Diggers

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Description

1. From Wikipedia:

"The Diggers were a group of Protestant radicals, sometimes seen as forerunners to modern anarchism, and also associated with Agrarian socialism, begun by Gerrard Winstanley as True Levellers in 1649, who became known as Diggers, because of their attempts to farm on common land.

Their original name came from their belief in economic equality based upon a specific passage in the Book of Acts. The Diggers tried (by "leveling" real property) to reform the existing social order with an agrarian lifestyle based on their ideas for the creation of small egalitarian rural communities. They were one of a number of nonconformist dissenting groups that emerged around this time." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diggers)

2. Simon Fairlie:

"Gerrard Winstanley and fellow diggers, in 1649, started cultivating land on St George's Hill, Surrey, and proclaimed a free Commonwealth. "The earth (which was made to be a Common Treasury of relief for all, both Beasts and Men)" state the Diggers in their first manifesto "was hedged into Inclosures by the teachers and rulers, and the others were made Servants and Slaves." The same pamphlet warned: "Take note that England is not a Free people, till the Poor that have no Land, have a free allowance to dig and labour the Commons, and so live as Comfortably as the Landlords that live in their Inclosures."20

The Diggers appear to be not so much a resistance movement of peasants in the course of being squeezed off the land, as an inspired attempt to reclaim the land by people whose historical ties may well have already been dissolved, some generations previously. Like many radicals Winstanley was a tradesman in the textile industry. William Everard, his most prominent colleague, was a cashiered army officer. It is tempting to see the Diggers as the original "back to the land" movement, a bunch of idealistic drop-outs.21 Winstanley wrote so many pamphlets in such a short time that one wonders whether he had time to wield anything heavier than a pen. Nevertheless during 1649 he was earning his money as a hired cowherd; and no doubt at least some of the diggers were from peasant backgrounds.

More to the point, the Diggers weren't trying to stop "inclosures"; they didn't go round tearing down fences and levelling ditches, like both earlier and later rebels. In a letter to the head of the army, Fairfax, Winstanley stated that if some wished to "call the Inclosures [their] own land . . . we are not against it," though this may have been just a diplomatic gesture. Instead they wanted to create their own alternative Inclosure which would be a "Common Treasury of All" and where commoners would have "the freedom of the land for their livelihood . . . as the Gentry hathe the benefit of their Inclosures". Winstanley sometimes speaks the same language of "improvement" as the enclosers, but wishes to see its benefits extended to the poor rather than reserved for wealthy: "If the wasteland of England were manured by her children it would become in a few years the richest, the strongest and the most flourishing land in the world".22 In some ways the Diggers foreshadow the smallholdings and allotments movements of the late 19th and 20th century and the partageux of the French revolution — poor peasants who favoured the enclosure of commons if it resulted in their distribution amongst the landless.

It is slightly surprising that the matter of 50 or so idealists planting carrots on a bit of wasteland and proclaiming that the earth was a "Common Treasury" should have attracted so much attention, both from the authorities at the time, and from subsequent historians and campaigners. 200 years before, at the head of his following of Kentish peasants (described by Shakespeare as "the filth and scum of Kent") Jack Cade persuaded the first army dispatched by the king to pack up and go home, skilfully evaded a second army of 15,000 men led by Henry VI himself, and then defeated a third army, killing two of the king's generals, before being finally apprehended and beheaded. Although pictured by the sycophantic author of Henry VI Part II as a brutal and blustering fool with pretensions above his station, Cade was reported by contemporaries to be "a young man of goodlie stature and right pregnant of wit". He is potentially good material for a romantic Hollywood blockbuster starring Johnny Depp, whereas Winstanley (who has had a film made about him), after the Digger episode, apparently settled into middle age as a Quaker, a church warden and finally a chief constable." (http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/articles/short-history-enclosure-britain)

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