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,
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
freedom, green of leaf and brown of root.
freedom, bright as flowers by the way.
The text below is about how we put this walk together, with a recce in the spring of 2019. It contains a guide to the walk and aims to stimulate discussion about Hunt might be memorialized in Wiltshire. There is a post-script with a list of flowers and grasses seen on our second recce in early July.
How Henry Hunt is not memorialized in Wiltshire
And how Captain Swing almost is
Henry Hunt’s onetime associate,
Rural Rides’ William Cobbett,
Came down this way in late August 1826:
‘The shepherd showed me the way … and a most beautiful sight it was! Villages, hamlets, large farms, towers, steeples, meadows, orchards, and very fine timber trees, scattered all over the valley … downs, very lofty and steep in some places, and sloping miles back in others … From the edge of the downs begin capital arable fields generally of very great dimensions … After the corn-fields come meadows on each side, down to the brook or river … I sat upon my horse and looked over Milton and Easton and Pewsey for half an hour, though I had not breakfasted…’
We travelled by the cherry red
To alight at Enford to view the church
At 10.45 at the end of February 2019:
‘Above the arch is the COAT OF ARMS of King William 1V dating from 1831. Royal coats of arms were much in vogue in this period to display the parish’s loyalty and to add colour to the church …’
But obvs no mention of Captain Swing
Or the threat of revolution at this time …
But we went left to the crossroads.
For the lane towards Littlecot
And East Chisenbury and the Red Lion,
Thatched cottages and inns,
Flint and red brick and whitewash,
Just as in Cobbett’s and the Orator’s day;
A left hand turn on a footpath followed,
And so to the crossing of the main (turnpike) road,
Where we turned left along the verge to a stile on the right,
Where a footpath sign on a gate showed us our way up the hill;
We walked where Hunt no doubt took his horse,
A parliament of rooks democratically nesting
Below us on our left hand side,
Lichen splashing the track-way hawthorn,
The big sky landscape bare branched etched,
A solitary signpost standing to show our path
Across the lonely windswept downs,
Now resounding with ordnance,
Beyond the red flags down to Salisbury Plain:
An echo of the musket fire from the days of Swing,
Skylarks ascending to sing the spring,
While finches arced their way across the ploughed fields,
Barns with the ghosts of their threshing machines,
Boot-prints once down there in the oozing mud,
Cries of ‘Bread or Blood’ still there in the air,
The ashes of burnt hayricks and letters,
Once scattered across the nearby valley farms and fields,
The sun now gleaming on the puddled track-ways,
And on the white horse hillside to the south;
While, beyond, lay Hampshire and misty Dorset,
Where Captain Swing once rode on his white horse.
We wandered on to skirt a high Iron Age enclosure,
And so descend along a curving lane,
Past the birthplace of Henry Hunt on our right,
‘I was born on the 6th November 1773, in Wiltshire, at Widdington Farm, not within a mile of any other habitation, near Upavon. Widdington Farm lies about a mile from the turnpike road … a lone farm, in a valley upon the downs.’
But no mention of the Orator today,
CLAY SHOOTING GROUND
OUR NEXT COMPETTION IS …’;
And this is how Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt,
And Wiltshire’s radical history is memorialized,
Mute and invisible in the Vale of the Avon,
Unless you use your imagination –
But, wait, in St Timothy’s Church in Upavon,
There is a brief but welcome reference to Captain Swing
On the information board:
‘In the beginning of the nineteenth century agricultural workers in general, and those of Wiltshire in particular, had been reduced to abject misery, and The Vale was a focal point of the agricultural unrest known as the Swing Riots of 1830.’
‘Abject misery’ is daring and arresting …
But the next sentence and paragraph
Guides the reader’s understanding thus:
‘By far the most important development was the Vale’s emergence as a transportation corridor … the Kennet & Avon Canal …’
‘By far the most important development …’
The subliminal suggestion …
Old fashioned Swing …
The modernity/progress transportation trope …
The modernity of ‘corridor’ …
The world of ‘abject misery’ has been left behind …
Mute and invisible,
Like Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt.
We hope to address this mute invisibility
On the 16th of August 2019,
The bi-centenary of Peterloo,
With a Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt performative walk:
Meet at the church in Enford at 10.45:
The walk will end at Upavon after about three hours,
A bit up and down and one bit by the main road;
Park at Enford and get the bus back from Upavon,
Or get the bus from Swindon to Enford and back from Upavon.
Wild flowers seen on July 11th on this walk:
Bird’s Foot Trefoil Black Medick
Bladder Campion Bramble
Common Centaury Common Knapweed Common Toadflax Creeping Thistle
Cut Leafed Cranesbill Daisy
Dove’s-Foot Cranesbill Elder Flower
Great Willowherb Greater Knapweed Ground Ivy
Hedge Bedstraw Hedge Woundwort Hemp Agrimony
Hoary Plantain Hogweed
Ivy Leafed Speedwell
Meadow Cranesbill Meadowsweet Meadow Vetchling
Mousear Hawkweed Mugwort
Pignut Pineapple Weed Poppy
Purple Toadflax Pyramidal Orchid
Red Valerian Ribwort Plantain Rock Rose
Rosebay Willowherb Rough Hawkbit
St. Johns Wort Salad Burnet Sanfoin
Selfheal Shepherds Purse Silverweed Small Scabious Sorrel Sow Thistle
Spear Thistle Speedwell
Water Forget-Me-Not Weld
White Bryony White Campion Wild Carrot White Clover White Deadnettle Wild Basil
Wild Mignonette Wild Parsnip Wild Thyme Wood Avens
Yellow Rattle Yellow Vetchling
Re memorialization, readers might also want to look at the link below: