The Wilful Walks of C.J.

Walking on the wistful side of life with a twist of whimsy and a slice of wr

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be”
Lao Tsu

part one
* Saint Andrews Church – Ashingdon * Full Bladders * Ghosts of Saxons * Old King Canute *
Sitting by the weathered, lichen covered gravestones that are slowly sinking into the greedy Essex soil, I can see before me the flat marsh lands of this East Anglia County. It was down upon those neatly cropped fields, now the land of farmers, where Edmund Ironside fought against Canute. One a Saxon King the other a Dane. They fought, as Kings did in those days, for ownership of land which in itself is, if not a little bizarre then certainly a rather pointless exercise but perhaps that conclusion is just the perspective that history allows. Further out, beyond Canewdon, named after Canute, and a bit to the east is Paglesham where you can see one of the tributaries of the Thames estuary that leads even further east and into London. Across these level lands a mist sometimes rolls in off the water, covering the rough ploughed fields with a lace of grey. I still see those ancient Saxon armies with their men armed with swords in their scabbards and shields slung across their broad shoulders, while others carry axe and spear, strung out like beads on an old ladies dress, marching with a soft sound of wet soil beneath their booted feet. Were you to dig down deep enough, I wonder what fossils of bones you might find? How many broken blades? How many helms cleaved in two? The fragmented bones of fragile infants; the teeth and jaw bone of family canines, all long dead and equally long forgotten. On the hill that overlooks the vale of what was once known as Assandun is a church: Saint Andrews. It was built four years after the battle of the place it now overlooks: The Battle of Assandun. Only a short four miles north is a place called Battlesbridge. It is aptly named as that is where the first clang of swords would have been heard. The battle was fought in ten sixteen and Saint Andrews was built in ten twenty. The church is some eleven years shy of one thousand years old. Can you believe that? A building that has seen nigh on one thousand years of history; of the progress of European man; his comings and goings, his wars, his creativity counter-balanced by his apparent disregard for all but himself. As I sit observing I am forced to move occasionally to another bench. This is due to the sun that hangs distant in the March sky, for although relatively warm it still strikes cold as it moves in orbit and hides behind the church tower so I move with it. Before I left home I prepared myself some tomatoes; tomatoes on toast sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper. This I washed down with a cup of tea (well, I am English after all) and to ensure, because of the climb up the hill, that I have a sufficient blood sugar level, I drank a half a bottle of Lucozade. Unfortunately, the consequence of downing all this liquid is an overwhelming need to urinate. Normally, I would simply find a tree and do against it what comes naturally.

However, this is a graveyard; not that I am religious in any way whatsoever but the thought of taking a leak on a grave strikes me as, if not the act of sheer vandalism, probably sacrilegious and certainly highly disrespectful. How would you like it if an Englishman urinated on your grave? I suppose that I could relieve myself against the church wall but even that seems wrong somehow, something a green haired punk of nineteen might do but not some middle-aged old fart of fifty five. I mean, my rebellious youth has surely passed me by? I’m sure God wouldn’t mind if I took a leak against the church wall, he could simply summon a cloud and get the rain to wash it all clean, but I bet you a fiver the vicar would be none too pleased. Nor would my wife when she read the local news paper headlines: middle-aged family man relieves himself in graveyard. Wouldn’t look too clever would it? Anyway, I gird my loins, or whatever it is that one does when their bladder is full to bursting and look back down the vale of history. It is about four, maybe five, miles from where I sit to the reciprocal village church in Canewdon. I don’t know its name but I fancy it might be the same as the one in Ashingdon, Saint Andrews, I know the one in nearby Rochford is Saint Andrews which makes me think that those ancient Danes and Saxons, good at fighting battles as they undoubtedly were, by the same token weren’t very creative when it came to naming churches. Now then, where was I? Oh yes, Canewdon’s church is said to be haunted. You see Canewdon used to have witches all of whom would have met with some pretty gruesome and horrific deaths. When you stand outside Canewdon’s church you can hear a low moaning as of spectral voices. Perhaps they are moaning because they too need to urinate?

part two
* Of Smugglers * Of Public Houses and Churches * The Legend of William Blyth *
To paraphrase the old Led Zeppelin song: There are two roads you can go by which in the case of getting from Ashingdon to Paglesham is certainly true. You can either go by the Brays Lane route which is probably the more direct and is about four miles or, alternatively, you can go via Canewdon Road which takes you on a convoluted route through twists and turns and down the snake wiggle of Scots Hall Road adding at least another mile to your walk. If you ignore taking a right you will eventually come to South Fambridge, a nice enough place and one to tell you of at some other stage but today it is not the target destination I had in mind. So then, Brays Lane it is. Having relieved my aching bladder (ask no questions, get no lies), I leave the peaceful seclusion of Saint Andrews Church, Ashingdon and toddle off down the road of my choosing and onto Paglesham. Still sunny, although with that deceitful spring chill that runs up and nips the back of your neck when you least expect it. I simply turn up my collar against the cold air and walk on. The first set of houses I come across are quite unremarkable and very typical of the area. Stand-alone bungalows or semi-detached, three to four bedroom houses most of which have been built in that blinding white light technology of decades – the sixties. Not unpleasant just lacking any signs of individuality whatsoever. Like the old song by goodness knows who, little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky and they all get put in boxes and they all come out just the same.

As I move on the first change I notice is that the pavement disappears and in its place I find a grassy kerbside with ramshackle, tumble down hedgerows full of prickly branches and starlings’ nests. It is easier to walk on the road than try to clamber across the uneven surface of the pock-marked turf. I have to be careful though and keep a wary eye open for the odd car that comes hurtling past. Why is it that as soon as you find an English country road you always get some Billy boy racer who wants to turn a ton in his motor? Hark at me though, the old wise man who used to do precisely the same thing not so long ago. Something about country lanes and cars that brings out the racing driver in all young people’s hearts. The next thing I note is that the houses are further apart. The distance between them has grown and the architecture has gone from the commonplace to the idiosyncratically, diametrically opposite of the first homes I saw. These are many yards apart and are all of a different build. Not just a cosmetically designed difference either but a bona fide individuality that has to mirror the original owners’ personalities. Most of these homes were, at some stage at least, small holdings or farms. A great many may still be used for that purpose but at least half, I would guess, have different applications now and, judging by some of the cars parked on the drives, the other difference is that some of these places are moneyed. That is, the people living in them are reasonably well off unlike the farmers of old. There is a lot of history in this region; in fact there is a confusion of history, a mix and mash, crash of historical styles. Much of the history goes way back to the days of the Anglo Saxon invasion but there is more modern too and by modern I mean from Henry VIII to the swinging sixties. Two homes I pass are perfect examples of this odd clash of ages. On my left is a Scandinavian style homestead with a chalet look. It has a rough stone-fronted arched doorway that somehow transmogrifies into a chimney so that the whole structure looks like an upside down Y. Either side of the Y are two large windows that, typical of Scandinavian design, allow lots of light into their respective rooms. Sitting behind this home is land which I have to assume belongs to the property I have described. Directly opposite this Nordic looking building is an ancient Tudor farm with a rickety roof and black painted wooden beams. The whole edifice seems to be on the tilt, either that or I am drunk and as a drop hasn’t passed my lips (I swear) then it must be the house. To see such different buildings still facing each other since eras past, separated by a ribbon of tar is both wonderful and incongruous. A bit like London, which is the only city I know of that has that organic feel of age after age built side by side. This isn’t quite like that as these structures are spread apart but it has an echo of London somehow, yet also brings to mind America. Not the land, nor the styles of houses; one is older than that continent and the other simply of another continent entirely but the idea of being able to build just what the hell takes your fancy is very much of the USA I visited back in the seventies: an expression of individuality.

