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.
A Pedestrian Excursion Through Several Parts of England and Wales
John Thelwall’s account of his rambles
Between the years of the naval mutinies
of 1797 and the 1801 Peace of Amiens:
‘The cottages in general, are small, wretched and dirty. Some of them are built of brick, others are plastered and may exhibit nothing but miserable mud walls, equally naked without and within. They are wretchedly and scantily furnished; and few have even the advantage of a bit of garden. To complete the catalogue of misery, there is a workhouse in the parish, in which a number of deserted infants are consigned to captivity and incessant application…’
And even though Citizen John was being pursued,
Followed and shadowed by spies,
With consequent anxiety,
Thelwall could still write that …
‘The vivacity of conversation made the miles pass unheeded under our feet. We canvassed various subjects of literature and criticism, the state of morals and the existing institutions of society. We lamented the condition of our fellow-beings, and formed Utopian plans of retirement and colonisations. On one subject, and only one, we essentially differed – America. I cannot look towards that country with all the sanguine expectations so frequently cherished. I think I discover in it much of the old leaven. Its avidity for commercial aggrandisement augurs but ill even for the present generation; and I tremble at the consequences which the enormous appropriation of land may entail upon posterity.’read more
Free, but just a few places left only – contact me if you wish to go: 9.45 – approx 13:00 FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 13TH
A leisurely walk along the towpath follows past old mills to Bowbridge and thence Stroud.
Uncovering a colonial landscape whilst in the footsteps of that ‘Jacobin fox’, ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’, John Thelwall, who left London, fed up with William Pitt’s prying spies, and walked to Nether Stowey. He stayed with Coleridge and Wordsworth for ten days, in that hectic summer that would lead to the Lyrical Ballads, before walking to Stroudwater.
Here he stayed with sympathetic clothiers and dyers, visiting Chalford, Uley, Nailsworth and Bowbridge, writing poems on the hoof.
We recreate his stay in that annus mirabilis of 1797, with a performative walk from Chalford to Bowbridge, whilst uncovering a colonial landscape.
John Thelwall was a colleague of THOMAS SPENCE – and we have a show about Thomas as part of the Stroud Theatre Festival in the evening.
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.
Coming events cast shadows before,
Fings are wot they used to be,
Not so much a la recherce des temps perdu
As deja flippin’ vu:
London on Thomas Spence’s birthday,
(June 21st 1750)
Today June 21st 2019:
No need to try and slip through wormholes of time,
The present has caught up with the past:
Central London still owned by the aristocracy,
Not so much the old Paris Situationists’ cry,
‘Underneath the pavements the beach!’
As ‘Pavements owned by the dukes!’
Record numbers sleeping rough,
Nicked for ‘Loitering’ and ‘begging’
Under the 1824 Vagrancy Act,
‘Royal Ascot’ (Queen Anne 1711);
An antique selection method of an antique prime minister …
But the longest day dawned well,
With a message from Keith Anderson
At the Thomas Spence Society,
Wishing him a happy birthday,
With poems and songs and well wishes for our walk;
Part the First
Hear his Trumpet of Jubilee
Take us far beyond the Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man,
Far beyond votes and politics
To agrarianism and ‘The People’s Farm’:
The Jubilee, the day of freedom,
The end of landlords when land would be held in common;
Hear snatches of his five verse rewriting
Of the National Anthem:
‘Hark! How the Trumpet’s sound …
A SONG, to be Sung at the End of Oppression, or the Commencement of the political Millennium, when there shall be neither Lord nor land-lords, but God and Man will be all in all. First printed in the Year 1782. Tune – “God save the King”
Hark! How the Trumpet’s sound*
Proclaims the land around
Tells all the poor oppress’d,
No more shall they be cess’d,
Nor Landlords more molest
Since then this Jubilee
Sets us all at Liberty,
Let us be glad.
Behold each man return
To his Right and his own,
No more like Doves to mourn
By Landlords sad!
Vernal Equinox Walk
20th March 2019
Around the Arlingham Peninsula
On a map, the Arlingham peninsula is irresistible. Created by a large meander in the Severn estuary, it appears to jut at a rather jaunty (or even phallic) angle toward Newnham and the Forest of Dean. Well endowed with footpaths and history and subject to the tidal forces of the estuary, it seemed the ideal place for an equinox expedition.
It was an early spring day full of skylark song, Lady’s Smock, Celandines, Violets and lambs. We began at Arlingham, pausing at the church of St Mary the Virgin to admire the single hand of its clock, pointing out the hour only. Even today, do we really need another hand to show us the precise minute?
We progressed to the banks of the Severn: to wide estuarine skies and marching pylons. Crumbling WW2 defensive pill boxes sinking into Severn mud marked our route. At the site of the “old passage” we looked for traces of the old way to ford the river to Newnham and discussed the many lives lost to the waters.read more