Captain Swing and the Stroud Valleys

I’m sitting by the fireside, poking the ashes,
Ghost-thoughts and fears rising with the smoke,
Reawakening all my memories
Of those dark days back in 1830;
They threshed the corn by hand back then,
Flailing in the barn in the winter months,
Until the farmers brought in those damned machines;
What with 7 shillings a week for our wages,
High bread prices and low poor relief,
Then the news of Captain Swing in Wiltshire –
We met in ——— ————‘s cottage in November.
We smashed the damned Horsley machines the next day,
————— left a note by the church door:
‘This is to tell all you gentlemen that if you don’t pull down them infernall machines then we will you damnd dogs. An yew mus rise the marrid mens wages tow and sixpence a day an the single tow shillins or we will burn your hay ricks.
From Swing.’
I lost my nerve and stole back in the night,
To hide that note safe within my bible;
But some of the men went on to Tetbury,
Up through the lanes near the Troubled House Inn.
Lord Sherborne sent in the cavalry,
The men tried to escape across the fields,
But they arrested twenty-three good friends;
That wasn’t the end of it by any means –
There was more trouble then at Cherington,
Tetbury, Chavenage and Beverston;
Poor Elizabeth Parker got seven years:
‘Be d—-d if we don’t go to Beverston to break the machines!’
Is what she cried out and was condemned for;
May all their souls rest in Van Diemen’s land,
And may this letter die with the fire.

Worklight Theatre

Worklight Theatre in Stroud

Torches and performers set the stage alight as Worklight Theatre presented a narrative and analysis of the Summer of Discord, 2011. A speedy hour whizzed past as we witnessed the spectacle of that confusing time: just 2 years ago and it already seems like another age.

Yet the play reminded us how ‘the political rhetoric’ surrounding those riots has a history stretching back through the 20th century and to the Industrial Revolution. Talking of which, here’s an open offer to Worklight Theatre and Spaniel in the Works Theatre Company: let me know if you would like to get heads around the decade of Chartism in the Stroud Valleys, or the periods of weavers’ riots or food riots. That might be something too.

Fringe Review2012: ‘Theatre so spell-binding yet brutally honest and brave that it actually gave me goose bumps’

Broadway Baby 2012: ‘Professionally stunning…’

All of us in our group who went, from teenagers to  citizens of seniority, would totally recommend seeing this whilst in our area:

26th, 27th, 28th, September, Cheltenham, Everyman

Tommy Atkins and the Canary Girl

Outside: a wet Friday afternoon in Stroud; inside: a spare set, two tables, two chairs, John Bassett and Kim Baker in ‘Tommy Atkins and the Canary Girl’.
Outside: muffled drone of traffic, occasional motor bike and bicycle bell; inside: letters, telegrams, postcards, duckboards, trenches, no man’s land, mud, shell holes, barbed wire, mustard gas, the dead and dying, lice, shell shock, rationing, girls with phossie jaw and yellow hands, 12 hour shifts, 25 bob a week, ambulances, hospitals, nurses, barrenness, conscription, unemployment and a war to end all wars.
Kim and John transported us all utterly into the internal above with their interplay of characters, snatches of songs and poems. If I was that nervous about the fact that I had forgotten about turning off my mobile ‘ phone, what must it have been like waiting for that whistle to send you over the top or waiting for that telegram?
Totally recommended – I am looking forward so much to teaming up with John and Kim next year on our 2014 Stroud and Gloucester WW1 centenary productions and workshops.

These are the words of T h o m a s J u b i T e r , once known around Gloucestershire as ‘the travelling black mariner’

These are the words of T h o m a s J u b i T e r , once known around Gloucestershire as ‘the travelling black mariner’

Iam

a negro and a free man, but close to death. I was born in Guinea in 1760, I have been told, and was sold to a ship’s captain from Bristol. He bought me with red cloth. I know now that cloth came from Stroud.
I was taken to Barbados. I can do no better than to describe that voyage through the words of Olaudah Equiano (I was later taught to read and write by a minister on the plantation. I have carried two books with me always since on my travels: The Bible and The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, the African):
‘This produced copious perspirations, so that the air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died, thus falling victims to the improvident avarice, as I may call it, of their purchasers. This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, now become insupportable; and the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often fell, and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable.’
I excelled at my studies and so became a servant to ———— ——————-. My artful dissimulation enabled me to play perfectly the role of periwigged, liveried footman. There never was a more attentive peacock. At length, my master decided to return to his estate in England. I was given the ‘privilege’, as he put it, of voyaging to England too. There would be no return to Guinea for me; that was my hoped-for reward, but that was a mere phantom.
My master’s estate was in the south of the shire and north of Bristol. After about a year, a coachman ‘of sable hue’ arrived one day with some new materials for my master’s chosen livery: Stroud Scarlet; Uley Blue and Berkeley Yellow. He called me over before the coach departed and whispered in my ear. He told me that my long lost brother was in this country too – and only some 30 miles away.
I resolved to ask for my freedom, and head north for Rodborough, near Stroud. Alas! My plea was peremptorily refused – how could I be such an ingrate? The following night I exchanged my livery for fustian brown and disappeared into the darkness of the night. Comforting light for a fleeing slave!
I concealed my person in the newly planted hedgerows by day and walked by night, keeping the moonlit River Severn on my left and close to sight. My coachman friend had told me that I should go to Arlingham, where there was a chance of obtaining a place on a crew of a vessel heading for Gloucester. My good fortune continued and I duly found a place on the Quadrille, bound for Gloucester. Here I met more men of colour, some from America.
One of these mariners told me the whereabouts of Rodborough and that he had heard that a negro was in habitation there. This news spurred me as much as my hearty dinner – my brother! The mariner advised me to head back toFramilode, so that I might join a crew on a ship heading for Stroud through the Stroudwater Navigation. When I mentioned the Quadrille, that was sufficient testimony to my prowess, and I took my place on the Sabrina.
I alighted at Wallbridge to take the path up the hill to Rodborough. It was with a little trepidation but much expectation that I entered that parish on that autumn day. I sought out the clergyman at the church and explained my quest. I showed him my Bible in my bag; my name in the front’s piece seemed to reassure him of my bona fides. He looked at me solemnly and dropped his gaze. He asked me to follow him and this I did, following in his dolorous wake.
He lifted the parish register and leafed through the pages. After some moments of pensive perusal, he showed me this entry:
1st July, 1778, William Jubiter, ye black, buried.
I buried my head in my hands and cried the salt tears of loneliness. At length, I was led from the church and so made my melancholy descent back to Wallbridge.
I despaired of human company and recoiled from the thought of contact, such was my sadness. I resolved to make a solitary way along the cut and so reach the River Thames; and thence to London. The beauty of the bosky hills and vales; the serenity of the sylvan shade; the laughter of the waters; the wind in the reeds; the white stone cottages like so many pebbles thrown on the hillsides; the pure green fields – all of these conspired to give me endurance, fortitude and make thanks to God. Two days walking led me to Lechlade where I found a place on the William Butler, bound for Deptford. Here I found friendly mariners and also negroes. They told me that the riversides in London possess a whole reticulation of havens and hidey-holes for escaped slaves and servants. A trudge through a labyrinth of streets, creeks and chimneys led me to my haven, where I presently lie on my bedding.
The death-rattle of my cough echoes the call of the birds of my homeland in Guinea. My birthplace is no phantom now. The call of my mother and father is as insistent as the waves on the shore-line of my village. I know that I shall, at last, be returning to that bourn ere long.
These are the last words that I shall write.
Thomas Jubiter
Story written by Stuart Butler, August 2013, inspired by an entry in a parish register.
“Non-fiction uses facts to help us see the lies. Fiction uses metaphor to help us see the truth.”
See: A book that changed me, Nadine Gordimer helped me see how fiction writing can illuminate reality, by Aminatta Forna, The Guardian, August 20 2013.

Folk in a Box

You get home from Southwold after a 5 hour drive and you’re slightly tired, even though you don’t drive. The fields resemble a Kansas harvest breadbasket, Keats whispers in the wind: ‘Where are the songs of Spring?’ and Seamus Heaney is dead, school’s back on Monday, war clouds are gathering. The holidays are well and truly over.
But a walk up the Albert on Stroud Fringe Saturday night restores your faith in humanity and the infinite possibilities of friendship. Not just old friends from ‘No Pasaran!’ like Becky and Dell, but also a new welcome from Folk in a Box. Out the back of the pub was a a group of bohos and hipsters even more boho and hipster than the usual for even the Albert. Behind them was a box.
I entered the sepulchral gloom within the portmanteau and sat opposite an invisible minstrel. What might happen? What could happen? Friend or foe? Confusion is the usual handmaiden of darkness – what if humiliation is the consequence? Robbery?
Instead, the troubadour strummed a guitar and sang me a song straight from the heart. Two strangers lost in darkness, yet establishing a union through the medium of music, a harmony where none existed before. ‘Folk in a Box’: singing inside a box, yet making waves through seven handshakes wherever they go.

