Saturday, February 25, 2006

In England's Pleasant Land Of Green

In February 2004, the Duke of Northumberland sold Raphael's 'Madonna Of The Pinks' to the National Gallery for £22 million net.

This morning, the 'Daily Telegraph' has reported that the duke is evicting a group of allotment-holders in Prudhoe, Northumberland, whose potato patches stand in the way of a shopping centre.

It is unlikely that historians of the future will study the Northumberland Clearances in the same way they record the Highland Clearances effected by the first Duke of Sutherland, the two situations varying wildly in both fact and degree. Prudhoe is certainly no Strathnaver, but at bottom, when it comes to motives for putting people off the land then, as a wise man once noted, over time nothing really changes except the uniforms and the transportation.

200 years ago the Heilanders were moved out to make way for the Great Cheviot Sheep, now Prudhoe's turnip growers are getting turfed out in favour of GAP. It's all about 'progress' and 'improvement', don't you know; you've always got to make the most efficient use of resources and all that, and after all can't you do what you like with your own property?

Of course you can. There is no way on Earth that horticultural cranks lovingly tending their rhubarb, making things come alive and grow whilst maintaining their peoples' ancient connection to the land, can compete with the rent you can make from owning 2,000 square feet's worth of Asda.
The duke has certainly offered to make an 'alternative location' available to allotment-holders; and it is to be hoped that if his offer is taken up then the gardeners will find their new plots as productive as the old.

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