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In the steps of the navvies – the commons story

July 9, 2013

Time to battle anew!


This is a talk I gave to the conference, Sustaining the Commons, at Newcastle University on 5 July 2013.  The conference was the finale to the Building Commons Knowledge research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

On the night of 6 March 1866, under the aegis of the newly-formed Commons Preservation Society (now the Open Spaces Society), 120 navvies took a special train to Tring Station and trudged in the moonlight the three miles from Berkhamsted Common (30 miles NW of London), armed with hammers, chisels and crowbars.  They felled to the ground two miles of iron railings.

Berkhamsted Common originally belonged to Crown but then was leased to owners of the adjoining Ashridge estate, with reservation of commoners’ rights.

Ashridge came into possession of Lord Brownlow whose trustees wanted the common as an addition to Ashridge Park.  His trustees tried to buy out the commoners. …

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