steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Of Digs and Diggers at the Dugs of Liberty

Thirty years ago, when I was a student at Royal Holloway, I spent two years living on the neighbouring campus of Brunel University, on Cooper's Hill just above Runnymede. It was a five-minute walk from my room to the JFK memorial, and a further five to the banks of the Thames. Apparently the site was sold a few years ago for development - which, presumably because of the crash, never happened. Accordingly it's been standing empty all that time, except that two years ago, as I learned today from Making History, it was taken over by Diggers 2012, who are now living in the woods and growing their own veg and indulging in suchlike affronts to civilization.

The original Diggers flourished in 1649, just after the death of Charles I. Ironically, Sir John Denham used Cooper's Hill in 1642, on the other side of the Civil War, to argue for the preservation of the social status quo and warn against extremity from above or below, using Magna Carta as his exemplum:

Here was that Charter sealed wherein the crown
All marks of arbitrary power lays down.
Tyrant and slave, those names of hate and fear,
The happier style of king and subject bear:
Happy when both to the same center move
When kings give liberty, and subjects love.
Therefore not long in force this Charter stood;
Wanting that seal, it must be sealed in blood.
The subjects armed, the more the princes gave,
The advantage only took the more to crave.
Till kings by giving, give themselves away,
And even that power that should deny, betray.
"Who gives constrained, but his own fear reviles,
Not thanked, but scorned; nor are they gifts, but spoils."
Thus kings, by grasping more than they could hold,
First made their subjects by oppression bold;
And popular sway, by forcing kings to give
More than was fit for subjects to receive,
Ran to the same extremes; and one excess
Made both, by striving to be greater, less.
When a calm river, raised with sudden rains,
Or snows dissolved, o'erflows the adjoining plains,
The husbandmen with high-raised banks secure
Their greedy hopes, and this he can endure.
But if with bays and dams they strive to force
His channel to a new or narrow course,
No longer then within his banks he dwells;
First to a torrent, then a deluge swells;
Stronger and fiercer by restraint he roars,
And knows no bound, but makes his power his shores.

It's pleasing to me that the traditions of Gerard Winstanley - a name by the way I recycled for a commune leader in Calypso Dreaming - are being revived, not only within sight of the signing of Magna Carta (which the programme seemed determined to dwell on) but more importantly within sight of the student digs where I lived in 1984. (That said, the most rebellious thing I did at the time was to put tape across the entrance signs so that they read "University of Brunei".)

In other news, yesterday I went to London to have lunch with gair and gerald, here too briefly on a whirlwind trip from Woollongong. That was lovely.

Five minutes ago, LinkdIn suggested I connect with Diana Wynne Jones. That was shivery.

Also, it now turns out that the Archbishop of Canterbury is my fifth cousin. That's just weird.
Tags: family history, links, maunderings
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