Wednesday, September 30, 2009

precursors and antecedents

On Saturday 12 September , two of our London members went by train from Waterloo station to Cobham in Surrey, for the unveiling of the Gerrard Winstanley plaque in the local parish church of St Andrew .

Fortunately we had a map of the area with us, as the god-box is situated about a 20 minute walk from the rural station. Judging by the property details in estate agents' windows, the average house price here is around £600,000, and as we passed one such shop one prospective buyer was heard to say to the other, "This one has only an outdoor pool not an indoors one"! Yes, Cobham is a salubrious location, no car is little, au pairs out with baby and typical so-called middle-class ambience, in what is said to be the wealthiest county in the land.

We arrived at our destination in time to have a chat with the local resident historian, David Taylor, stating that we were from the Socialist Party and had come to the unveiling ceremony. He allowed us to leave photocopies of the June 1978 Socialist Standard article, "Winstanley: a 17th Century Utopian Socialist" in the small exhibition display table inside the C of E building, at the front of the table and therefore prominent surrounded by about 10 or so books about the Digger Movement published over the past 60 years or so. Of the 50 copies taken by us, about 36 were taken by visitors to this Cobham Heritage Day event, probably because it was the only literature amongst the few items for sale that was free.

Daniel Boulton, the local vicar and the Professor of Biblical Exegesis at Oxford University made three speeches about Winstanley and he even stressed that Gerrard was not opposed to private property but only wished for common ownership of common lands !! Needless to say even this got up the noses of the local gentry. The plaque itself was designed by a wine-label designer who lives locally and is about 2' wide and 18" high, hardly at all conspicuous and the writing cut around the border of the small tablet is scarcely legible at a distance.

There were several dozen people apparently, according to David Taylor, from all over the country, interested enough to attend the unveiling. We talked to a London Party councillor representing a Labour History group, and another woman, a Christian Socialist teacher, whose most ardent desire was to bring history into the classroom, emphasising the importance of the mythical ascension god Jesus on her charges.

We bought copies of "Gerrard Winstanley and the Republic of Heaven" by David Boulton, Dales Historical Monograph, 1999 at £9.00 and "Gerrard Winstanley in Elmbridge", Appelton Publications, 2000, at £4.95.

Amongst the works in the exhibition were:
"The Works of Gerrard Winstanley". Ed George H. Sabine. Cornell UP, 1941
"The Alchemy of Revolution. Gerrard Winstanley Occultism and 17th century English Radical Christian Writings". Ed Andrew Bradstock and Christopher Rowland.
"Winstanley and the Diggers 1644-1999". Ed Andrew Bradstock. Frank Cash, 2000.
"Digger Tracts 1649-50". Ed Andrew Horton, Aporia Press.

I must also mention "The Digger Movement in the Days of the Commonwealth" , H. Berens, reprinted Dodo Press recently, and "Brave Community. The Digger Movement in the English Revolution", John Gurney , Manchester UP, 2007, reviewed in the Socialist Standard .

Throughout the day, "Winstanley" , a film directed by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, published by the BFI as a DVD, was showing in the exhibition area.

P.S. Even a food faddist enjoyed the cream tea in the Community Hall garden, but what really took the biscuit was the Duck Race – ducks flying, swimming or walking you might wonder? but no; hundreds of numbered yellow bath-ducks in Cobham mill-pond the vast majority becalmed and bunched at the side of the pond with only 5 or 6 of such creatures drifting slowly to the finishing line, the winner receiving a prize from the gold-chained mayor of Elmbridge. Has the memory of the Levellers and the Diggers been reduced to this – but it was anyway.
For more about the Diggers see here

1 comment:

ajohnstone said...

"There shall be no buying and selling of the earth, nor of the fruits thereof ...The earth is to be planted, and the fruits reaped and carried into barns and store-houses, by the assistance of every family. And if any man or family want corn or-other provision they may go to the store-houses and fetch without money. If they want a horse to ride, go into the fields in summer, or to the common stables in winter, and receive one from the keepers; and when your journey is performed, bring him where you had him, without money. If any want food or victuals, they may either go to the butchers' shops, and receive what they want without money; or else go to the flocks of sheep or herds of cattle, and take and kill what meat is needful for their families, without buying and selling. And the reason why all the riches of the earth are a common stock is this, because the earth, and the labours thereupon, are managed by common assistance of every family, without buying and selling; as is shewn how more largely in the office of overseers for trades and the law for store-houses...Store-houses shall be built and appointed in all places, and be the common stock.
There shall be store-houses in all places, both in the country and in cities, to which all the fruits of the earth, and other works made by tradesmen, shall be brought, and from thence delivered out again to particular families, and to everyone as they want for their use; or else to be transported by ship to other lands, to exchange for those things which our land will not or does not afford.
For all the labours of husbandmen and tradesmen within the land, or by navigation to or from other lands, shall be all upon the common stock.And as every one works to advance the common stock, so every one shall have a free use of any commodity in the store-house, for his pleasure and comfortable livelihood without buying and selling or restraint from any... The store-houses shall be every man's substance, and not any one's."