Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Weavers and Workhouse Walk

Please see the post below, but is now superseding this blog ... please go to that website in future ... pictures, categories, search box and so on ...

Well, that was a walk, that was, and even though it’s over, it’s hard to let it go.

Well over one hundred people gathered in the Ale House in Stroud for the stroll through Stroud up to the cemetery, and then other people, attracted by our purpose, joined us as we made our way through town. It was a most - literally – moving sight, to witness such a number of people making their orderly way along Nelson Street and up Bisley Road. It must be a long time since those streets saw such a scene: a scene of gentle, studied pilgrimage.
I was feeling a little nervous as the clock approached four, our starting time. I expected twenty people, but was beginning to wonder that we might have fifty; Angela Findlay, my co-presenter thought seven would turn up, with the threat of rain; I then began to witness an almost biblical sight as more and more and more and yet more walkers, visitors to the town, artists, notables and historians relentlessly surged into the front bar, like some epic flood.
We met in the Ale House not just because of the excellent beer festival, but also because a key text for our walk lies upon the wall in the front bar: a commemorative 1842 plaque praising the beneficence of the workhouse overseers. I contextualized this with an introduction about Chartism locally and nationally; Angela contextualized this with a prologue about the relationship between Stroud’s workhouse and the cemetery.
Next, some performance: I read a poem about the paupers’ graves; Gemma Dunn, visiting from London, read a first person account of the May 1839 Chartist mass-meeting on Selsley Hill, and Tim Johnston from Historic England read a 1795 anonymous threatening letter from Uley.
It was hot and humid and full to the gunnels, and after each speaker had alighted from their stool in the thronged room, our troupe made its way to Nelson Street. It looked almost Pied Piper-like - but this was a collective walk that broke down the barriers between guide, performer and audience: the line of walkers seemingly had its own collective mind, as well as both a conscious and unconscious sense of direction.
I came up the rear – and joined the orderly assembly by the Black Boy clock. The little triangle of land, opposite, with its overhanging tree, provided a natural stage and here we discoursed on General Wolfe, Stroud Scarlet, rioting weavers, Gloucestershire slave owners, local parish registers, the Black Atlantic, the black boy clock, and counter-memorialization.  Janet Biard read a first person account from the 1825 riots; Chris William spoke of forty years ago when the Black Boy flats were the teachers’ centre - one of his tasks was to wind up the clock every three days; John Marjoram spoke of his time with the clock, too; Trish Butler gave each walker a copy of a Stroud Scarlet poem, in the spirit of active counter-heritage.
I found this utterly moving: the sun was shining, we were reclaiming the streets – we had to make way for one car only in the half an hour we were there in Castle Street – and such a open air meeting was a compelling medium for a discussion on 18th century history: entirely in the spirit of the subject matter in a lah di dah self-referential post-modernist sort of way. There was also talk of psycho-geography and mythogeography, but time marches on and we needed to
walk up Bisley Road to the cemetery.
A long line of walkers made its sentient, serpentine way along the pavements: this was an absolute spectacle in itself, and to witness one hundred people making their studied way up the steep incline of Bisley Road is something I will never forget. It’s hard to find a parallel or simile for such a sight – there probably isn’t one. It was a unique and ineffable experience. Thanks to Stroud Fringe for making it happen.
Angela addressed us from the front of her house; she spoke of its history as the Cemetery Gate Lodge, former home to the Cemetery Superintendents, and the symbolism of the sculptures in the cemetery, before before leading us to the chapel, where she spoke to us from the back of a waiting and handily placed open van. She spoke of the ecumenical nature of the internments and Pauline Stevens informed the crowd of the comprehensive research available on the Stroud Local History website. Other members of the audience added their thoughts too, in the spirit of this shared experience. Angela spoke of her work on memorialization and counter-memorialization.
It was now time to move to the area of the paupers’ graves. The audience was visibly moved by Angela’s recitation of her research and previous art installations, counter memorials to those long forgotten by history. A litany of the occupations of the buried indigent inmates of the workhouse, gleaned from the Death Records and revealing Stroud’s industrious past, plus details of the rudimentary nature of their graves, left an almost tangible, numinous atmosphere in the leafy, shadowed gloom of the graveyard.  A fellow walker later told me that he was moved to tears by Angela’s gentle evocation within such a mute yet haunting landscape. I know from other later conversations that he was not alone.
Jim Pentney concluded with a few words about our Allen Davenport Chartist pilgrimage along the banks of the River Thames. Jim held aloft the stone he has carved from Allen’s birthplace at Ewen; we are taking this to the Reformers’ Memorial at Kensal Green, where Allen’s name appears. Finally, in the spirit of the shared collective experience of our walks and explorations, Jim said that all are welcome to join our Thames side ambles to London; information will appear on this website.
Some of us then retired to the Crown and Sceptre for some excellent and varied beer, where Angela, enthused and overwhelmed by the huge and positive response, thought that we really should put it on again next year. She most definitely has a point: as I first left the Ale House, some visitors who couldn’t get into the bar for the introduction, had already asked me if we could reprise the event.

What a day: well, that was a walk, that was; it’s hard to let it go.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Black Boy Clock

There you stand, not so much a sentinel,
Nor servant, but rather more a slave of time,
Obeying the diktat of cog, wheel and pendulum,
The mechanics of the hours and minutes,
For every second, until the end of time.

You have no name; identity obscured
By a costume bestowed, courtesy of fashion,
And the Age of Enlightenment and Reason,
And the iniquities of the slave trade.

Yet you shall not grow old
At the setting of the sun
And the rising of the same:
For you are a child of your own time:
Born a year after Samuel Harrison's chronometer
Began to measure maritime longitude,
When John Miles of Kendrick Street made you,
In 1774, the black boy clock.

In 2003, a Jubilee grant was awarded
To restore this black boy clock,
With a plaque honouring John Miles,
The Stroud artificer;
But you, black boy, remain anonymous,
The biblical Jubilee, Leviticus 25:1-4, 8-10 forgotten:
'You shall then sound a ram's horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall send a horn all through your land. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants.
It shall be a jubilee for you.'

The Jubilee brought you no release from bondage,
Turning your head, lifting your club, morning, noon and night,
Glancing quickly down at
‘An explanatory plaque
That foregrounds horology rather than slavery...
No reference ... to the Age of Enlightenment…
The engendering of an ideology of justificatory racism,
Nor to the black boy being the slave of relentless Time...'

Did you ever see any of the 'blacks and blackamoors'
Mentioned so tersely in Gloucestershire parish records?
Were they brought to gaze on you in your costumed foppery,
Watching the measuring of your and their bondage?

In 1773, Francis London, 'a servant to the Rt. Hon. Lord Ducie supposed to be 17 years of age - a native of Africa' was baptised;
In 1778, in Rodborough, 'William Jubiter - black', was buried;
In Stroud in 1786, Adam Parker, Negro, 32, was buried with a parish funeral;
In Frocester in 1790, William Frocester, 'supposed to be 11 or 12 years old, born on the island of Barbados, and now a servant of Edward Bigland Esq. residing in Jamaica, was baptised';
Stroud, 1801, 'William Ellis, son of Qualquay Assedew, a Negro of Guinea, aged 12 years, was baptised';
1815, Bisley Testimonial from Richard Raikes, for John Hart, Writing Master, to the post of master at Bisley Blue Coat School:
'Unfortunately he is a Mulatto, a native of the West Indies';
Minchinhampton, 1826, Thomas Davis, 'an infirm travelling Black' was buried, 67 years old.

And now, people pass you by on their way to the shops,
School, restaurants, cafes, pubs, clubs, homes and houses;
You gaze down at them, for you notice them in the street,
Walking beneath your station;
But they pass you by, oblivious of your history,
Your anonymity, and melancholy:
All faith and hope dashed by the Jubilee.

