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): https://data.gov.uk/dataset/05c61ecc-efa9-4b7f-8fe6-9911afb44e1a/database-of-registered-common-land-in-england

  • 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 – https://insidecroydon.com/2018/11/01/council-pays-53m-to-buy-unloved-colonnades-centre/) (Rochdale – https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/business/business-news/rochdale-council-buys-retail-park-15565577)

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)

definitions of public space

parliament and embankment

I’m starting to compile as many definitions of public space as I can from here.

2011

First, the definition from the London Assembly’s 2011’s report, ‘Public life in private hands Managing London’s public space’, which started to acknowledge the massive shift to privately-owned public spaces in the capital.

appendix 1 definition of public space 'all spaces including streets, squares and parks that everyone can use and access in principle, regardless of who owns or manages the space'

‘all spaces including streets, squares and parks that everyone can use and access in principle, regardless of who owns or manages the space’.

2004

The 2011 report also quoted the 2004 government report, Living Places: Caring for Quality, https://www.futurecommunities.net/files/images/ving_Places_Caring_for_Quality_Report__ODPM_.pdf, which defines ‘public realm’ as

‘all those parts of the built environment where the public has free access. It encompasses: all streets, squares and other rights of way, whether predominantly in residential, commercial or community/civic uses; the open spaces and parks; and the ‘public/private’ spaces where public access is unrestricted (at least during daylight hours). It includes the interfaces with key internal and private spaces to which the public normally has free access’.

1990

The 2011 report notes ‘this is different from the legal definition in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1990’ (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1990/8/section/336)

“open space” means any land laid out as a public garden, or used for the purposes of public recreation, or land which is a disused burial ground’

and the more traditional planning definition of Public Open Space.

It also notes the additional category of ‘public green space’, including urban parks and gardens, country parks and canal and riverbanks.

2014

See also the 2014 government guidance about the definitions of Open Green Space in replation to planning and sport: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/open-space-sports-and-recreation-facilities-public-rights-of-way-and-local-green-space

open space definition 2014
green space definition 2014
green space definition 2014

who owns England and land registration

who owns england

Quick post –

As you may know, this project is very much inspired by the great project Who Owns England? led by Guy Shrubsole and a team of researchers, sending in FOI applications and scraping maps to campaign for more transparency in land registration.

https://whoownsengland.org/2019/01/11/the-holes-in-the-map-englands-unregistered-land/

The data lead Anna Powell-Smith has charted in their latest blog post study the amount of land is still unregistered in England – 15%. https://whoownsengland.org/2019/01/11/the-holes-in-the-map-englands-unregistered-land/

Twitter comments have noted how some of the 15% area is railway lines – Network Rail apparently haven’t registered their land, or land that has remained in the same hands and unmortgaged since 1990.

Remarkably, we don’t know who owns 15% of the country.

I think this should be better understood, so I’ve made the first ever map of unregistered land in England & Wales. Check out your area…https://t.co/jxrQGfz19g pic.twitter.com/6qhfV9MscG— Anna Powell-Smith (@darkgreener) January 11, 2019

I’m very much looking forward to Guy Shrubsole’s book, Who Owns England? out in the spring: https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008321673/who-owns-england/

commons

A major part of this project is on the long history of commons and enclosure. I’ve not started working on new research yet as I’ve mainly been looking at post-enclosure spaces such as parks this autumn, but it is on the horizon for the New Year. Hookland’s appeal to the age-old customary rights inherent in common land is a reminder of the mythical and folkloric power of such spaces.

But the history of commons have an urgent connection to current concerns about access to green space, landownership and its uses.

I was honoured to be part of an event on 15 November called ‘commons’, organised by the Whitechapel Gallery and hosted by Manchester School of Art.

Commons

whitechapel debate

I was intrigued by Chris Blake’s talk on the community project he’s involved with in the Rhondda Valley, The Green Valleys Skyline project, which seeks to rekindle the idea of ‘stewardship’ of the hillside enveloping the former mining town of Treherbert. https://skyline.wales/community/treherbert

The landscape, formerly owned by the National Coal Board and now owned by various bodies including the Forestry Commission, is a constant site of work, rethinks the meaning of ‘taskscape’ in that it has been mined and forested for commercial gain, and the livelihoods of the residents, but the residents did not and do not have access or use of it. It is also near Aberfan, and thus a site of catastrophic loss. Using art, the project seeks to get the residents to think big, beyond the immediate horizon and look upwards to the possibilities of reasserting some kind of custodyship over the natural resources in a sustainable way.

Artist Ruth Beale has been working on drone footage of the London parks and commons, many of which I tried to recognise in her short film (including flying her drone over Tooting Bec Lido, which I think I remember while swimming there this summer!). http://ruthbeale.net/work/commons-drones-gifs/

She has also made art using registration archives from the Commons Registration Act of 1965, in Nottinghamshire Record Office. These are my sort of archives and I will be examining similar returns in my research. They detail the surviving common rights that people claimed to have when registering their commons and village greens in response to the legislation.

Here are my slides of my talk. I was asked to do a potted history of commons and enclosure in England. It start with a summary of one of my earlier blog posts on this site:

Campaign groups and the issue of public green space today

I’ve also been approached by several groups campaigning for the preservation of their local open spaces. This is so much more than simply nimby attitudes against building of houses on open spaces. At Manchester I met several of them. The Save Ryebank Fields have a decades-old campaign running about their local space. http://www.saveryebankfields.org

ryebank fields campaign

I am going to be collaborating with them to use their archive for my forthcoming exhibition at the People’s History Museum next summer.

 

I also met someone from the Freeman’s Wood campaign conducted a few years ago in Lancaster.  http://www.storeyg2.org.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

In Sheffield, I met with people from the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University, and Nicola Dempsey of the University of Sheffield to discuss all the issues around green spaces and community groups in the city. I found out how save the trees campaign seems to have skewed the broader issues of the responsibilities of the council and consultation regarding open spaces.

If you know of any more similar groups campaigning for their open spaces, especially if they have their own archive material or if they would like to be interviewed or have a link on this site, do get in touch.

 

I’ll leave you with Hookland’s imagining of the common:


 

Winter Hill mass trespass 1896

winter hill

I’ve been working on the archives in Bolton relating to the Winter Hill mass trespass of 6 September 1896. More to follow but here are some links to work that has already been done on the event.

‘Will yo’ come o’ Sunday morning’,
For a walk o’er Winter Hill.
Ten thousand went last Sunday,
But there’s room for thousands still!”

“O the moors are rare and bonny,
And the heather’s sweet and fine,
And the road across this hill top,
Is the public’s – Yours and mine!”
The main account is by Paul Salveson, in his 1982 pamphlet,

Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin? The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896′

Books, pamphlets and periodicals

see also:

http://www.justusuk.com/2009/11/will-yo-come-o-sunday-morning.html

Douglas Hope, Thomas Arthur Leonard and the Co-operative Holidays Association (Cambridge Scholars, 2017):


Walking Histories, edited by Chad Bryant, Arthur Burns, Paul Readman (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016):

microgeographies of Cropper Street/Osborne Street, Collyhurst (2)

 

Last week I met the lovely organisers of the Once Upon a Time history group at the Manchester Communication Academy, Collyhurst.

Talking to them about my quest to find more about the residents and spaces of Cropper Street/Osborne Street, they reminded me of the importance of micro-geographies: the social and sectarian boundaries that are invisible from all maps and most written records of places. So as historians and historical geographers, we need to drill down to the micro: the difference between one street and the next, the persistence of ‘parish xenophobia’ as Keith Snell perhaps somewhat pejoratively put it, the subtle gradations in social class that only residents recognised and acted upon.

