Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A Picture of Stroud

To see the picture of Stroud that has prompted the piece below, please follow this link.
                                       It’s harvest time up towards the Heavens,
Up there, by Holy Trinity Church in Stroud:
The quiet serenity of late summer,
In the year of our Lord, 1839,
When everyone ought to know their place:
‘The rich man at his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly
And ordered their estate.’

There is a threatening bon-fire, it’s true,
Just beyond this imagined Eden,
The smoke of the recent past and near future,
Reminding us all of Paradise Lost:
The Stroudwater weavers’ riots of 1825;
The Captain Swing riots of 1830;
The Chartist mass-meeting on Selsley Common,
Just a few months before, at Whitsuntide;
The 1839 Miles Report on
‘The Condition of the Handloom Weavers’:
‘The weavers are much distressed; they are wretchedly off in bedding; has seen many cases where the man and his wife and as many as 7 children have slept on straw, laid on the floor with only a torn quilt to cover them…has witnessed very distressing cases; children crying for food, and the parents having neither food nor money in the house…These men have a constant dread of going into the Poor Houses…witness has frequently told them they would be better in the house, and their answer has been “We would sooner starve.” ‘;

The march of mill chimneys through the valleys;
The tread of the treadmill in the workhouse;

There’s a conservative mythology here,
A pictorial confabulation,
A seeming misrepresentation:
Of glowing Cotswold stone longevity,
The silver steady flow of the Severn,
The shining immanence of Doverow Hill,
The ancient tracks, bridleways and pathways,
Of this sequestered, pastoral, dreamtime,
Without a hint of industrial red brick,
Or factory, canal, turnpike, railway,
Or Darwin, Matthew Arnold, Edmund Gosse.

Quietly flow the Frome and the Severn,
Through Arcadia;
But the fires still burn,
In the hearts of the weavers,
And the hearts of the spinners,
All along the valleys and the hillsides.

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