Archive for the ‘George’ Tag

‘Cry God for Queen Bess, England and St Cuthbert….!’   1 comment

Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne (Photo credit: Noodlefish)

Follow your spirit; and upon this charge

Cry God for Harry, England and St George!

WILLIAM SHAKESPEAREHenry V, Part One.

 

England hasn’t really got a national anthem….The Irish, the Scots and the Welsh all have anthems, the Americans have the cheek to sing ‘My Country ’tis of thee’ to the tune of ‘God Save the Queen‘, but what do the English have? ‘There’ll always be an England’…well that’s not saying much….there’ll always be a North Pole, if some dangerous clown doesn’t go and melt it!…no, I ask you, what have we got to stir the sinews of our local patriotism with? ‘Jerusalem’!! 

Michael Flanders and Donald Swann’s introduction to their ‘Song of Patriotic Prejudice’ aka ‘The English, the English, the English are Best!’ 

The last verse of which is:

The English are honest, the English are good,

And clever, and modest and misunderstood!

English: Stained glass window in Oban. This is...

English: Stained glass window in Oban. This is the Christian saint Columba in stained glass form. He was born in Ireland and helped spread Christianity in Great Britain, especially in the Kingdom of the Picts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Labours of the Saints and Bards

Not only do the English not have a national anthem, but they don’t really have a patron saint to call their own. Not only is St George not English (Patrick was British, not Irish!), but he doesn’t even belong to these islands, and we share him with the Georgians and the Portuguese, with whom we have very little in common. It’s also the reason why the Scots are lukewarm about St Andrew’s Day, although as a fisherman, he at least had something in common with many Scots, and his bones are said to be buried in the city bearing his name. The Scots still prefer to celebrate Burns’ Night as their national ‘fling’, second only to Hogmanay, or New Year, and the English could do well to take a leaf out of the book of their northern neighbours,  by celebrating 23rd April as the birthday of their national bard, that ‘sweet swan of Avon’. After all, there is a tradition of ‘radical patriotism’ in England which places English national identity unashamedly within the island story of ‘Britannia’ as a whole and links to the radical literary and artistic traditions going back through Morris and Ruskin, to Shelley and Blake, to Bunyan and Milton.

These, in turn, are strongly linked to both Saxon and Celtic forms of social and religious organisation, including the pre-Augustinian Church and its saints such as Alban, David and Patrick, Columba and Aidan, Cedd and Ceadda (Chad). The conversion of pagan England to Christianity was accomplished not only by the mission which landed in Kent in 597, led by St Augustine, but also by that which brought Celtic Christianity to Northumbria in 636. This second mission had Aidan as its leader, a member of a monastery established at Iona some twenty years earlier. St Columba (‘Colum Cille‘) had arrived on the small island off the west coast of modern-day Scotland as early as 563, having crossed the Irish Sea, intending to establish a monastery. His initial buildings were made of wood, wattle and turf, and it wasn’t until the eighth century that stone was imported from Mull to make the Celtic crosses and begin the building of a permanent Abbey in 1200.

This is an image of the 802 of the historic Ki...

This is an image of the 802 of the historic Kingdom of Northumbria which is on the island of Great Britain. I created this image. Created under this guidance of this of historical source of a 802 map of Britain, which itself was developed by cartographer and historian William R. Shepherd. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aidan’s mission from Lindisfarne was successful in re-introducing the Faith in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, which produced a flowering of literature,manuscript illumination and sculpture, in which Iona also participated. The missions also extended to Mercia, where Wufhere became the first Christian King following the defeat of the pagan Penda by the Northumbrians. While Ceadda was the main missionary here, his brother Cedd led successful missions to the Middle and East Angles, as well at to the East Saxons, whom Augustine had failed to convert from his base in Canterbury. At the Synod of Whitby in 664, it was Cedd’s fluency in Early Welsh, Irish Gaelic, Northumbrian Saxon, Early English and Latin, which enabled the Roman and Celtic traditions to find compromise over their many differences. Bede records that Cedd’s linguistic abilities were taken as a sign of his being blessed by the Holy Spirit, as the first Apostles were at Pentecost, helping the participants to overcome the tendency to become a second tower of Babel. By the early part of the eighth century,  the monastic communities and churches were observing the same calendar, rites and rituals.

St Cedd

However, this period of Christian concord came to an end abruptly with the Viking raids of the late eighth century and early 800’s, though many treasures survived these raids, including the recently purchased ancient gospel of St Cuthbert, from Lindisfarne, and the Book of Kells, so-called because the Iona community relocated to the Irish settlement and took the gospels with them. These were masterpieces of Hiberno-Saxon art, and this cross-fertilisation of Hibernian and Northumbrian Christian cultures emphasises the continuity between Celtic and Saxon Britain. This was also true of the relationships between the Christian territories of Cambria, Mercia and Wessex, who together stood against pagan Saxon incursions as well as the Danish invasions and, by so doing, ultimately brought about the peaceful settlement of the kingdoms.

Celtic cross at dawn in Knock, Ireland (at the...

Celtic cross at dawn in Knock, Ireland (at the bus stop to Westport) 28/07/2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The early British Christians never used the Latin cross. Their cross combined the Druidic circle with the cross, embracing Christ’s suffering with the symbol of eternal life, the symbol of resurrection, of victory over the grave. It also symbolised the peaceful merging of the Druidic religion with Christianity. The Druids seemed to recognise that the old order was fulfilled according to their own astronomical prophecies in the coming of Christ, his death and resurrection, and that the arrival of Christianity from the East on their shores marked the beginning of a new dispensation which they embraced with little or no resistance. Unlike under the Romans, there was none of the Diocletian persecution and martyrdom (e.g. that of Alban of Caerleon), and neither was there any need to slay dragons to win converts.

Soldiers of the Cross

English: St. George before Diocletianus. A mur...

English: St. George before Diocletianus. A mural from the Ubisi Monastery, Georgia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, with Cuthbert seen as the patron saint of the of early Saxon kingdoms, how and why did the English come to pick as their patron saint an Armenian who gives his name and his flag to Georgia, and is also the patron saint of Portugal? The little that we know about him comes from a Byzantine named Metaphrates who tells us that George was born in Cappadocia, sometime in the third century, of noble parents who gave him a strict training in the Christian faith, that he rose to high military rank in the Roman Army in the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. He organised a Christian community at Urmi in Persian Armenia and one report suggests that he visited Britain on an imperial expedition. The Emperor turned against the Christians, instituting a persecution of them. George sought an audience with him on their behalf, but was arrested, tortured and executed on 23rd April in A.D. 303. This was also a difficult period in the history of Christianity in Roman Britain.

George was canonised by the Church and became St George, but was not known in England until at least the time of the Crusades when his story became more widely known. In 1098, when English and Norman soldiers were under the walls of Antioch, there was a story that George appeared to lead them to victory in the siege. When Richard I was leading his troops into battle with the Saracens, George is said to have appeared to lead them to victory. These stories were brought back to England, but George was not adopted as England’s patron saint until 1222 when it was declared a public holiday. It was about this time that the upright red cross on the white background, which had  first became the flag of the Italian city-state of Genoa, became the flag of England. It also became the flag of Georgia (see below).

            

                                                                                               The flag of Genoa

The National Flag of Georgia

However, the ‘Lamb and flag’ (right) is also a very old Christian symbol, appearing as it does in Medieval stained glass and on many old public houses and inns throughout Britain. This suggests an even earlier origin, which I refer to below. So, the upright red cross on a white background, became ‘the cross of St George‘ and was adopted as the national flag of England, later to be integrated with the crosses of St Andrew and St Patrick into the flag of the United Kingdom. The chivalric stories of George inspired the founding of the Order of the Garter by Edward III  in 1348 and St George’s Chapel at Windsor. This is the noblest of the knightly orders in Europe. The members, limited in number, are chosen by the Queen without any reference to her ministers, or to Parliament. Thereafter, George became more popular during the Hundred Years’ Wars, inspiring English and Welsh troops at the Battle of Harfleur and Agincourt, as Shakespeare’s Henry V suggests. The red rose became the flower emblem of England sometime later, after the coming to power of the Tudor Dynasty, signalling victory in the ‘Wars of the Roses’ for the Lancastrian line over the Yorkists, whose symbol was the white rose. In fact, the Tudor emblem included both red and white, following the conciliatory marriage of Henry VII to Margaret of York.  Seen by many, initially, as Welsh ‘usurpers’ on the English throne, the Tudors needed an English symbol to balance out their fearsome Red Dragon, which provided a link to Arthurian mythology, and Henry VII even named his son Arthur, perhaps to emphasise the importance of Celtic Christianity in England’s past, as well as that of his native land.

St. George and the dragon Русский: Чудо Георги...

St. George and the dragon Русский: Чудо Георгия о змие Tempera on wood, 58.4×41.8×3.5, State Russian Museum, Sankt Petersburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many legends have grown up around  the mythical figure of George, often involving conflicts with dragons. They probably also came to England in the 12th century, with the return of the crusader knights and the revival of Arthurian chivalry, but later became popular because of the rich dragon lore of the British Isles. The first Anglo-Saxons to land in Britain in the middle of the fifth century marched under a White Dragon banner. In the epic tales of the Welsh, The Mabinogion, written around this time, a story is told of a battle between the Red Dragon, Y Ddraig Goch, and an invading White Dragon for control of Britain. This got so out-of-hand that the dragons had to be imprisoned in the mountains of Snowdonia, while sleeping off the effects of the strong local mead left for them in a specially dug pit there! The story was continued by the ninth-century monk, Nennius, in his Historia  Britonium, in which he records the earliest-known legends of Merlin and Arthur. The dragons had continued their fight underground, until released, when they rose up into the air, where the red dragon was seen to triumph. In his History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100-1155) claims the victory as a prophecy that Arthur ‘Pendragon’ would return in victory to Britain. This was the prophecy which the Tudors made good use of in their propaganda. While the Welsh kings continued to use the Red Dragon after the time of Arthur, Alfred the Great flew the White Dragon when his army defeated the invading Danes at the Battle of Edington in 878. It was subsequently flown by Athelstan at Brananburgh in 937 and Harold II at Stamford Bridge in 1066. Together with the personal flag of the king, the Dragon standard provided a rallying-point for his troops. In 1191, we know that Richard the Lionheart carried a dragon standard into the Third Crusade, rather than the ‘cross of St George’.

 

According to one story documented in The Golden Legend (1483) by Jacobus de Voragine, George found himself at Silene in Libya. The townspeople were in deep distress because the not-so-friendly neighbourhood dragon from the nearby lake was forcing them to donate two sheep a day for his lunch and supper. Running out of sheep, the dragon demanded two citizens instead. Not any tough old citizens, mind you; only the purest and tenderest virgins would do! These were chosen by drawing lots.

 

When George arrived, they had just about run out of ordinary maidens. The King, who had failed to bribe the citizens with half his kingdom and all his wealth if they would let him keep his own daughter, was just about to serve up his daughter, dressed as a bride. As George galloped to the rescue, the princess was approaching the dragon’s lake wearing a white wedding dress. Just as the dragon was about to carry the girl off, George charged the dragon and drove his lance down the dragon’s throat. He then persuaded her to throw him her white garter, which he placed around its neck. Thus tamed, the Dragon followed the princess like a leashed pet dog to the town square. The still-terrified townspeople offered George any reward he wanted if he would finish the job for them. He  promised to kill the dragon, but only if the King and his subjects would become Christians. Apparently, 15,000 ‘converts’ were added for the faith on that day and four farm-carts were needed to carry the dragon’s body away. On the spot where the Dragon met its end, the King built a church and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary and St George. From that church flowed a spring that cured all diseases.

Mummers’ Plays are still performed in some parts of England on St George’s Day, since many revolve around the saint, other more English heroes such as Robin Hood and Little John, and various enemies, such as ‘Turkish’ or ‘Moorish’ knights. They are also performed at Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and All Souls. They also include a host of comic characters such as the Doctor, a soldier bold, Jack Finney and Tom the Tinker. The plot involves fights between St George and the Turk and St George and the Prussian, the other traditional ‘enemy’ of the English. Wounds are healed miraculously and dead characters are brought back to life. Of course, these days the plays are taken by all as just good fun, but in medieval times the fighting could get out-of-hand, which is why they were frowned upon by the Church. Elsewhere, and especially in the areas controlled by the Byzantine Churches, now Greek and Russian Orthodox, George became a much-venerated figure, as can be seen from this ikon from the Greek church in Kecskemét, Hungary (picture left). He still is, of course.

However, the cultural association of St George with the ‘Christian’ crusaders fighting the ‘Muslim’ Ottomans for control of ‘the old Jerusalem’ has not endeared him to many modern English people, for whom pride in the multi-faith and multi-cultural Britain separates them from these ‘Crusader’, Islamophobic traditions, though they still feel a strong association with the ‘Saxon’ freedom-fighters of Robin Hood’s merry men. This is somewhat ironic, as George is venerated in Aleppo by both Christians and Muslims and, of course, the stories of ‘Robin of Locksley’ have Richard Coeur de Lion as the royal hero, returning from the crusades, and Prince John as ‘villain’. A more careful reading of the historical record might result in a more balanced view, especially given the time and resources, not to mention ransom money required by the absentee ‘Lionheart’ from his long-suffering people, whether Saxon or Norman.

Sweet Swan of Avon

However, a good reason for continuing to celebrate the 23rd April as England’s national day is that it was also the day on which William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, and the day on which he is said to have died. The festival held in the Midland town attracts visitors from all over the world and the flags of the nations fly from flagpoles set up in the street. Many countries have also dedicated lamp-posts in the bard’s honour. There is one for Hungary close to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Theatre. It’s therefore appropriate that one of England’s greatest should be celebrated on St George’s Day, his birthday, and shared in such an international manner. But this is simply a happy coincidence. If we look into the heritage of Shakespeare’s ‘sceptered isle’ more carefully, surely we can find more ancient causes for celebration of English national identity, just like the Welsh and the Irish. To do so we need to go back to the pre-Roman Celtic times in which two of Shakespeare’s plays, Cymbeline and King Lear are set. Both were Silurian Kings before the successful Claudian invasion of 43 A.D., and the line of British monarchs is traced back to the former.

Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’

William Blake’s mystical poem, Jerusalem holds the key to the relevance of this period in British history and mythology. When sung to Hubert Parry’s wonderful tune it is more of an anthem than a hymn, almost a national anthem, most famously sung on the last night of the ‘Proms’ (‘Promenade’ Concerts held annually at the Royal Albert Hall).  Blake (1757-1827) was born in London, the son of a hosier.  Leaving school at the age of ten, he was apprenticed to an engraver. From an early age he ‘saw visions and dreamed dreams’. Most of his literary works, like Songs of Innocence and Experience,  illustrated by his own engravings, had a highly mystical style. A constant theme is the exaltation of love and imagination against the restrictive codes of conventional morality. In his later works, he emphasises the revelation of redemption through Christ. As a young artist and poet he developed an unconventional and rebellious quality, acutely conscious of pretentiousness and pomposity, so that in 1784 he wrote a burlesque novel, An Island in the Moon, in which he ridiculed contemporary manners and conventions, not sparing himself. The manuscript part of this has survived and contains the several poems which afterwards became the Songs of Innocence.

In 1788 he began to assemble these into a small volume, for which he laboriously made twenty-seven copper-plates, dating the title-page 1789. This became the first of his famous ‘Illuminated Books’, reflecting his own state of mind in which the life of his imagination was more real to him than the material world. The books therefore identify ideas with symbols which then become translated into visual images, with word and symbol each reinforcing the other. His words, his poetry, became increasingly affected by his growing awareness of the social injustices of his time, from which his Songs of Experience developed. His feelings of indignation and pity for the sufferings he saw in the streets of London led to the publication of this second set of lyrical, antithetical poems in 1794. He then combined the two collections into one book which was made into a standardised illuminated edition in 1815.

The four verses of the poem which make up the hymn, Jerusalem, first appeared in one of Blake’s last poems, Milton, written in 1804. Underneath them he wrote, ‘would to God that all the Lord’s people were prophets’, quoting from Numbers 11. 29. In the poem the seventeenth-century poet is depicted as returning from eternity and entering into Blake to preach the message of Christ crucified and the doctrines of self-sacrifice and forgiveness:

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England’s mountains green?

And was the holy Lamb of God

On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the countenance divine

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here

Among those dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England’s green and pleasant land.

The imagery of these verses is complex. Some of it is borrowed from the Bible, for instance, the chariots of fire, taken from 2 Kings 2.11, but much is of Blake’s own invention. In suggesting that Jesus may have set foot in England, Blake is resurrecting the old legend which told of Christ’s wanderings as a young man with Joseph of Arimathea, a tin merchant owning mines in Cornwall and the west of Britain, who later removed Jesus’ body from the cross and provided a freshly cut tomb for it, his own tomb.  A verse from his long poem, Jerusalem, also echoes this myth:

She walks upon our meadows green;

The Lamb of God walks by her side:

And every English child is seen,

Children of Jesus and his Bride.

 

From Bethany to Avalon?: The Glastonbury Legends

Tradition and some written testimony suggest that Jesus of Nazareth did live in Britain for some time during the ‘silent’ period of the gospels before he began his ministry at the age of roughly thirty, creating a Temple for his mother on the isle of Avalon, later to become Glastonbury in Saxon times.  St Augustine, during his mission to Britain, beginning in 597, wrote a letter to Pope Gregory in which he referred to ‘a certain royal island’ in which there was to be found ‘a church..divinely constructed, or by the hands of Christ himself, for the salvation of His people. The Almighty has made it manifest…that he continues to watch over it as sacred to Himself and to Mary, the Mother of God.’  Fanciful though the legend may be that the feet of Jesus of Nazareth, together with Joseph of Arimathea, may have actually touched British soil, the symbolism of the myth is resonant in British culture, just as the Arthurian mythology crafted by Geoffrey of Monmouth and Malory, and the legends of Robin Hood, have also proved to be. Henry Tudor saw useful propaganda possibilities in the former, gathering support en route from Milford Haven to Bosworth Field, and naming his first son Arthur in order to mythologise his dynastic claim, and radical republicans in the English Civil War drew on the latter to liken the rule of the Stuart Kings to the ‘Norman Yolk’ imposed on free-born Englishmen by the feudal Norman Kings and Lords.

In his 1961 book, The Drama of the Lost Disciples, George F Jowett produced a compelling, if at times far-fetched narrative of the legends surrounding Joseph of Arimathea and ‘the Bethany Group’, drawing on sources in the Vatican Library, as well as the medieval chronicles of bishops and monks. Of course, chronicles are not histories, and neither is Jowett’s work to be regarded as mature historical narrative, but it does point to the enduring significance of these legends, just as Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Histories of the Kings of Britain deserves to be treated as romantic, imaginative literature, part of the Celtic tradition of Britain. After all, even historians need to use their powers of imagination to interpret the silences, as well as the vague traces left to them by the past.

What is certain is that, as Monmouth pointed out in his early chapters, Britain ‘aboundeth in metals of every kind’, and that, even before the Romans sought to exploit this mineral wealth, there was a great deal of trade by sea  between Gaul and ‘the three noble rivers’, the Thames, the Severn and the Humber, with their great estuaries even wider than today. The Glastonbury Legend claims that ‘the Bethany group of missionaries’ navigated their way from Gaul up the Severn estuary to the Brue and the Parrot tributaries, until they came to Glastonbury Tor, or the Isle of Avalon, which gets its name from the Brythonic word ‘afal’, meaning an apple. Somerset (as we know it today) was, even then, full of apple orchards, and the fruit was the emblem of fertility to the Celtic Druids. The legend states that, following their disembarkation, the travellers made their way up the Tor, where Joseph stopped to rest, thrusting his staff into the ground. It then became part of the earth, taking root, and in time blossomed, out of season, becoming the ‘Holy Thorn’.

In Saxon times the land around Glastonbury was drained by the monks, making wetlands, now part of the Somerset ‘levels’. It is still believed by many that the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey house the remains of the church that was erected over the spot where Joseph of Arimathea and the group of disciples from Bethany built their altar of wattle, thatched with ‘withy’ reeds, the custom of the time. The ancient Britons used wattle in the construction of their homes. This wattle church survived, according to a former Bishop of Bristol, until after the Norman invasion when it was accidentally burnt down. Just over a mile from the town a large number of wattle structures were discovered, preserved in the peat, in the nineteenth century. They were set on mounds built in the wetlands, connected by causeways also built with wattles. In the last century, postholes and preserved timbers were also uncovered, and these can sill be seen today, along with stretches of the wattle, the remains of an early British settlement which was burnt down. The wattle church was sixty feet in length and twenty-six feet wide, following the pattern of the Tabernacle, built between 38 and 39 A.D. It was then encased in lead, a plentiful local material, and over that St. Paulinus erected the chapel of St. Mary in 630 A.D. Various documents suggest that St. Mary’s Chapel, erected by St. David in 546 A.D., was built over the remains of Jesus’ mother. It remained intact until destroyed by fire in 1184, when the great fire gutted the whole of the Abbey. It is said to be the oldest Christian Church in the British Isles, possibly the first above ground in Europe, built in the shape of the cross, the pattern followed in Britain into medieval and modern times.   When the first books came off the printing press, Wynkyn De Worde printed a life story of St Joseph, and a further account of the Arimathean story was printed, copying from earlier documents,  in which the following intriguing lines appeared:

Now here how Joseph came into Englande;

But at that tyme it was called Brytayne.

Then XV yere with our lady, as I understande.

Joseph wayted styll to serve hyr he was fayne.

The flag of the Christ’s cross, which became the flag of St George, is said to have  flown above British churches from earliest times. Glastonbury Tor itself was said to be a ‘Gorsedd’ or ‘High Place of Worship’ for the Druids, a hand-built mound with a circle of stones on top, from which they observed the stars.

The Unbroken Line of Church and Monarchy 

In 871, Alfred the Great, himself no stranger to Glastonbury and the wet-lands around it where he is reported to have burnt his oat-cakes while hiding out from the Danish invaders, commissioned monastic scholars to translate into the Saxon tongue the ancient British history from documentary evidence. His ‘Wessex’ therefore provides the link in southern Britain that connects the Celtic Christian kingdoms of the Silures with Saxon England. He was then given great credit for creating laws, institutions and reforms which restored and enforced the ancient British practices of law and order, as well as religion, rather than replacing them with Saxon ones. Perhaps for this contribution alone, Alfred deserves to be remembered as England’s true patron saint, let alone for his exploits as a military leader and founder of an identifiable Christian English nation. In this, he is similar to the Hungarian King István, or Stephen, who was canonised by the Pope as the founder of the Hungarian nation around the year 1,000, and also used the banner of the long red cross as his original symbol. The ‘Lamb and Flag’ is also in the coat of arms of the Hungarian Reformed Church, hanging on the walls of its school classrooms to this day. Recent evidence has shown that there was much continuity in the population of the Celtic and Romano-British territories of western Britain and the Saxon kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia. Whilst the dynastic leaders and their retinue may have been pushed into modern-day Wales, Devon and Cornwall, many of the ordinary farming folk would have remained, mixed and married. The ‘genes’ as well as the ‘blood’ and languages of the Celts all inter-mingled with those of the Saxon settlers. The ‘English’ may be more Celtic than they think, and not so different from the Welsh in genetic make-up!

So, while school history textbooks still wrongly assert that the coming of Christianity to England occurred with the Augustinian Mission, sent by Pope Gregory, in 596 A.D., that date actually marks the introduction of the Roman Catholic Church, and Papal authority, into the English lands, not yet united under one king. The Papacy itself, and its historians, have never denied the story of St Joseph being the first Apostle to Britain, though they claim that the first official envoy of the Roman Church was St. Paul himself, some twenty years later. It was the Catholic countries who attempted to depose Elizabeth I with the Pope’s blessing, who tried to claim that the Church of England drew its authority from the Augustinian Mission, followed up by the successful conquest by the Normans under the Papal banner and blessing in 1066. Elizabeth herself, the last native-speaking Welsh monarch, and lineal descendant of the Silurian King Cymbeline (the subject of one of Shakespeare’s plays) was careful to point to the pre-existing Celtic orders as the source of her authority as Supreme Governor and ‘Defender of the Faith’, a Latin title which had been bestowed on her father by the Pope prior to the Reformation, but which she now (in 1570) claimed was hers by ancient right anyway. Elizabeth II, at her coronation in 1953,  took the oath as ‘Defender of the Faith’ and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, despite opposition from the Papacy, which petitioned to have it withdrawn from the ceremony.  It was politely refused on the grounds that the sovereign of the United Kingdom was the Defender of the British Christian ’cause’, with Christ as its Head.  Bishop Ussher wrote categorically in his Brittannicarum Ecclesiarum Anquititates: ‘The British National Church was founded in A.D. 36, 160 years before heathen Rome confessed Christianity. ‘

Christianity spread rapidly throughout the British Isles at this time. It was recorded that in A.D. 48, Conor Macnessa, the King of Ulster, sent his priests to Avalon to commit the Christian law and its teachings into writing. However, it was not until A.D. 156 that Britain, by the edict of King Lucius, officially proclaimed the Christian Church as the ‘national’ religion of Britain, at Winchester, the then royal capital, where its kings were crowned until the Norman Conquest. Tertullian of Carthage, writing in 208, tells us that in his time the Christian Church extended to all the boundaries of Gaul, and parts of Britain the Romans could not reach, but which were ‘subject to Christ’. These were the woodlands, wetlands and islands  on either side of the Severn sea. Thereafter, scholars from the third to the sixth century testify that Christianity, or ‘The Way’ as it was first known, was firmly established, certainly in the west of the island, from as early as 37 A.D. to the middle of the sixth century. An ancient English chronicler, in his account of the conversion of the Celtic King Arviragus, makes an interesting comment about the ‘cult of St George’:

Joseph converted this King Arviragus

By his prechying to know ye laws divine

And baptized him as write hath Nennius

The chronicler in Brytain tongue full fyne

And to Christian laws made hym inclyne

And gave him then a shield of silver white

A crosse and long, and overthwart full perfete

These armes were used throughout all Brytain

For common syne, each man to know his nacion

And thus his armes by Joseph Creacion

Full longafore Saint George was generate

Were worshipt here of mykell elder date.

