Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Rodborough Fields: A Curse

A piece of parchment flew through an open window of the number 14 ‘bus today and landed on my lap. It was entitled   A BEGGAR’S CURSE.  I have made a transcription.

If you build on this field,
Springs will o’er-turn your water table,
Peasants will harrow your dreams,
Cut ridges in your anxious brow.

If you build on this field,
Weavers will riot in the night,
Stretch nightmares on tenterhooks,
Turn your eyes Stroud Scarlet.

If you build on this field,
The Frome will burst its banks,
Flood your conscience with remorse,
Leaching stains of turbid regret.

If you build on this field,
Grass will grow in your pockets,
Celandine in your bank vaults,
Weeds in your account books.

What can it all mean?
 As soon as I had typed the last letter of this transcription, the sere parchment rose on an up-draught of air and flew out of the window.
An unsettling start to the day.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

June 30th: Source of the River Frome Bike Ride

Meet at 11 o'clock outside the Prince Albert, Rodborough Hill.
Up through Bisley Road to reach Stancombe and then on to Climperwell.
Lunch at Brimpsfield in the churchyard by the medieval motte.
Then on to Caudle Green.
Back through Slad.
Possibility of a stop at the Woolpack.
Hope to see you.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The 1926 General Strike and Gloucestershire

We’ll start in Stroud. The Great Western Railway Company decided to make an example of some Union men, as a consequence of the Strike. We should remember this act of victimisation each time we visit the railway station, and also remember the fact that Stroud railway workers refused to return to work at the end of the nine day strike, even when ordered to do so by their union. The Great Western Railway’s response was to say that the only people to have suffered victimisation were their shareholders.
In Gloucester, at the Docks, there were fights between strikers and police when attempts were made to prevent boats moving up and down the river and canal; there was a police baton charge when people tried to stop the swing bridge opening. The motto in Gloucester was “ All out together, all in together”; here follows Ralph Anstis’ description of the events at the bridge in Gloucester (much more of Ralph later).
Three to five hundred pickets were involved after crews of three vessels agreed not to move some goods. In consequence, volunteer labour was utilised, with police presence. After “scuffles” between police and pickets, the two barges and a tug set sail. This prompted the owners to want “to send a tug and an empty lighter along the canal to Sharpness with scab labour to pick up a cargo. Ralph writes: “Striking dockers tried to stop the tug from sailing by preventing the bridgeman from opening the swing bridge. Police were rushed to the scene. Hissing and booing, the crowd refused to give way and the police made a baton charge to force the pickets from the bridge. Eventually the tug and lighter got through. Fourteen men were arrested and thirteen of them were later sent to prison for fourteen days with hard labour.”
We shall now look at the Forest of Dean – the weather was against us this weekend, but we do intend to walk the colliery trails at some point, using the below for context. In addition, the Dean Heritage Centre has three leaflets available: The Speculation Trail, New Fancy and Cannop Ponds. You could use these and this blog to re-create those far-off days of the spring, summer and autumn of 1926. The Dean is quite well served by ‘bus services; there is also the railway to Lydney and bike hire available. The campsite recommended on an earlier posting on this blog impressed us when we visited, if you fancy staying a while.
The miners were “locked out” for another seven months after the TUC called off the nine day General Strike, and that, of course, had a dire effect upon lives in the Forest. Seven thousand men were unable to support themselves and/or their families; they needed assistance not just for the nine days of the General Strike in May but right up to the month of November. The Co-op saved many families from starvation when some Poor Law Guardians were refusing food and outdoor relief for men who had been, let us remember, locked out; they had not gone on strike. They had been locked out by their employers. Think of that when you visit the Forest of Dean.
If you want to know more about the General Strike and the Forest of Dean, then buy, beg or borrow a copy of Ralph Anstis’ “Blood on Coal”. The following information is taken from that book but I can only touch the surface – do try and read it, if you can. Having said that, let’s look at the main collieries in the Dean in 1926, with grateful thanks to Ralph.
He provides a map and a list at the front of his book – these are sites worth visiting to look at and write about; all contributions gratefully received. So, let’s start with these bald facts, transcribed from the map and Ralph’s evocative and detailed descriptions:
A: Norchard (Betwixt the Lydney-Bream and Lydney-Parkend roads, on the old railway line, just north-west and about 3 miles outside of Lydney.) Libby Bullock told me that the main entrance was at Pillowell., but there is no sign of it now. In its place is a small industrial estate, selling commercial cleaning equipment
B: Princess Royal (Betwixt the Bream-Parkend and Lydney-Parkend roads, north-east of Bream). Clive Bullock said that if you were travelling to Bream from Whitescroft, you pass the Royal Oak as you climb into Bream and you pass the colliery site at the bottom of the hill. There is a housing estate called Princess Royal.
C: Flour Mill (North-west of Princess Royal, on the other side of the Lydney-Bream road, about one third of the way between Bream and Parkend). The following are Ralph Anstis’ words: “ Started in the 1840s, it was not until the 1860s that large-scale development began at Flour Mill Colliery, Bream. Coal was sent down a rope-worked tramway to the screens at Park Gutter (Princess Royal) for loading. The two pits were connected underground in 1916 to improve working and ventilation. Flour Mill closed in 1928 and Princess Royal in 1962. Some buildings survive, one in use by a firm repairing steam locomotives. The route of the rope-worked tramway can also be traced.” Clive said: “Leaving Parkend, go up to the old Pike House, turn left, and the site is a quarter of a mile up there on the left hand side.” By the way, the locomotive that steamed on the 150th anniversary of the opening of the London Underground was restored here.
D: Parkend (West of Parkend on the left hand side of the road that leads towards Cockshoot Wood)
E: New Fancy (Follow the previous road north towards a junction with Staple Edge Wood to your west, the colliery was north of and on the other side of the junction.) Ralph wrote these words: “New Fancy Colliery, on the hill above Parkend, employed many miners from that village following the closure of the Parkend Royal Colliery. The pipes at the latter remained in operation for ventilating “the Fancy”, as it was referred to by the men. The colliery closed in 1944, despite the presence of large reserves, as it became uneconomic to work. Today, the waste heap is a noted viewpoint and the imposing stone wall of the loading bank can still be found in the woods.” Clive told me that there is a working free mine near a quarry on the road from Parkend to Lydbrook.
F: Cannop (On the road that leads from Parkend to Lydbrook, just north of the junction with the Coleford-Speech House road, on the left hand side). Ralph’s book has the following caption beneath a photograph: “ A view of the Coleford to Cinderford road in the 1930s. Cannop Colliery can be seen just down the road, with the Hopewell Colliery site in view behind. Still working today, it has been turned into the Hopwell Colliery Mining Museum and visitors can take trips underground. In the centre distance, Speech House Colliery can also be seen; by this date it was use purely for pumping water out of Lightmoor.”
G: Arthur and Edward (Continue north on the Parkend-Lydbrook road, then follow the road west at the next junction; it will be on your right, within the triangle of roads.) Ralph Anstis wrote this description back in 1999: “Arthur & Edward Colliery or Waterloo as the men preferred to call it, lay at the head of the Lydbrook Valley. It was connected to the railway loading screens by a system of tram tubs, on a half mile-long incline, connected by an endless rope and known colloquially as “The Creeper”. The pit closed at Christmas, 1959.”
H: Trafalgar (closed) (East of G in Serridge Inclosure and roughly equidistant between G and Cinderford, just north of the old railway line).  Clive told me to look for Brierley, halfway between Lydbrook and Cinderford; locate a road opposite a petrol station that goes down into a wood; Trafalgar was down there.
I: Crump Meadow (West of Cinderford, between two old railway lines, north of the road that leads to Speech House, in Serridge Inclosure.) Ralph’s book states that at the end of the last century, “after bulldozing and landscaping, all that can be seen are some concrete foundations and, perhaps, the remains of a loading wharf.” Ralph also states: “Sunk in 1824, Crump Meadow was another old colliery which did not long survive the General Strike; it closed in 1929. As with Foxes Bridge, workable reserves of coal were becoming exhausted and Crawshays were concentrating their energies on their new pit, Northern United, which opened in 1933; this pit provided employment for many who were out of work after the closure of Crump Meadow and Foxes Bridge.” (This is where Clive’s grandfather first worked.) Clive advised that you find an industrial estate in Cinderford, then Winner’s Garage (a Skoda garage), where a track leads up into the woods; there are signs of old workings about a quarter of a mile along.

J: Foxes Bridge (Just south of I) Ralph Anstis: “Yet another Crawshay pit, Foxes Bridge sat atop the escarpment looking over Bilson and Cinderford, and began producing coal in the early 1870s. In the 19th century, Foxes Bridge, Trafalgar, Lightmoor and Crump Meadow collieries, which lay within a couple of miles of one another, produced two thirds of the coal raised in Dean. Foxes Bridge closed in August 1930.”

K: Lightmoor (South of J, south of the Speech House road, west of Ruspidge) Ralph Anstis, wrote the following in 1999: “Lightmoor Colliery lay in the heart of the Forest, close to Speech House and the Dilke hospital, alongside the mineral loop line of the Severn & Wye Railway. The colliery also had its own private branch line and locomotives, linking it with Bilson Yard, near Cinderford. It closed in 1940 after a hundred year life and is today the most intact Dean colliery site remaining, including one of the engine houses.” The caption to a 1910 photograph in the book states that, “The waste heaps in the centre foreground eventually became the tip which remains as a landmark to this day. The nearer engine house still stands, albeit minus its roof and is an extreme state of neglect.” The caption adds that its Cornish pumping engine is now at the Dean Heritage Centre, “restored to working order.”  Clive added that you look for a left before you get to the Dilke Hospital and a sign saying “Forest Products”; you then go down a track past ponds and the remains of the pit head.
L: Eastern United (South of Ruspidge, south-east of K, on left hand side of the road that leads from Soudley to Ruspidge). Ralph wrote: “Eastern United was also owned by Henry Crawshay &Co. Sinking began in 1909. It was one of the easier pits to work, with wide, well-lit roadways, and it returned handsome profits for the company. Following nationalisation, the mine closed suddenly in 1959, much to the shock of the workforce, at a time when it was thought the location of a new seam promised it a bright future.” Clive said that when it closed the miners said there was more coal left down below that they had taken out. There is warehousing there now and an industrial estate. This is where Clive’s granddad finished. Clive said the colliers were dumbfounded. It was such a big pit.
M: Speech House Colliery closed before the Strike; a caption to a photograph in Ralph’s book states: “Speech House Colliery, circa 1910, after it had closed for coal production but was still in use for pumping Lightmoor. The site is now a car park and a picnic area.” Look for the Beechenhurst Picnic Site, going towards Coleford.
Libby Bullock reminisced while we drank our tea and said: “When we were children, we used to go and visit the pit ponies. There were about eight. We’d go the miners’ huts and have cheese on toast cooked by the miners on an open fire.”


Monday, 10 June 2013

Walking a metaphor

Walking a metaphor
(With thanks to Jacqui Stearn)

From Purgatory to Paradise 
   a company of artists, poets, writers,
    young and old, walked in discourse and delight.
In Purgatory woods through, which our human line snaked,
  and before emerging onto the hill of swifts, 
   dainty paths were picked through pungent wild garlic, 
    bluebell and delicate points of debate.
Nettles and propositions were beaten down, 
   care taken to avoid snagging legs or ideas 
on trailing blackberry shoots and thorny questions.
On the hill we grouped, imagined the fields spread below
  draped scarlet with wool cloth drying, then 
    a step of two more, and a pause by Elcombe’s spring, 
    after which our ribbon widened in the lanes
       then trailed tracks much deepened by iron wheels, hooves, shod feet.
The tree-canopied tunnels, holloways, descended
   to streams and rivers whose flow held stories
of mills and weaving; we pooled human knowing.
The place names evoked images: Bulls Cross 
   where the gibbet stood near Longridge - which it is - 
      then the Cockshoot to Damsells  Cross and so to Paradise
        and Charles’ rest, where our modern tribe gathered, 
           warmed by sunshine, replete with tale telling and discovering.
Spirits freed from the daily round and round by metaphorical footsteps
   flights of imagination and poetic Indulgences.
                                                                                                                        June 1st

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Cotswold Tales: From Purgatory to Paradise

Two names in a landscape, two names on a map,
Two recusant affirmations of faith,
Near Knapp House Barn, where travelers gathered
To journey through metaphor and field,
From Purgatory to Paradise,
From a copse at Slad to Painswick pastures.
But I came as a Puritan, not Pardoner,
On my personal Pilgrim’s Progress,
To walk these redemptive hills and valleys,
In search of dispensation and indulgence.
Our throng of allegory was all there:
Evangelist, Obstinate, Help, Pliable,
Wordly Wise, Good Will, Despair, Faithful,
Legality, Civility, Ignorance, Hopeful,
All climbing through glades of wild garlic,
Sweet meadow-seas of Timothy,
Cock’sfoot, Sweet Vernal and Bugle,
(The Wicket Gate, Slough of Despond,
The Hill of Difficulty, the Shining Light)
Along Civil War holloways, steeply
Banked with diffident Honesty,
(The Valley of Humiliation, Vanity Fair,
House Beautiful, Mount Clear)
Past Swift’s Hill, Elcombe, Steanbridge,
Trillgate Farm, Bull’s Cross, Longridge,
Damsell’s Farm, sluice and weir and Damsell’s Mill,
By witches’ broom and yellow archangel,
(The River of Death and Delectable Mountains)
Up shaded streamside bedrock paths,
To reach Paradise and mythic Celestial City,
There in a thistledown cow pat field,
Below a hidden lane beneath the A46,
Where Paradise House does indeed have many rooms,
And CCTV too.

A wonderful walk led by Ali Kayley and Dan Glaister. 
Many thanks to them - mythopoeic meandering at its best.