Page:VCH Surrey 1.djvu/500

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A HISTORY OF SURREY Socialism emerged in the time of general unrest, associated with extreme forms of religious excitement. There were people known as Levellers or Diggers, who combined the old cry against enclosures with meta- phorically ' levelling ' political ideas. On April 1 7, 1 649, news came to London that some of them, under two leaders, Everard and Winstanley, were at work on the waste of Cobham Manor, near St. George's Hill in Surrey, digging the ground and planting roots and beans. They were only about thirty in number, but boasted that they would soon be 4,000. Fairfax took them seriously enough to despatch two troops of horse after them. The leaders were brought up before the general, when they anticipated Quaker practices by refusing to uncover to their fellow creature, while Everard delivered himself of a speech declaring his mission. He had been instructed, he said, by a vision to dig and plough the earth and to gather the fruits thereof. These were to be distributed among the poor. At present enclosed property was to be let alone, but not for long, for in the good time shortly coming all land and other property was to be common. He moreover explained that he had a mission to deliver his brother Israelites, who had been in captivity since the coming of William the Conqueror, but who were now, as God's people, to be restored to their rights in the promised land of England. White- locke says that it was the first time in his age that attention had been drawn to these doctrines ; it was assuredly not the first time in all ages, nor by any means the last. Martial law was too familiar and Everard too had been a soldier for the poor prophet to think of questioning the right of the general and his troops of horse to nip in the bud these schemes of land nationalization and Anglo-Israelitism. Indeed, before Fairfax took further steps, the real commoners, whose land was being invaded, attacked and scattered the Diggers, and pulled up their roots and beans. 1 We are apt to forget how much of the ordinary peaceful life of the country went on through all troubles, foreign or domestic. Work less noisy than civil war, but nearly as important in its after results, was being done, though under difficulties. A more practical agriculturist than the Diggers was planting roots in Surrey about the same time as they. This was Sir Richard Weston of Sutton Place, a Catholic recusant, and of course a Royalist in sym- pathy, though he took no active part in the war. He, harassed by law and lawlessness, and with half his estate sequestrated, was nevertheless working steadily to improve his property, and incidentally the whole country too. In the Directions for the Improvement of Barren Lands, published in 1645 and republished with additions by Milton's friend Hartlib in 1651 and 1652, he recommended field crops of turnips, anticipating by more than half a century Lord Townshend's Norfolk improvements. He also introduced clover from Brabant and Flanders. He was the author of another more striking innovation, also brought from abroad, by causing the first real canal locks in England to be made. 1 Whitelocke's Memorials, April, 1649. 422