These are my thoughts on how UK society, in particular, got to where it is today and ideas on how we could move forward.
Firstly, here is my view of who we are, where we came from and how our society became what it is today, starting with a history of settlement in what we now call the United Kingdom.
History of our population
As a country or an island that allowed its first permanent inhabitants after the last ice age and this website shows the tribes living here at the time of the Roman occupation.The 8th and 9th Centuries brought the Viking settlers who ended up settling in the Dane Law part of the country, which made a contribution to the creation of the modern English language and there was a time of peace until the Normans invaded in 1066.
William The Conqueror commissioned the biggest land grab to date when the 1% of Normans relocating north of channel managed to wrangle land from the native Anglo Saxons in the 11th Century using the Doomsday Book as a kind of cloak in dagger census..
The Normans brought us the Plantagenets, later followed by a decidedly tenuous claim to the throne by the Tudors, following which Scottish monarch James became king of England and Scotland as James I. Meanwhile the country was getting fed up with being told to be Catholic or President and the thwarted Gun Powder Plot tried to deliver this message to parliament. James’ son Charles I ended that little dynasty when he threw a tantrum and disbanded parliament, resulting in the Parliamentarian win of the civil war and the austere Puritans took over, until they decided to hot-foot it to the new exciting land on the other side of the Atlantic.
After Oliver Cromwell’s son let all the new ideas go to pot and Charles, then James II did such rubbish jobs of ruling that William of Orange was brought in with his beacon-coloured carrots in 1689, who reigned alongside his wife Anne, the protestant daughter of James II. They were succeeded by Anne, James’ II daughter, who didn’t produce an heir but was monarch when England and Scotland united to create Great Britain.
To keep things protestant, albeit through the Stuart line, after Anne died, the succession passed down through Elizabeth and Sophia of Bohemia to her son; the first of the German Georges. George brought in the Hanoverian lineage, descendants of which changed their name to Windsor in 1917.
Society, Power, Money and Land
After Elizabeth I, Bess of Hardwick was the next richest woman in England and she built and lived in Chatsworth House, quite often in the company of Mary Queen of Scots, under house arrest ordered by Elizabeth I. Bess rose up in English wealth and society, albeit, through marriage, however she was a shrewd business woman, investing in mines and glass works and it was the Cavendish/Duchess of Devonshire lineage that provided for the quarantined village of Eyme in the Peak District during the Plague of 1666.
However, women’s position in society had become merely decorative by Georgian times and a later Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana, who was an activist and novelist, had much less to do than she could have taken on, leading to a life of gambling, debt, isolation, loneliness, depression and eventual early death. Sadly, women from the upper classes in Georgian times were left to throw regular all-nightrs at the Faro table, from where debts brought about the start Coutt’s bank.
English social history offers up some interesting clues that could tell us how we have ended up with an economic elite that protects itself with its wealth.
Censorship and Dealing with Dissent against the Status Quo.
Some interesting things began to develop in English history around this time. From 1792 – 1917, a private mental asylum existed in Ticehurst, Sussex, which housed many inmates from the British Bourgeoisie. Political power held by women in society – as I have started down that road – is greatly effected in this not inconsiderable time period. The Lunacy Laws of Victorian Britain were unregulated and open to collusion and corruption between greedy relatives, doctors and asylum keepers to section wealthy people in order to grab their assets. Here is the Guardian’s review of Sarah Wise’s book “Inconvenient People“, which gives the example of Edward Davies of Oakfield House in Crouch End, who was committed by his own mother.
Once admitted, there was no procedure for the patient to appeal against detention. They could, however, be discharged on the application of a relative or friend, as long as they confirmed that they would take proper care of the patient and prevent them from injuring themselves or others.
In a male-dominated sector, ‘alienists’ was the term used for psychiatrists, women could be committed to mental asylums, as it says here:
A woman who rebelled against Victorian domesticity risked being declared insane and committed to an asylum. This was usually at her husband’s or father’s request, and she generally had no right to contest or appeal. Women were further disempowered by moral treatment once locked away.
People were under house arrest too, without proper regulation, some were even tied up and locked in small spaces.Virginia Woolf, the writer, was detained for mental health reasons in her home in Sussex by her caring, but law-abiding husband and eventually Woolf took her own life in 1941.
I believe it is well worth using this period of Lunacy Laws to look at how, in our national style of minimalist communication, people could become afraid that their voice and liberty could be taken from them. However, there were people who fought back.
