The most radical street in Manchester? exhibition on now at the People’s History Museum

20 July-22 September 2019

Go take a look on the 2nd floor at my exhibition on sites of protest and political meeting in Manchester and Salford

Maps available on this page:

exhibition poster

Part of the #Peterloo2019 commemorations

With contributions by Amanda Rogers, Community Project Officer, Manchester Communication Academy, Harpurhey

Graphic Design by Gray Associates,

Funded by the British Academy and the University of Hertfordshire

Opening event and talk: Saturday 20 July

Drop-in session and fun with maps: Saturday 10 August

Radical roams: Saturday 21 September

For more details see

Let us know about your radical streets – give us your stories in the guestbook, or feedback at:

Images in the exhibition used with permission from: John Rylands University of Manchester; Working Class Movement Library, Salford; Manchester Archives and Local Studies; Once Upon a Time, Manchester Communication Academy; The National Archives, Kew. Thanks especially to Janette Martin of JRLUM.

me at the exhibition
Thanks to Harriet of the Peterloo Memorial Campaign for taking this photo

Where did people hold political meetings in Manchester and Salford?

The main sites of protest and political meetings in the 19th century included Stevenson’s Square, St Peter’s Field, St George’s Fields (off Oldham Road), and Granby Row Fields (now by the universities). The Chartists held ‘monster’ meetings on Kersal Moor, Salford. The local authorities held civic and anti-democracy events on St Ann’s Square and Ardwick Green.

Democratic societies before and after the 1819 Peterloo Massacre hired meeting rooms in George Leigh Street, Ancoats, and Bibby’s mill, New Islington. Later the Chartists and Socialists had their own buildings, including the Hall of Science off Deansgate (now near where the Museum of Science and Industry is) and Carpenters’ Hall (near the Medlock).

In the later 19th century and 20th century, trade union and female suffrage demonstrations were usually held on Albert Square and Platt Fields.

Who were the Chartists?

The Chartists came after the Peterloo radicals. They were the biggest movement campaigning for the vote for working-class men in 19th century Britain. Working people of all genders and ages were involved. They presented three massive petitions to parliament (a ‘People’s Charter’) in 1839, 1842 and 1848, demanding democracy and reform of the representative system. Though the petitions were rejected, the movement laid the basis for the modern parliamentary democracy today.

Two leading Manchester Chartists lived at number 69 Cropper Street: Daniel and his brother Maurice Donovan. They were delegates to the Chartist National Convention in 1842 and 1848. Daniel was president of the powerloom weavers’ union, who led the ‘plug’ strikes in 1842. He was arrested in 1848 for leading the Manchester branch of the Irish Confederates, who fought to repeal the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland. 

Why Cropper Street?

Cropper Street and Back Cropper Street were built off Oldham Road in Collyhurst in the first decade of the 19th century. Cropper Street later became known as Osborne Street. It was in the Irish Catholic area.

The two streets remained isolated from the other streets, separated by St George’s Fields, even in the 1840s. The terraces were cut across by two railway lines. Generations of radicals and trade unionists lived on these streets – do you live there now? Let us know!

Who lived on the street?

No 17

Edward Williams(on)

Batter, signed the 16 August 1819 petition,

Cut with a sabre at Peterloo

No 36

James Cowscroft, aged 23, weaver, 1817 Blanketeer

Signed the 6 August 1819 petition

No 63

Henry Bickerstaff, signed the 6 August 1819 petition

Ann Bickerstaff, age 22, ‘thrown down and trampled on and so much exhausted as to be carried off the field for dead’ at Peterloo

No 65

John Pendleton, aged 24, weaver, 1817 Blanketeer

Elizabeth Pendleton, subscribed to Chartist National Rent in 1839

No 67

John and Edward Philips, aged 24 and 19, weavers, 1817 Blanketeers

Sons of Edward Philips, arrested in 1812 for taking part in a reform meeting

No 69

Daniel and Maurice Donovan, delegates to the Chartist National Convention 1842 and 1848, president and secretary of the powerloom weavers’ union during the 1842 Plug strikes. Daniel was arrested in 1848 as leader of the Irish Confederates.

