In all that bright and glorious sunshine, amongst those trees, those parks, those sculptural delights, Hidden below that Impressive skyline, Beneath and among those imposing sights, How much deprivation is still concealed As that which was to Blake revealed?
( Pen and Wash drawing and the accompanying verse above are by WHB)
What was revealed to William Blake as he wandered the streets of late 18th and early 19th Century London, he wrote about in the following poem. It was first published in his ‘Songs of Experience’ in 1794
London . . . By William Blake
I wander thro’ each charter’d street Near where the charter’d Thames does flow. And mark in every face I meet Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every Man, In every Infants cry of fear, In every voice: in every ban, The mind-forg’d manacles I hear
How the Chimney-sweepers cry Every blackning Church appalls, And the hapless Soldiers sigh Runs in blood down Palace walls
But most thro’ midnight streets I hear How the youthful Harlots curse Blasts the new-born Infants tear And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse
When morning meets my melancholy I must refocus dispel my clouds and reconnect to nature through her glory
The garth gate invites pledges enchantment such memories harboured here once the cloister garden of my medieval monastery now still the repository of the priory’s peace ancient orchard now transformed but still a place to rejuvenate the soul to touch feel and taste nature’s serenity
The morning mist lingered low over the once fallow fields then no longer virgin earth but become thick with apple trees and those long gone and autumn dormant now awaiting its wheat-carpeted summer season
The morning advances only half-appreciated until the the priory arch proud against the sky bursts through the mist into the weak sun’s gaze the veiled sky allowing the gathering sunlight slowly to prove its strength and bring clarity to a waiting world
And The pathway its ancient course piercing its length into the shrouded distance remembrancer now of those Augustinian brothers traversing this ancient orchard
who with such care tended nature’s gifts now bare of fruit but never fruitless no longer cosseted by priestly presence and full of nuanced context still
For me …
The Applegarth my own memory of this sanctified place sings of golden corn bordering that arrowed path where also was the winning post the last gasp of those long-past teenage distance running races marking my triumphs measuring my success against the countless strides I had wrenched from my straining body to accomplish to lead the race the end of endeavours signifying my own my personal accomplishment.
Kirk, Ulf, Dag, Garth and young Sven, Five fierce and intrepid Norse men, All were keen for a spot of adventure, And some philand’ring as well now and then.
These five Vikings set off from their fiord, Their longboat just bristling with gear; Spangenhelm, chain mail and hatchets, They thought they had nothing to fear.
But the North Sea didn’t prove easy, They rowed until practically dead, Till at last they spotted the Orkneys Then got ready some Scots’ blood to shed.
They’d set out equipped to do battle, To plunder, to pillage, despoil, But they could not decide where to settle, Where best to create more turmoil.
So they carried on rowing southwards And kept their eyes skinned for a village; For any old Saxon encampment With people and pastures to pillage.
Before long they came to an island That was covered in seaweed and priests; They decided to stop and replenish, While the priests signalled, clear off you beasts.
At first they weren’t kind to the natives; They took all their women and corn, But they could not abide all the chanting And treated the abbot with scorn.
But in time they took to the island, Found some fair Saxons to wed; Even started attending the chapel, Word of their atonement soon spread.
When I think of my Norsemen forefathers
Now I don’t see foreign insurgents; I think of them solely as tourists, Who created a bit of disturbance.
I am indebted to the artist, Eileen Phelps, for permission to use a photograph of her embroidery, first exhibited at the Barn Arts Centre, Surrey, in 2013.
Because Eileen’s embroidery on which I based these verses is clearly light-hearted, jocular and whimsical, I have followed that approach with my verses. I apologise to the historians of the period of British history for seemingly making light of the violence and deprivation which the Viking raids wreaked on coastal communities in the North of Britain.
The Vikings first invaded Britain in AD 793 and last invaded in 1066 when William the Conqueror became King of England after the Battle of Hastings.
The first place the Vikings raided in Britain was the monastery at Lindisfarne, a small holy island located off the north-east coast of England. Some of the monks were drowned in the sea, others killed or taken away as slaves along with many treasures of the church.
Following many years of incursions by the Vikings, eventually, King Alfred of Wessex was able to confront the Viking ‘Great Army’ at Edington, in 878, when his victory enabled him to establish terms for peace, though this did not put a complete stop to Viking activity which continued on and off for several more generations. Alfred had to concede the northern and eastern counties to the Vikings, where their disbanded armies settled, created new settlements and merged with the local populations. Lincoln, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Leicester became important Viking
towns within The Danelaw (or ‘Scandinavian England’), while York became the capital of the Viking Kingdom of York, which extended more or less over what we now call Yorkshire.
These areas were gradually reconquered and brought back under English control by Alfred’s successors, but not before the Scandinavian influence had been locally imprinted to an extent which is still detectable today in place names as well as the DNA of many of its inhabitants.
Late autumn evening treading wet leaves on the broad embankment beside the dark river; starry sky and the pavement spotted with lights dark pools between those balustrade sentries the eighty year old yablochkov candles (the country’s very first electric street lights) still throwing the trees’ shadows across the road to Victoria’s gardens.
Perhaps memory twists my tale; mike, dave, wally, ray, with me five of us, fresh lads freshers too up from the far country to study to see the big city to re-start a life men now together soliciting knowledge tempting experience.
Interned for a Chelsea month, then the anticipated incursion, our first excursion into the great city set for new challenges no plan just exploration; for the moment nothing cerebral just life in the moment awaiting a happening neophytic greenhorns.
