Posts Tagged ‘‘A Field in England’’

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: Diggers’ Song

May 26, 2014

Digger Song

This is another tune from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England. Like the others I’ve posted up, I don’t the words for it. Its place amongst the other ballads, which I copied from Roy’s book, suggests that it comes from the seventeenth century. So, I wonder if it’s about the Diggers, the Civil War Communist movement, that attempted to set up an ideal community on common land at St. George’s Hill in Surrey in 1649. They were inspired by Gerrard Winstanley, a cloth trader and farm labourer, whose Communist ideas were based on his radical mysticism, in which he hailed Christ as ‘the head Leveller’. The Digger movement was eventually suppressed by the local landlords, who destroyed the colony’s crops.

They and the Levellers still exert a certain influence on British Socialism and radicalism today. There was a drama documentary about them made by one of the radical British directors in the 1970s. This is still available on DVD from the British Film Institute, I believe. I have seen copies around in various record and DVD stores, so it’s definitely still around, if you’re interested. More recently, the British film, A Field in England, was released the other year. Set in the Civil War, it was about the debates over society, politics and religion of the period through the perspective of the local characters debating what they should do over a particular field. Possibly not one of the most exciting ideas for a film, it was nevertheless praised by the critics for its ability to create drama and tension through skilful direction and camera work. I’ve also got a feeling that amongst the great British thesps starring in the movie was Sean Bean, best known as ‘Sharpe’ from the series of books and TV series set in the Napoleonic Wars.

An excerpt from Winstanley’s A New-Yeers Gift for the Parliament and Armie of 1650 is included in the collection of 17th century political texts, Divine Right and Democracy: An Anthology of Political Writing in Stuart England, ed. by David Wootton, (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1986) 317-332.

On the other hand, the tune could simply be about people who have to dig for their living, rather than the radical political movement. In which case, it’s still interesting as another document on working class life from that period.