The further I walk the further apart the houses get. Some are at least a quarter of a mile distant and because Essex is so flat you can see them sitting away from each other like aloof, estranged peasants who, having toiled the fields, have fallen out and no longer are on speaking terms with each other. The only communication they have is via birds that twitter on branches and roost in their eaves. Again I imagine the mists coming in from the chill waters. Flowing across the land like spectres leaving a cold hand of frost on turf and turnip. A ghost mist of loneliness that haunts the space between the houses spread so far apart. You will see from these ramblings that there are two major ways we Brits measure distance in the countryside: either by the pubs we pass or the churches. Around here we have dozens of bloody pubs and all with quaint little names too. The nearest old market town is Rochford which has no less than six public houses. I am just about to pass the first pub of my walks, the Dog and Shepherd which was built circa 1935 but this isn’t the original Dog and Shepherd; the original is another Tudor building but much bigger than the last one I passed and far more rundown than that too. Apparently it is occupied but it doesn’t look that way to me. I have seen it many times before of course and have often wondered what it must be like to live in something that old. A thought that reminds me of something one of my kids said about my body recently on the occasion of my fifty fifth birthday.

At this point of my journey, with pub to my left and ‘Ye Olde Tudor House’ to my right I have a choice to make. The road directly ahead leads on to Canewdon while the road to my right goes to Paglesham. To the right I go, still feeling light of foot and now warmer than when I first started. I pass more houses on the way, each different from the others. One hangs back in the distance and away from the road. It has a paddock where horses can run.

Another is closer to the road and as I walk by two large boxer dogs come raging at me. Teeth bared and snarling a warning but fortunately there is a high wire fence between them and me. I walk on. Next I come across a tall house of unknown age which has a glass tower that grows from the topmost part of the roof. It looks like a Victorian observatory but I think that is just my wild imagination working overtime. It has character though and I could see myself living there. Finally there is the east end of Paglesham and the Plough and Sail which has been my target destination all along. By the way, the Paglesham population is about four hundred which in itself is fine but the place has two public houses which strikes me as a little over the top but who am I to argue with the ancients? The one here in the East End is owned by TV chef Jamie Oliver’s family, The Plough and Sail and the other over at Church End, The Punch Bowl which has a history as charming and as dodgy as the smugglers who used to frequent it: From the middle of 17th Century into the 18th Century, the town of Paglesham [Paglesham is one of Essex's oldest fishing villages. ] was a notorious smugglers ' haunt in Essex. In the later part of the 17th Century William Blyth, known as 'Hard Apple' to his friends, led a smugglers' gang mostly made up of members of his large family of fishermen. By day Blyth was a respectable member of the community; he was a member of the Parish Council, a shopkeeper, an oysterman, a constable and he may have been a magistrate too. On dark nights when the weather permitted, Blyth and his fellow smugglers would launch their cutter, the Big Jane and head across the sea to Dunkirk, where Frenchmen would be waiting with contraband. Some smugglers preferred to risk navigating the treacherous sandbanks to the north of the Thames estuary, where the low-lying coastal land was crisscrossed with dykes at Foulness Island and Crouch Hard Apple? William Blyth, the stuff of legend and myth but what a fantastic myth, what a fabulous legend!

Smuggling was so vigorously pursued in the Rochford area that the region's reputation persisted well into the 20th century. One writer commented in 1909 that 'The whole district is honeycombed with traditions concerning smuggling...The tower of Rochford Church was used to store gin, Hollands and tea — the cavity under the pulpit was known as ‘The Magazine' At Paglesham, most of the population was alleged to have been involved with the free-trade in one way or another. Several locals were ship-owners, and used oyster-fishing or legitimate cross-channel transport as a cover for smuggling: in 1783 the Maldon custom house reported that William Dowsett of the village owned two vessels which he used for illegal trade, and that his brother-in-law, Emberson, also operated a small ship. Another member of the Dowsett family traded from the Big Jane, a heavily-armed lugger that was frequently in skirmishes with the King's men. The most notorious figure, though was William Blyth. In one he drank two glasses of wine in the local pub, the Punch bowl, then calmly ate the glasses. • Another yarn has Blyth playing cricket on the local green with fellow smugglers Emberson and Dowsett. Though the men took off their coats for the matches, they took the sensible precaution of laying out their guns and swords ready for interruptions from the excisemen. In the course of one of these matches, there was an unscheduled break of another sort: a bull charged the team. Blyth grabbed it by the tail, and set about the animal with a cudgel. The terrified animal fled, with Blyth clinging on, vaulted over a hedge and ditch, then collapsed and died. • On one occasion Blyth's boat was captured during a run, and the cargo transferred to a revenue cutter. On board the cutter, Blyth started drinking with the crew, taking full advantage of his legendary head for alcohol. Before very long, the officers and men were fuddled by drink, and Blyth restored his cargo to its rightful home. This place would have been great when as a child I could have become, in my head and wildest fantasies, a pirate smuggler and one who eats glass and kills bulls with his bare hands. Tired and thirsty from my walk I drop into the pub where I order some food and a whole pint of Diet Coke which I eat and drink in the warm noon sun. Trouble is, and to my cost, the Coke fills my bladder and again, on my wandering way, I need to find some convenient place to pee. Perhaps some poor soul’s back garden? Goodness knows there are gardens to spare around here.

“Of all the trades in England, a-beggin' is the best For when a beggar's tired, You can lay him down to rest. And a-begging I will go, a-begging I will go. I got a pocket for me oatmeal, and another for me rye. I got a bottle by me side to drink when I am dry. And a-begging I will go, a-begging I will go. I got patches on me cloak, and black patch on me knee. When you come to take me home, I'll drink as well as thee. And a-begging I will go, a-begging I will go. I got a pocket for me ... and another for me malt I got a pair of little crutches, you should see how I can halt. And a-begging I will go, a-begging I will go. I sleep beneath an open tree, and there I pay no rent. Providence provides for me, and I am well content. And a-begging I will go, a-begging I will go. I fear no plots against me. I live an open cell. Who would be a king then when beggars live so well. And a-begging I will go, a-begging I will go. Of all the trades in England, a-begging is the best. For when a beggar's tired, you can lay him down to rest. And a-begging I will go, a-begging I will go.” Traditional Folk Song

part three
* The Long Walk to Rochford * A Short Walk through Stambridge * The House of Anne Boleyn * Words on the Hoof * A song by Teddy Thompson *
Upon leaving behind the cobwebby past of Paglesham along with its glorious pub behind, I take the same route back that I have come. It suddenly occurs to me that I have neglected to tell you all about two other points of interest: Charles Darwin's ship, HMS Beagle, is forever trapped and preserved beneath the waters of the River Roach in a cloying mud coffin. It has been left there so as not to disturb it or destroy any part of it. Evidence, if evidence is required, that sometimes we Brits take our history for granted. I strongly doubt that our cousins across the pond are so libertarian with their past. The other little fact/myth that I forgot surrounds the King I mentioned in my first post; King Canute. His name was originally pronounced Cnut and he was believed, by his subjects, to have magical powers. In an attempt to disprove this nonsense, Canute had a bunch of his people carry him to the water’s edge whereupon he attempted to stop the tide from coming in. Needless to say it didn't work and he had this to say to his subjects: "Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws." As I march along, Tom Waits comes to mind. I have no idea why. He is not English and his music is very much of the America I love and not the one presented by Hollywood: dark bluesy bars filled with heavy smoke clouds; dank, deep everglades; spiritual churches filled with ebullient negroes praising God (I am a non-believer) with a lusty reverence in a way I imagine God would like; trolley buses rattling up and down the humps and bumps of California; a New York City with steam rising from crusty manhole covers; a United States as presented by the legend of Americans - Clint Eastwood, a little off kilter and still living the life of freedom’s dream. I start singing a Lilly Allen song to bring me back to the here and now and this England, this Essex. Having touched upon Canewdon and Paglesham I decide now to venture towards Rochford going via Stambridge. This will take me, in a very convoluted way, back to my home in Ashingdon. The walk takes me across country and past a bus shelter where two teenage lovers haunt the shadows, snogging each other silly. This is probably the self same site of the original bus shelter where perhaps their grandparents came courting. Stambridge has a pub, two in fact, The Royal Oak and The Cherry Tree and a church but also a small fishing lake where lads young and old take their rods and stand out in all weathers waiting for a nibble from a passing carp. Damn weird hobby if you ask me but I guess it takes all sorts to make a world.