Sunday, 21 August 2016


WEAVERS and WORKHOUSE WALK Saturday August 27th 4 of the afternoone clocke , startinge  at Ye Ale House:


 Stuart Butler will lead a performative walk through the 18th and 19th centuries, meeting atte Ye ALE House: time for a 4pm drink and a chat about Chartism and the workhouse at the top of town. Then a walk thence, via a history of riots, anonymous letters, mass meetings, strikes, slave owners and the Black Atlantic.

 The tour will then reach the cemetery where Angela Findlay, resident of the Cemetery Gate Lodge and artist of the 2009 installations Re-dressing Absence, will lead a stroll around the cemetery to reveal the history of the workhouse and the paupers’ graves

 The walk will finish by 6pm, leaving you lots of time for getting ready to go out again.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Dr Jenner, the Speckled Monster, Colonel Berkeley, Tom Till and the Berkeley Poachers

Born in 1749, Edward Jenner lived

In that time of calendrical change:
A Julian age of Pope and happenstance
(Where African slaves were mocked
For their
Creole medicine and smallpox cures),
And a Gregorian world of
Science, Revolution, Reason and Experimentation
(Of Tyburn Tree skullduggery, 

Where even necrophiliac surgeons

Would baulk at payment for smallpox victims),
And walking the enclosed hedgerows, he would

Have heard the shouts and cries:
Pockmarked mechanics and labourers,
Whose right to roam was balked by the new hedges and fences,
Together with the retort of property’s muskets:
Indigent Berkeley labourers,
Forced to poach, where spring guns lay ready
To kill Tom Till, and leave a wife and two children
In a parish of poverty and sorrow:
Even the castle chaplain thought
'Colonel Berkeley had run the matter of game so hard'.

So it was, that some twenty Berkeley Vale men
Swore revenge, taking a solemn oath
'Not to peach on each other, so help me God'.
A bloody battle ensued, with death and wounding,
But the cudgel-wielding colonel exacted feudal revenge,
For the jury's tearful 'Guilty' verdict meant transportation,
And execution for two poachers:
 'Launched into the presence of that
Being whose laws they had so impiously outraged',
As the Gloucester Mercury put it;
Doctor Jenner saw it quite differently:
'My intention is to quit this place, rendered dreary by the scene ...
About to be acted on the horrid platform tomorrow.
They certainly did not go out with the intention to commit murder.'
Colonel Berkeley was reviled, but obdurate to the end,
He hung a painting of the battle in his breakfast room.
But, a careful student of farm and field,
Doctor Edward Jenner saw how the smallpox

Killed one in ten in town and village,
And saw how it disfigured survivors 

With blindness and itinerant beggary,
And he studied the epidemic  
Of King George’s first strange madness year,
And he listened to the farmyard yarns

Of the protective power of cow-pox, and these

Rustic milkmaid tales convinced this thinker,
That vaccination, as he would call it,  

Could save the nation’s health; and in the years 

When the “Rights of Man” spread its virus

Through the common swinish multitude
(To the alarm of Pitt’s body politic),
Edward Jenner listened to Sarah Nelmes:
‘My cow Blossom has recently had the cowpox, sir,’
Examined the rash on her hand,
Took cowpox from the dairy,
And gave it to the 8 year old James Phipps, 

Who gained, as this iconoclast forecast,
Resistance to the ubiquitous smallpox;
Now, two centuries after such success:
"It now becomes too manifest to admit of controversy, that the annihilation of the Small Pox, the most dreadful scourge of the human species, must be the final result of this practice."
[Edward Jenner, 1801, on Vaccination (with cowpox)]
Smallpox is secreted in arsenals,
A scientific threat of germ warfare; 

How this country doctor and poet, 

How this coiner of neologisms,
Would have despised a term like germ warfare:
He called it the Speckled Monster.