Therefore, the ‘long cross’ on a white background became the symbol of Celtic Christian chieftains, traditionally emblazoned on their shields, long before St George was born, and even longer before he became the patron saint of England, in fact long before England came into existence as a unified country. Arviragus carried the cross on his shield into battle with the invading Romans, who did not officially become Christian until about 350, under the Emperor Constantine. Arviragus ruled over the area of south-western England, while Caradoc ruled Cambria, the area covered by Wales and the West Midlands of England today. Arviragus led the Celtic resistance to the Roman invasion of A.D. 43, following the death of his brother, Guiderius, in the second battle, then submitting to Caradoc as Pendragon, or ‘Head chieftain’. It was in these battles that the cross given to Arviragus, which later became the cross of St George, was first unfurled, and a nine-year-long war of resistance began.

The Truth against the World: The Long Fight for Social Justice

The Christian battle-cry, still used in the Druidic ceremonies at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, was ‘Y gwir yn erbyn y Byd’, ‘the truth against the world’. Caradoc was finally defeated at Clun (modern-day Shropshire) in 52 A.D. by the combined forces of five Roman legions led by Aulus Platius, Vespasian, Titus and Claudius himself, who had landed at Richborough (now Kent) to take personal command of the combined Imperial forces, with heavy reinforcements, including a squadron of elephants! Apparently, the offensive smell of the great beasts panicked the Celtic horses pulling the Silurian chariots, causing havoc in their own ranks as they scythed through the defensive lines of Caradoc’s men and women warriors. Caradoc, known to the Romans as Caractacus, was taken prisoner with his family and they were all shipped to Rome, later pardoned by Claudius, freed and eventually allowed to return to Britain, promising not to take up arms against Rome again.

‘And did those feet’ and the longer poem, ‘Milton’ from which it is drawn, are both a plea for ‘ancient’ intuition and imagination in the face of  ‘modern’ scientific  rationalism, for a return to ‘innocence’, and a call for a ‘crusade’ for the values of social justice, or ‘equity’, and liberty, with which Blake envisions a ‘new Jerusalem’ being built in Britain. The ‘dark, satanic mills’ are not simply the factories of the industrial revolution, but the cold, logical philosophies of Locke and Bacon that Blake deplored. However, it was more than a century after it was written that Robert Bridges rescued the poem from obscurity for his patriotic anthology, The Spirit of Man, and asked Sir Hubert Parry to set it to a simple tune so that it could be sung at rallies of a crusading movement set up to build a better Britain for the millions of soldiers who would return to Britain after the First World War, to Lloyd George’s ‘Land fit for heroes to live in’. It also became, at the end of the war, the anthem of the suffragists, the ‘Women Voters’ Hymn’. Shortly after this, it became a great favourite of King George V and on special occasions of national significance he would ask for it to be played and sung.  More recently, Billy Bragg, the ‘protest’ singer-songwriter, has said that it asks the questions that Jesus would if he came to modern Britain and saw how far we  have built the kind of society based on the principles of social justice that he championed. It has long been a favourite within the Labour movement.

In his 1980 book, To Build Jerusalem: A Photographic Remembrance of British Working Class Life 1875-195,  John Gorman concludes the introduction to the collection with the thought that ‘if the dream of a new and golden Jerusalem to be “builded here” faded from the hearts of those elected as master builders, the hope yet remains with the many.’ Perhaps, approaching the sixtieth anniversary of her coronation, we should both adopt and adapt Shakespeare’s words, and ‘Cry God for Bess, England and St Cuthbert!’ Perhaps we should also petition to have 20th March, St. Cuthbert’s Day, made the English national day. However, since the Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria covered much of modern-day lowland Scotland, including Melrose where he was born and brought up, educated by Hibernian monks, and since he is still venerated in Edinburgh as well as Durham, we might need to redefine what it means to be British…and English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish.

Beyond their Graves: The Lives and Times of the Gullivers: Part 3 (chapters 3-7)   Leave a comment

Chapter Three: An Edwardian Childhood

Jessie was the eighth child born to George and Bertha Gulliver, and the first of the new Edwardian era. She was born the year Queen Victoria died, 1901. Her earliest memory was from when she was about two and a half, and the Gulliver family was living at Ufton. She sat on the school wall and the teachers came out and told her to get off, because the children couldn’t concentrate with her sitting on the wall. She went home to her mother and asked what concentrate meant, and she couldn’t speak it very well. Her mother told her she could sit on the wall at play-time and dinner-time, or in holidays, but she mustn’t sit on the wall when the children were in school, because they couldn’t concentrate when she was playing on the wall. She thought that was a bit hard, really, for one two and a half years old.   She used to go around Ufton with her elder brothers, Seymour and Arnold, and they’d play around Harbury Cement Works. Her brothers once got an old door and put two pieces of wood under it and used two other pieces for oars, taking Jessie out on a small brook. Their mother and father were very angry with the boys because they could have fallen in the brook and drowned. Looking back on this incident, Jessie remarked, you know what they say, God looks after children and drunkards!   So her mother and father spent their young days at Ufton. She could remember the primroses, violets and bluebells in Ufton Wood and the part where the Chamberlains, the people who owned the cement works, were buried, railed off right at the end of the wood. She came across that a few years after going back on a visit to Ufton from Coventry, taking her mother round to see her father’s sister.

Jessie remembered leaving Ufton. Her father left his job as a coachman at the Chamberlain’s house to work at Harbury Cement Works. So first they went to live in a rented cottage in Bishop’s Itchington, not far from Ufton. They paid half a crown a week for it in rent. However, the cement works didn’t suit her father, because the cement dust got on his chest and he had to go back onto the London work, riding the coaches between Leamington and London. Jessie could remember how ’hard up’ they were at this time. One Sunday, when she was about three or four, she came home from Sunday School, where they’d been reading about Joseph with the coat of many colours. Her mother had bought her brother Arnold a little navy blue coat and he’d left it on Harbury Cement Works, and she was ever so upset and crying when Jessie went in and, of course, all Jessie could say to the rest of the family was he’s lost the coat of many colours! But, it was a job for my mother to get clothes for us in those days, and she liked us to be dressed nicely. I don’t know how she managed to do it, but she did.

So it was that, in 1904, George accepted an invitation to work on Lord Dugdale’s estate near Wroxall, along the old coaching road running west from Warwick and Leamington. He was under-manager on one of the four estate farms. The Dugdales were very generous to all their labourers, who were given comfortable houses with gardens, and at Christmas each family would receive a ton of coal and a piece of beef, plus some money for the children’s shoes. For each birth, the Dugdales sent a hamper of things, including coverings with golden embroidery. So now the family felt a lot better off. The only problem was that the children had to walk a mile and a half to school, which was run by the nearby abbey, hence the shoe allowance, no doubt. Otherwise, they were comfortable enough, even with two more additions to their family.   Jessie discovered her love of poetry in Wroxall, at first by attending The Band of Hope there. This was a temperance society for children which she began attending when she was four and five years old. Even at so young an age, the children had to promise never to drink and to help them understand what this ‘pledge’ was all about, she had to learn to recite by heart moralising poems. She could still recite a lengthy narrative piece called, The Convict’s Little Jim, word-perfect, ninety years later. However, she had always thought it was a terrible thing to teach a child, with scenes of domestic violence, murder and execution!

