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A Decolonising Resource to Explore Stroud and the Five Valleys

Decolonising Stroud and the Five Valleys

A. The Report into the Black Boy Clock with Questions (see

B. The East India Company: Read the following sections and then answer this question: What questions would you like to ask of the sources? Then discuss whether you think a new information board about the East India Company should be placed in the landscape. If you do, design one with third person commentary and contemporary quotation. If you think a new information board is not needed, write a persuasive speech with your reasons. (The text below is taken from this link where you will find relevant pictures: )

The information boards at Chalford intrigue,

Because of the lack of information:

At Chalford Vale and along the canal,

We are told about the local links

With the East India Company,

But we are not told about the practice

Of the East India Company …

BUT WE SHALL LET the ‘Past Speak for Itself’,

From the pages of Jack P. Greene’s erudite tome,

Evaluating Empire and Confronting Colonialism

in Eighteenth-Century Britain’:

The East India Company?

‘those shameful triumphs over unwarlike and defenceless nations, which have poured into the laps of individuals the wealth of India … and driven us to plunder and destroy harmless natives fixed so deep a stain on the English name, as perhaps cannot be expiated.’

‘changed, contrary to the intentions of its institution, from a commercial, into a military corporation’, so that India – a ‘country, late so famous for its commerce, whose rich manufacturers brought to it immense wealth from every corner of the tributary world, and whose fertile plains supplied millions of its neighbours with grain’ is ‘unable now to yield itself the bare necessities of life. The loom is unemployed, neglected lies the plough; trade is at a stand, for there are no manufacturers to carry it on’; multitudes are ‘perishing for want of food.’

‘a revenue of two millions in India, acquired God knows how, by unjust wars … their servants came home with immense fortune obtained by rapine and oppression.’

‘and indeed it is clearly proved, that the East India Company is rotten to the very core. All is equally unsound; and you cannot lay your finger on a single healthy spot whereon to begin the application of a remedy. In the east, the laws of society, the laws of nature, have been enormously violated. Oppression in every shape has ground the faces of the poor defenceless natives; and tyranny has stalked abroad. The laws of England have lain mute and neglected and nothing was seen but the arbitrary face of despotism. Every sanction of civil justice, every maxim of political wisdom, all laws human and divine, have been trampled underfoot, and set at nought.’

‘Pride and emulation stimulated avarice, and the sole contest was, who should return to that home … with the greatest heap of crimes and of plunder.’

‘Asiatic plunderers’, ‘they had for many years been disgracing us as a nation and making us appear in the eyes of the world, no longer the once-famed generous Britons, but a set of banditti, bent solely on rapine and plunder.’

‘executions, oppressions, blood-shed, massacres, extirpation, pestilence and famine.’

‘Instead of our fleets crowding our ports freighted with the precious commodities of the East … we have … the importation of the fortunes of splendid delinquents, amassed by peculation and rapine.’

Parallels with the Roman Empire?

‘the dominions in Asia, like the distant Roman provinces during the decline of the empire, have been abandoned, as lawful prey, to every species of peculators; in so much that many of the servants of the Company, after exhibiting such scenes of barbarity as can be scarcely paralleled in the history of any country, have returned to England loaded with wealth.’

Clive of India?

utterly deaf to every sentiment of justice and humanity … this insatiable harpy, whose ambition is unparalleled, and whose avarice knows no bounds.’

America and India Conjoined?

‘We have abused and adulterated government ourselves, stretching our depredations and massacres not only to the Eastern, but Western world … the guilt of murder and robbery … now crying aloud for vengeance on the head of Great Britain.’

‘How melancholy is the consideration to the friends to this country that in the East and in the West, in Asia and America, the name of an Englishman is become a reproach’, and in ‘Europe we are not loved enough to have a single friend … from such a situation there is but a small step to hatred or contempt.’

C. Rodborough and the 1834 Abolition of Slavery:

AWARDEE Peter Hawker

Jamaica St Andrew 111 (Liberty Hall Pen) £699 17s 8d [26 enslaved]]

Absentee slave-owner by virtue of his marriage to Caroline Stephenson

In Rodborough, Gloucestershire, 26/05/1823.

She was heiress of George Stephenson of Liberty Hall, St Andrew, Jamaica.

