#NaPoWriMo 2021 Early Bird Prompt – Weaving Time

When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?

John Ball 1381

There are less of us these days,
the ones with the time to weave history
into cloth.
Once upon, they called this women’s work.
We stitched their names
just the same,
cut their threads to the lengths
they needed to be,
did not cry over the fraying ends
they left behind,
but moved on to the next row
of coloured strands waiting,
to be fixed in place.
Our baskets always bursting
with material for the making,
some scraps we took to our graves
though that tradition is gone as well,
with no one to keep the patchwork growing
so much is lost and moth eaten.

Tiraz Textile Fragmentlate 9th–early 10th century

Mrs Macaulay – The Historian In Petticoats – Britain’s First Female Historian

Today’s history blog is about the fantastic Mrs Macaulay, Britain’s First Female Historian, and an advocate of Women’s rights and education.

Born Catherine Sawbridge on the 23rd March 1731, she gained an informal education in her father’s library alongside her brother at their family home in Kent. She moved to London in 1760, upon her marriage to Dr George Macaulay and three years later published the first of her extensive eight volume History of England that spanned from the succession of James I to the Revolution. Part way through the third volume of her history, her husband passed away, leaving her widowed with a single daughter (Catherine Sophia) from the marriage. She remained in London for a while, before moving to Bath in 1774 where she met her second husband William Graham. The marriage caused scandal. As the brother of her physician, son of a saddle maker, and only a mere Surgeon’s Mate1, William was considered beneath Mrs Macaulay. They remained together until her death on the 22nd June 1791 at the age of sixty at their home in Binfield on the Thames, near Windsor. In her memory, William dedicated a memorial to her in the local parish church nearby.

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Shropshire Witches – Witchcraft In The Early Modern Era

Researching witchcraft in Shropshire is similar to panning for gold when the river has run dry. These days, there is a wealth of information regarding the ‘European Witch Crazes’ of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but Shropshire is rarely mentioned. Even when Shropshire does come up, it’s for no more than a sentence or two. This lack of history can perhaps be accredited to the narrowness of the field of study. Between 1563 and 1736, less than 500 executions were carried out for the crime of witchcraft in England.1 Europe on the other hand saw 100,000 individuals tried and less than 50,000 put to death.2 Accusations of witchcraft also rarely saw just one person implicated, resulting in numerous ‘suspects’ popping up once once the accused was questions. This resulted in localised pockets of witches being discovered in certain towns and villages, rather than nationwide witch hunts.

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The Madness of Inspiration

It’s a sentence dropped in passing,

just a side-note to the conversation,

or a jotting blotted in the margin,

only really half a thought.

 

Yet it opens the earth beneath you,

hooks in under your fingernails,

drags you to dimly lit, dusty corners,

both imaginary and real.

 

It doesn’t care that no one wrote it,

or if someone did then they lost it,

or passed it into a safe place

too good given the hindsight.

 

It’s dug a home in the meat of you.

Demanded your eyes, you tongue, your head.

Drew a line between now and then

as translucent as spider silk.

 

Now you only have to find it.

dverselogo

I’m working on a new poetry collection at the moment which I think I’ll probably name ‘Women, Water, and Witches’. The inspiration for it stems from the folklore surrounding women and water in Shropshire. This has led to me spending evenings researching Sea Witches, Jenny/Ginny Greenteeth, witch trials in Shropshire (there’s almost nothing in any source I’ve checked so far), then ducking stools and scolds, and even a policeman being sentenced to the stocks in 1850 for being drunk and disorderly.

More often than not, what seems like half an idea can lead me down a weird and winding path of research, which spits out even weirder tangents. A bit like a portal. (Ha! See my tentative link to the prompt there!)

The main problem I’ve run into so far is consolidating the history geek side of my brain which wants to fact check every source, to the poet side of my brain who wants to take a few artistic liberties here and there. The compromise so far seems to be that the poet can do what she wants, but the history geek will then get to write a paragraph of two for each poem to explain the background/history/lore. Hopefully this won’t put anyone reading the collection to sleep after the first couple of pages.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little portal inside my brain. Thank you for reading, and happy writing.

 

The Butcher’s Poleaxe – #VEDay

Somewhere there is a poleaxe,

your sweat worked into the staff

from unbroken nights,

where the pig must not squeal.

Milk bottle spectacles

but no flame or light catching

in the glass reflection.

All of it done in the silence

that cannot be broken,

unlike the rules you’re cleaving

with each precise blow.

 

Hands returned to steering wheel,

on dark lanes winding home,

nose to windscreen

foot light on the accelerator,

you mouth curled in prayer.

May they not come back this way

with the fat bulbs unsown

on London, or Crewe,

or elsewhere deemed vital.

May they not discard their leftovers

on these field tonight.

Let the silence be unbroken.


VE Day 2020

Not long ago my mother told me about the poleaxe my great-grandfather kept in the garage. He used it during the Second World War to slaughter pigs, as it was more effective at killing them quickly before there was chance for them to make any sound.

This was during rationing, when there were limitations on the slaughter of livestock. My great-grandfather, a butcher with eyesight so poor he was unable to enlist, would drive to farms in the middle of night to do the deed. Headlights were not allowed due to blackout regulations, and knowing those narrow country lanes, I’m amazed he managed to avoid ending up in the ditches.

My Great-Grandmother, who I knew very well, would remain at home. The danger was not only getting caught, but from returning German bombers on their way home. Any bombs that were not dropped on the high-value targets were dumped out over the country-side. I remember being told stories by the Great-Grandmother, of how she spent night in the cupboard beneath the stairs, listening as the bombs dropped nearby.

After the war ended and rationing was lifted, there was no more need for the poleaxe, and no-one really knows what happened to it. I like to think that it is still in existence, perhaps on display, or perhaps tucked in the back of a cupboard.