Wednesday, 24 August 2016

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.

Sunday, 21 August 2016


WEAVERS and WORKHOUSE WALK Saturday August 27th 4 of the afternoone clocke , startinge  at Ye Ale House:


 Stuart Butler will lead a performative walk through the 18th and 19th centuries, meeting atte Ye ALE House: time for a 4pm drink and a chat about Chartism and the workhouse at the top of town. Then a walk thence, via a history of riots, anonymous letters, mass meetings, strikes, slave owners and the Black Atlantic.

 The tour will then reach the cemetery where Angela Findlay, resident of the Cemetery Gate Lodge and artist of the 2009 installations Re-dressing Absence, will lead a stroll around the cemetery to reveal the history of the workhouse and the paupers’ graves

 The walk will finish by 6pm, leaving you lots of time for getting ready to go out again.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Dr Jenner, the Speckled Monster, Colonel Berkeley, Tom Till and the Berkeley Poachers

Born in 1749, Edward Jenner lived

In that time of calendrical change:
A Julian age of Pope and happenstance
(Where African slaves were mocked
For their
Creole medicine and smallpox cures),
And a Gregorian world of
Science, Revolution, Reason and Experimentation
(Of Tyburn Tree skullduggery, 

Where even necrophiliac surgeons

Would baulk at payment for smallpox victims),
And walking the enclosed hedgerows, he would

Have heard the shouts and cries:
Pockmarked mechanics and labourers,
Whose right to roam was balked by the new hedges and fences,
Together with the retort of property’s muskets:
Indigent Berkeley labourers,
Forced to poach, where spring guns lay ready
To kill Tom Till, and leave a wife and two children
In a parish of poverty and sorrow:
Even the castle chaplain thought
'Colonel Berkeley had run the matter of game so hard'.

So it was, that some twenty Berkeley Vale men
Swore revenge, taking a solemn oath
'Not to peach on each other, so help me God'.
A bloody battle ensued, with death and wounding,
But the cudgel-wielding colonel exacted feudal revenge,
For the jury's tearful 'Guilty' verdict meant transportation,
And execution for two poachers:
 'Launched into the presence of that
Being whose laws they had so impiously outraged',
As the Gloucester Mercury put it;
Doctor Jenner saw it quite differently:
'My intention is to quit this place, rendered dreary by the scene ...
About to be acted on the horrid platform tomorrow.
They certainly did not go out with the intention to commit murder.'
Colonel Berkeley was reviled, but obdurate to the end,
He hung a painting of the battle in his breakfast room.
But, a careful student of farm and field,
Doctor Edward Jenner saw how the smallpox

Killed one in ten in town and village,
And saw how it disfigured survivors 

With blindness and itinerant beggary,
And he studied the epidemic  
Of King George’s first strange madness year,
And he listened to the farmyard yarns

Of the protective power of cow-pox, and these

Rustic milkmaid tales convinced this thinker,
That vaccination, as he would call it,  

Could save the nation’s health; and in the years 

When the “Rights of Man” spread its virus

Through the common swinish multitude
(To the alarm of Pitt’s body politic),
Edward Jenner listened to Sarah Nelmes:
‘My cow Blossom has recently had the cowpox, sir,’
Examined the rash on her hand,
Took cowpox from the dairy,
And gave it to the 8 year old James Phipps, 

Who gained, as this iconoclast forecast,
Resistance to the ubiquitous smallpox;
Now, two centuries after such success:
"It now becomes too manifest to admit of controversy, that the annihilation of the Small Pox, the most dreadful scourge of the human species, must be the final result of this practice."
[Edward Jenner, 1801, on Vaccination (with cowpox)]
Smallpox is secreted in arsenals,
A scientific threat of germ warfare; 

How this country doctor and poet, 

How this coiner of neologisms,
Would have despised a term like germ warfare:
He called it the Speckled Monster.

Friday, 5 August 2016

London Pub Pilgrimage: A Baker's Dozen Or So

Buddleia in broad gauge bloom down on Stroud station,
Crazy golf flags out at the Brunel Goods Shed,
The 9.08 to Paddington
(1966 and all that in the newspapers),
Then the Bakerloo to Oxford Circus,
And early doors into the Argyll Arms
(‘Example of fin de siècle social stratification’),
The cubicles, mahogany, mirrors and cut glass screens
Evoking an art nouveau gendered snobbery:
‘In keeping with the new vogue style for privacy …
snug areas to separate the different social classes’-
Or upper class men pursuing music hall conquest:
An Inspector Calls.

