The Cato Street Conspirators were followers of Thomas Spence, who believed in the common ownership of the land and votes for all. Spence’s views were greatly influenced by what he had read about the Levellers and Diggers of the English Civil War.
The Diggers of St George’s Hill 1649
In April 1649 about 20 poor men assembled at St. George’s Hill, Surrey, and began to cultivate the common land. These Diggers held that the English Civil Wars had been fought against the king and the great landowners; now that Charles I had been executed, land should be made available for the very poor to cultivate. (Food prices had reached record heights in the late 1640s.) The numbers of the Diggers more than doubled during 1649. Their activities alarmed the Commonwealth government and roused the hostility of local landowners, who were rival claimants to the common lands. The Diggers were harassed by legal actions and mob violence, and by the end of March 1650 their colony was dispersed, as the Diggers were opposed to violence. The Diggers also called themselves True Levellers, but their communism was denounced by the leaders of the Levellers.
The music video featured on this page is by Billy Bragg from his 1985 album, Between the Wars. However, he did not write the song. The World Turned Upside Down was written by Leon Rosselson in 1975.
The World Turned Upside Down (1975 Leon Rossiter)
In 1649 to St. George’s Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers came to show the people’s will
They defied the landlords, they defied the laws
They were the dispossessed reclaiming what was theirs.
We come in peace, they said, to dig and sow
We come to work the lands in common and make the waste ground grow
This earth divided we will make whole
So it may be a common treasury for all
The sin of property we do disdain
No man has any right to buy or sell the earth for private gain
By theft and murder they took the land
Now everywhere the walls spring up at their command
They make the laws to chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven, or they damn us into hell
We will not worship the God they serve,
a God of greed who feeds the rich while poor folk starve
We work and eat together, we need no swords
We will not bow to masters, nor pay rent to the lords
Still we are free, though we are poor
Ye Diggers all, stand up for glory, stand up now!
From the men of property the orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers to wipe out the Diggers’ claim
Tear down their cottages, destroy their corn
They were dispersed – only the vision lingers on
Ye poor take courage, ye rich take care
This earth was made a common treasury for everyone to share
All things in common, all people one
They came in peace – the order came to cut them down