Tuesday, 29 March 2016


When the weather’s against you, you have to explore inside the house:

When you stay in a converted barn worth a million pounds,
A weathered old long red brick structure: The Threshing Barn
(‘Sleeps 12. Large barn conversion, on the edge of the village 
overlooking open countryside and Horton Tower,
 fitted to a high standard in a contemporary style.
The house has 6 large bedrooms and 4 bathrooms.’),
And your extended family drive out in their cars
To share National Trust membership cards,
You choose to stay to wander the lanes in the high Easter wind,
Passing a newly thatched cottage:
‘R. Hayward and Sons -Thatchers since 1780’ -
And it’s easy, when you return to the empty house,
To imagine the discussions in the winnowing dust
Of the hard, harsh winter of 1830,
Right there in the kitchen where you sit writing these lines,
Listening to the rhythmic thrash of the flails,
Watching the drift of the choking chaff,
Eavesdropping the muffled talk of threshing machines,
The burning of hayricks, the messages passed along the village lanes:

‘Who will write a letter like they have all over Wiltshire?’
‘Let’s ask for eight shillings a week,
And no damn threshing machines to come here.
We can sign it Captain Swing, like the other villages do.
‘And if farmer won’t pay us, then we’ll damn well burn down his hayricks.’

But other voices speak of the gallows, the gaol, the squire,
The yeomanry, transportation, Van Diemen’s Land …

They eat their bread and cheese,
Smoke their pipes, burn the letter,
And pledge their selves to secrecy.


‘Who hath not seen thee oft amid they store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.’

Phil Smith’s On Walking … and Stalking Sebald Axminster: Triarchy Press (2014):

‘Multiplicity is the key mythogeographical principle, the principle of multiplicitous narratives and many histories, disrupting the established narratives not only to introduce subaltern ones, but … to invent our own’.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Easter Rising 1916: Dublin and Rodborough Common

The conifers on Rodborough Common can appear incongruous:
A solitary copse on the thin soil above the Cotswold limestone;
Their dark trunks dominate the sky-scape,
The stunted trees shrouding the light,
Like men in front of a firing squad.

They were planted to commemorate the visit of Lord Baden-Powell,
Arch-imperialist, hero of Mafeking,
Leader of the boy-scout movement;
He was here on Easter Day 1916,
Unaware that the sun was about to set on the empire,
When James Connolly sat in the shrouded light:

A man tied to a chair in front of a firing squad.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Walking the Avon from Bath to Bristol: Sunday April 3rd

Greetings walkers and supporters!
Here is reminder of a date for your diaries. Sunday April 3 the next walkout on the enchantment!  I saw the exhibition at Tate Britain the other week Artist and Empire very powerful...not hiding away those huge dramatic Empire era paintings..but providing another level of truth and engagement about the stories they tell. This in a way is what I am trying to do with the architecture of Bath and the River Avon landscape...find a way of both enjoying it but discovering traces and facing uncomfortable legacies and making sense of our times as we walk.

Anyway I do hope you will be able to join me on foot or online on Sunday April 3!
Walking from Bath to Bristol along the River Avon, Leaves 0900 from outside 44AD gallery by the Abbey in Bath. Please note an earlier start...this will be a full day of walking...back at Bath at station around 6....

About 16 miles or so to central Bristol. Nice pubs and spectacular scenery on the way.
This is a recce for part of the project I am developing around revealing, facing and making creative responses to the legacies of the Atlantic slave trade. On foot and online I hope you can help uncover the stories, find ways to tell them and generate contemporary resonances. Here's a link to the whole route but  I propose to break it at Bristol and on another Sunday day walk up from Avonmouth to Bristol, and in Bristol walk the slavery trail. Seems a more appropriate direction of travel.....

Feel free to join for all or part of the walk. Just let me know! Please share and circulate this to anyone who you think might be interested. More details to follow.

Richard White
mob: 07717012790
web: www.walknowtracks.co.uk

Sunday, 20 March 2016

The Somme and Stroud and Conscientious Objectors: Echo Chamber at the Brunel Goods Shed


SVA Goods Shed, Stroud Railway Station Saturday 19 March, 10am to 4pm
‘War...conscience...protest. How do we navigate all the stuff that’s happening today?
Forgotten voices resonate from an earlier time of turmoil. Artists Fiona Kam Meadley and Dominic Thomas invite you to help shape this sound installation in advance of an exhibition at Friends House in August.
Email fionakammeadley@mac.com for information.’

