The Diggers 350 yr Anniversary
An account of the march to George’s Hill, Surrey, on Saturday the 3rd of April 1999, to commemorate Gerard Winnstanley and the 350th Anniversary of the Diggers encampments (1st April 1649).
“The work we are going about is this, to dig up George hill and the waste ground there abouts, and to sow Corn, and to our breads together by the sweat of our brows.”
Gerard Winnstanley & 14 others.
The true Levellers standard advance, April 1649
The Diggers march set out from Walton-on-Thames at just after 12:30pm on saturday. The point of the march was to commemorate the 350th Anniversary of the Diggers who first set out to “claim the land as a common treasury for all”. And to erect a stone, in honour of Gerard Winstanley, at George Hill in Surrey (just outside London) which is currently claimed by ‘St Georges golf course’.
At 12:30. the Town Crier of Brighton and Hove rang her bell, and in clear tones quoted Gerard Winstanely from his “New Years gift for Parliament and armie” in 1650
“Yet my mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted, and thoughts did run in me, that words and writings were all nothing and, must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou does not act, thou dost nothing.” And with this the event was in motion. People met and talked, and told each other new thing, and the stone which we were to erect was there, laid out on a very adequate and solid cart. “The cart was built especially for the purpose”, the craftsman told me, as I joined the cart pullers in taking the stone to the gathering point just round the corner. Though the stone is quite narrow, the cart was made out of what looked like a wheel base from a Morris Minor, and so we had to take it on the road as it wouldn’t fit on the pavement.
We stood in the street and waited for the mass of the march to assemble in the road. The banners were raised and the motorists calmed down. We set off on to the main rod leading to Georges’ hill. Spirits were high, and the march set off on the four mile walk with a sense of purpose. I counted about 280 marchers present (281 first count, 282 second count). Many people dressed in ‘traditional costume’ and quite a few carried shovels. There was a wide variety of people walking. Miles Halliwell was also present. He played the part of Gerard Winstanley in the movie about the Diggers movemet in the middle of the 1600’s. There were a two small arguments with motorists on the course of the march, both were resolved amicably once the motorists were made aware of the purpose of the walk, but other than this the march went without incident, and every body was very friendly and positive. The police directed the traffic.
We arrived at our destination at 15:45. The gates were unlocked and there was minimal security presence. There were several police vans on the far side of the green, they stayed where they were while we strode confidently onto the land we were claiming and the police and security left those assembled alone and we assembled next to wooded glade ‘on some one else’s bit !
It was difficult work pulling that cart, and it had been a privilege to participate in taking that monument to its’ proposed site. It gave me enough time to soak up what I have been learning, research, and living recently, and to reflect on the significance of our actions today. We struggled together to pull the monument to the site, but how the original Diggers must have struggled when they gave us a reason to celebrate and commemorate their noble and visionary cause.
I assisted in the final act of up-ending the cart in order to display the monument to those gathered. And once the stone carver had balanced the monument, the Town Crier called our attention with more words also said to be from Gerald Winstanley from ‘a bill of account of the most remarkable sufferings that the Diggers have met with from the 1st April 1649…. ” ……And here I end, having put my arm as far as my strength will go to advance Righteousness; I have writ, I have acted, I have peace; now I must wait to see the spirit do his work in the hearts of others, and whether England shall be the first land, or some others, wherein truth shall sit down in triumph”.
And then other people were invited to sing and ‘rattle on’. The first to speak was a man who was concerned with the issues surrounding todays’ action. We were all disappointed to here that the stone would not be dug in today because it probably would not be very long before the St. Georges’ golf course would have it removed or trashed or both. The golf course ‘allowing’ the stone to stand would probably present the possibility that people may visit the monument, and this might present a problem to the ‘owners’ of ‘non-members’ demanding access to the land on a more regular basis, and I don’t think that they would stand for that(!) Our spirits were lifted though on the news that the stone will be going to West Horsley, which is apparently the town of Parson Platts’, who gave the Diggers a bloody hard time during the land reclamation, he is said to have had a lot to do with the hatred of the church toward the Diggers. Would probably turn in his grave if he knew that the memorial stone commemorating his rival was to stand in his ‘home town’. But he need not turn for too long because the stone will only be there temporarily before it moves to (hopefully) a permanent position at George hill site. The speaker also told us how letters will be sent to the St. Georges hill residents association to try to receive their approval on the placing of the stone, because it is not the golf course who object to the memorial but the residents association. And not surprisingly so, because they probably aware of how they can be seen as the ‘modern day’ equivalent of the wealthy land owners in the time of Winstanley….Does much truly change over time?
Other speakers also had their word, and the crowd listened intently, even through the battery powered p.a.system which had been brought along by a very ‘up for it’ individual (it was having problems with the damp environment, but warmed up after a while – nice one J). There was a very audible resitle by Miles Halliwell of the words and quotes of Gerard Winstanley. There were mentions on the ruling of Lord Irvine (House of Lords, 4th march ’99) relating to “using the highway for the action of passing and re-passing and anything incidental to that action”. There were songs, and people met and talked. Soon the time came for this action to finish.
