Subsidised offshore windfarm anyone? How King Charles acquired our continental shelf, almost three times the UK’s land area

Landlord of the Sea: How King Charles acquired our continental shelf, almost three times the UK’s land area

How The King Cashed In On Our Seabed – a tale of Medieval power and private property ownership… as UK poverty spirals out of control


The royal family has made millions from the exploitation of the seabed—a resource that belongs to us all. Is it time for people and planet to be put ahead of profit?

Prospect Magazine – By Guy Standing July 19, 2023

Ever since ancient Rome, the sea, seabed and seashore have been accepted as part of the commons—res communes omnium—belonging to everybody equally, and inalienable as state or private property. The commons as a distinct form of property was taken forward in Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest of 1217, the twin bedrocks of common law and all democracies.

A commons depends on the “sovereign”—in the UK’s case, the monarchy—acting as steward or trustee, with responsibility for preserving it for generations to come. For more than 650 years, following a ruling by King Edward I in 1299, the monarchy accepted this positive duty, known as the Public Trust Doctrine.

However, in the past 60 years, the monarchy has gradually plundered the blue commons—the seabed around the British Isles—transforming it into nothing less than a rentier capitalist empire. That empire, in the decade since 2013, is thought to have earned the royal family in the region of £193m. The new king, Charles III, who while heir to the throne established a reputation as an environment protector, has inherited and continues to profit from this system.

The evolution began in 1961, two years after the discovery in Dutch waters of large quantities of North Sea gas. The Crown Estate was constituted by an act of parliament to manage the assets belonging to the monarchy, with a mandate to maximise revenue and capital value for the Treasury. As King, Charles is not involved in managing these assets; they are not the monarch’s personal property but “the sovereign’s public estate”, managed by the Crown Estate supposedly in the public interest.

At the time, the Crown had no ownership rights in the sea beyond the lower-tide mark on the seashore. Indeed, in 1951 the Labour foreign secretary, Herbert Morrison, had declared that the sea around Britain was not the property of the state or anybody.

But in 1962, as was revealed much later, the Queen privately told the first commissioner of the Estate—the leader of the board running the corporation’s commercial interests—that she had seen something about “taking over rights on land under the sea”. In fact, the Estate’s legal adviser in 1959 had proposed enshrining in law the extension of Crown lands to the whole of the continental shelf. Other Estate officials advised against trying to extend rights to the seabed, because this would draw attention to the fact that no existing legislation gave such ownership.

However, prompted by the passing of a UN convention that granted states rights to the continental shelves by their shores, and by drilling companies seeking legal clarity on ownership of the seabed in expectation of finding commercial oil and gas reserves, the outgoing Conservative government of Alec Douglas-Home passed the Continental Shelf Act in 1964. It gave the Crown Estate precisely the rights it had earlier refrained from seeking. This granting of ownership to the Crown Estate was a huge enclosure of the commons but did not change the fact that the seabed was still part of the commons. The Crown, and the government as its agent, became the seabed’s steward, responsible for preserving it.

All at sea: the Crown Estate (and in Scotland, the separate Crown Estate Scotland) owns the seabed to 12 nautical miles out. It also holds rights to explore and use natural resources (except oil, coal and gas) and generate renewable power on the UK’s continental shelf

As a business, the Crown Estate grew at a modest rate during the following decades, returning all revenue to the Treasury while the monarch received a fixed sum—the annual “civil list”—to pay for royal expenses. The Estate’s marine activities did not include the North Sea oil and gas bonanza, for although the Crown owns the oil and gas found beneath the sea, as beneath the land, their exploitation is managed by the government and its agencies.
In the 1980s, the Thatcher government sold leases on lots in the North Sea to oil companies at ridiculously low prices, taking the revenue as a windfall profit to pay for tax cuts. This was a blatant depletion of the commons, in sharp contrast to Norway’s decision to use its surplus oil and gas revenues to create what is now a mammoth sovereign wealth fund, ensuring benefits flow to both current and future generations.

The next phase came in 2001, when offshore wind energy took off. In a first step, the Crown Estate leased 12 seabed sites of 10 square km each. Three additional rounds saw leases awarded in 2003, 2010 and finally in 2021, when the Crown Estate auctioned six large lots, most of which went to German and French firms. The most recent round included the novel addition that the companies would pay the Crown a ground rent, an annual “option fee”, even before producing any wind energy. It was estimated that this round alone could generate nearly £9bn over 10 years.

And here is the rub. Over the past two decades, successive governments have allowed the Crown Estate to become a monopolistic corporate enterprise. In 2004, the New Labour government passed the Energy Act, which enabled the Estate to claim a share of the revenue from production of all offshore wind and wave electricity. In 2008, it extended this to gas and carbon dioxide storage.

These measures intensified a clear conflict of interest for the Crown Estate between being a steward responsible for preserving the commons for future generations and a business working to maximise revenue and profits. Meanwhile, to add to its profits, the Estate had started to invest in joint ventures.
In 2010, the Parliamentary Treasury Committee concluded that the Crown Estate was focusing too much on income from its control of the seabed and seashore, rather than on the long-term public interest. In what was hardly an adequate rebuttal, the Estate’s CEO said he was pleased the committee recognised they were running a successful business operation, adding only that the Estate took its responsibility to act in the wider public interest “very seriously”.

Nothing was done to prioritise once again the role of the Crown as protector and steward. The situation was tilted further in favour of commercial criteria in 2012, when George Osborne, at the time chancellor of the exchequer, abolished the civil list in favour of a “sovereign grant”, calculated as 15 per cent of the Crown Estate’s profit. That figure was increased to 25 per cent in 2017, ostensibly to cover the estimated cost of refurbishing Buckingham Palace; at present it is set to revert to 15 per cent in 2028. The creation of a deadline in itself created a new moral hazard, giving the Crown Estate an incentive to maximise short-term profits.

In brief, the Crown Estate has become a monopolistic sealord. It has monopolised offshore wind and wave energy and created an oligopoly consisting of a few, overwhelmingly foreign-owned multinationals, a structure that promises to keep prices and revenues above what would arise in a competitive market. Although the Estate uses an auction process to decide which firms secure the leases, it still decides how many leases to sell, as well as the size and location of the lots.

In the decade since 2013, the Crown Estate has made more than £1bn profit from its marine business (known in the Estate’s accounts as energy, minerals and infrastructure until 2019/20, and inclusive of aquaculture until 2016/17). Over the years, this sum has been delivered to the Treasury, and has contributed to the pot from which the sovereign grant is calculated. Precise figures are difficult to discern due to the opaque nature of Crown Estate accounts, but Prospect research suggests that in the ten years to 2022/23, the seabed has earned the royals approximately £193m.

£193m: the royal family’s estimated earnings from the sea, 2013 to 2023

This sum takes into account King Charles’ magnanimous announcement in January 2023 that the Crown Estate would hand over to the government what a spokesperson called the “offshore energy windfall” from the 2021 round of sales, which boosted the marine sector’s profits from £127.5m to £370.8m in a year. In any case, revenue from the commons should not be treated as a “windfall” at all. It should never have been the Crown’s to begin with.
In its eagerness to make profits, the Crown Estate has even sold development rights for one patch of seabed to two different projects at the same time, one for a giant Danish-owned offshore windfarm, the other for storing carbon dioxide under the seabed. An industry insider commented tersely that the Crown Estate was being “a bit greedy”.

By the financial year ending in 2023, the value of the Crown Estate’s marine businesses was £5.7bn, up by 14 per cent on the year before, mainly because of offshore wind. The Crown is not liable to pay tax on the sovereign grant. Overall, the Estate’s portfolio is worth almost £16bn. It is a major industrial enterprise, but one that does not have to adhere to free market principles, let alone be answerable to the commoners.

The Welsh should feel particularly aggrieved, in that whereas all management and revenue of the Crown Estate in Scotland is in the hands of the Scottish government, revenue generated in Wales is not devolved. Extraordinarily, the value of the Crown Estate’s marine portfolio in Wales rose from £49m in 2020 to £549m in 2021 and to £603m in 2022. None of it went to the Welsh government, let alone to Welsh commoners. No wonder a majority of Welsh people want the Estate to be devolved as it is in Scotland.
25 per cent: proportion of the Crown Estate’s profit given to the royal family through the sovereign grant

These inequities are compounded by the fact that the Crown Estate has not always, before granting leases, carried out environmental impact assessments in accordance with either international law or the precautionary principle, which requires decision-makers to err on the side of caution when considering projects that might entail serious or unknown ecological risks. For the first three rounds of sale of seabed rights, the Estate was required under EU law to demonstrate that it had considered alternative sites before deciding where to locate infrastructure developments such as windfarms.

There is no evidence that it did this. Instead, assessments of the environmental impacts were left to developers, with the UK government judging in which sprawling zones development could occur. And the Estate itself has admitted that in the three earlier leasing rounds it didn’t have data with which to make objective assessments.

There has been progress: the Crown Estate and the government will in future examine the environmental impact of offshore windfarms, and outside of leasing rounds, work is under way to better understand the impact on nature of marine infrastructure. Had the Crown acted as the steward of the commons, this work would have been started much earlier.

In one case, the Danish power company Ørsted received approval for a project off the North Yorkshire coast which will affect a Special Protection Area that is home to Britain’s biggest colony of seabirds. The Estate and the government accepted that the project would threaten endangered birds, but let it go ahead on the basis of a promise by the company to introduce an offset breeding scheme to make up for bird deaths. There is no evidence that the scheme will work.

