Saturday, 23 August 2014

Newnham and World War One

My mate Bob sent me this feature from the Citzen about Newnham on Severn:

Commemorative plaques are being placed on walls of homes and public buildings to remember those villagers who fought in, died in, or returned from the Great War. This summer will see eight blue plaques for survivors, but forty-one black plaques for those who died.

Blue plaques represent the soldiers who survived the war and returned to Newnham, while black plaques immortalise the 41 men who left the Forest of Dean village to join the war effort and never returned home.
The treasurer of the Newnham History Group, Nigel Haig told the Citizen that: “There has been a huge interest in the village for this project, which we’re really grateful for. They have been really supportive.”
This was too interesting to ignore and as the plaques will be up for the month of August only, I caught the number 23 from Gloucester on August 21st (btw a Stagecoach explorer ticket got me from Stroud to Newnham and back for £6.50) and made my way to the other side of the river.

It felt like an Ivor Gurney and Will Harvey charabanc ride:
Red apple orchards, sleepy old railway lines,
A slow, stippled, brown mud Severn,
Cyclists, church spires, village fetes,
The smell of farms and the tramp of farmers’ boys,
Big sky cumulus clouds and wood clad hillsides –
So much so that I screened out the electricity pylons,
The endless fields of sweet corn and the relentless traffic
(52 casualties in three years on this busy road),
Until I reached the broad thoroughfare of Newnham,
Where I went hunting for blue plaques.

I started at the top of the street and worked my down,
Then back up again to the bus stop by the church:
The plaques are heritage blue and are of paper rather than metal,
They sit unobtrusively on the walls of shops, cottages and houses,
And will remain there until the end of the month, but
The first ones to catch my eye were on the church wall:
(Every single plaque, whether blue or black, has the same title:
‘The Great War 1914-1918    The men who went to war’,
And then underneath those two lines is the citation)
Three black and three blue on the left hand side of the church gate,
Two black and three blue on the right hand side, two more black,
Then another blue at the lych-gate, then blues down the High Street,
Until two more black at Bailey’s Stores, on the corner of Station Road,
With four blues underneath; then more blues up the High Street,
Until another black (with four blues) at Camerons, Dean Road corner,
Then another black plaque and three more blue plaques,
Before I reached the bus stop opposite the church…

This tells only a part of Newnham’s statistical story,
But this wall marking forcefully shows the density
And extensity of the men who marched away from Newnham,
Whilst the citations tell a vivid tale of a world that has gone,
I choose just four before ‘each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds’:
‘James Ferris Enlisted 1914-aged 25 Private, 8th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, Son of James Ferris,
Harbour Master at Bullo Pill Docks’;
‘Stephen Brobyn, Corporal Shoeing-Smith, 46th Brigade,
Royal Field Artillery, Killed in action December 1918,
Son of Robert Brobyn of Church Road’;
‘Edward Archibald Crofton McLaughlin
2nd Lieutenant, 7th Seaforth Highlanders
Killed in action November 1915 aged 20
Son of Vivian McLaughlin,
Headmaster of Brightlands, Church Road’;
‘Herbert Guy Bromlow McLaughlin
2nd Lieutenant, 3rd Seaforth Highlanders
Killed in action October 1916 aged 18
Son of Vivian McLaughlin,
Headmaster of Brightlands, Church Road’;
I looked across at the dilapidated Victoria Hotel,
I could see them all there, having a last pint,
Before walking down the High Street, then along Station Road,
Where so many roads led to France, the loss of innocence
And the loss of the world of Edward Thomas:
“Have many gone
From here?” “Yes.” “Many lost?”  “Yes; a good few.
Only two teams work on the farm this year.
One of my mates is dead. The second day
In France they killed him…”
“… ‘It was back in March,
The very night of the blizzard, too. Now if
He had stayed here we should have moved the tree.’
‘And I should not have sat here. Everything
Would have been different. For it would have been
Another world.’ ‘Ay, and a better, though
If we could see all all might seem good,’ Then
The lovers came out of the wood again:
The horses started and for the last time
I watched the clods crumble and topple over
After the ploughshare and the stumbling team.”

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Robin the Poet: Rodborough Fields

Here's a poem I wrote about the proposed (and still lurking) development plans on Rodborough Fields. It's vital to keep these things in present consciousness lest we let slip our guard! (note: you may notice in the poem that the Lion is Lion Court, the modern day developers, and the Lamb is referring to sheep and hence the old cloth trade that once had its racks of drying cloth stretched out on Rodborough Fields.)

       THE LION AND THE LAMB (written during 2012/13 when a proposed development threatened to destroy Rodborough Fields, an old hay meadow, with medieval ridge and furrow preserved in its turf)

       The Lion is coming to Stroud, 
       Rodborough Fields like a lamb plays without knowing the shadow coming;
       coming to grab its blossom bright fleece,
       where butterflies abound.  
       Down in the Stroud Valley,
       the Lion's roar will be heard,
       as JCB diggers get their claws in; 
       tearing to pieces its meadowy coat, 
       gouging out its buttery throat. 
         As Lamb bleats for its life, 
         the butterflies will rush away in a cloud,
         filling the sky between Butterow and Spillmans.
         Lion shall stamp and toss,
         Lamb broken into the Frome brook below;  
         where kingfishers in fear will stay clear,
         of the once peaceful stream.
        As Lion roars, 
        flattening the fields,
        the concrete will go down, 
        and walks through wild flowers will drown.  
         And no more will the Lamb play, 
         or you for that matter, 
         because the open fields of Rodborough
         are closing behind the property developer's desk.  

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Peterloo: Commentary (Part Four)

Henry Hunt was a West Country man (by no means forgotten!) and a follower of the radical Sir Francis Burdett. The parliamentary reformer, Edmund Cartwright, toured the country in 1812-13, holding meetings north and south, including Stroud; who knows, perhaps Hunt visited Stroud, himself.
After imprisonment, Hunt eventually became a Radical MP for Preston. He was an ardent campaigner against the 1832 Reform Act (which essentially gave the vote to the middle classes, despite the involvement of mass working-class action for an extension of the franchise) and his commitment to the Great Northern Union helped bring about the formation of Chartism after his death.
We could commemorate Hunt (not at all forgotten) and Peterloo, therefore, with a local walk and a sing-song on Selsley Hill, site of the 1839 Chartist mass-meeting.

Here is some more detail about the planned commemorative events in Manchester, as reported by Paul Britton on August 7th in the Manchester Evening News, with added comment from me:
Walkers will retrace the routes to Manchester taken by tens of thousands of campaigners before the infamous Peterloo Massacre’ as part of a campaign to create a memorial in the city centre to the fallen.
‘Eighteen people were killed and hundreds injured when cavalry and soldiers charged a peaceful rally’ for working class votes on August 16, 1819.
‘They had walked to St Peter’s Field in Manchester – now part of St Peter’s Square’ and there was a ‘bloody massacre’; anger accelerated when the Prince Regent’s government congratulated the Manchester J.P.s on their action.
‘Paul Fitzgerald, chairman of the Peterloo Memorial Campaign,’ said ‘the lack of a memorial in Manchester was a “neglected landmark in the history of democracy…
We hope these marches will be the first step in our aim to recreate the entire web of thousands of people who marched into the city centre on that fateful day.
Interest in remembering the massacre has been growing at an amazing rate in the last five years and by the 200th anniversary in 2019, we’re hoping that every town that originally sent protesters will have a presence at the ‘Peterloo Picnic’ we’re in the process of planning. We invite everyone interested to join us on the day.”
The various marches will converge at 1pm at the site of the original protest, the plaza in front of the Manchester Central convention centre. The names of the dead will be read out in front of civic dignitaries.
After the ceremony at 3pm, musicians from the Middleton delegation will stage their performance of a play called ‘Soldiers on the Rampage’ at the People’s History Museum.
A smaller ceremony will be held on the actual anniversary, August 16, beneath the Peterloo plaque at the Radisson Edwardian Hotel.’
For details, email

Even though the lyrics centre on ‘my boys’, there was a large number of women present at the meeting (about 10% of a total of at least 60,000 demonstrators), including many members of the newly formed female reform societies, with a goodly number dressed symbolically in white, forming all women contingents, carrying their own flags. There were over 650 casualties; some 170 were women, four of whom died either on the fields, or later as a result of wounds.
Armed insurrection seemed only too possible after the official reaction to ‘Peterloo’ – and even though government spies and agents-provocateurs infiltrated the radical movement, the Cato Street Conspiracy of 1820 and the March of the Blanketeers in 1819 showed the mood of the country, both north and south.
Shelley, of course, wrote the Masque of Anarchy in response to the massacre at ‘Peterloo’. The poem excoriates the hypocrisy and greed of governmental figures such as Lord Sidmouth, Lord Eldon and ‘I met murder on the way, He had a face like Castlereagh’ within a piece of some 90 verses. Just a few stanzas are included here:
Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war.

And if then the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there,
Slash, and stab, and maim and hew,
What they like, that let them do.

With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise
Look upon them as they slay
Till their rage has died away.

Then they will return with shame
To the place from which they came,
And the blood thus shed will speak
In hot blushes on their cheek.

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many — they are few

 With thanks to for permission to use With Henry Hunt we'll go under a Creative Commons License.

Peterloo: Part Three

(167) Page 163 - Lancashire morris dance

Peterloo: Part Two

(166) Page 162 -

Peterloo: Part One

(165) Page 161 - With Henry Hunt we'll go

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Laurie Lee Wildlife Walk: Lit-crit on a bike

Lit-Crit on a Bike

I had no idea, when I started out for Slad in the morning,
As to what voice I would use on the Laurie Lee Wildlife Way -
I decided to be guided by the first poetry post I encountered,
And I know there are mixed views about poetry posts in a landscape
(What if there is a disjunction between text and context?),
But I have to say that all the posts on this walk work beautifully:
You don’t have to read every poem in its entirety, each time you visit,
Choose the stanza or two that most suit your mood or the season
(Which is what I have done).

