Horns Road

Ye Prologue:

The late 19th and early 20th century
Saw a red brick suburban terrace street building boom,
All over the country and also in towns like Stroud, –
A walk along Horns Road to the Crown and Sceptre
Will exemplify that and take you down a wormhole of time.

More Prologue:

The late 19th and early 20th century
Also saw a bohemian near-worship of Pan,
As exemplified in the work of Arthur Machen;
A cultured mockery of shabby genteel pretensions
As in the Weedsmiths’ The Diary of a Nobody;
And also, an almost subliminal fear
Of the suburbs’ manic growth,
That fused together so many inchoate anxieties,
As articulated in Algernon Blackwood’s stories,
Where the ordinary, everyday red brick dwellings
Harbour dark secrets of sorcery and the occult;
As though the very utilities of mains pipes
Could transmit necromantic alchemical evil,
As well as water, gas and, eventually, electricity.

Last Prologue:

Of course, subsumed within this confusion,
Was also a nostalgia for the loss of landscape,
And a fear of the working-class and socialism.

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Saul Junction Stream of Consciousness and a Hidden Colonial Landscape


The waters that run past Saul Junction,
And the Stroudwater Navigation,
On the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal,
Flow past Phillpott’s Warehouse and Bakers Quay,
And on past Gloucester Quays and High Orchard,
Above a submerged heart of darkness.

For down there in the muddied depths,
Lie the hidden profits of Thomas Phillpotts,
The plantation owner and slave owner,
And the hidden profits of Samuel Baker,
Merchant and slave owner,
Down there with the shackles and manacles.

Down there in the submerged heart of darkness,
Sits their slavery compensation treasure chest,
The bounty that paid for Bakers Quay,
And the development of High Orchard.

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Raising Funds for the Trussell Trust
Abingdon to Wallingford

Abingdon to Wallingford March 12th 2020
Sunrise 6.20 Sunset 18.00
Carbon count: 413.78 Pre-industrial base 280 Safe level 350
14 miles Start 11.20 Arrival 15.25

The day after the budget the day before
(Hedge funds versus food banks),
On a train to Didcot and then a bus to Abingdon,
Past Didcot Power Station edgelands,
Pat business park daffodil roundabouts,
And a stream of greenwashing lorries,
Until I walk beneath the bridge at Abingdon,
Past medieval alms houses
(A Foodbank Pilgrimage),
Splashing through big sky open fields,
Past dovecots and manor houses,
Past bridges and weirs and locks and ferries,
Past thatch and pub and hills and woodland,
Following the line of pill boxes,
With magnolia in bloom in Shillingford,
Blackthorn and hawthorn in blossom too,
Hawk, heron, corvid, swan and skylark,
A rainbow over the church at Dorchester,
Half drowned trees and silvered puddles,
And all the time,
The relentless flow
Of the quickening, wide and turbid Thames,
Past Neolithic, Iron Age and Romano-British remains,
Past Paul Nash’s Wittenham Clumps,
Until I at last reach Saxon Wallingford,
And a bus back to Didcot,
And a train back to Stroud.

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Radical Cirencester

Cirencester seems like a typical
High-Tory Cotswold sort of town,
Men in yellow and red cord trousers –
Profuse pocket kerchiefs, tweed jackets,
Highly polished shiny brown brogue shoes,
Conservative ladies who take luncheon,
Just one silent beggar in a shop doorway,
Just one busking troubadour in the streets
To remind us of medieval days of yore …
But when I sit down by the weathered cross,
Down there by the church in mid-winter,
With a cheese and onion pasty,
And a warming cardboard cup of tea,
I wander through the fourth wall to read
The 1381 Poll Tax and its hated demands:
574 Cirencester subjects over the age of fifteen,
To pay the hated iniquitous tax,
No matter how indigent they might be,
A peasantry taxed to pay for a ruling class war,

Over the sea in France;
I glimpse, too, the Feudal Lord, the Abbott,
Studying his imposingly long list of tenant duties:
Thresh corn, plough fields, scythe hay,
Mow the fields, hedge and ditch;
Tenant’s corn to be ground in the Abbot’s mill,
Pay for the privilege, ditto at market;
If you grind corn on your own mill-stones,
The bailiff will take or break your mill-stones …

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And the End of all our Exploring around Cirencester

The end of all our exploring

The day started auspiciously and unusually:
A chat at the bus stop with a direct descendant of Tom Paine:
‘My father maintained that we were related.
We did have first editions, in fact:
The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason’;
The 54A took us to Cirencester,
Where we congregated by the church,
Overhearing a conversation,
‘Hello. Pleased to meet you. I’m John the verger’;
Near where, in the aftermath of the Peasants’ Revolt,
‘Divers of the king’s lieges of Cirencester … assembled
And gone to the abbey … done unheard-of things
To the abbot and convent and threatened
to do all the damage they could’;
Fifteen years later they beheaded
The Earl of Salisbury and the Earl of Kent –
But we walked out through the Bathurst estate,
A colonial landscape for those with eyes,
To turn right by Alexander Pope’s seat,
Past vast polo grounds,
To reach a lambent pocket of arable land,
Hard by a bronze age tumulus,
Where ploughed field tesserae,
And nearby Ermine Way
Suggest a sumptuous Roman villa,
And where we processed along a gleaming pathway –
Like so many genius loci,
Hooded like cucullati against the rain,
Until a rainbow arch summoned Robin Treefellow
To declaim his hymn to Cuda,
Goddess of Cotswold fertility,
There by the fossil-full ploughed fields,
Where Penda of Mercia,
The last pagan king of England
Once held his crimson sword aloft in victory.

Spring waters trickled their music,
Rivulets reflected storm threat light
In the growing puddles of a rising water table,
While the ghosts of Welsh drovers silent stood,
In the elemental alchemy of autumn.

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A Prehistory Trip to Stroud Museum

‘Museums make you more aware:
Give You
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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Springs: from Research to Blake to Oral History

Richardson: Wells and Springs of Gloucestershire, HMSO,1930 Introduction:

  1. Between Dursley and Dudbridge few springs issue; some of the more reliable are used for the supply of Coaley and King’s Stanley…”

  2. In the Nailsworth, Horsley and Avening Valleys…copious springs break out, such as at Gig Mill, Millbottom, the Coldwell Spring, those at the Midland Fishery in the Horsley Valley, in the grounds of “Pensile”, and in the vicinity of Longfords Mills up the Avening Valley.”

  3. Up the Frome Valley, above Stroud, is the powerful Clerk’s Flour Mill Spring…the springs at Bliss Mills, the “Black Gutter,” etc., and the considerable store of water in the Cotteswold Sands which furnished the original supply (by means of wells) of the Stroud Water Company.”

  4. If it had not been for the presence of the Fullers’ Earth, the greater part of the Cotteswold upland would have been void of villages, isolated farms and cottages…Kingscote, Nymphsfield, Avening, Minchinhampton, Sapperton, Edgeworth, Chalford, Bisley…”; the juxtaposition of Fullers’ Earth and the Great Oolite has been a fundamental determinant of settlement patterns.

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