History

Common People

The lexicon of popular history,

With its ridge and furrowed semantic fields and stories,
Opens doors of childhood perception,
To fields of knowledge, imagination,
Wonderment and enchantment –
But, I think, especially enchantment.

Take, for example, an Anglo-Saxon tale,
The tale of Alfred the Great and the burnt cakes:
The moral of the tale presented to me in childhood books
Was all about the humility of a king
(A king in a common kitchen, indeed!),
And the curtness of the woman in the kitchen,
When discovering that the stranger –
Preoccupied with Vikings rather than griddles –

Had ruined the cakes.

But could a different moral have been presented to my boyhood self?

Where’s the next meal going to come from?
The woman in the kitchen has so many things to do.
Cooking cakes is, in fact, a difficult and highly skilled task.

Popular histories for grown-ups carry on this approach,
Textually rather than through pictures perhaps,
But the effect is the same.
Take the phrase ‘ordinary people’, for example:
The word ‘ordinary’ is, I think, used almost as a pejorative,
Rather than as a synonym for majority;
And what synonyms do we find for ‘ordinary’?
Ordinary, as in ‘not distinctive’ …
Common, everyday, humdrum, run of the mill …

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The Life of Allen Davenport

Allen Davenport

Prologue

When you were there at the Hopkins Street political chapel,
Or the Archer Street chapel in Soho,
Or listening at the Mulberry Tree in Moorfields,
In those months before the Cato Street Conspiracy,
There, with Robert Wedderburn –
Your rhetoric celebrating atheism,
Denouncing Christian hypocrisy
And espousing armed sedition,
In this, the most revolutionary
Of all the Spencean and political chapels,
Did your mind ever wander madeleine-like,
To the green in Ewen where you taught yourself to read,
And where you taught yourself to write?

(‘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 …’)

Part the First

You had been a friend of Thomas Spence,
Since you had first met him in 1804,
It was Spence’s Restorer of Society to its Natural State
That set you on the path to political prose and poetry,

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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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A Prehistory Trip to Stroud Museum

‘Museums make you more aware:
Give You
Sense
Sensibility
Knowledge
A foothold in time
Make you feel a part of it all’

It’s a right regular education
When you visit Stroud Museum,
To process through the rooms,
On a trek to a prehistoric age:

For here’s a cabinet of curiosities:
Twenty-four exhibits, including
The tooth from an ancient Minchinhampton crocodile,
A coral from Newmarket, Nailsworth,
A Nautilus from Rodborough …
The Paris Situationists’ slogan
‘Underneath the pavements, the beach!’
Is displaced by this vista of the vastness of Time:
‘Over our heads as we walk the Stroudwater valleys,
The limitless ancient ocean!’

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A Wiltshire Town and Peterloo

I travelled on the GWR,
Built not long after the Orator’s death,
Passing through a mill-scape valley
Known well by quondam colleague, William Cobbett,
On past antique ridge and furrow fields,
To Swindon, a town that I am sure
Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt would have admired,
A new industrial work-town,
Full of mechanics and artisans and questioning,
Thence by the 49 bus across the windswept Downs,
Through a leafless Captain Swing landscape
On a Captain Swing late November rain-swept day,
To take my leisure at the Bear in the town square,
Where – against every grain – Henry Hunt took his wife:
‘How this betrothing came about I must now inform my readers, I had often
heard my father speak in very high terms of Miss Halcomb, the daughter of his
old acquaintance, Mr. Wm. Halcomb, who kept the Bear Inn at Devizes, well
known to be one of the very best inns between London and Bath.’

I travelled on the GWR,
Built not long after the Orator’s death,
Passing through a mill-scape valley
Known well by quondam colleague, William Cobbett,
On past antique ridge and furrow fields,
To Swindon, a town that I am sure
Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt would have admired,
A new industrial work-town,
Full of mechanics and artisans and questioning,
Thence by the 49 bus across the windswept Downs,
Through a leafless Captain Swing landscape
On a Captain Swing late November rain-swept day,
To take my leisure at the Bear in the town square,
Where – against every grain – Henry Hunt took his wife:
‘How this betrothing came about I must now inform my readers, I had often
heard my father speak in very high terms of Miss Halcomb, the daughter of his
old acquaintance, Mr. Wm. Halcomb, who kept the Bear Inn at Devizes, well
known to be one of the very best inns between London and Bath.’

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Swinish Multitude

Edmund Burke‘s Statue, Bristol, December 2018

Edmund Burke on the lower orders – ‘ a swinish multitude’

‘Along with its natural protectors and guardians, learning will be cast into the mire, and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude … ‘

Reflections on the Revolution in France 1790

Edmund Burke ‘s Statue

Paid for by a Bristol tobacco baron,
We look on your works and despair:
You stand there, commanding Bristol’s heights,
Your ancien regime condescension
Masked by this deceptive commemoration:
“I wish to be a member of parliament to have my share
of doing good and resisting evil.”
Far more truthful if the plinth were etched
With this memorialization:
‘I regard all you common people,
Passing me by on your trivial tasks
As nothing more than a swinish multitude.’

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The Kings and Kingdoms

The hollow roll of dates
chronicling the tired litany of monarchs.
Their dusty bones never sleeping
gasping their phantom moans to every generation:
To keep on fighting for the kingdom.
To never forget king and kingdom comes first.
You are its living instrument
that the dead summon to serve and die buried under the hollow drum roll of dates and kings.
Piling their bloody victories, plundered wealth and the crotch grasping posture of destruction over the thousands of corpses that had to die.
To die like an insignificant fly for the dusty bones and stones cut with the deeds of one homicidal dynasty after another.
Oh but the blood must run, it must run!
The young have to die.
The women will birth our soldiers.
For I can hear the dry bones of old kings and their old wars
drumming in today’s march into oblivion.

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