Skip to main content

Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers

In April 1649 Winstanley, William Everard, a former soldier in the New Model Army and about thirty followers took over some common land on St George’s Hill in Surrey and “sowed the ground with parsnips, carrots and beans.” Digger groups also took over land in Kent (Cox Hill), Surrey (Cobham), Buckinghamshire (Iver) and Northamptonshire (Wellingborough).

Local landowners were very disturbed by these developments. In July 1649 the government gave instructions for Winstanley to be arrested and for General Thomas Fairfax to “disperse the people by force” in case this is the “beginning to whence things of a greater and more dangerous consequence may grow”. Oliver Cromwell is reported to have said: “What is the purport of the levelling principle but to make the tenant as liberal a fortune as the landlord. I was by birth a gentleman. You must cut these people in pieces or they will cut you in pieces.”

Instructions were given for the Diggers to be beaten up and for their houses, crops and tools to be destroyed. These tactics were successful and within a year all the Digger communities in England had been wiped out.

In memory of the 360th anniversary of the Diggers, we publish a poem kindly submitted by Simon M Hunter.

St. George’s Hill in forty nine, the time
Of Charles’s chopping block, we Diggers come
Reclaiming earth by Bastard taken, all
Those centuries before. But Fairfax cried
“Enough of revolution, turn again
Your commune to its owners, lords of land”

Inclosure, soccage, rent or fee for land
Allodial folcland filched, until the time
When hateful Norman yoke shall pass again
And common people make our commons come
The wheel’ll turn, we underlings decried
Will rise, return from tenebrous enthrall

People of England, men and women all
Denied our just inheritance of land
The factory sprawled, the slum, where children cried
Among the latifundia. It’s time
To right this wrong. We Diggers have become
The prophets circular, renewed again

Monastic gardens rooted up – a gain
For Mortmain’s grubbing hands that squirm, appall
With shiftless shapings. Bastard broods that come
As droning parasites on apples land
And worm armigeral. But now their time
Is up. This future we have seen and scried

In France’s trenches rifled fodder cried
Were culled to stop the commons’ climb again
Were culled to stop the commons. Killing time
While clutching timber stocks cut down from all
The orchards. Vanished is the orchard land
And coreless fruits from supermarkets come

In plastic shrouds. Let England now become
The everlasting garden we have cried
for. We shall share the russet-honey land
We’ll make the world a peaceful place again
As Eden must have been before the Fall
With humming bees among the scented thyme


Our Sestina has come to its close, and again
Our old voices have cried. We have sung for you all
To remake your own land. For the people! It’s time!