But while wind energy—sorely needed for the green transition—has received public scrutiny for its impact from nature, it is far from being the Crown Estate’s only source of profit from the sea.

Sand and gravel are easily the most mined minerals in the world, with about 50bn tonnes excavated from rivers, lakes and the sea annually. This figure is growing by around 5 per cent each year, feeding demands, led by China, for concrete and other construction materials. There is an impending global shortage, and excessive excavation is already causing land erosion worldwide.

The Crown Estate is the only body in the UK with the designated or presumed authority to oversee the production and sale of our sea sand. It has been quietly expanding mining, to the point where 21m tonnes of sand were excavated in 2022. A quarter was exported, mainly to Belgium and the Netherlands.

The manager of the Crown Estate’s “marine minerals portfolio” said in September 2022 that the Estate works “in partnership with industry, to help support the sustainable use of sand and gravel resources”. If it were a proper steward of the commons, the Estate would also work with conservation bodies, not just those interested in maximising extraction and profits. To protect against erosion and to avoid destruction of underwater ecosystems, there should be regular impact assessments of sand excavation before any more mining begins, done by independent bodies not answerable to the Crown Estate.

Bearing in mind that sea sand is an exhaustible common resource that will become more expensive as it becomes scarcer, a responsible steward would invest all or part of the revenues to maintain the capital value for the benefit of future generations, according to what is known as the Hartwick Rule of Intergenerational Equity. Instead, the Crown Estate is effectively treating all revenue from the sale of sea sand (as well as potash and other minerals found in the sea) as “windfall profit” for current spending.

Another seemingly innocuous activity being encouraged by the Estate is seaweed farming. Seaweed and seagrass are valuable for the marine ecosystem, not least as habitats and carbon sinks (they are far more effective than woodland in absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere). Nearly 90 per cent of seagrass has vanished from UK coastlines—much as a result of pollution, dredging and trawling—since the Estate took over the seabed as its income-earning property. Meanwhile, scientists predict that most of the UK’s 26,000 square miles of kelp forests will be lost by 2100.

£9bn: predicted windfall, over ten years, from 2023 offshore wind leases

Sadly, the Crown Estate has impeded some plans by civil society groups to replant thousands of acres of seagrass by charging, in at least one case, £500 an acre for doing so. One kelp farm company abandoned plans to develop a network of 58 farms around the seabed due to lengthy bureaucratic delays by the Crown Estate. These are not the actions of a benign steward of the commons.
Then there are around 750 aquaculture sites—for farming fish (mostly salmon), shellfish and crustaceans—from which the Crown Estate Scotland (CES), an independent body that gives its entire revenue to the Scottish government, earns a hefty sum. The CES, which takes 1.5 per cent of turnover income, must be partially answerable for fish farming’s shocking record in Britain: farmed salmon have a premature mortality rate as high as 24 per cent from disease and lice infestations; mass escapes threaten wild fish species; and the corporations, most foreign-owned, pay only half the true costs of production, with the remainder, including environmental costs, borne by local communities.

Scottish fisheries complain that licensed fish farms discharge sea lice and pesticides into the sea, killing wild fish. The CES, although more accountable to Scottish ministers, ignores the precautionary principle, and allows seabed dredging for scallops and bottom trawling for prawns, both of which do massive harm to marine ecosystems.

If the CES behaved as a real steward of the commons, it would demand that salmon farmers met higher ecological standards. If it cannot fulfil its positive duty to protect the commons then it should not be steward at all.

So what should be the political agenda? In the long run, a progressive government should want to restore the sea and seabed as part of Britain’s commons. In the immediate term, it should reform the governance of the Crown Estate, insisting that its primary responsibility is to preserve and enhance the capital value of the common resources in the sea around Britain.

The Crown Estate could charge firms more rent for ecologically damaging fish and shellfish farms. By contrast, it should not be charging anything for activities such as seaweed farming or seagrass replanting that revive marine ecosystems. It should make a commitment consistent with the High Seas Treaty, agreed at the UN marine biodiversity conference last year, to rewild 30 per cent of the seabed under its stewardship by 2030. It should stop the export of our sea sand. Above all, the next government should appoint a cabinet-level minister of the sea, whose responsibilities should include overseeing all the marine-related activities of the Crown Estate.

Finally, there is a transformational opportunity for a new progressive government. The King has said the £1bn a year “windfall” from the latest auction of our seabed should go to the public. The only equitable way to treat revenue from the commons would be to recycle it equally to all commoners—that is, to all of us. That £1bn a year should go into a Commons Capital Fund from which common dividends could be paid to every citizen. After all, the Crown’s role was to protect, not to plunder the commons. Charles III inherited an empire at sea—but he has the chance now to change it for the better.

Guy Standing is a Professorial Research Associate at SOAS University of London and a founding member and honorary co-president of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), a non-governmental organisation that promotes a basic income for all. He is author of The Blue Commons: Rescuing the Economy of the Sea.


The Death of Monkton Wyld..?

The Death of Monkton Wyld?
30th December 2023 – by Linda Beamish

… It’s as if Four Headless Horsemen rode in on the back of Stephen Williams  in 2023 – and murdered the Charity and the Community that ran it!

When 4 new trustees; Laura Guest, Steven Slavin, Juliet Ann Lovelace-Johnson and Richard Lovelace-Johnson; took over their roles in January 2023, they effectively killed the charity they took over.- just as if it were a hostile corporate takeover. 

Like poison, the Toxicity of The City spread through the green veins of the countryside all the way to the rolling hills of Dorset, blackening the capillaries of it’s host body as it did so, seemingly aiming to kill-off their own hosts, the experts in Sustainable Living that provided the educational and exemplary aims of the UK registered Charity.

If the UK Charity Commission does not take any form of Legal action against the four new trustees, and the instigator, following complaint, it must be seen as duplicitous as a government body.

What’s happened at Monkton Wyld Court this year should not be allowed to happen anywhere else to anyone else, and the world needs to learn from this case now.  (Change your foundation documents so that Trustees do NOT Own The Land and Property.)

On the 11th October, quote: ‘Without any warning or consultation, Trustees change the Charity’s Articles of Association on the Company House website. They take the Articles of a London-based Community Interest Company called Public Voice CIC, make a few small changes, and paste it in to replace the previous Articles. Funnily enough, one of the Directors of Public Voice is Laura Guest who is also the main Trustee driving all the changes at Monkton Wyld Court.

Among other things, there are changes to the objects of the Charity, which for many years have been to promote education in sustainability and to maintain the listed buildings. Now the Charity’s objects include the promotion of “commerce, art, science, education, religion, charity or any profession, and to promote any social, political or sporting activity and anything incidental or conducive to the above objects”. Just about anything in fact. There are also changes making it easier to pay Trustees for their services and to sell off the charity to something other than another charity. A complaint to the Charity Commission has been made by former Trustees and community members.’ reference the Monkton Wyld Court Case website linked above, which transparently carries continuing updates.

It is vital, now, that ALL communities and Intentional Communities, EcoVillages, Coops and CoHousing Communities, everywhere, take note and learn from this case – fast.  (Please help to spread the word.)  Ensure that, where your community may have (new) trustees, they have a genuine understanding of, and empathy to, your charitable aims, and that – if they come from the corporate sector they have understanding, experience, and/or training in environmental sustainability, and aims of your community.

If you have set up as a Workers Cooperative, please (please) do insure that NO former members have any form of access to your online accounts, if they do, they could also achieve the aims of the former member of the workers coop that ran Monkton Wyld Court charity, that hacked into their accounts and changed details to cast shadow on their good work.

The corporate world should not be allowed to have anything to do with the control of the non-profit Third Sector – let alone sustainable and ecological communities like Monkton Wyld Court, particularly since it has been the unsustainable and unethical practices of the Corporate sector, that have created the need for the Third Sector guidelines for environmental sustainability and sustainable community living projects like this in the first place!

People need to feel safe in living in communities, not be under constant attack by people who haven’t even a thread of understanding of the aims of sustainable communities they’ve never left The City to take a look at – but taken the word of one man – against the democratic community vote.  (Living safely in communities is one of the planning guidelines.)

Lessons need to be learned – and not just in how to live sustainably – but most especially now for communities, since several other well established ecologically sustainable community living projects in the UK have also been subject to similar or corporate takeover recently.  (We are all vulnerable, especially rurally and in isolation.)

The non-profit Third Sector has a whole mountain of additional rules to adhere to, and targets to meet, that are completely alien and opposite to those of the the corporate (capitalistic) Private Sector, and even much of the Public Sector too now, since Councils boast of their new Corporate bodies on the colourful covers of their glossy journals.

It appears that we are at that point in time that has been prophesied for millennia, (as well as that of the millennium prophecy of 2002)… But don’t worry, since: ‘The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth’ (Matthew 5:5).

In short, some of us knew what was coming… Some of us didn’t, and some of us didn’t want to know, or thought that they had the solution in place already, and – like Monkton Wyld Court – were taken off-guard, and without defence or the opportunity to defend themselves.

If any intentional community member is reading this now, please ensure that it is possible for your community non-profit to scrutinise any trustee applicants credentials, and if applicants come directly from any other sector than the Third Sector, that they have fully studied the full quota of rules, laws and guidance for the governance of non-profits and coops stipulated by the United Nations, government departmental guidelines, and more.  If they haven’t, they should not become trustees of a charity – nor be directors of a non-profit.

According to the Law, nobody, in any sector, should ever take the word of one person, and/or take action against a community of at least 15 witnesses – without first taking diligent notice of the statement of every other person witness to, involved or accused, or looking at the evidence – and most especially not when they have only just walked into the position as trustee of a UK registered charity, as in this case.

From what I was able to ascertain speaking with friends at the Resistance Festival at Monkton Wyld Court and the Valley Vibes Festival in Devon held earlier this summer – including investigative journalist Tony Gosling and other members of – action needs to be taken to support the rights of Simon Fairlie, Gill Barron, Jasmine, Jon, Jarred, and all the other community members affected. 

As is the case with communities and intentional communities, this is not just ‘a job’ it is a way of life – it is both home and environment – in other words, the community has lost everything.  The people have lost everything,

The pigs were gone by the time the Resistance Festival was held at the end of August, and since then, the micro-dairy, which was one of Britain’s oldest examples as taught at the Resistance Festival, the Programme for which is shown right.

Because the members of the intentional community followed the law – they were sacked – and made homeless.  And in fact, aged 72, sustainability and rural planning expert, author Simon Fairlie was himself put into virtual house arrest as the new rules of the new (ruling) trustees, governing his lack of access to any of the community spaces or amenities, since the entire 11 acres where the community lives, is, of course, both!

According to the latest news from Monkton Wyld, Simon’s virtual house arrest eventually spiralled into a police arrest, on a trumped up charge of car theft by trustees.  As shown in the photograph online, Simon, co-author of The Land magazine, was forced into the back of a police van – as if he were a criminal – and kept in custody for nine hours.  The trustees have also now forced Simon’s micro dairy to have no income whatsoever, as they have initiated action with the authorities prohibiting the sale of their wonderful range of organic raw dairy products.  (It was amazing to hear how much could be made from so few jersey cows at the festival.  And the taste, was truly scrumptious!)  What an unwarranted sad loss.

Co-Author of The Land magazine Jill Barron, aged 73, was also sacked by the trustees and forced to move out of the community, as was Jasmine the Gardener, her partner Jon, Jarred and his partner, and more – and most of the community have resigned in protest, alongside the only remaining original trustee.

On top of all that, somebody, somewhere, has also hacked into the workers coop accounts – and altered them – changing evidence vital to their case.  (Another reminder for Intentional Communities: make sure that accounts CANNOT be hacked into by anyone not currently a member of their Workers Cooperative or Community.)

There is now nobody with the knowledge, educational research, or understanding, left, to run Monkton Wyld – and as such it really has been murdered.  (The question is, can it be rebuilt, like Stiffkey Bridge? Or perhaps to Rebuild Community @WhatsApp?)

Sustainable Community Living Projects are even more vital today than ever, so it really is crucial that communities ensure that this sort of takeover doesn’t happen again, for the futures of everyone concerned – and for Earth.

What’s happened in the Monkton Wyld Court Case linked above, should be criminal, and is:

On the Pearson BTEC HNC in Building Studies 2001-2003, students were taught of the need for (truly) sustainable construction, and, as the government and Local Authorities had targets we all needed to aim to achieve as designers, exactly what that is in terms of construction and the environment, with aims to achieve the highest possible design and build targets of build code Level 6 (+).  *IE GREEN DESIGN by Avril Fox and Robin Murrell, 1989 © Longmans ISBN: 1 85454 200 1

Students were advised to further research CAT EcoVillage in Wales – Canolfan Y Dechnoleg Amgen –

– And were also advised to look online for others as there were many exemplars to the same educational standards – one such being Monkton Wyld Court Centre for Sustainable Living, until now.

It’s seriously wrong isn’t it…

So… Why would anyone, ever, want to become a trustee of a charity such as Monkton Wyld Court? (School?)

Well, in this case, it might also later prove to be a case of The Land – and not just the now homeless magazine.

If trustees takeover the running of charities, wherein the trustees Own The Land under the terms of the Intentional Community documents, as recorded on the Intentional Community platform – there could easily be incentive.  (Beware!  Write Community Foundation Documents differently!  Protect The Community that lives on The Land! Protect the Village! Protect the EcoVillage! Save The Parish! Save The Children & Vulnerable too.)

The Four trustees took on their roles in January 2023, and apparently took the complaint of a disgruntled rejected applicant to the intentional community as a Code Red, and sacked the backbone of the community in flagrant disregard for the rule of law that actually governs sustainable community living projects.  (As students were taught at HNC level in Building Law, quote: ‘Ignorance Is No Defence In A Court Of Law’ – that cuts both ways.)

In other words, ensure that you do you your own research.  Historically:

Going back to the HNC course in Building Studies, students were taught building history, and why it really is crucial now, to design for social exclusion – and without any more waste, to design for low impact and zero impact construction – and to consider ecological and regenerative designs for the landscape too, I.e. Permaculture.

Following on from The Egan Report, the construction sector also needed to change to become Ethical – as so much of the sector wasn’t – and again, this followed UK government guidelines that included Partnering (experts) rather than Tendering for projects.  (Architects and designers need to know this, as they often guide the design team, which now also includes their clients, whom they have a legal requirement to advise.)

Does any of this ever get taught to financiers, bankers, or anyone working in the corporate sector?  (I don’t know because I’m not from there myself thank God – but it should, especially in terms of Building Law.)

The fact that we all need to design and build differently now – SHOULD be taught to everyone – not just students on HNC courses following their own Continued Professional Development.

We can’t carry on designing and building unsustainably as it goes against all the government EU and UN guidelines.

This is because 70% of our planet is covered with water, and of the 30% of land above sea level, one third is now desert or suffering from drought, and is degenerating at an alarming rate – while the human population increases, landmass decreases – and as arctic and antarctic ice continues to melt, (also at an alarming rate), designers needed to design differently.  It is also criminal to cause any more land, water or air pollution or contamination, or take away natural habitat vital to the support of endangered species.

(We couldn’t carry on living or building unsustainably. UK Planning Guidelines were changed to keep the UK in line with UN guidelines.)

We couldn’t carry on and on, fighting for The Land to build upon, mine or excavate – and in 2002, when the lecturer delivered THE most damning and accurate prophecy – there was a terrible frenzy for every single piece of land that came up on the market, with everyone bidding hoping to make vast profits from property investment.  Some people even gave up their day jobs, and built up property portfolios instead, never bothering to study Building Studies first.

Property and land values were positively booming – and that was a second problem – because it was completely unsustainable as proven historically.  From Boom to Bang to Bust – repeatedly – repeatedly leaving millions in dire poverty, homeless, bankrupt, bereft of food and water, and shelter.

Historically, it has always been the same really, hasn’t it?  And that is exactly why all the rules were changed after WWII, giving people their human rights back, and ensuring their protection under International Law.

Since The Roman Invasion 2000 years ago, it’s been a case of Divide, Rule, Conquer – and make money in the process.

And that’s exactly where the Third Sector differs, because it really is dead opposite.

IF the UK Charity Commission fails to take action AGAINST the four new trustees at Monkton Wyld Court, listed on the UK government Charity Commission pages as being: Laura Guest, Steven Slavin, Juliet Ann Lovelace Johnson and Richard Lovelace Johnson, then perhaps as Friends we should take further action in support of MWC.

Perhaps we should call in the (new) Ketts brothers to protect rural, and urban, communities rights, or a renewed Boudicca force to be reckoned with, or co-create and drum up a new Peasants Revolt.

The Land Is Ours, – is possibly the best place to click to start and join the Peasants Revolt – it’s possibly one of The Best platforms now to get your voice heard – especially as a rural Peasant!

Common Land (peasants have registered rights to in gross) has been reregistered by the CRA in the UK, after application by Corporate Bodies, and Private Estates, (and some major and minor charities), for their profits, at the loss of Common Rights Holders Rights and due consultation with CRH.

Historically, Rights have been removed from local rural people and parishes, which were finally returned and guaranteed protection by ALL the Nations united in forming the UN.

Once upon a time, we were ALL rural, lived in the countryside, and understood the importance of stewarding The Land wisely, for the benefit of our families and communities, for future generations.  We once understood, and were wise, to the ways of the countryside – or, we died.

We knew we were completely at the hands of God and nature, and were dependent on the natural environment – and were as flexible as we needed to be to survive.

The Romans started to change all of that, changing the landscape, bringing in non-native species, and separating the communities that carried the knowledge of the natural environment, and introducing and enforcing their own rules.

People were no longer free, and were expected to pay taxes for the food they grew, and that was just the start of it.

Over the years, The Land has repeatedly been removed from the people indigenous to it, who were either forced to work as slaves, were tortured or killed.

The Domesday Book of 1086 originally cast in stone WHO owned The Land at the behest of William the Conqueror – King William 1 – listing the Lords of The Land, as decreed then, and what their dues were to the King.

Over the centuries, the amount of land available to The People has been taken away from them, and, in the end, the Industrial Revolution was the start of the end.

The Land Inclosure Acts then went on to create legal property rights to land previously held in common in England and Wales according to Wikipedia, which goes on to explain that between 1604 and 1914, over 5,200 individual acts enclosing public land were passed, effecting 28,000sq kilometres.

The vast majority of the public land still available at the time, was categorized as either common or waste land, which rural peasants being landless themselves, were able to farm or forage.  This then led homeless or landless peasants to go to work in the factories in the towns and cities, since they had no other options, or very few.

Apparently, quote: “The powers granted in the Inclosure Act 1773 of the Parliament of Great Britain were often abused by landowners: the preliminary meetings where enclosure was discussed, intended to be held in public, often took place in the presence of only the local landowners, who regularly chose their own solicitors, surveyors and commissioners to decide on each case.  In 1786 there were still 250,000 independent landowners, but in the course of only thirty years their number was reduced to 32,000.  (Reference Wikipedia.)

Obviously, as shown by the four trustees, despite or in spite of all the new laws and governance, this is STILL going on today.

It IS historically the case, that the corporate and capitalist, needs slaves working for nothing in order to maximise profits – and even more people to count it all, and protect or defend it from thieves.

But it is also very wrong to expect people working in communities or in the non-profit sector, to have the same wage or working conditions as those in the corporate, Public or Private sectors.  Or even to have the same expectations.

Most people forming the Intentional Community at Monkton Wyld Court, lived there FREE – or at least, had FREE Free-range organic dairy produce, organic fruit and vegetables, and FREE facilities.  (Instead of High Wages.)

Some things in life are worth far (far) more than money…

Since the end of WWII, a raft of Human Rights have been written to protect humanity – and to protect Earth’s natural and organic environment.  The Third Sector specialises in giving all to these aims – where the Corporate, the Private and the Public Sectors do not.  The 1950s and 1960s led to an environmental awakening, and the call for World Peace – ‘Make Love Not War’ was the order of the day.

Veteran environmentalists and authors such as Avril Fox, George Monbiot, Simon Fairlie, Tony Gosling, Dame Jennifer Lonsdale, Dr Christopher Busby and David Attenborough, have been researching, educating or spearheading protests and campaigning for change for decades.  In some instances their knowledge spearheaded UN guidelines for change.

Right now, we either need to start to build environmentally and economically sustainable community living projects across the entire UK, (and Arks in risk zones), following the exemplars of EcoVillages and other eco-communities that have already blazed the trail and pioneered ways in which to hit ALL the Planning Guidelines, both in terms of Nationally and Internationally – or we will end up in the fullness of the 1984 projection.

Right now, today, there are two paths we can go by (quote: from The Long Road to Realism, autobiography of Avril Fox), one is inherently good and follows those guidelines, the other is disastrously bad – and will end in the end of humanity, and the end of an environmentally sustainable planet.

It was only on the award winning and green exemplars of EcoVillages such as CAT, Lammas, Findhorn, Fife Earthship, and the Hockerton Housing Project, CoHousing Communities and Eco-Communities such as Monkton Wyld that set the standards for others to follow that the UK government set aside as many millions as it did for Community Land Trusts (CLTs), and gave us the Right to Bid and the Right to Build.  If the exemplars that we are supposed to learn from are taken away from us, as is proving to be the case for Monkton Wyld and other established eco communities, then God help us – all.

If we have ‘Proven Need’, are suffering from exclusion, poverty, and have the evidence to prove our case, then we have the Right to Build as either individuals or intentional communities in application, according to the UK government’s Communities website and PDFs, and Exemption and Exception sites were to be allocated by Councils, then where should we be allowed to learn what is required?  (Should everyone just keep on and on reinventing the wheel?)

Given the fact that humans now ALL have a Right to Life protected by Law, a Right to Water, a Right to Life – a Right to Live as one in Nature.

The Workers Cooperative formed by the Intentional Community had an Agreed Low Wage.  Ergo, it was very wrong for the new trustees to use the clamant’s claim of a Low Wage against the Community that democratically chose or voted between them to refuse The Claimant’s Application to join Their Community.

FREE showers – free water and toilet facilities – free organic food, and a healthy, safe and happy environment in the beautiful Dorset hills, WHO wouldn’t want to work there, learn there, and become a part of this amazing coop community.  (I know I would – if it weren’t for my dependents, and other commitments within the non-profit sector I volunteer.  N.B.  Note to the UK Charity Commission – IF action is taken against the four new trustees, and you need to fill vacancies for trustees of the Monkton Wyld Court Charity – I, for one, volunteer.)

In fact, when I heard what had happened at Monkton Wyld Court, I first travelled down to Devon this summer to attend the Valley Vibes Festival, to meet with investigative journalist Tony Gosling and other members and supporters to discuss the case, and then later travelled back down to the West, to The Resistance Festival held at Monkton Wyld Court in Dorset to find out if there was anything that I could do to help, and again, to network with other supporters and members of The Land Is Ours. 

Although it wasn’t the same as the T.L.I.O. Gathering of 2011 – I still managed to learn an awful lot, (and not solely about the Monkton Wyld Court Case), as I attended as many of the classes as I could!  In short, I learned an awful lot this summer – including what I might be able to do to help – for example, writing this now!

George Monbiot originally formed T.L.I.O.  However, now seems to consider that The Land should be allowed to regenerate – without people either stewarding it or looking after it while living upon it as we have traditionally – and then considers himself to be the only person on the entire planet concerned about how to feed the world simultaneous to regenerating the natural environment – while preaching the Land Reform Act.

Living in a city – or even The City – looking out at the reducing countryside, is completely different to living in the countryside looking at the damages caused  to the countryside by those of The City, the cities and the towns, (as a peasant)…”  – Speaking as a Revolting Peasant – because the government made me so.


Written by Linda Beamish; Group Moderator/Regional Organiser EcoVillage Network UK; Admin. Pentref Eco Cymru EcoVillage Wales; Ambassador Imagine Rural Development Initiative (IRDI) Ecovillage Zambia; Community Organiser // – freelance (self-employed) Eco-architectural designer and social entrepreneur – AnArkAngel representing Avril Fox, the Patron Saint of the Ark Angels non-profit organisation.

London’s War on Informality, what seven hours in London taught me about surveillance capitalism – Brett Scott

The War on Informality

What seven hours in London teaches me about surveillance capitalism – Brett Scott – 19 Dec 2023Brett’s Substack

I lived in London for 11 years, and hold a deep affection for the city, but when I visit now I feel physically uneasy. As I disembark at Gatwick airport and step into the terminal, I’m hit with the punch of an invisible forcefield. Alarms start ringing in my nervous system, like those birds that cause a racket when danger is approaching.









A friend tells me it’s because I’m an ‘economic empath’. She means it half-jokingly, but it’s true that I sense a creeping darkness looming in the city that I can’t easily put words to, but feel in my body. It must be something subliminal I’m picking up, but what? It starts when I see the HSBC billboards that line the passage to the passport control, with pictures of grandparents and kids alongside slogans like ‘together we thrive’. It builds as I force myself to look into the facial recognition cameras to trigger the e-gates through the border. It spikes further as I try to avoid looking at the MFlow cameras from Human Recognition Systems Ltd, their swirling lights trying to attract my attention so they can log my iris and track me around the airport to optimise crowd control.

Then there’s the feeling of being held hostage in the Gatwick shuttle train where they force me to listen to easyJet deals read by someone pretending to be my friend, selected by an advertising company that used consumer research that told them a working-class voice sounds more trustworthy when trying to sell things. Then comes the moment I dread most. The clipped voice over the loudspeakers at the National Rail station that says, “If you see something suspicious, report it to a member of the British Transport Police…” At that point I violently scrabble for my headphones, because I want to drown out what’s coming next. Shit, I’m too slow. Here it comes…

‘SEE IT, SAY IT, SORTED’, the voice says.

That phrase, which is repeated every five minutes on British transport, send those inner birds of mine into a scream. I think about the kids growing up in this environment, having this repetitive mantra coded into the deepest parts of their neural circuits as ‘normal’. I also think about the economic structure behind it. I picture the brainstorming sessions with the AML Group, the advertising agency that was paid a shed-tonne of money to create that slogan. They’re quite proud of it:

The AML Group execs reckon they’re pretty edgy with their Sin City aesthetics. The website profile photos of their leadership team are set against a backdrop of street art – presumably to show their creativity – while they boast that their campaign has led to a 365% increase in paranoid reports about ‘suspicious behaviour’. In London, you can get paid a lot to make creativity and conformity work hand in hand.

Being held by the handrail

So, within an hour of arriving in the UK, my emotional Geiger-counter is registering high ambient toxicity in the environment, but the triggering goes on. The journey from Gatwick into central London is one long string of directives to be a conscientious good citizen, playing in the background as I’m told to be a conscientious good consumer by the Santander billboards on the Tube platform, the fintech adverts in the carriage, and the Barclays posters on the escalators that pass me while the voice tells me to ‘please hold the handrail’.


London is a city of endless helpful requests coldly delivered to sound like orders, alongside matey propaganda designed by M&C Saatchi to make corporate platforms look warm and cuddly. When I lived here, this mix of dripping corporate inauthenticity and stultifying paternalism was there like a suffocating blanket, but the city had a strong counterculture to balance it out. I was born at the tail-end of the authoritarian apartheid regime in South Africa, so when I arrived London seemed a city of exhilarating experimentation and freedom. I lived in the neighbourhood of Brixton from 2008-2013, where every day the street market was a multicultural carnival with home-made ginger beer, ska music and the smell of weed. London seemed to have a decent balance of power between the formal corporate and state sphere, and the informal street life that teemed around it in the cracks. There was, as it were, a vibrant outside to the suffocating blanket.

Perhaps what my nervous system now registers is a shift in that balance. The vibrancy still exists, but it’s on the retreat as the outside space is eaten up. In the great ongoing war between bureaucratic corporate surveillance capitalism and the human soul, the former is gaining ground.

Entering the production line

Within two hours an emotional motif has emerged. It’s the feeling that London increasingly operates as a series of optimised production (and consumption) lines presided over by authorities, corporations and technology. People cram off the Tube to cram into Pret for coffee to cram into work, before cramming into the self-service checkouts at Tesco for lunch. You’ll never see the bosses or shareholders of the production lines, but you will see a series of CCTV cameras, touch-screens, QR codes and employees, with the latter increasingly subordinated to the technology.

As people cram into the bars in the evening, they’ll leave their Pret cups and Sainsbury’s sushi containers crammed into bins. Those will be emptied before dawn by an army of unseen cleaners, many of them immigrants, who will un-cram the city so the process can continue when everyone drains from the catchment area of the suburbs into the trains again. Once on the platform, our minds can get crammed afresh with the cutting edge of automation ideology, which in London means pervasive fintech ads, like this one from the automated investment manager Nutmeg.

Ah, Nutmeg. I remember this crew. I was involved in the London ‘alternative finance’ scene around 2011 when Nutmeg was founded, and the team would turn up at events I attended. Like most fintech players, they claimed to be pioneering a ‘revolution’ against the banks. Here’s their old billboard.

Spot the difference? Glance to the bottom left of their newer ad, and you’ll see that the ‘investing without the bankers’ company has been bought by J.P. Morgan. Their former CEO’s LinkedIn page says he’s ‘taking a break’, which is unsurprising given that he probably no longer needs to work after getting paid to sell out. Then again, selling out was always the plan. Nutmeg was backed from the start by firms like Armada Investment Group, Balderton Capital and Schroders, who would make damn sure the CEO ‘takes a break’ if the likes of J.P. Morgan made an offer. The inauthenticity in Nutmeg’s vision was always there.

At some level everyone here knows that every claim around them is laced with a streak of the fake. False revolutions are marketed constantly. Some are even named after revolutions, like Revolut.

It’s ironic that Revolut chooses this image, because 9 out of the 11 people in their leadership team are white men, and there are no black women, but commercial inauthenticity is so normal that Londoners expect to be lied to. The start-up phase of a company is just like the start-up phase of an unfinished product on a production line. In the early phase, the start-up gets to say scrappy rebellious things, but by the end they’re ready to be sold to J.P. Morgan. Revolut is backed by some of the same venture firms as Nutmeg was, so don’t be surprised if it ends up swallowed. The fintech scene primarily exists for one thing: to help bridge the gap between Big Finance and Big Tech.

The soundtrack of techno-feudalism

By hour three, the latest theme tune of London’s corporate takeover rises into my consciousness. It’s an incessant beeping sound. Beep. Beep. Beep. It’s the sound of people tapping their cards or phones on contactless payments terminals, in Pret, in the Tube, on the bus, in Sainsbury’s, everywhere. It’s the sound of a message being sent by the smart-chip on their card via the merchant’s bank to Visa’s fortress data-centres to their bank’s data-centres and back. It’s also the sound of Visa, Mastercard and the banking sector getting richer. More generally, it’s the sound of us being processed by a system that wants to accelerate its production and consumption lines.

Henry Ford famously quipped that ‘any customer can have a car painted any colour, so long as it is black’. The bosses of London increasingly say ‘use whatever form of payment you want, so long as it’s digital and corporate’. Indeed, the rise of contactless payment in London was kickstarted by the TfL transport system, which not only started blocking people from using cash, but partnered with Barclaycard to promote contactless payments. In true inauthenticity-maximization style, they ran a phoney charity drive to onboard people with the help of former mayor Boris Johnson and the advertising giant M&C Saatchi. The initiative, which was called ‘Penny for London’, claimed you could be a humanitarian by using contactless payment, because the system would automatically donate 1p from your train fare to underprivileged young Londoners if you did so.

The initiative raised little money for charity, but that was never the point. The point was to shift people’s payments behaviour. The directors of the now-dissolved Penny for London Ltd included Boris Johnson’s Mayor’s Fund, former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond, and hedge fund mogul and Conservative Party peer, Baron Stanley Fink. Isn’t it strange that a bunch of financial elites were invited to sit on the board. Someone should report that to the See It, Say It, Sorted help-line as suspicious behaviour. I fantasize about calling the operator and saying:

‘I’ve noticed London has been taken over by two colossal American payments firms working in conjunction with Big Finance and Tech, and people don’t seem to notice. Suspicious?’

I can imagine the operator looking for ‘corporate takeover’ and ‘apathy towards ruling class hegemony’ in the list of threats to UK democracy. ‘No, sorry, we only act upon terrorist threats, homeless people, brown people, and people who take photos of our CCTV cameras’.

My French friend Victor takes glee in telling me that the UK has a lingering feudal mindset, because the country never had a true revolution like his. Certainly, parts of UK society seem to welcome in domination by techno-feudalism with minimal resistance. Behind the beeps on the contactless terminals I can see the grinning faces of the execs at Barclaycard, Visa and ApplePay, watching all the ‘cashless’ feedback loops accelerate, entrenching their platforms as the only means of survival in this environment. Their hegemony is amplified by state authorities, museums, universities, theatres and other institutions of cultural clout that add their official blessing to this takeover by ‘going cashless’.

Still, when I first lived in London, cultural immunity to this was higher. Using cash was normal, and it was also the currency of the informal underground that provided a counterpower to the formal sphere. Very few people experienced cash as ‘inconvenient’ in 2008, but even back then payments firms were working to shift that perception. I can hear the Visa UK marketing team popping the champagne cork on the night they released their 2016 ‘cashfree and proud’ campaign. Voiced by the much loved actor Brian Blessed, it had the objective of making cash seem ‘peculiar’ in the city by 2020.

Just like AML Group amplified British paranoia by 365%, these guys amplified the take-over of Big Finance-Tech with remarkable speed. Visa wanted Londoners ‘liberated’ from cash, but so-called ‘cashless payment’ is just transfers of bank-issued digital casino chips. Put differently, they wanted us liberated from our lack of reliance on banks. They wanted the cash economy to get metabolized by a corporate oligopoly.

This mentality of capture was presented as progressive: like our chuffed man in the ad above, we were supposed to feel a ‘sense of achievement’ when welcoming this in. Most notably, this mentality flourished in a particular strata of middle-class professionals. You don’t need to be a social scientist to see that wherever gentrification goes, cashlessness follows. The old ‘cash or card’ question asked by bartenders was silenced, and replaced by them shoving the POS terminal at you. This was the true ‘cashfree’ situation Visa desired, and yes, they are very proud that businesses will promote them by removing your choice to use their physical competitor.

Sterilisation by gentrification

By hour four in London I must find safe harbour. I retreat to the The Montagu Pyke on Charing Cross Road on the edge of Soho. It’s a Wetherspoons pub, and Wetherspoons is an interesting beast. One the one hand, it’s a stock-market listed company that consolidates pubs into a corporate chain. On the other, it uses its market power to protect stuff that might otherwise be undermined by market forces, like traditional real ale. Wetherspoons is notable for supporting CAMRA – the Campaign for Real Ale – and The Montagu Pyke is bastion for old London geezers who don’t want to be shamed for using cash or talking in a cockney accent.

I actually used to work in an old CAMRA pub called The St. Radegund. The roguish but loveable old boss was called Terry, who in his twenties had travelled for years through Asia in a beat-up van. I walked in, asked for a job, and the next night I was working, no questions asked. His policy was to serve no lagers, allow no smartphones, and accept no card payments. At the end of the evening I’d lock the pub up and take my wages in cash out of the till for myself. He simply trusted I’d take the right amount.

St Radegund regulars

The Radegund felt ‘homely’, but what does this mean? In a corporate office you’re only allowed you to express a limited part of yourself, but in a home all aspects of your being are allowed to reside. Things we call ‘homely’, then, have a certain level of holism. The Radegund was part of the capitalist economy – it sold beers for profit – but that was but one part of its spirit. It was also a community meeting space, a place for lonely widowers to find company, and for Terry to tell long stories to the regulars.

The Radegund’s most notable feature was the banning of phones, which prevented people from accessing a tool they might otherwise use to mine their environment for emotional commodities that could be pushed into an attention marketplace. Even the image I managed to sneak above was a partial infraction on that spirit. Phones are designed to make it technically easy for us to make audio-visual objects out of feelings and experiences that otherwise would resist objectification, and at this time Facebook was trying to lure me in with little dopamine rewards to get me to hand these objects over to them, so it could be displayed back to me from the outside.

At first glance the phone ban seemed restrictive – even draconian – but actually it protected the space from a mentality of commodification that might otherwise take root. Arguably, holding that mentality at bay is what makes things feel ‘underground’. One of the darkest possibilities facing us right now is that our phones may be like trojan horses invited into realms we may want protected from commodification. They slowly erode the sense that the underground resides within us.

Needless to say, the non-commodified holism that made the Radegund feel homely is the same thing that makes entire neighbourhoods feel homely. The old Brixton market, for example, played host to all manner of non-commercial values that co-existed alongside market activities. There was a diversity of spirit, which is what people end up calling ‘vibrant’. The more you push the needle towards non-commercial logics, the more ‘alternative’ a place seems. What we call ‘counterculture’ is a mentality that revels in de-prioritizing commercial logic, rather than foregrounding it.

Brixton’s gentrification really kicked off in 2011, when the Tory government broke the squatting scene and cleared out a big chunk of the informal culture. In the years since, a Wetherspoons pub called the Beehive has operated like a shelter, taking in fugitives pushed out by the rise of cashless wine bars and craft beer breweries. Soho, where the Montagu Pyke stands, was lost to gentrification way before that, but the pub is hosted in the building that once housed the old Marquee Club. Back in the late 60s, the venue was home to nascent stars like Led Zeppelin and David Bowie. The pub has a small exhibit commemorating this:

When I first moved to London, I got a thrill from listening to the Dire Straits song Wild West End, in which Mark Knopfler sings about walking the grimy streets of Soho before the area was turned into a simulacrum of itself to be sold to tourists. I never got to experience Mark’s Soho. One of the classic symptoms of deep urban commodification is that the identity of a place gets ripped away from those who live there and displayed back to them from the outside. You don’t host the spirit of Soho. You consume it. You live inside a product, and the local authorities begin to view themselves as product managers.

Many so-called ‘global cities’ face this problem. Amsterdam and Barcelona, for example, increasingly feel like managed products, which is why neighbourhoods like Gracia in Barcelona have graffiti saying ‘TOURISTS GO HOME, YOU’RE NOT WELCOME’. People who live in a home don’t like sensing they’re living in a production line for experiential commodities to be sold to outsiders, but London authorities have long given up the idea that the city is primarily a home. No, it’s primarily a venue to attract foreign investment, a tourist package, or a canvas of opportunities for property developers.

I saw this first hand when I worked in the financial sector from 2008-2011. I specialised in flogging exotic derivative contracts to property investment funds and developers. I saw how they saw the city as a series of spreadsheets. Buildings were just the intersection of input costs and output revenue, existing only to yield that residual essence called profit. Of course, these values of efficiency and accumulation feel sterile, so the developers would constantly try to cloak their profit-extraction endeavours in non-commercial imagery of friends, family, fun, adventure, weirdness, rebellion and so on. This is a more general feature of capitalism, which always must seek to appropriate non-commercial logics, and this is what ends up making things feel ‘gentrified’.

Gentrification is best understood as a pacification process, in which the marketable elements of some holistic thing are split off from its threatening elements. It’s like skinning a tiger. You’re left with an exotic, novel and aesthetically-pleasing skin, without any of the substance in its original context. Interestingly, if you study the Montagu Pyke exhibit above, it references backlashes to this phenomenon in music:

In reaction to celebrity rock, and to music run by record companies as a branded consumer product, the streets broke through again in the form of Punk Rock

‘The streets’ is an interesting phrase, but the last bastion of punk rock in London was a place called Camden, which no longer exists. Well, it technically exists, but what people call ‘Camden’ right now is actually the skin of the old punk neighbourhood, thrown over a commercial machine that sells the image of punk culture back to both the residents and a sea of tourists.

Trying to be a 1970s punk in a 2023 London is like trying to be a wild ferment in pasteurised milk. What makes a place feel ‘commercial’ is when the values of efficiency, ‘convenience’ and accumulation take over from all others, and the holistic spirit is slowly evicted. Commercial culture sterilises – or pasteurises – the environment of any parts of the human spirit that don’t act to support its aims.

All watched over by benevolent intermediaries

Young Mark Knopfler

In Wild West End Mark Knopfler sings about ‘getting a pickup for his steel guitar’ in Soho’s music Mecca, Denmark Street. By hour five in London I’ll inevitably end up there. I go to Wunjo Guitars and pretend to be in the market for a National Resonator. A staff member plays along, saying “give it try!” The Wunjo staff are all passionate guitar geeks, and – while they wouldn’t mind making a sale – they’re just as excited to share their love for the topic with anyone who turns up. Denmark Street retains some of the spirit of Mark’s time, but other things are being lost.

One of Mark’s most gutsy songs is Walk of Life. It’s about a busker called Johnny who plays “down in the tunnels, trying to make it pay”. Busking is a classic informal economy activity. You set up on the street, get moved on by cops, set up someone else, and collect coins as you go. I remember a busker called Flame Proof Moth who’d play down on the banks of the Thames next to a big target for people to chuck coins at.

Let’s map Flame Proof Moth on an economic systems diagram. If you imagine an economy as a giant interdependent mesh of players, ranging from tiny to gigantic, it would look something like the diagram below. The big corporate oligopolies sit in a centre, with smaller SMEs further down the chain, and then the millions of employees, freelancers and precarious workers forming rings around this. The ‘informal economy’ is always in the periphery. As I chuck a coin to Flame Proof Moth, it’s like two tiny nodes interacting on the outskirts.

Imagine now I live in a world where my brain has become convinced that progress means being totally dependent on Visa. Flame Proof Moth has been forced to come up from the River Thames and to set up one of those iZettle payments terminals next to him, so my card can call out via his bank and Visa to my bank and ask them to transfer 50p in digital casino chips to him (minus fees). Now, the tiny nodes no longer interact. Rather, we route our relationship through the central oligopoly.

If we rendered this image in 3D, tapping that card might look like this.

We’re now part of the formal economy. The ‘formal’ sector is the realm where bureaucratic values of hierarchal order preside. Formalization often entails intermediation, with small players routing through large players, a process that requires authentication. The ‘informal sector’, by contrast, operates on more horizontal and peer-to-peer lines. Amazon is formal. Large parts of the old Brixton market were informal. Many other businesses are a hybrid.

People whose minds have become excessively formalised will often demonise the informal sector with names like ‘the black market’. They may insist we ‘bring people in’ to the formal market, because they imagine that those who rely on street-level relations are out in the cold, and that corporate capitalism is like a kindly parental entity waiting to cuddle them. The informal market stands in opposition to corporate capitalism, so is branded as ‘inefficient’, precisely because it holds space for non-commercial values. It’s some grungy guy on the banks of the Thames who wants you to throw coins at him. He obviously has yet to understand that ‘liberation’ follows if he agrees to pay fees to Mastercard for the privilege of survival.

But here comes the dark part. The informal realm is what maintains the very vibe of a city, the sense of aliveness, the sense that its citizens are active creators rather than passive consumers. Some of the world’s most vibing places maintain a healthy balance of power between informal and formal. There’s an almost erotic interplay between those spheres, but the sure-fire way to kill the vibe is to break the balance. That’s when the society gets pasteurised. That’s when punks become consumers.

Keeping posture in slump culture

It’s hour six, and against my better judgement I enter Tesco to get dried fruit to keep my energy up. The UK’s biggest supermarket is part of a cluster of chain stores that dominate every high street. This phenomenon was dubbed ‘Clone Town Britain’ by the New Economics Foundation, who found that 41% of high streets in Britain were indistinguishable from each other in 2007.

Tesco is a champion for the bureaucratic streamlining of the UK populace. When I lived in London they pioneered self-service checkouts as a way to fire their service staff. As I was leaving they started piloting cashless stores in certain central London locations, aiming to set a new cultural precedent. The Guardian uncritically reported on this as part of the ‘growing cash free revolution’, but we know all about these phoney revolutions. Since I left, Tesco has pioneered the ‘make-it-normal-to-surveil-customers revolution’: each cashless self-service checkout now sports a mini-panopticon camera, to make you feel like you’re being watched.

I look at the people dutifully scanning their goods around me. They seem obedient, or is it that they’re stressed and preoccupied? Their faces seem to say ‘Don’t ask me to think about something political. This is progress’.

We’re told that progress is a bold striding into the future, but much ‘progress’ is actually a type of releasing of resistance. It’s the process whereby we either invite in, or relinquish resistance to, a narrow set of values that will displace a more holistic set. Much like the act of me slumping into a chair is me going along with gravity (rather than resisting it by holding posture), progress is the process by which we slump into acceptance of the default systemic tendencies in a large-scale capitalist system.

Those default tendencies are expansion and acceleration, both of which are elements of the economic god of Growth, and automation is a crucial component of all. Under a capitalist economy, tech just makes our lives faster, rather than easier. It’s not like the people in the Tesco self-checkout area are chilled out. No, they’re being pushed through a bureaucratic apparatus that wants them to move faster. Of course, Tesco will market this with reference to ‘convenience’, showcasing some marginal short-term benefit, but once a person steps in, the alternative will be pulled away from them. Self-checkout used to be optional. Now it’s often mandatory.

This is a type of entrapment, but given that resistance feels futile, it’s psychologically easier to nudge yourself towards believing that a self-service surveillance check-out is ‘modern’ and ‘progressive’. If nothing else, you’ll grudgingly learn that this is the new normal. After all, everyone else is doing it. What’s actually happening here is that the systemic tendencies of capitalism are proliferating through a network of people who have no ability to push pause to stop and ask if this is what they all really want. This is what ‘market forces’ are so good at doing: they prioritise a small subset of human desire – that momentary need to move slightly faster, for example – in order to lock in a new state of acceleration that you won’t be able to back away from.

This is easy to see, because there are many British people who demand physical cash to stay, but their demand will never be acted upon. What will actually happen is that those who slide into digital payment will have their ‘demand’ weaponised to recalibrate the infrastructure. Just look at all the new cash-blocking ticket machines in the National Rail stations. What they’re saying is this: From this point on, we only accept corporate intermediation. We don’t care about your archaic demands for texture. We require frictionlessness. We prioritise hierarchy over horizontality. They’re basically coercing cash users towards the choice that jells with automation.

In the current phase of the global economy, you’re told that you will be ‘left behind’ unless you leap aboard the platforms required to reach the requisite level of automation that everyone’s expected to sync up to. As you slump into acquiescence, the more likely you are to take on the persona of ‘the consumer’. Yes, I’m being served by Tesco. They only put these machines here for my convenience.

Antonio Gramsci would have called this ‘cultural hegemony’. It’s when people internalise the value set of a ruling class as natural, inevitable, and – eventually – their own. This poses a problem for me, because when I critique the captor, the captives might turn on me. I often have London friends shuffling uncomfortably as I insist on paying cash in a restaurant, or asking for a menu rather than scanning the QR code. They feel I’m being unfair on the waiter, who has no power to change the decisions made by the faceless bosses. It’s not like Tesco CEO Ken Murphy is going to turn up when I ask the Tesco assistant why my face is now on a screen. Ken answers only to his institutional shareholders. If I cause a fuss, I’m the trouble-maker.

