Monday 1 April 2024

On this Day in History: Gerrard Winstanley

On 1st April, 1649, Gerrard Winstanley, a prominent figure in the English Civil War period and a leader of the Diggers movement, took significant action to challenge the prevailing land ownership system in England. The Diggers, also known as True Levellers, were a group of agrarian communists who advocated for the common ownership of land and the abolition of private property rights. 

On this day, Winstanley and his followers, inspired by their belief in communal living and egalitarian principles, occupied and began cultivating common land at St. George's Hill in Surrey. The action was symbolic of their broader vision to reclaim and cultivate land that they argued rightfully belonged to the common people, rather than being monopolized by wealthy landlords. 

The Diggers' occupation of St. George's Hill was not just a spontaneous event but part of a deliberate campaign to challenge the existing social order. They saw themselves as enacting a radical reordering of society based on principles of equality and cooperation. By directly taking over the land and working it collectively, they sought to demonstrate their vision of a more just and equitable society. However, the Diggers faced opposition from landowners, local authorities, and even other factions within the Parliamentarian movement. 

Their occupation was met with hostility, and they were subjected to harassment, eviction attempts, and legal actions aimed at suppressing their movement. Despite the challenges they faced, the Diggers' actions at St. George's Hill and other locations inspired similar movements and left a lasting legacy in the history of social movements and struggles for land rights. Gerrard Winstanley's vision of a society based on communal ownership and cooperation continues to resonate with advocates for social and economic justice to this day. 

 The 1976 film, Winstanley, is available to watch on BFI Player.

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