I recently watched the 1975 film ‘Winstanley’, the leader of the ‘True Levellers’ or ‘The Diggers’ who took over common land during the reign of Oliver Cromwell to grow crops on. The film was historically accurate in regard to it’s aesthetics, indeed only animal breeds known to exist at the time were used to add to the realism. To be honest it is rather slow and without any surprises but was interesting to watch.
For a film made primarily in the countryside there was a distinct lack of traditional landscape shots which would seem strange for an English film representing a piece of English history. The only landscape scene is of a rather uninspiring vista showing a path to the taken over common land which is generally used by the antagonists of the plot. Most of the film is of a repeating sequence of taskscapes, the most prominent being that of the makeshift village of the Diggers; the houses reminded me of the Welsh hafodydd described by Girald Cambrensis as being ‘made of twisted boughs fit for habitation for just a year’. This village was not used for long but represented a locality in space and English history which is still known today, but I wonder how easy it would be to recognise this settlement in the archaeological record?
So the Diggers took over the common land to grow crops communally. They failed. However over the last few years there has been a growing interest in growing one’s own food. I remember, as a lad, allotments being regarded as rather antiquated and being only fit for old men as as an escape from their wives. However if one searches for “allotment chic” via Google you receive (if that’s what you get from Google search?) 171 results. If you remove the quotation marks this jumps to 34,100 pages, with quotes like ‘[a]llotments are terribly chic now’ (www1), or ‘allotments are becoming hip’ (www2). I think this is great and I did myself start a collaborative allotment in Cardiff a few years ago, I wonder what happened to it? Anyway, allotments are gaining in popularity, and now, possibly one of the reasons for this, a Mr Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has started up a project, Landshare. Here people who want some land, as allotments are now in short supply, can find others with spare land so they can use it for horti/agricultural purposes. In my area there are 34 Landowners and 89 Growers, not bad. But wait, this craze for growing on other peoples land goes further, look to Todmorden, Lancashire for instance where we have the Incredible Edible Todmorden project. Local people have been growing vegetables on sites around Todmorden for a about a year and herbs for longer. They have generally had permission but in not all cases. However the council have been helpful in letting them use the fire and railway stations, the Lidl car park is now under vegetable attack and planning consents have been changed to make similar approaches easier. This is great, people are encouraged to pick some herbs while waiting for the 11.29 to Burnley!
I reiterate, this is great! People are following in Gerrard Winstanley’s footsteps but under a modern rubric of sustainability, minimising carbon footprints and reconnecting with the seasons all with their own work. It also makes me think about dominant frameworks of tenure and how the localised uses of land in Todmorden could be understood both economically and socially, but that’s for later. For now, get digging!
www1 Allotment wars flare up as gardening gets competitive. Found on
http://property.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/property/gardens/article5968124.ece accessed 13.10.09 originally in The Times 29.03.09.
www2 Chic Sheds and Short Cuts: Allotments are becoming hip – and this is bad news. Found on http://www.paulkingsnorth.net/plot6.html 13.10.09 originally in The Economist July/August 2006.
Incredible Edible Todmorden http://www.incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk/
Winstanley at IMDb http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073911/