I wonder what life was like for George Stephenson? I wonder what Peter Hawker and Caroline did with their compensation? I wonder what happened to their enslaved people? List some questions that you would like to ask of George Stephenson and questions that you would like to ask of the 26 enslaved. Read the below first:

Let the past speak for itself,

Courtesy of the pages of Jack P. Greene’s erudite tome,

Evaluating Empire and Confronting Colonialism

in Eighteenth-Century Britain

One 18th century critic asserted that Georges

‘know no Medium in Things; a Man with you must either be either absolutely a Slave, or licentiously free, free from all Restraints of Law.’

Another opponent of enslavement wrote thus:

‘The negroes in our colonies endure a slavery more compleat, and attended with far worse circumstances, than what any people in their condition suffer in any other part of the world, or have suffered in any other period of time.’

And another wrote of Georges:

‘Cruel Task-masters … petty tyrants over human freedom … sincere Worshippers of Mammon … civilized violators of humanity …’

And to conclude:

Their days are full ‘of Idleness and Extravagance … habituated by Precept and Example, to Sensuality, Selfishness, and Despotism … at the Expence of the poor Negroes who cultivate their lands.’

D. Click on this link

and study points 1,2, 3. 4 and 6. Stroud scarlet cloth provided the uniform for the army in the 18th and 19th centuries: ‘the redcoats.’ Write a summary of redcoat action from points 1,2,3,4 and 6.

E. The East India Company and Longfords Mill: Read the following sections and then answer this question: What questions would you like to ask of the sources? Then discuss whether you think a new information board about the East India Company should be placed in the landscape. If you do, design one with third person commentary and contemporary quotation. If you think a new information board is not needed, write a persuasive speech with your reasons.

(The text below is taken from this link where you will find relevant pictures: )

Much of Stroud’s history is the product of centuries of growth in its textile industry. Fast-flowing rivers in the area’s steep valleys were used to power mills, which turned sheep’s wool into high quality fabric destined for sale in distant parts of the globe. Over the centuries, the town and its mills grew, with canals and railroads gradually constructed between the Five Valleys and beyond to cities such as London, Bristol, and Exeter; connections that continue to serve and benefit the Stroud area today.

The town’s most famous Stroudwater Scarlet broadcloth is instantly recognisable in the military uniforms of the British Empire’s forces, and records show it being traded across the Atlantic in North America and as far east as China. However, one particular business link stands out in its importance in the growth and maintenance of Stroud’s textile industry.

This link was with the British East India Company (EIC), which, after being founded and granted its royal charter in 1600, shipped British goods alongside European military tactics and technologies across the Indian subcontinent and China while shipping profits and loot back to Britain.

The importance of this link for Stroud’s development is hard to overstate. In October 1815 alone the EIC ordered almost £40,000 worth of product from mill owners in the Stroud Valleys; £3,585,018 in today’s money.

We can also see the importance this had for individual mills, with Longford’s Mill near Minchinhampton – now converted into housing – apparently being the EIC’s largest supplier of cloth in 1820 through fulfilling orders then worth £20,000. Chalford’s mills similarly owed much of their business to the EIC, with Chalford Place previously being known as the Company’s Arms, after the East India Company.

F. Our street names reflect our history. Nelson Street, for example, at the top of the High Street, in Stroud. Everyone knows about Lord Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar. But few people know about a Nelson backstory involving a woman of colour who saved his life. Without her, the Battle of Trafalgar could have been lost … in a manner of speaking. Perhaps she should be remembered with a street or house name? You might like to read from the link below and discuss that question.

G. The following link is also about memorialisation, the East India Company, and Stroud scarlet. Speed-read the following and then focus on these questions about people mentioned towards the end of the piece.

What do you think the phrase, ‘David Olusoga’s telling point about memorialisation. Contextualisation’ means? Research: Who are Robert Jenrick and Oliver Dowden? Why are they so important in the debates about history and memorialisation? What have they quite firmly said?

H. Stroud scarlet and the American Revolution: click on this link and list the points that strike you as surprising. List them in order with the most surprising first. Explain your reasoning.

I. Look at this link about the national context to the Black Boy clock:

Read and then share research tasks out: what has happened to each of these memorials since January 2021?

J. Stroud scarlet and the Iroquois: study this link and you will find a challenge at the end if you fancy it:

K. Bristol and Stroud: click on this link and then answer the questions:

1. About how many slaving voyages were made from Bristol in the 18th century? 2. What was the ‘Middle Passage’? 3. Research: who was Colston? When did he die? 4. Which product became less important on the first leg of the so-called ‘triangular trade’ after his death? 4. What does ‘counter-intuitive’ mean? 5. What does the writer find counter-intuitive? 5. Thomas Clarkson was an abolitionist. What does that mean in this context? What does meticulous mean? 6. The ‘sloop’ mentioned in the text was designed for what we would now call ‘sightseeing’. How many people was it designed for? How many enslaved people were forced into the confined space? 7. Take a tape measure and measure out the space in which the enslaved were manacled for six weeks. Use your mind and senses and imagination and feel stupefied. There are no words.

L. Bristol and Stroud continued: the GWR: Abolition compensation in 1834 helped fund the national railway boom of the 19th century industrial evolution. You will see this when you later look at the Gladstone family and Gloucester. The GWR from Paddington to Bristol and the branch line from Swindon to Cheltenham also need investigation about the impact of abolition compensation:

1. Look at the third stanza and list the people who were involved with GWR in Bristol and who benefitted from compensation.

2. Add up the numbers of enslaved people from whom they gained.

3. Add up the totals in ‘old money’ and then add up the totals in today’s values.

4. Two other influential people are named. Further research: what is/was the Society of Merchant Venturers?

5. What do the lines about Christopher Claxton suggest?

6. Who was he friendly with? Why is that person so famous?

7. Do you think there should be an information plaque at Bristol Temple Meads with information about the impact of slavery compensation? Explain your reasoning.

Now look at these figures for the branch line from Swindon, on the main line GWR from Paddington to Bristol, that runs through Kemble, Stroud, Stonehouse, Gloucester and Cheltenham: Out of the £695,000 raised by subscription for the construction of the railway from Swindon through Stroud to Cheltenham, £212,000 came from the spa town of Cheltenham, home to so many beneficiaries from the abolition of slavery.

1. It might be useful to research this. Go to the UCL data base at If you type in the Cheltenham details then you should be able to research further information about them. You could also type in Cheltenham into the relevant box to see if there are any new entries not included on the list you have just looked at. You might be able to discover where Cheltenham compensation money was invested.

M. Look at and then find a copy of William Wordsworth’s poem. Imagine the Discharged Soldier in his Stroud scarlet uniform. Could you write a poem about that image? Here’s some reminders about poetic technique: A guide to creative writing: An A – Z Writing Guide A is for ALLITERATION and ANECDOTES and ASSONANCE and ATMOSPHERE B is for BATHOS and BLANK VERSE and BACKSTORY C is for CHARACTERS and CLIFFHANGER and COUNTER-HERITAGE D is for DIALOGUE and DRAMA E is for EFFECT and ELLIPSIS F is for FIRST PERSON and FORESHADOWING and FACT and FICTION and FREE VERSE G is for GENRE (which will you choose?) and GUERRILLA MEMORIALISATION H is for HONESTY and HEART (and soul) and HERITAGE I is for IMAGERY and IDIOM and IAMBIC PENTAMETRE and IMAGINATION J is for JUSTICE and the JUST word K is for KINDNESS and KINESIS L is for LUCID and LUDIC and LIMINALITY M is for METAPHOR and MOOD and MEMORIALISATION and MYTHOPOEIC and METRE N is for NARRATIVE and NOTEBOOK (necessary) O is for ONOMATOPOEIA P is for PERSONA and PLOT and PACE and PUNCTUATION and PARENTHESIS and PEN and PENCIL and PAPER and POETRY and PROSE Q is for QUEST (for the right word) and QUESTIONS R is for RULE OF THREE and RHETORICAL QUESTIONS and RESEARCH and READING and RHYME and RHYTHM S is for SIMILE and SIBILANCE and STRUCTURE and STANZA and SETTING and SENSES and SENTENCES (varied) and SYNTHESIA T is for TRIPLES and THIRD PERSON U is for UNDERSTATED V is for VARIED SENTENCE STRUCTURE and VOICE and VERSE and VARIED VOCABULARY W is for WANDERING and WRITING and WORMHOLES X is for X-ROADS (liminal wormholes through time) Y is for YEARNING (for the past and for the right word) Z is for ZEN and the ART of STATIONERY MAINTENANCE

N. Look at and focus on this question: Should there be a street named after Thomas Burchell in the Stroud District Council area? Discuss and if you think there should, compose a letter to send to the leader of the Stroud District Council and our M.P. Also, try and make a visit to Shortwood. It’s atmospheric. Perhaps read this piece whilst you are there. Finally, what does the writer say about the history teaching he received as a young person?

O. This activity is purely for reading only and is to take place around the American Thanksgiving time in November. Read these two pieces, and

Then research a couple of contemporary views on Thanksgiving from different perspectives in the United States today.

P. Sometimes you have to go beyond the available evidence to recreate voices and the past. Here is an example. Please have a read.

Then have a look at and take up the challenge towards the end.

Q. Time for a visit to Gloucester Docks: Baker’s Quay offers opportunities for assessing impact of abolition compensation on local landscape, economy, industry and transport. Also: discussions on the absence of any indication of the source of the funds for investment on the memorialisation that is seen at the quay etc. Visits for research homework(s) could also involve the English department with writing in various genres. Click on this link:

1. Class discussion: what does ‘decolonising a landscape’ mean?

2. List three things we learn from about the Atlas on the plaque on the warehouse wall.

3. List four things we don’t learn.

4. What is the name of this particular canal walk? What does ‘maritime’ mean?

5. What do you find out about Thomas Phillpotts as you walk past Phillpott’s Warehouse?

6. What don’t you find out about Samuel Baker when at Bakers Quay?

7. How much of the national budget was paid out to owners of enslaved people in 1834?

8. What does the line, ‘The interest on which we have only just ceased paying’ mean?

9. Name two areas in Gloucester that grew because of that compensation.

10. What does the line, ‘The locus of Gloucester’s industrial revolution’ mean and imply?

11. Do you think Gloucester Quays should have any information plaques to inform the public of this missing history? Explain your reasoning.

12. Do you think the jigsaw metaphor a good one for explaining ‘history’? Explain your reasoning.

13. ‘Blank verse history’ is a genre different from any type of history you have come across before. Is it an effective way of recounting ‘history’? Discuss this with a partner and list your ‘on the one hand’ reasons and your ‘on the other hand’ reasons.

The impact of that abolition compensation is not just local, however. You might want to get students to think about how the docks and local canals lead to global links. Click on this link:

1. Make a sketch map to show Gloucester, Saul Junction, the River Severn, the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, the Bristol Channel, the Stroudwater Navigation, the Thames & Severn Canal, the River Thames, and London.

2. What is an archipelago?

3. Now make a sketch map to show the British Isles, western Europe, north-west Africa, the West Indies and the eastern seaboard of the United States. Now draw in the lines for the triangular trade. Can you see why some historians and geographers use the term, ‘Atlantic archipelago’?

4. Having sketched in the lines of the triangular trade, can you see why some historians use the term ‘Black Atlantic’?

5. How do you interpret the phrase, ‘slave ships’ keening’?

6. Who was Saul in the Bible? Why is he the personification of seeing ‘the world anew’?

7. Is the imagery of a ‘slavery treasure chest’ effective, in your opinion?

8. Research: Who wrote, ‘Heart of Darkness’? Why do you think the writer has referenced this work?

But we have to think about transport down the Severn before the canal and possible links with the triangular trade. Not just Stroud scarlet but also ironware coming down from Coalbrookdale etc. Go to The Black Country was the nickname for areas in the Midlands during the industrial revolution when the air was full of black smoke.

The right-hand side of the page has the text in standard English. The left-hand side is in the dialect of the Black Country.

1. List four thigs taken down the river in the boat.

2. Where were these goods to be initially taken?

3. Where were these goods to be subsequently taken?

4. List five objects carried that worried the narrator.

5. Where were the ‘Plantations’ mentioned in the text?

6. Which product associated with slavery was boycotted by the narrator?

7. Apart from stopping carrying metal goods, what three products associated with slavery did the narrator ask her husband to boycott?

8. This account is fictional and written in 2018. Does that make it irrelevant for the study of the past? Explain your reasoning.

R. The famous Gladstone family and Gloucester offer opportunities for student investigation:

1. What does the phrase ‘principled opponent of imperialism’ mean?

2. Which two important jobs did William Gladstone hold more than once?

3. What is a pseudonym?

4. What does John Gladstone’s pseudonym connote?

5. Who did William Gladstone defend with his first speech in parliament?

6. Who was Gradgrind? Why do you think the writer has used this descriptor?

7. Why was John Gladstone feeling relieved?

8. Why has the writer used the phrase ‘Stroud Scarlet army’?

9. What were spas? List three popular spas in the south-west.

10. What was the Middle Passage?

11. Why has the writer used the phrase ‘crimson wake of the slave ships’?

12. How has the writer achieved a juxtaposition with the use of the phrase, ‘As they enjoyed the balm of saline warmth’?

13. Why did John Gladstone come to Gloucester in 1825?

14. If you wanted to locate the site of Gloucester’s spa waters and pump room, where would you go?

15. How did the youthful Gladstone spend his time at Gloucester and how did the adult Gladstone spend his time?

16. A three-line stanza illustrates the privilege of the Gladstone family. How?

17. How does the poem indicate that Britain’s industrial revolution was stimulated by slavery abolition compensation?

18. What was the value of John Gladstone’s estate (in today’s values) on his death?

19. Read the letter at the end of the prose-poem and re-read the poem. Design an information plaque with wording that you think would be appropriate for the site of Gloucester’s pump rooms.

20. Extra research: Find out about Liverpool University and the debate about the name ‘Gladstone’ at the university.

S. There are a number of parish register BAME entries pre-Windrush generations for Gloucestershire and this resource

offers a tantalising glimpse into a past world and a tantalising task of trying to bring these past lives to life.

1. Students develop their own questions to ask of the evidence.

2. Students develop their own stories, tales and narratives about these parish register entries. Here is an example:

Owners of enslaved who benefitted from abolition:

1. Why do you think there were so many people in Clifton and Bristol who benefitted from compensation in 1834?

2. Many contemporary observers noted how the families of plantation owners and enslaved peoples took the waters at spa towns. How is this borne out by this evidence?

3. Which beneficiary of slavery compensation in the Stroud area strikes you as the most surprising?

4. The enumeration goes wrong on the Gloucestershire list – this is an error. Ignore it. Just study the information. Now make up your own questions about this section. (20 shillings in a pound; 12d in a shilling.)

5. You will have noticed that there is not a uniform value for an enslaved person as you do your sums. Why do you think that was? Answer in as much detail as you can. Do you find this morally and ethically shocking? Explain your answer.

6. You could make a Gloucestershire map of owners of enslaved peoples. And a map of the West Indies with links to Gloucestershire.

Further research: the link above is a simplified version taken from the UCL data base; and that data base is being continually updated. Look at the Gloucester list and then go to the UCL data base at If you type in details about the Gloucester list then you should

T. It’s time to look at the famous Stroud Scarlet cloth. We all know about the British army in its red uniform; we all know how Stroud cloth was traded all over the world. The question is, did it go to Bristol and then to Africa as part of the slaving triangular trade? I suggest metaphorically in a line in this piece on this link that the evidence is missing. Can you find the line?

U. And now it’s time to look at stately homes and enslavement. Read the following link to find a list of grand houses in the south-west with links to the triangular trade. Write the list down and research the houses’ websites. How many say anything about this backstory?

An example of a walk that interrogates this missing backstory is at for 6th formers and teachers.

V. Who would have thought that a local would have been co-responsible for the Mason-Dixon Line – the line that divided the slavocracy of the Confederacy from the North in the USA. This activity is purely for recreation. Visit Oakridge and Sapperton for a walk. The church at Sapperton has some information about Charles Mason. And here’s a link to track down the backstory:

W. Penultimately, it is important to say that the red cloth made in Stroud – Stroud scarlet – clothed the British army in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example: The Seven Years War, 1756-63:

‘In total, Britain mobilised more than 167,000 soldiers and sailors, and spent more than £18 million on the war effort. In 2020, a war costing the same proportion of gross domestic product … would require a loan of nearly £39.5 billion. Crucially, 45,000 more soldiers were deployed to North America, a force five times as large as the army mustered by France and its allies.’ (Slave Empire How Slavery Built Modern Britain Padraic X. Scanlon)

Redcoats were also in action after the abolition of slavery:

‘The military power of the slave empire

was called into action to enforce apprenticeship’;

In Jamaica,

There were strikes; demands for freedom; for wages;

And in response?


Until the 39th Regiment was called into action,

Two companies under the command of Sir Henry Macleod:

‘The strikers, faced with ranks of armed redcoats, returned to work, and Macleod left behind one of his two companies to maintain order.’

In Guiana:

Some 1,000 apprentices

Gathered in a churchyard;

There were demands for wages;

Redcoats were called into action;

‘Faced with the redcoats, the apprentices dispersed.’

Execution and exile followed.

Redcoats were used in Montserrat and Nevis, too:

‘Once it was clear that the Army would break strikes, apprentices retreated to slow-downs, and small-scale resistance, old weapons from the days of slavery.’

So, redcoats broke strikes in Stroud,

And, redcoats broke strikes in the slave empire …

Quotations from Slave Empire How Slavery Built Modern Britain Padraic X. Scanlon

But Stroud scarlet cloth went elsewhere: Samuel Rudder, 1779:

Stroud scarlet’s ‘inland trade’ also included cloth sold to merchants who sold the cloth to ‘our colonies and other foreign markets’.

These merchants included those in London and Bristol.

Cloth was also sold to the East India Company.


Cloth went to ‘our colonies’. London and Bristol were the chief slaving ports involved in the triangular trade in southern England.

Would it be counter-intuitive to think Stroud cloth wasn’t involved with the slave trade?

Colin Maggs in The Nailsworth and Stroud Branch: ‘…cloth manufacturers found their trade hampered by the high cost of road transport to ships at Gloucester and Bristol. It is recorded that in 1763 Daniel Ballard ran stage waggons to both these ports’.

Researching the archives of the Stroudwater Navigation and the Thames and Severn Canal might reveal something. The Stroudwater Navigation archive is the most complete canal archive in the country.

A cabinet of curiosities,

and an almost infinite, irresistibly unique, archive:

Ledgers and Journals of Imports and Exports

Books of Tonnage at Brimscombe and Wallbridge,

Rent Account Books, Traffic records,

Cash Books and minutes of Arrival

and Dockage and Departure of Vessels,


Wharf accounts from the Severn to London,

Repair Books and Journals from boat yards,

Memorandum Book, Letter Books, Coal Books,

Workmen's Ledgers, Poor Rates, Land Tax etc.

Payments received from boat owners for freights:

where from, where to, master's name, tonnage,

Land and Petty Ledgers, Disbursements, Plans,

The Thames and Severn Canal Plan Book, Maps,

Acts of Parliament, Surveys, Shares, Bye-Laws,

River Thames, Acts and Reports, Lechlade Wharf,

Relationships with the Severn and Wye Railway,

The illusory Thames and Severn Canal,

Local Mills, the Wilts and Berks Canal,

Manchester and Southampton Railway,

Cheltenham and Great Western Union Railway,

Swindon and Cheltenham Extension Railway,

The Stroudwater Canal,

Agreements, Deeds,

Shares, Certificates,

Bonds of Indemnity,

Contracts for purchase of land for the Canal Navigation, Debentures,

Acts of Parliament.

A cabinet of curiosities,

and an almost infinite, irresistibly unique, archive …

A democratic and inclusive archive

For academics, scholars, schools, historians,

Story tellers, family historians, and weavers of fables.

X. Finally (almost)! The following links explore emigration from the Stroud area in the 19th century. We leave this final (almost) exercise to you. Please read and make up your own questions (with answers) as you see fit.

Here is a link about transportation:

An exercise in ‘documentary fiction’ and/or ‘creative non-fiction’:

And at

And at


The Black Boy Clock

It’s almost as if the Black Boy Clock

Is an unwitting personification

Of the triangular trade:

The scarlet lips, connoting British textiles

Voyaging down to north-west Africa;

The boy himself, passing through the Door of No Return,

Chained and manacled on the middle passage;

The tobacco leaves from the plantation

Where he was enslaved until his death,

The tobacco voyaging back to Britain

On the third leg of the triangle.

And now?

A jack clock on the treadmill of time.

The Black Boy Clock in Nelson Street

Synecdoche? Metonymy? Analogy? Irony?

Sic transit Gloria?

Sic transit Imperium?

How odd it might seem that the Black Boy Clock,

Fashioned in an age of imperial expansion,

When enslaved peoples, plants, seeds, and animals

Were transported all across the world,

When the globe was mapped, circumscribed,

And placed neatly upon a table,

Should be so difficult to move again.

