The Land Beneath Our Feet – Three Acres and A Cow at the Swindon Festival of Literature 2017

Tom Haynes visits Lower Shaw Farm to watch an interesting performance about land-rights, folk song and our history of protest in the United Kingdom as part of the Swindon Festival of Literature.

I remember a time, not long ago, when I was surveying grasslands in the middle of no where, I looked over at the entrance to a small reservoir and saw the visitors entrance was behind a massive security gate; private security walking the perimeter. I felt very unwelcome and insecure as I marched across the fields, wondering what would happen to me if they saw me. This attachment we have to the land beneath our feet is entwined with insecurities of legalities and the confusion of our own rights to stand on it. This is something I often ponder, but I never thought I would have the opportunity to watch a group act out with heartfelt spoken word rhymes, poems and songs.

Three Acres and A Cow’ is an interesting fusion of lecture, folk sing-a-long, poetry slam, storytelling and, most important of all; the story of our relationship to the land around us.

The brain child of Robin Grey a folk singer and social historian, whose CV includes a rather infamous encounter with David Cameron while on the 2015 campaign trail.

Robin says that he became interested in this project while working on a community farm and listening to French protest songs and soon realised he knew very little about our own history of protests songs in England. What followed was an epic search of historical documents with many stories and songs sourced by visitors to the ‘Three Acres and A Cow’ show!

The group of three performers included Robin, presenting significant dates of transition in the english countryside (and in Scotland and Ireland too) armed with a ukulele; Rachel Rose Reid, providing stellar moments of deep emotion with recitals of old poems and rapid rhymes; and Katherine Hallewell, who provided reflective moments on our history through diary entries and song.

The focus was firmly on these three performers and their clothes-line of significant historical dates ranging from the Norman Conquest in 1066 up to 2000s Countryside and Rights of Way Act, from the criminalisation of poaching to the criminalisation of squatting. The surroundings of a rustic barn on Lower Shaw Farm also provided the perfect setting for this call to a neo-peasant revolt.

This entertaining history lesson wasn’t told by those who own this land around us with tales of their conquests, but was one about the people and how we have been moved out of the fields and forests by various nefarious means. The songs found by the project are full of defiance and frustration, yet still express a pure love for the countryside around them and the places we call home.

Many moments through the performance felt far too familiar to our modern day lives. The take home message was clear: the less we know about our own rights, the less power we have. Those that wish to see us lose those rights will take them away with the quietest of whispers.

Their next performance is in Bristol on the 13th May.

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