In the post-feudal era, England, at its height, was a nation build on property rights. Up into the 19th Century, theft was a capital crime. The 21st Century, however, is characterized by a more “collectivist” attitude that is peculiarly feudal in nature.
In the 14th Century, the King was the technical owner of all land. He granted land rights to the nobles, who granted land rights to the gentry, who granted land use to the serfs. The latter, of course, were essentially slaves.
Modern England provides an inverted mirror of this same pyramid of ownership rights, with the government holding the land and dictating its use in a way that does not benefit the ordinary citizen. What this means is that, in modern England, a man’s home is no longer his castle.
The government gives your average Englishman certain rights in his home, but he is no longer allowed to defend it by force and, if he leaves it for even a weekend’s vacation, he may come home to find it taken over by “travelers,” who can then claim rights in the property as well. Most of the “travelers” aren’t even from the ancient gypsy lineage, but are just lawless people who like to live free.
In one housing estate, however, perhaps inspired by the spirit of the RAF fighters who once lived on the land, the people have refused to take lying down the fact that the government gives them, at best, the most limited rights in the land they thought they owned. After suffering total (although polite) rebuffs from legally neutered police forces and council governments, the residents mounted a massive defense against encroaching travelers:
The old RAF camp had never seen an army like this, not in all its years of proud service.
There was a nurse, a lorry driver, a shopkeeper and ambulanceman, several young mothers with children at their side – and a Staffordshire bull terrier called Kandie.
They bought ten tons of rubble and hardcore to block emergency exits around the perimeter of the former camp, which closed in 1999 but still has walls and barbed wire fences. A rota was drawn up to ensure the main gate was guarded around the clock.
‘Traveller Watch’ volunteers were assigned to look out for suspicious vehicles and call for reinforcements if needed. A website and Facebook page were set up to co-ordinate resources – a facility never available to Locking during its service history, which included training aircrew and radio operators for the Second World War and the Falklands.
Properties on the estate are now worth between about £150,000 and £320,000. Many have been turned into suburban havens by proud owners, in tranquil roads where
hanging baskets and cherry trees abound.
Now some of those same people are doing guard duty for up to 20 hours at a stretch.
Louise Bailey, 31, a part-time supermarket worker and mother of two, told me: ‘We feel totally let down. There doesn’t seem to be any way of protecting our community apart from doing it ourselves.’
Two miles away, a vision of what they are fighting against was emerging in the morning mist. About a dozen caravans and vehicles set up camp on some grass verges beside the M5 motorway. Other trucks and caravans joined them later.
How long would they be there, I asked one of the men. ‘Not long,’ he said with a smile. ‘Not long.’
It seems as if we’re living in apocalyptic times. If you ever read Barbara Tuchman’s wonderful and monumental A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, you will get exactly the same sense of decay following on the heels of a broken feudal system.