons of wood

Earmarked for royal use was rendered useless

By the simple but lengthy expedient

Of being cut into uselessly tiny pieces;

In 1605, riots occurred

When timber cut for Sir Edward Winter’s

Supplies of charcoal and his iron works

Caused outrage that estover rights

Were being appropriated.

 

Court decisions reached compromises

Between the rights of property and estover,

But free born miners continued to defy

These court decisions in the Forest

In what was ‘royal demesne’,

By defying authority and selling iron ore

Wherever and to whomever they wished.

In effect, one could argue that

the said mynors whose educacion

had bene onely in labour of this kind’

and who desired that they

‘might be permitted to utter their overplus

or remayne of their said oare or myne

to the relief of their wives and children

to any others who will buye the same’

Had defied – successfully -the monarchy,

And all its attendant forces and structures

Of local and national law and order.

 

The staccato ‘guerrilla warfare’

Continued, as we have seen and read,

Beyond the reign of King James and into

The reign of King Charles 1,

Culminating, in 1641,

In the destruction of fully 12 miles

Of enclosures around ‘privatised’ forest areas.

The Civil War, starting in 1642,

And the Siege of Gloucester in the following year,

Brought new perspectives on ‘disafforestation’,

A sort of ‘cease-fire’, as it were,

In the battle between privatisation,

Enclosure and monopoly on the one side,

And rights of estover and free born miners,

On the subaltern other.

But ‘In 1645 the ironworks and the right to cordwood … were leased anew to Colonel Edward Massey by authority of a parliamentary ordinance. From this point until 1659, the …policy of the Stuarts – the exploitation of the forest as a source of timber, cordwood, and iron ore – was reintroduced. With this inheritance went all the problems that Stuart governments had to face … Complaints about the activities of the poor grew more frequent … Thus, forest officers lamented in 1647 that:

‘There is still a great spoyle done in the forrest in cutting downe very many of the best oake and beech trees by the Cabbiners and others poore and beggerly persons wee are not able to suppresse them; they resist us and have often beaten and abused most of us …if there be not some speedy course of action taken for the pulling down of these cabins and for the punishing of these beggerly persons that are common spoylers of the timber there wilbe every day more and more spoyles made and committed.’

Two years later, the year of Charles’ execution,

A commission observed that these ‘cabbiners’

‘Chiefly poor vagabonds and strangers who had crept into the forest’ sustained themselves and their families ‘by cutting, cording, burning’ any tree they fancied. Others who ‘spoyled the forest’ included those who made tools, barrels and cardboard.

 

How did Cromwell and the Commonwealth respond?

The republic responded with partial generosity;

Only one third of the Forest of Dean

Was allocated for enclosure in 1657,

With commons legal rights given to locals

For the other two thirds of the forest,

For sustenance, work, income, living and pleasure.

Even so, enclosures in the privatised third

Were torn down and destroyed in 1659.

 

How did the government of Charles the Second respond?

‘The post-Restoration of Dean is beyond the scope of this work, but we should note that it was one of the few forests in which disafforestation was permanently reversed … in 1688 Dean was reafforested by Act of Parliament … This meant returning the forest to an open commons to be exploited by the inhabitants … During the next 150 years, however, the inhabitants frequently rioted against attempts to erect enclosures or to impose regulations on their right to common.’

But that’s another story: Warren James.

We shall eventually research and put on a walk about Warren, after reading Ralph Anstis’ book, but for the moment, for those who are interested, it’s https://www.forestofdeanhistory.org.uk/learn-about-the-forest/green-plaque-warren-james-1792-1841/

 
 
 
 
 

Slimbridge Turned Upside Down

 

After the Civil War At Slimbridge Waste
A ragged band they called the Diggers came to settle with good haste,
They defied the landlords
They defied the laws
They were the dispossessed reclaiming what was theirs

We come in peace they said to dig and sow
We come to work the lands in common and to make the waste grounds grow
This Earth divided we will make whole so it will be a common treasury for all

The sin of property we do disdain
No man has any right to buy and sell the Earth for private gain
By theft and murder they took the land
Now everywhere the walls spring up at their command
They make the laws to chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven or they damn us into hell
We will no worship the God they serve
The God of greed who feed the rich while poor men starve

We work we eat together
We need no swords
We will not bow to the masters or pay rent to the lords
We are free men, though we are poor
You Diggers all stand up for glory stand up now

But all has gone and disappeared
Even though the Diggers stood firm and upright without fear
Where were their cottages, where was their corn
They were dispersed but still the vision lingers on
You Poor take courage you rich take care
This Earth was made a common treasury for everyone to share
All things in common, all people one
The Diggers’ heritage still lingers in this song.

So, when you walk by Severn’s grace

Make sure you visit what was Slimbridge Waste

And stand around and sing this song

All things in common and all the people one.

Ye Prologue to the above (from olde notes)

 

So, there was Charles with his HQ at Oxford

(Having been turfed out of London at Turnham Green),

And if he were to retake London,

Then the Royalist armies in the West

Would have to advance towards Oxford,

 And thence east to the capital:

Taking Parliamentary cities that stood in his way:

Exeter fell, then mighty Bristol,

And so, Gloucester was next on the Royalist list

In the year of our Lord,1643.

But there was much ado around these parts,

Even before the Siege of Gloucester.

Archbishop Laud’s High Church reforms of railing off of altars

Led to Puritan complaints in Stroud.

Then in February 1643,

Prince Rupert wrote to his uncle, the king,

About Stroud and Minchinhampton

(Together with other cloth towns),

“Great quantities of cloth, canvas and buckrams

were to be had” for uniforms.

This appropriation was meant to be peaceful but it was said that

“They took away cloth, wool and yarn, besides other goods from the clothiers about Stroudwater, to be their utter undoing, not only of them and theirs, but of thousands of poor people, whose livelihood depends on that trade.”

With Gloucester on the Royalist shopping list,

Parliament took preventative action,

Encircling Gloucester with garrisons

at Stroud, Frocester, Sapperton and Beverstone.

There were other garrisons at Painswick, Miserden, Cirencester, Tetbury, Wotton, Dursley, Berkeley, Thornbury, Hampton Rd., Eastington, Frampton, Slimbridge, Arlingham and Brookthorpe.

The next month saw bloodshed at Barber’s Bridge,

When the Welsh Royalists were trapped after action at Highnam

(There is a monument nearby to commemorate the fallen),

 Captured Royalists were imprisoned

in St. Mary de Lode, St. Mary’s Square.

Be that as it may, King Charles’ army advanced on Gloucester

From Bristol via Tetbury, thence to Painswick,

where he stayed and where he issued a royal proclamation

in August 1643

(You can follow part of his route at King Charles’ Way

Straddling the Laurie Lee Walk above Slad).

His soldiers camped out on Painswick Beacon,

Before advancing upon Gloucester.

Notable events (and sites to see) during the siege include:

30 Westgate Street, hit by incendiaries August 1643.

The spire of St Nicholas’ Church in Westgate Street was hit.

Over has the remains of earthworks involved in

Sir William Vavasour’s Royalist

Advance on the city from the west.

Lady Well at Robinswood Hill

Provided the first piped water for the city:

The Royalists cut this supply at the beginning of the siege.

The lie of the land in Brunswick Street

And Parliament Street offer evidence

Of how defences were constructed:

A house here is called Bastion House.

Gaudy Green was where the Royalists

Placed the artillery battery

Of apocryphal Humpty Dumpty fame.

Llanthony Priory was the site of

One of the most important Royalist camps

(Parliamentarians destroyed the former priory church tower before the Siege so it was disabled as a potential Royalist reconnaissance point).

While Greyfriars was badly damaged by Royalist cannon in the siege,

it became an important point for Colonel Massey

as he directed the Parliamentarian defence of the city.

Look for a sundial at St. Mary de Crypt –

This marks the spot, so it is said,

Where a cannon ball did its damage.

Where else to call?

Hempsted Church, to locate the tomb of John Freeman,

Royalist and Captain of Horse.

26 Westgate Street: the possible site

Of Colonel Massey’s Parliamentarian H.Q.

The Cross, where Colonel Massey stationed

His main guard, ready for quick deployment.

The Olde Crowne Inn – a cannon ball

weighing 20 lbs. flew through a bedroom window

on the 24th August and

considerately decided to land upon a pillow.

A fire was to be lit on Wainlode Hill to signal succour for Gloucester.

And it was lit:

The Earl of Essex made his painstaking way from London with relief for Gloucester and the Royalists withdrew from Gloucester on September 5th 1643.

‘A City assaulted by Man but saved by God”

After the Siege:

(Old draft notes of mine)

Colonel Edward Massey warned the Earl of Essex in an October 1643 letter that the Royalist strategy would be based on gaining control of local food supplies. He said the Royalists meant “to lie at” Stroud and Painswick as well as Cheltenham and market towns in the Forest of Dean.

Then in March 1644, St. Mary’s Church in Painswick became “both a prison and a redoubt.” Colonel Massey established a garrison there to further help protect Gloucester. Royalists used cannon and grenades in their attack on the church, setting fire to the doors whilst also damaging the tower (evidence visible today). Parliamentary prisoners were kept there, one of whom was a Richard Foot, who scratched an inscription (derived from Spenser’s “Faery Queen”) upon a pillar: “Be bolde, be bolde, but not too bolde.”

Two months later, in May,1644, Beverstone Castle fell to Parliamentary forces. It was said that this helped release “the clothiers of Stroudwater from the bondage of terror” of Beverstone’s Royalist army.

In 1645, Royalists burnt down the manor house at Lypiatt Park, when after the roundhead garrison. The cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral were treated less badly by the Scottish Army in 1645: the cavalry merely stabled their horses there.

After the War:

Let’s go to Painswick:

A walk down Beech Lane to Dell’s Farm will take you to a Friends’ Burial Ground, from 1658. The walled enclosure contains nine ledger slabs; the usual Quaker practice was a nameless internment – a stone’s throw away from the parish church. Quakers were not allowed burials within the Established Church while in 1655, the Grand Jury of Gloucestershire complained about such people as “Ranters, Levellers and atheists, under the name of Quakers” and there was obviously a sizeable Quaker community in the area.

Brian Manning in “The Far Left in the English Revolution” points out that although the Levellers “provided much of the philosophy and programme of radicalism”, the Quakers were important too, and were to the “left” of the Presbyterians, Independents and Republicans who “dominated the revolution.” Christopher Cheeseman, a nationally famous Leveller, was also a Quaker and so we can imagine locals agreeing with a Quaker who chastised the rich thus: “Because of your much earth, which by fraud, deceit, and oppression you have gotten together, you are exalted above your fellow creatures, and grind the faces of the poor, and they are as slaves under you…” Many Quakers at this stage, had much in common with the Diggers, Ranters and other millenarian sects that wanted to turn “the world upside down” …

Just as the Digger, Gerard Winstanley believed that “Everyone shall look upon each other as equal in the creation”, so Quakers believed in “equality in all things…” as humanity was “of one blood and mould, being the sons of Adam by nature, and all children of god by creation.”

It is, therefore, perhaps, quite logical to imagine a degree of local agreement with the Diggers’ equation of unfair government with the Antichrist: “government that gives liberty to the gentry to have all the earth, and shut out the poor commoners from enjoying any part, ruling by tyrannical law…this is the government of…Antichrist…” (Winstanley). This is an important reminder to us, gentle readers: when we recreate the outlook of our radical forebears, we must remember that their consciousness makes no division between the spiritual and the mundane, between the celestial and the political. We must also remember the gentleness of the Quakers in their daily discourse: then, etiquette demanded that one address a social superior with the word “you”; “thou” was seen as a term of familiarity; needless to say, Quakers used “thou” to all, as a sign of their recognition of the equality of individuals.

But we must still accept that, in general, the Quakers were not quite as radical as the communistic Diggers, with their famous agrarian commune at St. George’s Hill, in Buckinghamshire (although a1659 contemporary viewed a Quaker as “ a sower of sedition, or a subverter of the laws, a turner of the world upside down…”). This is the Digger community that is remembered but a further 10 or so Digger communities were born across England – and in 1650, a “rude multitude” destroyed landlords’ fences near Frampton and Slimbridge. (Slimbridge must have been quite a place then for direct action – similar stuff had happened in the Civil War and as long ago as 1631.) The cavalry had to be called out to quell the disturbances.

It is of importance to note here, that at this stage in the evolution of Quakerism, there was no, as it were, doctrinal commitment to pacifism: we can imagine the support there must have been for the local Diggers. There may also have been passive support for the Leveller Mutiny, whose ringleaders were executed at Burford. There was probably knowledge about, and passive support for the anti-enclosure disturbances in the Forest of Dean; troops had to be called out there too.

For those of us influenced by occult continuities and ley line coincidences, a la Peter Ackroyd and Alfred Watkins, a report by Ben Falconer in the Stroud Life, July 11th, 2012, might be of some interest at this point. Ben describes how the “Slimbridge Dowsers” located a lost village of 35 cottages, a long barrow, and a church that became a chantry in a triangular field called the Leys, at St. Augustine’s Farm, Arlingham. Farmer Rob Jewell said, “Having farmed that field all my life, I knew it was different but I never knew why.” The field is alongside Silver Street, “a pre-Roman track…which runs from Cirencester, through Arlingham to a ford across the Severn to Broadoak on the other side. The church was in alignment with May Hill…” Mr. Jewell went on to say that “It was fascinating. I did not expect anything like it. I could not take it all in. It makes sense…beside an ancient main access.” It would be great if the evidence of the Digger settlement on Slimbridge waste could one day be located; Nigel Costley in “West Country REBELS” says that, “Little is known of the community and it is likely that it was brutally suppressed.” For those two reasons alone, apart from anything else, a pilgrimage to Frampton and Slimbridge is necessary, perhaps with a local Clarion bicycling group.

Whatever: the monarchy returned in 1660 – look out for Charles the Second hiding in trees on inn signs on your future travels. But why not visit Milton Street in Painswick. Reflect on John Milton. The author of Comus, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Areopagitica, The Readie and Easie Way to establish a Free Commonwealth, Samson Agonistes: the poet who denounced censorship; argued for “ a just division of wastes and commons”; who believed that “all men naturally were born free”; the writer of whom Christopher Hill said: “It is Milton’s glory that in the time of utter defeat, when Diggers, Ranters and Levellers were silenced and Quakers had abandoned politics, he kept something of the radical intellectual achievement alive for Blake and many others to quarry.”

 

 

The East India Company

 The information boards at Chalford intrigue,

Because of the lack of information:

At Chalford Vale and along the canal,

We are told about the local links

With the East India Company,

But we are not told about the practice

Of the East India Company;

The information boards are products of their time …

Times change and context is needed.

 

We start this contextualisation

Revealing a hidden colonial history

Within this leafy Cotswold landscape,

With a heat-wave peripatetic.

 

We start at Seville’s Mill in Chalford,

 

‘Today I would like to acknowledge

The Tory new mantra for History:

‘Retain and explain’,

Coupled with their ‘Culture Wars’ assertions:

‘You can’t change and airbrush history’,

And ‘The British Empire was a Good Thing’,

By letting the ‘Past Speak for Itself’,

From the pages of Jack P. Greene’s erudite tome,

Evaluating Empire and Confronting Colonialism

 

in Eighteenth-Century Britain’:

The East India Company?

‘those shameful triumphs over unwarlike and defenceless nations, which have poured into the laps of individuals the wealth of India … and driven us to plunder and destroy harmless natives fixed so deep a stain on the English name, as perhaps cannot be expiated.’

‘changed, contrary to the intentions of its institution, from a commercial, into a military corporation’, so that India – a ‘country, late so famous for its commerce, whose rich manufacturers brought to it immense wealth from every corner of the tributary world, and whose fertile plains supplied millions of its neighbours with grain’ is ‘unable now to yield itself the bare necessities of life. The loom is unemployed, neglected lies the plough; trade is at a stand, for there are no manufacturers to carry it on’; multitudes are ‘perishing for want of food.’

‘a revenue of two millions in India, acquired God knows how, by unjust wars … their servants came home with immense fortune obtained by rapine and oppression.’

‘and indeed it is clearly proved, that the East India Company is rotten to the very core. All is equally unsound; and you cannot lay your finger on a single healthy spot whereon to begin the application of a remedy. In the east, the laws of society, the laws of nature, have been enormously violated. Oppression in every shape has ground the faces of the poor defenceless natives; and tyranny has stalked abroad. The laws of England have lain mute and neglected and nothing was seen but the arbitrary face of despotism. Every sanction of civil justice, every maxim of political wisdom, all laws human and divine, have been trampled underfoot, and set at nought.’

‘Pride and emulation stimulated avarice, and the sole contest was, who should return to that home … with the greatest heap of crimes and of plunder.’

‘Asiatic plunderers’, ‘they had for many years been disgracing us as a nation and making us appear in the eyes of the world, no longer the once-famed generous Britons, but a set of banditti, bent solely on rapine and plunder.’

‘executions, oppressions, blood-shed, massacres, extirpation, pestilence and famine.’

‘Instead of our fleets crowding our ports freighted with the precious commodities of the East … we have … the importation of the fortunes of splendid delinquents, amassed by peculation and rapine.’

 
 

Parallels with the Roman Empire?

‘the dominions in Asia, like the distant Roman provinces during the decline of the empire, have been abandoned, as lawful prey, to every species of peculators; in so much that many of the servants of the Company, after exhibiting such scenes of barbarity as can be scarcely paralleled in the history of any country, have returned to England loaded with wealth.’

 
 

Clive of India?

‘utterly deaf to every sentiment of justice and humanity … this insatiable harpy, whose ambition is unparalleled, and whose avarice knows no bounds.’

 

America and India Conjoined?

‘We have abused and adulterated government ourselves, stretching our depredations and massacres not only to the Eastern, but Western world … the guilt of murder and robbery … now crying aloud for vengeance on the head of Great Britain.’

 

‘How melancholy is the consideration to the friends to this country that in the East and in the West, in Asia and America, the name of an Englishman is become a reproach’, and in ‘Europe we are not loved enough to have a single friend … from such a situation there is but a small step to hatred or contempt.’

 

We make our way up and through Chalford Bottom,

Remembering the great radical John Thelwall,

Who stayed here in the summer of 1797:

‘Therefore I love, Chalford, and ye vales

Of Stroud, irriguous:[i] but still more I love

For hospitable pleasures here enjoy’d,

And cordial intercourse. Yet must I leave

Your social haunts …’

 

And so, we made our way to Hyde and Minchinhampton,

Collectively reading from this link:

 

We then processed by lane and footpath to Box,

And then descended to Longford’s Mill,

Where we had a reading from Amplify Stroud:

Then it was past Iron Mills and the Weighbridge Inn,

With an unhappy glance back at the Great War:

And so, along the lanes and through the woods

To reach Nailsworth and another reminder

Of the local landscape and a colonial history

(See towards the end of this link):

 

We started the day with the bus to Chalford

And we end this peripatetic with a bus back to Stroud.

 

Stuart Butler 22nd July 2021

 
 

The archway at Sevilles Mill is where they would have bleached/cleansed the wool. Sulphur was used so it was done outside to disperse the fumes.

 

The woods at Chalford Bottom, where John Thelwall would have walked.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Click Me

The Cragg Vale Coiners

Does the story of the Cragg Vale Coiners

Remind you of the moral economy –

Back in the 18th century when

Citizens would register anger

At unjust wages and unfair prices,

With protests, demonstrations, gatherings,

Rioting, strikes, and beating pots and pans,

In a cacophony of rough music,

With carnival skimmington processions,

And letters to the landlords and the rich:

A repertoire of collective dissent?

This was the expression and practice

Of the moral economy at work and play:

The belief in ethics and morality,

In justice, fair play and commonality,

Rather than the ‘laws’ of supply and demand:

The red in tooth and claw market forces

Of profit-seeking capitalism.

Does the tale of the Turvey Clippers fit into this jigsaw?

Well, certainly on the one hand, it does –

Here’s Steve Hartley (a descendent of ‘King David’)

Describing a community-collective of sorts:

“The difference in Cragg Vale was the number of people involved and the support the Coiners gained by ensuring that it was not only the Coiners that made a profit, but anyone assisting them in their activities also benefited.

Most of the local populace … were farmers using weaving to supplement their meagre income … occupations of the people involved were generally related to the woollen or worsted trades … draw boy weavers, stuff makers, shalloon weavers, and wool combers …

In 1771, a woven ‘piece’ would sell in Halifax for around 11 pence, but this was reduced to around 8 pence by 1774. It could take up to eighty hours to produce a piece …

The Coiners’ policy of paying an extra shilling for an unclipped guinea enabled those not directly part of the gang to boost their own income without necessarily taking part in the act of coining itself.”

 

So here we have a seeming Robin Hood and his Merry Men and Women

Subverting the very essence and currency of capitalism:

The artisan hand in glove with King Midas:

The working-class subverting royal and ducal titles,

In an act of alchemy and mythology

That transcends the usual A level definition

Of the purposes of ‘money’:

A unit of account; a store of value;

a medium of exchange; a standard of deferred payment.