What was the Round House Chapel?

The Round House chapel on Every Street, off Great Ancoats Street, was built by Reverend Dr James Scholefield (1790-1855). He was a Peterloo veteran, preacher and doctor, and follower of William Cowherd, ‘the founder of vegetarianism’. The chapel opened on the anniversary of Peterloo in 1823. The Working Class Political Union held their meetings here during the 1831 Reform Bill agitation. Trade union and Chartist meetings were held here, as well as a radical Sunday School. A public meeting about the Tolpuddle Martyrs took place there in 1834. 

The Chartists erected a monument to Henry Hunt in the burial ground in 1842. It was unveiled by Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor on the anniversary of Peterloo. Hunt’s monument only survived a few decades before it fell down.

From 1897 to 1963, the old chapel was used by Manchester University for their Settlement, where students lived and volunteered among the working classes. The Round House was demolished in 1986. The foundations and gravestones still exist – go and see them!

millstone grit vs chalk

chanctonbury ring view

I am an upland person. I grew up surrounded on three sides by the foothills of the southern Pennines. I am shaped by views of Blackstone Edge, its dark millstone grit, from afar and up close, approaching it from the ‘Roman Road’ packhorse trail.

blackstone edge
Blackstone Edge, Tour de Yorkshire, 2014

I do not get that longing that many people have to be by the sea. The sea scares me. I find lowlands, particularly fens and estuaries, disquieting. Flatlands, where a building or a tree blocks a whole view. Hills, in the near distance, are comforting. The horizon, and the promise of a climb to a good vantage point to survey the landscape. A trig point.

In an earlier blogpost I quoted from Ted Hughes,

“You could not escape the moors. They did not impose themselves. They simply surrounded and waited. … And however rarely you climbed to investigate them in detail, they hung over you at all times. They were simply a part of everything you saw. Whether you looked east, west, north or south, the earth was held down by that fine line of moor…”

Ted Hughes, ‘The Rock’.

That’s exactly what it is like, albeit from the ‘right’ side of the Pennines in Rochdale rather than from Hughes’ Calderdale perspective.

My article on the public enquiries into the Super Grid pylons from Blackstone Edge to Belmont Moor in the 1950s similarly unpicks some of the relationship residents of south-east Lancashire have with the Pennines. Even though they are often bleak, scarred by mining or quarrying, devoid of trees or even of much ecological diversity (thanks to aristocratic grouse-moors), and though many parts are still out of reach for ramblers (thanks again grouse-moors and the military), residents nevertheless still feel part of the landscape. They see the views as amenities in themselves.

I am northern, and this is my landscape. But something draws me to southern downlands and chalklands. The southern English dominance of perceptions of landscape in writing (thanks Thomas Hardy) and art reifies these landscapes the most: the undulating grassy knolls of downland, the white chalk brightly in relief against a summer sky. It is a land of ridgeways, ancient tracks, long barrows and iron age hill forts, tors and white horses, druids and Romans. A land of morris men, green men, harvest customs and folksong. All the features that Victorian antiquarians and archaeologists revelled in uncovering and dissecting. It is southern.

“This landscape remembers. It remembers every footfall and wheelrow, and bears each of these as lines, on its face.”

Justin Hopper, ‘Chanctonbury Rings’.
chanctonbury rings Justin Hopper

This could be a quote from C. L. Nolan, antiquarian recorder of Hookland. But it is a line from ‘Chanctonbury Rings’ by Justin Hopper, the prose-poem/piece that he narrates about the iron age hill fort on the south Downs in West Sussex, accompanied by music by Sharron Kraus and the Belbury Poly (Ghost Box Records, 2019).

We saw Hopper and Kraus perform the album at state51 Conspiracy and Ghost Box’s ‘midsummer night’s happening’ on 21 June. It was a little incongruous, as it took place in state51 conspiracy’s performance space in an old industrial building in Shoreditch, which though they did their best to create a magical Pan-like world inside the hall, was as far as you could be from a chalkland ridgeway.

