Heritage and Counter-Heritage in Stroud and the Five Valleys
The text below is what I think is important when considering SDC’s consultation on Stroud’s ‘Heritage’:
‘I think it is important to reflect on the whole notion of counter-heritage, too. By that, I mean a practice that goes beyond the visible and the archived: following the EP Thompson/Raphael Samuel historiographical process of giving a voice to the forgotten, ignored or marginalised, and not just foregrounding the ‘drum and trumpet’ outlook. Any new heritage strategy should consider this – for example: Stroud’s current heritage boards: the one in the Shambles gives a brief mention to food riots, with no contextualisation and explanation, and then we’re away on the ‘Great Man’ view of the past and naval war.
This counter-heritage should not just be about the lower orders – women and men – of Stroud: the spinners and weavers confronting the march of technology rather than just submitting to it; the Chartists; the poachers; Captain Swing and so on; it should also raise questions about the possible involvement of Stroud scarlet in the slave trade. It is vital that Stroud addresses and presents a multicultural history in the 21st century.
The heritage board near Lechlade, by the canal/Thames interchange at Inglesham , implicitly mentions this – nowhere in Stroud does.
A few slave owners in the district received compensation when slavery was abolished in 1834 – and that injection of capital helped fuel the industrial revolution. The Keynsian multiplier effect from the East India Company – opium, tobacco, slaving – also helped transform our landscape. The Bathurst slavery link also contributed to what is called a ‘colonial countryside’.
Such counter-heritage memorialisation could also be active, with performative walks that deal in ‘bottom up history’ rather than ‘top down’. That looks at the links with the outside world – imperial, military, trade and slavery – in a questioning rather than drum and trumpet manner. This is the sort of history we re-create on radicalstroud. ‘
Apologies for any typos – I found the font size and shading difficult.
The prose-poem below recounts my search for the information board at the Thames-canal confluence at Inglesham:
I arose like a lion after slumber
After riding on the buses numbered
54 and 77,
On a public transport shanks’ pony
Percy Shelley Lechlade pilgrimage,
Journeying through the country of This Country:
The tragi-comic landscape of the dispossessed,
The alienated, the ignored and/or indulged,
And High Toryism, as well, of course;
I alighted at St Lawrence’s to pay my respects
To the revolutionary atheist,
Then crossed the halfpenny bridge
(Erected in 1792: ominous year!),
Where foot tolls were ended in 1839
(Another ominous year for the ruling class!),
To reach my other goal,
The heritage board at the canal-river confluence,
The one that states that Stroud cloth went to Africa
(With all that that implies),
And was shipped down to Bristol
(With all that that implies),
The following is from the opening scene of Freedom’s Arch, a commission about Stroud’s arch commemorating the abolition of slavery. This 2003 play was performed at Archway.
SCENE 1 – ship setting; also rolls of cloth/cotton/chains etc
Young slave: Granny Judith said that in Africa, when she was a girl, they had very few pretty things. Then one day some strangers with pale faces came and dropped a small piece of red flannel on the ground. The cloth came from somewhere called Stroud in England. All the black folks grabbed for it. The strangers dropped more and more pieces of the red cloth, leading the whole village down to the riverbank. When they got there, they saw a ship with many more brightly coloured things on the deck. They rushed forward in excitement, but when they turned round, the gate was chained up and they could not get back. That is how Granny Judith said she got to Jamaica. If that’s true, then she was the lucky one; no musket, sword, chains or facemask for her. But I’m speaking nonsense – how can you be lucky when you’re stolen from your homeland in Africa and sold into slavery far across the ocean?
The following is from a contemporary tweet:
Now I grew up all over the place thanks to my dad’s job so I don’t have this fight-or-flight reaction built in but I do have memory triggers
And one of those triggers is red uniform coats. Those are linked to the mass killings in the mango orchard. And very much linked to horror
My grandmother used to sing old folk songs about the horrors inflicted by the ‘red coats’ (PhD idea for an ethnographer/musicologist btw)
The horror referred to involves a series of hangings in the mango orchard. The year was 1857.