Landscape

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 …

Read More

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.

read more

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!’

read more

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.

  5. read more

Rowcroft Railway Bridge

The Wall beneath Rowcroft Railway Bridge

I love the railway bridge over Rowcroft in Stroud,
I love the way it continues the lengthy viaduct that straddles the A46,
I love that Dirty Old Town industrial revolution-
Collectivist working class feeling,
When dreaming underneath the arches,
And I love travelling over the bridge and viaduct too,
Whether it’s to Paddington or Cheltenham,
And I love walking the Up-platform,
To gaze down at the edgelands below,
The rebarbative railing and the obligatory supermarket trolley,
The litter, the detritus, the security signage …
But I have to confess,
When I walk under Rowcroft railway bridge,
Whether to or from Stroud town,
I usually scurry through,
Tbh,
Trying to avoid the congregations of pigeons,
And consequent widespread excrement,
As well as the fag smoke, vaping and sputum –
I usually keep my eyes to the ground,
Trying to keep my shoes clean,
And am oblivious of anything above or beyond the pavement.

read more

Lodgemore Mills and the Elements

There is a sort of elemental magic at work at Lodgemore –
The very word itself suggests an ability to expand beyond
Natural confines of space and time:
Lodge-more:
The lodging of Fire, Air, Earth and Water,
A numinous presence around these mill walls,
A perpetual elemental infusion and confusion
Of history, continuity and change:

There have been three fires here: in 1802, 1811 and 1871:
The 1829 Register of Pennsylvania looked at
The phenomenon of ‘spontaneous combustion’,
And ‘enumerated several substances, which under particular circumstances spontaneously inflamed, and it may be serviceable to mention, as a caution to woollen manufacturers, that a destructive fire at Lodgemore Mills near Stroud, in Gloucestershire, which happened, June, 1811, was occasioned by a quantity of flocks impregnated by Curier’s oil being left on the floor.’

read more