Here are the front covers of a couple of their magazines. They talked vividly about the significance of that red rug on the bannisters of the ground floor flat. I won’t share the personal story here, but it reminds us again to be acutely aware of such signs, and listen to the people who remember what they mean.

once upon a time mag

 

once upon a time mag

If you have memories to share about Osborne Street, Collyhurst, do get in touch with me – k.navickas@herts.ac.uk, or through the Once Upon a Time Group: https://www.communitymca.co.uk/becomingamember

Manchester committee to promote innocent recreation

philips park

My tweet while researching in Manchester Archives got more likes than I expected:

tweet manchester committee

 

I’ve been looking through the Parks and Cemeteries committee minutes from council records in various parts of England from the start of the parks movement in the 1840s to the present day, and they are bringing up all sorts of oddities like this.

This Manchester committee had a strict definition of what was ‘appropriate’ music: Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, ‘national anthems’ (presumably God Save the Queen and Rule Britannia), and specifically ‘avoiding all “dancing” music’.

I need to do more research on who actually formed the committee (I have noted R Adeane Barlow as the Hon Sec), but it’s from 1856, the second volume of Manchester parks committee, created after the formation of the first public parks in 1846-7: Queen’s Park, Philips Park, and Peel Park (transferred over to Salford corporation). Societies and associations made requests to the council for permission to use the parks for meetings and events. For some groups the councils issued licences and took a cut of their profits, while for others like charities, they issued one-off permissions.

This request from the committee of promoting music was typical of the wider ‘rational recreation’ promoted in the mid 19th century by anxious middle classes and paternalist gentry, worried about the vices of gambling and drinking and blood sports engaged in by the urban poor. Highly regulated parks were also seen as one solution to problems of the poor hygeine and lack of exercise and fresh air experienced in the slums. There’s a long historical debate about the extent to which the middle classes attempted to ‘civilise’ the working classes from the 18th century onwards by a clamp down on popular recreation, and to what extent it succeeded (Storch, Cunningham).

philips park
https://sportcity-manchester.com/philips-park-facilities/

 

This concern not to be providing “dancing” music demonstrates the interesting conflict with the cultural and religious norms of the time  – there was still a strong Sabbatarian tradition, particularly in Manchester, that meant that much leisure activity and entertainment was prohibited on Sundays. So the parks committee minutes also have several motions debated for and against allowing bands to play and sports and games matches to be held, even informally, on Sundays. The next entry in the minutes is a deputation from the Sunday School Teachers of Manchester, stating their objections to the ‘introduction of bands of music into the public parks of this city on Sundays’. This led to debate in the parks committee, who after several motions and amendments, decided not to allow the bands on Sundays.

There was much clerical pressure on local authorities to ensure that there would be no alternative distractions that would lure people away from divine service at church. So even the argument that rational recreation would keep people out of the pubs was not enough for many parks bye-laws, particularly in Manchester, from prohibiting music and games on Sundays.

It was a political issue. Here’s a couple of tweets from Dr Kathryn Rix of the History of Parliament:

rix

 

rix tweet

 

Hazel Conway has written extensively about the history of the Victorian parks movement, so I won’t repeat all she’s done. But she points out how early Manchester was in forming public parks, largely on the initiatives of paternalist city fathers like Mark Philips, MP, who had presented evidence to the select committee into public walks in 1833 and then promoted the formation of parks from 1844. He pointed to continental examples such as Dresden, where the population ‘enjoy themselves rationally’ and the promenades of Rouen, the ‘Manchester of France’. Typically therefore, one of the first parks was named Philips Park to the east of the city centre.

Unlike in other towns and cities, however, the three Manchester and Salford parks were promoted and funded by private subscription and charitable endeavour rather than direct council involvement in the acquisition of the land; it was only after their formal opening that the corporation took over their control and maintenance.

philips park
Ben Brierley statue, Queen’s Park, 2018

I’ll be looking more at which councils allowed political meetings in their parks; having surveyed the volumes for the WWII period, Manchester seems very open to allowing left wing groups to hold meetings, in complete contrast to Croydon, who refused permission for them all, and this contrast is something I need to go into much more detail relating to the politics of local government.

Further reading: