top of page
  • Haydn Wheeler

"laws and commands over our persons and estates, by which they have overthrown all our English

Anti Fracking protest in Balcombe 2013

The insufferable, insolent, arbitrary power that hath bin used amongest us, contrary to all our ancient knowne lawes, or ordinances of parliament, upon our persons and estates by imprisoning our persons, imposing of somes money, light horses and dragoons and exacting of loanes by some particular persons stept into authority whoe have delegated their power to men of sordid condition whose wills have ben lawes and commands over our persons and estates by which they have overthrown all our English libertyres and have endeavored thereby to make us desperate.

Extract from the Sussex Clubmen Petition 26th September 1645

In 2013 the fracking company Caudrilla started exploration drilling in Balcombe Sussex. A ‘Memorandums of Understanding’, ( eight-page document setting out the responsibilities of different public agencies ) was drawn up between the police and the fracking company. Sussex Police were willing to sign up a Memorandum with the anti fracking protesters in Balcombe, but as in the nature of protest, within that protest their are many voices. A collective of ideas in the plurality.

One a hierarchical private company and the other a public participatory democracy. A mechanism such as a Memorandum of Understanding works in a set and recognised structure within the law, but what if the actual act of that company is seen by many as an act detrimental to other people's liberties and therefore unlawful. One could argue we all have the right to clean water. Dose the act of fracking threaten that right and therefore our liberty ? So therefore would a Memorandum of Understanding of this nature be unworkable in the realms of protest?

Who represents us, do they have the security of our liberties at heart? Can they be held to accountability under our laws? Is the changing a law by the executive a tool for expedience of policy but becomes detrimental to the generality?

When in October 2016 Sajid Javid the Governments Communities Secretary overturned Lancashire council’s rejection of a fracking site, Preston New Road Action Group, a local anti-fracking group, said it was “devastated” by the decision.

“This is a sad day as it is clear to all that this government neither listens, nor can it be trusted, to do the right thing for local communities"

The overriding of a local decision by a council in this case is a direct example of a Government policy taking precedent over a local represented elected body whose policy that effects.

The 2015 Infrastructure Act gives more power in the decision making to the executive and away from local governance.

English common law of trespass had the potential to create a major obstacle to the development of the UK shale gas industry. Landowners objecting to fracking had potential in slowing up the process. Drilling under their land was also an act of trespass.

The 2015 Act now allows drilling under land at a depth of at least 300 metres by-passing English common law.

A plunder of ones liberties in ones locality? The the gain of a private company acting in what is seen as a national interest by Government in pursuing a policy?

The loss of public space and the creep of privately owned public spaces or “Pops” also changes ones liberties. These spaces are not subject to ordinary local authority bylaws. Restrictions are set and governed by the landowner and usually enforced by private security companies.

A plunder of our commons, public space used over our history, not only to partake in ones daily business but also to voice ones grievances?

Anti Fracking protest. Manchester 2017.

George Hawles the Clubmen in 1645 and his demands made to Fairfax in his justification for making those demands were. "it was seen fit that the people should show their grievances and strength"

2017 and the dealing with that grievance on what is now a grayish public, private space ownership. Our 2017 Hawles would find he would be in the hi vis hands of private security company, such as G4S.

In the realms of direct to power at the time, at least Hawles had Fairfax's ear, not a faceless corporate company.

The Occupy movement of 2011 highlighted the creep of "Pops" The Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Estate is the owner of Paternoster Square in the City of London. Occupy was prevented from occupying the Square.

One could say the result of having to set up in front of St Paul's Cathedral was a turn of fate to their advantage.

Occupy 2011 St Paul's Cathedral.

The Sussex Clubmen petition of September 1645 focused on the unaccountably of persons put upon them. The Civil War had imposed a form of committeemen into the generality of people which represented the interests of Parliament or King and ran roughshod over locality jurisdiction. Both sides could not afford to leave the local justices to make rulings and decisions. The free quartering of troops, paying of garrisons and keeping of those garrisons with supplies had a cost for the local people and parish administrations.