Then on to The Flying Horse
(‘The last remaining pub on Oxford Street’),
Named The Tottenham when it was built in 1892,
‘Regulars … were theatregoers from … Tottenham Street Theatre,
once London’s finest music hall.
The three curvaceous ladies on the pub walls were painted
by Felix de Jong, the leading decorative artist in music hall’:
An Inspector Calls again…

But I wanted to jump into the 18th century:
The condemned journey to the gallows
From Newgate to Tyburn Tree
Touched on Oxford Street,
And my next port of call took me past St. George’s in Bloomsbury,
Its spire discernible in the Hogarthian chaos of Gin Lane,
But it’s hard to keep away from Victoriana in London,
Especially when close to an old haunt:

The Lamb in Lamb Conduit Street,
Plush leather sofas,
Endless pen pictures of Victorian beauties,
Adamantine porcelain and tiled lavatories;
I ordered a lemon and lime,
And explained that this was a local of mine some forty years ago -
The solitary drinker there told me she was
‘In a pub in Camden Town yesterday, they played my music,
The Rolling Stones, The Beatles; I was so happy.’
She was over from Sweden, her daughter lectured at UCL,
I mentioned that I was once an undergraduate there,
She trilled: 
‘A student of UCL is a student of UCL for life.’
I talked of my pub pilgrimage, took a few pictures,
Walked out the door,
‘See you in twenty years,’ she called,
As I left for Roger Street, a change of period,

And the art deco Duke of York,
Suitably close to where Dorothy Sayers lived,
This is a passport to the ‘30s:
‘Every day when Big Ben chimes, it’s Radio Times’,
‘There won’t be another war will there, sir?”
The mirrors, the fireplace, the exterior, the font …
A session in there and you’d end up being Sandy Powell,

‘Can you hear me, mother?’

But Charles Dickens is more likely to hear you here,
In the environs of Bloomsbury:
I’m not talking so much Dombey Street, Brownlow Street,
The Charles Dickens Museum, and so on,
But more the way London presents itself
As one huge Dickens theme park,
All his characters larger than life,
All beer and skittles and victuals and wittles,
All Sam Weller and Mr. Jingle,
With not a workhouse in sight,
Only the offices of the trade union UNITE,
To remind us that a Victorian reality lies behind the façade –

Then it’s all box files and Jarndyce and Jarndyce,
And Bleak House around Gray’s Inn,
Until you walk on to High Holborn,
Where I at last give some money to a beggar,
Holding the placard about the 1824 Vagrancy Act,
And so to the 1920s Mockabethan Cittie ofYorke
And the tiled Victoriana of the Princess Louise;

Next up: Lincoln’s Inn Fields,
Where I must have been the only person on a park-bench,
With homemade sandwiches, nor on a mobile ’phone,
Then Chancery Lane and Fleet Street,
For Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese,
Rebuilt after the Great Fire,
Crepuscular, Gothicke atmosphere,
Here in Wine Office Court,
With the ghosts of Samuel Johnson, Congreve, Pope, Goldsmith,
And Reynolds, Gibbon, Garrick, Burney, Boswell smoking clay pipes;
Over there, Carlyle, Macaulay, Tennyson, Dickens, Hood,
Thackeray, Cruickshank, Leech, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle
Mulling over glasses of port and the intricacies of plot.

Then on to the Viaduct Tavern in Newgate Street,
Opposite the Holborn Viaduct,
(Which straddles the subterranean River Fleet,
 And the consequent steep dip in the road,
Between Holborn and Newgate Street);
Queen Victoria opened the viaduct in 1869,
The same year the pub opened,
All curving frontage,
And inside, three huge paintings of pre-Raphaelite maids,
Like something out of Christina Rossetti,
And Cousin Kate,
Symbols for agriculture, banking, and the arts,
Towering over the lunchtime topers.

