Friday, October 17, 2014

The Common Greene - Reading Deptford History through Peter Linebaugh (in New Cross on Monday)

Radical historian and theorist of the commons Peter Linebaugh is the author of The London Hanged, The Many-Headed Hydra (with Marcus Rediker), The Magna Carta Manifesto, and introductions to a Verso book of Thomas Paine’s writing and PM’s new edition of E.P. Thompson’s William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary. Linebaugh works at the University of Toledo, Ohio, but London features significantly in his writings. In fact last year I gave a history tour of Deptford to the fine people of New Cross Commoners which I subtitled 'reading Deptford history through Peter Linebaugh' (see below). 

Linebaugh is in town this week, giving a talk tomorrow (Saturday, 3 pm) at the Anarchist Bookfair in Mile End and then at Goldsmiths in New Cross on Monday 20th October. The Goldsmiths talk runs from 5pm - 7pm in the Professor Stuart Hall Building (formally New Academic Building) LG 02, with the title 'The Commons and the True Commons'. Linebaugh will talk about 'the value of what we hold in common, how it can be threatened by private interests, and the possibilities for resistance'. The talks will draw upon his new collection of essays, 'Stop, Thief!: The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance' (PM Press, 2014). Should be good, last time I saw him at Goldsmiths in 2008, he managed to weave the Hobgoblin pub into his talk!

Reading Deptford history through Peter Linebaugh
(notes from May 2013 history walk with New Cross Commoners)

‘the commons is an activity and... it expresses relationships in society that are inseparable from relations to nature’ (Peter Linebaugh, The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All  )

1623 map of Deptford, with Thames on left  note ‘The Common Greene’ (Deptford Green)
Chips 'consisted of wood scraps and waste created during the work of a hewing, chopping, and sawing ship timbers. The term refers not to the wood itself but to the right of the worker to appropriate a certain amount it... In 1702 the Deptford men maintained the right to take chips out of the yard three times a day and to enlist the assistance of their families in their appropriation... In 1767 letters were published which explained the 'many Evils' arising from "upwards of two thousand, mostly Women" who entered the dockyard on Wednesdays and Saturdays' to collect wood scraps for fuel and other uses. High walls were built around the docks, not for national security, but to prevent the workers and families taking wood
(Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged:Crime And Civil Society In The Eighteenth Century )

Deptford Dockyard painted in the late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century by Joseph Farington
'The ship… provided a setting in which large numbers of workers cooperated on complex and synchronized tasks, under slavish, hierarchical discipline in which human will was subordinated to mechanical equipment, all for a money wage. The work, cooperation, and discipline of the ship made it a prototype of the factory’

At the same time as ‘sailors made the Atlantic a zone for the accumulation of capital, they began to join with others in faithfulness, or solidarity, producing a maritime radical tradition that also made it a zone of freedom. The ship thus became both an engine of capitalism in the wake of the bourgeois revolution in England and a setting of resistance’
(Linebaugh and Rediker, The Many Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic)

The 'St Albans' Floated out at Deptford, 1747 by John Cleveley the Elder
'The pirate ship "might be considered a multiracial maroon community". Hundreds were African. Sixty of Blackbeard's crew of a hundred were black. Rediker quotes the Negro of Deptford who in 1721 led "a Mutiny that we had too many Officers, and that work was too hard, and what not"'
(Peter Linebaugh, Magna Carta Manifesto)

Skull and crossbones at gate of St Nicholas Church, Deptford -
popularly, but probably erroneously believed to have inspired the Jolly Roger pirate flag

The Magna Carta limited the enclosure of the river banks as well as enclosure of woodland as 'forests': ‘All forests that have been created in our reign shall at once be disafforested. River-banks that have been enclosed in our reign shall be treated similarly. All evil customs relating to forests and warrens, foresters, warreners, sheriffs and their servants, or river-banks and their wardens, are at once to be investigated in every county by twelve sworn knights of the county, and within forty days of their enquiry the evil customs are to be abolished completely and irrevocably’ (Magna Carta, 1215, quoted in Linebaugh, Magna Carta Manifesto). 

What would it be like to treat the river and its banks as commons? What would we do here? As part of the ‘Right to the City’ what would the ‘Right to the River’ look like?

(at this point on our walk we had a picnic and chat on the beach of the Thames next to Convoys Wharf)

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