And in the age of enclosure, war and enslavement,

There in Calderdale in Cragg Vale,

A gold coin glinting in the fire flames,

Clippings drifting in the smoky air,

A material transubstantiation,

Money seemingly made out of thin air,

With an alchemical metaphor:

Not an Old Testament burning bush,

But the grafting of a magic money tree:

An illegal act but not immoral –

As opposed to the transatlantic slave trade;

An illegal but not immoral act of quantitative easing,

As opposed to the £20 million ‘compensation’,

Paid to enslavers after ‘abolition’.

‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.’

But no William Blake mind-forg’d manacles

Far away from London up there in Cragg Vale:

To see a world in a grain of gold

And a Heaven in a new clipped guinea

Hold subversion in the palm of your hand

And defy the rules of the Treasury.

The Moral Economy

Remember the moral economy?

Back in the 18th century when

Citizens would register anger

At unjust wages and unfair prices

With protests, demonstrations, gatherings,

Rioting, strikes, and beating pots and pans

In a cacophony of rough music,

With carnival skimmington processions,

And letters to the landlords and the rich

With a repertoire of collective dissent.

This was the expression and practice

Of the moral economy at work and play:

The belief in ethics and morality,

In justice, fair play and commonality,

Rather than the ‘laws’ of supply and demand:

The red in tooth and claw market forces

Of profit-seeking capitalism.

Remember William Blake:

‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower’?

The Heavens, the Long Table, Doverow Hill,

Juniper Hill, Cirencester Park,

Food banks, the cost-of-living crisis:

Once more the moral economy

Is confronted by the search for profit.

What next in the repertoire of dissent,

From the proud traditions and heritage

Of the moral economy?

What next?

 

Chartism and Voting 1839-2024

(With thanks to Deborah Roberts for the memories above

from our tribute to the Chartist meeting at Selsley in 1839)

Getting the Right to Vote Wasn’t Easy

An Easy Guide to this History

 

In 1819, in Manchester, a perfectly legal peaceful meeting of over 60,000 women and men campaigning for the vote for working people was attacked by the military. Over 400 were wounded and 18 died: ‘The Peterloo Massacre’.

 

At that time, the aristocracy essentially controlled parliament: less than 10% of men had the vote. Then in 1832, middle class men gained the vote. This increased the electorate to about 20% of men. Working-class men and all women were still voteless. Many working-class people had campaigned hard for the vote and had helped the middle classes but were left excluded, disappointed and angry.

 

This disappointment helped lead to the movement known as Chartism. It was called that because it had a Charter (‘The People’s Charter’) with Six Points that would bring political rights to ordinary people.

 

The Six Points: 1. All adult males to have the vote rather than needing to own property to vote. 2. Ending the law that you had to own property to be an MP. 3. Make sure that industrial working-class towns and cities had the right number of MPs. 4. MPs to be paid so that it wouldn’t be a hobby of the rich and ordinary working-class people could afford to become MPs.5. Secret voting to stop bribery and intimidation by bosses and landlords etc. 6. Annual parliaments to ensure MPs and governments kept their promises.

 

The Chartists presented three petitions to parliament (1839, 1842, 1848) with millions of signatures in support: each one was rejected by a parliament setting its face against democracy. Indeed, Chartist leaders faced not only imprisonment but also transportation and execution. It needed courage to stand up for the right to vote and millions showed that courage. Let’s not let them down: this is our heritage!

 

Remember that! Please honour this memory by ensuring that you are registered to vote!

 

And also remember the mass-meeting of 5,000 people in support of the People’s Charter on Selsley Hill in 1839 (twenty years after ‘Peterloo’). Our local ancestors took a lot of risks on that day to show their support for the Six Points – so let’s remember that in Stroud and the Five Valleys and beyond by making sure we are registered to vote. They showed courage up there on Selsley Common. Let’s not let them down.

 

Now for a short quiz: 1. Which of the Six Points has not become law? 2. Can you find out when each of the other five became law? 3. When did all women over the age of 21 get the vote? 4. And men? 5. About what percentage of soldiers in the First World War did not have the vote? 6. When did people over the age of 18 get the vote? 7. What are your opinions on lowering the voting-age to 16?

 

Finally … Chartism was a movement of its time and focused on men … but not solely …

The following is from the hugely-popular Chartist newspaper, the Northern Star, from 1839:

‘Address of the Female Political Union of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

to their Fellow-countrywomen’
‘We have been told that the province of woman is her home, and that the field of politics should be left to men; this we deny … For years we have struggled to maintain our homes … greet our husbands after their fatiguing labours. Year after year have passed away, and even now our wishes have no prospect of being realised, our husbands are over wrought, our houses half furnished, our families ill-fed, and our children uneducated … We are a despised caste, our oppressors are not content with despising our feelings, but demand the control of our thoughts and wants!’

