All Photos by Bruno Roubicek
Dan Eltringham In Little Parcels
“...little minds to please” - John Clare
words, pioneer encroachers of space, they were themselves rich & various, invariably imperative:
waste-breath i mean, take-in waste
now assart the selvedge, clear a space, increment by increment, a breck here or there, “naturalised by customary usage”, i mean, can you ever remember a time when this wasn’t theirs? the elder can, but who’s going to ask?
1. It is perhaps possible to say therefore that enclosure enclosed – as in, like, shut down, shut up - its own linguistic heterogeneity before it was called enclosure
forget not tofts & crofts, nibbled increments around dwellings, chewing away like acid at the forest’s edge
well, it all sounds so innocent & primal when you put it like that but what about the ‘greater villain’?
2. The diversity of ways in which, between the 16th and 18th centuries, it was possible to say ‘enclosure’, depending on where you were, who you were, & what you were enclosing also implies struggle over the uses & meanings of supposedly ‘common’ spaces that is neither new nor safely in the past - Cf. Millennium Green,2013
which was once Sydenham Common,
which was once Westwood,
which was once Great North Wood [natural oak forest, unbroken], home to the vagrant & precarious, bandits, smugglers bringing goods up from the coast thru the green lanes of Peckham
1605. James I leases 500 acres of the Common to Henry Newport for ‘improvement’.
“above 500 poore householders with wives and manye children greatly relieved by sayde Common and would be utterly undone yf yt should be unjustly taken from them”
1614. Abraham Colfe & one hundred locals march to petition the king at Tottenham Cross, while Syndenham residents take a more direct route, tearing down fences & filling in ditches. The brilliantly-named Innocent Lanier, Newport’s man, ordered servants to attack women collecting wood.
1615. The Privy Council decides it all seems a bit too much trouble, and declares the enclosure illegal. Anti-enclosure movement notable for an alliance between the violent resistance of the destitute and local bourgeois worried about where, if chucked off the Common, the squatters would go.
1754. “Persons claiming right of common” several times threw down fences surrounding Coopers Wood asserting rights of access for estovers [gathering fuel] & other customary rights.
1789. Other things happening elsewhere, but in South London a cheese merchant, Samuel Atkinson, builds the Sydenham – Peckham road & opens up the wood for houses. He starts with his own. He also shoots a local man, Michael Bradley, in the leg for walking where his grandfather had, who later dies when the wound goes bad.
1810. The Common is enclosed by act of parliament. In 1866 the Metropolitan Commons Act passed, which protected land with a demonstrable common use in the past from further encroachment.