Henry VIII may have ridden down this road but of course I have no way of knowing that. He certainly spent a lot of time in and around here but of course he would. Anne Boleyn lived here, or rather in Rochford. Her house, if you can call a place with a moat a house, is still standing where it was in fifteen something or other. She gave him the greatest Queen England has ever seen but she didn't give him a son. She lost her head and we gained an Empire. Anyway, not sure that the wife of Henry VIII ever really lived in Essex but there is a 'house' (Tudor) with a moat that dates back to the 1500's. Funny how your mind starts to work as you walk. Words come rushing in when you least expect them to and when least prepared. A haste of ideas flood in and so I stop, pull out a notebook, find somewhere to sit and begin to write. Not sure if this is for the Happy Families (originally Twist story) or something else. It might need revisiting and some editing but these are the 'rough' notes wot I writ! The conversation was all sharp angles and dull shapes; oblique corners surrounded by fractious squares. The meal reflected the mood: cheap without commitment; a platter of nondescript flavours awash with a cloying sauce of self pity. Time was spent digging for sufficient words to find; an unwholesome lack of natural responses that left empty silences; an embarrassment for fools, for who isn’t a fool when presented with this absolute decay and does nothing to repair it? I stand equally guilty. Incapable of the strength required not to over react at the first given opportunity. I flare with accustomed indignation that is both self righteous and fruitless. The wise man would walk away to allow calm to descend but I leap in with teeth bared, fists flailing and my heavy boots kicking. There was no resolution to the issues we faced just an expression of loss of trust. The mountain we face is a veritable K2 and we lack Sherpa’s or anyone else’s help. It is only us and we both are unsure, and afraid, that the first step we take will throw us forever more over the edge. The thoughts gather ink on my pad and bring to mind another song and another singer: "The Things I do" by Teddy Thompson: "It's getting harder and harder to live with myself - The things I do I'm getting weaker in mental and physical health - The things I do And no one's coming to save me now It's me that has to change somehow I'm one night out away from the therapist's couch Ouch! I'm sinking lower and lower in my friends' eyes - The things I do And I've turned into somebody I despise - The things I do And my standards are slipping day by day I'll sleep with anyone who gets in my way I'm one bad hand away from a losing game Shame! Should I be thinking about myself at a time like this? I'm not sure I'm never happy but at least I get some peace In this war But I could use more And no one's coming to save the day

I'll have my fun and then I'll pay I'm one night out away from an early grave And I need to be Saved”

I dismiss my morbid humour, packing it off in a stained suitcase called 'reflections of an aging git' and plod on. Next stop: Rochford market town.

George Pickingill

George Pickingill was born in Hockley on the 26th May 1816. George was one of nine children and, so he claimed, a direct descendent of Julia Pickingill – “The Witch of Brandon”, who legend has it, lived in a village north of Thetford in Norfolk. It is said that Julia was hired in 1071 to create a series of magical chants for the troops of “Lord Harewood the Wake.” This magic was required so as to inspire them in battle against the Normans. During the battle, Julia was seen standing in a wooden tower overlooking the two opposing armies where her chants could be heard across the battlefield. Her magic failed her though, for as the Normans set fire to the dry reeds around the tower, Julia became trapped and died in the flames. Since that day generations of Pickingills have served as Priests and Priestesses in the Old Religion, the dark faith. George was but a farm worker and his workmates said he was able to call on imps and make them clear a field of produce in half an hour whilst George sat ‘neath a tree and sucked on his pipe. Trouble with George was he used his powers to threaten the other farmers into giving him money for fear of him blighting their crops. No one liked

George. They called him a ‘cunning man’ for, although he could cure warts and ailments he spoke too fondly of ‘the Horned God.’ George started many a coven not only in Essex but also in Norfolk, Hertfordshire, Sussex and Hampshire. All the covens practised the ancient ways with much nudity and sexual induction and they all worshiped the same ‘Horned God.’ George kept a book and it is thought that this book was taken by Aleister Crowley who in turn is thought to have given it to Gerald Gardner. The book was called The Book of Shadows. But was George really a Satanist? Sadly we will never know. We do know this however: Aside from the famous “Nine Covens” he created, there was a darker, sinister side to George. George had an intense dislike for Christianity and for authority. He spoke openly for the overthrow of the Christian Religion and of the establishment in general. There were even those that claimed he truly did collaborate with Satanists. As I said though, we will never know. George died in nineteen nine and whatever secrets he had he took them with him. Sometimes though, as you pass by the fields and streams of Canewdon, or if you should dare to visit its brooding church you might hear the voice of George’s long dead ancestor Julia as she wails like the wind through the village air.

(With grateful thanks to Controverscial.Com for the wonderful information)

part four
* A Town without a High Street * Alleyways and Decay * The Sixties Fell like Concrete * Bric-a-Brac and Wagging Fingers * *Dull feet that move to David Bowie * *A poem of sorts *

Rochford Town: dirty paint and the dust of history fall from the buildings’ facades, an autumnal fading of aging architecture. The square has been ravaged by my generation’s favourite decade. If the sixties gave birth to the modern man and woman, liberating us all sexually and leaving a legacy of great music and literature, then it had quite the reverse effect on architecture. Flat concrete and glass designed shops flop against their quaint hallowed counterparts. The supermarket has grown like a wart on the arse of a lady and remains a zit of a building. Squat glass references to the visionaries of modern architects from those not fit to share in their dreams. Here it fails miserably. From my youthful memory the nineteen sixties was the greatest of times, probably due to my being only fifteen when it finished, but its desire to bring modernity to the grim grey preceding decades of the forties and fifties failed when buildings of antiquity and historical importance were smashed down and replaced by characterless structures such as this. However, the scent of history clings here; you can smell it as you walk around. Cattle are no longer driven through the market square and across the railways lines, passing through the station then herded into the town; in its place, and on Tuesdays only, is a general purpose rag tag of stalls: bric-a-brac and clothes. The market dates back to twelve forty seven. There are pubs galore here, six by my reckoning. Enough booze for a Salvationist to have a busy night’s work over as they fly from pub to pub, preaching to the deaf, dumb and couldn't care less. There is no high Street in Rochford as it still has the town cross design that harkens back to the middle ages. Claustrophobic alley-ways link back streets to the market square. A Victorian clock ticks time away as it hangs above the Women’s Institute building. I once bought a series of books from here, antiques that I got for the bargain price of one pound each. Gold leafed and thread sewn with a decorative embossing that was designed in the art deco style of the era it was published in. The woman wagged her finger at me as if to say. 'You know you have a bargain but so do I.'

They burnt people at the stake here; burnt them because their Christian belief differed from the Christian belief. In fifteen fifty five, a Catholic man, John Simson was burnt alive because he wouldn’t conform to Roman Catholicism. Makes me wonder if we have changed as a species at all in five hundred years? Moses said to Satan, Man, that was fun but I've got to cross this river to get my business done. Saul said to Sarah, Girl, button up your dress your fathers on the prowl, your sins to him confess. Enoch said to Joseph, man, that was such a blast but I've got to speak to Jesus to make his divinity last. Jesus spoke to Krishna 'You know, we both are alike but I bet your congregation didn't nail you with a spike. ' Loki sat down softly with mischief in his sack he sharpened up his wicked knife to place in someone's back. Rama did a pirouette as Bast slowly turned to the tune of a saxophone whilst Surt gaily burned. Poseidon eyed up Brigit, 'Lady, I like your smile.' 'Indeed,' said she with a grin, 'come lay with me awhile.' Cronus sat with Zeus and played a game of chess with pieces made of jade, Phersephone to impress. Yemaya danced with Bishamon she liked his Shinto ways, Anubis fancied Balor (even deities have gays). Loki fixed a fire and let the flames rise he laid a torch to heaven that lit up the skies. Odin of the one eye with his ravens and his son rode out to find Obatala waging war on everyone. They poured libations to themselves and drank their bellies full whilst Yahweh said to Allah 'I remember you from school'.' Vishnu played a game of dice with pilgrims and with saints watched by tired Ixchel, bright rainbows she paints. Hades, bored of hell sits and contemplates Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos, sisters and the Fates. But Loki never can resist an evil game or ploy with twine and twig a plot device more than Balder he'll destroy. The deities are dancing on, the deities dance still they lead us such a merry chase no doubt they always will. For every god or deity be they small or great are but the stuff of fantasy that mankind did create. A pub is a pub is a pub: time for a drink, then off to somewhere else, Ashingdon methinks and then maybe Fambridge. David Bowie's "The Bewlay Brothers" plays in my head... I have such a funny head, full of strange shapes and sounds but more of that next time: Onwards!

part five

* Those bastard Romans * Horses and Eloping Lovers * The Ferry Inn * Of Cormorants and Rodents * * The Silence of Village Life *
Not sure what the inhabitants of this idyllic village might say but South Fambridge, to give it its full and proper name, strikes me as the sort of place that couldn’t catch a cold. In fact I don’t think this ancient village could catch anything as the pace of life seems so laid back, so wonderfully rural yet only minutes away from suburbia. Personally I blame it all on the Romans, I mean, what did they ever do for us? “For hundreds of years after the Romans left in about 420AD, England was occupied, divided and ruled by various groups who could be called invaders, settlers or newcomers from neighbouring countries. They included the Saxons and Angles, the two largest early settlers. Then came the Danes and Vikings who mainly settled in the Northeast, the Northwest and in Eastern England. By the 700s to 800s, the East Saxons and the East Angles had been taken over by the Mercians and their kingdoms became part of the Mercians' East Anglia.” You see the Romans had a bit of get up and go and probably wouldn’t have settled for the life of Riley that the current occupants seem to enjoy. We are of course the descendents of these rough-necked Northern Europeans although we seldom go in for rape or pillage anymore, preferring to play football, we do, however, often abuse the referee with some fine old Anglo-Saxon words. And, before anyone jumps on me for being so provocative regarding the folks of Fambridge and their seemingly easy-going ways, I am positive that my cursory glimpse at South Fambridge would be scoffed at and ridiculed by the people who live there but it does seem beautifully détendu. The new Mews Bar on the other hand, that has pushed its way in like a common lout between two rustic gents, has nothing of any worth to add to the village and would be better left as it once was, a public house. Another bright spark’s idea to modernise the place and attract young clients. “Fambridge village appears in the Domesday Book produced for King William The Conqueror in 1085 and 1086. Other parts of Ashingdon Parish listed as villages or manors were : "Bacheneia" Beckney and "Phenbruge" South Fambridge. Other nearby villages or manors probably owning land in what is now Ashingdon were : "Carenduna" Canewdon, "Hocheleia" Hockley, "Hechuuella" Hawkwell, "Plumberga" Plumberow, "Puteseia" Pudsey and "Stanbruga" Great Stambridge. North Fambridge on the other side of the River Crouch was called "Fanbruge".” The South Fambridge church is also an oddity with its stunted appearance and avuncular attitude. It is as if some beneficent Baron, having given his favoured village some much needed money then decided to build a church but then, realising he had run out of cash, compromised the design so that the end result is a building that looks squat, although not ugly, and unfinished.

As far as I know, there were no battles here unless they were between brow-beaten husbands and their long suffering wives over why the said gentlemen had spent so long in the pub. There used to be, until the fifties, a ferry that linked South Fambridge to its Northern half. Exactly when the ferry was introduced is uncertain but we do know that there was a ferry when the Earl of Warrick was patron to the Holy Trinity Church between the years 1331 and 1465. The ferry has now gone and it’s a bloody long swim to the other side. It is also a fourteen mile journey by car and therefore out of the question for this footsore wanderer but, with a bit of magic via the gift of imagination, I can cross the River Crouch with a wrinkle and wiggle of my nose. POP! Here I stand on the far shore and in North Fambridge, five miles away from Rochford and seven from Maldon. Typical of the region are the flat, marsh lands that surround you. Tall reeds wave their plumed, feathery heads over dark banks of mud that are veined with tiny streams cutting a path away from the larger waterway that is the Crouch. Legend has it that, way back in Tudor times, a fair maid lived and served at Lord Rochefort’s hall in Rochford. She gained the attention of an officer in the military who fell in love with her. One night the couple eloped and fled Rochford with the girl sitting on the back of the young Captain’s horse. Chase was given but pursuit stopped when the couple rode their horse into the River Crouch. Her father, at the head of the pursuers, said that if they were ‘so in love to risk life and drowning let them go.’ The couple married in Maldon Church. Another fine sight that greets you as you stand here on the north side is the five hundred year old Inn; aptly named The Ferry Boat. Five hundred years on and it still serves a fine fare and still offers accommodation for the weary traveller. Even in the middle of spring chill winds blow across these flat mud banks. Over-head a cormorant flies along the river heading towards Battlesbridge. Somewhere nearby a

rustle in the undergrowth marks the movement of a vole or rat. It is quiet here, quiet in a way belies the close proximity of cars and cities but they are not that far away: Maldon, Chelmsford and that aging Roman city that sits far north of Essex; Colchester. For now though I am here, windswept and happy sitting on a bench in Fambridge. Fambridge and Ashingdon are so closely linked they could be co-joined twins. Ashingdon and South Fambridge have been in existence for more than one thousand years and I have to confess to attaching a certain amount of pride to the place but in reality I shouldn't have as I recently discovered, having lived here for more than thirty years, my house is not within the parish of Ashingdon at all but is in fact in Hawkwell. Before we visit that hamlet though, we must first visit Battlesbridge. Now there is a name to conjure with.

part six
• A Pause in the Journey * Thoughts of a wayfarer *
As I pursue these wilful walks down snake twisting country lanes armed with little more than a notepad and an imagination, there are several conclusions I arrive at. Not all of them show me in the positive light I would wish for but then again, solo journeys are meant for reflection of the soul as much as they are to explore the countryside we walk in and my reflection hasn’t always been complimentary. I have learnt these lessons thus far: • There is always time to change the path you have taken but only you can make that change. You cannot rely on others to make that choice as it is entirely up to you. Anger is an energy: those words were sung by John Lydon many years ago and, although true in one sense there is wisdom to be taken from another vantage point. Anger is a ball and chain that trails behind you and will not allow you to lead your full and proper life again until you cut it away. It prevents you being the creature you are as it warps your movement and bends your spirit. Anger is the cousin of hurt and hurt clings to you like a bruise that won’t fade, a wound that will never heal while you pick and worry at it. I would suggest that at this point in my life the last thing I need is anger. It is counter productive; a negative force that captures your heart and fogs your mind. Forgiveness is a two way vessel. It removes the burden of guilt but it also refreshes and rejuvenates the soul. Never say sorry unless you really mean it. Always say sorry when you are wrong. Loyalty has its own rewards and its own pitfalls. It is a two way street. Live life for now, as though today might be your last.

• • • •

Never, ever take the one thing you love and try to alter, or change it. If you do then the thing you first loved, being altered is no longer the thing you loved in the first place.
I am the monster the monster is me. Blind alley razor abuse by decree. I rotate my rage to alleviate guilt. My conscience broken my mind on tilt. I am the monster a dark retard pale by reflection dirty backyard. I am the monster hear me howl bent by moonlight language so foul. I am the monster wet from dew see me reflect an image of you.

Any Road Oh I've been travelling on a boat and a plane In a car on a bike with a bus and a train Travelling there and travelling here Everywhere in every gear But oh Lord we pay the price with the Spin of a wheel - with the roll of the dice Ah yeah you pay your fare And if you don't know where you're going Any road will take you there And I've been travelling through the dirt and the grime From the past to the future through the space and the time Travelling deep beneath the waves - in watery grottoes and mountainous caves But oh Lord we've got to fight With the thoughts in the head with the dark and the light No use to stop and stare And if you don't know where you're going Any road will take you there You may not known where you came from May not know who you are May not have even wondered how you got this far

I've been travelling on a wing and a prayer By the skin of my teeth by the breadth of a hair Travelling where the four winds blow With the sun on my face - in the ice and the snow But oooeeee it's a game Sometimes you're cool, sometimes you're lame Ah yeah it's somewhere And if you don't know where you're going Any road will take you there But oh Lord we pay the price With the spin of the wheel with the roll of the dice Ah yeah, you pay your fare And if you don't know where you're going Any road will take you there I keep travelling around the bend There was no beginning, there is no end It wasn't born and never dies There are no edges, there is no size Oh yeah, you just don't win It's so far out - the way out is in Bow to God and call him Sir But if you don't know where you're going Any road will take you there But if you don't know where you're going Any road will take you there Words by George Harrison

part seven
* Where the feet of Angels Fail * Full winds and Fanciful Feathers * A Misfit Mud lark * Here be Badgers * * Did Jesus wear drainpipe jeans? *
Did I say, in a previous chapter of these wayward missives, that Battlesbridge was the site of a famous battle? If I did then slap my thighs with nettles as that is a load of old tosh. If there was a battle here, and there may well have been, it is nothing to do with the place’s name. The name Battlesbridge comes from the Bataille family who

maintained the bridge that spans the River Crouch. A lovely old bridge it is too and just wide enough to allow one vehicle to cross at a time. Below it the Crouch flows thick, slow and steady, coming from the place I have recently left: Stambridge. However, before I start to tell you of Battlesbridge with its scattering of quaint, rustic buildings, it is only right and proper that I let you know how the devil I got here and which route this mud lark misfit took. Having left Stambridge and my home behind I swing a right into Lower Road. It typifies an English country lane. Hedgerows gather in crowds to bully what little pavement there is while trying to reclaim the road. The road twists this way and that and often hairpins back upon itself. It is a great road to drive a Mini Cooper down especially when the rains fall and the river rises to flood the way with large watery puddles. The rush of water flies over the roof of the car and you can make believe that you are in a rally. It is an old road and one that takes you deeper into Essex and away from London, should you follow its spirited path. As with my walk to Pagelsham, the houses down here lie far apart and are highly individual; consisting of old farms or small holdings. To my left is Hockley with its lovely old church and delightful Victorian schoolhouse built in 1830, facing the old Manor House. Hockley is an ancient Anglo Saxon word that means small hill. Hockley also has a much loved old wood: Hockley Wood that covers roughly 280 acres stretching some three miles from Hockley to Rayleigh. It has had the likes of Henry VIII ride through it as he hunted deer or perhaps on his way to his hunting lodge in Rayleigh. Much of the old wood was destroyed in the hurricanes that hit Britain back in ’87 but there remain a good body of trees and many new that were replanted after the storm. The wood also harbours a variety of wildlife; from hawks to voles, hedgehogs and moles, from woodpeckers to grey squirrels, nightingales and stoats, from the nuthatch to the rabbit and of course the fox: but also, albeit far from least, old man brock, better known as the badger;* an amazing, teeming array of stalkers, sneakers, squawkers and diggers.

A Woodland Path The trouble with photographs of trees is that, by and large, however beautiful a wood may be in the flesh so to speak, a photo never gives you the full perspective and certainly not if taken by me! So, rather than display a bunch of trees that quite frankly could come from anywhere in the British Isles, here is an old one of three members of

my family. We used to walk these woods, my wife and I, This photo was taken about a year ago and shows, from the left, my son, Jamie, my wife, Jasmine and my eldest daughter, Thumbscrew.

Jaime, Jasmine, Emily

Away from Hockley and further down Lower Road is Hullbridge with yet another river crossing and yet another ferry. The river it crosses is the self same one that runs through Stambridge and into Battlesbridge. On my way past my house I picked up my I-Pod loaded with its odd array of different musical styles and genres. Earlier Miles Davis was blowing ‘Summertime’ from Porgy and Bess and now it is, aptly, George Harrison from his final and possibly finest album: Oh lord, won’t you listen to me now Oh love, I got to get me back to you somehow I never knew that life was loaded I’d only hung around birds and bees I never knew that things exploded I only found it out when I was down upon my knees Looking for my life, looking for my life Oh boy, you’ve no idea what I’ve been through Oh lord, I feel so stuck that I can’t get to you Had no idea that I was heading Toward a state of emergency I had no fear where I was treading I only found it out when I was down upon my knees Looking for my life Caught up on me with intensity Had no idea where I was heading I only found it out when I was down upon my knees Looking for my life, looking for my life

Oh boys you've no idea what I’ve been through Oh lord, I got to get back somehow to you I never knew that life was loaded I’d only hung around birds and bees I never knew that things exploded I only found it out when I was down upon my knees Looking for my life I never got any G.C.E.’s I never knew that things exploded I only found it out when I was down upon my knees Looking for my life, looking for my life Looking for my life, looking for my life I always thought that I was pretty much a ‘Lennon man’, of all the ex-Beatles it was John’s first album, John Lennon Plastic Ono Band, that I felt hit all the right spots with its sparing production and its sparse, almost primitive sound. It was almost as though John, with his new found freedom and all his Arthur Janov leanings was saying a brutal goodbye to the Beatles and their sparkling pop music. However, as I have grown older, it is George, with his flawed and very human outlook, his devout spirituality that so often conflicted with his own desires, that appeals to me. I listen to this song and I identify with it, the way it highlights so many confused thoughts that only offer a sensible conclusion when you have reached the lowest point in your life. For me this says so much. If Jesus didn’t wear drainpipe jeans then Krishna must have. Lower Road reaches a point where it bends to the left and takes you toward Rayleigh, as it does so another road appears in front of you, an even smaller road than Lower Road; Watery Lane. It is well named and floods regularly during winter months. I wonder as I wander whether any Highwaymen travelled these roads, not to hold up stagecoaches but as a means of getting away from pursuers? Maybe, although I doubt it. Dick Turpin of course hailed from Essex but, like so many other rogues, chose to hold up coaches that travelled from Essex into London. It was down these roads that in 1991 a paranormal event took place. A huge dog, described as the size of a small cow was spotted by a passenger in a car. The creature was roaming the blind, black, back roads with hunched shoulders and an evil demeanour. A halo, like a faint glow, surrounded the beast. The driver didn’t see a thing but the passenger was apparently ‘very shaken.’ Of course there are pubs; two in fact but Battlesbridge is far more than a pub headcount. It is a veritable treasure trove of exciting finds. It even has a railway station that hides away from the beaten track and is so secluded that rabbits run free over the paltry bit of tarmac that pretends to be a car park. Car park? If having room for three cars warrants the title ‘car park’ then my drive can keep it company. The line that runs through Battlesbridge links Wickford to North Fambridge and beyond allowing the people who live out where trains fear to roll a means by which to connect to London. There is but one single track and so whatever train heads north has to return south by the same way. It is kind of spooky late at night standing in solitary

silence with just the single street lamp to light the area but first thing in the morning the outlook is all the more cheery. It isn’t just the ramshackle way that the village of Battlesbridge seems to fall into place that gives it its charm, although it does add to it. It is not the fact that once again history drips from a leaky faucet that gilds this rural lily but rather the ingenious and industrious way that crumbling old buildings have been given a face-lift and a second chance. Modern day Battlesbridge has become an antique centre. The old structures have been turned into a wonderful gaggle of shops and arcades that are filled with some real deals and one or two items of bric-a-brac. There are a tea rooms and a classic car museum for those who prefer the golden and silver age of cars. There is all manner of beautiful furniture from tables and chairs to old Victorian fun fair-type toys. Sometimes we English are neglectful of our history but here the reverse is true; a splendid use of aging bones. Talking of which, I wonder what my kids will do with mine when I pop my clogs? Have me stuffed and used for a coat stand perhaps.