George had trouble with the manager over ’harvest money’. Vinson and Alfred had to work longer hours alongside their father, but when they were payed out only George received the overtime payment. George went to see Lord Dugdale, who said the money had been paid through the manager. However, the manager had pocketed the money himself, so he was then made to pay it on to the boys. After that, however, the manager made life difficult for George, so he decided to leave, and that was why the family moved to Caludon Lodge in 1909.   So, when Jessie was about eight, in 1909, the family moved from Wroxall to Walsgrave, then still in Warwickshire, on the other side of Coventry. The children all went on the van. There must have been about eight of them, she thought, but their mother decided to come by train from Berkswell into Coventry, with the youngest, Arthur. When the van got to the house where they were going to live, Caludon Lodge, near Walsgrave, the people (who were leaving) hadn’t got out, so there we were, all us kids, stuck with the furniture and my Dad worried to death. He didn’t know what to do. So, they all ended up at Green’s Farm where George and the older boys were going to work. At first, Mrs Green didn’t know what to do with so large a family, but it was a large enough farmhouse for them to have a kitchen and one bedroom and a landing. So the whole family was staying there.   Their mother had to walk all the way from Gosford Green (Bus Station) with Arthur, who was only four years old. In those days, the trams only ran around the city, and Walsgrave was outside the area of the County Borough. So, she was already planning to walk a distance of nearly three miles, which would now be extended by at least another half mile down the farm lane. When the rest of the family arrived at Caludon Lodge, the lady next door gave Jessie an old pram to go and meet her mother. She met her on Ball Hill, a long and somewhat steep climb out of the city, already tired out, but Jessie had to tell her the bad news, that the people couldn’t get out of the Lodge because the people were still in the house that they were going to, and that her dad had taken all the furniture down to the farm.   They managed very well in the kitchen, and Jessie slept on the landing with two of the others, on their mattresses. They were there six weeks and Mrs Green said she didn’t even know we were there, we were such good children. They had good fun on the farm, especially the girls, because the Green’s had a family of boys, so they had a good time with them in the hay!

After that, they went up to Caludon Lodge. It was a very nice house, built in brick; with railings all round it, little holly bushes all around the garden, and a porch in the middle. The kitchen and the front room were at right angles to each other and there were two passages, one from the front room and one from the kitchen. There was a big yard at the back with a long bench where mother could put about four bowls for washing. There was a big ‘copper’ (kettle) and a little one. Mother always had the little one on and the kids used to go and get sticks (for the wood-fired range), so there was always warm water in the big kitchen to wash with. There was a most beautiful garden, with pear trees, plum trees and apple trees with mistletoe growing up one of them. It was ever so long; it went right down past two houses, and Mr Green took a piece off it eventually and built two houses on it for more farm labourers.   So they had quite a happy time at Caludon. They could go to Binley, Wyken or Stoke schools. But Caludon was just outside the Parish of Walsgrave (which was still in Warwickshire at that time, outside Corporation area), so they couldn’t go to the Church of England village school. So, they were sent to Binley School, which was run by Whitley Abbey. They therefore had another two-mile walk to school across the fields, starting early with two sandwiches to eat on the way. Then they had a school dinner and a meal when they got home at about half past four. Soon after they arrived, Binley Colliery was built and a new school had to be built, so Jessie’s last two years at school were spent there. They could leave at thirteen in those days if they had a job to go to. Her mother used to get her meat from a Brown’s Butchers on Ball Hill and Mr Brown said she could have a job taking his little boy out (he was about a year old) for half a crown (2s 6d) a week. So Jessie used to walk all the way from Walsgrave to Ball Hill, a distance of about a mile and a half, for about nine o’clock. As they were sometimes still having breakfast when she arrived, they would invite her to have some. She always refused, although I was always ever so hungry, and I used to sneak into the pantry at about eleven o’clock, before I took the little boy out, and pinch a bit of bread ‘n’ cheese!    

Chapter Four: Memories of War and Work

 Jessie began working for Brown’s Butchers when she turned thirteen, a year before the First World War broke out. Then, from July 1914, anyone who had bedrooms in Coventry had to take Australian soldiers in. She didn’t know what port they came in through (probably Portsmouth, the closest to Coventry), but they all came along the Walsgrave Road into the city, and therefore all passed by Caludon Lodge. They were all dressed in khaki, with their hats turned up at the side, waiting for our government to say where they were to be quartered. So three of them were staying at Brown’s. They’d had two fellows living and working there, taking the meat around in those days, but they’d had to go to war themselves. So Mr Brown asked Jessie to take meat down to Stoke Park Hall, which had been requisitioned for ‘the ANZAC’s’ and the kitchens asked her to take their orders back to him, thinking he was my father. But he never increased her pay and if he didn’t give me my half a crown on Saturdays, I never asked him for it. Kids were funny in those days!    Jessie got another job eventually. A lady was having a baby and she was to take the little boy or girl out. She offered her 10s a week; four times what she was getting at Brown’s. However, the woman’s husband also expected her to perform extra duties. While the lady was in bed, having the baby, her husband was at home having a few days off, and he tried to kiss Jessie, though he must have known she was only fourteen. She described how..

I started to walk round the table, and he followed me. So I kept walking round, and the dog started to howl. Their dog always howled if somebody played the piano in the front room. So his wife shouted down, ‘what’s the dog howling for?’ So I said, ‘oh, Mr Prescott is in the front room playing the piano, and you know the dog doesn’t like piano music.’ As I walked round the table, when I got near the stairs I went up. He never tried it on again; of course, he was at work all the while.

She stayed there a few weeks, and there were three Jessies in the house, because the mother and the baby were both named Jessie.   It was a bad time for her own family, though, because her mother had to go into hospital with a poisoned knee. In those days you had to pay £5 per week in fees, provide your own food and pay for transport to the hospital if you couldn’t walk. But Bertha quickly got over it. Jessie thought her mother was wonderful, especially after having three little girls in five years: She never shouted at us, or hit us. She was quite a lady, who went to Church on Sunday evenings. All the children had to go on Sunday mornings and afternoons (to Sunday School), dressed in their best clothes. It took her all the next day to wash and clean, starch and press them and put them away.   Now the War was on, and women could get well-paid jobs working on munitions. Jessie got a job working at the Royal Ordinance Works, Red Lane. She got much more money there and soon had enough saved for a bicycle. Instead of having to walk all the way across by Wyken Church, right up the Black Pad to the Ordinance Works, night and morning, she could cycle:

That’s how my life went on through the war years. We were working from six in the morning till six at night on two pieces of bread and ‘dripping’ (lard) and canteen tea which you could have wrung a dishcloth out in.

Sometimes they were quite nervous about the war, although it didn’t affect the women directly very much, unless they lost a loved one on the Western Front. They did see, however, a huge airship, a Zeppelin, sailing over Walsgrave, which frightened us all to death, and made them realise some of the reality of modern warfare for the first time:

It was terrifying, just like a great big boat.

In general, however, they remained largely unaffected by the early stages of the war. Jessie recalled that:

It was only really the rationing which touched us, because my mother had about ten of us at home, and had to go into Coventry for what she could get… it was a good job we had the garden and all the stuff from it and my Dad could always keep it beautiful and grow plenty of potatoes, cabbages, etc. We survived!

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Walsgrave-on-Sowe Village Centre from St Mary’s Churchyard (drawing by Rev A J Chandler)

Chapter Five: The Twenties

When the war finished, Jessie went to Oxford, to her aunt, Molly Tidmarsh (née Sanders). Things were much better for her there, because it was impossible to get a job in Coventry; nobody could, neither woman nor man. But, when the women went to sign on at the Labour Exchange, the officials often insulted them. They asked, ‘have you been round all the factories?’ when they knew very well that there were no jobs in the factories, especially for women. Jessie’s Aunt Molly kept The Black Horse in Kidlington near Oxford. She had one daughter, so she told her sister, ‘send Jess over to the pub; I’ll give her 10s a week, that’ll keep her in clothes. She’ll be a friend for Doll’ (her daughter).

Living in the country and having a can of milk twice a day meant Jessie became much healthier too. With her cousin, she went dancing in Oxford with the undergrads, who would bring them home in a taxi to Kidlington. She began to speak much better and dress better. She had a boyfriend in Coventry whom she used to write letters to, but when she went home to Walsgrave he said there was a vast difference in her, and that he couldn’t believe she’d changed so much. They eventually broke off their relationship when he began going out with a girl from the Baptist Chapel in Walsgrave. Jessie stayed at Kidlington for about two years, but as her uncle used to drink the whiskey and they didn’t make much profit, they decided to leave Kidlington and her uncle got a job with the Peak Freane biscuit company in Bermondsey, London, as their cricket grounds man, being given a cottage on the ground, near the Pavilion.   Jessie had also decided to go up to London, because she’d been offered a job there, but she wasn’t able to stay with her aunt and uncle because the cottage wasn’t big enough. So she went into service at Primsbury Park. She came home to Coventry only on short holidays, when she was able to go to dances. Many soldiers were there in uniform, not yet ‘demobbed’. She danced with a young man named Tommy Gardner, looking very smart in blue dress uniform with gold braiding all across his chest:

Girls were not supposed to fancy soldiers or sailors in those days, because we always thought they were common. But I liked him, so I danced with him all that evening and he asked to see me home. I had come with a girl from next door, so I found her, and the three of us went home together. As we stood talking by our house, he asked if he could see me again the next day. I agreed, but told him I was returning to London on the Monday. He suggested that I write and ask for another week, so I did. We kept on writing after that, and he asked me to come home again, because he was feeling very lonely.

