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.Continue reading →
I want to sink bells into the pond.
Plant them just below the waterline,
where the ripples look like scales
lifting out of the shallows slowly
on the back of an endless snake.
Then at night when the moon lifts,
turns her face to watch,
I’ll slip out onto the decking,
strip down to my silver skin.
Drop like a stone or a witch
into the quiet cold of a place
not quite what I wish of it.
Wonder as the bells ring out
if anyone else may be listening.
There’s a lot of Shropshire Folklore about women and water. The River Severn is often characterised as female, and there are tales of women (or women-like creatures) inhabiting lakes and ponds. Another image in Shropshire folk tales, is that of church bells falling into water and being lost forever, but the sound of their ringing being heard at night.
I’ve always been in love with myths and legends, but more often than not it was the classic Greek, Egyptian, and Norse myths that I turned to as a child. More recently I started to look into the tales from my native county, and one of the poems in my collection was inspired by this research. During the lockdown I’ve been trying to read more books to keep myself occupied. I ended up purchasing ‘Shropshire Folk Tales’ by Amy Douglas. The one off poem on Shropshire Folklore that I included in my collection now looks like it might grow into something more.
One paragraph for all the lost bodies,
somewhere still beneath dirt and grass
and the slow trundle of grazing cattle
meandering, one fence line to another.
Musket balls get plucked up on odd days,
rolled across a palm like a marble,
dropped into a Tupperware tub,
they outlasted the bones and flesh.
A field with five hundred years to forget
yet the calf gets sick with lead
loses its eyesight to a pellet
from a gun fired half a century before.
History reaches past its paragraph
of three thousand nameless men.
Another misery of litter
leftover once the war was done.
Following tonight’s theme of smoke and mirrors, and feeling like the older you get, the less you actually know, I started thinking about how we learn about the history of warfare in schools. There’s a disconnect between the modern day and its wars, and battles such as the one at Bloor Heath* in Staffordshire where around three thousand men are thought to have died in the fighting.
It’s easy to look at these historic events and pick apart the motivations, and the mistakes that were made. However, when dealing with similar situations in more modern settings, the issue can often seem clouded.
I’m left to wonder what will be written five hundred years from now about the current wars being fought and the empires being built.
*The Battle of Blore Heath was part of the Wars of the Roses. I’ve been debating getting back into writing some historic posts so if you’d be interested in knowing more I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Would it be odd to re-introduce history posts onto the site?
There is still the echo of cannon-fire
tucked inside the alcoves
the shadow of men with broadswords
across the window ledges,
whispers of skirts on floorboard,
creaking corsets and stubborn doors,
murmured lovers’ words,
and the echo of a family,
some gone, some misplaced, some safe.
We remember the thrum of armies,
where they marched on stone, on grass, on soil.
Where we lay, were built, and fell,
where you now walk on summer days
when the sun is high and bright,
and there was nothing else much to do
but visit local sights.
We will stand here still,
until the years pass on too far,
and then there will be no stories for us to tell
and no walls to talk anymore.
Don’t entirely sure what I think of this piece as my brain’s a little fried from working on Shadow Dawn for the last four hours. Day one of NaNoWriMo done, twenty-nine left to go.
Anyway, I was going to give poetics a miss tonight but the prompt ‘if these walls could talk’ just took me straight to Morton Corbet Castle in Shropshire and I had to write something.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you feel so proud of your own local knowledge that you haven’t got a clue what to do with yourself when it turns out you were wrong? It’s soul crushing. In that moment being a hedgehog sounds like a fantastic idea because curling into yourself seemed like the only way you could possibly escape the shame.
“Hey, you know the Maltings? Did you know it was the first iron framed building in the world!”
No. No it was not. It isn’t even completely iron framed but that doesn’t bother me quite as much as being told I was wrong about the ‘first ever’ claim, or that I’d been proudly toting it as my tip-bit of cool history from my native soil of Shropshire whenever I got the chance.
For those of you who don’t know, the Maltings are a building in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. Half an hour drive from where I live when I’m at home with my parents, this crumbling building is something of a National Treasure. Originally Ditherington Flax Mill built in 1796, it is accredited with being the Grandfather of skyscrapers, standing itself at a rather modest five-stories tall.
Interestingly the first time the term skyscraper was officially used was in 1882 for the Brook Brothers of Boston’s ten-story Montauk Block. (Designed by Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn.)¹
But back to Ditherington. Ditherington Flax Mill is the oldest standing iron framed building in the world, that much is true, but before that there were some predecessors who have just happened to slip beneath the notice of history books.
Between 1792-1793 William Strutt, (a friend of Ditherington Flax Mill Architect Charles Bage) built a cotton factory in Derby. Here cast and wrought iron was used as integral parts of its brick and wood structure. There is evidence of Bage acknowledging Strutt’s influence in correspondence now housed at the Shrewsbury Archive and Strutt went onto the repeat the process with a six-story West Mill in Belper.²
So Shrewsbury does not host the first iron framed building it seems. Never-mind. I’m quite happy to host the oldest one. I mean we’re the birthplace of Charles Darwin, as far as historic sites go we’re not doing too badly.
1. Encyclopedia of Architectural and Engineering Feats pg.311
2. http://www.search.revolutionaryplayers.org.uk/engine/resource/exhibition/standard/child.asp?txtKeywords&lstContext&lstResourceType&lstExhibitionType&chkPurchaseVisible&txtDateFrom&txtDateTo&x1&y1&x2&y2&scale&theme&album&viewpage=%2Fengine%2Fresource%2Fexhibition%2Fstandard%2Fchild.asp&originator&page&records&direction&pointer&text&resource=4923&exhibition=1613&offset=0 [Accessed 27/11/14]
I want to say thank you to Trish Farrell for inspiring this post. I love my random history posts now and again but it was her article on Ditherington Flax Mill that reminded me of my own mistake about the place. Now seemed a good a time as any to do a blog it.