A People’s History: Desacralisation of the Landscape

Ye 17th Century Prologue

The Reformation and Desacralisation of the Landscape

 ‘This book, Inhabiting the Landscape, Place, Custom and Memory (Chapter 2, Religious Topographies) by Nicola Whyte is the only source that I have come across that deals with this in any depth, and while its’ expensive unless you’re lucky, it seems that Google will let you read the relevant chapter. World of books produced a really cheap copy, but only after having it on a list for many months. Nicola Whyte is now at Exeter University, and its worth looking her profile up, as her area of interest is so “right on”.

But perhaps I should summarise…

Following the accession of Edward VI in 1547, Protestant reformers turned their attention to the superstitious beliefs and practices of ordinary people by attacking and destroying the visual imagery and ritualistic culture of parish communities across the country, which continued under Elizabeth and later the Puritans. There’s an argument that Catholic rites became transposed into folk rituals that were tolerated,  and  as such eased the transition from a Catholic to a Protestant society. The changes were not just to churches and the way they were used, but also to a very wide range of holy sites. Between 1530 and 1550 the infrastructure of the late medieval landscape was drastically altered, especially by the suppression of monastic institutions and the closure of pilgrimage centres. In a religious society, many areas of practical, mundane existence were infused with sacred connotations, so, as people worked in the fields, their lived environment was a context for beliefs, far beyond the confines of church and churchyard. In the late medieval period individuals and communities were engaged in ostentatious displays of their religiosity, which led to parishes with more than one church, sometimes adjacent, and outlying chapels too. The nature of faith meant the accumulation of wealth was not prominent, and charitable works as well as legacies that might lessen the time spent in purgatory was a significant thing to do. Popular belief in the intercessionary role of the saints helped to sustain a dense network of sacred sites and produced a landscape defined by ritual movement, linking pilgrimage and monastic sites with a host of minor sites, such as holy wells, parish, monastic and private manorial chapels, hermitages and local churches. Chantry chapels were built on or adjacent to churchyards or were found within the church, where a priest would pray to reduce a persons time in purgatory, if they had been suitably endowed. The less wealthy might do this by belonging to a guild or fraternity. There were a number of poor monastic houses, nunneries, chapels, hospitals(for pilgrims)hermitages and cells in the landscape. Bridges were a distinctive feature of Christian theology, representing the role of Christ, bishops and popes as intermediaries of God. As a result there were many chapels and hermitages on bridges. donations were both to the priest, for prayer, but also served the important function of upkeep for the bridge, the benefit to the community being a benefit to ones own spiritual life(as in time spent in purgatory. “all contributions to the comfort of one’s neighbours were understood as a dimension of the promotion of charity, the divine life of the community” Pilgrimage routes were inscribed with monuments and buildings, chapels and crosses, which deepened the experience of the journey itself, and villages on thee routes sought to promote their own shrines and holy wells. Stone and wooden crosses were the most ubiquitous elements ibn this medieval religious landscape, but largely overlooked by modern historians. in church yards, and vast numbers besides roads. Mnemonic devices to remind the living of their duty to pray for the souls of the dead, and relieve them of the traumas of purgatory. Often place at road junctions, which had  magical or malevolent qualities, and used in Rogation tide beating of the bounds.  The proliferation of crosses, chapels ,holy wells, hermitages and other holy places and landmarks ensured religious imagery was encountered in a wide range of everyday contexts, well away from the parochial core of the church, alandscape rich in religious meaning and symbolism shaped peoples’ lives. Later…Puritans dismissed the concept of a holy place as idolatrous. Victorian church restorations sometimes uncovered items that had been hidden at these times, presumably int he hope that the old religion would prevail again. Following Henry’s death in 1547, the government ordered the destruction of all shrines, paintings and sculptures purporting to have superstitious use, and all endowments of chantries, religious guilds to be relinquished on the grounds that Purgatory was a fabrication. as a result many buildings fell into disuse and decay. (And, of course, churches now had to display royal arms.) Churchyard crosses were targeted because of their role in the(now banned) churchyard processions. Many prominent road side ones were partly destroyed, but still had a function in defining parish bounds, the parish becoming more important as an administrative unit in Tudor England.

That’s it in summary, Bill’


An A to Z of the Jobs of those transported from Gloucestershire

An A to Z of People at Work in Gloucestershire

in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries:

The professions and jobs and sometimes status

Of those who were transported

When I look out of my window I descry

The following on their way to Van Diemen’s Land

and to New South Wales:

An accountant, an apothecary, an ash-carrier,

an attorney-at-law, and an awl-blade maker;

Followed by

A baker, a baker’s boy, a barber, a bargeman,

A basket-maker, a billy-spinner, a blacking-maker,

A blacksmith, a boatman, a boiler-maker, a brass-founder,

A brazier, a bricklayer, a brick-maker, a brush-maker,

A brush maker’s apprentice, a burler, and a butcher;

Next in line:

A cabinet-maker, a calf-dealer, a carpenter,

A carpet-weaver, a carrier, a carver, a chair-maker,

A chimney sweep, a clerk, a clock- and watch-maker,

A clock-cleaner, a cloth dresser, a cloth-factory man,

A clothier, a clothing-mill boy, a cloth-mill worker,

A cloth-rower, a cloth-worker, a coach-horse tender,

A coach-painter, a coach-plater, a coach-smith,

A coal miner, a collar-maker, a collier,

A colt-breaker, a comb-maker, a confectioner,

A cooper, a cordwainer, a cork-cutter,

A cotton-spinner, and a cutler;

Then this queue:

A dealer, a dealer in marine stores, a deserter,

 A donkey-driver, a draper, a dress-maker,

A drummer in the militia;

Succeeded by this procession:

An earthenware dealer, an East India Company member,

An edge-toolmaker, an engine-maker, an errand boy;

Then this column:

A farmer, a Fenceler (Royal Marines), a field blacksmith,

A file-cutter, a fireman, a fish- and bacon-carrier,

A fish- and orange-carrier, a fish-carrier, a fisherman,

A fishmonger, a flock-dresser, a fly-man,

A framework-knitter;

In the rear of those:

A gardener, a Gentleman, a gig-mill worker,

A glazier, a glover, a grocer, a groom, a gunsmith, a gypsy;

Then a sinuous line:

A hairdresser, a handle-setter, a harness-maker,

A hatter, a haulier, a hawker, a hawker of hardware,

A haggler, A horse-dealer, A horse-doctor,

A horse-keeper, A hurdle-maker;

Then in quick two step:

A japanner and a joiner;

Followed by this quintet:

Labourer, lace-factory worker, lawyer, leather-dresser, lemon-carrier;

And then a longer row:

A marine, a mason, a merchant, a merchant seaman,

A metal-smith, a militia-man, a milliner, a miller, a millman,

A millman and cloth rower, a millwright, a mole catcher,

A miner, a mortar-boy, a moulder in foundry, a musician;

Then a trio:

A nailer, a nail-maker, a navigator;

Then a singular

Oyster- and cider-seller;

Followed by this chain:

A painter, a paper-maker, a pargeter, a pensioner,

A pedlar, a pig-dealer, a pipe-maker, a plane-maker,

A plasterer, a plumber and glazier, a porter, a post-boy,

A potter, and a prostitute;

And a then this string:

A rag-gatherer, a razor-grinder, a recruit for the army,

A ribbon-weaver, a rifle corps member, a rope-maker,

A rope-spinner, and a rowling-slitter;

And then this motley:

A sack-weaver, a saddler, a sail-maker, a sailor,

A sawyer, a scamp and bone picker, a scribbler, a seaman,

A servant, a shearer, a shearman, a shepherd, a shoe-binder, a shoe-maker, A shop-keeper, a silk-weaver, a slater and plasterer, a smith,

A smelter, a soap-boiler, a soldier, a spinner, a sprig-maker,

A stable boy, a stenciller, a stocking-maker, a stocking weaver,

A stock-worker, a stone-cutter, a stone mason,

A straw- and hay-dealer, a straw- bonnet maker, a surgeon, a sweep;

Then this cavalcade:

A tailor, a tailoress, a tailor’s apprentice, a tanner,

A tea-dealer’s clerk and traveller, a thatcher; a tile-maker,

A tinker, a tin-man, a tramp(er), a traveller, a traveller with an ass,

A traveller with fruit etc., a traveller with hardware,

A turner and filer, a twine-spinner;

Coming up the rear:

An upholsterer;

A volunteer for the army;

And finally:

A washerwoman, a waterman, a weaver,

A wheelwright, a whitesmith, a wire-drawer,

A wood-dealer, a wood-sawyer, a woolsorter.

This is, of course, not the number of people transported,

But a list of the professions and jobs

and sometimes status of those transported.

But it is a window on a lost world.




            Cast your mind back to the turn of the year:

‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Season’s Greetings’, ‘Happy New Year’ …

And Ben and Bexie in the doorway at Peacock’s

In their sleeping bags with books and a chess set

In the incessant torrents of December;

It was Ben and Bexie who galvanised me

As I faced the welter of Christmas charity appeals;

I didn’t know where to contribute – so many!

And as someone brought up on the adage,

‘Parity not Charity’,

I’ve always felt ambivalent about charity:

Patching up the status quo and all that,

But as William Blake said,

You can see the world in a grain of sand,

So, you can be charitable at the micro level

While keeping your eye on the ball the rich are having …

But I was also brought up in a Christian manner,

So here comes Corinthians 13.13,

The Three Divine Virtues,

Faith, Hope and Charity:

‘And now abideth faith, hope, charity,

these three; but the greatest of these is charity.’

And so here I am and so here we are,

Hoping to offer practical and financial support

To the Blue Lantern Project:

Sustainable, temporary living accommodation

For the homeless …

But, for the moment, let’s go back to Ben and Bexie,

As the personification of homelessness,

With the image of a modern-day Scrooge

Before his agonised redemption,

Looking, perhaps, like Suella Braverman:

‘Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?’

So, what did ‘Happy New Year’ and ‘Merry Christmas’

Mean to Ben and Bexie?

To answer this, let’s pursue a few synonyms

On our journey through the streets to redemption:

Homeless: unhoused – houseless – uncared for – displaced – dispossessed – outcast – unsettled – vagrant – vagabond – itinerant –

Notice how the last three shades of meaning

Morph not just into Victorian values of self-help

But, also, contemporary shades of meaning:

Remember that Tory cant about ‘crap parents’,

And as though homelessness were a lifestyle choice …

Vagrant – vagabond – itinerant –

So much of the reality of modernity

Is elided with those three words

As we shall see at the end of this presentation.

Now a few synonyms for wealth:

Riches – fortune – prosperity – affluence – property – substance – possessions

Now a few synonyms for inequality and injustice:

Disparity – unbalance – disproportion – unevenness – irregularity –

Wrong – unfair – disservice – offence – insult – injury – inequity – indignity – affront – unjust

Unhappy New Year!

Sadness – sorrow – grief – gloom – desperation – despondence – forlornness – misery – despair – distress – anguish – pain – mournfulness – dejection – depression – melancholy – hopelessness – pessimism – joylessness – wretchedness – dolefulness – weariness –

The man in the Black Dog film sleeping rough

In the tent beneath the railway bridge

In Gloucester before he was flooded out

Further broadened my horizons with this:

‘When you sleep in the streets, the streets become your home.’

Think of that when you next nestle down

At your real or metaphorical hearth –

Hearth – residence – dwelling – root – roof – shelter –

Security – protection – safeguarded –

Of course, you have none of those when you sleep rough.

Now the Church of England was once nicknamed

‘The Tory Party at prayer’.

And I suppose people with a belief

In self-help, competitive individualism,

A low-tax perception of the State as a Nanny,

And the perception of sleeping in a tent by a floodtide river

As a ‘lifestyle choice’

Might support the Office for National Statistics

In its proposal to drop the publication

Of the deaths of homeless persons

(741 in 2021)

With talk of – and I unironically quote here –

‘an improved and more efficient health and social care landscape’ –

What on earth does that mean, for God’s sake?

Meanwhile, in the real world away from that disingenuousness,

Nearly 75,000 single-parent households

Face the threat of eviction this winter,

According to Shelter’s statistical analysis,

What with falling behind with the rent and/or no-fault evictions:

The lack of ‘genuinely affordable’ social housing

Results in a supply-demand imbalance,

With competition for a roof driving up rents;

A few more stats:

1.5 million properties

Lie vacant at the moment

In England and Wales;

Nearly 275,000 people

Are recorded as homeless in England;

Think back to that long list of synonyms,

And now reflect on the fundamentals of that lexicon:

Wealth, poverty, inequality, injustice,

And reflect upon the hyper-normalisation of homelessness,

Of people sleeping in the streets and shop doorways,

Like some twenty-first century Gustav Dore engraving,

And now let’s try to translate our thoughts into action:

Together we can make a difference

As we see the world in a grain of sand,

Or in a shop doorway at Peacock’s in Stroud.


Stroud Streets Walk Sunday January 21st

Some of us at Radical Stroud are giving whole hearted support to the Blue Lantern Homeless Project (led by Steve Gower of the Black Dog documentary film about homelessness). The project aims to develop sustainable temporary living accommodation for the homeless. If you fancy a walk around Stroud’s streets to discuss the history of homelessness, council and social housing; the problems of the present day and possible solutions … then we meet at the canal bridge at Wallbridge at 10.30 on Sunday January 21st. The walk will be on the level towards Paganhill along the canal and then return to town with an ascent to the old workhouse at Stone Manor. Free – but please feel free to make contributions on the day to the project or via a link that will be provided.

Fingers crossed that this does the job: just copy and paste:




Randwick Talk Thursday January 25th

.A presentation looking at the radical history of Stroud and the local villages in the 18th and early 19th centuries with a brief look at the links between local and global history. There will also be a focus on the ‘Was Great Britain close to revolution?’ question, looking at the period from the French Revolution to the 1832 Reform Act. These contexts will then lead to a focus on the tantalising seemingly utopian experiment in Randwick in 1832. All will be revealed at Randwick Village Hall on Thursday January 25th at 7.30. £5 cash entry: cake for that as well as an hour from me.


Jack Zipes

Munich, Arsenal and Frankfurt

Twenty years after Neville Chamberlain
Proclaimed ‘Peace for our time’ at Heston,
On his return from the Munich conference,
The ‘Busby Babes’ played their last ever game
In England, against Arsenal, at Highbury:

The Munich Air Crash would take so many lives and minds,
And leave a city and a nation frozen in grief;
It was a long journey from February to the summer.

But the World Cup followed the end of the season –
Pele amazed the world with his precocity –
Before close season training at Highbury,
With eyes upon the coming fixture list;
When Jack Zipes, an American student,
Would leave Coleridge, Wordsworth, Thelwall et al

Munich, Arsenal and Frankfurt

Twenty years after Neville Chamberlain
Proclaimed ‘Peace for our time’ at Heston,
On his return from the Munich conference,
The ‘Busby Babes’ played their last ever game
In England, against Arsenal, at Highbury:

The Munich Air Crash would take so many lives and minds,
And leave a city and a nation frozen in grief;
It was a long journey from February to the summer.

But the World Cup followed the end of the season -
Pele amazed the world with his precocity -
Before close season training at Highbury,
With eyes upon the coming fixture list;
When Jack Zipes, an American student,
Would leave Coleridge, Wordsworth, Thelwall et al

read more