The roots of Socialism’s environmentalism go way back: Thomas Spence, for example, who thought enclosure and what we call now call factory farming should be replaced by ‘People’s Farms’.
John Thelwall – ‘that Jacobin fox’, ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’ – associate of Coleridge and Wordsworth, who stayed here in the summer of 1797. His studied observations of ‘Nature’ would foreground working people too. It wasn’t just the cult of the picturesque and the sublime for him.
The Chartists, too, had a programme that involved a back to the land strand. They saw the environmental degradation caused by unbridled capitalism, industrialisation and urbanisation. Let’s not forget the 5,000 who met on Selsley Common in 1839.
Then, of course, we have William Morris. Visit Selsley Church to remind yourself of his influence! And sit and reflect on the long history of Socialism’s embrace of environmentalism. Then read the below!
What have historians enchanted by the study of Romano-British
history ever bequeathed to us?
And why have they been enchanted?
I suppose it could be the Stockholm Syndrome,
The affection felt by the captive for the captor sort of thing,
Or perhaps we should call it the St Albans Syndrome,
Or the Verulamium Syndrome …
But there’s so much more, I know,
(Or is there?)
Deference, perhaps, or ‘Borrowed status’,
As the sociologists put it,
The cult of the classics in grammar schools,
The dominance of the English public school;
The cult of the nineteenth century amateur,
Antiquarian and archaeologist,
Often a country curate;
The simultaneous growth of the British Empire,
Parallels drawn with Pax Romana,
And the civilizing mission
Of ‘The White Man’s Burden’;
The tantalizing nature of the evidence
Of the Romano-British centuries:
Tangible yet numinous;
Chance finds as the country was industrialised,
New roads, new footings, foundations and factories,
Those rural curates on new railway lines,
The Ozymandian nature of it all:
‘Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair.’
The M.R. James winter ghost story trope,
The feeling that those twilight Celtic gods
Lie just beyond the veil of imagination.
The way that the history fitted in
With a British jigsaw of stereotypes:
England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland,
Circles without Class Ceilings
Why can prehistory be so entrancing?
Why do some people find prehistory so entrancing?
Why do they become so spellbound
When walking by, let’s say, a long barrow?
How do they become so transported in time and space?
What’s it all about?
Is it because a standing stone, a circle,
A tumulus, barrow, or whatever,
Demonstrates the fragility of knowledge,
The equivocal nature of understanding,
In a sense, the ‘negative capability’ of John Keats:
Being conscious, simultaneously,
Of knowing and yet not knowing?
The recognition that sometimes any presumption
Of understanding the meaning of an edifice,
Can only be speculative
(Despite the accumulation of evidence and artefacts,
Despite measurement, mensuration and comparison,
Despite a commitment to the rigours of empiricism),
And a reflection of who we are in the here and now –
Or can Homo sapiens merely develop
A restricted trope of meanings, recognizable
And familiar, across time and space …
So some speculations are bound to be valid …
Or is signification, itself, a trope of modernity?
Nature and Nurture:
How circumscribed are we by time and space?
And how universal are we across the same?
What do these structures reveal and indicate
About what is quintessentially human?
So, prehistoric structures,
In an a priori, apostrophizing, manner,
The manner of an innocent wonderer,
As yet unread on the subject,
I question your meaning:
What were you for?
As the traffic rumbles past on Cotswold roads,
It’s hard to hear the chip of stone on flint,
Or the croak of corvids with their blood-drip beaks,
Or the breaking of the bones of a skeleton,
Or smell the rotting flesh on the capstone,
Or taste the ashes of the dead on the nightfall wind,
Or see the blood red sunset behind the silver river
Or the standing stone’s silhouette,
But try hard on a winter’s afternoon,
And you might just slip down a wormhole of time,
To rituals of death and memory,
And recognize the prehistoric past
For what it is and was:
Not something primitive and alien,
But something shared.
Did you get bored in your history lessons?
Endless facts and dates.
A dreary litany.
Prehistoric Britain …
The Romans …
Those Anglo-Saxons and those Vikings …
Then came the Normans …
WELL HERE’S A NEW APPROACH
A RADICAL RETHINK
Questioning what we were taught and why
What did the great unwashed have to say?
A four-week course presented by
Stuart Butler and the Stroud Learners’ Circle
The Exchange, Brick Row
Wednesday November 6 th : Prehistoric Gloucestershire – why are we fascinated by prehistory? What can we find? Where?
Wednesday November 13 th : What have the Romans ever done for us? A local probe and a national question.
Wednesday November 20 th : The imprint of the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings upon the county landscape.
Wednesday November 27 th : Domesday Gloucestershire, feudal Gloucestershire, the landscape and the Peasants’ Revolt
Booking essential – only £30 for the entire course.
Contact Gail Snyman to book at 01453 765955
or by email email@example.com
The end of all our exploring
The day started auspiciously and unusually:
A chat at the bus stop with a direct descendant of Tom Paine:
‘My father maintained that we were related.
We did have first editions, in fact:
The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason’;
The 54A took us to Cirencester,
Where we congregated by the church,
Overhearing a conversation,
‘Hello. Pleased to meet you. I’m John the verger’;
Near where, in the aftermath of the Peasants’ Revolt,
‘Divers of the king’s lieges of Cirencester … assembled
And gone to the abbey … done unheard-of things
To the abbot and convent and threatened
to do all the damage they could’;
Fifteen years later they beheaded
The Earl of Salisbury and the Earl of Kent –
But we walked out through the Bathurst estate,
A colonial landscape for those with eyes,
To turn right by Alexander Pope’s seat,
Past vast polo grounds,
To reach a lambent pocket of arable land,
Hard by a bronze age tumulus,
Where ploughed field tesserae,
And nearby Ermine Way
Suggest a sumptuous Roman villa,
And where we processed along a gleaming pathway –
Like so many genius loci,
Hooded like cucullati against the rain,
Until a rainbow arch summoned Robin Treefellow
To declaim his hymn to Cuda,
Goddess of Cotswold fertility,
There by the fossil-full ploughed fields,
Where Penda of Mercia,
The last pagan king of England
Once held his crimson sword aloft in victory.
Spring waters trickled their music,
Rivulets reflected storm threat light
In the growing puddles of a rising water table,
While the ghosts of Welsh drovers silent stood,
In the elemental alchemy of autumn.
A Pedestrian Excursion Through Several Parts of England and Wales
John Thelwall’s account of his rambles
Between the years of the naval mutinies
of 1797 and the 1801 Peace of Amiens:
‘The cottages in general, are small, wretched and dirty. Some of them are built of brick, others are plastered and may exhibit nothing but miserable mud walls, equally naked without and within. They are wretchedly and scantily furnished; and few have even the advantage of a bit of garden. To complete the catalogue of misery, there is a workhouse in the parish, in which a number of deserted infants are consigned to captivity and incessant application…’
And even though Citizen John was being pursued,
Followed and shadowed by spies,
With consequent anxiety,
Thelwall could still write that …
‘The vivacity of conversation made the miles pass unheeded under our feet. We canvassed various subjects of literature and criticism, the state of morals and the existing institutions of society. We lamented the condition of our fellow-beings, and formed Utopian plans of retirement and colonisations. On one subject, and only one, we essentially differed – America. I cannot look towards that country with all the sanguine expectations so frequently cherished. I think I discover in it much of the old leaven. Its avidity for commercial aggrandisement augurs but ill even for the present generation; and I tremble at the consequences which the enormous appropriation of land may entail upon posterity.’read more