Decolonising Stroud and the Five Valleys

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The Black Boy Clock

It’s almost as if the Black Boy Clock
Is an unwitting personification
Of the triangular trade:

The scarlet lips, connoting British textiles
Voyaging down to north-west Africa;
The boy himself, passing through the Door of No Return,
Chained and manacled on the middle passage;
The tobacco leaves from the plantation
Where he was enslaved until his death,
The tobacco voyaging back to Britain
On the third leg of the triangle.

And now?
A jack clock on the treadmill of time.

The Black Boy Clock in Nelson Street

Synecdoche? Metonymy? Analogy? Irony?
Sic transit Gloria?
Sic transit Imperium?

How odd it might seem that the Black Boy Clock,
Fashioned in an age of imperial expansion,
When enslaved peoples, plants, seeds, and animals
Were transported all across the world,
When the globe was mapped, circumscribed,
And placed neatly upon a table,
Should be so difficult to move again.

Synecdoche? Metonymy? Analogy? Irony?

Walking through Space and Time with the Black Boy Clock
A Backstory

I stood opposite Mountain Warehouse,
At the junction of the High Street and Kendrick Street,
And there a couple of metres or so
In front of the corner shop opposite,
On the pavement space between the two shops,
Is where the clock maker, John Miles, had his shop,
And where the Black Boy was first displayed,
On the frontage, advertising John Miles’
Horological prowess and dexterity.

I stood and mused and took a photo
And drifted down a wormhole of time
To 1774 – the date on the clock mechanism;
The Seven Years War had ended eleven years before,
167,000 soldiers and sailors mobilised,
In the defeat of France in North America,
A war that in today’s values would cost some £40 billion,
That’s a lot of redcoats and a lot of Stroud scarlet;
A force including General Wolfe, of course,
Killed in the storming of the heights of Quebec,
Who a few years before, as Colonel Wolfe,
Had commanded redcoats in action against
The Stroudwater weavers who made the redcoats.

One year later, the American Revolution
(Or ‘American War of Independence’
As I was taught at O level) would break out,
When Hercules Mulligan, a tailor in New York,
Would measure Stroud scarlet uniforms
For British officers and eavesdrop
Their military conversations,
And so save the life of George Washington,

A tailor who would measure King George’s statue,
Take it down to the ground, and melt it down
Into revolutionary musket balls.

The succeeding years in Gloucestershire,
Would see proto Luddite activity,
Threatening letters, strikes, mass meetings,
Food riots, Captain Swing, clandestine action,
While the Black Boy moved up to the Duke of York,
A figure head, perhaps evoking
Hearts of Oak, Jolly Jack Tars,
And a Britannia that rules the waves,
While topers forgot the outside world,
Gazed into their pots and sang their sea shanties,
‘Sally Brown, she’s a right mulatto’;
‘Britons never, never, shall be slaves.’

I stood and mused and took a photo
And drifted down a wormhole of time,
For here we are in Nelson Street,
Like the grand old Duke of York himself,
Halfway up the hill, neither up nor down …

Not easy to know that Horatio Nelson,
The hero of Trafalgar owed his life
To Cubah Cornwallis, ‘a woman of colour’,
Cubah (also spelled Cuba, Couba) Cornwallis,
‘The Queen of Kingston’, who treated sailors
For ‘various diseases and injuries’ in a ‘small house’
Which she bought and ‘converted into
A combination of rest home, hotel and hospital’.
That is why Admiral Parker had the emaciated,
Fever stricken (probably malaria and dysentery)
Young Horatio Nelson conveyed to Cubah.
And her medicines (Obeah? Holistic?)
Brought him back from death’s door.
Cubah not only treated Nelson;
she also restored the future King William the Fourth.
She would eventually receive
a sumptuous gown from the future queen,
Queen Victoria herself,
Which Cubah wore but once: her ‘funerary gown’.

It’s unlikely that the topers in the Duke of York
Knew about Cubah, and that but for her,
The Battle of Trafalgar could have been lost,
As they walked in beneath the Black Boy,
Through a haze of clay pipe smoke, rum and beer.

But the meanings ascribed to the Black Boy
Were about to change again.
For ten years after the abolition arch
Was erected in 1834,
Six years after the start of assisted emigration
From ‘beggarly Bisley’ and Stroudwater,
Five years after the unique Miles Report
Into the dreadful poverty in the Five Valleys
Amongst the handloom weavers and families,
Five years after the Chartist mass-meeting
Of 5,000 people up on Selsley Hill,
Demanding the right to vote and equality,
Against the obdurate opposition
Of Stroud MP and Home Secretary,
Lord John Russell,
The Black Boy would move up the hill, again,
Courtesy of a public subscription,
This time to a school and lesson time,
A symbol, perhaps, of imperial splendour,
A personification, perhaps,
Of school subjects such as Geography and History,
And what would become known later in the century
As ‘The White Man’s Burden’,
An iconographic adjunct

To the world map on the classroom walls,
With the British Empire coloured pink,
An empire on which ‘the sun never sets’,
There at the Black Boy School.

I stood and mused and took a photo
And drifted down a wormhole of time:
The Black Boy has moved twice
And the meanings attached to the statue and clock,
Both intentional and subaltern,
Have changed and moved with moving and changing times.

What next


A. Report into the Black Boy Clock

B. The East India Company

C. Rodborough and the 1834 Abolition of Slavery


F. Nelson Street

K. Bristol and Stroud

L. Bristol and Stroud continued

N. From Nailsworth to Montego Bay

O. Seasonal Reflections – Thanksgiving

P. Recreating Voices from the Past

Q. Gloucester Docks

R. The Gladstone Family and Gloucester

Stroud Scarlet Cloth, Trade, Enslavement, Empire

U Stately homes and enslavement

V Mason Dixon Line