Tuesday, 20 August 2013

We put on our best blouses, aprons and hats

I’ll never forget last Tuesday, even if I live to seventy.
We all woke up so excited, never eaten porridge so fast.
We put on our best blouses, aprons and hats
(We mightn’t have looked as fine as Miss Austen’s ladies,
But it’s not as though they’ve got the vote either),
The men shaved their chins, put on their caps,
Moleskin trousers and fustian waistcoats,
And out we strode into the lane.
Such a sight you never did see!
Hundreds of working men, women and children,
All marching in an orderly line past our cottage,
And serpentine lines climbing up every valley side,
There must have been thousands!
All laughing and cheering, but sore determined,
Determined to get our rights and right our wrongs.
Just think about what’s happened since the last campaign –
High price of bread. Wages down. Short time working.
Long hours for those who have work.
Tolpuddle Martyrs. The Poor Law. The Workhouse.
The Bible tells us to nurture each other in sickness and in health,
But the Workhouse rents us all asunder!
So it was such a joy to see them all,
See them all streaming from Stroud, Woodchester, Uley, Wotton,
The Stanleys, Selsley, Cainscross, Minchinhampton, Painswick,
Rodborough, Stonehouse, Randwick, Ruscombe, Bisley,
Slad, Steanbridge, Nailsworth, Avening, Horsley,
Bands playing, music flowing, banners streaming:
‘ Liberty’; ‘Equal Rights and Equal Laws’;
‘For a Nation to be Free it is Sufficient that She wills it’.
Then the banners from the Working Men’s Associations,
And the Radical Women’s Associations,
Then the handbills and placards listing our six points:
Universal Suffrage; Secret Ballot; Payment of MPs;
Abolition of the property qualification for MPs;
Payment of MPs; Annual Parliaments;
Then the speeches up there on top of the common:
‘We must have the 6 points’;
‘Peaceably if we may, forcibly if we must’;
‘Those damnable Poor Law Bastilles are worse than prisons’;
‘May the Almighty inspire the people with vigour and energy’;
Then the cheers for our Chartist leaders and groans for Russell’s name;
It was such a day and life will never be the same again:
Russell says we do not understand the laws of capital and wages –
But we do my Lord. We do.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Stroud’s Aboriginal Dreaming Songline

On Friday August 2nd, I followed some old holloway from Woodchester into Water Lane, up through shadowed woodland and so to Selsley Common. As we  (Walking the Land) climbed the common, we began to wonder if our seemingly modern path could be a continuation of the previous holloway, broken horizontally by the Stroud – Uley road. This led to conjecture: how many of our Stroud Valleys' tracks and holloways might be part of a prehistoric network, interlinking the barrows on the hilltops and valley sides?
Tim Copeland, in his ‘Archaeological Walking Guide – The Cotswold Way’, writes about ‘the importance of the River Severn in the landscape’, when viewed from the Cotswold Way: ‘The River Severn, the Roman Sabrina, must have been of special mystical significance due to its surge wave or ‘bore’ …the effect on people in the prehistoric past must have been dramatic.’ That’s still the case even today, in some ways.
With so many barrows in our area (‘Neolithic long barrows are a haunting feature of the Cotswold Way. Of the 500 examples in England and Wales there are 200 in the Cotswold/Severn region, of which at least 20 lie along the route of the National Trail or in the parishes alongside it.’), it will be an autumnal delight to take out the OS maps, locate prehistoric sites, and find interconnecting paths. We have a lot of prehistoric sites to interconnect: Randwick, Woodchester, Selsley, Nympsfield, Minchinhampton, Avening, Horsley, King’s Stanley, Leonard Stanley, Uley, and so on.
The long barrow on Selsley Common would seem to be the consequent ideal spot for some mythopoeic musing. The sublimity of the Severn sunset cloudscape; the sweeps of light across ‘the enigmatic shapes of the hills’; the majesty of the Black Mountains - all conspire to shift modern consciousness and take us to another time. And this is where the Aborigines come in.
On the day after our walk the Guardian carried a report from Sydney (Bridey Jabour and agencies) about a mining firm that was guilty of ‘desecrating and damaging an Aboriginal sacred site’ …’estimated to be tens of thousands of years old.’ ‘Community representative Gina Smith said the site was part of a dreaming songline.”Like a railway line, each sacred site represented a different station along the way,” she said.'
Perhaps we have a dreaming songline right on our Cotswold Way doorstep, up there on Selsley Common, or Painswick Beacon or Haresfield.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Giffords Circus, Minchinhampton Common, August 2013

