Past

Prehistory: Why is it so entrancing?

Circles without Class Ceilings

Why can prehistory be so entrancing?

Why do some people find prehistory so entrancing?
Why do they become so spellbound
When walking by, let’s say, a long barrow?
How do they become so transported in time and space?
What’s it all about?

Is it because a standing stone, a circle,
A tumulus, barrow, or whatever,
Demonstrates the fragility of knowledge,
The equivocal nature of understanding,
In a sense, the ‘negative capability’ of John Keats:
Being conscious, simultaneously,
Of knowing and yet not knowing?
The recognition that sometimes any presumption
Of understanding the meaning of an edifice,
Can only be speculative
(Despite the accumulation of evidence and artefacts,
Despite measurement, mensuration and comparison,
Despite a commitment to the rigours of empiricism),
And a reflection of who we are in the here and now –
Or can Homo sapiens merely develop
A restricted trope of meanings, recognizable
And familiar, across time and space …
So some speculations are bound to be valid …
Or is signification, itself, a trope of modernity?
Nature and Nurture:
How circumscribed are we by time and space?
And how universal are we across the same?
What do these structures reveal and indicate
About what is quintessentially human?

So, prehistoric structures,
In an a priori, apostrophizing, manner,
The manner of an innocent wonderer,
As yet unread on the subject,
I question your meaning:
What were you for?

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Prehistory and Wormholes of Time

As the traffic rumbles past on Cotswold roads,
It’s hard to hear the chip of stone on flint,
Or the croak of corvids with their blood-drip beaks,
Or the breaking of the bones of a skeleton,
Or smell the rotting flesh on the capstone,
Or taste the ashes of the dead on the nightfall wind,
Or see the blood red sunset behind the silver river
Or the standing stone’s silhouette,
But try hard on a winter’s afternoon,
And you might just slip down a wormhole of time,
To rituals of death and memory,
And recognize the prehistoric past
For what it is and was:
Not something primitive and alien,
But something shared.

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John Thelwall: Radical thoughts on Slavery, Empire and Landscape

A Pedestrian Excursion Through Several Parts of England and Wales

John Thelwall’s account of his rambles
Between the years of the naval mutinies
of 1797 and the 1801 Peace of Amiens:

‘The cottages in general, are small, wretched and dirty. Some of them are built of brick, others are plastered and may exhibit nothing but miserable mud walls, equally naked without and within. They are wretchedly and scantily furnished; and few have even the advantage of a bit of garden. To complete the catalogue of misery, there is a workhouse in the parish, in which a number of deserted infants are consigned to captivity and incessant application…’

And even though Citizen John was being pursued,
Followed and shadowed by spies,
With consequent anxiety,
Thelwall could still write that …

‘The vivacity of conversation made the miles pass unheeded under our feet. We canvassed various subjects of literature and criticism, the state of morals and the existing institutions of society. We lamented the condition of our fellow-beings, and formed Utopian plans of retirement and colonisations. On one subject, and only one, we essentially differed – America. I cannot look towards that country with all the sanguine expectations so frequently cherished. I think I discover in it much of the old leaven. Its avidity for commercial aggrandisement augurs but ill even for the present generation; and I tremble at the consequences which the enormous appropriation of land may entail upon posterity.’

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Peterloo-Wiltshire Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt Walk

Peterloo Memorial Walk 2019
About thirty of us braved Manchester weather on August 16th on a performative walk around Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt’s birthplace in Wiltshire. Pictures here tell the picture of the day.
We carried out a dialogue between 2019 and 1819 as we processed: the poem below from Robin Treefellow gives a flavour of how memorialization of Peterloo can reach out to the new Extinction Rebellion generation.

Chalk and Treason

To the chalk
we must go walk.
On the chalk where vipers bugloss brightens
we must go to rebel, debate, and reinvent
This green island
owned by a small land owning minority.

So depart that moribund Houses of Parliament
mired in out-dated oppositional bun throwing.

To the high dreamy chalk we must go like the bees to nectar
discovering what Britain dreams:
dreams like a giant with ammonites in its beard.
When we have lost our way,
when the ways are all privatised,
when society is manacled to linear profit centred greed:
to the chalk we must go walk.
In walking by the yellow of toadflax and melliot
there is waking,
with waking we can change.
This green island where feudalism has gone on too long,
equality,
the earth common to all,
we must learn from the biotic knit of ground sward
and abandon the tenure under our hidden landlords.
For Britain dreams!
The land will be free of chemicals,
to breath and flourish.
So shall our life return
Rude and willed,
modernisation discarded by the road where mugwort grows.
O Albion calls us all
to remember!
freedom, green of leaf and brown of root.
freedom, bright as flowers by the way.

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Worker’s Memorial Day Walk Remembering Allen Davenport

Remembering Allen Davenport

‘I was born May 1st, 1775, in the small and obscure village of Ewen … somewhat more than a mile from the source of the Thames, on the banks of which stream stands the cottage where I was born … I was never in any school … I had to get the very alphabet by catching a letter at a time as best I could from other children, who had learnt them at school … The next grand object I had in view was to acquire the art of penmanship …’

‘If there were no parks or pleasure grounds, the whole face of the country would present to the eye cornfields, meadows, gardens, plantations of all kinds of fruit trees etc., all to the highest state of cultivation.’

A government spy’s report of Allen’s words after Peterloo: ‘The Yoemanry had murdered our fellow Countrymen but had we in our own Defence shot even one or two of them it would have been called Murder and Rebellion, but [we] will put up with it no longer … we may loose a few lives in the onset yet what is the army compared to the Mass of the Country who are laboring under the yoke of Despotism … these Yoemanry are but few compared with us and it only wants the People to make up their minds as one Man for it is better to Die fighting in the cause of Liberty and freedom than be starved by our Oppressors.’

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Oakridge Walk February 23rd 2019

‘When vapours rolling down a valley
Made a lonely scene more lonesome’,
Wrote Wordsworth in The Prelude
Well, we weren’t lonely, a group of ten
Walking through early morning mists and fog,
Discussing enclosure of Oakridge common land,
A death-threatening letter for the squire,
Demeaning shouts of ‘Who stole the donkey’s dinner?’
Loud following him on his daily rounds
Past Lilyhorn Farm and Bournes Green.

A watery sun shone vaporous
As we stopped at a spectral crossroads,
Cogitating upon the Roman villa,
Down in the nearby fields of Bakers Farm,
Then processing Neolithic track-ways,
Past a field of sheep and hidden long barrow,
The sun now silvering the streams that run
Down to the Frome and thence to the Severn.

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A Swindon Town Great War Pilgrimage

A Swindon Town Remembrance Pilgrimage

We must have numbered a football team,
Umbrellas unfurled at the cenotaph,
Where we spoke of Walter Tull and Spurs,
And Swindon Town and Northampton Town
Footballers who fell in the Great War –
The rain providing a suitably melancholy backdrop,
As we made our hilltop climb to Christ Church,
A welcoming peal rather than a knell
Resonating across the Old Town sky,

While we gathered, inside, by the war memorial,
Inscribing George Bathe’s name on a remembrance cross,
George Bathe, STFC, KIA 1915,
A memento mori for all to share,
Carried by George’s great-nephew, Phil,
Before we made our blue plaque way to Radnor Street,
To talk of Freddie Wheatcroft, star Swindon striker,
Killed in Action,
And Alfred Williams, the Railway Poet,
And the writer Edward Thomas who loved Swindon so much,
Killed in Action.

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