Land theft by George Orwell

Fri Nov 16 17:44:30 GMT 2001

From: merrick101 at (that's the author of 'Battle for the Trees')

I've been re-reading George Orwell's collected journalism, and came across a 
superb piece that I thought would tickle you.

During WW2 Orwell wrote a column for The Tribune. In one he makes reference 
to a letter about railings. I presume he's said something about the fact 
that iron railings taken down to be made into ammunition for the war effort 
had had the effect of opening up those squares in London that are collective 
private gardens for the residents of a square or street.

Anyway, he writes:


Apropos of my remarks on the railings round London squares, a corrsepondant 
writes: 'Are the squares to which you refer public or private properties? If 
private, I suggest that your comments in plain language advocate nothing 
less than theft and should be classed as such'.

If giving the land of England back to the people of England is theft, I am 
quite happy to call it theft. In his zeal to defend private property, my 
correspondant does not stop to consider how the so-called owners of the land 
got hold of it. They simply seized it by force, afterwards hiring lawyers to 
provide them with title-deeds. In the case of the enclosure of the common 
lands, which was going on from about 1600 to 1850, the land-grabbers did not 
even have the excuse of being foreign conquerors; they were quite frankly 
taking the heritage of their own countrymen, upon no sort of pretext except 
that they had the power to do so.

Except for the few surviving commons, the high roads, the lands of the 
National Trust, and the sea shore below the high-tide mark, every square 
inch of England is 'owned' by a few thousand families. These people are just 
about as useful as so many tapeworms. It is desirable that people should own 
their own dwelling houses, and it is probably desirable that a farmer should 
own as much land as he can actually farm. But the ground-landlord in a town 
area has no function and no excuse for existance. He is merely a person who 
has found a way of milking the public while giving nothing in return. He 
causes rents to be higher, he makes town planning more difficult, and he 
excludes children from green spaces: that is literally all that he does, 
except to draw his income.

The removal of the railings in the squares was a first step against him. It 
was a very small step, and yet an appreciable one, as the present move to 
restore the railings shows. For three years or so the squares lay open, and 
their sacred turf was trodden on by the feet of working-class children, a 
sight to make dividend-drawers gnash their false teeth. If that is theft, 
all I can say is, so much the better for theft.

['As I Please' column, 18 August 1944]


I liked it and it made me think of you guys.

Keep up the good work,

Merrick x


'A world in which it is wrong to murder an individual civilian and right to 
drop a thousand tons of high explosive on a residential area does sometimes 
make me wonder whether this earth of ours is not a loony-bin made use of by 
some other planet.'
- George Orwell


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