Another me This could be another me. See the man down there with his suit and polished boots? This could be another me. All confidence and cock-a-hoop bravado. Feeling this world shift glass to chrome with all the emotion of a cactus. I still recall those tender days when the monkees fell about and television didn't reward the talent less. And the hope and hearts of humankind lay in the hands of children with flowers in their hair and foolish dreams in their rolled up reefers. This could be another me. Not trapped within these cold confines that limits imagination and brings my days to a close, a life of chasing paper. I could dream. I still dream. And in my dreams I dance with the ghosts of tomorrow who hold me close, in arms verdant fresh and strong, and spin the dance on polished floors down mirrored walls where silver cobwebs hang and trophies watch from lichen lintels the passing of my thoughts. But who will hold me when the spotlight fades? when my children’s faces retreat from me? The door will close. The light will cease. A failing of wings and cloudless mumbles of goodbye. Such a waste when summer trips into the fallen leaves. Crumbling brick face. Ivy marks the windowsill where lovers once would climb. And in the garden there is a pond and in the pond a statue stands but the fountain has gone dry.

I’m rambling now but let me ramble for what harm can it do? See the man down there? A shrivelled husk of once-a-go whose children used him like a slide, a climbing frame for them to bridge. Arms will grow to jelly and the spine will twist as wire but the darkness doesn't scare me just the missing of them all. This could be another me. Maybe I could make a deal with god? Cheat the fates and bone collectors as I thumb my nose and skip away with all memories and loved ones still with me. This could be another me.

Leaving the antiques centre behind along with the pond and the pubs, I veer upward and under the railway bridge that takes me toward the A130, a road that ultimately leads to Chelmsford. Chelmsford is the ‘capital’ of Essex, or rather, to give it its correct title, the county town of Essex. Chelmsford is old, going back to Roman times. The town was given the name of Caesaromagus (the market place of Caesar), although the reason for it being given the great honour of bearing the Imperial prefix is now unclear — possibly as a failed 'planned town' provincial capital to replace Londinium or Camulodunum. (Wikipedia). I often go shopping in Chelmsford. I like the place. I like the Waterstone’s that sits there with its café serving a delicious iced Latté in summer and a spankingly good cuppa tea during the winter. These days the real personality of the place has been deleted and replaced by the corporate look that exists in virtually every major town. However, there is still some charm and, seeing as it is a university town, it has a certain buzz of youth with its waterside café’s that teem with students. That is enough of Chelmsford for now but maybe for another time? Not sure if I am headed that way or not. I quite fancy heading off into Danbury or maybe Burnhamon-Crouch seeing as the latter has that twisting river running through it that connects Burnham to Fambridge via Battlesbridge. But who knows where I am headed? Who cares? “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

the tale of the Fambridge ferry man
The sharp winds cut through you like the bitter fingers of death. A dark storm was brewing in the petulant sky; a northerly that blew with all the vehemence of a demented god. A squall of rain threw harsh, watery pebbles against the windows rattling them as though sodden finger nails were scratching for entry. Somewhere in the wet distance a feeble bell tinkled trying to compete against the wind’s noise. In the room a sepulchral silence fell and the old man sighed deeply. “Reckon that’s for you,” said the bent backed other man with his rheumy eyes and phlegmy voice, “that’s the ferry bell that is.” The first man, the ferryman, nodded once and scratched his nose; his face bore the hallmark of his trade, weather-beaten skin that clung to his cheekbones like the lick of a razor. “What damn fool wants to cross on a night like this?” Outside the wind howled a banshee moan while the rain whipped itself with gathering violence. The bell was on the other side of the Crouch; the south side. The old man wrestled his coat onto his back and with claw like hands gathered it around his bird bone frame. Another man, a younger man ran to his side. “I’ll give you a hand.” said the younger man. “I don’t need no help.” “I’d help for free, I don’t want paying.” “Come on then, grab the oars.” Together the two men climbed into the vessel as the winds sent waves crashing against the boat’s side. The rickety boat shook in the battering and the two men held on tight. Again the bell tolled a faraway faint sound. “Hold your horses,” cried the old man, “I’m coming.”

The old man pulled on the oars while the younger man sat silent and still. It was a tiring journey out and so, without another word between them, a conveniently dumb agreement was cordially made by intuitive nods and winks that the old man would take them out while the younger man would bring them back. Jesus wept black tears that fell camouflaged by the ebony night for not even the moon’s frail light was enough to cast a slither of silver for guidance. The boat bucked and rose upon the water like a horse trying to throw its rider but the old man rowed on. “Shouldn’t they have a light? I can’t see no light from the shore!” shouted the younger man. “Yes, they should.” cursed the old man spitting loudly into the turbulent Crouch. Then the boat struck the other side, crashing into the stone rampart with a splintering of wood from the keel. The old man and his companion could see a couple huddled close together, wrapped in blankets and sheets, shivering in silence as the elements waylaid them. The rags and cloth covered them both from head to foot and even shielded their faces. The old mans jaw dropped at the sight of the pair and his young friend sat dumbstruck. “Good Lord,” cried the old man, “where did you come from on such a night?” He held out his hand to assist his passengers aboard but the pair ignored his question and his offer of help. The larger of the couple helped the smaller bedraggled figure climb onto the boat. The boat made no movement as the pair stepped aboard. The old man’s mate felt a shiver run up his spine. He passed the sensation off as being caused by the inclement weather. He looked hard at the couple but could not make out their faces. The voice of his older friend broke into his thoughts. “Not a night to be out on, especially with no light. How come you are travelling so late and by dark?” “We always travel by night. It is better that way,” said the taller of the two. For the first time the old man caught a glimpse of the man, for that was what he was, and could see his face. A drawn, bony face, worn by age but not ugly, it looked like an honest face. “Have you travelled far?” asked the old man. “Far enough.” replied the man wrapping his arm around his companion’s shoulder, pulling her in close to him. “Must be a bit hard on your wife travelling this late, where are you heading for?” “Maldon, we are going hence to Maldon but you can drop us off yonder by the huts for that is where we shall be met.” He pointed his scrawny finger to where a single hut stood by the North Fambridge Jetty.

“But there ain’t anything there,” said the old man, “nothing except a rich man’s summerhouse, hasn’t been anything there for years, certainly all my lifetime.” Another gust of wind blew a fierce blast that took the rags from the faces of the couple and laid open their features for all to see. The woman’s face was a ravaged mess; her nose was missing and her eyes stared large and sunken within the frame of her features. “Lepers!” cried the younger man and as he uttered those words the wind blew again, an even more savage blast than before that shook the man and tipped him over the boat’s side. His female companion made to grab him and as he fell he took hold of her and pulled her in with him. The young man grabbed the oars and manoeuvred the boat back to where the couple were flailing their arms in the cold wash. The old man grabbed the other man’s arm and pulled both him and the woman back on board their vessel. The man cradled the weeping woman close to him. “You saved us. The last time you left us.” The old man, perplexed by this charge could only shout back: “But I have never seen you before.” “Take us to the huts please. We will be met there. Be not alarmed for I have not the sickness. I am all she has. We seek sanctuary at St. Giles hospital. The nuns will tend to her and I will work our keep. Take us to the huts please.” The old man and his young friend dropped the couple off and then made their way back. The wind moaned and the rain fell, the night threw a pitiful black lace. The couple faded softly into the night. A feeling of unreality descended. “What was all that about?” asked the younger man. “Bloody weird is what it was,” replied the old man, “The Maldon Leper Hospice at St. Giles Hospice was shut down centuries ago and is nothing now but an old ruin.”
With grateful thanks to Robert Hallmann and his much read book, “Essex Ghost Stories.”

part eight
* The Winsome Delights of South Woodham Ferrers * * Stealing a March on Stow Maries * Money and Coins: the heart of Cold Norton * With Boats and Bunting and cannons firing: the old town of Burnham-on-Crouch *
Having left the tumble of antique shops of Battlesbridge behind me and with Mendelssohn’s second symphony playing in my ears, I swing on down the road until I reach the two roundabouts that collect traffic only to connect and re-direct them to

their appropriate routes of choice. I not only ignore the variety of roads with their alternate destinations but I also circumnavigate the need for following their direction by cutting across them and heading on down a road signposted South Woodham Ferrers. The name has an odd sound but typically English and the town is now a modern area filled with the hubris of suburban life but the old is given reverence by the new. I, like many others, often question the dubious morals of global corporations but here it seems to work reasonably well. Asda, now part of the Wal-Mart Empire, occupies pole position in this re-creation of an old English Town but in fairness it has been done with sympathy for the residents and in some style. Although in most part just a facade, the recapturing in style and spirit of a typical old market town with its collection of smaller shops that swarm around the giant supermarket like plankton around a blue whale, in this case green, is precisely what an old town looks and feels like. Archways link one group of shops to another and the market square has a pleasant bandstand, bereft of band today that looks exactly as it should.