In this year of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and its shocking futility, it's salutary to hear the thoughts of conscientious objectors – religious, socialist, communist, pacifist et al. And the Brunel Goods Shed is a perfect setting – how many troops set off for the Western Front from here? And how many wounded returned here?

When wounded soldiers arrived at Stroud, ‘There was the usual uncertainty as to which railway station they would arrive at, and consequently the crowds were thickest at the top of Rowcroft, where the roads from the two stations meet. Here people lined the streets six or eight deep, and there was only a narrow way left for the passage of motor-cars and carriages, which had been kindly lent by residents to convey the wounded to hospital…’

Two years later:
‘The Somme pictures proved to be the greatest cinema attraction ever presented to the public of the Stroud district, and we congratulate the management of the Empire Theatre on securing the wonderful film for their patrons…The pictures gave us some little conception of the tremendous amount of energy expended in this one theatre of the war. They gave us, too, some faint inkling of the immense and tragic waste of war: the blasted land, the material wreckage, the broken men and the irrecoverable lives. Their effect was saddening and at the same time inspiring…The half-demented German prisoners aroused sentiments not of derision but of pity…But the dominant impression was that of the bouyancy of our own incomparable men. Surely in all the tragic history of war a more light-hearted, high-spirited and fearless army has never marched into the zone of death and pain? The incalculable debt we owe to these heroes can never be liquidated: for all time the race will be their debtor. No words could record so convincingly as these pictures of actual war scenes the splendid spirit of Britain’s fighting men.’

If you want to find the old battalion,
I know where they are, I know where they are, I know where they are
If you want to find the old battalion, I know where they are,
They're hanging on the old barbed wire,
I've seen 'em, I've seen 'em, hanging on the old barbed wire.
I've seen 'em, I've seen 'em, hanging on the old barbed wire.

Conscientious Objectors and WW1: A few facts

1. NUMBERS: Conscription was introduced in 1916 and with a numerical symmetry, there were about 16,000 conscientious objectors in this country by the end of the war.
2. NUMBERS: Over 2,000 tribunals sat in judgment on men, deciding on their sincerity over conscientious objection. Members of the tribunals saw their role more to intimidate men into the armed forces rather than grant a fair hearing. But as Ann Kramer puts it in her book Conchies: Conscientious Objectors of the First World War: ‘After all, as many objectors commented; how does a man prove he has a conscience?’
3. NUMBERS: Tribunals could make 4 choices: absolute exemption; an alternative to military service; rule that an individual could take a non-combatant role within the army; reject the application totally and order combatant duties.
4. RESISTANCE: Conscientious objectors carried on resistance, however, in the face of tribunal decisions. For example: refusing medical examinations; refusing to wear uniforms; refusing to march; refusing to salute or stand up.
5. RESPONSES: Responses included the following: polite persuasion; forcible wearing of uniforms; wearing of straitjackets; exposure to extreme cold or heat; solitary confinement; prison; beatings up; field punishments, and then, in the weeks before the Battle of the Somme in 1916, 50 men were secretly transported to France to receive death sentences.
6. DEATH SENTENCES: The death sentences were announced to the men in groups – and then after a few seconds pause, the officer would announce that the death sentence was commuted to ten years’ imprisonment with hard labour.
7. PRISON: Over 6,000 conscientious objectors received prison sentences: ‘Funny. You’re in for murder and I’m in here for refusing to.’
8. ABSOLUTISTS AND ALTERNATIVISTS: ‘Absolutists’ were not prepared to accept any military role, but ‘alternativists’ accepted ‘work of national importance’, such as working on the land, within hospital services, and so on. These numbered about 6,500.
9. AFTER THE WAR: The end of the war saw a variety of forms of vicitimisation, including the withdrawal of the right to vote for five years.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Slavery and a Cotswold Landscape

On re-reading The Country and the City by Raymond Williams

It must be thirtyish years since I read this, when my responses were all about William Cobbett, John Clare, enclosure, industrialization, urbanization, the fate of the peasantry and the rise of an urban working class. Any thoughts about the British Empire’s relationship with the landscape went mostly in the direction of war.

I didn’t think so much about slavery then – partly because Raymond Williams talked more about colonial affairs in general, rather than slavery per se. But it was also a zeitgeist thing – slavery and the English/British landscape were in different teaching boxes.

Times have changed and so has my reading of this book.

The page on Alexander Pope and the Epistle to Bathurst is a case in point. Pope was a frequent visitor to the Cirencester estate and took a keen interest in the gardens; his lines to the first Earl of Bathurst recommend, Williams says, a balance ‘between the extreme vices of miserliness and profligacy’ – ‘prudent productive investment, tempered by reasonable charity’.

‘The Sense to value Riches, with the Art
T’enjoy them, and the Virtue to impart,
Not meanly, nor ambitiously pursu’d,
Nor sunk by sloth, nor rais’d by servitude;
To balance Fortune by a just expence,
Join with Oeconomy, Magnificence;
With splendour, charity; with plenty; health;
Oh teach us BATHURST! yet unspoil’d by wealth!’

It’s no surprise that Pope doesn’t mention slavery, and Williams’ emphasis also meant that I didn’t think about it either.

The English Heritage publication Slavery and the British Country House, edited by Madge Dresser and Andrew Hann can put you right, however. Madge Dresser writes that ‘Commercial considerations as well as political ones may have reinforced the tendencies of private proprietors of stately homes to offer the public an even more deracialised version of their past history, when that history is offered at all. Take, for example, a grand country house belonging to the Bathurst family and one associated now more with horses than slavery.’

It’s true that the third Earl (a member of Lord Liverpool’s ‘Repressive Tory’ cabinet) tactically supported abolition by the 1820’s – and that’s what comes up on a Google search for ‘Bathurst and Slavery’. You don’t get a mention of Benjamin Bathurst’s late 17th century Deputy Governorship of the Leeward Islands, nor his Royal African Company’s position and shares. He died in 1704 and the house at Cirencester Park was built ten or so years later ‘for his son, Alan, the first Earl … the grounds designed with the help of Alexander Pope.’

The estate itself, is vast: when you wander through the Arts and Crafts village of Sapperton, or visit Coates, or Pinbury Park, or innocently follow the River Frome or search for the source of the Thames, try to connect this sequestered Cotswold pastoral with the Atlantic ocean and shark-shadowed ships on the Middle Passage to the plantations.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

T. S. Eliot

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Saltford Brass Mills: Bath, Bristol and Slavery

Sea Dog Doggerel:
A 21st Century Shadow

And Bristol fashion’:
 Thanks to the Saltford Brass Mill,
Brass transported to Bristol and then bound for
Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, Benin, Angola, Gambia.

Seeming innocence
Of brass pots and pans and domesticity:
Transformed by a voyage, exchange and barter,
Into chains, padlocks, handcuffs, slaves and expectant sharks.

The Door
Of No Return:
 The Middle Passage,
Nevis, Barbados, Jamaica,
Virginia, Haiti, South Carolina.
Fill the hold with sugar, cotton, tobacco:
And then cast a ship-shape triangular shadow,
But not on the Saltford Brass Mill’s historical show.

No mention of this at all, on the Saltford Brass Mill's website ...

Greetings walkers and supporters!
A great little walk on Sunday out to Saltford.
This opens up the next stage of a longer walk or series of walks exploring the legacy of slavery. A walk out and back from Bath works with Saltford marking a good half way..or start/finish for those on the bus or driving. The historians working on the Saltford Brass Mill are clear that the Mills were producing goods for trading in West Africa. Check out this link: http://www.brassmill.com/saltford_brass_mill_010.htm
The demand and destination for such items is evident from the following extract from the journal of Thomas Phillip, a member of the Royal Africa Company in the late ...

I am intrigued by a thought that the woollen mills were possibly making cloth for the trade....and slowly a picture is emerging for me of a river flowing to Bristol and onwards carrying the work of the men and women of Wiltshire to be traded for the men and women of West Africa.....
A changing perspective on the legacy of slavery....we are all connected.

I am really grateful for any thoughts or information from you to develop this and as ever please pass it on to anyone who you think may be interested. I hope you will join me on a future walk on foot or online.
The next first Sunday walk out is Sunday April 3, it will be an all day walk with an earlier start. I am planning to walk the entire stretch of the River Avon Navigation to Bristol, to see how this might connect to the Bristol slavery walk. More details to follow.
best wishes

Richard White
mob: 07717012790