Synecdoche? Metonymy? Analogy? Irony?

Walking through Space and Time with the Black Boy Clock

A Backstory

I stood opposite Mountain Warehouse,

At the junction of the High Street and Kendrick Street,

And there a couple of metres or so

In front of the corner shop opposite,

On the pavement space between the two shops,

Is where the clock maker, John Miles, had his shop,

And where the Black Boy was first displayed,

On the frontage, advertising John Miles’

Horological prowess and dexterity.

I stood and mused and took a photo

And drifted down a wormhole of time

To 1774 – the date on the clock mechanism;

The Seven Years War had ended eleven years before,

167,000 soldiers and sailors mobilised,

In the defeat of France in North America,

A war that in today’s values would cost some £40 billion,

That’s a lot of redcoats and a lot of Stroud scarlet;

A force including General Wolfe, of course,

Killed in the storming of the heights of Quebec,

Who a few years before, as Colonel Wolfe,

Had commanded redcoats in action against

The Stroudwater weavers who made the redcoats.

One year later, the American Revolution

(Or ‘American War of Independence’

As I was taught at O level) would break out,

When Hercules Mulligan, a tailor in New York,

Would measure Stroud scarlet uniforms

For British officers and eavesdrop

Their military conversations,

And so save the life of George Washington,

A tailor who would measure King George’s statue,

Take it down to the ground, and melt it down

Into revolutionary musket balls.

The succeeding years in Gloucestershire,

Would see proto Luddite activity,

Threatening letters, strikes, mass meetings,

Food riots, Captain Swing, clandestine action,

While the Black Boy moved up to the Duke of York,

A figure head, perhaps evoking

Hearts of Oak, Jolly Jack Tars,

And a Britannia that rules the waves,

While topers forgot the outside world,

Gazed into their pots and sang their sea shanties,

‘Sally Brown, she’s a right mulatto’;

‘Britons never, never, shall be slaves.’

I stood and mused and took a photo

And drifted down a wormhole of time,

For here we are in Nelson Street,

Like the grand old Duke of York himself,

Halfway up the hill, neither up nor down …

Not easy to know that Horatio Nelson,

The hero of Trafalgar owed his life

To Cubah Cornwallis, ‘a woman of colour’,

Cubah (also spelled Cuba, Couba) Cornwallis,

‘The Queen of Kingston’, who treated sailors

For ‘various diseases and injuries’ in a ‘small house’

Which she bought and ‘converted into

A combination of rest home, hotel and hospital’.

That is why Admiral Parker had the emaciated,

Fever stricken (probably malaria and dysentery)

Young Horatio Nelson conveyed to Cubah.

And her medicines (Obeah? Holistic?)

Brought him back from death’s door.

Cubah not only treated Nelson;

she also restored the future King William the Fourth.

She would eventually receive

a sumptuous gown from the future queen,

Queen Victoria herself,

Which Cubah wore but once: her ‘funerary gown’.

It’s unlikely that the topers in the Duke of York

Knew about Cubah, and that but for her,

The Battle of Trafalgar could have been lost,

As they walked in beneath the Black Boy,

Through a haze of clay pipe smoke, rum and beer.

But the meanings ascribed to the Black Boy

Were about to change again.

For ten years after the abolition arch

Was erected in 1834,

Six years after the start of assisted emigration

From ‘beggarly Bisley’ and Stroudwater,

Five years after the unique Miles Report

Into the dreadful poverty in the Five Valleys

Amongst the handloom weavers and families,

Five years after the Chartist mass-meeting

Of 5,000 people up on Selsley Hill,

Demanding the right to vote and equality,

Against the obdurate opposition

Of Stroud MP and Home Secretary,

Lord John Russell,

The Black Boy would move up the hill, again,

Courtesy of a public subscription,

This time to a school and lesson time,

A symbol, perhaps, of imperial splendour,

A personification, perhaps,

Of school subjects such as Geography and History,

And what would become known later in the century

As ‘The White Man’s Burden’,

An iconographic adjunct

To the world map on the classroom walls,

With the British Empire coloured pink,

An empire on which ‘the sun never sets’,

There at the Black Boy School.

I stood and mused and took a photo

And drifted down a wormhole of time:

The Black Boy has moved twice

And the meanings attached to the statue and clock,

Both intentional and subaltern,

Have changed and moved with moving and changing times.

What next?

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