The fact that it is all still quite new is inescapable but the virtue here is that someone has really tried to give the place a feeling of the past and you are, momentarily deceived. With time, as the paint fades and the architecture crumbles, few will notice that this was all built in nineteen eighty something and not eighteen something. Of course the purists among us might well argue that the past should be left there. Revered, respected but not reproduced. They might equally suggest that modern towns require modern character and I am all for that but I nonetheless feel that this attempt has achieved all that it set out to do. Mendelssohn’s melodies draw to an end only to be followed? by that stalwart of the experimental: Robert Wyatt whose thin, reedy, estuary voice gathers a tune in my ear. The delightful ‘Beautiful Day’ lays waste to all that I have written providing as it does another perspective to suburban life entirely.

With a swiftly taken photo opportunity I leave South Woodham Ferrers and go roving on toward Burnham-on-Crouch but before I get there I have to first pass through Stow Maries. Blink or sneeze, certainly if driving, and you will miss this postage stamp sized village. The road I walk has a profusion of corpses that litter its threaded tarmac; a riot of road kill that are an unfortunate testament to the modern world’s need for cars. I lose count of how many pheasants and partridges lie lifeless whilst their feathers make a mockery of death as they fan and fluster in the soft breeze, not only wild fowl but also one hedgehog (or hedgepig as they used to be called) a couple of foxes and one sad old badger. I am not one of those who decry everything and anything associated with motor vehicles. Too often they take the can back for all that man has inflicted on the environment. They are for sure a part of that problem but the paradox is that we would be hard put to live without them any more. However, I do believe that the best days of the automated vehicle have passed and that they have reached their zenith in terms of need and desire to own. With the advent of laptop’s and PC’s there is now the burgeoning possibility that more and more of us will work from home. This will effect a change in our life styles. It will not be instant as such things never are and for a good while yet we will continue to ‘clock on.’ The time will come though when an average family will only need the one car and not, and I am no different in this regard, one for each member. As I say, it is a long, long way off but it has all the hallmarks of being a possible future. By the time I have completed my body count of dead animals and come to the end of my fanciful musings on the future, Stow Maries begins to fall behind me and I say farewell to its scattering of thatched cottages and its rural charm. If Stow Maries was an unassuming little place then Cold Norton is the opposite and is very much the equivalent of a little brother who has made good. A bit brash perhaps but well meaning with its bigger houses with their grander designs and their “must have” sporting facility that sits proud and incandescent in the surrounding countryside. There is, of course, nothing wrong with having money nor is there anything bad about spending it on opulent homes. I would imagine, and I am only guessing here, that the Nouveau Riche who now occupy this neck of the woods are the sort who have made their money while building legendary careers in the city. London is, after all, only forty five miles away which allows for relative short journeys to and from work while still being able to live in the country. Trouble is Cold Norton is rapidly turning from rural into suburban. I gaze at the houses with a mixture of emotions. They are undoubtedly large and desirable and it must be a comfort to have enough money that you can afford to build yourself such a home but, and I confess to liking them, I think I would rather live either in London overlooking the Thames or somewhere remote where no one is aware of how much wealth I have or haven’t got. Anyway, not for me to question why anyone does what they desire to do as I simply don’t have the right.

I would love to have the opportunity though to not worry about financial concerns ever again but surely I am no different to anyone else in that? Cold Norton fades to dream as I walk on now with weary limbs and aching feet but the journey is far from over and Burnham is still before me. As soon as you enter Burnham-on-Crouch you feel an overwhelmingly warm sensation course through you, and no it is not the whiskey I had earlier but more a feeling of historical reverence and admiration. Burnham-on-Crouch doesn’t so much shout its significance at you as whisper it gently on salty waters. It is a delightful place but then again anything that exists in close proximity to the sea, or in this case river, has the edge over land-locked towns; something to do with the womb and all that ‘shushing’ sound perhaps, or maybe some long forgotten primitive memory that stretches back to our evolutionary roots when we first clambered from the cold clinging ocean with clumsy movements onto the dry land. There are people here, naturally enough, and today there are lots of them, people in shorts and T-shirts and the sun is out to greet their milky white legs that have not seen the light of day for many a winter month. Sun and water attract people and we Brits are as mad as a bag of frogs when the mere mention of summer appears to cheer us all up. Down on the river it is a hive of activity as yachts slip by on the will of the wind while other boats moor to unload whatever it is that needs unloading. I find a vacant bench and sit down laying my camera and the bag containing food and drink beside me. Earlier I had bought a ploughman’s sandwich and a bottle of Zero Coke which I now eat and drink. The sun feels hot on my face, arms and neck and I am very aware that I should be careful of this exceptionally hot weather as my skin hasn’t seen any real sun since my holiday in Turkey last year. As I eat I write these words ironically but then, as I sit here contemplating this and that a dream from last night returns to my mind; a forgotten dream that was as odd as it was slightly disturbing.

Last night I dreamt that my fellow members of Discharge met. Gathered together for the first time were Murmurists, Doriandra, Ruela, Inconsequential and many others but not all the team, not everyone. As soon as Murmurists and Doriandra met they broke into song which in itself struck me as being rather weird as normally people either shake hands or kiss. What made it even more peculiar was the song they sung and not because it was a bad song but it was one I am not sure either of them would like and certainly not Murmurists. The song was Green Day’s “American Idiot which the couple sang in a ribald and raucous fashion. As they sang I started to prepare food, toast mostly with some glutinous spread that looked as smelly as it was unappetising. Being the dork I am when it comes to anything even mildly culinary, I burnt some of the bread. A female, whose face I didn’t recognise moaned loudly complaining that I was bloody useless. I have no idea who she was but Doriandra, who seemed far shorter than I had imagined her, very calmly and quietly took the woman to task, for which I was very grateful. Ruela stood back and applauded while Aaron cheered and whooped loudly. I then awoke shaking as my blood sugar was low. Bizarre dream though. The dream seems a thousand years old now and light years away as I watch the river flow and the anchored vessels bob up and down on its gentle swell. I finish my fast food fare and take off down the walkway that leads away from the town. A man in a disabled vehicle cruises toward me with a large smile on his face. He hails me with a hearty “Cheer up!” which, as I feel perfectly cheerful in the first place, make me feel a little nonplussed and a little as though I were back in last night’s dream again. From this point on I resolve to wear a smile as I walk. The next couple I come across make a sudden swerve around me when they see me grinning like a congenital idiot or maybe I look like Jack Nicholson from “The Shining.” I decide to temper my face with an air of happy nonchalance in the faint hope that this will not cause comment or frighten the natives. As I pass the attractively built art deco designed Royal Corinthian Yacht Club a cannon goes off which startles one or two stray land lubber seagulls into flight and which also scares the bejesus out of me as I was totally unprepared for the sudden bang. Manfully adjusting myself before anyone sees I re-gather what little wits I have left and take a closer inspection of this famous yachting club and its stately history. Without my usual facetiousness, this really is an established and well respected yachting community with a huge reputation throughout the United Kingdom. The building is impressive, looking like some water-going vessel with its four-tiered decking and its array of masts. In truth, it is the building that impresses me most, as the idea of mucking about on boats be they yachts or liners holds little appeal for me. But it is a big world and it takes all sorts to fill it. The Royal Corinthian Yacht Club was designed and built in nineteen thirty one but the history of the club goes back to eighteen seventy two and to Erith in Kent. The club moved to the Crouch and Burnham in eighteen ninety two. There is a degree of snobsville associated with this sport but I think it is easier to let people enjoy themselves doing what they like and if they see some odd status in messing about with boats then that really is up to them. As a casual observer the sight of wind-driven vessels being skilfully steered to and fro is matchless. The sheer elegance of these craft is breathtaking and the skills of the individuals that manoeuvre

them a marvel. Anyway, some people are so insecure that any such pastime gets elevated to a ridiculous level but this shouldn’t put genuine folk off of having fun. The building, now Grade 2 listed, was designed by architect Joseph Emberton. It is hard to understand today the sort of uproar this gorgeous piece of architecture caused with its wide windows and panoramic views but it did stir up some outrage at the time. As much as some might like it to be, Burnham isn’t Henley but it is a very pretty place and the view of the river quite spectacular.