 

We remember the fallen at Remembrance-tide.

Let’s also remember the Chartists and register to vote at Election-tide.

 

If you want to find out more about Chartism nationally, you can visit http://radicalstroud.co.uk/the-5-ws-and-the-h-of-chartism/

 

If you want to find out more about the meeting on Selsley Common, you can visit http://radicalstroud.co.uk/we-put-on-our-best-blouses-aprons-and/

And also http://radicalstroud.co.uk/selsley-hill-august-2nd-2013-and-may/

 

A Repertoire of Opposition to Enclosure

A Repertoire of Opposition to Enclosure

The Northampton Mercury contained an ‘advertisement for a football match’ at the end of July 1765 to take place over two days, August 1st and 2nd: ‘This is to give notice to all Gentlemen, Gamesters and Well-Wishers to the cause now in Hand. That there will be a FOOT-BALL play in the Fields of Haddon … for a Prize of considerable value … All Gentlemen Players are desired to appear in any of the Public Houses in Haddon aforesaid each day between the hours of ten and twelve in the Forenoon, where they will be joyfully received and entertained.’

On Monday 4th August 1765, the Northampton Mercury reported thus:

‘We hear from West Haddon in this County, that on Thursday and Friday last a great Number of People being assembled there in order to play a Foot-Ball Match, soon after meeting formed themselves into a Tumultuous Mob, and pulled up and burnt the Fences designed for the Inclosure of that Field, and did other considerable Damage; many of whom are since taken up by a Party of General Mordaunt’s Dragoons sent from this Town.’

 

Football matches are just one example

Of a whole repertoire of opposition

To the supporters of enclosure:

Grumbling, counter-petitioning,

Refusal to cooperate with surveyors,

Tearing down hedges and fences,

Writing formal letters of opposition,

Leaving threatening letters of opposition,

Refusal to sign enclosure bills,

Refusal to sign sundry legal documents,

Stealing boundary markers,

Removing indicators of field boundaries,

Writing local landscape poems,

Expressing anger in public,

Expressing feelings of violation,

Ensuring those feelings were shared communally

And transmitted through the generations:

Here is an example – a full generation

After enclosure had hit this particular village:

‘To the Gentlemen of Ashill, Norfolk,

This is to inform you that you have by this time brought us under the heaviest burden and into the hardest Yoke we ever knowed; it is too hard for us to bear … You do as you like, you rob the poor of their Commons right, plough the grass up that God send to grow, that a poor man may feed a Cow, Pig, Horse, nor Ass; lay muck and stones in the road to prevent the grass growing. If a poor man is out of work and wants a day or two’s work you will give him 6d. per week … There is 5 or 6 of you have gotten the whole of the land in this parish in your own hands and you would wish to be rich and starve all the other part of the parish…’

And here’s John Clare:

‘Inclosure came and trampled on the grave

Of labours rights and left the poor a slave

And memorys pride ere want to wealth did bow

is both the shadow and the substance now …’

And John Clare again:

‘That good old fame the farmers earnd of yore

That made as equals not as slaves the poor

That good old fame did in two sparks expire

A shooting coxcomb and. hunting Squire

And their old mansions that was dignified

With things far better than the pomp of pride …

Where master son and serving man and clown

Without distinction daily sat them down …

These have all vanished like a dream of good …’

And the folklore passed through the generations:

‘The law locks up the man or woman

Who steals the goose from off the common

But leaves the greater villain loose

Who steals the common off the goose.’

And when we look at the opposition to enclosure,

And the repertoire of dissent,

We must remember that not only

Are the textual records incomplete

(You have to keep secrets, don’t you?),

But that the repertoire of dissent’s

Oral opposition within an oral culture

Is, of course, impossible to recapture:

The hatred, bitterness, sense of violation,

Feelings of robbery, jobbery, misery and theft,

The loss of gleaning rights and rights of estover,

The loss of pasture and right to roam:

All, of course, the intangible history

Of all those villagers and commoners

’Condemned to the enormous condescension of posterity’.

