Sunday 17 September 2017

Celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest--a barge trip from Windsor to Runnymede & Ankerwycke, with workshops, discussions and a visit to the 2,500-year-old Ankerwycke yew tree.

Windsor to Runnymede & Ankerwycke

Charter of the Forest 800th anniversary celebrations.

The opening event to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest started at Windsor, travelling to Runnymede  & Ankerwycke by boat, on Sunday 17 September. Workshops and discussions about the charter and its contemporary relevance were held as the boat made its way downstream, and ended on the meadow at Runnymede and a trip to the 2500 year old Ankerwycke Yew, silent witness to the Magna Carta 1215, which gave rise to the Charter of the Forest two years later.

About 40 people joined the barge at Windsor for the working voyage down the river to Runnymede. The boat, called the Fordham Gallery barge, passed through 2 locks on the 6-mile journey to the National Trust landing stage by Runnymede Meadow.

Workshops got underway before the barge departed, with the reading of messages of support  from John McDonnell, shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, and from Caroline Lucas, joint leader of the Green Party.

The real work then started with an introductory talk about the history and the contemporary importance of the Charter of the Forest, called Conceptualising the Commons, given by Guy Standing, professorial Research Associate at SOAS.

He explained that The Charter of 1217 asserted the right of commoners to access  the forests and the commons, and curbed the power of the monarch to seize the land for himself and his friends. It was intended as a permanent law limiting the enclosure of common land, and providing economic rights to enable people to subsist from the commonwealth;  but today enclosure is accelerating without our knowledge or consent and many people cannot meet their basic needs for food and housing, and our natural commons are being degraded.

Today the commons are being commercialised, neglected and sold off at knockdown prices, often to foreign capital or offshore investors. The 27,000 public parks in the UK are threatened, the public libraries, swimming pools, youth centres and children`s playgrounds are being shut or cut; fracking and drilling are being allowed under the national parks.

The celebrations of the charter are being held to revive its ethos and to support campaigns for sustaining the commons, for resisting enclosures, for the right to subsistence, and for giving legal rights to nature—for the common good of all.

This was followed by a contribution from Julie Timbrell, of New Putney Debates, on the importance of the principles of the Charter of the Forest to modern environmental and democratic concerns. A commons approach in medieval times provided in part for the sustainable management of common resources through forums like swanimote courts. These mediated the rights & responsibilities of local commoners. Of course this was partial under the feudal reign of the King and aristocracy, but nevertheless it did give people a mechanism to self-manage their local environment, which has been preserved to this day in many place, including the New Forest. Today modern commoning is taking place in food forests and local cooperatives; these are forms of land as well as social commons. This approach allows for a different type of democracy with a different ethos –  stewardship for the common good. 

Workshop 2, called Towards a New Domesday Book, with Tom Connor as Chair, began with a talk by Marion Shoard, author of This Land is Our Land and was followed by contributions by Dave Wetzel, of the Labour Land Campaign; by Guy Shrubsole of Friends of the Earth and author of Who Owns England; and by Christian Eriksson, one of the Private Eye journalists behind the investigations into the offshore property map.

At this point the mooring ropes were cast off and the barge moved swiftly towards the first lock. Below decks, a specially prepared medieval soup with venison and lentils (did they have lentils in medieval times, one wonders) was served, together with a vegetarian soup, bread, and tea and coffee, all prepared by Julie and assistants the day before.

After enjoying the lunch, people then mingled, networked and chatted or studied the 8-metre Timeline that ran along the whole wall of the gallery, until the ship`s company was called to order for Workshop 3, on the subject of the Timeline, a record in words and pictures of the historical evolution of the Charter and of commons rights, introduced by Peter Deane, Carl Fraser and Julie Timbrell.

Workshop 4, with the title From Right to Subsistence to Basic Income, produced a lively discussion on the campaign for a Universal Basic Income. Introduced by Guy Standing and facilitated by Barb Jacobsen, of  Basic Income UK, the case for a basic income for everyone was made (and also opposed). The discussion had to be cut short as the barge by this time had arrived and tied up at Runnymede.

The company made their way a short distance across the meadow to The Jurors artwork, which was commissioned to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta, the twin to the Charter of the Forest of 1217. People sat on the 12 chairs and stood around them to listen to the contributors to Workshop 5, titled Latin American social movements for the commons and for Mother Earth to be accorded rights.



Mothiur Rahman spoke on the campaign for rights for Mother Earth; Fidel Ernesto Narvaez, the first secretary at the Embassy of Ecuador, told the meeting about the inclusion of these rights into the constitution of Ecuador; Amancay Colque spoke of the water rights movements in Bolivia; and Helena Paul of EcoNexus gave a talk on Food Sovereignty and La Via Campesina.

And in the final session, on local charters and the commons, Tim Flitcroft, of Commons Rising, spoke about the contemporary commons.

A group of 8 people went on a “pilgrimage” by taxi to the other side of the river to see the 2,500-year old yew tree, the Ankerwycke yew, which may even be the tree under which King John and the barons sealed the Magna Carta.

To round off the day Natasha Langridge gave a preview performance of her one-person play about love and protest—a love note to neighbours and a revolutionary call to the world to protect the natural and social commons.

Further events to celebrate the Charter, organised by New Putney Debates and the Charter of the Forest 800 group, include a rally at the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest on November 5 to support the local resistance to fracking and to protect the local commons. And there is a meeting at the House of Commons on November 7, sponsored by John McDonnell, at which the American Marxist historian Peter Linebaugh, author of The Magna Carta Manifesto, will speak on the evolution of the Charter since 1217 and its contemporary relevance.


Share This Page!

Leave a Comment: