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P.R.A.W.N.S. October 5, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

*** Dedicated to Ricardo***

One of teenage Beachcombing’s favourite films was Ealing Studios fabulous Passport to Pimlico that describes a small London borough seceding from the United Kingdom in the years after the Second World War. Classic scenes include a tube train jittering to a halt and a ladder coming down through the roof so Pimlico’s policeman can check the passports of outraged men in bowler hats.

There’s a lot to be said for such micronations – and, indeed, Beachcombing has tried to give them some publicity in the past. If according to many pundits they represent an infantile regression into the local and particular, to Beachcombing’s mind they are the proof that sovereignty is vested in individuals and communities: not  governments, their baubles or, God forbid, their bloated bureaucracies.

It is with great pleasure then that Beachcombing would like to give some publicity to a recent attempt to redraw the nation-state, one that escaped his notice the first time around, but that Ricardo has pointed out to him. In  January 2000 the Sussex village of Ashurst Wood (UK) unilaterally declared independence and founded the People’s Republic of Ashurst Wood Nation State (Prawns). Road blocks were mounted and according to Beach’s source, The Independent, ‘Prawns claim that King Ethelred granted the village of Ashurst, as it was then known, immunity from taxation in 1164 after he was taken ill in the area’.

This is doubtful as Ethelred had been dead two hundred years by then, but given the Independent’s recent record on truth, Beach is betting that this was that paper’s mistake rather than an error on the part of the newly-liberated citizens of Prawns.

And how do you go about setting up a nation state? Scour the archives.  The historical justification – in this case a charter – helps. Then, crucially a letter was sent to the Queen and the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Beach is betting that the Prawns never got a reply.

And why bother? Back in 2000 Prawns leader Mark Eichner, 43, a company director, said: ‘The motivation lies in the fact our village was losing its direction and identity. It started as a real joke in the pub but is now less so. A lot of people have been involved. Where it will go from here, who knows, but it is growing. We are sure to have an annual independence day.’

Did Prawn live on, in the hearts of at least a couple dozen activists? Or has it now withered on the vine of good ideas? Beachcombing would love to know. He would also love to know of any other recent attempts of lighthouses, parishes, valleys, islands and oil rigs to gain independence, particularly in the UK: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com As one of the characters put it in that magnificent film of sixty years ago: ‘We’re English and that’s why we’re Pimlicans!’

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6 Oct 2011: Talk about the perfidy of memory and the stupidity of Beachcombing in daring to trust his. Ed from secretplacesofitaly (look out for dwarf envy) writes in to say: ‘Thanks to the magic of Wikipedia: I see that Betty Warren’s exact line was, ‘We’ve always been English and we’ll always be English; and it’s precisely because we are English that we’re sticking up for our right to be Burgundians!’ Pimlico had been gifted to the lord of Burgundy. Amanda has sent in a rich selection of British micronations: Let’s start with Forvik quoting from the Forvik site: ‘To test my ideas [about the illegitimacy of Scottish or British rule in the Shetlands], a well-wisher gave me a small island (Forvik). I declared it a Crown Dependency and then spent every penny I had – first to design and build a boat to get access, then to build a house. Forvik is now like Shetland in microcosm. Once the lightbulb went off in my head that Forvik represents the true status of Shetland and that the existing authority is actually an illegal regime, it made it easy to answer questions like ‘Is it legal?’ – ”Don’t you need permission?’ and so on. The most significant point is that there has so far been no official challenge to any of my ‘unlawful’ activities. (I stopped paying Income Tax, VAT and Council Tax, built a house without planning permission, put a car on the road with Forvik number plates and tax disc and various other disobedient actions). The counter at the top of the page tells you how long these have been going on without challenge. The authorities have gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid engaging with me because they know they cannot justify their authority here. Then, as a meso nation, there is Mercia (the English Midlands). ‘We, representatives of the Mercian Constitutional Convention, have assembled here today in the heartland of Mercia to reaffirm and declare the legal independence of the region under The Constitution Of Mercia, which we have now published and which is available to all the people of the region upon request. We have spent over two years in careful deliberation and embrace this Constitution in order to re-create Mercia as an autonomous region, constructed as an organic democracy, based on holistic principles.’ Interestingly the Mercians have attempted to take possession of the recently discovered Staffordshire Hoard: MERCIAN nationalists have claimed ownership of the Staffordshire Hoard for the people of Stoke-on-Trent, Cheshire and the West Midlands. The Acting Witan of Mercia wants to create a separate nation state, made up of the 20 shires, including Staffordshire and Cheshire, which formed the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. They claim the Crown and UK Government has no legal authority over the region’s citizens, because William the Conqueror and his Norman army took Mercia by force in 1066. Yesterday Jeff Kent, convener of the Acting Witan, or government, of Mercia, visited the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, in Hanley, to claim ownership of the Staffordshire Hoard, on behalf of the people of Mercia. You get the idea. Then there is Sealand (another post another day). And Amanda also dug up this article (with a fabulous picture) of the beginning of a United Nations of Micronations. James M, meanwhile, who lives in Pimlico (!!) writes in to tell us that ‘one of Pimlico’s neighbouring boroughs, Brixton, is trying to get its own currency working’.  James also corrects the Independent’s date: According to Wikipedia, PRAWNS said its independence via Aethelred came in 979, when he was alive. It would be interesting to have a gander at this charter.  Thanks to Ed, Amanda and James M!

8 Oct 2011: Jonathan from A Corner of Tenth Century Europe write in on the question of Aethelred: ‘Apropos of your recent micro-nations post, it would indeed be interesting to have a look at that Ashurst charter; very little if anything like it would be known. You can inspect summaries and texts of all Aethelred’s known charters here: Nothing there looks even faintly relevant to me, certainly not from 979. In fact, none of Aethelred’s surviving grants appear to concern Sussex at all. More importantly, you’ll notice there’s nothing there at all to any kind of lay community; noblemen, churchmen, churches, servants, yes, all those, but a village charter is a much later phenomenon. Perhaps the date’s right and the king wrong! Perhaps PRAWNS have got something truly revolutionary in one of their attics! But until I see any more information, I’m inclined to call cobblers on the whole thing myself, sorry.’ Thanks Jonathan, let’s hope we haven’t put PRAWNS continued existence into crisis with this.

10 Oct 2011: Ersatz writes in with a fascinating case that it would be fun to better document: ‘A micronation you may have missed, was the Republic of Sandtoft, which was unilaterally declared independent in, I think, 1977? Around that time, I was living and working in the Isle of Axholme, which is close to the border between Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. The isle, historically, was an island surrounded by frequently flooded marshy fenland. King Charles I gave over the project of draining this marshe, thus creating valuable farmland, to one Cornelius  Vermuyden, and his company. The local people were not at all happy that they were to lose the fishing, wildfowling and hunting lands,  and set up in opposition, sabotaging the works, destroying dams and pumps, and generally harassing the dutch. It is claimed that the king gave the tiny island of Sandtoft to Vermuyden, setting it legally apart from England, so that Vermuyden could build there a fort, and dispatch transgressors. In the 1970s the landlord of the inn there, on studying the history, realised that Sandtoft had never been restored to the crown, and that Vermuyden had abandoned it. It was not a Dutch dependency either, therefore, he surmised, it might stand alone as a sovereign state. He had passports printed and car stickers, “RS” (republic of Sandtoft) and on april fools day ’77, or maybe ’78, he closed the borders.  The borders consist of three bridges, not more than a quarter mile apart.  He demanded a toll, paid to charity, from all who sought to pass. The national media came. Oh. And he said he’d be no longer paying rates…. At this, the local council bristled, a joke’s a joke, but… And they pointed out that they also could close borders. And all that Sandtoft needed came over those borders, including water, electricity, a big sewer…. The pub would be isolated from its supply of ale.  I think the republic might have existed for about four days, I’m not sure. Can’t find anything about it on the interwebs, so far, but I remember it personally. Some related axholme/ drainage stuff Thanks Ersatz!

28 Oct 2011: Sarah Washington very kindly writes in ‘my story is simply that I lived in this village from age 3 to 10 (I left in 1975), so was delighted when my father told me of the Prawns action and we visited the village together to see how it was working out. I am pretty sure I have a little video footage but I am not sure if I interviewed anyone on camera, I will have to check. What I do remember is that we went into the post office which was now acting as the Border Control, and I chatted to the people there and took some flyers. They said that the village pub had become the defacto Prawns HQ. I don’t have contact to any of them, but I guess it wouldn’t be too hard to track down some of those involved.’ Beachcombing is on this. Thanks Sarah!