Some people then left Georges hill while over half of the group went further into the estate, and into the residential area in order to re-claim some of the land ‘owned’ by the wealthy locals, where they hoped to set up a Diggers camp. I did not follow straight away but stopped to carry on my conversations with some of the new friends that I had met. And then I also set off into the Birch woods and the golf greens to find the Diggers camp. I was ‘gob-smacked’ by the place. What a beautiful area, and an especially beautiful area to live in if ‘one’ can afford to. I hadn’t realised how large the area was. I ran across the greens and through the woods, sweating but not tired, and passed by golfers who looked at me as though I was an alien or something out of the ordinary (which I suppose I was, especially if ‘one’ was to look at my shoes, which revealed my life on the bread line).
As I ran passed the golfers I politely said my “Good afternoons” and my “How do you do?”(es), but was ignored. If they don’t show me that they noticed me, then obviously I don’t exist in their eyes. Not one of them returned my polite enquiries – I generally find that snobs are rude and ignorant, so I didn’t take offence at their problem. “Excuse me, sir”, I said to a golfer roughly of my own age group, “I don’t suppose you’ve seen a bunch of ‘hippies’ come passed here in the last ten minutes?”. “Yes”, he replied, pointing towards the car park of the ‘tea house’, “I saw a large group of people going up that way”.
I said my thanks to him, and before running on I paused to say something to a woman who I can only presume was his mother, “It must be so wonderful for you to be able to come and play golf here, it’s very beautiful. There’s nowhere like this to play golf where I come from. You are very lucky !”. I sid this to her in the vague hope that she might notice the difference in perception between us, but she didn’t look at me, and said quite simply, “Yes we are, aren’t we!”
Maybe I wouldn’t see her as a stuck up cow if she had only looked at me and seen me smiling at her in a friendly manner. My attention was drawn to a few people who were calling me from the club house and gesturing off into the trees passed the car park. As I approached them I could here that they were shouting, “Through the car park, turn right, up the hill, and turn left!”. I went in the direction that they had told me to go, wondering whether they were actually sending me to the main exit. These thoughts very quickly left my mind, and my running slowed to a walk as I used the private road to go up the hill that I had been directed up. I found myself walking through a ‘residential utopia’, the likes of which I had never seen before. The area looked very familiar but only in the sense that it reminded me of the type of place which I would like to think that we should all be able to live in, a clean space with some nature around, with houses big enough to allow communal living, each house could be an alternative centre in its’ own right in this type of setting.
It is a quite place. No cars. Trees full of bird song. It’s a shame that only the select few get to see this place, let alone live in it ! So I pressed on, now more determined to find the camp. I came to the top of the hill where the road forks left and right, I was unsure which way to go for fear of being ‘captured’ and booted back into ‘the outside world’. Within seconds of arriving at the junction I saw a car coming my way, and I could make out that this was a St. Georges security car. For a moment I thought that ‘they’ would escort me to the exit, but on flagging down the driver and enquiring as to the whereabouts of the camp, to my surprise the security guard said, “Hop in, I’ll give you a lift there”, so in I hopped, and suddenly there I was…..at the gateway to the Diggers camp.
Drawing on my youth experience I climbed under the gate, being sure not to cause any ‘criminal damage’ on my way in, and found to my joy that tents and yurts (don’t know how to spell that one) and a large kitchen were already being erected. A fire was just being started, and the mood was very friendly and relaxed. I had expected that by now, what with my late arrival, I would arrive to see people being turfed off by the security and plod. Not so. In fact quite the opposite. Just a couple of police and security and well over a hundred people ‘digging in’. We formed a human chain to move supplies and possessions in quickly, whilst people began preparing food in the by now built kitchen area, and others sang songs around the by now roaring fire.
At 17:40 two inspectors turned up to check it out. They pointed out that damage may be occurring to the gate, and so some people found some materials to create a makeshift stile. That (I think) was about all they had to grumble about, and they were gone within ten minutes. Later on a ‘local’ man turned up at the gate and exchanged pleasantries with his new neighbours. The whole scene was a very relaxed atmosphere, and as it came closer to darkness I felt that I really didn’t want to leave the site, and would have liked to stay for at least a couple of days. Unfortunately though this was not possible, and it was some time for me and my friend to leave. We left the camp at 19:55, as the fire began to roar and the merriments continued. We managed to get a lift back to the start point of the march from where we made our way back home…….What an enlightening day. The event made such a lot of sense to me, and through participating in the action I am left feeling closer to and with a clearer understanding of the reasons for it, and not only a clearer picture of the historical events, but also a greater understanding of the relevance of our action.
It seems true to me that social issues and struggles that were alive in the 1600’s are still relevant in society today, without knowing what has gone before in history I only have an understanding, but after participating in the action that we did today and learning more about the history of the land and its’ people I feel like that understanding is growing and the new knowledge that I have has (again raised my confidence and awareness). After todays action I feel inspired, and am thirsty for more knowledge, understanding, and action. And I thank everyone who took part for the passive nature of the demonstration, nice one everyone !!! words: Giz.
“…..not only this Common, or Heath should be taken in and Manured by the People, but all the Commons and waste Ground in England, and in the whole World, shall be taken in by the People in righteousness, not owning any Property; but taking the Earth to be a Common Treasury, as it was first made for all.”
The Diggers’ Manifesto
The True Levellers’ Standard Advanced, 1649