Magna Carta: Runnymede Eco-Village 'hippies not wanted'

Enforcement officers at the site Image copyright Mark Kerrison/Demotix
Image caption Eco-villagers said bailiffs hammered in wooden posts and stapled eviction notices to them

A row over squatters threatens to overshadow the celebrations marking the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in Runnymede. But are these eco-villagers the new freedom fighters?

By the time the Queen and thousands of dignitaries gather by the River Thames, a group of squatters may well have been evicted from their home less than two miles away.

Some of the inhabitants of Runnymede Eco-Village, who have been there since 2012, believe the eviction proceedings have been sped up so they can be removed before the Magna Carta celebrations in June.

Bailiffs posted notices at the site on Monday ordering the squatters to leave by Tuesday or face court eviction proceedings.

One of the squatters, Ieuan Davies, said he had been surprised by the speed of proceedings.

"I've never seen it before, a notice this week and the court action to come so soon after," he said, adding that nobody wants "a bunch of hippies up on the hill".

Image copyright Mark Kerrison/Demotix
Image caption The group moved to the site three years ago for the woodland and natural spring water

The group have stayed on the site and a court hearing has been set for 9 April.

When they moved to the disused Brunel University campus, they say they chose the site for its woodland and natural spring water - but it turned out they were less than two miles from the memorial to Magna Carta, regarded by many as a founding stone of modern democracy and law.

The site is owned by developers Orchid Runnymede and is next to the Magna Carta site owned by the National Trust.

Orchid Runnymede have said the squatters are illegally on the land, which is about to become a construction site for housing.

While Magna Carta was the result of a dispute between the aristocracy and King John over baronial rights, the villagers take their inspiration from a much later, but equally influential, period of rebellion.

They call themselves Diggers 2012 after the 17th Century movement whereby landless people took over or squatted on commons and fields during the English Civil War.

The ideas of the Levellers and Diggers were said by the late Labour politician Tony Benn to have helped to shape the American and French revolutions.

What was Magna Carta?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Magna Carta at Salisbury Cathedral dates from 1215, one of four of the first documents that are still around
  • Magna Carta outlined basic rights with the principle that no-one was above the law, including the king
  • It charted the right to a fair trial, and limits on taxation without representation
  • It inspired a number of other documents, including the US Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Only three clauses are still valid - the one guaranteeing the liberties of the English Church; the clause confirming the privileges of the City of London and other towns; and the clause that states that no free man shall be imprisoned without the lawful judgement of his equals

Mr Davies said his community had done the same as their predecessors by taking over vacant land to live off its natural resources.

He said Magna Carta was "circumstantially relevant" to the eco-village, however.

Mr Davies said: "They wanted justice and freedom for all through parliament. Are we not that? What's happened? What's happened with the bankers? Everyone was fooled, given loans they can't repay. The whole thing is a big scam.

"We are living on the edge of society. Quite a few people are. Some people have had problems for one reason or another - all swept under the carpet.

"We are helping ourselves, and living in a community, and we are quite happy, but we are not allowed to do that."

Up to 30 to 40 people live in the Runnymede Eco-Village and all grow plants and lived a natural lifestyle, close to a natural spring water well.

Mr Davies, 49, lives in a tipi made from locally-coppiced sycamore.

Image copyright Mark Kerrison/Demotix
Image caption Up to forty people are currently at the site - some couples are there with children

Since the group received eviction notices, members of the group have gone out to look for alternative sites in Englefield Green and Virginia Water.

Mr Davies said the children needed somewhere to live, and some of the community had nowhere else to go.

Planning authority Runnymede Borough Council said the developers were given permission to comprehensively develop the vacant site in 2012 and the latest four applications were for preparation works.

A statement issued by Orchid Runnymede said: "Although it has repeatedly been made clear to them that they are on the site illegally and without approval, Orchid Runnymede Ltd has been party to a peaceful co-existence with the squatters.

"However, the squatters are illegally on the land and the land is about to become a live construction site.

"That brings dangers to anyone on the site and Orchid Runnymede Ltd has a 'duty of care' and must follow the necessary regulations to prevent danger and injury that could occur if the squatters stay."

The developers said they had no choice but to ask the squatters to leave.

The statement added: "We very much hope they do this peacefully in the interests of all concerned."

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