Extract of Sussex Petition September 1645

( The Sussex Clubmen petition was delivered to Parliament in early October , where after a Committee of Seven Lords considered of the said petition, and reported their opinions to this House ).

Clarendon states March 23rd 1645 in reference to Royalist General Goring

“… regulate the levying of contributions in the western counties. Every horseman to be allowed 6d a day and free quarters by the parishes where they are quartered.”

The added reference to plunder being an offence and punishable by death fell on local commanders of troops to enforce.

With those in charge in keeping morale up, troops fed and paying of those troops the act of plunder was frequently ignored.

Robert K G Temple references from Somerset, Dorset notes and quires the Royalist turned Parliamentarian Major General Massey. Massey had a roving body of several thousand horsemen who would attach themselves to successive garrisons though the Civil War.

The feeding of and supply was frequently put upon the local farmers by force and in Edward Massey case we know of his notorious reputation. His ill disciplined horsemen, Massey's Brigade as they were known had been using up across Counties their resources or even embargoing the supply of goods to people of Gloucester (Massey was governor) when they refused to pay his garrison.

Armies from both sides passing though the Counties impressed or recruited on route. This could be repeated if your County was a major thoroughfare. Dorset for example was also heavily garrisoned by both sides adding to the loss of crops, cattle and goods away from local needs and heading into the armies needs.

Levellers, Clubmen banners on show at Burford 2017

From the writings of the Clubmen through declarations and petitions we see they were although opposed to the war, but they had the acceptance of the situation they found themselves. Through petition and declarations and turning out in mass numbers, people from across Counties wanted a voice within the warring parties. The Levelers push for an extension of suffrage voiced at The Putney Debates in 1647 and the Clubmen's demands earlier on to Parliament and King in 1645 are in social terms both of the people. Local representation and the transfer of that representation into national, binds the Levellers and Clubmen in the argument for wanting a say inside the warring factions. The nature of that representation and end of war aims may differ, but the want for a voice in the confines of what was of the time during the war with Parliament and King was what they had in common.

The Clubmen petitions of 1645 and the refusing of plunder upon the County on a direct level of foods, crops, enforced taxation and supply in 1645, had a direct result in creating a voice for the people independent of King and Parliament..

Cromwell's encounters with Levellers later in the Civil War follow The Clubmen earlier. The Levellers stand at Burford in 1649 and The Clubmen's stance on Hambledon Hill in 1645 ended in bloodshed, with Cromwell quashing their stance but not the reasons for that stance . What was won was the momentum behind the demands they voiced. The Levellers had rendezvoused in Salisbury to discuss their political demands before marching to Burford The Clubmen had also met in Salisbury. In July of 1645 General Fairfax in his move into the west wrote a letter to the committees of the two houses of these Clubmen in Salisbury. It includes his thoughts on this 3rd party.

"I am advanced as far as Blandford. I could not hitherto give your lordships an account of the condition of these counties of Wilts and Dorset, in arms under the name of Club-Men; they pretend only the defence of themselves from plunder, but not to side either with the king's forces or the parliament's, but to give free quarter to both."

"I hear they have drawn up certain Articles, where unto they have subscribed, for the managing and maintaining this new Party. They have drawn up Petitions, one to the king and the other to the parliament, the copies. Whereof suppressing them, it would be no hard work; but I know not what it may prove in time. I find them generally very confident of their cause and party, and if hereafter they should presume to give laws to the armies, as they do to the garrisons,"

The Leveller wants for those in Parliament to be made more accountable was voiced on a locality level by The Clubmen. Their demands for representation and a respect of their ancient rights and liberties is later voiced again by The Levellers with their demands for those civil liberties to be protected from the whims of Parliament or King.

Tolpuddle Festival 2017

Plunder and the act of made The Clubmen in 1645 join together in a mutual defence against that plunder. As with those ancient rights and liberties, plunder and how it manifests itself has many guises, a case of keeping a constant awareness of is, as ever was.

"laws and commands over our persons and estates, by which they have overthrown all our English liberties."

36 views0 comments
bottom of page