The gardens adjacent to The Wiend, containing the ‘Face of Wigan’ statue, and the forecourt of the new Wigan Life Centre (shown on left), as well as a number of rooms in the centre, will be the site of the 2nd WIGAN DIGGERS’ FESTIVAL which will take place on Saturday 8th September 2012. The Festival will start at 12.00 noon and finish at 8.00pm. PLEASE PUT THIS DATE IN YOUR DIARY NOW! See map below for exact location in Wigan town centre.
The FREE Open Air Festival will celebrate, via the medium of poetry, songs, film and a range of other activities, the life and ideas of Wigan born and bred Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1676) and the 17th Century ‘Diggers’ movement he was the inspirational leader of.
Also known as the ‘True Levellers’, the Diggers were one of the first truly egalitarian political movements of the poor and propertyless anywhere in the World, and the first to argue for full equality of men and women. Winstanley and they famously asserted: “The World was made a common treasury for all!”
Faced with the alternatives of starving to death, or the indignity of having to rely on charity, and an uncertain life of a pauper, or beggar, the Diggers argued that those without either land, or paid work, in the new post Charles I ‘Commonwealth’ be allowed to work ‘in righteousness’ and to dig up and manure unused, waste and common land and sow corn, and grow vegetables, so that “everyone born in the land might be fed by the sweat of their own brows”, “according to the reason that rules in The Creation.”
Since, Winstanley believed words and writing amounted to nothing without action, he and the Diggers not only advocated this idea, but decided to put it into immediate practice, first at St. Georges Hill in Weybridge, in Surrey in April 1649, then later at Little Heath near Cobham. Other ‘Digger’ communities, were set up in Wellingborough (Northants), Iver (Bucks), Barnet (Herts), Enfield (Middx), Dunstable (Beds) and Bosworth (Glos) as well as another in Nottinghamshire.
Winstanley argued that instead of enclosing any part of the land into any particular hand, all the land should be worked by all “as one man”, that everyone should work and feed together as if they were members of the same family, and of the same father “…not one lording over another, but all looking upon each other as equals in The Creation.” As a result of this, the Diggers did not set about working their own particular plots of land, as individuals or family groups, but instead established the very first collective or co-operative farms, (some call them ‘agrarian communes’) and along with them, the very first truly democratic, egalitarian communities in the World, almost two centuries before the words ‘Socialist’ or ‘Communist’ were even invented.
The new political and economic powers that be like Oliver Cromwell, were fearful that the Diggers’ ideas might spread, and lead to widespread squatting by the landless poor. They were also disdainful of Winstanley’s views concerning all existing land ownership being based on theft and murder going back to the Norman Conquest, which was then subsequently enshrined in ‘laws’ made by the new landowners, and enforced by the power of ‘the club’ and ‘the sword’.
As a result local Landowners backed by the ‘Council-of-State’, soon moved to break up and disperse every one of the Digger communities, all of which ceased to exist by 1651. But as Leon Rosselson’s “The World Turned Upside Down” song goes: “…still the vision lingers on!”
WHAT’S IN STORE FOR 2012
Festival organisers intend to pack the day with an array of activities, including audio visual presentations, an exhibition, stalls and live entertainment featuring a range of bands, acoustic artists, and radical poets. There will also be a Digger’s Songwriters’ writearound workshop, a repeat showing of the film “Winstanley”, a symbolic 17th Century Diggers’ re-enactment, not to mention a bouncy castle for the kids, and a whole lot more, as a great deal has yet to be finalised. A special commemorative ‘Diggers 1649 Ale’ is also to be commissioned for the Festival.
A great boon to the event organisers has been the support of the Council’s Town Centre Manager for Wigan, Mike Matthews, who has been instrumental, along with Councillor Steve Dawber in enabling the Festival to be staged at The Wiend site. Mike has also agreed to insure the entire event for public liability, arrange for us to have access to rooms and the toilets in the new Wigan Life centre, as well as to help ‘stage’ the entire event.
The Festival Organising committee, which consists of people involved in a array of local organisations including Wigan Folk Club, Wigan Trades Council, Leigh UNITE the Union, Wigan Unison, and the Society of Friends (Quakers) would like to thank them both for their support.
If you and/or an organisation you are a member of, would like to sponsor or otherwise financially support our 2nd Festival, which will be entirely FREE of COST to the public, and which the actual cost of staging is growing all the time, then please send cheques made payable to Wigan Diggers’ Festival, and messages of support to 39 Spa Road, Atherton, Manchester M46 9NR. See our Sponsors & Supporters page for further details: