Bristol Doors Open Days
The Merchants’ Hall
indocilis pauperiem pati
‘One who cannot learn to bear poverty’
What did I learn about our ‘Island Story’
On a squally September rain-swept day,
At the Merchants’ Hall, and Redcliffe Caves?
Well, we formed an orderly queue at the Hall,
Bantering with the pinstriped beadle,
Before our guide escorted us to the hall,
Where our talk began.
It was informative, in a manner of speaking:
The chandeliers are cleaned every two years!
Sixty-eight people can sit at this table!
When a speaker addresses an audience here,
The chairs are moved to face the front!
Princess Anne likes the Merchant Venturers!
Here are pictures of the docks in the 18th century!
(No mention yet…)
Royal Charters galore!
One day there will be a woman on the wall!
And a female ‘Master’ of the Society,
And she shalt have the title of ‘Master’!
The voice went on about the Society’s charitable enterprises,
I glanced at a couple of their annual reports:
‘New Schools’ Trust Offers Diversity’
(Conventional trope of girl in a science lab.),
More stuff on academies, residential care for the elderly,
‘Social business’ (sic), almshouses,
The ownership of Clifton Downs,
‘Although some 460 years old, the Society
is fresh and full of vigour and purpose’;
‘ … The Society and Bristol prospered. Trading patterns changed
over the centuries, with the later years marked
by the appalling period of slave trading in the 18th century.’
It all felt a bit Kafkaesque,
An arcane, shadowy world of ruling class disinformation …
Where philanthropy and charity
Obscures the hierarchy of ruling class control…
Sometimes a walk is as powerful as a play or film or football match,
You can’t sleep afterwards,
Your mind keeps revisiting snatches of conversation,
Or landscape technicolour pictures appear in your head,
Or memories of moments but they’re not memento mori,
It’s all alive and vital,
Not Coleridge’s Lime Tree Bower My Prison,
Instead, a diorama of recollection:
We talked, inter alia, of the following:
The Sublime, the Gothick, the Picturesque,
The unacknowledged ubiquity of slavery money,
And its Keynsian multiplier effect,
Both immediate, delayed or submerged;
‘The Shame that dare not speak its Name’;
Alexander Pope, Coleridge, Wordsworth,
King Arthur, fable, myth, memorialisation,
The invention of tradition,
Heritage and Counter-Heritage,
The Grand Tour,
A Celtic monk’s marginalia as we passed a puddle:
‘In the water’s canvas bright sunshine paints the picture of the day’;
Tobias Smollett, Daniel Defoe, Tristam Shandy, Ozymandias,
Sapperton Tunnel, the source of the Frome, the Slad Brook,
The watershed at Miserden,
The edgelands around the Thames and Severn Canal,
King George the Third’s visit to the tunnel,
18th century sight-seers,
Inland navigators, canal leggers, bricklayers;
Ecophilia, Topophilia, Logophilia,
Ocular-centred walking and the visually impaired,
Podcasting and the recording of …
The senses when out walking,
The squelch and oozing of water beneath one’s boots,
The fragrance of spearmint,
The cry of a buzzard,
The taste of spring-water,
The sharp touch of a nettle,
Learning how to describe what we see when we see …
The Blake-like vision of the universe within the palm of one’s hand;
Beneath the pavement, the beach! For here we have a line of houses called Streamside, And up there, beyond the Fountain pub, Lies Springfield Road and a plethora Of constant, subterranean springs, Springs! The genius loci of Stroud …
We walked down Lansdowne, To cross the Slad Brook, at Mill House, In search of the edgelands, Puddles, brooks and panel beaters, Car dealers, buddleia, car parks and cinemas, Past the Dickensian Omar L. Cottle, Monumental mason, The nominative determinism of a park, Named after a Park, Past strange continuities in the street: The chemist’s on the corner, Where in 1872, A chemist by the name of Joseph Banks Campaigned for a farm workers’ trade union, And no more payment in truck: ‘In sterling money, not fat bacon …or a couple of swedes’,
Then to Badbrook and weavers’ riots, ‘We had been working ever longer time for ever cankered pennies all the year. Something needed doing. So we laid our shuttles and looms to rest and joined the Stroud Valleys Weavers Union. This is my true and faithful account. I cannot dissemble. The Good Book tells us that we should get our bread by the sweat of our brow. We had the sweat but no bread. What could we do?’read more
Announcing “Edgelands and Industry: a look at Hidden Stroud in Space and Time” – A fringe-time walke: We are a collaborative group unearthing the radical history of Stroud through walking and mapping the landscape, interpreting and re-imagining our...read more
Disenchantment: The Picturesque Cotswolds and ‘Colonial Countryside’
A Walk in the Park
David Olusoga: ‘Few acts of collective forgetting have been as thorough and as successful as the erasing of slavery from Britain’s “island story”.’
The following descriptions from the internet describe the beauty of Cirencester Park. There is no mention of something else … more of that, later.
‘We think place is about space but in fact, it is really about time.’
When I first went in search of the soul of FGR,
I wandered through fields and lanes and hills and hedgerows,
Trying to find FGR’s elusive genius loci,
A topographical version of the soul,
Interwoven with local history,
Only to reach the conclusion that this soul
Might just be found in the imagination,
An invented fey ley line,
Emanating from the Jovial Forester,
Stretching up to The New Lawn Another Way
Down through the old hamlet of Forest Green,
And along the valley to the River Frome,
And thence to the River Severn,
A gateway to a world far beyond the Five Valleys:
In short, a Janus-like conjoining
Of both introspection and extrojection.
But a reading of Tim Barnard’s FGR history:
Something to Shout About
Gave me something to think about,
And grounded me further in time as well as space,
Heritage and Counter-Heritage in Stroud and the Five Valleys
The text below is what I think is important when considering SDC’s consultation on Stroud’s ‘Heritage’:
‘I think it is important to reflect on the whole notion of counter-heritage, too. By that, I mean a practice that goes beyond the visible and the archived: following the EP Thompson/Raphael Samuel historiographical process of giving a voice to the forgotten, ignored or marginalised, and not just foregrounding the ‘drum and trumpet’ outlook. Any new heritage strategy should consider this – for example: Stroud’s current heritage boards: the one in the Shambles gives a brief mention to food riots, with no contextualisation and explanation, and then we’re away on the ‘Great Man’ view of the past and naval war.
This counter-heritage should not just be about the lower orders – women and men – of Stroud: the spinners and weavers confronting the march of technology rather than just submitting to it; the Chartists; the poachers; Captain Swing and so on; it should also raise questions about the possible involvement of Stroud scarlet in the slave trade. It is vital that Stroud addresses and presents a multicultural history in the 21st century.
The heritage board near Lechlade, by the canal/Thames interchange at Inglesham , implicitly mentions this – nowhere in Stroud does.
A few slave owners in the district received compensation when slavery was abolished in 1834 – and that injection of capital helped fuel the industrial revolution. The Keynsian multiplier effect from the East India Company – opium, tobacco, slaving – also helped transform our landscape. The Bathurst slavery link also contributed to what is called a ‘colonial countryside’.read more