Whatever. Prologue over.

Convolvulus and hollyhocks greeted me on the road to Slad,
Where I stopped at the Woolpack to read The Abandoned Shade,
A poem that is almost an exercise in synesthesia,
For the shade leads to
buried voices’, ‘the yellow-hammer beat of blood’…
‘Hearing the tin-moon rise and the sunset’s penny fall,
the creep of frost and weep of thaw
and bells of winter robins…
the talking house…the four vowels of the wind’.
It’s a poem about lost childhood
(‘The voice of the boy, the boy I seek within my mouth is dumb’),
And lost, lost, madeleine moment time;
I arrived before the pub was awake,
Last night’s half full glasses were still on the outside tables,
A quite suitable sort of A la recherce de la temps pub-do type thing –
But enough of Old Father Time, Rimbaud and Proust,
I was off to dappled, shadowed Frith’s Wood and April Rise:
You can enjoy the first sensuous stanza at any time of the year,
If ever I saw blessing in the air
I see it now this still early day
When lemon-green the vaporous morning drips
Wet sunlight on the powder of my eye’

But I had to climb up to Bulls Cross, up the turnpike road,
To the nightmare coach scene, the gallows, the murder,
And Equinox:
Now tilts the sun his monument,
now sags his raw unwritten stone
deep in October’s diamond clay.’

I tilted down dale to the spring-line source of the Slad Brook,
Past the lake, for a steep smooth beech bole ascent,
Where at the top of Longridge Woods is Landscape,
A piece of almost mother-earth worship:
The season does not leave your limbs,
like a covered field you lie,
and remember the exultant plough
Your sheltered bosom stirs
And whispers with warm rain’ -
This was almost meta-text; ur-text;
A text that became the landscape itself,
Where reader is no longer spectator,
But part of what s/he sees…
It was quite a Keatsian swooning moment and sensation,
I can tell you.

A cross-field walk followed to a woodland descent past the old shop
(What a curiosity),
And thence through bracken to Moss Rose;
When I read the poem, cumulus clouds sailed across its glass panel:
It was as though the sky itself (Laurie in the Sky with Diamonds?)
Had written diaphanous words of remembrance:
My mother would grow roses with each hand
drawing them forth from country-frothing air…
… lost mother, country gone,
groping in my grief around your moss-rose heart.’

Then it was over Dillay Brook to Home From Abroad:
‘So do I breathe the hayblown airs of home,
                         And watch the sea-green elms drip birds and shadows,                        
And as the twilight nets the plunging sun
My heart’s keel slides to rest among the meadows’.

Well, my chain did something similar shortly afterwards,
Sliding and jamming itself: I had to push my bike the rest of the way,
But The Three Winds was a delight at Catswood:
Starting with ‘The hard blue winds of March’,
Before the wind goes ‘piping the summer round’,
‘Till August sends at last its brick red breath’…

I wandered on through the August heat to meet the holloway
That once led King Charles from Berkeley to Painswick,
Then on to his abortive siege of Gloucester,
Before reaching The Wild Trees,
With the characteristic yearning for lost, past time:
‘Let me return at last
to your fertile wilderness
to sleep with the coiled fernleaves
in your heart’s live stone.’

It was then on to the Vatch, with views right across the Severn,
A delight at any time of the year,
But especially when in a Field of Autumn:
‘Like coloured smoke the day hangs fire,
taking the village without sound…
… Slow moves the hour that sucks our life,
slow drops the late wasp from the pear,
the rose tree’s thread of scent grows thin –
and  snaps upon the air.’

And so down the Vatch, pushing my bike,
To Furners Farm, a mistletoed orchard, and Apples:
‘Behold the apples’ rounded worlds:
juice-green of July rain,
the black polestar of flowers, the rind
mapped with its crimson stain’.

It was then back to the Woolpack,
Where groups of walkers sat enthusing about the walk,
I had just a quick chat and lemonade,
I had to push the bike back home to Halfords,
Who generously did the job gratis -
Only Stroud Museum and Town Owl to go now:
‘On eves of cold, when slow coal fires,
rooted in basements, burn and branch,
brushing with smoke the city air;
When quartered moons pale in the sky,
and neons glow along the dark
like deadly nightshade in a briar;
Above the muffled traffic then
I hear the owl, and at his note,
I shudder in my private chair’…

I must confess that I had shuddered in my private chair too.
Saddle-sore after so many bumps, humps and stiles;
My advice?
Don’t do this walk on a bike.
It’s too good for that…
‘I’d rather have Shanks’s Pony’:

‘Strolling, just strolling,
In the cool of the evening air,
I don't envy the rich in their automobiles,
For a motorcar is phoney.
I'd rather have Shanks's pony,
When I'm strolling, just strolling,
With the light of the moon above,
Ev'ry night I go out strolling,
And I know my luck is rolling,
When I'm strolling with the one I love.’
(Flanagan and Allen)