Saturday 16 May 2020


I need a break from the horror story of our misgovernment. You may well feel the same way. I will return soon enough to the task of speaking truth to power and spreading touches of reality across the canvas of lies and deception created by those who have power and wealth. But today I bring you a blogpost with two wonderful videos, courtesy of YouTube. They feature different artists but it is the same song. And it's a song with radical edge.

I'll start this story with a tale from my formative St Catz years at Oxford. In my second year, 1968-9, I found myself President of the Dean Kitchin Society, in effect the college historical society. I rose to the challenge with a flourish and sent off invitations to historians left, right and centre. Come and speak to us! We will entertain you, with a college meal and the pleasure of our company! Peter Burke came from the University of Sussex - he seemed so young; I guess he was my historian of the centre. It never occurred to me he would need travelling expenses. My tutor, the late George Holmes, rescued me from that pit-hole. George Holmes later became a don at All Souls in Oxford. One other invitee was already a don at All Souls. He was Max Beloff and definitely a historian of the right. I remember him making mincemeat of my attempt to ask a question after his talk; my mind was befuddled with the rather good burgundy we had been served in the dining room set aside for our gathering. And then there was Christopher Hill, master of Balliol College in Oxford - and definitely a historian of the left. A Marxist, no less.

Christopher Hill was my academic god. His book: 'The Century of Revolution' had been my school text book for A-level history; I gained my Oxford entrance scholarship in part on the back of Hill's 17th century wisdom. It took two shots but I bagged Christopher Hill on the second attempt; he replied; 'It's a fair cop ….'. I still have the letter. And it was from his writing that I had learned about the Diggers.

Sweet music to a swinging sixties radical looking to turn the world upside down himself

Hill distinguished between the Diggers and the Levellers, another radical force who emerged with the world turning upside down during the English civil war. The Levellers expressed the outlook of men of small property, the artisan, yeoman, and husbandman majority of the population; the Diggers advocated a communist programme under the leadership of Gerrard Winstanley and began communal
cultivation of land at St George's Hill, Weybridge in Surrey - dangerously close to London. There were a few other Digger settlements, including one at Iver in Buckinghamshire which I mention only because I used to live in Iver and at the time never knew that! I wish I had.

And now it's time to start weaving another thread in the tapestry of this blogpost. I bank these days online with Triodos. They are a seriously cool bank to whom I owe a special debt of gratitude because they sponsored a photoshoot for me here in St Ives in Cornwall - open this link for that story.
Now when you as a customer are put on hold during a conversation - and as a rule this is only for a short time - you hear music: a song beautifully sung by a female singer. I loved the voice and the song the first time I heard it. I asked who she was. The answer came: Karine Polwart.

Since then, I've bought two CDs of Karine's folk-songs and subscribe to her newsletter. In the latest edition of her newsletter Karine touches upon the importance of access to land during these pandemic times and embedded a video of one of her favourite singers, Dick Gaughan, performing a classic folk-number that commemorates Gerrard Winstanley's Digger settlement at St George's Hill.

Here are the lyrics, written by Leon Rosselson:

In 1649 to St George's Hill
a ragged band they called the Diggers came to show the peoples' will
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 wastegrounds 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 not worship the god they serve
the god of greed who feeds the rich while poor man 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

from the men of property, the orders came
they sent the hired men and troopers to wipe out the Diggers' claim
tear down their cottages, destroy 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
we come in peace, the orders came to cut them down

And here is the song - performed by Dick Gaughan in 1993 - for you to savour too:

All of which led me to the discovery of this 2013 version featuring Billy Bragg and the American Amanda Palmer:

I hope you agree this is wonderful material and beautifully performed by all three singers.

        A bit of musical joy - but still with a radical edge

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