Sunday, 29 November 2015

Bath Christmas Slavery Disenchantment Walk

Greetings walkers!

I am writing to invite you on a third expedition through Bath enjoying the spectacle and if we can reminding ourselves of some other matters which may help us pay attention to the view but in a different way.
Sunday 6 December
10.00 outside 44AD Gallery 4 Abbey St, Bath BA1 1NN
 returning around 16.00.

The Christmas Market will be full on, the sheds, the sheds and the tinklingtilltillbells. The plan is to walk out from this again along Pulteney Street where slave owners lived/stayed cheek by jowl with the likes of Wilberforce. Through Sydney Gardens and onto the canal heading east towards a picturesque view of the city.

We will cross the river and come back in to town along the London Road with a diversion to visit further slaveowners residencies on the east of the city.

As ever all contributions of information, ideas and thoughts are welcome via social media and in person!

I am still thinking about 'modes of address' on the doorstep bearing in mind that some of these properties are now subdivided and the owners and tenants may have views on how we memorialise a previous owner or tenant and I would welcome the opportunity to continue the conversation as we go. After this walk I want to write it up and see if I can get some funding to develop it properly as a city walk, let me know if you would be interested in helping.

 So from January  and through the rest of this year of Sunday walk outs, I would like you to invite you to join me on a continuing exploration of enchantment and disenchantment....looking for the old workhouses of Bath and north east Somerset rediscovering a story that might take us some of the way along an old pilgrimage route to Wells......and a walk down the River Avon following the story of the goods made locally, sent down the river and off to sea in the first leg of the Atlantic slave trade.......

Finally and especially for February I would like to invite you to join me and Lorna Brunstein in Germany for the final phase of the Honouring Esther project. Thursday and Friday 4 and 5 of February walking the route of the Nazi death march her mother survived, stopping at the same 'stations' as we did in Somerset making connections, generating resonances, reflecting on exile and belonging. More info here:

Please follow, like, share and generally pass this on!

Excuse the length, hope to see you Sunday next! Let me know txt or email if you are coming.

best wishes

Richard White
mob: 07717012790

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

On the trail of Allen Davenport: from the source of the Thames to London

 Did your history teacher ever mention the Spenceans?
They are up there with the Levellers, the Diggers, and the Chartists,
In terms of historical importance and present relevance,
But usually get just a cursory mention in the period 1815 -20,
The ‘Was Britain close to revolution?’ years of Spa Fields,
And the 1820 Cato Street Conspiracy to murder the cabinet -
But their forgotten, ignored or misrepresented influence
Is seminal and needs resurrection.
Their beliefs went far beyond
The usual historians’ calumny and misinterpretation:
‘Hare brained violent insurrectionaries, a minority group
Of marginal importance, riddled with government spies’.

The name of Thomas Spence should be mentioned in the same breath
As William Blake, John Clare, Percy Shelley, the Luddites, the Chartists,
And this is where the name of Allen Davenport comes in, and the village of Ewen.
 One of ten children in a handloom weaver’s cottage: ‘I was born May 1st, 1775, in the small and obscure village of Ewen … somewhat more than a mile from the source of the Thames, on the banks of which stream stands the cottage in which I was born … I came into existence, while the revolutionary war of America was raging …’
 He taught himself to read by learning songs; then saving up to buy printed versions: ‘I learnt, as most children do, a number of songs by heart, and … I saved all my halfpence and bought up all the printed songs that I could sing, and began with those that appeared the most easy … I proceeded to match all the words in my printed songs, with those I had previously stored in my mind … By this method, the eye became the pupil of the ear …’ 
He taught himself to write: ‘I got hold of a written alphabet … I tried my hand at black and white … and to my inexpressible joy I soon discovered that my writing could be read and partially understood’. 

Tired of village life, a horseman and a patriot, he then joined the army, learnt his shoemaking trade (cobblers were well known as radical autodidacts, btw), then worked in Cirencester for four years, before making his way to London - marrying Mary, a shoe-binder, in 1806, and discovering the ideas of Thomas Spence: ‘During my stay’, the ‘man that brought our numbers [works of poetry] brought also a book, which he said ought to be in the hands of every Englishman ... I read the book, and immediately became an out and out Spencean. I preached the doctrine to my shop-mates, and to everybody else… This was in 1805.
The revolutionary, republican notions of Spence were broadcast in a number of ways,
And it is tempting to think that this son of Gloucestershire helped chalk
The agrarian communist slogans that appeared on London’s pavements and walls:
Spence also cast coins, medals or tokens,
Dispensing with the circumferential fidelities of Church and State,
‘If rents I once consent to pay
My Liberty is past away.’
And ‘Before the Revolution’ (an emaciated, chained prisoner);
Feasting and carousal on the obverse: ‘After the Revolution’;
Whilst one token laconically proclaimed:
‘War or Land’
(The war being a civil one, of course).

Allen Davenport found his voice with the inspiration of Thomas Spence,
He wrote for ‘The Republican’, Sherwin’s Weekly Political Register,
Penned republican poems …

There is more to follow on later posts, as we outline the remarkable life of Allen Davenport. But we are paying tribute to him and his history not just through words, but also through walking.
Kel Portman from Walking the Land, Jim Pinkney from Marah and yours truly walked from the source of the Thames to Ewen and then on to Cricklade on Monday November 23rd. This involved 14 muddy miles but was an absolute delight.
Kel has a unique eye for a picture and the landscape; Jim can talk for Cornwall and has a uniquely retentive memory; I know a bit about Allen Davenport. So we were three men without a boat (though Jim has journeyed from the Severn to the Thames in an inflatable canoe), walking through Gloucestershire and into Wiltshire.
The train journey was notable for meeting the Bishop of Gloucester (standard class) whilst the walk was memorable for the way we each memorialized the walk.
Kel’s peerless photographs are elsewhere. Jim’s commemorative stone for Allen Davenport is elsewhere (but will get to London sometime: see below). But Jim’s enthusiasm for the haiku is recorded below, as is Kel’s link about the walk. I don’t find writing haiku straightforward and I know I break some conventions, even whilst following the 5,7,5 syllable structure – but Jim has a real flair for this writing.
You can see from the below that Jim can capture a moment and an image in the landscape; my efforts are rather more about contextualizing the walk and placing it within a narrative.
Our next walk involves the train to Swindon; bus to Cricklade; walk from there to Lechlade; bus to Swindon; train to Stroud. I know all you Shelley fans are already thinking about Lechlade – 2nd Monday or Tuesday in January will be when about the next walk takes place.
More details to follow on the blog; and more details about Allen Davenport, too.

Jim’s haiku memories:

Young November Thames
Haiku excuses

First frost on the bridge
A muddy puddle crackles
At a toe’s hushed touch

Out of the stone womb
Spring, tree guarded, dew dripping
The infant pilgrim

Autumn fall lay still
Leaf tiling the clear young Thames’
Defracted eddies

Murmur of starlings;
Not one silly syllable.
Every one counts

A buzzard spies high:
The light fades and strides quicken
For the Cheltenham train

Untrained pencil stubs
Distract the crowded carriage
Ticket scribbling

Early hours utter
Defused Haiku excuses

Jim scribbled these on to his rail ticket on the train whilst I sent the below as an email:

When haiku hiking,
Tread syllables in rhythm,
Through footpaths’ metre.

Late November Thames:
Rhyme and rime in cold pasture
Hoar-bark frosted oak.

Meandering Thames,
Oxbow lake spindle berries,
Sluice, weir and millpond.

Where shadowed spinners,
And ghosts of hungry weavers
Point us on our way.

A Thames pilgrimage,
With a stone from Ewen Mill,
For a London grave.

Alan Davenport,
Handloom weaver's son, alone,
Learning his letters.

Pamphleteer, poet,
A Clerkenwell radical,
Cobbling his wages.

The Davenport stone:
A name that’s etched for ever,
Not writ on water.

An eldritch twilight,
Starlings flash on water glass,
By ridge-furrowed fields.

Piers Plowman nods,
Then treads the moonlight mud-scape,
Beyond Time’s dark veil.

One stage completed,
On the path to Kensal Green,
Fourteen weary miles.

Postscript from Jim on the subject of patterns in the landscape, real and/or imagined: pareidolia ... hierophany haiku ... apophenia.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Source of the River Thames and eventually on to London

A walk from Kemble Station to the source of the Thames and thence to Cricklade, with interesting conversations on the way:
On Monday November 23rd.
9.52 train to Kemble from Stroud; 6 or 7 mile walk to Cricklade; bus to Swindon; 15.38 train from Swindon to Stroud. This is the plan.
Kel Portman from Walking the Land, James Pentney from Marah, and yours truly, are going – but you are welcome to join us, if interested.
Conversations will turn to the idea of following the Thames bit by bit, to London, and beyond to the sea. This will take as long as it takes.

Allen Davenport (1775 – 1846) will also feature. He was one of 10 children of handloom weaving parents, born at Ewen, near the source of the Thames. He taught himself to read and write and subsequently became a well-known republican, revolutionary and reformer in London.
His name is recorded on the Reformers’ Memorial at Kensal Green cemetery, where he was buried in un-consecrated ground.

Our pilgrimage along the Thames (both water and footpath) might well involve the engraving of a stone taken from the dry river bed at Ewen, and its eventual placement at the Memorial in Kensal Green.
There will also be conversations about Chartism in general, and the projected film based on the events surrounding the 1839 mass Chartist meeting on Selsley Common.

But, obvs, you can talk about whatever you like.
'I was born May 1st, 1775, in the small and obscure village of Ewen … somewhat more than a mile from the source of the Thames, on the banks of which stream stands the cottage in which I was born … I came into existence, while the revolutionary war of America was raging.'

Here are a few words from Davenport’s speech about Peterloo (1819), from a spy’s account of a meeting in Soho’s Hopkins Street: 'The Yeomanry had murdered our fellow Countrymen but had we even in our own Defence shot one or two of them it would have been called Murder and Rebellion, but [we] put up with it no longer … we must arm ourselves … and though we may lose a few lives in the onset yet what is the army compared to the Mass of the Country who are labouring under the yoke of Despotism.’

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

La Marseilles: Citizens not Subjects

A wheel turns full circle and the present re-appropriates the past,
Tonight the heir to the throne sings La Marseilles,
The battle hymn of the French Revolution
(And the intro to All You Need Is Love),
But if and when you sing,
Remember when Prime Minister William Pitt greeted the French Revolution
With a policy of brutal domestic repression
(And war on France),
The 1793 Aliens Act – no republican allowed into England, just French aristos;
1794 Suspension of Habeas Corpus – imprisonment without trial;
Corresponding Societies campaigning for democracy
Infiltrated by informers and agents-provocateurs;
1795 Treasonable Practices Act – the act of treason
Extended to include speaking and writing;
Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man – a democratic attack on the hereditary principle,
And an attack on monarchy,
Banned  -
It had sold a staggering 200,00 copies very quickly and
The population was only about a youthful10 million –
The book would have been read and shared and discussed widely,
Its influence would have far exceeded 200,00 people;
1795 Seditious Meetings Act –
Any meeting of more than 50 people had to be authorized by a JP;
1797 – taxes increased on the press;
1799-1800 – trade unions illegalized;
Also remember when Edmund Burke referred to ordinary British people
As ‘the swinish multitude’, in his attack on Tom Paine;
Think about the suppression of rebellion in Ireland
When far more people were killed than by Madame Guillotine in
‘The Reign of Terror’;
None of this will be mentioned tonight,
For obvious reasons,
But it’s worth mentioning: it’s a case study of how
‘Every Age rewrites History’ …

Allons enfants de la patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrive!
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L’etendard sanglant est leve!

Entendez-vous dans les compagnes,
Mugir ces feroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras
Egorger nos fils, nos compagnes!

Auz armes, citoyens!
Formez vos battalons!
Marchons! Marchons!
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!’

And in a final act of solidarity, I reaffirm my link with French O Level:
‘Puis- je remplir mon stylo, s’il vous-plait?

And now, Tom Paine:
'We have heard the Rights of Man called a levelling system; but the only system to which the word levelling is truly applicable, is the hereditary monarchical system. It is a system of mental levelling. It indiscriminately admits every species of character to the same authority. Vice and virtue, ignorance and wisdom, in short, every quality, good or bad, is put on the same level. Kings succeed each other, not as rationals, but as animals. It signifies not what their mental or moral characters are. Can we then be surprised at the abject state of the human mind in monarchical countries, when the government itself is formed on such an abject levelling system?—It has no fixed character. To-day it is one thing; to-morrow it is something else. It changes with the temper of every succeeding individual, and is subject to all the varieties of each. It is government through the medium of passions and accidents. It appears under all the various characters of childhood, decrepitude, dotage, a thing at nurse, in leading-strings, or in crutches. It reverses the wholesome order of nature. It occasionally puts children over men, and the conceits of non-age over wisdom and experience. In short, we cannot conceive a more ridiculous figure of government, than hereditary succession, in all its cases, presents.'