Sunday, 1 May 2011


The word 'commoner' has been revived, heard and read repeatedly in recent weeks. It seems to have come with quite an emotional charge, of the 'I'm better than you' sort, and yet, within that crowd in Westminster Abbey there were only a very few people who were not Commoners.

Her Majesty isn't one, but Prince Harry possibly could be because within some definitions a Commoner is anyone who is neither the Monarch nor a Peer of the Realm.
Which means virtually all the rest of us.

The term is so ancient, and so hedged about with terrible English snobbishness and one-up-man-ship that its definition becomes quite emotional.
This sort of acute social awareness seems peculiarly English, perhaps British, but I know only of the English variety, and the out-dated English variety at that.
Perhaps it happened because of having to live packed together on this over-crowded island, and having to be so much more aware of place and position.
Perhaps because it has been so instilled into previous generations.
Recent experience has taught me the foolishness of trying to explain such a nebulous system to a niece from New Zealand.

My grandparents, and those before them, knew their places and stayed within them.
My parents knew their places but made the rules slightly more flexible while still being able to place their contemporaries socially after hearing a couple of sentences spoken.
I was brought up to know my place and tried to disguise it, and I doubt if my sons have any sort of place awareness at all.

Living, as I do, beside this wonderful stretch of ancient Common Land, I would have held rights and privileges in days long gone.
Being a Commoner was a most positive thing, and is still.

There were Grazing rights (one cow or two sheep, I believe, possibly also a few geese); Piscary rights - the right to fish the shallow and murky pond over the hill where the dogs now swim.
There were very old rights of rights of Turbary or sod cutting, and Marl, or sand and gravel collecting, and I could probably have turned out a couple of pigs in autumn for Mast rights, so that they could scoff acorns and beech mast and any other fallen nuts.
All year round I could have Estovers, fallen branches and dry twigs to keep the woodburner going.

Today I and countless others can wander the Common at will, and in so many areas of the country it is the failure of people to keep up their Commoners' Rights that has made 'Conservators' essential to properly maintain the open spaces.

So, long live the Commoners and their Commons, and those who care for them and protect them for others.
And if one or two of them become Less Common I wish them even better life and luck!


marigold jam said...

Indeed! My family come from the Forest of Dean where they everyone took up their commoners rights and let their geese, sheep etc roam free - I remember as a child that sheep lused to roam the town and the leader usually had a broomstick tied to its neck to prevent it going into doorways and shops etc as apparently if the leader didn't go the rest wouldn't think of it - so there is something to be said for being in the lower ranks even if one is a sheep!

marigold jam said...

I really must learn to proof read before pressing Publish!

Zhoen said...

Here's to being common as dirt. Good to be useful.

Anne said...

What an interesting post! It reminded me of a lot of aspects of my own heritage and also of several references to "The Tragedy of the Commons" in some of the lectures I have listened to lately.

Relatively Retiring said...

Marigold Jam: I love the idea of the sheep with the broomstick! Aaaahhhh! Life in the Forest.....

Zhoen: dirt/soil, the stuff of life itself!

Anne: those sound like interesting lectures. There is also the political aspect of The Tragedy of the Commons here (as in House of Commons) but I won't go there at the moment.

den said...

Here here.

Relatively Retiring said...

Den: thank you! Hope you're enjoying the windy sunshine, or the sunny wind, depending on how you look at it.