Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Walking through the 17th Century around Painswick

Walking through the 17th Century around Painswick - Meet 5.30, the car park on Thursday 28th March
These are the points we shall note and discuss:
In March 1644, St. Mary’s Church in Painswick  “became both a prison and a redoubt.” Colonel Massey established a garrison there to further help protect Parliamentarian Gloucester. Royalists used cannon and grenades in their attack on the church, setting fire to the doors whilst also damaging the tower (possible evidence visible today). Parliamentary prisoners were kept there, one of whom was a Richard Foot, who scratched an inscription (derived from Spenser’s “Faery Queen”) upon a pillar: “Be bold, be bold, but not too bold.”
A walk down Beech Lane to Dell’s Farm will take you to a Friends’ Burial Ground, from 1658. The walled enclosure contains nine ledger slabs; the usual Quaker practice was a nameless internment. But what is of interest to us is the fact that this burial ground should exist, a stone’s throw away from the parish church. Quakers were not allowed burials within the Established Church (In 1655, the Grand Jury of Gloucestershire complained about such people as “Ranters, Levellers and atheists, under the name of Quakers”) and there was obviously a sizeable Quaker community in the area. So what does this suggest about radicalism in Painswick and our locality back then?
Brian Manning in “The Far Left in the English Revolution” points out that although the Levellers “provided much of the philosophy and programme of radicalism”, the Quakers were important too, and were to the “left” of the Presbyterians, Independents and Republicans who “dominated the revolution.” Christopher Cheeseman, a nationally famous Leveller, was also a Quaker and so we can imagine locals agreeing with a Quaker, who chastised the rich thus: “Because of your much earth, which by fraud, deceit, and oppression you have gotten together, you are exalted above your fellow creatures, and grind the faces of the poor, and they are as slaves under you…”
Many Quakers at this stage, had more in common with the Diggers, Ranters and other millenarian sects that wanted to turn “the world upside down” than with other groups, or indeed with the Society of Friends today. Just as the Digger, Gerard Winstanley believed that “Every one shall look upon each other as equal in the creation”, so Quakers believed in “equality in all things…” as humanity was “of one blood and mould, being the sons of Adam by nature, and all children of god by creation.” Having said that, we think that most Quakers, nationally, at this time, were more of a Leveller persuasion than of a Digger mentality; standing more for the rights of the owners of a small amount of property rather than for the rights of the landless.
But if we also recollect Christopher Hill’s point that Gloucestershire was a county where Lollardy survived from the Middle Ages through to the Reformation, and we also note that John Ball’s Peasant Revolt adage, “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” survived 300 years and was part of the oral culture of many at this time, then it is not, perhaps, over fanciful to imagine our area as a radical one. Painswick’s burial ground may be just the visible indication of a much wider hidden history: the Quakers made a lot of ground with Gloucestershire’s weavers in the 1650s. It is, therefore, perhaps, quite logical to imagine a degree of local agreement with the Diggers’ equation of unfair government with the Antichrist:
 “ government that gives liberty to the gentry to have all the earth, and shut out the poor commoners from enjoying any part, ruling by tyrannical law…this is the government of…Antichrist…” (Winstanley).
This is an important reminder to us, gentle readers: when we recreate the outlook of our radical forebears, we must remember that their consciousness makes no division between the spiritual and the mundane, between the celestial and the political. We must also remember the gentleness of the Quakers in their daily discourse: then, etiquette demanded that one address a social superior with the word “you”; “thou” was seen as a term of familiarity; needless to say, Quakers used “thou” to all, as a sign of their recognition of the equality of individuals.
But we must still accept that, in general, the Quakers were not quite as radical as the communistic Diggers, with their famous agrarian commune at St. George’s Hill, in Buckinghamshire (although a1659 contemporary viewed a Quaker as “ a sower of sedition, or a subverter of the laws, a turner of the world upside down…”). This is the Digger community that is remembered but a further 10 or so Digger communities were attempted across England – and in 1650, a “rude multitude” destroyed landlords’ fences near Frampton and Slimbridge. (Slimbridge must have been quite a place then for direct action – similar stuff had happened in the Civil War and as long ago as 1631.) The cavalry had to be called out to quell the disturbances. It is of importance to note, here, that at this stage in the evolution of Quakerism, there was no, as it were, doctrinal commitment to pacifism: we can imagine the support there must have been for the local Diggers. There may also have been passive support for the Leveller Mutiny, whose ringleaders were executed at Burford Church, where musket ball marks can be seen. There was probably knowledge about, and passive support for the anti-enclosure disturbances in the Forest of Dean; troops had to be called out there too.
So when we walk the 17th century around Painswick, we are walking arm in arm with forgotten ghosts, but ghosts who left no calling cards. The anonymous, by definition, left no personal records of their beliefs; there is no vast archival collection; we have to use historical imagination rather than surviving sources sometimes to recreate the past. Or, literature:
"ELEGY WRITTEN IN Description: http://www.blupete.com/Gifs/blank.gifA COUNTRY CHURCH-YARD"
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share,

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the Poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye Proud, impute to these the fault
If Memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.
Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way…

For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonour'd dead,
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate, --

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away,
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn;

'There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high.
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

'Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Muttering his wayward fancies he would rove;
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or crazed with care, or cross'd in hopeless love.

'One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,
Along the heath, and near his favourite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;…

By Thomas Gray (1716-71).

Friday, 22 March 2013

The Prince Albert

I like visiting the Albert, I like the way it commands a crossroads,
Welcoming all cardinal points of the compass,
Just like a traditional inn should.
I like visiting the Albert in springtime, When vases of flowers greet you in the bar,
With vernal fragrance and equinoctial promise,
Stretching into blossoming infinity.
I like summer drinking in the Albert, With a pint of Alton’s Pride,
It’s like an infusion of Thomas Hardy,
With every novel you’ve ever read
Returning like a Native.
I like autumn drinking in the Albert,
When mists and mellow fruitlessness
Entwine themselves around the eaves,
Like a Woman in White.
I like winter drinking in the Albert,
Sledging down the snow-scaped common,
Then in the bar for mulled ale and wine,
Just like we’re in A Christmas Carol.
I like chatting in the Albert,
With a catholic clientele of Prince and Pauper,
And the occasional Sheriff of Nottingham.
I like walking around the Albert,
With a boulevard and a bowling green,
A welcome in the streets, a chat on the allotments,
It’s like the Orwell pub of his dreams.
I like the smokers at the Albert,
They congregate out the back,
Their stories are always good,
Just like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
I like sitting in the Albert,
With its sofas, armchairs and ornaments,
It’s like the day when war broke out.
So I only visit the Prince Albert,
It’s the sans pareil of Stroud,
Once visited, then,
There is nowhere else to go.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Gainey's Well

Do you know Gainey’s Well?
I know you’ve probably heard of it,
You can obviously google it,
But that’s not knowing it, is it?
It’s only knowing of it.

It lies at the end of a street with a rec,
Through a seeming suburban garden,
(That is in fact a secret pathway)
Where surprises, incongruities, improbabilities,
And the most fantastical impossibilities,
Reside both outside and inside
Of what appears to be a normal garden shed,
(Or marooned saloon family car garage)
Brick walls, tiled roof, lock and bolt on the door.

Outside this anonymously average structure,
Air vents rise up from an underground reservoir;
Inside, a roaring welter in the darkness,
Serpentine subterranean tunnels,
Pulsing water, limestone walls,
A limitless liquid mine,
Fed from Cotswold gravel beds of 800 acres,
More Stroud’s River Styx than aquifer,
A vault of torrential force in the abyssal depths.

