The Black Boy Clock

There you stand, not so much a sentinel,
Nor servant, but rather more a slave of time,
Obeying the diktat of cog, wheel and pendulum,
The mechanics of the hours and minutes,
For every second, until the end of time.

You have no name; identity obscured
By a costume bestowed, courtesy of fashion,
And the Age of Enlightenment and Reason,
And the iniquities of the slave trade.

Yet you shall not grow old
At the setting of the sun
And the rising of the same:
For you are a child of your own time:
Born a year after Samuel Harrison’s chronometer
Began to measure maritime longitude,
When John Miles of Kendrick Street made you,
In 1774, the black boy clock.

In 2003, a Jubilee grant was awarded
To restore this black boy clock,
With a plaque honouring John Miles,
The Stroud artificer;
But you, black boy, remain anonymous,
The biblical Jubilee, Leviticus 25:1-4, 8-10 forgotten:
‘You shall then sound a ram’s horn abroad on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall send a horn all through your land. You shall thus consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release through the land to all its inhabitants.
It shall be a jubilee for you.’

The Jubilee brought you no release from bondage,
Turning your head, lifting your club, morning, noon and night,
Glancing quickly down at
‘An explanatory plaque
That foregrounds horology rather than slavery…
No reference … to the Age of Enlightenment…
The engendering of an ideology of justificatory racism,
Nor to the black boy being the slave of relentless Time…’

Did you ever see any of the ‘blacks and blackamoors’
Mentioned so tersely in Gloucestershire parish records?
Were they brought to gaze on you in your costumed foppery,
Watching the measuring of your and their bondage?

In 1773, Francis London, ‘a servant to the Rt. Hon. Lord Ducie supposed to be 17 years of age – a native of Africa’ was baptised;
In 1778, in Rodborough, ‘William Jubiter – black’, was buried;
In Stroud in 1786, Adam Parker, Negro, 32, was buried with a parish funeral;
In Frocester in 1790, William Frocester, ‘supposed to be 11 or 12 years old, born on the island of Barbados, and now a servant of Edward Bigland Esq. residing in Jamaica, was baptised’;
Stroud, 1801, ‘William Ellis, son of Qualquay Assedew, a Negro of Guinea, aged 12 years, was baptised’;
1815, Bisley Testimonial from Richard Raikes, for John Hart, Writing Master, to the post of master at Bisley Blue Coat School:
‘Unfortunately he is a Mulatto, a native of the West Indies’;
Minchinhampton, 1826, Thomas Davis, ‘an infirm travelling Black’ was buried, 67 years old.

And now, people pass you by on their way to the shops,
School, restaurants, cafes, pubs, clubs, homes and houses;
You gaze down at them, for you notice them in the street,
Walking beneath your station;
But they pass you by, oblivious of your history,
Your anonymity, and melancholy:
All faith and hope dashed by the Jubilee.