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.”