We put on our best blouses, aprons and hats

I’ll never forget last Tuesday, even if I live to seventy.
We all woke up so excited, never eaten porridge so fast.
We put on our best blouses, aprons and hats
(We mightn’t have looked as fine as Miss Austen’s ladies,
But it’s not as though they’ve got the vote either),
The men shaved their chins, put on their caps,
Moleskin trousers and fustian waistcoats,
And out we strode into the lane.
Such a sight you never did see!
Hundreds of working men, women and children,
All marching in an orderly line past our cottage,
And serpentine lines climbing up every valley side,
There must have been thousands!
All laughing and cheering, but sore determined,
Determined to get our rights and right our wrongs.
Just think about what’s happened since the last campaign –
High price of bread. Wages down. Short time working.
Long hours for those who have work.
Tolpuddle Martyrs. The Poor Law. The Workhouse.
The Bible tells us to nurture each other in sickness and in health,
But the Workhouse rents us all asunder!
So it was such a joy to see them all,
See them all streaming from Stroud, Woodchester, Uley, Wotton,
The Stanleys, Selsley, Cainscross, Minchinhampton, Painswick,
Rodborough, Stonehouse, Randwick, Ruscombe, Bisley,
Slad, Steanbridge, Nailsworth, Avening, Horsley,
Bands playing, music flowing, banners streaming:
‘ Liberty’; ‘Equal Rights and Equal Laws’;
‘For a Nation to be Free it is Sufficient that She wills it’.
Then the banners from the Working Men’s Associations,
And the Radical Women’s Associations,
Then the handbills and placards listing our six points:
Universal Suffrage; Secret Ballot; Payment of MPs;
Abolition of the property qualification for MPs;
Payment of MPs; Annual Parliaments;
Then the speeches up there on top of the common:
‘We must have the 6 points’;
‘Peaceably if we may, forcibly if we must’;
‘Those damnable Poor Law Bastilles are worse than prisons’;
‘May the Almighty inspire the people with vigour and energy’;
Then the cheers for our Chartist leaders and groans for Russell’s name;
It was such a day and life will never be the same again:
Russell says we do not understand the laws of capital and wages –
But we do my Lord. We do.

Stroud’s Aboriginal Dreaming Songline

On Friday August 2nd, I followed some old holloway from Woodchester into Water Lane, up through shadowed woodland and so to Selsley Common. As we (Walking the Land) climbed the common, we began to wonder if our seemingly modern path could be a continuation of the previous holloway, broken horizontally by the Stroud – Uley road. This led to conjecture: how many of our Stroud Valleys’ tracks and holloways might be part of a prehistoric network, interlinking the barrows on the hilltops and valley sides?
Tim Copeland, in his ‘Archaeological Walking Guide – The Cotswold Way’, writes about ‘the importance of the River Severn in the landscape’, when viewed from the Cotswold Way: ‘The River Severn, the Roman Sabrina, must have been of special mystical significance due to its surge wave or ‘bore’ …the effect on people in the prehistoric past must have been dramatic.’ That’s still the case even today, in some ways.
With so many barrows in our area (‘Neolithic long barrows are a haunting feature of the Cotswold Way. Of the 500 examples in England and Wales there are 200 in the Cotswold/Severn region, of which at least 20 lie along the route of the National Trail or in the parishes alongside it.’), it will be an autumnal delight to take out the OS maps, locate prehistoric sites, and find interconnecting paths. We have a lot of prehistoric sites to interconnect: Randwick, Woodchester, Selsley, Nympsfield, Minchinhampton, Avening, Horsley, King’s Stanley, Leonard Stanley, Uley, and so on.
The long barrow on Selsley Common would seem to be the consequent ideal spot for some mythopoeic musing. The sublimity of the Severn sunset cloudscape; the sweeps of light across ‘the enigmatic shapes of the hills’; the majesty of the Black Mountains – all conspire to shift modern consciousness and take us to another time. And this is where the Aborigines come in.
On the day after our walk the Guardian carried a report from Sydney (Bridey Jabour and agencies) about a mining firm that was guilty of ‘desecrating and damaging an Aboriginal sacred site’ …’estimated to be tens of thousands of years old.’ ‘Community representative Gina Smith said the site was part of a dreaming songline.”Like a railway line, each sacred site represented a different station along the way,” she said.’
Perhaps we have a dreaming songline right on our Cotswold Way doorstep, up there on Selsley Common, or Painswick Beacon or Haresfield.
Imagine.

These are my memories of what I saw and did, together with others in the Stroudwater Valleys in 1825

These are my memories of what I saw and did, together with others in the Stroudwater Valleys in 1825. I know I am supposed to show remorse but I cannot dissemble. I have no remorse. My name is Charlotte Alice Ayliffe Bingham and I am 25 years old. It was after Eastertid read more