Diggers 350 Occupation: a participant's account - UK FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 10 Apr 1999 17:33:41 -0700 (PDT)


From: Alan Lodge <tash@gn.apc.org>
To: "'diggers350@egroups.com'" <diggers350@egroups.com>
Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1999 21:44:30 +0100
Subject: [diggers350] an account of things


Hello all ........................

An account of the march to Geaorges Hill, Surrey, on Saturday the 3rd of
April 1999, to commenerate Greard Winnstanley and the 350th Anniversary of
the Diggers (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 comemerate the 350th Anniversary
of the Diggers who first set out to "claimthe land as a common treaury 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 craftman 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 movent 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 insident,
and ecery body was very freindly and positive.
The police directed the traffic.

We arrived at our destination at 15:45.  The gates were unlocked and there
was minimalsecurity presence.  Tthere 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 elses
bit !

It was difficult work pulling that cart, and it had been a privelidge 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
commerate 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 stonecarver 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 remarkeable
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 possibilty 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 reclaimation, he is said to have
had a lot to do with the hatred of the church toward the Diggers.  And
would probably turn in his grave if he knew that the memorial stone
commemerating 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 recieve 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 suprisingly so, because they probably
aware of how they can be seen as the 'modern day' equivelant 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
enviroment, 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 freinds 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

"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 said this to her in the vague hope that she might notice the difference
in perseption 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 freindly 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 suprise 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 freindly 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 possesions 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 occuring 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 pleasentries 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 sonn 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

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
kknowledge 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 !!

"They hang the man and flog the woman
that steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose
that steal the common from the goose."

(traditional rhyme)


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