One lady who fought hard to keep her freedom was Mrs Weldon, born Georgina Thomas, who was a divorcee living at Tavistock House in London, which was previously occupied by Charles Dickens. On page 353 of the paperback edition of Inconvenient People, Sarah Wise writes:
“Like the Claimant, Mrs Weldon had huge appeal for those who feared the mysterious power of doctors and lawyers and believed that a supine parliament had failed to check the rise of the sinister professional classes. The wronged wife was still a highly attractive rallying point for a populace sickened by incidents in which wealth and power appeared to have silenced and crushed those they found inconvenient”
Mrs Weldon brought about the fall of alienist Dr Lyttleton Stewart Forbes Winslow who had inherited his father’s practice and had gained income from two madhouses, Horror stories of how people were treated at this time could have done nothing but suppress those who wished to speak up for decent social conduct.
As depicted in the comedy To The Manor Born, an end to the idea of the noblesse oblige came about in 1980s, when inherited peers and their families were no longer able to afford to upkeep their ancestral homes and sold them to the highest bidder, a new kind of wealthy person who had no connections to the community and set about dismantling traditions, agreements, events and traditions that had existed for years and expected social customs were wiped out.
With new sources of wealth, brought about by new government legislation, tax breaks, off-shores, inheritance, stock market windfalls, white-collar crime, huge bank bonuses and the chance to lawfully get away with unfair corporate practices such as irresponsible care of people’s pensions and investments, as well as the belittlement of the working people, the richest in the land were able to go off into their own social enclave and no longer be answerable to the locality, because they had no links to the land on which they lived.
Many changes have occurred, as we have all seen through recent history and during our lifetimes and those of our recent forbears, during the 20th Century, bringing us to 1970s and 1980s. This is when I was brought up in a rural and spread out village in Surrey from around 1973 onwards. When my family first moved there, we were regarded as ‘Townees” as we had come down from London. However there were many young families in and around that my parents became friends with and their children became my friends.
The village was known as ‘linear’ as it was relocated from its original natural and ancient position and built as a quarantine during the plague with detached houses spread out along the road. People who bought these houses were well off, mostly through successful business ventures, the wish to raise families with more space for leisure, pets and outdoor activities and there were many opportunities to be involved in the community, with village fetes, cricket, harvest festivals, amateur dramatics, Sunday School, two pubs and a British Legion, village shops, a village hall, fun events such as three-legged races as well as serving your community such as church flowers and Meals on Wheels.
This did not prevent loneliness and isolation from spreading around, which brings me towards my conclusion on how our current social and economic elites could be motivated and enticed to engage with their communities: for their own health and well-being.
Somehow, people locked into enclaves or social circles by wealth – the super rich tribe – could be persuaded to take on projects with some kind of return, but that could be in a feel good warm glow, peace of mind and ongoing health and happiness rather than $$. I thought up an idea, but realise my mindset is very different from these people, the type who have loads of money and think (yes, think only) they want more.
Health Self Interest
If only someone would set up an organisation that comprised investments, overseas aid and global enterprise, creative production, patents pending – like the film investment companies that made Withnail and I for example – combined with psychology, alternative or natural medicine and life coaching under roof, as they could set out with their marketing, advertising, ambassadors and sponsorship to reach only an exclusive and rich clientele who would get qualified and expert one to one consulting on how to budget for the best life (slogan?) and work out how much they have to invest in a range of projects that inspire and excite them.
I believe everyone needs to be useful. All sorts of people throughout society have ended up with their contribution and participation in society being dispensed with and this includes “super rich” people. Look at every single film that contains a rich versus poor story line. Do you ever see a happily occupied rich person free of all social constraints and with complete freedom to go and do what they want? Think of “In Time” for example, when poor people’s body clocks stop when they are 21 and they have to work for extra minutes.
My idea is a well-regulated organisation of professionals is set up (by some social entrepreneur) that can go to all the polo matches and other events attended by super rich and they start to talk to people to see what their interests are, to stir up their inner passions and persuade them to come to a meeting.
The organisation then offers them a holistic consultation to set them up with a charitable, tax efficient identity to manage and place their wealth into bespoke funds that are linked to real people, projects and produce. It could be music, film, art, public services, conservation or helping refugees. However the fund would be named after its owner – could be floated on the stock exchange if, for example, someone invested in African art from renewable sources and their sale on the international market brought a return. This could increase the world’s appreciation of real, handmade crafts rather than junk from exploitative factories. This in turn could unleash skilled workers the world over to create their own products and not be dependent on companies that underpay. This in turn could affect the global income gap.
The person with an empty life of meaningless social engagements involving alcohol, pretending and loneliness would be replaced by one of worldwide acclaim, social enterprise, power and contribution.