 When Giffords Circus pitches up on your green,
Conventional wisdom is mesmerised:
Enter the Big Top’s strange circumference
And Euclid’s straight-line space-time dissembles
Before your very eyes, Ladies and Gentlemen!
All is magick, spectral, alchemical,
Performers and audience conjoined in spectacle:
Clowns, dancers, musicians, tumblers, artists,
Balancers, acrobats, aerialists,
Fire-eaters, madcaps, funambulists,
Calumniators, vituperators,
A faux dancing bear, contortionists,
Backbiters and nonchalant trapezists;
A post-modernist rewrite of ‘Hard Times’,
Coketown, Bounderby and Gradgrind vanquished
By Mr. Sleary’s travelling circus:
What is your definition of a horse?
‘Quadruped. Graminivorous.’
‘You musn’t fancy,’ cried the gentleman …
‘Fact, fact, fact!’ said the gentleman,
And ‘Fact, fact, fact,’ repeated Mr. Gradgrind;
But welcome to Giffords Circus:
Fantasy, insight and ingenuity,
Invention, intelligence and imagery,
Chimeras, inspiration, flights of fancy,
Where nothing is what it seems,
And certainty is a fool’s paradise,
In Giffords Circus, Theatre of Dreams.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

These are my memories of what I saw and did, together with others in the Stroudwater Valleys in 1825

These are my memories of what I saw and did, together with others in the Stroudwater Valleys in 1825. I know I am supposed to show remorse but I cannot dissemble. I have no remorse. My name is Charlotte Alice Ayliffe Bingham and I am 25 years old.
It was after Eastertide, at the end of April, when we had enough of not having enough. Me and my sisters Sarah and Elisabeth and my mother are spinners. My brothers, Tom and Sam, and my father are weavers. We had been working ever longer time for ever cankered pennies all the year. Something needed doing.
So we laid our shuttles and looms to rest and joined the Stroud Valleys Weavers Union. I straightway joined 50 others at a congregation at Ham Mill. There was 700 of us the next day. We threw the clothier Marling in the brook.
We all joined the next assembly a few days later. 200 of us congregated at Vatch Mills. There were 3,000 of us by the following evening. We baptised more strike breakers and master clothiers’ men in Mr. Holbrow’s fish pond. I won’t name names but the same happened at Woodchester, Minchinhampton, Frogmarsh, Chalford and Bisley. It was all over Stroudwater. The stone masons then joined in. They were angry about the Combination Acts. The carpenters and millwrights joined them too.
So the gentry swore in special constables. Then the Hussars rode in a couple of days later. When we re-congregated they read the Riot Act. So we threw stones at them. They dispersed us with horse and swish of sabre. A friend was arrested for selling ‘The True British Weaver’, so more congregations followed: Break Heart Hill near Dursley, then 3,000 on Stinchcombe and then 6,000 on Selsley.
If anyone broke the strike then we stuck them backwards on a horse and paraded them through the lanes while we all beat pots and pans in a cacophony of rejection. I think they stuck them on beams from looms in Chalford and then pushed them in the canal and brook. They read the Riot Act there too.
We kept it going though. The next big congregation was in Stroud at the end of August. We called for the release of our friends in prison. But that was nothing compared to what was going on in Wotton-under-Edge. The leader of the weavers there mocked the Hussars by calling himself ‘General Wolfe’. He led several congregations in the open air and in the Swann. Then they set cloth and loom beams ablaze. Stones were thrown and windows smashed. The clothiers replied with muskets.
This is my true and faithful account. I cannot dissemble. The Good Book tells us that we should get our bread by the sweat of our brow. We had the sweat but no bread. What could we do?

(As EP Thompson said, it’s all about rescuing people from ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’. Some of my direct ancestors were Ayliffes and Binghams and were handloom weavers and spinners. This imaginary account from an imagined voice is based on sources used by John Loosley in his ”The Stroudwater Riots of 1825”. I also used  Religion and Society in a Cotswold Vale: Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, 1780-1865” by Urdank.)