Beneath the pavements the beach?
Beneath the lawn the abyss.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

A Collective Memory of a Collective Walk

The March day saw the lion lie down with the lamb,
With a cold, chaste air, but still and dry;
It was the week of President Chavez’s death,
And we walked up Spring Lane to Hemlock Well,
Where there has been a well since 1618,
Two years before the Pilgrim Fathers sailed for the Americas,
The year of Walter Raleigh’s execution,
Paying the price for a failed El Dorado;
We then walked to Gainey’s Well,
Air vents above the hidden reservoir,
Water cascading through subterranean tunnels,
In a secret garden where we peer behind the veil,
The veil that obscures the world beneath your feet,
For underneath the pavement the beach,
Where water was first piped to Stroud, in 1769,
The year that Captain Cooke landed in New Zealand,
In Poverty Bay, and observed the transit of Venus,
The year when Daniel Boone explored Kentucky,
West of the Appalachians and the Ohio,
Six years before Stroud-scarlet redcoats became the enemy.
But we looked down to the Slad Brook and the Frome,
Saw the scarlet stretched on tenterhooks,
Heard the water-wheels course through the foam,
Saw the weavers who drank from Hemlock and lived up Dryhill,
Bodies coming and leaving and straggling in bits,
Walking with mothers springing to mind,
Water bursting forth,
Stroud-steep hills leaking like a colander over pebbled moss paths,
Watery water walking walk,
Slippery bank to frothing heavenly spout,
A cat lady showing us not one but two wells in her forest,
T’was lovely to discover some hidden gushers,
The streams, spouts and springs that flow beneath,
Dogs into cats, cats into dogs, outside a well,
Happiness and sadness, Basil is gone.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Next Walk, Sunday, March 10th: Stroud, the Heavens and Flann O'Brien

Who Needs Google Earth?
I know that debate rages, dear readers, within you and without you, as to the respective merits of Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman” and his wonderful “At Swim Two Birds”. Personally, I probably enjoy re-reading the latter even more than the former; be that as it may, it is the Policeman that we need to guide us on our next walk: Mothering Sunday, March 10th. Meet outside the Prince Albert at 11.15 or outside the Crown and Sceptre at 12.30 for a walk around the Heavens and the Edgelands of Stroud – three hours at the most, then into Number 23 in Nelson Street for a chinwag in the bistro.
But here is your preparatory reading:
Chapter 3 in Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman” has a diverting section on walking, emanating from the pen of the imaginary mad-savant, de Selby. O’Brien’s eccentric, but, alas, fictional genius, saw roads as “the most ancient of human monuments, surpassing by many tens of centuries” the most ancient of stone edifices created by humanity. De Selby talked of “the tread of time” and how “a good road will have character and a certain air of destiny, an indefinable intimation that it is going somewhere, be it east or west, and not coming back from there.” The unconstrained thoughts of de Selby led him to the conclusion that “If you go with such a road…it will give you pleasant travelling, fine sights at every corner and a gentle ease of peregrination that will persuade you that you are walking forever on falling ground.” I am sure you can see the converse: “…if you go east on a road that is on its way west, you will marvel at the unfailing bleakness of every prospect and the great number of sore-footed inclines…”
De Selby also wrote of urban walking, of “a complicated city with nets of crooked streets and five hundred other roads leaving it for unknown destinations.” Needless to say, “a friendly road” “will always be discernible for its own self and will lead you safely out of the tangled town.” Thus, I think we can say that we do not need Google Earth or even an OS map to guide us both into Stroud and out towards the Heavens or Rodborough Fields or the Slad Valley. Instead, we might carry a copy of Colin Ward’s “Talking Green”, stopping to look at paragraph two on age 44: “Cherished corners of the landscape can be changed beyond recognition in a few hours. Trees, streams, footpaths, buildings, symbols of permanence which transcend ownership, may suddenly disappear.”
Just as the price of liberty might be eternal vigilance, so might be the price of the right road.