The next day, therefore, we felt drawn to Chanctonbury Ring itself. It was a perfect midsummer’s day, hot with a sharp long sun and bright blue cloudless sky.

Chanctonbury Ring
Chanctonbury Ring, 22 June 2019

There is genuinely something magical or mystical about such sites. Just the knowledge of walking along thousand-year old paths, sitting by ancient long barrows, trying to trace the patterns in the fields created by ancient people. I felt it here. I felt it on Uffington Castle hill, walking the Ridgeway there and at Tring. I felt it on Glastonbury Tor. Walking past Silbury Hill to Avebury.

And I say this not from a national or patriotic perspective. The false nostalgia of ‘good old England’ is something in particular that #landscapepunk and folkhorror writers and artists are trying to challenge in their work. See David Southwell’s pronouncements on why he does what he does through Hookland. There was a debate about this in relation to some writing about English landscapes done a couple of years ago that I won’t go into, but I am on the same lines as the landscape punk writers. (see also

The landscape is meant to be unsettling; it records conflict and unrest and unease and longer ways that we do not, and should not, understand. It is not blood and soil in the father-land sense of the term. It is not reassuring; it challenges us. And from my perspective, it is regional.

Nevertheless, it was still stunningly beautiful.

chanctonbury ring

I am thinking a lot about the regionality of landscape, not least because I am sorting through the common rights claimed by the various counties in enclosure cases and the registration documents for the 1965 Commons Registration Act (see previous blog post). The rights claimed were for subsistence and farming, and reflected the materiality of the regional landscape: chalk cut from pits in chalkland, and gorse, bracken and fern cut in September were key here. Whereas in the Pennines, turbury (peat cutting) was a main feature of the local customary economy, increasingly stretched as the population and urban settlements grew on the edges of the hills. Was there a ‘moral ecology’ at work here? (see the influence of Karl Jacoby in developing the term, e.g. in the work of Iain Robertson on Scottish crofting landscapes – see his article with Carl Griffin also on Gloucestershire: Or was it just subsistence, with over-grazing and over-stocking of animals on commons suggesting simply an increasingly pressured means of survival rather than concern for the environment?

Differing customary traditions also mark regionality of landscapes. And what tradition is should not be overthought. Hopper, again echoing Nolan I think, notes about encountering morris men on 1 May:

“They stepped in the same patterns as bearded men had stepped a century before them, maybe in the same place. Morris won’t make the rains or the harvest come; no child will flourish because of this dance; God knows fertility won’t be enhanced. It is a checkpoint, a diary entry, written onto the earth at Chanctonbury, with footsteps, like lines accrued on a face. That, that is tradition. That it is sole purpose, to be enacted, and ever so.”

Justin Hopper, ‘Bonny Breast Knot’, Chanctonbury Rings.

As for access, Chanctonbury is part of the South Downs National Park but is still owned by the Goring Estate, who have been major landowners in the region for centuries. Up to 75% of the trees planted on the Ring in the 18th century were felled by the Great Storm of 1987, a feature that Hopper relates on his album, reflecting on the ‘ghost trees’ he now remembers there.

common rights 1965

Herts county council commons registration act 1965

I’m coming back to earlier archival research I did on common rights and the Commons Registration Act 1965.

Key reading is chapter 4 of Christopher P Rodgers et al, Contested Common Land: environmental governance past and present (2011) and J. W. Aitchison, ‘The commons and wastes of England and Wales, 1958-1989’, Area, 22: 3 (1990), 272-77. The Royal Commission on Common Land 1958 report and its interpretation by Dudley Stamp and W. G. Hoskins, The Common Lands of England and Wales (1963).

These point to the deficiencies of the 1965 legislation, not just in creating confusion among who was allowed to register land and rights, multiple registrations of the same common, confusion between commons and village greens, and a lack of sensitivity to customary regulations that were time limited and designed to maintain environmental subsistence and ecology.

I was also inspired by the artist Ruth Beale ( who spoke about her art using the 1965 Commons registers for Northamptonshire, at an event at Manchester School of Art on Commons last year.

The Hertfordshire registers for the Commons Registration Act 1965 are in Hertfordshire Local Studies, on microfilm (ref CL; also VG for the village green registers). I have had trouble trying to find the equivalent registers in other counties – Surrey History Centre, for example, said the council never purchased the originals for their county in the first place, so they don’t have them. They are held in the County Hall with the modern updated maps:

Hertfordshire shows some distinctive patterns which reflect, as always, how landscape and community shape regions, and how regions thereby shape the common and customary legal framework in which people dwelt.

Aldbury common
Aldbury Common, from

Aldbury Common near Tring, and Berkhamsted Common, were the predominant commons in the Hertfordshire registers. They demonstrate the legacy of the fight to save Berkhamsted common in the 1860s which led to the formation of the Commons Preservation society (see Ben Cowell, ‘ The Commons Preservation Society and the Campaign for Berkhamsted Common, 1866–70’, Rural History, 13:2 (2002). The commons were purchased or donated to the National Trust in the early 20th century. It is on those commons that the registers recorded the most claims of common rights. The current NT website states that there are over 900 commoners, though only a few claim their rights, mainly to estovers (wood gathering).

A total of 146 claimed rights in 1973 according to the registers. Most commoners were farmers claiming pasturage for substantial numbers of animals, thus illustrating the continued role of customary forms of agriculture, even as late as the mid 20th century. 26 commoners at Aldbury claimed estovers and wood gathering, though this was regulated to ‘fallen wood not more than 9 inches diameter within one month of falling’, and ‘cut ripened fern from 1 September’. They also claimed the right to cut chalk from the chalk pit, reflecting the regional geology of this part of the Chilterns.

I am interested in the continuance of these claims to rights, particularly over small subsistence (e.g. the right to graze 6 geese) into the later 20th century and whether people exercise the rights today. How were these rights passed down? How many were rights appurtenant (belonging to the land/property)? Did people learn about them through generations, or to what extent were they bought and sold, a trade that seemed common in 18th and 19th century studies of enclosure? Were they recorded in deeds etc?

If you know of more 1965 commons registers in county archives or local studies or elsewhere, please comment below. Thanks.

“They were simply a part of everything you saw”

healey dell

“You could not escape the moors. They did not impose themselves. They simply surrounded and waited. They were withdrawn, they hid behind their edges showing their possessions only upward, to the sky, and they preferred to be left alone, seeming almost to retreat as you approached them lifting away behind one more slope of rough grass or parapet of broken stone. And however rarely you climbed to investgate them in detail, they hung over you at all times. They were simply a part of everything you saw. Whether you looked east, west, north or south, the earth was held down by that fine line of moor, mostly a gentle female watery line, moor behind moor, like a herd of enormous whales crowded all around at anchor.

… If any word could be found engraved around my skull, just above the ears and eyebrows, it would probably be the word, ‘horizon’.”

Ted Hughes, ‘The Rock’, in Worlds: Seven Modern Poets (Penguin, 1974), pp. 124-5.

Public Order acts and public space

Sometimes the shorter articles provoke the most interesting of thoughts for this project. I’m increasingly finding really rich material in legal scholarship.

Gavin Parker’s article, ‘Rights, the Environment and Part V of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994’, Area, 31: 1 (1999), is not only a succinct examination into the trespass clauses of the 1994 legislation, but also posits much broader legal geography frameworks for understanding public space. As he outlines (p. 75), ‘regulation and classification of space is arguably one of the central roles of the modern state’.

Part V of the act, was subtitled ‘public order: collective trespass or nuisance on land’. Its redefinition of trespass spatially and in relation to particular groups of people aroused the most popular opposition and resistance. Thinly disguised, it was an attempt to deal with various groups that the state regarded as deviant or dangerous at the time, notably new age travellers, the outdoor rave movement, and environmental and animal rights protesters.

Yet the bill was also challenged in the courts by other groups – notably The Ramblers Association – who feared the definition of ‘aggravated trespass’ could be applied in a hostile environment to their actions, for example defending rights of way against being stopped up by a landowner (LMA, 4287/02, 03).

