Using Reigate as the centre of counter-hegemonic activity may seem to be pushing against a stiff door, but revolutionary planning isn’t simple, comrade.
Surprisingly, for a county steeped in Tory MPs for many decades Surrey does have something of a history as a focus point for counter-cultural activity.
During Cromwell’s Republic Gerrard Winstanley set up a commune on common land at St. Georges Hill, near Weybridge – now one of the most exclusive areas of the country; home to Cliff and Brucey.
Those gathered around Winstanley were known as the Diggers. They promoted a form of Christian anarcho-communism, stating in The True Leveller’s Standard Advanced (1649) that:
…the Earth (which was made to be a Common Treasury of relief for all, both Beasts and Men) was hedged in to In-closures by the teachers and rulers, and the others were made Servants and Slaves: And that Earth that is within this Creation made a Common Store-house for all, is bought and sold, and kept in the hands of a few, whereby the great Creator is mightily dishonoured, as if he were a respector of persons, delighting in the comfortable Livelihoods of some, and rejoycing in the miserable povertie and straits of others. From the beginning it was not so.
The group planted vegetables a time when food prices had reached an all-time high. The word was put out for “..all to come in and help them, and (we) promise meat, drink, and clothes.” They intended to pull down enclosures and get the local populace to come and work with them.
Winstanley explained his forward-thinking egalitarian beliefs in The New Law of Righteousness (also 1649):
Every one that gets an authority into his hands tyrannizes over others; as many husbands, parents, masters, magistrates, that live after the flesh do carry themselves like oppressing lords over such as are under them, not knowing that their wives, children, servants, subjects are their fellow creatures, and hath an equal privilege to share them in the blessing of liberty.
Sir Thomas Fairfax of the New Model Army bought down some troops but concluded the Diggers were doing no harm. The local landowners organised gangs to come and set fire to houses and administer beatings. The Diggers moved down the road to Cobham and eventually the group dispersed, after a court case where they were not allowed to defend themselves (on trumped-up charges of being members of the outlawed licentious ‘Ranters’) . Nevertheless, their legacy lived on: in the 1960s a group in San Francisco called themselves Diggers in their memory.
In the 19th Century, Surrey again played host to another experiment in communal living. A group centered on the Christian socialist and education reformer James Pierrepont-Greaves set up a commune at Alcott House in Ham Common (between modern-day Richmond & Kingston) called the Concordium. The group, including Charles Lane , William Oldham, and Henry Gardner-Wright, believed that spiritual and social renewal would be achieved by a change of lifestyle. As such they promoted vegetarianism and hydrotherapy. Perhaps a little ‘hippy’ for us….
In 2010 Surrey is home to Thee Faction and Communist R’n’B. If you’d like some advice on how to set up your own Communist R’n’B group, label or club please contact us: tass@TheeFaction.org. Surrey is the ideal place to start…