At the Wellingborough Diggers memorial – with Independent Socialists Paul Crofts & Richard Jackson
A group for all independently-minded people who are broadly “socialist” in outlook and beliefs. You do not have to be a member of any political party, but you can be if you want. Campaigns for progressive social change in Wellingborough and Northamptonshire/UK
At the Wellingborough Diggers’ memorial – with Wellingborough Independent Socialists Paul Crofts & Richard Jackson
www.thisweek.org.uk Martin Summers & Tony Gosling 01 Oct 2021
The Wellingborough Diggers of 1650: A tribute to Mischief-making on a grand scale
The contribution of the Diggers cannot be underestimated as we wrestle with opposing the gross and disgusting inequalities of wealth and income across the globe that is there for all to see and developing a vision of a different kind of society in the future. The Diggers dreamt of a new type of world and that dream is still with us today, albeit the language in which the dream is described may have changed over the passage of time. I have used the term mischief, because this is the word used to describe the Diggers at the time. A contemporary letter of April 15th 1649 (1650), from the Government of the day (Council of State) to “ … Mr. Pentlow, Justice of Peace for County Northampton” said:
“We approve your proceedings with the Levellers in those parts, and doubt not you are sensible of the mischief these designs tend to, and of the necessity to proceed effectively against them. If the laws in force against those who intrude upon other men’s properties, and that forbid and direct the punishing of all riotous assemblies and seditious and tumultuous meetings, be put in execution, there will not want means to preserve the public peace against attempts of this sort of people”.
In particular I draw your attention to then words “… mischief these designs tend to, and of the necessity to proceed effectively against them.” What were the Digger’s designs and actions that were so threatening that “… there will not want means to preserve the public peace”?
In a unique “Declaration of the Grounds and Reasons” issued by the Wellingborough Diggers in 1649 (1650), we have an opportunity to hear their own voice across the centuries:
Their actions were very simple:
“(We) have begun and give consent to dig up, manure and sow corn upon the Commons and Waste Ground called Bareshanks, belonging to the people of Wellinborrow by those that have subscribed and hundreds more that give consent”
Why were they taking this action?
“We are in Wellinborrow in one parish of 1169 persons that receive alms… our trading is decayed; our wives and children cry for bread; our lives are a burden to us, divers of us having 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 in family, and we cannot get bread for them by our labour. Rich men’s hearts are hardened; they will not give us if we beg at their doors. If we steal, the law will end our lives. Divers of the poor are starved to death already; and it were better for us that are living to die by the Sword than by the famine …”
How did they justify their action – what underpinned the philosophy or set of ideas that encouraged them?
“We find (in the word of God) that God made the earth for the use and comfort of all mankind, and sat him in it to till and dress it…
God never gave to any sort of people that they should have it all to themselves and shut out the rest …
We find that no creature that ever God made was deprived of the benefit of the Earth, but mankind … it is nothing but covetousness, pride and hardness of heart that hath caused man so far to degenerate.
That in the last day the oppressor and proud man shall cease and God will restore the waste places of the Earth to the use and comfort of man, and that none shall hurt or destroy in all His Holy Mountain.
We have great encouragement from two righteous Acts, which parliament of England has set forth, the one against kingly power and the other to make England a free Common-wealth”
Within a few weeks (we do not know for sure how long it lasted) the Digger enterprise in Wellingborough had been brought to an end by the forces of “law and order” – unleashed by the nice Mr. Pentlow, Justice of the Peace, on instructions from the Government of Cromwell. The Diggers’ leaders were arrested, taken to Northampton, and charged with riot and affray. After this nothing is known of what happened to them.
I don’t think it was so much what the Diggers did that rattled the ruling class of the day (is sowing seed on common land so threatening?), so much as the ideas that the declaration promoted and was spreading throughout the country. Are there resonances here of how the Occupy Movement and UK-Uncut and other movements against injustice around the world are being treated today?