This is my laste depositionn ande statemente. I was borne in Stroude in 1602, the fifth sonne of Charlotte Alice Bingham and Samuel Benjamin Bingham. I have lived inne the reignnes of a queenne, three kings and a commonwealth.
My storyye starts whenne the Archbishop Laud did commande the railing offe of altars in the kingdomme. This causedde sorre grievance in Stroudwaterre. We railed inne oure turne at this papist sacrilege and kinglye ordinance. I joined inne withoutte fully knowinge the whye and wherefore. The tendere greenness of youthe.
I joined in too but withe more understandinge and withe right goode reasonne, when Prince Rupert stole our cloth, yarne, woole, canvas and buckram for the making of uniforms. It was difficultte to find a spinner or weaver with a goodlie worde to say about the kinge throughout the Stroudwater, in consequence, inne those ungodlyye times. Bute we did note knowe what was to followe. We did note knowe that this was juste a foretaste.
Fore oure livings worsened when the King’s armie marched through Steanbridge and up to Painswicke. We stoode with our hattes in our hands but with hate in our heartes as the horse and dragoones passed bye. This was in the summerre of 1643 before the Siege of Gloucestere.
Bute Parliamente’s victory there brought scante releiffe to us. The Kinge’s menne made a continuous habitte of stealinge our victuals to feede their garrisonnes in the aftermath.
The goodlie Colonel Massey rode out from the citye to helpe stoppe this malfeasance in the springe of the following yeare. He placed a garrisonne at Painswicke, but this onlye brought forthe a royal cannonade. The doores of St Marys were sette ablaze ande the towere was struck with shote.
A multitude of Parliamentaryye prisoners suche as mye younge self were kepte there. Good Richarde Foote etched an inscriptionne on a church pillare during our incarcerationne. ‘Be bolde, be bolde, but not too bolde.’ I resolvede to be as bolde as needs mustte.
It was in the Mayye time of that yeare that the boldenesse of Parliamente at laste brought us more lasting relieffe from the bondage of Royalist terror. The capture of Beverstonne Castle at last putt an ende to the depredationnes in the Stroudwater Valleys against the mastere clothiers, and the poore weavers and spinneres. This leftte me more time for the studyye of the Bible and for conversationes with rantering sisters and brothers whom I mette in the fields and lanes betwixtte Stroude and Painswicke.
It was at the Christmastide before the meting out of justice for the kingge when I firste encountered Ezekiel the Ranter. He tolde me of the Diggeres and Levelleres and Quakeres and how the riche ‘havve too muche earthe, which by fraudde, deceitte, and oppressionne they have gotten together, and exalte themselves above our fellow creatures, and grinde the faces of the poore, and they are as slaves.’ This opened mine eyes. I askede for more suche lessons.
I was a good pupile ande hearkened Ezekiel to make me learnne the Digger words of Gerard Winstanley offe by my hearte. I have them stille close bye me nowe by my bedde side. ‘Every one shall lookke upon each other as equalle in the creationne. We are all the sonnes and daughterres of Gode and Adame and Eve.’ ‘Governmente that gives liberty to the gentry to have all the earthe, and shutte out the poore commoners from enjoying any partte, ruling by tyrannical laws. This is the governmente of the Antichrist.’
Whenne I hearde that the Diggers had commenced the creationne of the rule of Godde with a commune at Slimbridge downe by the Severne, I made my waye alonge the Frome to reache the widde river and thence to Slimbridge. It was a welcome to meete with so manye fellowe Diggers. We tore down fences and enclosures so as to sow, till, ploughe and harveste in commone.
Alas. Just as the true borne leveller soldiers were shot down by Cromwell’s armie at the church in Burforde, so our Eden was to be laide waste bye his menne too.
I escaped with a bloddied heade ande made my waye to the Quakerres at Painswicke. Here I knewe I woulde receive succourre. The Grande Juryye of the Countyye spoke of our communitye as ‘Ranters, Levellers and atheists, undere the name of Quakerres’. This to uss was praise. I stayed some goode yeares there and witnessed the praiseworthie practicse of namelesse internmente. The beliefe was in equalityye in deathe as in life. We used noe titles. Alle were thou to a goodlye Quakkerre.
It was at this time whenne I beganne to smoke a pipe. I founde the tobaccoe of the countyye most conducive to visions of heavenne. Virginia tobaccoe from the colonyes was notte to my likinge. So my ittinerancce ledde me to Winchcombe and the tobaccoe plantationnes there.
We driede the leaves in oure gardenes and stored them in oure cottes, before secretinge the tobaccoe on its pathe to Londone. We disguised this nicotiana rustica as Virginia but ite gave thou heavenlye vision as no Virginia tobaccoe did. The smuggling and illicte trade attracted the attentionnes of Colonel Wakefield, the Governoure of Gloucester, and troopes were despatched to brake oure plantationes.
We congregatede as a multitude againste the soldiers who were armede withe cocked pistoles. But our resolutionne was steadfaste and our two hundreds forcede the calvalrye backke whence they came.
Theyye triede againne that yeare butte the tumulte ande determinationne of whatte nowe numbered five or six hundredes of our goddlie menne and womenne sentte them awaye and backke to Gloucester once more with theirre tailes betweene theire legges.
Bute whene the lamentende Commonwealthe did ende, so oure woes increased. The newe kinge sent more soldiers to ruine ourre croppes and ride downe oure plantationnes.
I have ite on goodly authoritie that Samuel Pepys did evenn write aboute us ate Winchcombe.
‘It seems the people there do plant contrary to law, and have always done, and still been under force and danger of having it spoiled, as it hath been oftentimes, and yet they will continue to plant.’
Sow we doe, Mister Pepys.
And nowwe I shalle take a pipe ande peruse once more ourre colonyye’s sharedde Bible and Pilgrimmes Progresse. Forre thisse is the last depositionne and last statementte that I shall make about the tumultuous times of my liffe.
Two names in a landscape, two names on a map,
Two recusant affirmations of faith,
Near Knapp House Barn, where travelers gathered
To journey through metaphor and field,
From Purgatory to Paradise,
From a copse at Slad to Painswick pastures.
But I came as a Puritan, not Pardoner,
On my personal Pilgrim’s Progress,
To walk these redemptive hills and valleys,
In search of dispensation and indulgence.
Our throng of allegory was all there:
Evangelist, Obstinate, Help, Pliable,
Wordly Wise, Good Will, Despair, Faithful,
Legality, Civility, Ignorance, Hopeful,
All climbing through glades of wild garlic,
Sweet meadow-seas of Timothy,
Cock’sfoot, Sweet Vernal and Bugle,
(The Wicket Gate, Slough of Despond,
The Hill of Difficulty, the Shining Light)
Along Civil War holloways, steeply
Banked with diffident Honesty,
(The Valley of Humiliation, Vanity Fair,
House Beautiful, Mount Clear)
Past Swift’s Hill, Elcombe, Steanbridge,
Trillgate Farm, Bull’s Cross, Longridge,
Damsell’s Farm, sluice and weir and Damsell’s Mill,
By witches’ broom and yellow archangel,
(The River of Death and Delectable Mountains)
Up shaded streamside bedrock paths,
To reach Paradise and mythic Celestial City,
There in a thistledown cow pat field,
Below a hidden lane beneath the A46,
Where Paradise House does indeed have many rooms,
And CCTV too.