Lyrics anonymous: tune by David A. Harley
The recording here has been updated from a rough version to the version on my Cold Iron album.
The Inclosure Acts enabled the passing into private hands land that had previously been designated as either ‘common’ or ‘waste’. This process preceded by several centuries the formal Inclosure Acts (which began with an Act of 1604) and continued into the 20th century, resulting in the enclosure of nearly seven million acres. While enclosure facilitated more efficient agricultural methods, that increased efficiency and loss of communal land was a factor in the enforced move of so many agricultural labourers into towns. There are a number of variations of this poem, which is usually assumed to date from the 1750s or ’60s, when enclosure legislation started to accelerate dramatically. The tune here is mine: the repeat of the last line is not in the original text, but I thought some chorus harmonies might be nice. 🙂
There are a number of variations of the text, and often just the first two verses are quoted. There’s an alternative four-verse text from ‘Tickler’ magazine dated 1821 quoted here, but I like this text better.
They hang the man and flog the woman
That steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose
That 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 take 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.