The strange re-birth of liberal England has not reached Windsor Great Park, yet

No Vehicles and No Entry for Horses and Cycles onto the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park

No Vehicles and No Entry for Horses and Cycles onto the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park

I re-visited Windsor Great Park on the day, in May 2010, that Britain got a Liberal-Tory government and tried to ride my bike along the 4.26 km Long Walk. A flunky dashed out and told me to stop it. I offered to push the bicycle. He said this was forbidden. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘The Queen doesn’t like cyclists’, he told me. ‘I think I’ll become a republican’, I told him. ‘Me too’ he said. In the course of a long stroll up the Long Walk I noticed the above signs and was overtaken by many vehicles, including picturesque horse-drawn carriages, for paying guests, and a fleet of warden’s cars with no apparant purpose other than ridding the realm of pestilential cyclists. Those with money and power lord it over the poor plebs who pound their own pedals. ‘Twas ever thus’ you might think.
But there is hope for the future: our current Prime Minister (David Cameron) and the current the Mayor of London (Boris Johnson) are both cycle commuters – and it is hard to see Prince Charles as anything other than a postmodern liberal tory. Nick Clegg could buy a bike too. It’s a pity about the Queen but she does belong to another era and Windsor Castle remains the best symbol of what the best historian of French Gardens (Kenneth Woodbridge) saw as the Norman strand in British life. The Normans conquered England in 1066 and despite their origin in a tribal and pagan region (Scandinavia), what they brought to England was the centralist administration and palace civilization of West Asia (as modified by the Macedonians, the Romans, the Franks and the French). This may add up to a historical justification for banning cyclists from Windsor Great Park. But I hope Prince Charles removes the ban, when and if he acceeds to the British throne. It was the Norman Tendency which converted Anglo-Saxon-Viking England into the imperial power we know as Great Britain and it remains the case that more-recent immigrants think of themselves as ‘British Asians’, ‘Black British’ etc rather than ‘English Asians’, ‘Black English’ etc. ‘Civis Britanicus sum’ may be embedded in their psyches. Though also descended from immigrants, I feel more English than British – possibly because I do not like imperialism. Dunno.
Historians may view the UK’s 2010 election as a key event in the re-birth of the Liberal England. George Dangerfield said it had died (in a 1935 book on The Strange Death of Liberal England). Re-birth would please admirers of John Locke, John Russell, William Cobbett, William Gladstone and David Lloyd George. And it would please me. Liberalism is the grand theme of English politics – and of English garden design in the last 3 or 4 centuries. The best garden and landscape design has often had political themes. So it is very appropriate that English liberalism was reborn in a rose garden – despite the irony of roses being associated with Mary Gardens, Medieval Marianism and Catholic Toryism.

‘What passes for optimism is most often the effect of an intellectual error.’

Note The word ‘warden’ reached England in the early 13th century. It means ‘one who guards’ and derives from the Old Norman French wardein and from the Frankish warding, which derives from wardon ‘to watch or guard’. In about 1300 warden came to mean ‘governor of a prison’.

7 thoughts on “The strange re-birth of liberal England has not reached Windsor Great Park, yet

  1. Tom Turner Post author

    A great commentary from Matthew Parris – he too has risen to the occasion. My hope is that liberal (with a small ‘l’) will regain a positive evaluative connotation in politics. On Fox News it seems to rank with gay-commie-nigger-bastard but the etymology of liberal is: Latin liberalis “noble, generous,” literally “pertaining to a free man,” from liber “free,” from Proto-Indo-European base *leudheros (cf. Gk. eleutheros “free”), probably originally “belonging to the people”.
    I have speculated before about what form Political Parks might take: ‘Governments are run by parties. In The Politics of Park Design, Galen Cranz demonstrated the inseparability of parks from politics (Cranz, 1982). Only one government can run a country, but parks can be managed to suit all the political colours. A Capitalist Park would be privately owned and managed. We could expect a high standard of order, and high prices for the attractions. A Socialist Park would have everything run by the people for the people. A Social Democrat Park would have public facilities in public ownership but would use the market economy to run cafes, beer gardens, carousels, rides and other attractions. A Green Party Park would be planned with ecological objectives to conserve the world’s resources. In a Cooperative Park, people would work cooperatively for the greatest good of the greatest number. The results could provide an interesting commentary on political systems.’ But I forgot to consider what form a LIBERAL PARK might take. I guess the answer is that it would be a place where people are FREE to do what they want so long as they do not harm others. So its management would be more like a beach or a common than a municipal park (= ‘green desert with lollipop trees’). But what aesthetic character would a Liberal Park have?

  2. Christine

    Kenneth Lipartito in his review essay ‘Historian in the Rose Garden?’ (Technology and Culture Vol 41, no 3 (Jul 2000)p537) writing on the publication of a book by historians Richard Neustadt and Ernest May ‘Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-makers’:

    “History boldly launched itself into the field of policy studies, bidding to take its place with economics, political science and other fields that claim to present useful knowledge…Visions of White House invitations and Rose Garden Parties danced in the heads of who knows how many middle aged historians.”

    The rose garden replaced the colonial garden at the White House in 1913 under Mrs Ellen Wilson’s guidance.[ ] I was also able to find a photograph of the lady in question. [ ]

    Perhaps this is little help in finding an aesthetic for a liberal garden?

  3. Marian

    Galen missed out the Royalist park, where it is presumably advisable to avoid bicycles in case they scare the horses. (Perhaps revealing their deep atavistic fear of being made redundant – like so many humans who fear being usurped by robots to do the same job with less carbon emissions)

    On a more serious note – never mind the entomology of ‘warden’ – when did ‘dunno’ sneak into the spoken language? And via what political door did it come to be liberated for use as acceptable academics’ written vocabulary?

    The Urban Dictionary gives an amusingly democratic explanation of the word and its laborious usage, but no social history. The online Oxford English dictionary gives a conservative ‘No search results’ – but is that just a green and slippery slope to a dictionary ‘Dunno’?

  4. Christine


    I am not so sure that ‘liberal’ has the same meaning everywhere. Just how are ideas of ‘life, liberty and property’ translated into practice?

    For example in Canada [ ]

    Liberal means the ability to exercise a freedom. ie. something one has.

    Or for the Simpsons [ ]

    Liberal means un-freedom. ie. someone else has the freedom of..(power over)

    As defined in the dictionary [ ]

    Liberal means generosity of thought. ie. intellectual broadmindedness perhaps.

    So for Tom….the lady has the Park, someone else proposes to do something with it, perhaps she is unhappy because they lack generosity of thought. Dunno?

  5. Tom Turner Post author

    If the etymology of liberal is ‘free’ then I suppose there is an even better case than usual for its meaning being subject to mutation and interpretation. I feel a sentimental attachment to the word because (1) I like freedom (2) I am a little proud of the contribution England has made to ‘liberal’ politics (Magna Carta, John Locke, universal suffrage etc).

    Re ‘Dunno’, I am justly admonished but also a touch defensive. Compared to ‘I do not know’, I think it connotes a degree of humility/apology/economy.


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