Watch this space for more information.
On Sunday 15th April we held our national gathering at the Friends of the Earth offices in London.
This was the day after our buzzing and well-attended tour of London’s housing crisis, organised as part of our Week of Action for Land Justice. Many people at the meeting had organised or taken part in the tour, and celebrated its success long into the evening… I think Nick Hayes summed up the feeling in the room when he said “I’m so happy and tired I think I’m going to cry!”
On Saturday 14th April, after a week of rain, on what felt like the first warm and sunny day of the year, just shy of a hundred people gathered in central London for the inaugural Land Justice Network Landlords’ Game guided walk.
On Sunday about 75 protesters travelled to the Bathurst Estate in Cirencester to participate in a mass trespass, calling for land Justice. Organised by groups including RisingUp and the Land Justice Network the protest included speeches, songs and marching band.
Gail Bradbrook of RisingUp said afterwards:
[Lord Bathurst] watched on with family and game keepers bemusedly / slightly chewing a wasp at times – but we got a good balance of friendliness and calling out behaviours that need to change I think. It was quite a spectacle!
The protesters marched down the main avenue into the estate and then went to a private field and climbed the fence to surround a tree on the land. A banner was raised over the main road leading into Cirencester saying “No Justice Without Land Justice”.
The trespass was to demonstrate that land is an essential resource that our society, culture and economy depend upon. However, land ownership in Britain is still one of the most unequal in the world. 0.6% of the population owns 69% of the land. More than a third is still owned by the aristocracy whose ancestors seized it during the Norman Conquest and through the use of land trusts they are avoiding paying inheritance tax while maintaining the concentration of ownership to this day. During the enclosures our ancestors were violently thrown off the land and much of our current common land is being privatised (Cahill, 2001).
Peaceful civil disobedience can be a useful tool in changing things for the better. Mass trespasses have achieved successes in the past, such as at Kinder Scout, which celebrated its 86th anniversary on the same day and helped to provide bring about the right to roam.
Simon Bramwell, from RisingUp in Stroud, said:
It’s especially relevant to undertake a civil disobedience on the Bathurst Estate, much of which is owned offshore while the owner receives vast subsidies from taxpayers. Some of the land is being sold off for mostly unaffordable housing. It’s totally illustrative how there is one rule for the rich and another for the rest of us.
Katharine Hallewell of the Land Justice Network added:
Everything flows from the land, our well being, our freedom and our equality. That we are still living under a system of landownership handed down from the Norman conquests speaks volumes about our so called democracy.
The trespass was reported on BBC Radio Gloucester and there has been much discussion and sharing on social media since, including the Lady Bathurst getting stuck in!
You can watch an unedited video of the day here. Guest blog by Gail to follow.
Source: Who Owns Britain, Kevin Cahill, 2001.
Adapted from a press release by Gail Bradbrook of RisingUp.
Come to Land Justice Network’s next national gathering to celebrate the start of our Week of Action on Land Rights, discuss what the network’s been up to and plot fresh actions together!
We’ll meet up 12 noon to eat lunch together (bring a dish if you can) and start the meeting at 1pm, finishing 4pm with optional social time at a nearby pub afterwards.
Facebook event page is https://www.facebook.com/events/169320923865119/
If you need financial support so you can make it to the event please drop us an email at email@example.com
Friends of the Earth offices, The Printworks, 139 Clapham Road, London, SE1 0DG
On Sunday 12th November, the day after our Land Justice Network Leicester gathering, a group of us will be trespassing onto the lands of Boughton House, the location of the slaughter of 50 commoners, 410 years ago. We will take the train from Leicester to Kettering, one stop down on the London line, and walk into the grounds owned now by the Duke of Buccleugh, one of the largest retainers of private land in the UK, for a cheese-themed picnic, in honour of Captain Pouch and the commoners that lost their lives in the battle against enclosure.
If you are interested in staying overnight, and trespassing with us, please bring sleeping bags and roll mats to indoor camp at this address: Graceworks, Wycliffe URC, The Common, Evington, Leicester LE5 6EA. And for the walk, remember sturdy shoes and water, and some choice cheeses!
This picnic will be a gentle walk in the country, with no intention of public fanfare and confrontation with the landowners (perfectly feasible due to the acreage of the property). It will be a first foray into direct action, a nice little practice for what the group has planned next.
Also, please register your interest with Nick Hayes so he can tell you when and where to meet, firstname.lastname@example.org
Historical Context, or, why cheese?
Across the Midlands in 1607, large numbers of commoners were gathering to tear up the fence posts that had enclosed so much of their commons in recent years. 14 years earlier, the Tudor dynasty had relaxed the enclosure laws, and common land had been swallowed into private ownership, never to return.
In Kettering, Sir Thomas Tresham was the pantomime villain landlord, widely reviled. By 1597, he was grazing over six hundred sheep in the parish and had been prosecuted in the star chamber for this but to no avail, because a decade later, the whole parish was fenced off for sheep, with no lettings to commoners for their grazing needs. In 1599, he bought another swathe of land from his neighbouring cousin, also Thomas Tresham, which allowed him to destroy five more tenant farms, and enclose the land for his sheep. With poor harvests and a growing population served by ever diminishing commons, the Midlands was a hotbed of discontent, and in 1607, led by the mystic figure of Captain Pouch, peaceful protests of up to 5000 people occurred in Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, pulling up fences and routing hedgerows. Captain Pouch, aka John Reynolds, was the charismatic leader of this disorder, picking the sites of disorder strategically, to make the most political impact. A tinker by trade, uneducated, he carried with him a leather pouch in which he claimed was a special substance that gave him and his followers the protection of God and the Crown. By the time of the Newton Revolt, Reynolds was already in custody, and the 1000 locals that met in Rockingham Forest were leaderless, and this time armed, prepared to die for their beliefs.
James 1st commanded the Montagus, another wealthy family of the area, to suppress these people by whatever means necessary, They had trouble drumming up a militia from the local population, but when they did, they met the rebels on June 8th, 1607. After twice reading the royal proclamation commanding the people to disband, the troops charged on horseback, murdering 50 to 60 people, and injuring many more. Most of the survivors were pardoned, provided they signed their names on a list, now kept in Boughton House. Several of the ringleaders were hanged, and with them, John Reynolds, was hanged drawn and quartered. After his death, the contents of his pouch were revealed to be nothing more than a lump of locally made green cheese.
In some ways, the revolt was a success. Just two months after the uprising, King James ordered a royal inquiry into the state of enclosure, which lead to several landlords being prosecuted by the star chamber, and fined. However, none of the land was returned to common grazing, and these fines amounted to nothing more than a tax on enclosure for a paltry few of the landlords guilty of land grabbing. England was given its scapegoats, and the system of enclosure was, if anything, reinforced. The Tresham’s power faded into obscurity over the next century, whilst the Montagus thrived, Boughton Hall becoming, through marriage, the English seat of the Dukes of Buccleuch, one of the most prominent land owning dynasties of the UK.
This working group is researching and planning direct action and land occupations to highlight key issues and raise awareness of the network.