The World Turned Upside Down: Custom Law and Common Right

Book Burning and Iconoclasm: 1643

Book Burning and Iconoclasm: 1643

In recognition of the 365th Anniversary of the Leveller Debates at the end of the First English Civil War Occupy London held a series of events inspired by the seventeenth century Levellers and Diggers: two radical forward thinking groups that were to grow out of the forment of revolutionary ideas spawned by the momentous events of the English Civil Wars. The collective title under which these discussions were to be promoted across the internet, both on WordPress, Facebook and elsewhere, was ‘The New Putney Debates’: a name that was to be inspired by the original venue where the Levellers themselves were to participate in a series of discussions of their own, at the Church of St. Mary, in what was at that time the village of Putney.

As well as attempting to redress certain grievances then prevalent among the rank and file of the Army, in relation to pay, conditions, and the crimes and atrocities that they themselves had been ordered to carry out, often under duress, during the course of the War, by their superiors, the purpose of the original Putney Debates was as a forum of discussion in relation to a number of key issues centred on political reform. These were to include the introduction of universal sufferage, something that we ourselves view as one of our principal democratic rights in our present day society, but which in the seventeenth century was an idea totally at odds with the then Established Order of Monarchy, National Church and House of Lords. The three pillars of Seventeenth Century English Society.

In addition to the Monarchy, which many of the Levellers wanted to see abolished, in view of the King’s role in the series of events that were to bring about the Civil War in the first place, another key issue was that of land rights in relation to Common Land, as well as the re-establishment of Custom Law and Common Right; as it had existed before the Norman Conquest. This particular issue was possibly one of the most contentious under discussion during the course of the original Putney Debates which took place in Putney Church between the Levellers, their representatives, and prominent members of the Parliamentary Army Council generally referred to as ‘the Grandees’.

The idea that some primitive form of democracy had existed in England before the Norman Conquest did not just filter down to the Levellers, but appears in the writings of Milton. It can also be found in Langland’s ‘Piers Ploughman’, a major influence upon the leaders of the Fourteenth Century Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The surviving transcript of the supposed negotiations between King Richard II and Wat Tyler, leader of the Kentish Rebels, which took place in London’s Smithfield shortly before the latter’s death at the hands of Sir William de Walworth, at that time Lord Mayor of London, makes direct reference to a series of early legal tracts; referred to by Tyler himself as ‘The Laws of Winchester’.

According to one set of traditions, these so called ‘Laws of Winchester’ were based on the original Pre-Roman Druidic Laws of the Dark Age Welsh Kings; who had succeeded Arthur and his Knights as the inheritors of an even earlier legal system which can be traced right the way back into the misty primordial roots of Prehistoric Civilization. It is fact that many ancient Mediaeval Welsh legal tracts, which date from a time when much of Wales was still a distinct and independent principality free of the domination of the English Crown, are generally referred to as constituting the fragmentary remnants of just such a system. It is also fact that King Alfred the Great, whose capital was at Winchester and who is himself accredited with codifying these so called ‘Laws of Winchester’ into the form in which they are referred to by Tyler, was possessed of a Welsh mentor and adviser; in the person of Asser, his biographer.

We can therefore conclude from this that there was indeed some legal basis for the assertions made by both the Levellers themselves and their Mediaeval predecessors alike; that some sort of primitive democracy did exist before the advent of the Norman Conquest. And, from the sources that are still available to us, these ancient customs are known to have been the primordial antecendents of what are generally referred to as Mediaeval Folk Moots. Gatherings of local dignitaries, and others, before assemblies of the Common People.

Besides ‘Choir Gavr’, or Stonehenge, one of the principal traditional places where such gatherings are believed to have taken place is on Kennnington Common. And, it was to be here, on a long since demolished, but undoubtedly prehistoric, earthwork, or Moot Hill, in 1848, that the leader of the Chartists, O’Connor, addressed his assembled supporters; before their historic march on Parliament in the pursuit of political reform. In a future posting we shall look at the implications of this event in relation to our own present democracy and its possible influence on events that are to come…..

The Chartists’ Meeting on Kennington Common

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Mutoid Waste at the PFF Video Cafe

As promised earlier in the month this blogspot will host excerpts of Jonathan ‘JB’ Barnett’s soon to be reissued showreel throughout this year’s Portobello Film Festival. So here it is, the original digitized Youtube upload of Jonathan’s 1988 Mutoid Waste video.
 
For those interested in seeing a big screen showing of this, perhaps the first ever genuine underground DIY Culture video, check out the Video Cafe at Portobello’s Westbourne Studios September 14th-17th or the forthcoming Joe Rush Art Exhibition.
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Portobello Pirate TV….

Back in the blogosphere after a bit too long, but with a good excuse for not having picked up the thread where the Zodiac left us off a few months back….Next month sees the start (and indeed finish) of this year’s Portobello Film Festival: another landmark event from the team that brought you the world’s first ever internet film festival back in 1996 (or so it said on the flyer).
 
Originally the brainchild of Jonathan ‘JB’ Barnett, himself the long term collaborator of Kingston Zodiac discoverer and Glastonbury Zodiac documentor Mary Caine, Jonathan’s ideas of setting up his own pirate television station, Portobello Pirate TV, back in the nineteen nineties, were to lay the foundations for what was eventually to become the film festival; through the development of his own unique style of underground film making. As a tribute to his pioneering work as an underground film maker, my own independent film production outfit, Merlinhedd Films, has put together an accessible dvd video showcase of his work, some of which will be viewable during the course of the Festival both on my Youtube channel and at:
 
 
In the coming weeks, when the Festival is over, we’ll be back on track along the Road to Whiteleafed Cross……  
  ‘JB Gets Blown Out’ from the ‘Melody Maker’ article on his ‘Rough Guide to the Warwick’ series of videos shot in and around Portobello’s Warwick Castle Pub during the late nineteen eighties and early nineteen nineties. 
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‘The Road to Whiteleaf Cross’

 
Greetings From the Lord of Misrule!

 

Friday 29th May marked the passing of the traditional English festival of Oak Apple Day, and so, as we move out of the Lunar Hawthorn Tree Calendar Month and into that of the Oak we find the Gay Gordon Brown Trousers looking more and more like the Lord of Misrule who originally presided over so many of the May Month traditional revels that were once part of the indigenous pagan ritual calendar.
 
As we ourselves shall very soon see, as this sometimes and occasional blog moves on with a new theme, this time taking us on a magical mystery tour along ‘The Road to Whiteleaf Cross’, the fact that Chequers, the Gay Gordon’s all expenses paid Prime Ministerial weekend retreat, is itself located in the midst of an ancient ritual landscape directly tapped in to the world famous Great Dragon Line may well have something to do with it. A fact which would come as little surprise to radical English Civil War Parliamentarians such as John Hampden. Himself a one time resident of nearby Hampden House.
 
In part one of our journey, which begins next month, we set out from a similarly ancient ritual landscape, itself just a few miles down the road from Tony Blair’s one time party political stomping ground. The first stage of a countrywide journey across the land in search of the hidden greenwood bowers in which the Oak King still
holds sway….. 
 
 
         
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Hey Diddle Diddle….

 
 
As May 2009 draws to an end and our Twelve Stage Cycle mini blogospheric tours of Kingston’s ancient zodiac comes to a close, Gordon Brown’s Blue Labour Government seems to be sinking with all hands as the Sun passes out of the Zodiac’s Second House of Money and Worldly Possessions.
 
 
Perhaps the Taurean Sun’s direct square by an Aquarian Neptune is at the heart of his difficulties. Neptune, after all, is the Planet of Unconscious Self Deception. And, anyone thinking that an economy completely reliant on house price inflation and over extended domestic borrowing would bring about ‘An End to Boom and Bust’, to quote the somewhat rusty former Iron Chancellor’s own words, is  certainly guilty of self deception.
 
So, by way of celebrating an end to Boom and Bust Economics, with a bust fit to rival that of Operation Julie, I shall now usher out this present cycle in my regular monthly blogspot with an oft quoted nursery rhyme with clear Astrological associations:
 
‘Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle,
The Cow Jumped Over the Moon,
The Little Dog Laughed to See Such Fun,
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon’.
 
As I have already shown during the course of the various blogospheric extracts from my soon to be completed book on ‘Legendary London’, which can still be accessed from this ‘spaces’ page, whilst the Cat in the rhyme corresponds to the Sign of Leo, the Fiddle to Virgo, the Cow to Taurus, the Moon to Cancer and the dish and the Spoon to Gemini; whilst the Little Dog likewise corresponds to the constellation of Canis Minor. This considered, will the Sun’s transition through Gemini in the coming weeks see Plan Cameron’s Dish of even Bluer Labour than Blue Labour policies run off with Brown’s Spoon if the ongoing MPs’ Expenses Scandal forces a General Election in the wake of the European Parliamentary ballot destined for June 4th?
 
The answers are out there….truly out there….. 
 
 
   
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Spring’s Sunny Arian Ram Raid

   
 
 
This month’s riots and street battles, that have coincided so appropriately with the G20 London summit, and the subsequent recriminations that have followed, are particularly appropriate in view of the Martian aspect of the Astrological sign through which the Sun has been passing as they have occurred. Although much of the attendant media attention, that has accompanied the media hue and cry in the wake of an innocent death and an equally reprehensible Police batoning, has been focussed on the situation in the Capital, we should perhaps look elsewhere for some truly fiery Arian reactions to the present socio-political status quo.  
     
The earlier events in London were perhaps subsequently used to justify the somewhat heavy handed Police supression of the attempted action by environmental demonstrators intent on taking part in a mass trespass at one of Nottingham’s most infamous coal fired power stations over the Easter Weekend. This sadly thwarted endeavour to disrupt a longterm environmental menace, that has seen large areas of the ancient broadleafed woodland that has traditionally been associated with the followers of Robin Hood decimated by Acid Rain, did at least achieve one vital aim for environmentalists; in that it highlighted public attitudes, in the largely residential area where the action was due to take place, to the overly draconian fashion in which largely peaceful environmental actions such as this are being policed. 
 
The events in Nottinghamshire of that weekend are part of a long tradition of anti-government and anti-capitalist protest which are well documented in traditional Enlgish folk songs such as the early nineteenth century ballad "General Ludd’s Triumph".
 
 
"Chant no more your old rhymes about Old Robin Hood,
His deeds I do little admire,
I will sing the achievements of General Ludd,
The hero of Nottinghamshire.
The engines of mischief were sentenced to die,
By unanimous vote of the trade,
And Ludd, who all opposition defies,
Was grand executioner made!"
  
Although much is known historically about the nineteenth century Luddites, and their attempts to stop cottage tradesmen and farm labourers being squeezed out of existence by the  technological advances of the Industrial Revolution, what is more obscure are the movements’ connections with Old King Lud: an indigenous Celtic equivalent of Lugh: the Pagan Irish God of Light. Lud’s own connections with London’s Ludgate and the town of Ludlow in Herefordshire, not to mention the Border Clan of Laidlaw and the Appalachian folk song of  ‘Geordie’ or ‘Georgie’, are examined in depth in my ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel: Sir Walter Scott and the Border Minstrel Tradition’. 
 
In it I show his proven connections with the male aspect of the Celtic cult of the Sacred Horse. Now, as the Sun begins to move out of Aries and into Taurus we are confronted with Lud’s female counterpart, whose myriad of archetypal manifestations have included none other than Lady Godiva: she of the flowing hair. This Venusian aspect of the female archetype is particularly appropriate in view of the fact that Venus is the planetary ruler of Taurus: the sign which presides over the effigy on the Kingston Zodiac through which we shall be travelling in next month’s ongoing installment from Jonathan Barnett and Mary Caine’s riveting dvd documentary. Until then good luck, and good riding…..
 
 
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Something Fishy…

 

As the Sun passes through the Astrological Sign of Pisces, and this month’s Zodiacal journey across the Kingston Zodiac takes us to Hayes, Heston and beyond, it is perhaps doubly significant that Kingston’s Coat of Arms, the Three Fishes, has its origins in the overtly Piscean activity of fishmongering. At the centre of the town’s ancient Market Place, in its historic church, lies the burial place of one John Lovekyn; founder of the nearby Mediaeval Lovekyn Chapel. Lovekyn, although a native of Kingston, was eventually to rise to high office as Lord Mayor of London; having originally made his fortune as a trader in stock fish with the City’s Fishmongers’ Company.
 
Lovekyn’s eventual successor as Lord Mayor, William de Walworth, was like his predecessor, a successful trader in stock fish with links to the Port of Newcastle. As his name suggests, his ancestors originally hailed from the now vanished Mediaeval village of Walworth; cleared of its population by the ravages of the Black Death during the fourteenth century. Of further significance perhaps is that the nearby river Tees empties into the North Sea close to the ancient manor of Bellingham; original home of the Belasyse Family before their eventual decampment to Henknowle near Bishop Auckland. Ancient but obscure sources link the name Belasyse with Blaise, Merlin the Magician’s North British mentor according to Thomas Mallory.
 
Walworth’s role as Kingmaker is often forgotten, but his slaying of Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, in London’s Smithfield, was re-enacted annually at many a Lord Mayor’s Pageant. Perhaps this all has a connection with the unfortunate Henry Beauclerk, younger brother of William Rufus, whose ingestion of a surfeit of Lamphreys in December 1135 was to result in his death from dysentry soon after: an event that was to inspire a memorable ‘Fairport Convention’ instrumental of the same title.    
 
Of further significance perhaps is the fact that nearby Sedgefield’s ancient football game is played at Hocktide. The same date as its Kingstonian counterpart. Do these connections hold the key to Walworth and Lovekyn’s original association with one another? And, if so, was there a similarly ancient connection between County Durham’s Witton-le-Wear and the Mediaeval village of Whitton on Kingston’s Arian Effigy? Perhaps next month’s blog will be more revealing?
 
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