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

Stroud Scarlet

Colouring the Globe Stroud Scarlet Red

 

You can see the strange fruits of slavery
In classical, elegant, Clifton:
All ship-shape and Bristol fashion,
Honey-stone Age of Enlightenment,
Reason, proportion and symmetry –
But not even those straight lines
Can hide the triangles of trafficking,
Empire, expansion and aggrandisement;
And whether trade followed the flag
Or flag followed trade is immaterial
To the story of capital expansion,
In the 18th century’s Grand Tour,
When Britannia Ruled the Waves,
Thanks to press-ganged jolly Jack Tars,
Stroud Scarlet, Uley Blue and Berkeley Yellow.
Watch those explorers canoeing Canada,
Trading Stroud Scarlet with the Iroquois,
When fair exchange was no robbery
For the Hudson Bay Company,
Or for the East India Company too;
See that Stroud Scarlet cloth,
Stretched out on tenterhooks in our fields,
Eventually shipped down to West Africa,
Its folds concealing any human cargo.
Admire General Wolfe and his red coats,
Up there on the steps of Quebec,
A few short years after riding down
Stroud Scarlet weavers in the streets and fields:
“Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves,
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves.”