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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, January 08, 2005
     
    Good time again at St Deiniols. Finished writing my paper Towards an Urban Theology of Land (you'll have to wait till February to see it after I've run it past a group of urban clergy), and afterwards enjoyed reading On Common Ground by Francis Reed.

    Reed gives a run-down of the place of the commons in the English social and cultural landscape, his angle on it very clear from the opening salvo:

    The Commons tell a story of co-operation in human society and with the land (and of the gradual imposition of private interests), as fragments of the old 'cottage economy' in a present beset by totalitarian market forces and where the majority are outsiders in their own country.

    That's about it, really. And fair play to him. But this small book is bundled with excellent quotes and historical observations. Like,

    Let them not take in their commons, neither make parks nor pastures, for God gave the Earth for men to inhabit and not unto sheep and wild deer. - William Tyndale, 1525

    Therefore I say, the Common Land is my own land and equal with my fellow Commoners, and our true property by the law of creation. It is every ones, but not one single ones. - Gerrard Winstanley, 1652

    ('As with the small farmer or shopkeeper today, so with the cottager,') Somebody was after his property, with the noblest of motives and almost invariably in the national interest. - W.G. Hoskins, 1963

    The 1845 Enclosure Act made provision for land to be set aside for exercise, recreation and the poor in compensation for the loss of Common Rights. The provision for allotments to the labourer were rented at anything between 40% and 500% more than adjoining land, [and] they came to be seen as an act of charity rather than the fragmentary vestige of ancient rights. Often it was only the support of sympathetic clergy which ensured their provision...

    Liverpool is the largest of several towns and cities to stand on Common Land, in this case belonging to the parish of West Derby.

    Woe unto them that lay house to house, that lay field to field till there be no place... - Isaiah 5.8. Even if they believed in the 'woe', who would dare use such language today?