Holding posture in this environment takes energy, but people are still resistant to the slump. Walking away from Tesco I notice that Nationwide has picked up on the angst felt by those who are being nudged towards digital apps as their bank branches are closed down.

There’s some fine-print at the bottom. If we have a branch in your town, we’ll still be there until at least 2026.

Three years. That’s all they’re prepared to promise. After that, all deals are off. The decision is made, and the key question facing the corporate sector is how to slowly mould the ‘laggards’ into compliance.

Searching for the outside

I want to see my old home. It’s a bittersweet way to spend my seventh hour, but Brixton was always a melting pot for the different clans of the ‘periphery’. This included immigrants but also the countercultures. In the last decade, however, Brixton became a battleground between two different conceptions of ‘independence’. On the one hand, were cash-only informal-vibe diaspora shops selling giant African land snails, jerk chicken and goats hooves. They authentically were pretty independent from the formal corporate economy. On the other, were a new crop of entrepreneurs opening ‘boutique’ shops with names like Champagne+Fromage and Honest Burger.

It was always a class war. The new entrepreneurs called themselves ‘indy’ but firmly plugged themselves into the digital mega-platforms, both in their marketing and operations. Visa was there to present itself as a humble servant, while the businesses slumped into a Faustian alliance to become its ‘cashless’ frontline agents in exchange for shaving a percent off their costs. They always knew their customers would wilt into compliance, after which the adaptable human brain could do the work of editing their memories to forget that there ever was an outside to Visa.

People ask me why I focus so much on cash. It’s because the arrival of so-called cashlessness is an eviction notice served to non-commercial spirits. The formal sector is slowly assassinating the informal economy, like an imperial death squad hunting down rebels. The creep is like a virus, and old Brixton punks must watch as it spreads into the body of the neighbourhood that hosts their identity. It appears to them as a sedation of the spirit, and a great forgetting of a world where solidarity, disdain for authority, and acceptance of imperfection were standard.

Their – perhaps reactionary – fear, of course, is that young Londoners will be born into this situation of capture, with their brain patterns calibrated within the formal system, such that they can’t recognise an outside. For example, many young people no longer have a concept of ‘money outside the bank’. Money is ApplePay. What is friendship without WhatsApp? What is directions without Google? There is no world that precedes the digital corporate overlay, with its filtering, auto-correcting and curating. The very concept of un-intermediated life is an endangered species.

I have no way of knowing what it was like to arrive in London in the 1700s, with no phone to connect to wherever you came from, or what it was like being Mark Knopfler arriving in 1973. I have, though, experienced what it’s like to arrive in 2008 without Silicon Valley laying out an all-encompassing digital red carpet. I’ve experienced getting paid ‘under the counter’ at an old pub, and doing things ‘off the record’. I guess I’m worried that 18 year-olds arriving here now must be preceded by their bank, by Google, by facial recognition, by Whatsapp.

But it would wrong to say that the outside doesn’t exist. Everyone has a holistic spirit with rebellious, creative and romantic elements, even if they increasingly must funnel through platforms that fundamentally contain no rebellion or romanticism. I know that there’s a team of AI engineers right now working on producing simulacra of those mystical feelings, so they can be wrenched from you and sold back. I’m just hoping they don’t succeed.

Do you feel it?

London now manifest in my body as a feeling of constriction, but there’s a hint of something else. Loneliness. I often get told I’m weird for caring about stuff like cash and informal economies, and perhaps my greatest angst in London is to do with voice. I want to name what’s going on, but sense that many others find it uncomfortable, even taboo. I’m not even asking for Tesco to be anything different from what it is. All I want is for them to be authentic for once. I just want to walk in and to hear the bosses admit that those self-service checkouts have got sweet fuck all to do with my interests. I want to hear Ken Murphy say: Brett, the self-service machines are here for us to process you faster, so suck it up and stop standing in the way of our profit. Ah, how refreshing that would be.

King Charles awards himself huge £40m, 50% pay rise, net worth £1.8 billion inheritance tax free



Wed 3 May 2023 by Felicity Lawrence, Rob Evans, Severin Carrell and David Pegg

Along with the crown, Charles III has inherited an unrivalled collection of homes to add to several he accumulated as heir-in-waiting. The king and the queen consort now have more than a dozen residences to choose from, boasting a total of at least 2,000 rooms. The cost of the staff required to keep these properties available year-round for often brief visits – and precisely who pays for them – is unclear. Here we list the main properties used by the king and close family members.

Buckingham Palace

An aerial view of London looking east with Buckingham Palace, Green Park and St James’s Park visible.
An aerial view of London looking east with Buckingham Palace, Green Park and St James’s Park visible.

Location: central London
Ownership: king, in right of the crown
Size: 775 rooms, including 52 bedrooms and 78 bathrooms
Use: official headquarters of the monarch
Open to the public? Yes, public rooms open in summer, £30; limited tours on other days, £90.

Reputed to be disliked by many of the royal family, Buckingham Palace nonetheless remains central to the British monarchy. With its vast array of rooms and acres of gardens, the palace is the official headquarters of the king, although it has not yet been announced whether it will also become his main London residence, as it was for Queen Elizabeth II. The cost of its upkeep has been a perennial sore. In 2017, it was agreed that action was needed to fix the leaking roof and crumbling masonry, with the then prime minister, Theresa May, increasing the government-funded sovereign grant to cover £369m of refurbishment costs over 10 years.

St James’s Palace

King Charles III is proclaimed king at St James’s Palace on 10 September 2022.
King Charles III is proclaimed king at St James’s Palace on 10 September 2022

Location: central London
Ownership: king, in right of the crown
Size: state rooms around a series of courtyards and a Tudor gatehouse
Use: an administrative centre for the sovereign and the royal court; houses apartments used by Princess Anne and Princess Alexandra, the late queen’s cousin.
Open to the public? No

Close to Buckingham Palace is the sprawling complex of St James’s Palace, where the royal court is formally based. Charles lived in a wing of the palace with his sons William and Harry after his separation from Diana, but moved to the more private Clarence House after the queen mother died. St James’s is still the site for major royal ceremonial events. Charles was declared king in the Proclamation Gallery, and royal christenings take place in its Chapel Royal.

Clarence House

Members of the public in the gardens of Clarence House and St James’s Palace.
Members of the public in the gardens of Clarence House and St James’s Palace

Location: central London
Ownership: king, in right of the crown
Size: five bedrooms, a morning room, drawing room and garden room
Use: London residence of the king and queen consort
Open to the public? Currently closed

Clarence House’s first occupant was its patron William, Duke of Clarence (later King William IV). Other residents have included Princess Elizabeth, who lived in the property before her accession in 1952, and her mother, Queen Elizabeth, who lived there until her death in 2002. More recently it has been the London home of Charles and Camilla.

Windsor Castle

Camilla, Catherine, William and Charles leave St George’s Chapel by horse-drawn carriage after attending the Most Noble Order of the Garter ceremony at Windsor Castle in June last year.
Camilla, Catherine, William and Charles leave St George’s Chapel by horse-drawn carriage after attending the Most Noble Order of the Garter ceremony at Windsor Castle in June last year

Location: Berkshire, England
Ownership: king, in right of the crown
Size: More than 1,000 rooms in 2,000 hectares of parkland
Use: the monarch’s weekend residence
Open to the public? Yes, public areas, £28

With more than 1,000 rooms, this is the largest occupied castle in the world. It was Queen Elizabeth II’s preferred home near London. Several royal weddings and funerals have been held in the castle’s chapel. In 1992, a fire destroyed large parts of the building. A row ensued over who should pay for the repairs, with many arguing that the queen should fund them from her private wealth. In the end, the £37m restoration was paid for from existing grants and from money raised by opening Buckingham Palace to paying visitors for the first time.

Adelaide Cottage

Adelaide Cottage viewed from across the River Thames.
Adelaide Cottage viewed from across the River Thames.

Location: Windsor Home Park, Berkshire
Ownership: crown estate, given over to the king
Size: reportedly four bedrooms
Use: official residence of William and Catherine, Prince and Princess of Wales
Open to the public? No

William and Catherine moved in with their family in 2022 as paying tenants. Their children go to a private school nearby. Described as modest and quaint, the Grade II-listed cottage was built in the 18th century using materials recycled from the Royal Lodge and a former royal yacht. Queen Victoria is said to have taken breakfast and tea there regularly. Its ownership is convoluted: originally part of the crown estate, it was given over to Windsor Castle for the use of the sovereign in perpetuity.

Royal Lodge

Princesses Elizabeth (R) and Margaret pulling a lawn chair on wheels at the Royal Lodge in April 1940.
Princesses Elizabeth (R) and Margaret pulling a lawn chair on wheels at the Royal Lodge in April 1940.

Location: Windsor Great Park, Berkshire
Ownership: crown estate, with a 75-year lease bought by Prince Andrew in 2003
Size: reportedly 30 rooms in 40 hectares
Use: Andrew and his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson
Open to the public? No

Since he was removed from royal duties in 2019 over sexual abuse claims, Prince Andrew, 63, is said to have been spending his days rattling around his 30-room mansion where he has lived since 2003. His former wife, Sarah Ferguson, reportedly lives in a separate wing. It has been reported that Charles wants to cut the financial support Andrew gets from his family, which could leave him struggling to afford the lodge’s running costs. The king has offered his younger brother the smaller Frogmore Cottage, according to reports.

Frogmore Cottage

Harry and Meghan left Frogmore Cottage in 2020.
Harry and Meghan left Frogmore Cottage in 2020.

Location: Windsor Home Park, Berkshire
Ownership: crown estate, given over to the king
Size: reportedly four bedrooms and four bathrooms
Use: Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, until 2020; currently empty
Open to the public? No

The Grade II-listed house was made available to Harry and Meghan by the late queen shortly before the birth of their first child, Archie. Before then it had housed estate workers.Its ownership is – like that of Adelaide Cottage – difficult to untangle: originally owned by the crown estate, a change in the 19th century means it can be used in perpetuity by the sovereign. Harry and Meghan renovated it using £2.4m from the taxpayer-funded sovereign grant. This work reportedly created a four-bedroom, four-bathroom home with orangeries, a nursery and a yoga studio. Meghan and Harry remained paying tenants after they moved to California. They repaid the £2.4m in 2020 in lieu of further rent.

Kensington Palace

People view tributes to the late Diana left outside Kensington Palace in August last year to mark the 25th anniversary of her death.
People view tributes to the late Diana left outside Kensington Palace in August last year to mark the 25th anniversary of her death. Images

Location: central London
Ownership: king, in right of the crown
Size: vast palace divided into several apartments, plus cottages in grounds
Use: London residence of William and Catherine, and other royals
Open to the public? Yes, £25.40

Once known as “the aunt heap” on account of the number of ageing minor royals living there, Kensington Palace today is the London residence of the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. The elegant three-storey, redbrick mansion, largely designed by the architect Christopher Wren, was the favoured residence of earlier monarchs, who entertained lavishly in its grand state rooms and galleries.

Highgrove House

Prince Charles attends a tree planting ceremony at Highgrove House in 2008.
Prince Charles attends a tree planting ceremony at Highgrove House in 2008

Location: Gloucestershire
Ownership: Duchy of Cornwall
Size: nine bedrooms with a 140-hectare farm estate
Use: Charles and Camilla use it as their country home
Open to the public? Yes, Highgrove gardens, £30

The Duchy of Cornwall bought Highgrove House as a country home for Charles in 1980. It was just a few miles from Camilla’s family home at the time and it cost £865,000. The king renovated it and created formal and kitchen gardens. He has also installed solar panels and a reed-bed sewage filtering system. It is currently valued by an estates expert at about £15m. The king initially lived in the property for free; these days he pays £659,285 in annual rent for the house and other properties used by his staff. On Charles’s accession to the throne, Prince William inherited the Duchy of Cornwall and so became his father’s Highgrove landlord.

Sandringham estate

Queen Elizabeth attends a garden party to mark her diamond jubilee at the Sandringham estate in 2012.
Queen Elizabeth attends a garden party to mark her diamond jubilee at the Sandringham estate in 2012.

Location: Norfolk
Ownership: privately owned by the king
Size: more than 8,000 hectares and 300 commercially rented properties
Use: members of the royal family for Christmas holidays and private breaks
Open to the public? Yes, during the summer, £23

A large house and larger estate that includes farms and more than 300 houses across 13 villages that are rented out by the king. As a whole it is estimated to be worth between £250m and £390m. The estate includes Anmer Hall, a 10-bedroom manor given to William and Catherine by the late queen.

Balmoral Castle and estate

Queen Elizabeth with Prince Philip and their sons (L-R) Edward, Charles and Andrew at Balmoral Castle in 1979.
Queen Elizabeth with Prince Philip and their sons (L-R) Edward, Charles and Andrew at Balmoral Castle in 1979.

Location: Aberdeenshire
Ownership: privately owned by the king through a trust
Size: the castle has 167 rooms; the estate is 22,000 hectares
Use: the monarch’s summer base
Open to the public? Yes, public areas, £17.74

Conservatively worth £78m, Balmoral is the quintessential Highland estate, where the royal family indulge their love of deer stalking, grouse shooting and salmon fishing. The late queen, who died there last September, is said to have regarded Balmoral as her favourite place.

The estate includes the king’s personal retreat at Birkhall, a country house dating to 1715 and enlarged by the queen mother in the 1960s; and Craigowan Lodge, a seven-bedroom house. There are another 81 cottages and lodges on the estate, mostly for staff.

Castle of Mey

Charles visits the Castle of Mey in 2019.
Charles visits the Castle of Mey in 2019.

Location: Caithness
Ownership: Prince’s Foundation charitable trust
Size: tower house in 12 hectares of parkland
Use: Charles and Camilla as a holiday home
Open to the public? Yes, £14.50

The castle was owned by the queen mother, who bought it as a semi-derelict ruin in 1952. After an extensive reconstruction, she stayed there every August through to October, until her death in 2002. In 1996 its ownership passed to a charitable trust under the direction of Charles. He opened up its gardens and public rooms to visitors, and in 2019 he gave it to the Prince’s Foundation.

Dumfries House

Dumfries House.
Money was raised from private foreign donors to pay off a £20m loan used to buy Dumfries House.

Location: East Ayrshire
Ownership: Prince’s Foundation
Size: mansion in 800 hectares
Use: king, during visits to the area
Open to the public? Yes, £13.50

Dumfries House and its Chippendale furniture was bought for £45m by a consortium headed by Prince Charles in 2007 from the Marquis of Bute. The purchase was funded through government, lottery and charitable funds, and a £20m loan from Charles’s Prince of Wales Charitable Foundation. Charles hoped to repay that loan by building a model village nearby, a project that floundered after the banking crisis in 2008. His aides then controversially raised money from foreign private donors to fund the debt.

Bagshot Park

Mansion House in Bagshot Park is the home of Prince Edward and Sophie.
Mansion House in Bagshot Park is the home of Prince Edward and Sophie

Ownership: crown estate lease bought privately
Size: reportedly 120 rooms within 21 hectares
Use: Edward and Sophie, the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh
Open to public? No

The king’s youngest sibling, Edward, has lived in Bagshot Park’s Mansion House with his wife since 1998. Before they moved in, the dilapidated mansion was refurbished at a cost of nearly £3m. The Ministry of Defence, which previously used the building, paid £1.8m towards the renovation, with the rest coming from Edward. Under the terms of the initial lease, Edward was required to pay £90,000 in annual rent. He sublet the stables to a commercial firm, which helped to cover this cost, and later reportedly bought a longer lease.

Gatcombe Park

Moon Man, ridden by William Fox-Pitt, competing in the British Open horse trials championship at Gatcombe Park in 2000. The pair won the event.
Moon Man, ridden by William Fox-Pitt, competing in the British Open horse trials championship at Gatcombe Park in 2000. The pair won the event.

Location: Gloucestershire
Ownership: privately owned by Princess Anne since 1976
Size: 18 rooms, 283-hectare estate
Use: home of Anne and her second husband, Sir Timothy Laurence
Open to public? No

Princess Anne has lived in this Cotswolds country house since 1976 when the queen bought it for her and her then husband, Capt Mark Phillips. The estate has a lake, extensive parkland, and stables. Since 2013, Anne’s daughter, Zara, has lived in a cottage on the estate with her husband, the former rugby player Mike Tindall, and their children. Anne’s son, Peter Phillips, reportedly has a separate house on the estate.


Charles and Camilla outside Llwynywermod in 2009.
Charles and Camilla outside Llwynywermod in 2009.

Location: Carmarthenshire
Ownership: Duchy of Cornwall
Size: three bedrooms, in 78 hectares
Use: Welsh home for the Prince of Wales
Open to the public? No

Bought by the Duchy of Cornwall for £1.3m in 2007 as the Welsh home of Charles and Camilla, it is unclear how often they stayed there. The cottages on the estate are rented out as holiday lets when the Prince of Wales is not there. Now owned by William, it is unclear whether he and Charles, who continues to pay rent, will both use it.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

The queen hosts the annual garden party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in 2018.
The queen hosts the annual garden party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in 2018.

Location: Edinburgh
Ownership: king, in right of the crown
Size: 289 rooms in 6 hectares of land
Use: king’s official residence in Scotland
Open to the public? Yes, £19.50

Holyroodhouse was once home to Mary, Queen of Scots, but is now the official royal residence in Scotland. In April 2019, the queen registered the crown’s ownership of the palace, its grounds and ruined abbey. Since the site had been owned by successive monarchs for centuries, that was a formality.

Hillsborough Castle

L-R: Former Irish taoiseach Bertie Ahern, British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, former US president Bill Clinton and former British PM Sir Tony Blair outside Hillsborough Castle during the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement in April.
L-R: Former Irish taoiseach Bertie Ahern, British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, former US president Bill Clinton and former British PM Sir Tony Blair outside Hillsborough Castle during the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement in April.

Location: Hillsborough, County Down
Ownership: UK government
Size: Two-storey mansion set in 40 hectares
Use: residence for visiting royals and the secretary of state for Northern Ireland
Open to public? Yes, £10

The British government bought Hillsborough Castle, 15 miles south-west of Belfast, in 1920 and it is the official residence of the secretary of state for Northern Ireland and members of the royal family when they visit the region. An Irish “big house” rather than a castle proper, it was built by the Hill family, Anglo-Irish landowners whose fortune was first made during the Tudor conquests of Ireland at the beginning of the 17th century. Hillsborough takes its name from the family but is seen as a politically neutral venue and has featured prominently in peace talks.