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31 August 2007

Counter-cultural Surrey

[This article was originally posted here]

Often regarded as a staunchly conservative English county, Surrey does have something of a history as a focus point for counter-cultural activity. During Cromwell's Republic, Gerrard Winstanley set up a commune on common land at St. Georges Hill, near Weybridge - now one of the most exclusive areas of the country. Those gathered around Winstanley were known as the Diggers (although they called themselves the True Levellers). They promoted a form of Christian anarcho-communism, stating in The True Leveller's Standard Advanced (1649) that:

[the] Earth (which was made to be a Common Treasury of relief for all, both Beasts and Men) was hedged in to In-closures by the teachers and rulers, and the others were made Servants and Slaves: And that Earth that is within this Creation made a Common Store-house for all, is bought and sold, and kept in the hands of a few, whereby the great Creator is mightily dishonoured, as if he were a respector of persons, delighting in the comfortable Livelihoods of some, and rejoycing in the miserable povertie and straits of others. From the beginning it was not so.

Winstanley explained his forward-thinking egalitarian beliefs in The New Law of Righteousness (1649):

Every one that gets an authority into his hands tyrannizes over others; as many husbands, parents, masters, magistrates, that live after the flesh do carry themselves like oppressing lords over such as are under them, not knowing that their wives, children, servants, subjects are their fellow creatures, and hath an equal privilege to share them in the blessing of liberty.

Needless to say the Diggers were harassed by local land owners and eventually the group dispersed. Nevertheless, their legacy lived on. In the 1960s a group in San Francisco called themselves the Diggers in memory of Winstanley et al.

In the Nineteenth Century, Surrey again played host to another experiment in communal living. A group centered on the christian socialist and education reformer James Pierrepont-Greaves set up a commune at Alcott House in Ham Common called the Concordium. The group, including Charles Lane, William Oldham, and Henry Gardner-Wright, believed that spiritual and social renewal would be achieved by a change of lifestyle. As such they promoted vegetarianism, hydrotherapy, mesmerism and other 'new age' ideologies.


James said...

I have had some plesent first hand experience with counter culture movements - one interesting group that now is in the UK is the Twelve Tribes communities.

I did a blog on weybridge and found a very nice video -