In conclusion, john Clare again:

The Lament of Swordy Well:

In Swordy Well a piece of land

That fell upon the town

Who worked me till I couldn’t stand

&crush me now Im down

There was a time my bit of ground

Made freeman of the slave

The ass no pindard dare to pound

When I his supper gave

The gypseys camp was not afraid

I made his dwelling free

Till vile enclosure came & made

A parish slave of me

Alas dependence thou’rt a brute

Want only understands

His feelings wither branch & root

That falls in parish hands

Addendum

What of letter writing & formality,

Using the goose and common trope?

A case study:

A letter sent to the Marquess of Anglesey:

‘Where is now the degree of virtue which can withstand interest? …

Should a poor man take one of Your sheep from the common, his life would be forfeited by law. But should You take the common from a hundred poor mens sheep, the law gives no redress. The poor man is liable to be hung from taking from You what would supply You with a meal & You would do nothing illegal by depriving him of his subsistence; nor is Your family supplied for a day by a subtraction which distresses his for life! … Yet the causers of crimes are more guilty than the perpetrators. What must be the inference of the poor? when they see those who should be their patterns defy morality for gain, especially when, if wealth could give contentment, they had enough wherewith to be satisfied.  And when the laws are not accessible to the injured poor and Government gives them no redress.’

The Marquis replied thus:

‘Excepting as the mere fact of the Inclosure, the forming of which no one has a right to contest, All your statements are without foundation & as your language is studiously Offensive I must decline any further communication with you.’

 

‘The law locks up the man or woman

Who steals the goose from off the common

But leaves the greater villain loose

Who steals the common off the goose.

  The law demands that we atone

When we take things we do not own

         But leaves the lords and ladies fine

        Who take things that are yours and mine.’

For anyone for whom John Clare is a new discovery:

http://radicalstroud.co.uk/john-clare-150th-anniversary-of-his/

and

http://radicalstroud.co.uk/john-clare-day-july-13/

 

A People’s History

 

A People’s Local History

I thought it would be a great thing to try and stimulate a collective writing of a People’s History: a textual tapestry of life, work and landscape around Stroud, the Five Valleys and the county in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries (and then eventually the 21st.)

 

How?

 

If you are interested in contributing, all I ask is that you might use your imagination and whatever historical knowledge you might have (might be family history) to write a few sentences or so about jobs, or work, or landscape, or industry, or farming, or the home and email me. You can, of course, write more if you wish.

 

We will then meld everything together into a sort of textual tapestry: a collective work: a People’s History.

 

Deadline for contributions: May 31st.

 

Here are 3 links that might help: First look at the inspiration for this idea at http://radicalstroud.co.uk/workshop-of-the-world/

 

Then a bit of relevant local history at http://radicalstroud.co.uk/an-a-to-z-of-the-jobs-of-those-transported-from-gloucestershire/

 

Then if you wanted to look at a quick guide for some ideas for writing: http://radicalstroud.co.uk/creative-writing-guide/

 

 

You can find my email address at http://radicalstroud.co.uk/about-us/

 

Give Thanks to the Book of Trespass

Give Thanks to the Book of Trespass

When you’re walking footloose and fancy-free

Along some seemingly ancient footpath,

Checking your progress on the OS map,

Senses working XTC overtime,

(Apophenia! You’re part of it all! Just look at the view!)

It’s hard to remember that this feeling

Is legal in only eight per cent

Of William Blake’s green and pleasant land.

We have been enclosed by enclosure.

That’s why our footpaths are so circumscribed:

These are not footpaths to high sky freedom,

But meanders into false consciousness

And beguiling illusions of liberty:

Pilgrims’ Progress to Herbert Marcuse’s

Conception of Repressive Tolerance,

And Robert Frost’s poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’.

We look ahead and become accustomed

To the hedges, fences, walls and barbed wire.

It all seems so normal and timeless.

We forget John Clare when near a hedgerow.

And we forget the western cowboy plains,

The industrialised warfare of the western front,

And the colonial subjugation

Symbolised by the silhouette

Of barbed wire stretching into the distance.

It was called No Man’s Land in the First World War.

That land between the lines of barbed wire.

For King and Country.

Well, eight per cent of it.

‘If you want the old battalion,

I know where they are, I know where they are, I know where they are,

If you want to find the old battalion, I know where they are,

They’re hanging on the old barbed wire,

I’ve seen ’em, I’ve seen ’em, hanging on the old barbed wire.

I’ve seen ’em, I’ve seen ’em, hanging on the old barbed wire.’

 

Written after reading The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes – inspiring! Totally recommended.