By this time, the early twenties, the Gulliver family had left Caludon Lodge. They had lived there for about twelve years, since Jessie was eight. However, with four children still at home, and the factories expanding again in the early twenties, George had decided to take the better wages offered there, even though it meant leaving their farm tenancy and moving into a rented house in Foleshill. So he went to work for Armstrong-Siddeley as a stoker in the early twenties. While working on the farm, he had been kicked in the stomach by a horse, and soon fell ill with cancer, although according to Jessie, he worked himself to death, dying at the age of sixty-five in 1927.  He had to have a room to himself and there were still four children at home, two sisters and two brothers. Irene and Bertha were working, and Arthur and Frank were still at school in 1924, aged thirteen and eleven. Their mother shared a second room with Bertha and Irene, until Irene married, and the two boys, Arthur and Frank,  were in the third. Mother had to sleep in the girls’ room, because she got so little sleep if she slept with George. So Jessie could not go home, as there wouldn’t be enough room in the girls’ room for her. Also, with George not working, there was very little money coming into the household. So Jessie wrote to Tommy to tell him that she would have to save some money in order to come home.

Tommy’s father was a lithographer and head printer, but had died, leaving Tommy an orphaned child. He was raised in Dr Barnado’s orphanage, and then, from the age of thirteen, by his aunt. He had joined the army when he was only sixteen, but he’d said that he was eighteen, just to get away from his aunt’s family. Tommy had learnt woodwork in the Army, and he began working at the General Electric Company (GEC), making cabinets for wirelesses. That was his first civilian job and his money was £2. 5s. a week.   So, Jessie came home eventually, in 1924, and got work straight away. She went to work in a café, so her mother did not go without money for her, and she had most of her meals there. After Irene married, she was able to take her place in the room her mother was sharing with her daughters. Tommy would come down to the café every night. They were both twenty-three, not that young in the twenties, so he was very keen to get engaged straight away and wanted to get married quickly. But Jessie said, how can we get married with only twenty pounds between us and my father ill?!’ So they got married at a registry office and said nothing to anyone. Jessie wore her wedding ring around her neck on a chain.

VeraGulliver(Brown)photo2

After their marriage in 1918, Seymour and Vera (left) had set up home in one of the gardeners’ cottages belonging to the Wakefield Estate. When Jessie was ’courting’ Tommy, who had secretly become her husband in 1924, they would go round and play cards with Seymour and Vera, walking home to Foleshill often very late. By this time, Seymour and Vera had had their first child, Gwen. Both Seymour and Vera were strong trade unionists and Labour Party supporters. Seymour had inherited a strong sense of fairness from his father, perhaps because he was old enough to understand why they had had to leave Wroxall in 1909. Vera’s family, the Browns, were also strong supporters of the Labour Party, from before January 1924, when it first won a General Election under Ramsay MacDonald. Daphne (b. 1931) remembered the following song, to the tune of Men of Harlech, which Vera used to sing long after MacDonald’s expulsion from the Party for forming the National Government in 1931:

001Voters All of Aberavon,

Wisdom show in this election,

Don’t be misled by Protection,

Ramsay is the Man!

 

Ramsay, Ramsay, shout it!

Don’t be shy about it!

On then, comrades, on to glory,

It shall be told in song and story,

How we beat both Lib and Tory,

Ramsay is the Man!

Seymour had a strong sense of social justice, and was a keen member of the Binley lodge of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain. On one occasion, he stuck up for a fellow collier who was being bullied by a foreman, and was dismissed from Binley Colliery on the spot. He had to go to Newdigate Colliery to get work there. The conditions there were far worse than at Binley, and when he undressed to bath in front of the living room fire, his clothes would stand up by themselves, from the combination of mud, coal-dust and sweat which had caked them in the pit and then dried on them during his long walk home at the end of each shift. His body was covered with boils and he had to have special treatment at the Coventry and Warwick Hospital, where they made an experimental serum to cure his condition.   Eventually his wife Vera told him,

you’ll just have to put your pride in your pocket; you can’t go back down Newdigate; you’d better go back to Binley and ask for your job back.

So he went back to Binley Colliery, apologised, and got his job back.

Although secretly married to Jessie in 1924, Tommy Gardner was still in single lodgings, which he didn’t like much, so Jessie got him to go and live with her sister, Millie. She’d got two little girls and she used to take policemen in. They had to live in digs, because they didn’t have apartments or rooms attached to the police stations then. So Millie always used to have a policeman lodging, because her husband only rode the buses, or drove buses, and the money wasn’t very good. So Tommy went to live with her, and he was very happy there. The children loved having Tommy because he used to bring them a bar of chocolate every Friday night. But Millie didn’t offer that Jessie could go and live there when she found out that they had married in secret.   The couple used to go round and see her brother Alf, who was in the Navy. Lilly, his wife, had one little boy, and she was there on her own with him. They used to go and see her quite a lot, partly because she had a piano and Tommy could play anything on the piano. But they found it increasingly difficult to keep their marriage a secret:

Alf’s wife asked us one night, when we’d been married about three months, ‘when are you two getting married?’ I said, ‘I’m not getting married!’ She said, ‘don’t be so silly! You’re just made for each other! What are you going out with him for? You can’t treat him like that!’ I said, ‘I am married!’ ‘What?’ she said, ‘you are married?!’ I said, ‘yes, I’ve been married three months!’ ‘Oh, my God!’ she said, ‘I can’t go and tell your mother and your dad!’ So Tommy said, ‘well, I’ll go round and tell them!’ So he went round straight away and told my mother that we’d been married in a Registrar’s. I don’t know whether he told her how long, and then he saw Dad, who said, ‘oh, that’s alright, my lad, I always liked you!’ When Mother went to Church on Sunday nights, we used to stop in and look after him when he was ill, so he was all right about it, but I don’t think my mother thought much about it. She said, ‘well what are you going to do? Where are you going to live?’ Lilly said, ‘I’ve got an empty room, so why don’t you come and live with me? I’m away half the time down at Portsmouth when the ship comes in! There’s a spare room; you can furnish that.’

So they went there, furnished the spare room, and that’s where they started married life. Jessie kept her job and they were able to save quite a bit of money. In fact, they were only there about six months before they’d got about a hundred pounds, enough to furnish a place in those days. So they started to look for a place of their own. Eventually, they got a bungalow. They only paid 6s 1d a week rent for it. It had two bedrooms, and a long living room, which took a dining table. After George died in 1930, Jessie’s mother had a three-bedroom one. They were built as temporary accommodation for war-workers coming into Coventry, but they were very comfortable inside. There was a communal bathhouse where clothes washing could also be done. Some were built for people with better positions and they had all got baths in and Millie had one of these. After the First World War ended, these managers left these houses. They were prefabricated cottages, and therefore fireproof. Tommy made a fireplace, with a mantelpiece for ornaments, and a wardrobe;

He built a porch and a garden fence all around with a gate, and made a beautiful garden. He built a garage out back made of laths, screwed together. He didn’t use a single nail. There was also a fireplace in the bedroom and whenever anyone brought children to visit they all played in the bedroom on the beds, because we’d built a fire in there and it was warm. The men would go into the spare room and play cards while we cleared the table in the living room, and then they’d come back. Those were the days!  

That was in 1925, when Tommy earned an average wage of about £2. 10s. But he had brains, so he decided to leave his trade, though it was difficult to leave your place of work in those days, and he was out of work for about eight weeks while Jessie kept them from her earnings as a waitress. He went into the motor-trade at the wood place of the Riley Car Works, on Woodrington Road, near Foleshill Station. They used to make the dashboards out of wood. They needed semi-skilled workers and because he had made cabinets he could read a drawing, so they gave him a job. The GEC couldn’t stop him going there, because it wasn’t a federated ‘shop’, as it had only just opened. They were hard up for workers as well, because all the men were in work at that time. There he’d earn about £10 a week, with overtime, £6 on ordinary time. He’d be out of work for about three months (laid-off in the summer), but could always put some money away for those times. It used to be three months out, three months short time and three months mad-time. He soon got enough for a motorbike, and then they had a car.

In 1926, Seymour was out on strike and was locked out of the Colliery for six months in support of the miners, especially those in South Wales, who worked in difficult places and were having their wages cut. There were many miners in Walsgrave at that time, so the Lock-out hit the village hard. Vera had to go back to work as a skilled weaver at Cash’s, and Seymour took over the housekeeping and looked after the children. He and the other colliers could only earn money from tree-cutting up at the Coombe, a wooded area on the adjoining Craven Estate around Coombe Abbey, between Binley and Walsgrave. The miners earned a little money from the timber they cut, and they caught rabbits, pinched the odd pheasant and were given scraps from the Abbey kitchens, bowls of dripping and left-overs from banquets held there, which Seymour would bring home. However, Lord Craven was himself in financial difficulty, and eventually committed suicide by jumping off a ship in the middle of the Atlantic.   The miners in the Warwickshire Coalfield were not too badly paid at the start of the Lock-out, as the pits they worked in were generally not as difficult to mine as in some of the older pits in other coalfields. However,  they supported the call from the Miners’ Federation for solidarity with those working in ’difficult places’ in other coalfields. Nevertheless, when they went back in the winter of 1926/7, they also had their wages cut. Following the return to work, victimised miners from the south Wales valleys began arriving in the village with all their possessions and their whole families on carts. Vera and Seymour helped them to move in and settle as neighbours, and eventually to become leaders of the lodges and social clubs. Walsgrave Hospital stands today in the grounds of what was once the old Walsgrave Hall. It was almost two hundred years old when it was demolished in 1962 to make way for the hospital, but during the early part of the twentieth century the Wakefield family lived there, and owned a large amount of village property, including terraced houses rented by miners and other workers. Seymour’s family lived in a gardener’s cottage belonging to them. During the Miners’ Lock-out of 1926, many of these tenants could not pay their rent, and some never did settle their debts. However, they were not evicted.

By 1928 Seymour had earned and saved enough to make a down payment on a new semi-detached house with a bay window, next to Walsgrave School, at 21 School House Lane. Almost as soon as they moved in, their front room became the Headquarters for the Labour Party during the 1929 General Election campaign, and the bay window was full of posters. Of course, it was in a strategic position, next to the polling station, the Village School, and so no-one could be in any doubt about Vera and Seymour’s allegiances.

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 Seymour and Vera in the/their seventies

Chapter Six: Growing up in Walsgrave in the Thirties and Fourties:

In July 1931, Daphne Gulliver was born to Vera and Seymour, their youngest of four children.  She grew up at School House Lane, Walsgrave in the thirties, enjoying such local events such as The Walsgrave Show, a very big agricultural and horticultural event, at which her father won prizes for the vegetables he could now grow in his back garden, as well as on his allotment. The children made bouquets out of wild flowers to be judged at the Show. It was a show run by local farmers like Harold Green, whom the Gullivers had worked for, but it attracted farmers, showjumpers and other participants from far and wide. It eventually combined with the Kenilworth Show, and became the forerunner of The National Agricultural Show at Stoneleigh.   As prosperity returned with a boom in Coventry, coal-miners’ wages also improved, though many chose to desert the pits for a cleaner, high-wage job in engineering in the City, especially in the car factories. Seymour stuck to his job at the colliery, however, because he liked the economic security that came with it, as well as the sense of comraderie. Although not a hard-drinker, like many colliers, he naturally liked to call into the pub for a much-needed pint on his way home after a hard shift at the coal-face. The Baptists frowned upon and shunned the pubs in the village, because there were many well-known heavy-drinkers, but they understood that it was natural for the miners to enjoy a drink together on the way home. The only problems in some families came on weekly pay days, when they received their wage in cash. On these days all the wives would send their children, and Daphne was one of these, to wait for their fathers and get their pay packets from them in case any of them might be tempted to donate too much of it to the pub’s profits! Every mother would send their kids to stand outside The Craven Arms and The Red Lion to collect the wages. This, of course, was more of a show of solidarity by the wives than an act of necessity, especially as the local publicans were strict about not serving those who had, in their opinion, had one too many.

When war broke out in 1939, the good spirit in Walsgrave continued. The most noticeable difference, at first, was in the availability of food, and rationing. There were queues for tomatoes, but the Co-op was fair to everyone, and the vegetable cart continued to do its rounds of the village. One day, Daphne went out with her mother to buy oranges, which were rationed to one per person per week. So, they could have five. A group of internees were going up the Lane to the farm at the top. Vera asked Albert, the vendor, for a knife and cut all five into pieces. She went over to the boys and gave each one a piece of orange. Daphne, being a child, protested, but she said, oh well, these lads are very young and they’ve been living off potatoes up at the farm, so they need that orange much more than you do.   People were encouraged to produce their own food on their allotments. As well as growing vegetables, Seymour also kept pigs and poultry on his allotment along Woodway Lane. You could keep pigs during the war, but you had to have a permit to kill them. You could sell them to the authorities, but they did not pay very much for them. So Seymour decided to take his sow into hiding in their house when her time came. Daphne remembered these war-time pigs and piglets well:

 …we had a litter of pigs, we decided we were going to have a litter, and then we had some sleeping quarters for these piglets, and when the time came, the wretched sow had all those little piglets on the hearth, and we were giving them drops of brandy, trying to revive them and keep them going. I think we saved about five.

 But they got to be little suckling pigs and one of them wasn’t quite right. So they decided they were going to ‘knock this one off’. So Bill Gately worked up the abattoir and we persuaded Bill to come and knock this little pig off. They’d just gone up the garden, ’cause he was working all day so it was dark now, and the air-raid siren went. So, no-one dared shine a flash-light or anything and well, you can imagine these little pigs running and squealing all over the sty, and them trying to get hold of this particular one; and Bill was muttering and stuttering, you know. Well eventually we caught this pig and killed it quietly at the kitchen sink.

 We had no permit, and then someone came around afterwards, knowing that we’d done this, and he asked, ’what did you do with the Tom Hodge?’ So Seymour says, ’what’s that?’, and they said, ’well, you know, its innards!’ Dad says, ’oh! We buried them up  the garden’. ’Oh, oh dear!’ he says, ’the best part of the pig!’ Anyway, he comes back after a few minutes and says, ’well, if I know Seymour it won’t be buried deep!’ So he goes up the garden with his fork and forks all this up. Eventually, he took all these chittilings and well, of course, to anyone who likes chittilings…but it put me off pork for the rest of my life!  

Daphne also remembered the first significant air-raids, and the first use of the communal shelter at the school. The Anderson shelters that people had put up in their gardens by the summer of 1940 had become flooded, so they had to go to the shelter at the school, which had been put there for the school children. However, as there were no day-time raids, it had not been used, and was still locked. The schoolmaster, Gaffa Mann, refused to open it, however. A pick axe had to be sent for to break the lock, and all the residents of School House Lane went in.

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Though Walsgrave itself was of no military importance, Capability Brown’s huge landscaped pool at Coombe Abbey was in the German map books and was used as a landmark by the German bomber crews. The Rolls Royce Engine Factory at Ansty was less than a mile from this, manufacturing aircraft engines. There was also an aerodrome there, built before the war, and the then Rootes assembly plant at Ryton was only a few miles away on the same side of the city, with its shadow factory producing aircraft and military vehicles. Built after 1936, these factories did not appear on the Luftwaffe’s maps, hence the importance of incendiary bombs dropped around the outlying areas of the City, as well as on the city itself. The Germans were searching for the shadow factories on the ground, using the Coombe Pool as a focal point. Huge craters were left on the landscape around the village for many decades afterwards. Seymour described his arrest, as an ARP Warden, of a German pilot who had bailed out over Coombe Park, landing in the farm lane and breaking both his legs. Seymour had to use his bicycle to get the airman the mile or so to the village police station.

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Cover collage from the 1983 book by Bill Lancater and Tony Mason

On the night of November 14th, Coventry was subjected to an eleven-hour sustained Blitz, giving the German dictionary the word Coventration as a synonym for blanket-bombing rather than lightning raids, which had been the previous strategy in attacking London and other regional ports. Daphne recalled the effect of the bombing of the city centre, three miles away, as they ran for the shelter:

We put up the cushions from off the furniture and put them on our heads and went running up the shelter. It was a bright moonlit night and tracer bullets were flying around like tracer bullets everywhere and the whole city was on fire. Everything was lit up like it was daylight; it was a most awesome sight and of course, for days afterwards, the burnt paper was coming down.

The School Log for 15th November echoes this description of destruction:

School reassembled – about only 130 were present – this is due to the results of a terrific 11 hour raid on Coventry and immediate neighbourhood. The Church Hut used for 70 to 80 infants had to be used as a home for the people who were bombed out of the city.

Seymour was on air-raid duty that night and recalled one bomb that fell in what was known as The Hollow, just past The Mount Pleasant. He said that the old, cruck-beamed cottage was quite badly damaged as the patrol went towards it, and he was sure there would be at least one person dead inside. But when they went inside they found that the main beam had fallen across the fireplace and the family were all protected by it, around the fireplace. No-one was hurt.

