Today I have to go to Minchinhampton Common. This place still has grazing rights, so driving over it sometimes involves giving way to cattle.
It doesn't really seem to have changed for thousands of years, but there are plenty of 17th century houses built on prehistoric earthworks. If you listen carefully, you could kid yourself into hearing Thomas Hardy-style 19th century fairs as well. When the circus comes to Stroud, they pitch on Minchinhampton. I didn't hang around long enough to see who took this photo, but it is a good one, eh?
Commons are dotted all throughout the U.K. I was brought up close to Chobham Common in Surrey. This was the chosen landing spot for the Martian invasion in 'The War of the Worlds'. Common land is usually on high ground, presumably so that - in troubled times - you could see people coming from a long way off, like Mars for instance.
Chobham Common has a feature which can be seen from a great distance away, called 'Chobham Clump'. This is a huddled group of Scots Pines which show dark on the horizon. Scots Pines almost always seem to grow on prehistoric earthworks, and were probably deliberately planted there for the sake of travellers going from high point to high point and trying to find their way through the dense forests of the valleys.
Most common land is enshrined by ancient royal charters and is sometimes referred to as the original 'no man's land'. If the nobility had hunting drives which the common people were forbidden to use on pain of death, then it was only right that they should be allowed rights over other areas to subsist.
During the Hundred Years War with the French, the King had a bit of a problem. He had to train the commoners to be Yeomen to fight the war, and that involved training in the use of the Longbow. It was too much to ask of hungry people to not shoot the occasional deer to feed his family, so the death penalty for killing one of the king's deer was temporarilly lifted out of expediency. It would be a shame to kill a man you had spent so long training to be an expert shot with a bow.
I can only think of one bit of common land which was stolen from the people by the government, and that is St George's Hill near Weybridge in Surrey.
Gerrard Winstanley and his band of 'Diggers' moved in and squatted in 1649, but eventually lost the argument and were violently kicked off by the king's men shortly afterward. All the legal proceedings were conducted in Latin - the laywer's and Church's exclusive language.
Today, St George's Hill is an exclusive estate with large houses and a golf course. It is where a lot of pop stars like to live.