SONG: Askew Sisters Goose and Common

Diggers of the English Civil War
British Library
Askew Sisters Goose and Common
17th Century enclousre poem put to music

Goose and Common is a 17th Century folk poem, which forms one of the pithiest condemnations of the English enclosure movement—the process of fencing off common land and turning it into private property.

The means by which the landed gentry stole the common land was one of the key factors that angered so many people in this country and created a violent reaction epitomised by the Cato Street Conspiracy.  Peterloo was an outburst of anger at the landed classes  who were  monopolising political power and mobilising power for their own benefit.

In a few lines, Goose and Common manages to criticize double standards of the regency period:

The poem exposes the artificial and controversial nature of property rights, and take a slap at the legitimacy of state power. And it does it all with humour, without jargon, and in rhyming couplets.
—James Boyle, Duke Law School Professor

The Askew Sisters have created a beautiful song from this 17th century poem  for their album ‘Enclosure’, which was released on 3rd May 2019. The Askew sisters explained the background to the recording the song:

“We really like the power and simplicity of these words and how they feel starkly relevant in today’s society. The earliest reference to it that we can find is from The Gentleman’s Mathematical Companion in 1816, where it’s noted as being seen on a handbill in Plaistow protesting a Bill for the enclosure of Epping Forest, but its origins may well be much older. Hazel wrote a tune for the words and the whole song fell into place once Emily added some driving cello.”

WCRAG hope to use the song as part of the MOD drama project in the autumn of 2021


                                                       Goose and Common

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.
The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.
The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.

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