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Ilkley Moor walking and singing event marks Magna Carta anniversary


A walking and singing event in celebration of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta is set to take place on Ilkley Moor on Sunday 14 June, commissioned by Leeds Beckett University and organised by Chumbawamba singer, Boff Whalley.

Commoners Choir by Casey Orr

Boff has assembled a team of singers, known as ‘Commoners Choir’, who will be leading a public walk across the Moor, whilst singing a series of original songs, written by Boff and centred around common people’s rights and entitlements to public land.

The walking and singing event was commissioned by Leeds Beckett’s Media and Place research team. Dr Lisa Taylor, a Principal Lecturer in Cultural Studies and Humanities at the University, explained: “Boff has written some excellent songs and we have already held one successful walking and singing event in Edale earlier this year. Our Magna Carta event will see the choir, and members of the public, walking through Ilkley Moor until we reach the famous Cow and Calf rocks, where will gather and perform our songs. Myself and my colleague, Jo Hassall, are enjoying being members of the choir. During our first event, I felt really moved and choked up when singing the songs all together, outside in the sun. It was a wonderful experience which we are looking forward to replicating on Ilkley Moor.

“Our research is interested in public engagement, with ideas about attachment to place, and all of our activities centre around getting people involved in creativity to celebrate and think about the idea of place. The singing and walking events aim to get us all thinking about land rights and access to common ground, whilst walking in northern spaces.”

The three mile walk is open to the public and there will be a commemorative booklet for each participant. The walk and performance will also include a short introduction from Boff to give the event a social, historical and cultural context. It is set to start from the Darwin Memorial Gardens, a short distance from Ilkley train and bus stations, at 12pm.

Boff said: “June 15th marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. When The Commons – large expanses of land that were farmed, worked and owned by the ordinary people of the country – were under threat from King John in 1215, a group of 'rebel barons' gathered to compose an edict that would put a stop to the plunder and would safeguard that land; at Runnymede they forced the King to put his name to the charter.

“Magna Carta Libertatum ('Great Charter of the Liberties') laid down a legal framework for protection of church rights, protection against illegal imprisonment, access to justice and limitations on payments made to the Crown. It was issued alongside the equally-important Charter of the Forest, which re-established rights of access and use of the forests by commoners.

“That we still, as a nation, celebrate this radical document disguises the fact that common land has over the centuries been gradually and systematically taken away from us; most of our rights over what used to be common land have been superseded by the rights of industry, the military, corporations and the wealthy (including, significantly, the Crown). Around three per cent of the land area of England is recognised as common land.

“Nevertheless there are scatterings of ancient common land not transformed by aggressive agriculture, city architecture or by landlordism, not least in and around West Yorkshire. The piece of music composed and sung by Commoners Choir on Ilkley Moor will celebrate the spirit of Magna Carta and champion the remnants of our common land.”

In April, Commoners Choir walked and sang to commemorate the 1932 Mass Trespass on Kinder Plateau. Forty members of the choir and friends walked from Edale in the Peak District to the summit of Kinder and sang a song written to remember the five people in 1932 who were imprisoned for walking those footpaths; and to celebrate the eventual victory that the Mass Trespassers won by initiating the re-opening of common land for walking and leisure.

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