Crick-Crack – whose streets are these? OUR STREETS!

8 May
Three Acres and a Cow

Three Acres and a Cow

The evolution of capitalism in England and resulting land grabs both here and abroad can be arguably simplified to sheep, slavery and fossil fuels… 

I’m in a barn, there’s a ukulele playing (‘like a waterfall,’ says Linda Lee). It’s a beautiful scene: magic piled high to the ceiling on shelves, on string and mesh, on top of chairs, on top of tables – birdcages, bottles, boxes, a microwave! This is the magic of Lower Shaw Farm. The lighting is warm, and people are gathering on the enclave of chairs set around a stage – the bunting is themed – three blank squares to every cow (clever). There’s a washing line.

“Singing together is good for your health – so you will have had at least five of your folk songs a day by the end of the evening,” explains Robin, one of our three performers of Three Acres and a Cow, this part TED talk, part history lecture, part folk club sing-a-long, part poetry slam, part storytelling session.

The washing line is explained – ‘This is the washing line of history’ – that makes sense, I’m now rather excited to see how history can unfurl on a washing line. The line will show the gaps in what they learned (or didn’t learn) in history at school.

What are my knowledge gaps?

We are given songbooks. ‘I like a bit of singing,’ said Andie next to me.

The washing line is loaded up, starting with the Norman Conquest (that one where Harold got shot in the eye, 1066) – there are songs, and an enthralling Robin Hood story told by Rachel, sheep enclosures, news of a class of vagrants starting, the plague (1349), the wage economy (maximum wage 1351), the tax man, John Ball with The Peasants’ Revolt and John of Sudbury’s head is pickled in a jar (1381), English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell 1642, food riots 1795 (political aside here: ‘Imagine if Teresa May decided she owned all the slugs,’ and we were not allowed to dispose of them – referring to the rabbits that belonged to the crown, eating all the crops and causing hunger.)

The washing line continues its history peg-out: John Clare, ‘Unbounded freedom ruled the wandering scene/ Nor fence of ownership’ crept in between (1812 – 1831), The Industrial Revolution and William Blake (up-beat sing-a-long version of Jerusalem here), Luddites (don’t use this as a derogatory term, requests Robin – these were 19th century protesters who destroyed weaving machinery – use ‘technophobes’), Peterloo Massacre (1819), The Allotments Act, Octavia Hill (1838-1912) pioneer of affordable housing, Mrs Barbour’s Army (1915), the Right to Roam Act. There are gaps here in my chronicling but I needed time to sing, process singing and enjoy singing (especially enjoyed title song, Three Acres and a Cow). I may have missed some history on the washing line, like pegging out odd socks (apologies – I enjoyed myself).

We end with a song by Robin with the word ‘mulch’ in it (Ballad of Hawkwood). He urges us to think about where our food comes from, and he’s glad to see Lower Shaw Farm is a local veg point for Purton House Organic Farm.

Some poignant last words from Rachel: What kind of story do we tell ourselves? Stories have power in them.

There was power in this performance, two hours of it plus tea and biscuits. Good to see people singing together and to be reminded, in these property and profit-obsessed times, of what it takes to gain some equality around here! Will we have a people’s rent revolt? Storm No. 10 for the NHS? I doubt it, but let’s hope a vote for change happens 🙂 – we don’t have a Mrs Barbour, but we might have an alternative at the ballot box.

Thanks Three Acres and a Cow, for some important reminders of what others fought for, for what we have today, and what’s at stake. More please …

Three Acres and a Cow was performed at Lower Shaw Farm, Swindon as part of the Swindon Festival of Literature, 7 May 2017.

Words by Hilda Sheehan

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