Politics and culture al fresco

Submitted by AWL on 22 July, 2005 - 5:54

Those of you who have never attended the annual Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival (held this year on 15-17 July) are missing a real treat, especially if you also like rolling in clover and staring up at the star-filled midnight sky.

Organised by the South-West regional TUC and sponsored by unions and other groups (including No Sweat), Tolpuddle is a political event with guests from international trade union struggles and a march through the village where one of Britain’s first trade unions was born. But the festival is also a cultural event — with many, mainly folk, musicians featured.

Every year the festival has been getting bigger, but it remains modest in scale. The atmosphere is pleasant, especially when the sun shines, unashamedly socialist and also comradely — and that is a rare commodity these days.

Saturday evening is the highlight; in previous years the festival has featured a musical play about the Tolpuddle Martyrs. This year we had a “cabaret” organised by Robb Johnson and Leon Rosselson. One of the songs they performed is printed below; it will give you a good idea of the general mood of the event, which was a real tonic for the troops.


In 1649
To St George's Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers
Came to show the people' s will
They defied the landlords
They defied the laws
They were the dispossessed
Reclaiming what was theirs

We come in peace, they said
To dig and sow
We come to work the land in common
And to make the waste land grow
This earth divided
We will make whole
So it can be
A common treasury for all.

The sin of property
We do disdain
No one has any right to buy and sell
The earth for private gain
By theft and murder
They took the land
Now everywhere the walls
Rise up at their command.

They make the laws
To chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven
Or they damn us into hell
We will not worship
The God they serve
The God of greed who feeds the rich
While poor men starve

We work, we eat together
We need no swords
We will not bow to masters
Or pay rent to the lords
We are free men
Though we are poor

You Diggers all stand up for glory
Stand up now
From the men of property
The orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers
To wipe out the Diggers' claim
Tear down their cottages
Destroy their corn
They were dispersed -
Only the vision lingers on

You poor take courage
You rich take care
The earth was made a common treasury
For everyone to share
All things in common
All people one
We come in peace
The order came to cut them down

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