Section V outlined a new definition of ‘aggravated trespass’ under section 68 of the Act. Section 61 increased police powers to remove trespassers on land, replacing previous powers in the 1986 Public Order Act. Sections 63 and 65 applied specifically to raves, codifying directions to leave land. Section 69 provided the police with the power to stop people whom they suspected were on their way to trespass. Section 77 empowered local authorities to remove unauthorised campers from land.

The history of public order acts is something I’ll be working on more, but in short, they emerged as a new legislative tool in the 20th century after previous legislation against ‘seditious meetings’ and political meetings in public spaces was found difficult to prosecute.

The Public Order Act was passed in 1936 in response to the problems of policing fascist rallies in East End London, notably Cable Street.

The passage of the Race Relations Act 1965 led to debate in the Home Office about how it would be enacted in relation to the 1936 Public Order Act.

In 1966-7, police chief constables corresponded with the Home Office about wishing to widen definition of ‘public place’ in the Public Order Act to include indoor venues such as restaurants and in particular football grounds – in response to football hooliganism as well as race riots and the renewed growth of fascist organisations ( TNA, HO 325/1).  In London, the Home Office was in particular concerned about fascist groups’ requests to use Trafalgar Square for protests. They were aware of the potential for violence and racial aggravation, renewing debates that had occurred over the use of the square at the time of the riots of 1888.

But there was also a consciousness about the defence of free speech – how extreme did organisations have to be before they could be prohibited, and whether they could they apply the same ban to groups on the other side of the political divide such as communists, while still maintaining a right to freedom of speech. The Troubles in Northern Ireland and the activities of various Irish sectarian groups in Britain further heightened debate about the uses of the public order acts against demonstrations.

The Public Order Act 1986 was enacted in response to protesters at Stonehenge and to strengthen policing following the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5.

The law is never neutral or objective. Antonia Layard and Nicholas Blomley and other legal scholars have underlined the difference between the letter of the law and its enactment. As with space, it is relative and performative. Parker notes (p. 77) of the 1994 Act, ‘Section 69 and 65 powers do not always lead to arrest or conviction; the police instead act under the provisions at their own discretion, and such usage is not recorded unless an arrest is actually made’.

As with the Seditious Libel and Seditious Meetings acts in the 1790s and 1810s, it was the intermittent threat of prosecution and the informal and performative threat of its use by authorities on the ground that makes the legislation repressive and exclusionary against a particular group in a particular space, rather than the number of successful arrests and prosecutions.

One could apply a Gramscian hegemony framework in the relative nature of rights. Parker (p. 77), ‘rights and responsibilities become instruments which are manipulated in different ways in relation to their cultural and temporal setting and the context of the dispositions of power, with the result that rights can effectively be subverted by the exercise of cultural or symbolic power’. Boundaries and exclusion are inherent in the debates and contest over who was the public in public space. Often one claim of right excludes another.

Further reading:

Gavin Parker, ‘Rights, the Environment and Part V of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994’, Area, 31: 1 (1999)

Richard Card and Richard Ward , ‘Access to the countryside – the impact of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994’, Journal of Planning & Environment Law,

Nicholas R Fyfe, ‘ Law and order policy and the spaces of citizenship in contemporary Britain’, Political Geography, vol. 14, No. 2, (1995), 77-189

moral ecologies of resistance

A couple of weeks ago, news of private developers netting hedges and trees to prevent migratory birds nesting in them started to raise objections on social media.

Samantha Fisher article bbc news
netting trees
BBC news 'where is it happening'

More recently, local people near the affected areas have taken action such as setting up a petition, and in some places taken more direct action by pulling down the nets.

anti bird netting in Ludlow story BBC news

This act of protest resistance recalls types of actions undertaken in 18th and 19th century rural Britain (often but not always) within the context of disputes over enclosure of common rights and land.

