Digging deep for gerrard

The Wigan Diggers staged their first event at Mesnes playing fields in Wigan town centre with a march through the streets and a ceremonial planting of seeds on common land

The Wigan Diggers staged their first event at Mesnes playing fields in Wigan town centre with a march through the streets and a ceremonial planting of seeds on common land

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HE was the Wigan lad who had the political vision to change the world.

Now the town’s second annual Diggers Festival is set to return with a day full of entertainment, music and fun.

Organising committee spokesman Mike Orrell promises that the event will truly celebrates the life and ideas of Wigan-born radical Gerrard Winstanley and the 17th century political movement he unwittingly founded.

He believes that Winstanley (1609 to 1676) is “arguably the town’s most influential export” and is now recognised as one of the foremost radicals of the English Revolution.

At the age of 21 Winstanley moved to London, was apprenticed as a mercer and then set up his own cloth business. This was a time when dissent was growing against the authority of the Church and King and antagonism between Royalists and Parliamentarians culminated in the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642.

The upheaval of war pushed the country into depression and Winstanley’s business failed. He suffered a financial and spiritual crisis and began to question the social, political and religious order of the times.

And it was bitter personal experience that helped him developed a vision for a fairer society, in which private property would be abolished and the land made a common treasury for all.

Mike, of Shevington, said: “Gerrard Winstanley published a stream of pamphlets, which reached a wide readership and gained support in parts of the country.

“But he believed that words were nothing without action and in 1649 he and his followers took possession of common land at St George’s Hill in Surrey with The Diggers, as they came to be known, established a community to till the earth, “sow corn and eat their bread together by the sweat of their brows.’”

“The idea soon caught on and Digger communes began springing up across the country.” Mr Orrell said that it was, in fact, a sufficient threat to the established order of the time disgruntled local landowners sent hired thugs to beat the Diggers and destroy their colonies.

Winstanley protested to Oliver Cromwell’s government, but to no avail, and the colonies were abandoned within the year.

Mr Orrell said: “Winstanley is considered a pioneer socialist and, by some, as the founder of Communism. His contribution to politics was immortalised when his name was engraved under those of Marx and Engels on the memorial obelisk for great socialists and revolutionaries in Moscow in 1918.

The festival takes place on Saturday on the Wiend piazza (11am to 8pm). Activities include a Diggers re-enactment, exhibition, music, food, drink and a showing of the film Winstanley. A commemorative Diggers 1649 Ale and Gerrard Winstanley Ale have also been commissioned.