I decided to aim for the 15.36 back,
With time and space to relax and write up my notes,
So aimed for just one more pub:
The secretive and difficult to find Ye Olde Mitre;
It’s down an alleyway between 8 and 9 Hatton Garden,
The alleyway indicated by a strange old street lamp,
But easily missed,
In Ely Court, Ely Place, by Holborn Circus,
‘Ye Olde Mitre 1546’,

The date reminding me that I had to hotfoot it to Paddington,
So walked to Chancery Lane, for the central line to Notting Hill,
The line eerily echoing the route taken by Jack Sheppard and his ilk,
From Newgate to Marble Arch and Tyburn Tree:

Jack’s two hour procession, with rope and coffin,
through crowds proffering handshakes and flowers,
halted at a tavern for Jack to quaff his last drink,
Until the cart reached its woeful and final destination at Tyburn …’

‘They groan’d aloud on London Stone
They groan’d aloud on Tyburn’s Brook
Albion gave his deadly groan,
And all the Atlantic mountains Shook.’
(William Blake)

Part Two

The Victorian London pub experience continued
With a newspaper article on the train again,
This time about the fact that not since 1893
Had so few days been lost to strikes -
But the Bakerloo was back on at Paddington,
Two weeks ahead of schedule,
And so I caught the underground to Piccadilly Circus,
To walk past top hatted Fortnum and Masons,
And onto the Red Lion in St James's,
Off Jermyn Street, at 2 Duke of York Street:
It was closed, so I missed all the mahogany,
The sparkling glass and mirrors of this 1870s pub,
But it looked grand enough from the outside,
With its ornate ironwork, and hanging baskets.

Next up, a walk through London's theatre land,
Hobson’s Choice and beggar land,
To the Dog and Duck's Victoriana in Soho,
In Bateman Street: a glazed tile oasis of calm,
Where Dante Gabriel Rossetti supped,’
And George Orwell mused,
Possibly about his ideal pub:
‘The Moon Under Water ... two minutes from a bus stop ... on a side-street ... it's whole architecture and fittings are uncompromisingly Victorian ... it is always quiet enough to talk.'

I passed a clothes shop called A Child of the Jago,
Where you pay through the nose for your clothes -
A Child of the Jago was a Victorian novel about slum life,
But postmodernist Victoriana is everywhere in London,
It deceives the eye and the mind,
As people on phones talk money, money, money;
And as I hear a scouse voice say:
'The Strand. That's on the monopoly board innit?'
Monopoly ... A game that was originally devised to reveal
The essentials of capitalism, rather than encourage
Mercenary competitiveness and selfishness...

And so to the gilt edged splendour of The Salisbury
(Faux 'Pie Shop' and a board for 'Fish and Chips'),
Lord Salisbury, high aristocrat and Tory grandee,
Top hatted prime minister of ‘Splendid Isolation’,
Gazing down on the art nouveau ambience,
The cut glass, the mirrors, and the fruit machine.

And so on past Somerset House, and the Thames,
To Blackfriars Bridge and the delight of the cornered
Blackfriars Pub, 174 Queen Victoria Street,
An art nouveau four storey angular gem,
With a carved black friar and a clock above the door,
Inside: ecclesiastical depictions in wood and stained glass,
The pub saved from 1960s demolition, and vandalism
By, inter alia, John Betjeman.

Then on past the Old Bailey, once the site of Newgate,
Did I see the ghost of Jack Sheppard climbing down the wall?
Past Smithfield, and the medieval splendour of St Bartholomew's,
To reach the Hand and Shears, Cloth Fair, Middle Street:
The site has a medieval history,
The pub, an early 19th century provenance,
Matchboard walls, an oak floor, delightful prints,
And friendly company - I wanted to walk to the British Library
To meet the daughters, and received great directions:
Turn into Aldersgate, and then continue left along Goswell Street
(Where our famous Gloucestershire Chartist,
Allen Davenport lived and died),
Then past Clerkenwell Green where Lollardy thrived,
And the Artful Dodger and Fagin had their fictions,
Where Chartism was nurtured and Marxism fostered;
On to Islington and the Pentonville Road,
Twenty men on their own bicycles,
Awaiting instructions at Deliveroo,
Using their own phones to navigate …
For all the world, just like a modern day depiction
Of the docks before the strike of 1889,
When dockers queued in the hope of work,
Until unionised in the strike waves of the unskilled:
‘The New Unions’.

Walking on, I remember what I had read earlier on the train,
Feel the ground rise and fall beneath my feet,
By Pentonville Rise,
And hear the Situationist cry:
'Under the pavements, the beach!'

And so to Kings Cross, the British Library, the canal,
And a picnic with my daughters on artificial grass,
Somewhere near where the marshaling yards used to be,
And then back to Paddington and this train,
Where I sit typing this final line about this London Pub Pilgrimage,
To ‘The Moon Under Water ... two minutes from a bus stop ... on a side-street ... it's whole architecture and fittings are uncompromisingly Victorian ... it is always quiet enough to talk.'

Aiming for a group Radical Stroud comes to Town pub pilgrimage on the third weekend of November.