Harvest Festivals and Changing Times

Times change don’t they?

“Are there no prisons?”
“Are there no workhouses?”
Asked Mr. Scrooge back in the decade
Known as ‘The Hungry Forties”,
When asked to assist with charity,
A charity that was mostly Christian rather than secular.

Times change don’t they?
‘’We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land
And it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand’…
I grew up singing that as a schoolboy,
Not knowing then, that it was a hymnal retort
To Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species
Times change don’t they?

And when I sang that as a schoolboy,
We collected and distributed the fruits of the harvest
To senior citizens in the area,
Many, I suspect, widowed in the Great War,
And our posh head-teacher would not allow
Anything as common as tinned food
To sully the cornucopia in the hall,
Times change don’t they?

Times change don’t they?

“Are there no prisons?”
“Are there no workhouses?”
Asked Mr. Scrooge back in the decade
Known as ‘The Hungry Forties”,
When asked to assist with charity,
A charity that was mostly Christian rather than secular.

Times change don’t they?
‘’We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land
And it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand’…
I grew up singing that as a schoolboy,
Not knowing then, that it was a hymnal retort
To Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species
Times change don’t they?

And when I sang that as a schoolboy,
We collected and distributed the fruits of the harvest
To senior citizens in the area,
Many, I suspect, widowed in the Great War,
And our posh head-teacher would not allow
Anything as common as tinned food
To sully the cornucopia in the hall,
Times change don’t they?

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Oral History and Walking

ONE: DISCOVERY

An invitation to participate in a seminar held by the Oral History Society in September 2017, based on some work from thirteen or so years before, got me thinking about oral history and differing walking practices. Obviously, many people record their walks – but I wanted to seek examples of projects and ideas beyond that admittedly admirable practice.

So I joined the Walking Artists Network and introduced myself with a question: I wondered if any walking artists carried out oral history projects as part of their approach. Some examples follow, but first I thought I might outline my experiences and ideas.

The work which was so well regarded was for www.irespect.net – the website seems a bit creaky now, but my perspective was that the lives of ordinary people were as necessary to any transmission of ‘Heritage’ as the lives of the powerful: a form of ‘Counter-Heritage’, in a way. I also put together a whole series of worksheets and lesson plans for schools. What I/we haven’t done is to walk the streets of Gloucester, using those testimonies and questions for walking and discussion: the great thing about devising questions with testimonies is that it stops those oral testimonies becoming inert. The questions promote engagement – that is especially so, of course, with young people.

ONE: DISCOVERY

An invitation to participate in a seminar held by the Oral History Society in September 2017, based on some work from thirteen or so years before, got me thinking about oral history and differing walking practices. Obviously, many people record their walks - but I wanted to seek examples of projects and ideas beyond that admittedly admirable practice.

So I joined the Walking Artists Network and introduced myself with a question: I wondered if any walking artists carried out oral history projects as part of their approach. Some examples follow, but first I thought I might outline my experiences and ideas.

The work which was so well regarded was for www.irespect.net - the website seems a bit creaky now, but my perspective was that the lives of ordinary people were as necessary to any transmission of ‘Heritage’ as the lives of the powerful: a form of ‘Counter-Heritage’, in a way. I also put together a whole series of worksheets and lesson plans for schools. What I/we haven’t done is to walk the streets of Gloucester, using those testimonies and questions for walking and discussion: the great thing about devising questions with testimonies is that it stops those oral testimonies becoming inert. The questions promote engagement – that is especially so, of course, with young people.

read more

Searching for the Soul of Forest Green Part Two

‘We think place is about space but in fact, it is really about time.’
(Rebecca Solnit)

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,

‘We think place is about space but in fact, it is really about time.’
(Rebecca Solnit)

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,

read more

History Workshop Journal

This is the official Facebook group for History Workshop Journal and History Workshop Online.

Both the journal and the website emerge from the History Workshop movement. Founded in Britain in the late sixties by the historian Raphael Samuel, the movement advocated “history from below”: history envisioned from the perspective of ordinary people rather than elites…

This is the official Facebook group for History Workshop Journal and History Workshop Online.

Both the journal and the website emerge from the History Workshop movement. Founded in Britain in the late sixties by the historian Raphael Samuel, the movement advocated “history from below”: history envisioned from the perspective of ordinary people rather than elites... read more

Brooklyn and the Slad Brook Conjoined

Brooklyn and the Slad Brook Conjoined Historically and Inter-Textually

I remember so well that day at Wallbridge in Stroud,
Seeing the man whose name I do not know,
Yet with whom I always share the time of day
Whenever our paths cross in the street;
He was leaning on the canal bridge,
Gazing out over the waters,
Beyond the information board
Which portrays Stroud Scarlet,
Stretched out on tenterhooks
In Rodborough Fields;
He was staring at the Cainscross Road,
Where the Slad Brook enters the canal –
In a reverie about the old brewery, I thought –
‘Remembering the smell of the beer?’ I asked;
‘No, I’m just thinking about all of these cars,
Where they all comin’ from, and where they all goin’ to?’

Brooklyn and the Slad Brook Conjoined Historically and Inter-Textually

I remember so well that day at Wallbridge in Stroud,
Seeing the man whose name I do not know,
Yet with whom I always share the time of day
Whenever our paths cross in the street;
He was leaning on the canal bridge,
Gazing out over the waters,
Beyond the information board
Which portrays Stroud Scarlet,
Stretched out on tenterhooks
In Rodborough Fields;
He was staring at the Cainscross Road,
Where the Slad Brook enters the canal -
In a reverie about the old brewery, I thought -
‘Remembering the smell of the beer?’ I asked;
‘No, I’m just thinking about all of these cars,
Where they all comin’ from, and where they all goin’ to?’

read more

Stroud Library: Use it or Lose it – Ex Libris Ad Amazonia

It’s odd to think that the Chartist mass meeting up on Selsley Hill
Contributed to the formation and spread of public libraries.
But it’s true, after a fashion.

The Chartist decade of 1838 to 1848,
The ruling class fear of revolution,
The threat to private property and profit,
The association of freethinking with ‘intemperance’,
All helped lead to the 1850 Public Library Act,
The cult of municipal museums too,
And the Victorian emphasis on private study,
Within a public or familial space:
The familiar trope of the Victorian working class male autodidact.

‘We must educate our masters’,
Said Home Secretary, Robert Lowe,
After the urban working class gained the vote in 1867,
But self-help, the 3 R’s, libraries, museums and schools
Didn’t necessarily mean universal conformist thinking:
Fiction fostered the imagination, and non-fiction the frown:
Reading could lead to questioning, and such questioning,
Coupled with the study of a book’s bibliography
Could lead to the polite request that the local library
Might order a required book –
Not on the shelves –
Either as new stock,
Or from another library,
Out of town or county:
This was a public, national service,
Not just a municipal one.

It's odd to think that the Chartist mass meeting up on Selsley Hill
Contributed to the formation and spread of public libraries.
But it's true, after a fashion.

The Chartist decade of 1838 to 1848,
The ruling class fear of revolution,
The threat to private property and profit,
The association of freethinking with 'intemperance',
All helped lead to the 1850 Public Library Act,
The cult of municipal museums too,
And the Victorian emphasis on private study,
Within a public or familial space:
The familiar trope of the Victorian working class male autodidact.

'We must educate our masters',
Said Home Secretary, Robert Lowe,
After the urban working class gained the vote in 1867,
But self-help, the 3 R’s, libraries, museums and schools
Didn't necessarily mean universal conformist thinking:
Fiction fostered the imagination, and non-fiction the frown:
Reading could lead to questioning, and such questioning,
Coupled with the study of a book's bibliography
Could lead to the polite request that the local library
Might order a required book -
Not on the shelves -
Either as new stock,
Or from another library,
Out of town or county:
This was a public, national service,
Not just a municipal one.

read more

Come Back Dad (Again)

Come Back Dad
And hide “British History For Boys”
Underneath my pillow while I’m asleep,
As a surprise coming home present;

Come Back Dad
And bring home
Mars Bars and eucalyptus sweets
On Thursday pay nights
For our weekly treat;

Come Back Dad
And tap the beer barrel
At 5a.m. on Christmas Day morning,
Exclaiming: “First one of the day!”

Come Back Dad
And put that “How to play Football” book
Under the tree
So I could learn to play just like you.

Come Back Dad
And make your own telly for the cup final again,
But this time it won’t blow up
Before our astonished faces;

Come back Dad,
And watch Remembrance Day
On a brand new bought telly,
And remember your fallen comrades,
With a tear in your eye;

Come Back Dad
And dig the spuds in on a bird-song Good Friday,
Out in the garden with your memories,
And then lead the sing-song round the Wheatsheaf.

Come Back Dad
And sing “Little Nell” with mum again
And let’s hear “The Sheikh of Araby” again,
Who else would have Christmas boots on kicking up the dust?

Come Back Dad
And sit me on your knee after the pub again,
And tell me about fighting the Japanese in the jungle,
Hearing their long night siren call:
“Come on Tommy. Look over here Tommy.”

Come Back Dad
And tell me one more time about Dixie Dean and Lawton,
And Matthews, Mortensen and Finney
And how much better they are than today’s lot.

Come Back Dad
And stub out your last fag of the day again
And put it behind your ear together with your pencil,
Senior Service ship-shape fashion for the morning;

Come Back Dad
And study the pools coupon by the firelight again,
While I read “Roy of the Rovers”
And dream of playing for England;

Come Back Dad
And pass the ball to me for just one more time.

Just like you do,
Every day,
And I’ll pass it back to you,
On every Christmas Day,
At 5 a.m.,
First one of the day.

My brother, Keith, and me, bleary-eyed, were once greeted by our dad tapping the barrel at 5 o’clock on Christmas Day morning with a jaunty: ‘First one of the day!’

The Anniversary of the NHS: Parity not Charity

Tucked between the Trinity Rooms and the Hospital we celebrated the NHS’s 65th birthday this week in the Pocket Park.
Built and given to the people in the 1880s, the Trinity Rooms acted as a ward in the First World War for troops, many, almost certainly, wounded on the Somme. The stone over the entrance of the hospital follows with the year 1919.
In the Pocket Park we reflected on the debts we all owe the NHS. James read words of the founding figure, Aneurin Bevan, whose friend, disciple, successor as MP for Ebbw Vale and biographer was a young Michael Foot.
Also reported this week is news of Foot’s statue in Plymouth, his home city, defaced and daubed with swastikas. He was born overlooking Argyll Park, the original ground of Plymouth Argyll, and he was a lifelong supporter on the terraces where Plymothians were always proud of him.

James Pentney

I was born at home in 1951
(Three years after the NHS came into being),
In a prefab, local authority council housing
Provided for WW2 servicemen and women:
It was the spirit of 1945,
The word ‘National’ was everywhere and on everything:
There was to be no return to laissez-faire,
There was to be no return to the 30’s and the Depression,
No return to the lottery of the market,
It was a thank you to the working class
For all the privations of six years of total war;

My birth wasn’t easy:
Dad rode out on his bike
To collect some gas apparatus
To aid my mother in her pain
And aid my passage into this world.

I dunno –
For all I know,
I might have died and mum might have died
Without the NHS and that gas apparatus:
I wouldn’t be able to remember those visits
To the NHS clinic for the free powdered milk and orange juice,
Or the visits to my bedside of refugee,
And survivor of fascism, Dr. Liechenstein;
And God knows what life would have been like for dad
And my sister and brother, without mum;

Granny and Grampy Butler came to visit me straightway,
For I was born on their wedding anniversary,
August 22nd;
Gramp was lucky – even though he was made unemployed
After WW1 and the family had to live in a Nissan hut,
He escaped wounding and trauma after four years at the front –
But in these early July days
Just after the centenary of the Battle of the Somme,
Let’s remember what support the wounded,
Traumatised and gassed veterans could obtain before 1948:
Patchy charity, the British Red Cross, the British Legion,
Poppy Day, nurses selling flags on the streets, cuts in the dole:

A true commemoration of the sacrifice of those soldiers at the Somme,
Would be the flourishing of a National Health Service in the 21st century:
No back to the future,
No flag days,
No war,
No charity,
But parity.