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School records for 1940 show that a total of six hours and ten minutes was spent in the school shelter, with one visit lasting over two hours. Of course, nearly all the raids took place during night-time. Even the raid of the 14th/15th November was not detected until after 3 p.m., the end of the school day, and the bombing had ended in sufficient time for the school to open on time the next morning. Though the sirens went off earlier than usual that evening, most people recall being at home having had tea or supper when the bombing started. The schools nearer the centre were far more badly affected, and many of those rescued in these areas were still under rubble until about 7 a.m., having been trapped for more than twelve hours in some cases. Walsgrave escaped lightly compared with the mass destruction of the city centre and the older factory areas in the suburbs, though it might have been a different story had the Luftwaffe been able to locate the Ansty and Ryton factories. Many in the village realised this vulnerability, and though not forced to, sent their children away to safer rural areas, if they could. Daphne was sent away to relatives near Bridgwater in Somerset for a while. In addition to his ARP duties, being in a reserved occupation as a collier, Seymour took on responsibility for the Bevin Boys, the well-educated young graduates and undergraduates who were sent to work in the pits.

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 One of the few medieval buildings left standing after the 1940 Blitz, in Priory Row (painting by Rev. A J Chandler)

Chapter SevenThe Road from 1945 and Some Reflections on the Century

English: Photograph taken on 1 Feb 2007 by me ...

English: Photograph taken on 1 Feb 2007 of St Mary’s Church (side view), Walsgrave, Coventry, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the early part of the twentieth century, the most significant social division in the village was between Church and Chapel.  This was sharpened by a dispute over a refusal to bury nonconformists in the parish churchyard, leading to the establishment of a cemetary on Sowe Common. The cemetary was near the canal, and Vera could remember Baptisms taking place there because there was no baptistry at the original Little Chapel  from 1840 to 1902. By the time Vera and Seymour were married at the Chapel in 1918, it was well-established in the village, with a membership of keen spiritually-minded people, a good set of buildings…a minister of our own and a Manse for him to occupy.

A small, relatively poor community had achieved a lot in hard times. A real period of growth was enjoyed until the coming of the Second World War. Daphne remembered Sunday School Anniversary excursions to Hawkesbury, Lenton’s Lane, Potters Green, Shilton and Wolvey. For many children, these were the first occasions they had been outside the village, unless they had been into Coventry. However, the Nonconformist children sometimes found themselves in conflict at school, because, as Daphne explained:

 ..it was very much a Church of England School. The Conscience Clause used to be up on the wall…We used to be marched down to the Church on ’High Day’ and that was very nice and I never opted out of that but I could have done…You see, I was one of those wretched Non-Conformists. But I used to enjoy that. Well I took it upon myself one day, when Miss Florence Verrall, a school governor was there for assembly, to refuse to say the catechism. I don’t know why, because I knew it all, but my mother had told me I needn’t say this, it didn’t apply to me. I was very much frowned upon after that. I never did quite live it down. I never did like the village school, not many did, and I was glad to leave when I was about eleven. Gaffa Mann was the master. One of his sayings was ’spare the rod and spoil the child’. With Miss Verrall we all had to stand to attention when she came in, as she was a very important person.

Daphne also remembered the famous Rev. Howard Ingli James, the Welsh Minister at Queens’ Road Baptist Church in Coventry in the thirties and forties, preaching at Walsgrave Chapel. She described him as a Welsh ranter, a very famous socialist, and extremely funny. Walsgrave had the kind of pulpit in which you could walk up and down and he used to shake all his black hair into his eyes. There were marvellous harvest festivals after the war and everything was decorated. Then the produce would be sold off to raise money and there would be a concert to follow. The choirmaster was quite strict and if anyone wasn’t behaving themselves, he would throw a hymn book in their direction to bring them to attention.

English: War memorial (1914-1918) in Walsgrave...

The names on the village war memorial contained the names of many young people who gave their lives, but there were other losses sustained by the chapel.

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After the war, the chapel was taken under the wing of  Queens Road and the Rev Gordon Wylie, succeeding Rev H. Ingli James, brought the thirty-four year-old Rev Arthur J Chandler to Walsgrave from Wednesbury, Staffordshire (above right and below, with Daphne Gulliver), in 1948. In addition to overseeing Ansty and Shilton chapels, he helped to build up the Walsgrave congregation again.

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English: War memorial (1914-1918) in Walsgrave...

English: War memorial (1914-1918) in Walsgrave, Coventry, England. St Marys church is in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Daphne worked as a short-hand typist at the Ansty Factory after the war, using her bicycle to get up the farm lane on the other side of the Sowe and up the hill each day. In July 1952, she celebrated her twenty-first birthday with all the family in the School Hall next to where they lived. Her aunt Jessie asked her, ‘have you got a boyfriend?’ She said she’d had one, but she didn’t have one then, so Jessie asked her, ‘who’ve you got your eyes on?’ Daphne answered that the Baptist minister was often in their house and that her mother, Vera, made him cups of tea. His own mother, Emma, had died the previous year. Daphne married Arthur at Walsgrave Chapel the following summer, in the coronation year of 1953. Jessie went down into the village when she got married at the chapel, together with her husband, Tommy and her two foster children from Dr Barnado’s home. Tommy Gardner worked for forty-five years at the Austin Motor Carriage works in Holbrooks. For the last fifteen years they became caretakers for the Factory and lived on site, in a comparatively big house provided by the Austin factory. They didn’t have to pay rent or bills and so were much better off. Jessie recalled these years in the fifties and sixties with great affection. Although she had no children of her own, she fostered two children from the Barnado’s Home her husband Tommy had been in before the First World War:

That was the happiest part of my life, with two foster children. We were married for fifty years, and on our Golden Wedding Anniversary we had a big party with the Mayor and his wife there. But Tommy had not been well for some time, and that same night he died. After that I came to live in Jephson Court in Alderman’s Green Road.

In the late 1970s, Vera Gulliver wrote in the Walsgrave Baptist Church magazine that she was proud to have grandchildren who were seventh generation Baptists, keenly committed to Christ, and a nephew, Geoffrey Brown, who was a Deacon at Walsgrave Baptist Church.

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Seymour and Daphne on a visit to south Wales in 1980

Following Arthur Chandler’s retirement and their move back to School House Lane in November 1979, Daphne continued to work for the National Health Service, as she had done in Birmingham since 1965. She became chief officer of the Coventry Community Health Council until her retirement and move to Shaldon in Devon in July 1991. She died following a tragic road accident while cycling near her home in Shaldon on St Andrew’s Day in 1993. At her funeral at the Baptist Church in Teignmouth, her cousin Geoffrey gave an oration and Daphne’s love of bicycles was highighted by the following reading from the stories she contributed to Walsgrave Remembered:

Tommy Hatfield had a sort of workshop and you could go up there and say you wanted a bike, and he’d measure you up for size and look through all these frames, and find one the right size. Then he’d dip it in acid, then he’d dip it in a stone enamelling vat. I suppose they were always black. He’d tell you which day he’d finish it, and then you’d come home riding your bike, pleased as punch. Lovely thing a bike. We didn’t go further afield than the boundary near Sowe Common cemetary.

Daphne was not buried on Sowe Common, like her parents. Instead, her ashes were scattered under the yew tree near the south door of St Mary’s Church. The ashes of her husband Arthur had been buried in a casket on the north side, overlooking the Walsgrave Road in the centre of the village which he drew and painted. He died of heart disease at Walsgrave Hospital on 28th February, 1985, aged seventy. Both their names are entered in the Book of Remembrance displayed in St Mary’s Church, Walsgrave.   Jessie Gardner (née Gulliver) lived to be 102. In her recollections, recorded in 1992, she included the following reflections:

There’s a lot of the family scattered around. My niece, Julie, is in America, there’s a nephew in Australia, and a grandnephew in Hungary, all doing very well for themselves.

Give me these days now. I don’t think much of the old days. They were good for the rich, but not much good for the poor. I don’t know how many more years I shall sit here, looking out of this window, perhaps quite a few. One cannot tell from one day to the next.

So, they (the Gullivers and Tidmarshes) were good people and that’s where it’s coming out in these generations, because we came from good stock; honest, God-fearing workers. We all seem to be doing very well these days, after all these years. So, I can’t say much for the good old times that they talk about. I’m all for these times.  Some things are better, some things are worse, I will admit. But, on the whole, we are looked after much better in our old age now.

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Andrew J Chandler   Kecskemét, Hungary, 2013.

P.S. Sadly, while re-editing this, my mother’s cousin, Geoffrey Brown, died suddenly, aged just sixty. He had bought Seymour and Vera’s house from me, and we were close during my years based in Coventry from 1986 to 1996. I was unable to attend his funeral in Walsgrave, so these chapters, featuring his aunt’s story as well as that of the Gullivers, are dedicated to him.

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