The historiography of enclosure has a long pedigree, but more recent work in cultural geography has rethought the nature and types of protest, moving away from the major and well known riots that pulled up fences and hedges, and more towards acts of rural resistance undertaken over longer time scales and within more micro-contexts of tense community relations. These include Timothy Shakesheff’s work on rural tactics in Herefordshire, to Carl Griffin’s voluminous work on tree-maiming, Briony McDonagh’s uncovering of cases of ploughing, and most recently Leon Baker’s survey of commoners using animal trespass as a form of resistance to enclosures.

Much of this work was originally inspired by anthropologist J. C. Scott’s concepts of ‘weapons of the weak’ but the main influence now is Karl Jacoby, and his model of ‘moral ecology’. Drawing directly on E. P. Thompson’s ‘moral economy’ model, which explained how food rioters enacted particular customary rituals as forms of community justice to reassert a ‘fair price’ determined by the community, Jacoby’s ‘moral ecology’ suggested that communities enacted environmental resistance as forms of community justice against large landowners threatening their livelihoods. In other words, just as a local community defended their ‘fair price’ for food against outsiders attempting to hoard it and make a profit from artificial price hikes (the ‘moral economy’), local communities could also defend their environment against outsiders attempting to impose a different form of landscape upon it (the ‘moral ecology’). This idea of inhabitants being closely attuned to the economy and ecology of their environment also links closely to Tim Ingold’s interpretation of the landscape as a ‘taskscape’ for its residents, a land to be worked and subsisted in rather than to be viewed from a distance or reshaped wholesale by external powers.

Iain Robertson’s study of Highland crofters’ forms of action and interaction with their environment after the Clearances, and with Carl Griffin and Roy Jones, have applied Jacoby’s model to British examples. Local rural residents were acutely aware of the environment, and in farming and subsistence on it, sought to defend their landscapes against any outsider influences which might change the ecology, and therefore erode their livelihoods. There were glimpses of an early environmentalism within these actions, much earlier than the more generally recognised mass recognition of the importance of ecology from the 1970s onwards.

The current protests against bird netting, and the direct action against them, recall such earlier forms of resistance and ideas about nature and the environment. It is significant that much of the netting has been placed there by private developers building new housing next to, or on, agricultural land. I suppose the major difference is that the people taking off the nets do not directly rely on the surrounding fields for their domestic economies, but nevertheless it indicates a continuity with earlier centuries of rural resistance.

further reading:

  • Karl Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation (2001)
  • Carl Griffin and Iain Robertson, ‘Moral Ecologies: Conservation in Conflict in Rural England’, History Workshop Journal, 82: 1 (2016), 24-49
  • Carl Griffin, Roy Jones and Iain Robertson, Moral Ecologies: Histories of Conservation, Dispossession and Resistance (Palgrave, 2019)
  • Carl Griffin, ‘‘Cut down by some cowardly miscreants’: Plant Maiming, or the Malicious Cutting of Flora, as an Act of Protest in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Rural England’, Rural History, 19: 1 (2008)
  • Carl Griffin, ‘Protest practice and (tree) cultures of conflict: understanding the spaces of ‘tree maiming’ in eighteenth‐ and early nineteenth‐century England’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 33: 1 (2008)
  • Leonard Baker, ‘Human and Animal Trespass as Protest: Space and Continuity in Rural Somerset and Dorset’, History Workshop Journal, ? (2019)
  • Timothy Shakesheff, Rural conflict, crime and protest: Herefordshire, 1800-1860 (2003)
  • Briony McDonagh, ‘Subverting the ground: private property and public protest in the sixteenth-century Yorkshire Wolds’, Agricultural History Review, 57: 2 (2009), 191-206
  • Nicholas Blomley, ‘Making Private Property: Enclosure, Common Right and the Work of Hedges’, Rural History, 18: 1 (2007), 1-21
  • James Winter, Secure from Rash Assault: Sustaining the Victorian Environment (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1999)

commons (2)

1871 os map epsom

I’ve been reading some legal scholarship on the registration of commons and village greens. One of the main themes throughout is the continued difficulties faced in compiling any truly accurate register, given the complex ways in which land has been held and conflicting registrations and non-registrations of common land.

Key legislation:

1965 Commons Registration Act

2006 Commons Registration Act

database of commons (2015):

  • Christopher P. Rodgers, Eleanor A. Straughton, Angus J. L. Winchester and Margherita Pieraccini, Contested Common Land: Environmental Governance Past and Present (Routledge, Abingdon, 2011) is the most recent major overview of common land and the impact of enclosure.
  • Barbara Bogusz, ‘Regulating public/private interests in town and village greens’, International Journal of Law in the Built Environment, 5: 1 (2013), 21-39 – is a fascinating argument about the problems raised in recent years about communities registering village greens to save them from development for housing. Often environmental concerns are posited as a major reason as well as use of the green spaces for leisure. It also raises the question of ‘proximity’ of the ‘neighbourhood’ from which users of the village green come. As transport enables people to travel to green spaces much further away from their residences than was usual in the 19th century, the old assumptions that local people use their local commons is weakened. This process thereby braodened the idea of the right of use and access.
  • John Aitchison, ‘The town and village greens of England and Wales’, Landscape Research, 21: 1 (1996) – on the inaccuracies of the first registration of village greens by the 1955 Royal Commission on Common Land, and charting the different geographical concentrations of village greens in England in the 1990s. The largest number they charted were in Cumbria (191) and Hertfordshire (116).

Further reading:

  • Donald McGillivray and Jane Holder, ‘Locality, environment and law: the case of town and village greens’, International Journal of Law in Context, 3: 1 (2007), 1-17.
  • J. W. Aitchison, ‘The Commons and Wastes of England and Wales, 1958-1989’, Area (1990)

I’ve also been looking through old civil court cases around commons registration using the Westlaw UK database. More on my findings about common rights and access using these to follow…

a revival of interest in land reform

I’m curious as to why there has been an upsurge in academic and trade books on the issue of land reform. Of course, Anna Minton was part of pushing the issue of the privatisation of public land back onto the agenda a few years ago, and I’m also including the work of Stuart Hodkinson theorising the ‘new urban enclosures’. There have recently been a glut of new provocative books. These include the following:

book covers of Tichelar, Christophers and Shrubsole

Brett Christophers, The New Enclosure: the appropriation of public land in neoliberal Britain (Verso, 2018) – I might do a quick review in another blog post: basically, his general argument is good, though I’m less keen on his writing style and his generalisations about the history of feudalism and enclosure, for which he mainly draws on Polanyi, and on the 1870s register of land owners, for which he draws mainly on Cahill.

Michael Tichelar, The Failure of Land Reform in Twentieth Century England: the triumph of private property (Routledge, 2018) – bringing together a life time’s work on the topic, though mainly focused on the role of the Labour Party in pushing for various land reform policies regarding the ‘unearned increment’ in land acquisition policies.

Guy Shrubsole, Who Owns England? (out in May) which I’m looking forward to: a summary no doubt of the excellent research being done for his project and blog of the same name.

Of course these studies have been years in the making, and reflected perhaps the debates around Publicly-Owned Private spaces that Minton drew attention to.

But it’s interesting that they’re being published at a time when there seems to be much publicity around councils now re-investing in buying land and real estate, using new loans, such as for shopping centres and hotels (Croydon – (Rochdale –

These acquisitions seem to be reversing the process identified by Christophers and Hodkinson of ‘new urban enclosures’, whereby land previously owned by public bodies such as councils has been sold off for redevelopment at a rapid rate. Yet these are not ‘unenclosing’ these spaces; the councils’ investments perhaps are just another part of the longer process of ‘financial landownership’ that Doreen Massey and A. Catalano, and David Harvey identified has been occurring since at least the 1970s, whereby companies invest in the value of land as a capital asset (Christophers, p. 112).

Further reading:

Anna Minton, Ground Control: fear and happiness in the twenty-first century city (Penguin, 2009)

Stuart Hodkinson, ‘ The new urban enclosures’, City, 16: 5 (2012), pp. 500-518

David Harvey, The Limits to Capital (1982; rev. ed. Verso, 2007)

Doreen Massey and A. Catalano, Capital and Land: private ownership by capital in Great Britain (Edward Arnold, 1978)