World Turned Upside Down (Billy Bragg, 1649)
In 1649
To St George’s Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers
Come to show the people’s will
They defied the landlords
They defied the law
They were the dispossessed
Reclaiming what was theirs

‘We come in peace’ they said
‘To dig and sow
We come to work the land in common
And to make the waste land grow
This earth divided
We will make whole
So it can be
A common treasury for all

The sin of property
We do disdain
No one has any right to buy and sell
The earth for private gain
By theft and murder
They took the land
Now everywhere the walls
Rise up at their command

They make the laws
To chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven
Or they damn us into hell
We will not worship
The God they serve
The God of greed who feeds the rich
While poor men starve

We work, we eat together
We need no swords
We will not bow to masters
Or pay rent to the lords
We are free men
Though we are poor
You Diggers all stand up for glory
Stand up now

From the men of property
The orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers
To wipe out the Diggers’ claim
Tear down their cottages
Destroy their corn
They were dispersed
But still the vision lingers on

You poor take courage
You rich take care
This earth was made a common treasury
For everyone to share
All things in common
Al people one
We come in peace –
The order came to cut them down


In 1649, 20 poor diggers went to St Georges Hill to cultivate their common land, the English civil war had just ended and king executed. They held that land, should be made available to the very poor to cultivate. Food had just reached its highest peak, the numbers of the diggers had also doubled. The communal pastures came under attack by the rich landowners who wanted to privatise their use. They harassed the diggers with mob violence and legal action and they were dispersed from their colony.
The enclosure of the common land was an issue that drove the revolution. The poor and small farmers depended on the common land for their survival had been squatting on the commons for centuries. The landlords, led by the king were enclosing the commons by fencing around them. The new farms were then leased to larger farmers to produce food for sale in the market. Squatters were often evicted where there is an enclosure. The diggers then proclaimed a free commonwealth Manifesto, the first of which was “The earth (which was made to be a Common Treasury of relief for all, both Beasts and Men) was hedged into Inclosures by the teachers and rulers, and the others were made Servants and Slaves.” The same pamphlet warned: “Take note that England is not a free people, till the Poor that have no Land, have a free allowance to dig and labour the Commons, and so live as comfortably as the Landlords that live in their Inclosures.”(W.Everard, 1649) .
It was interesting to see the original Diggers “back to the land movement” they weren’t trying to stop the inclosures and tearing down fences in an attempt to reclaim the land like the earlier rebels, as their ties may have been dissolved. Winstanley, the leader of the group, stated, that “if some wished to call the Inclosures their own land . . . we are not against it,” although this may have been just a diplomatic gesture. Instead they wanted to create their own alternative Inclosure which would be a “Common Treasury of All” where commoners would have “the freedom of the land for their livelihood.
His language was more about improvement of the enclosures and the benefits extended to the poor rather than reserved for wealthy: “If the wasteland of England were manure by her children it would become in a few years the richest, the strongest and the most flourishing land in the world”(J Winstanley, 1649).
The Diggers were local people fighting for a better society, Winstanley lived in the area in the years before and after the commune. They took an active part in the creation of the new society.. But they saw that within the English Revolution there were radical alternatives. Winstanley’s and the Diggers’ great achievement was to make this opposition open and practicable when it was incredibly difficult to do so.



  1. sianericadavies Says:

    Love Billy Bragg – fantastic tune Victoria and I just love the story of the Diggers – I used to live near St Georges Hill!

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