Walking where Victoria walked, or did she ever really enjoy her gardens by the river? thrilling evening walking that promenade, drinking the sights eating the sounds devouring the smells and tastes soaking up the river and the beer, Victoria’s Embankment Gardens.
We didn’t know it then nor did any of us suspect it was to be ray’s swan song sweet Thames run softly and be his swan song.
Turned up Villiers Street, Kipling’s and Evelyn’s street, tumbled into The Trafalgar, seedy then, well, rare student prices, waitress in black and white I remember the white cap with lace and black band the tiny white apron on black dress alluringly short wiping her hands by rubbing them seductively on her aproned thighs, “what can I get you lads?” … ribaldry … ray “what time do you finish?” … her answer no more than a half-smile;
After the spam fritters and the glorious knickerbockers and more small pink hands attentive hands rubbed clean on lacy white apron, ray’s eyes never taken off them then drinks nothing heavy.
Ray fell must have done from a great height smitten I would say to his adam’s apple core, eyes only for a pretty face and those lacy edges.
Conversation ricocheted across the tables voices spurted out their verbiage as those yablochkov candles expended their light, more raucous than uncouth.
Then the attempt to close to dispense with customers we head for the street ray stays in his seat “’bye chaps, I’ll see you.”
… But he never did.
Nor we him. Ever again.
The Thames Embankment is a work of 19th Century civil engineering which reclaimed marshy land next to the River Thames in central London. It follows the North Bank of the river from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge.
The Victoria Embankment Gardens , built also in the latter part of the 19th Century, separate the embankment and the road running alongside from the buildings on the south side of Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and The Strand.
Villiers Street is a short connecting thoroughfare, now mainly pedestrianised, running from the Thames Embankment and Charing Cross underground Station uphill to the Strand, Charing Cross Mainline Railway Station and Trafalgar Square. It contains many restaurants and eating establishments. The Trafalgar Cafe, however, can no longer be found there.
Poem by WHB and re-published in memory of Dave and Mike – now passed on to where all memories are filed and all mysteries are resolved.
Long lingering Lyn stretches her arms from the east and from the west faltering before then slowly gathering the courage to continue
Until at last separately these fledgling rivers tumble less tentative now more fluent and sure almost impetuous towards each other through their sovereign gorges
Plummeting now to where their destined waters meet in conscious confluence
A stillness then returns caution again prevailing tentative once more, remembering, regretting, still grieved by distant memory
But now able with measured movement to veer past the lighthouse by the river’s mouth and to slip softly into the welcoming sea.
On 15 and 16 August 1952, a storm of tropical intensity broke over south-west England, depositing 9 inches of rain within 24 hours on the already saturated soil of Exmoor, North Devon. The East and West Lyn rivers, which drop down from Exmoor, were swollen even before the storm. Debris-laden flood waters cascaded down the northern escarpment of the moor, much of it converging upon the village of Lynmouth in particular. In the upper West Lyn valley, a dam was formed by fallen trees, etc., but in due course this gave way, sending a huge wave of water and debris down the river.
Overnight, more than 100 buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged along with 28 of the 31 bridges, and 38 cars were washed out to sea. In total, 34 people died, with a further 420 made homeless. The seawall and lighthouse survived the main flood, but were seriously undermined. The lighthouse collapsed into the river the next day.
Bosham is a delightful village situated on an arm of Chichester Harbour (West Sussex). Bosham has a long history; it is thought that it was one of the first sites in Sussex were the Saxon St Wilfrid preached, around the year 681 AD. Three centuries later, it was at Bosham that King Canute, tongue in cheek, ordered the waves to cease their movement. Canute’s daughter is buried at Holy Trinity parish church, which features a superb 11th century chancel arch and a Saxon tower.
One of Canute’s successors, Harold, set sail from Bosham in 1064 on the voyage which was to eventually cost him his kingdom, after a storm cast him into the hands of William of Normandy.
Today, Bosham remains a popular boating centre, and it retains many charming 17th and 18th century buildings in the narrow, winding streets and alleys that lead to the harbour. The manor of Bosham House, which may stand on the site of a Saxon house built for Canute, was the home of Henry Hamblin, the popular writer and spiritualist known as the ‘Saint of Sussex’.
When shadow turns to substance In the still of morning’s birth, Then once again I wonder How much my life is worth.
Have I in the scheme of things At last outlived my time? I want to last a fair span yet, To hope is not a crime.
I long to do a thousand things I’ve not had time to do, But is that just a selfish wish I’m not entitled to?
So many of my friends have gone, Lives past while mine’s still here. Do I deserve more time on earth, Or is my ending near?
Such morbid thoughts occur to me More frequently each day. I rush to pack more living in, No halt, pause or delay.
Despite the limits on my life My time is filled with actions. Yet still my mind frets at the thought Of those un-lived attractions.
Why am I selfishly intent On hurtling to nirvana, Grasping at each passing chance More enhanced life to garner?
I could so quietly subside Into a life of ease; No rush, no great exigency My daemons to appease.
Yet I am not content like that, I must remain on course, To stay with, in the time I’m left, This imperative life force.
The two photographs were taken by me in London’s Roman Amphitheatre, which can be found in its restored state in the basement of the City of London Guildhall.
These Roman remains, thought to date to the 1st Century AD, were discovered when the Guildhall Art Gallery was being re-developed in 1985. The original structure could house over 7,000 spectators seated on tiered wooden benches in what would then have been the open air, where they watched the execution of criminals as well as fights, usually to the death, between wild animals and gladiators.
More can be discovered about these little-known remains of the Roman Londinium on the City of London website at: