The following two poems are from The Nailmakers’ Daughters, published by Offa’s Press.
Then and Now by Emma Purshouse
In cramped and sooty caverns
we ply our trade
to the clink and tinkle of hammers
and the smell of fire
for eight shillings a week.
Horse, frost, gate, boat,
rose head square, rose sharp,
rose flat, rose clench,
is what this work entails.
Our trade is nails.
In spacious well lit salons
we ply our trade
to the snaky hiss of compressed air
the smell of acetone
for minimum wage.
Gel, gem, stripe, flick,
long squared, short squared, round,
stiletto, squoval, French tip,
is what this work entails.
Our trade is nails.
( In Cramped and Sooty Caverns – the title of a book by Dr Michael Hall about the nail-makers of Birmingham, Bromsgrove and the Black Country explored through the novels of Francis Brett Young. )
Machine Parts (for Trissie Lavender) by Emma Purshouse
That’s how it wuz frum mornin til night,
Betty put ’em together, got ’em jus’ right
and me with me air gun ar screwed the screws tight.
Then some other bugger’d tek the thing off
for somebody else to dip in red ock.
Then it wuz onto a belt to where it wuz hot
so Hilda could purrem to dry on the floo-wer
til they wuz all done and dusted and off aht the doo-wer.
All of ower lives were spent mekin moo-wer
and ne’rn a one of uz had a clue what they wuz.
In this life yow’m alloted yow duz what you duz
and that, ower kid, well that’s jus’ how it guz.
( red ock – red oxide )
Fire and Snow by Charles Dickens
Can this be the region of cinders and coal-dust, which we have traversed before now, divers times, both by night and by day, when the dirty wind rattled as it came against us charged with fine particles of coal, and the natural colour of the earth and all its vegetation might have been black, for anything our eyes could see to the contrary in a waste of many miles? Indeed it is the same country, though so altered that on this present day when the old year is near its last, the North East wind blows white, and all the ground is white - pure white – in so much that if our lives depended on our identifying a mound of ashes as we jar along this Birmingham and Wolverhampton Railway, we could not find a handful. The sun shines brightly, though it is a cold sun, this piercing day; and when the Birmingham tunnel disgorges us into the frosty air, we find the pointsman housed in no mere box, but in a resplendent pavilion, all bejewelled with dazzling icicles, the least a yard long. A radiant pointsman he should be, we think, invested by fairies with a dress of rainbow hues, and going round and round in some gorgeously playful manner on a gold and silver pivot. But, he has changed neither his stout great coat, nor his stiff hat, nor his stiff attitude of watch; and as (like the ghostly dagger of Macbeth) he marshals us the way that we were going, we observe him to be a mortal with a red face - red, in part from a seasonable joviality of spirit, and in part from frost and wind - with the encrusted snow dropping silently off his outstretched arm.
Redder than ever are the very red-brick little houses outside Birmingham - all staring at the railway in the snowy weather, like plethoric old men with white heads. Clean linen drying in yards seems ill-washed, against the intense white of the landscape. Far and near, the tall chimneys look out over one another’s shoulders for the swart ashes familiar to them, and can discern nothing but snow. Is this the smoke of other chimneys setting in so heavily from the north-east, and overclouding the short brightness of the day? No. By the North Pole it is more snow!
Making directly at us, and flying almost horizontally before the wind, it rushes against the train, in a dark blast profusely speckled as it were with drifting white feathers. A sharp collision, though a harmless one! No wonder that the engine seems to have a fearful cold in his head. No wonder, with a deal of out-door work in such a winter, that he is very hoarse and very short of breath, very much blown when we come to the next station, and very much given to weeping, snorting and spitting, all the time he stops!
Which is short enough, for these little upstairs stations at the tops of high arches, whence we almost look down the chimneys of scattered workshops, and quite inhale their smoke as it comes puffing at us - these little upstairs stations rarely seem to do much business anywhere, and just now are like suicidal heights to dive from into depths of snow. So, away again over the moor, where the clanking serpents usually writhing above coal-pits, are dormant and whitened over - this being holiday time - but where those grave monsters, the blast-furnaces, which can-not stoop to recreation, are awake and roaring. Now, a smoky village; now, a chimney; now, a dormant serpent who seems to have been benumbed in the act of working his way for shelter into the lonely little engine-house by the pit’s mouth; now, a pond with black specks sliding and skating; now, a drift with similar specks half sunken in it throwing snowballs; now, a cold white altar of snow with fire blazing on it; now, a dreary open space of mound and fell, snowed smoothly over, and closed in at last by sullen cities of chimneys. Not altogether agreeable to think of crossing such space without a guide, and being swallowed by a long-abandoned, long-forgotten shaft. Not even agreeable, in this undermined country, to think of half-a-dozen railway arches with the train upon them, suddenly vanishing through the snow into the excavated depths of a coal-forest.
Snow, wind, ice, and Wolverhampton - all together. No carriage at the station, every-thing snowed up. So much the better. The Swan will take us under its warm wing, walking or riding. Where is the Swan’s nest? In the market-place. So much the better yet, for it is market-day, and there will be something to see from the Swan’s nest. Up the streets of Wolverhampton, where the doctor’s bright door-plate is dimmed as if Old Winter’s breath were on it, and the lawyer’s office window is appropriately misty, to the market-place: where we find a cheerful bustle and plenty of people - for the most part pretending not to like the snow, but liking it very much, as people generally do. The Swan is a bird of a good substantial brood, worthy to be a country cousin of the hospitable Hen and Chickens, whose company we have deserted for only a few hours and with whom we shall roost again at Birmingham tonight. The Swan has bountiful coal-country notions of firing, snug homely rooms, cheerful windows looking down upon the clusters of snowy umbrellas in the market-place, and on the chaffering and chattering which is pleasantly hushed by the thick white down lying so deep, and softly falling still. Neat bright-eyed waitresses do the honours of the Swan. The Swan is confident about its soup, is troubled with no distrust concerning cod-fish, speaks the word of promise in relation to an enormous chine of roast beef, one of the dishes at ‘the Ironmasters’ dinner,’ which will be disengaged at four. The Iron-masters’ dinner! It has an imposing sound. We think of the Ironmasters joking, drinking to their Iron mistresses, clinking their glasses with a metallic ring, and comporting themselves at the festive board with the might of men who have mastered Iron, Now for a walk! Not in the direction of the furnaces, which we will see tonight when darkness shall set off the fires; but in the country, with our faces towards Wales. Say, ye hoary finger -posts whereon the name of picturesque old Shrewsbury is written in characters of frost; ye hedges lately bare, that have burst into snowy foliage; ye glittering trees, from which the wind blows sparkling dust; ye high drifts by the roadside, which are blue a-top, where ye are seen opposed to the bright red and yellow of the horizon; say all of ye, is summer the only season for enjoyable walks! Answer, roguish crow, alighting on a sheep’s back to pluck his wool off for an extra blanket, and skimming away, so black, over the white field; give us your opinion, swinging ale-house signs, and cosey little bars; speak out, farrier’s shed with faces all a-glow, fountain of sparks, heaving bellows, and ringing music; tell us, cottage hearths and sprigs of holly in cottage windows; be eloquent in praise of wintry walks, you sudden blasts of wind that pass like shiverings of Nature, you deep roads, you solid fragments of old hayricks with your fragrance frozen in! Even you, drivers of toiling carts, coal-laden, keeping company together behind your charges, dog-attended and basket-bearing: even you, though it is no easy work to stop, every now and then, and chip the snow away from the clogged wheels with picks, will have a fair word to say for winter, will you not! Down to the solitary factory in the dip of the road, deserted of holiday-makers, and where the water-mill is frozen up - then turn. As we draw nigh to our bright bird again, the early evening is closing in, the cold increases, the snow deadens and darkens, and lights spring up in the shops. A wet walk, ankle deep in snow the whole way. We must buy some stockings, and borrow the Swan’s slippers before dinner.
It is a mercy that we step into the toy-shop to buy a pocket-comb too, or the pretty child-customer (as it seems to us, the only other customer the elderly lady of the toy-shop has lately had), might have stood divided between the two puzzles at one shilling each until the putting up of the shutters. But, the incursion of our fiery faces and snowy dresses, coupled with our own individual recommendation of the puzzle on the right hand, happily turn the scale. The best of pocket-combs for a shilling, and now for the stockings. ‘Dibbs don’t keep ‘em,’ though he writes up that he does, and Jibbs is so beleaguered by country people making market-day and Christmas-week purchases, that his shop is choked to the pavement. Mibbs is the man for our money, and Mibbs keeps everything in the stocking line, though he may not exactly know where to find it. However, he finds what we want, in an inaccessible place, after going up ladders for it like a lamplighter; and a very good article it is, and a very civil worthy trader Mibbs is, and may Mibbs in-crease and multiply! Likewise young Mibbs, unacquainted with the price of anything in stock, and young Mibbs’s aunt who attends to the ladies’ department.
The Swan is rich in slippers - in those good old flip-flap inn slippers which nobody can keep on, which knock double knocks on every stair as their wearer comes down stains, and fly away over the banisters before they have brought him to level ground. Rich also is the Swan in wholesome well-cooked dinner, and in tender chine of beef, so brave in size that the mining of all the powerful Iron-masters is but a sufficient outlet for its gravy. Rich in things wholesome and sound and unpretending is the Swan, except that we would recommend the good bird not to dip its beak into its sherry. Under the change from snow and wind to hot soup, drawn red curtains, fire and candle, we observe our demonstrations at first to be very like the engine’s at the little station ; but they sub-side, and we dine vigorously - another tribute to a winter walk! - and finding that the Swan’s ideas of something hot to drink are just and laudable, we adopt the same, with emendations (in the matter of lemon chiefly) of which modesty and total abstinence principles forbid the record. Then, thinking drowsily and delightfully of all things that have occurred to us during the last four-and-twenty hours, and of most things that have occurred to us during the last four-and-twenty years, we sit in arm chairs, amiably basking before the fire - playthings for in-fancy - creatures to be asked a favour of - until aroused by the fragrance of hot tea and muffins. These we have ordered, principally as a perfume.
The bill of the Swan is to be commended as not out of proportion to its plumage ; and now, our walking shoes being dried and baked, we must get them on somehow — for the rosy driver with his carriage and pair who is to take us among the fires on the blasted heath by Bilston announces from under a few shawls, and the collars of three or four coats, that we must be going. Away we go, obedient to the summons, and, having taken leave of the lady in the Swan’s bar opposite the door, who is almost rustled out of her glass case and blown up stairs when-ever the door opens, we are presently in outer darkness grinding the snow.
Soon the fires begin to appear. In all this ashy country, there is still not a cinder visible; in all this land of smoke, not a stain upon the universal white. A very novel and curious sight is presented by the hundreds of great fires blazing in the midst of the cold dead snow. They illuminate it very little. Sometimes, the construction of a furnace, kiln, or chimney, admits of a tinge being thrown upon the pale ground near it; but, generally the fire burns in its own sullen ferocity, and the snow lies impassive and untouched. There is a glare in the sky, flickering now and then over the greater furnaces, but the earth lies stiff in its winding sheet, and the huge corpse candles burning above it affect it no more than colossal tapers of state move dead humanity.
Sacrificial altars, varying in size, but all gigantic, and all made of ice and snow, abound. Tongues of flame shoot up from them, and pillars of fire turn and twist upon them. Fortresses on fire, a whole town in a blaze; Moscow newly kindled, we see fifty times ; rattling and crashing noises strike the ear, and the wind is loud. Thus, crushing the snow with our wheels, and sidling over hillocks of it, and sinking into drifts of it, we roll on softly through a forest of conflagration ; the rosy-faced driver, concerned for the honour of his locality, much regretting that many fires are making holiday to-night, and that we see so few.
Come we at last to the precipitous wooden steps by which we are to be mast-headed at a railway station. Good night to rosy-face, the cheeriest man we know, and up. Station very gritty as a general characteristic. Station very dark, the gas being frozen. Station very cold, as any timber cabin suspended in the air with such a wind making lunges at it, would be. Station very dreary, being a station. Man and boy behind money-taking partition, checking accounts, and not able to unravel a knot of seven and sixpence. Small boy with a large package on his back, like Christian with his bundle of sins, sent down into the snow an indefinite depth and distance, with instructions to ‘look sharp in delivering that, and then cut away back here for another.’ Second small boy in search of basket for Mr. Brown, unable to believe that it is not there, and that anybody can have dared to disappoint Brown. Six third-class passengers prowling about, and trying in the dim light of one oil lamp to read with interest the dismal time-bills and notices about throwing stones at trains, upon the walls. Two more, scorching themselves at the rusty stove. Shivering porter going in and out, bell in hand, to look for the train, which is overdue, finally gives it up for the present, and puts down the bell - also the spirits of the passengers. In our own innocence we repeatedly mistake the roaring of the nearest furnace for the approach of the train, run out, and return covered with ignominy. Train in sight at last - but the other train - which don’t stop here - and it seems to tear the trembling station limb from limb, as it rushes through. Finally, some half-an-hour behind its time through the tussle it has had with the snow, comes our expected engine, shrieking with indignation and grief. And as we pull the clean white coverlid over us in bed at Birmingham, we think of the whiteness lying on the broad landscape all around for many a frosty windy mile, and find that it makes bed very comfortable.
From Letter to Lord Byron by W H Auden
But let me say before it has to go,
It’s the most lovely country that I know;
Clearer than Scafell Pike, my heart has stamped on,
The view from Birmingham to Wolverhampton.
The view from Castle Hill, Dudley by J.B. Priestley (English Journey, 1934)
There was the Black Country unrolled before you like a smouldering carpet. You looked into an immense hollow of smoke and blurred buildings and factory chimneys. There seemed to be no end to it… I descended into the vast smoky hollow and watched it turn itself into so many workshops, grimy rows of houses, pubs and picture theatres, yards filled with rusted metal, and great patches of wasted ground. There was a cynical abundance of these patches of waste ground which were as shocking as raw sores and open wounds…drunken storm troops have passed this way; there are signs of atrocities everywhere; the earth has been left gaping and bleeding; and what were once bright fields have been rummaged and raped into these dreadful patches of waste ground...
The places I saw had names, but these names were merely so much alliteration: Wolverhampton, Wednesbury, Wednesfield, Willenhall and Walsall. You could call them all wilderness and have done with it.
From Walks in the Black Country and its Green Border-land by Elihu Burritt (1869)
The Black Country, black by day and red by night, cannot be matched, for vast and varied production, by any other space of equal radius on the surface of the globe…Never was the cellar of a district of equal size stored with richer or more varied treasures. Never a goldfield on the face of the earth, of ten miles radius, produced such vast values as these subterranean acres have done…
Nature did for the ironmasters of the Black Country all she could; indeed, everything except literally building the furnaces themselves. She brought together all that was needed to set and keep them in blast. The iron ore, coal and lime - the very lining of the furnaces - were all deposited close at hand for the operation...
One would be inclined to believe, on seeing the black forest of chimneys, smoking over large towns and villages as well as the flayed spaces between, that all the coal and iron mined in the district must be used in it. The furnaces, foundries and manufactories seem almost countless; and the vastness and variety of their production infinite. Still, like an ever-flowing river, running through a sandy region that drinks in but part of its waters, there is a stream of raw mineral wealth flowing without bar or break through the absorbing district that produces it, and watering the distant counties of England. By night and day, year in year out, century in and century out, runs that stream with unabated flow. Narrow canals filled with water that is as black as the long sharp boats it floats, crossing each other here and there in the thick of the furnaces, twist out into the green lands in different directions, laden with coal for distant cities and villages. The railways, crossing the canals and their creeping locomotion, dash off with vast loads to London and other great centres of consumption. Tons unnumbered of iron for distant manufactures go from the district in the same way.
And all the while, the furnaces roar and glow by night and day, and the great steam hammers thunder, and hammers from an ounce in weight to a ton, and every kind of machinery invented by man, are ringing, clicking, and whizzing as if tasked to intercept all this raw material of the mines and impress upon it all the labour and skill which human hands could give to it.
Friedrich von Raumer, 1835
About Wolverhampton trees, grass and every trace of verdure disappear. As far as the eye can see, all is black, with coal mines and ironworks, and from this gloomy desert rise countless slender pyramidical chimneys whose flames illumine the earth, while their smoke darkens the heavens; the whole is exceedingly striking…
Sea Fever by John Masefield
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes
The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding--
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.
He’d a French cocked hat on his forehead, and a bunch of lace at his chin;
He’d a coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of fine doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle; his boots were up to his thigh!
And he rode with a jeweled twinkle--
His rapier hilt a-twinkle--
His pistol butts a-twinkle, under the jeweled sky.
Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred,
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter--
Bess, the landlord’s daughter--
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
Dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim, the ostler listened--his face was white and peaked--
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter--
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter;
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say:
"One kiss, my bonny sweetheart; I’m after a prize tonight,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light.
Yet if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."
He stood upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement! His face burnt like a brand
As the sweet black waves of perfume came tumbling o’er his breast,
Then he kissed its waves in the moonlight
(O sweet black waves in the moonlight!),
And he tugged at his reins in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.
He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon.
And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon over the purple moor,
The redcoat troops came marching--
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.
They said no word to the landlord; they drank his ale instead,
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed.
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets by their side;
There was Death at every window,
And Hell at one dark window,
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.
They had bound her up at attention, with many a sniggering jest!
They had tied a rifle beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
"Now keep good watch!" and they kissed her. She heard the dead man say,
"Look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though Hell should bar the way."
She twisted her hands behind her, but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
Till, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!
The tip of one finger touched it, she strove no more for the rest;
Up, she stood up at attention, with the barrel beneath her breast.
She would not risk their hearing, she would not strive again,
For the road lay bare in the moonlight,
Blank and bare in the moonlight,
And the blood in her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.
Tlot tlot, tlot tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hooves, ringing clear;
Tlot tlot, tlot tlot, in the distance! Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding--
The redcoats looked to their priming! She stood up straight and still.
Tlot tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
Her eyes grew wide for a moment, she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight--
Her musket shattered the moonlight--
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him--with her death.
He turned, he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the casement, drenched in her own red blood!
Not till the dawn did he hear it, and his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.
Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
Blood-red were his spurs in the golden noon, wine-red was his velvet coat
When they shot him down in the highway,
Down like a dog in the highway,
And he lay in his blood in the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.
And still on a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a gypsy’s ribbon looping the purple moor,
The highwayman comes riding--
The highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.
Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard,
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred,
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter--
Bess, the landlord’s daughter--
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
The Twenty Trees by Thomas Bratt
In Neachell Lane, not far from here,
Once twenty trees did grow,
And underneath their branches fair
Brown Ale did freely flow,
And on the first Sunday in May,
Whilst Sabbath bells did ring,
The youths and maidens from around
Most joyously did sing.
And near these famous twenty trees
Once stood an ancient hall,
And cocks with colours bright and gay
Stood there upon the wall,
And in the lovely garden there,
Midst golden blossomed trees
One heard the warbling of the birds
Born on the gentle breeze.
And midst the bright green fields around
Were fields of golden corn,
And up high the skylark sang
His song at early morn,
And in the Gipsy Lane close by,
Well known to me and you,
Thousands of lovers spent their time,
Who’d nothing else to do.
But time has changed this lovely place
The trees are seventeen,
The hall has gone, and pit mounds deck
This once loved charming scene,
And some who frequented the spot
Have crossed o’er distant seas,
But even now, they think about
These famous twenty trees
Drake’s Drum by Henry John Newbolt
Drake he’s in his hammock an’ a thousand miles away,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)
Slung atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay,
An’ dreamin’ arl the time O’ Plymouth Hoe.
Yarnder lumes the Island, yarnder lie the ships,
Wi’ sailor lads a-dancing’ heel-an’-toe,
An’ the shore-lights flashin’, an’ the night-tide dashin’,
He see et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago.
Drake he was a Devon man, an’ ruled the Devon seas,
(Capten, art tha’ sleepin’ there below?)
Roving’ tho’ his death fell, he went wi’ heart at ease,
A’ dreamin’ arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
‘Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore,
Strike et when your powder’s runnin’ low;
If the Dons sight Devon, I’ll quit the port o’ Heaven,
An’ drum them up the Channel as we drumm’d them long ago.’
Drake he’s in his hammock till the great Armadas come,
(Capten, art tha sleepin’ there below?)
Slung atween the round shot, listenin’ for the drum,
An’ dreamin arl the time o’ Plymouth Hoe.
Call him on the deep sea, call him up the Sound,
Call him when ye sail to meet the foe;
Where the old trade’s plyin’ an’ the old flag flyin’
They shall find him ware and wakin’, as they found him long ago!
Vitaï Lampada by Henry John Newbolt
There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night—
Ten to make and the match to win—
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’
The sand of the desert is sodden red,—
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;—
The Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’
This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind—
‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’
The Wisdom of Folly from Fuel of Fire by Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler
The cynics say that every rose
Is guarded by a thorn that grows
To spoil our posies:
But I no pleasure therefore lack;
I keep my hands behind my back
When smelling roses.
’Tis proved that Sodom’s appletarts
Have ashes as component parts
For those that steal them:
My soul no disillusion seeks;
I love my apples’ rosy cheecks,
But never peel them.
Though outwardly a gloomy shroud,
The inner half of every cloud
Is bright and shining;
I therefore turn my clouds about
And always wear them inside out
To show the lining.
Our idols’ feet are made of clay;
So stony-hearted critics say
With scornful mockings:
My images are deified
Because I keep them well supplied
With shoes and stockings.
My modus operandi this--
To take no heed of what’s amiss;
And not a bad one:
Because as Shakespeare used to say
A merry heart goes twice the way
That tires a sad one.
Wulfruna’s Hampton by Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler
Now certain women carved their names in stone
That whosoever ran the same might read.
Cambridge was founded by Saint Etheldrede,
The holy daughter of an Anglian throne :
Saint Frideswide it was made Oxford known
By many a generous gift and godly deed :
Saint Hilda nobly helped Northumbrians need
When Whitby’s abbey to full height had grown.
Wulfruna likewise chose the better part;
And in the midst of this our Mercian plain
A stately minster to God’s glory raised,
To prove thereafter to the thronging mart
That favour is deceitful, beauty vain.
But she that fears her Maker shall be praised.
From The Farringdons by Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler
They herded not with soulless swine,
Nor let strange snares their path environ:
Their only pitfall was a mine -
Their pigs were made of iron.
In the middle of Sedgehill, which is in the middle of Mershire, which is in the middle of England, there lies a narrow ridge of high table-land, dividing, as by a straight line, the collieries and ironworks of the great coal district from the green and pleasant scenery of the western Midlands. Along the summit of this ridge runs the High Street of the bleak little town of Sedgehill; so that the houses on the east side of this street see nothing through their back windows save the huge slag-mounds and blazing furnaces and tall chimneys of the weird and terrible, yet withal fascinating, Black Country; while the houses on the west side of the street have sunny gardens and fruitful orchards, sloping down toward a fertile land of woods and streams and meadows, bounded in the far distance by the Clee Hills and the Wrekin, and in the farthest distance of all by the blue Welsh mountains.In the dark valley lying to the immediate east of Sedgehill stood the Osierfield Works, the largest ironworks in Mershire in the good old days when Mershire made iron for half the world. The owners of these works were the Farringdons, and had been so for several generations. So it came to pass that the Farringdons were the royal family of Sedgehill; and the Osierfield Works was the circle wherein the inhabitants of that place lived and moved. It was as natural for everybody born in Sedgehill eventually to work at the Osierfield, as it was for him eventually to grow into a man and to take unto himself a wife.
The home of the Farringdons was called the Willows, and was separated by a carriage-drive of half a mile from the town. Its lodge stood in the High Street, on the western side; and the drive wandered through a fine old wood, and across an undulating park, till it stopped in front of a large square house built of gray stone. It was a handsome house inside, with wonderful oak staircases and Adams chimneypieces; and there was an air of great stateliness about it, and of very little luxury. For the Farringdons were a hardy race, whose time was taken up by the making of iron and the saving of souls; and they regarded sofas and easy-chairs in very much the same light as they regarded theatres and strong drink, thereby proving that their spines were as strong as their consciences were stern.
Moreover, the Farringdons were of ‘the people called Methodists’; consequently Methodism was the established religion of Sedgehill, possessing there that prestige which is the inalienable attribute of all state churches. In the eyes of Sedgehill it was as necessary to salvation to pray at the chapel as to work at the Osierfield; and the majority of the inhabitants would as soon have thought of worshipping at any other sanctuary as of worshipping at the beacon, a pillar which still marks the highest point of the highest table-land in England.
At the time when this story begins, the joint ownership of the Osierfield and the Willows was vested in the two Miss Farringdons, the daughters and co-heiresses of John Farringdon. John Farringdon and his brother William had been partners, and had arranged between themselves that William’s only child, George, should marry John’s eldest daughter, Maria, and so consolidate the brothers’ fortunes and their interest in the works. But the gods - and George - saw otherwise. George was a handsome, weak boy, who objected equally to work and to Methodism; and as his father cared for nothing beyond those sources of interest, and had no patience for any one who did, the two did not always see eye to eye. Perhaps if Maria had been more unbending, things might have turned out differently; but Methodism in its severest aspects was not more severe than Maria Farringdon. She was a thorough gentlewoman, and extremely clever; but tenderness was not counted among her excellencies. George would have been fond of almost any woman who was pretty enough to be loved and not clever enough to be feared; but his cousin Maria was beyond even his powers of falling in love, although, to do him justice, these powers were by no means limited. The end of it was that George offended his father past forgiveness by running away to Australia rather than marry Maria, and there disappeared. Years afterward a rumour reached his people that he had married and died out there, leaving a widow and an only son; but this rumour had not been verified, as by that time his father and uncle were dead, and his cousins were reigning in his stead; and it was hardly to be expected that the proud Miss Farringdon would take much trouble concerning the woman whom her weak-kneed kinsman had preferred to herself.
William Farringdon left all his property and his share in the works to his niece Maria, as some reparation for the insult which his disinherited son had offered to her; John left his large fortune between his two daughters, as he never had a son; so Maria and Anne Farringdon lived at the Willows, and carried on the Osierfield with the help of Richard Smallwood, who had been the general manager of the collieries and ironworks belonging to the firm in their father’s time, and knew as much about iron (and most other things) as he did. Maria was a good woman of business, and she and Richard between them made money as fast as it had been made in the days of William and John Farringdon. Anne, on the contrary, was a meek and gentle soul, who had no power of governing but a perfect genius for obedience, and who was always engaged on the Herculean task of squaring the sternest dogmas with the most indulgent practices.
Even in the early days of this history the Miss Farringdons were what is called ‘getting on’; but the Willows was, nevertheless, not without a youthful element in it. Close upon a dozen years ago the two sisters had adopted the orphaned child of a second cousin, whose young widow had died in giving birth to a posthumous daughter; and now Elisabeth Farringdon was the light of the good ladies’ eyes, though they would have considered it harmful to her soul to let her have an inkling of this fact.
She was not a pretty little girl, which was a source of much sorrow of heart to her; and she was a distinctly clever little girl, of which she was utterly unconscious, it being an integral part of Miss Farringdon’s system of education to imbue the young with an overpowering sense of their own inferiority and unworthiness. During the first decade of her existence Elisabeth used frequently and earnestly to pray that her hair might become golden and her eyes brown; but as on this score the heavens remained as brass, and her hair continued dark brown and her eyes blue-gray, she changed her tactics, and confined her heroine-worship to ladies of this particular style of colouring; which showed that, even at the age of ten, Elisabeth had her full share of adaptability.