part nine
* Tolleshunt D'Arcy and other enigmas *
1. Margery Allingham

Margery Allingham’s grave

Margery and her husband Philip Youngman Carter

The plaque that hangs on the wall outside D’Arcy House and the house as drawn by Philip Youngham Carter

Tolleshunt D'Arcy has the ring of something from a work of fiction. It might have come from the pen of one of the Bronte sisters or perhaps Jane Austen. It does have a literary association but not in the way you might think. Tolleshunt D'Arcy is yet another tiny village set in the Essex countryside some few miles from the much larger Maldon. It is a pretty place filled with the typical character you would expect. I have to say that until I came here I didn’t realise that a quite famous author not only spent her life here but composed her world famous books from this sweet village. The author in question is Margery Allingham and her legendary creation is the detective Albert Campion. Margery Louise Allingham was born, as one might guess she was rather than manufactured, in Ealing, London in nineteen hundred and four. She was the first born child of Herbert John Allingham and his wife, Emily Jane who were cousins and both of whom were writers. It was already a strong tradition in the Allingham family who had been involved in creative writing for several generations. Her father was the editor of the Christian Globe but also ran the London Journal. He eventually gave up journalism to become a full time writer of pulp fiction. It was about the time of Margery’s birth that her father turned to full time writing and within months of her arrival the family moved to Layer Breton, a remote village south of Colchester. It was here, while living in an old Georgian rectory, that Margery started composing her tales and stories.

Margery in 1940

I cannot ably describe how exciting I find this new discovery. If you are not as fond of writers and novels as I am then this may have little appeal to you but to find such a famous author who lived and created not so very far from where I live is a slice of magic to me. Margery Allingham wrote a stream of successful books from her first, Blackkerchief Dick in nineteen twenty three, until her untimely death at the moderately young age of sixty two in nineteen sixty six. Her final novel, The Mind Readers, was published the year before her death. As of yet, I have not read a single book of Margery’s but that is something I intend to put right shortly. 2. Tollesbury It is only a short step into the neighbouring village of Tollesbury; a name so similar that the villages must be related, and they are, by the murky cloak of times past. Tolleshunt D’Arcy has something to do with the way the local tribe used to hunt and kill. Their fierce rivals were another local tribe, the Arcy’s. Eventually the Tolles beat off the Arcy tribe and eventually both gave up their combative rivalry choosing rather the path of peace and the old cry of Die Arcy, over time, changed into D’Arcy, or so local myth has it. Tollesbury would also have been associated with the Tolle clan and hence the name. Tollesbury has a church, Saint Mary’s and during medieval times it was the property of Saint Mary’s at Barking which lies further west and closer to London. The nunnery at Barking was responsible for the appointment of the local parish vicar at Tollesbury. Originally, like all churches in those times, Saint Mary’s at Tollesbury would have been Catholic but then Henry VIII, a man who could never resist a well turned ankle, turned his back, and therefore his kingdoms, upon the Pope, the Vatican and Rome. England became Protestant and churches like Saint Mary’s were either burned to the ground or converted to the Lutheran faith. As Saint Mary’s is still standing I think it obvious what happened here. In fifteen thirty nine the manor was given to Thomas, Lord Cromwell just prior to him being made the Earl of Essex.

In most old villages and towns there is nearly always a Square or a Green. Tollesbury is no different. At one time there were no less than six public houses facing the square which has now just one. There is still a wealth of cottages that line either side of the Square and still visible is the old ‘Lock-up.’ A Lock-Up is a wooden structure that would have held the local drunks and seeing as the town once had six pubs I would guess the Lock-up was constantly full. Tollesbury Lock-Up is by the church wall and is just as it would have been five to six hundred years ago. Another noteworthy feature is the “Crab and Winkle Line, an old ‘light’ railway line that consisted of small carriages, small in number that is and not physical size, which carried both passengers and goods. The trains would have been slow affairs and were not allowed to go over twenty five miles an hour in the countryside and only ten miles an hour through the villages. The line ran through a small fist full of villages that included Tollesbury, Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Tolleshunt Knights, Tiptree, Inworth, Feering and Kelvedon. The line operated from nineteen hundred and four, being extended at some period to include Tollesbury Pier, until May nineteen fifty one. Although never designed to accommodate office workers, that is precisely what it ended up doing as it gave license for people wishing to travel to London the opportunity to get there by Liverpool Street. It also had a patron in John Wilkin, the grandson of famed jam maker Arthur Wilkin and their world renowned Wilkins Jams from Tiptree. I think Americans refer to jam as jelly and jelly as Jell-O. Whatever, if you haven’t tried Wilkins Jams then you should as they are delicious. 3. The Hundred Moot Throughout England there are often found references to what is known as a “Hundred.” It is an expression that has remained with us for many centuries if not longer and possibly owes its origins to having either a hundred soldiers at your call or perhaps having a hundred members of a family gathered in close proximity. Not far from where I live is the Rochford Hundred and here too, close to Tollesbury is the Thurstable Hundred. A meeting of the Hundred is called the Hundred Moot which may sound familiar to readers of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the Ent Moot. In plain English it means a meeting of the Hundred. These Hundreds would each have their own court which in turn had its own powers. This archaic form of rural government was abolished in eighteen sixty seven by the County Court Act of Parliament but the name remains and the history that goes with it is as old and twisted as ancient tree roots. 4. Days of the Week As you may or may not know, Saturday is the Sabbath, not Sunday but when the Roman’s turned to Christianity they found it hard to give up all their beliefs and therefore kept Sunday as their day of rest. Sunday, as the name implies, is in recognition of their worship of the Sun. Sun Day celebrates Ra, Helios, Apollo, Ogmios, Mithras and the sun goddess, Phoebe. As Sunday is the first day of the week it only makes sense that the second day of the week should be Monday or Moon Day. The word comes from Latin Lunae Dies or day of the moon.

Tuesday was Dies Martis which is the day of Mars and is associated with Aries. Originally it would have been Tiw’s day which comes from Tyr or Tir the son of Odin. The fourth day of the week Wednesday is derived from two possible sources. The Roman Dies Mercurii and the Scandinavian Woden or Odin who was the King of Norse Gods. My favourite day of the week naturally enough is the one I was born on, Thor’s Day. Thor was the god of thunder and lightning and is the counterpart to the Greek and Roman gods Jupiter and Jove. Friday is named after Odin’s wife, Frigga who is said to be the mother of all as her name means loving or beloved. And finally, Saturday, the seventh day of the week whose corresponding god is Saturn; the Romans called the day Dies Saturni.

"There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading in the same direction, so it doesn't matter which path you take. The only one wasting time is the one who runs around and around the mountain, telling everyone else that their path is wrong."

~ Hindu Teaching

part ten
* Threading cotton through the eye of a newt * * The Mystery of Layer Breton * * The cluck, cluck, cluck of chickens *
Tollesbury slips behind me, the rumours of its past fade as I walk on toward Layer Breton. The thought of seeing where Margery Allingham lived as a child thrills me. I am still armed with the self same tools that I started out with. A notebook and a pen; my camera, which I am now using more and more; my music and my infantile imagination which, just like the old XTC song, is working overtime. The name of Layer Breton is also an excitement as it sounds so very old. Surely Breton comes from the ancient Celts? Isn’t Brittany connected to that old tribe and language? Unsure of my facts I trundle on. I have a thirst about me that could consume a river so I look out for a public house. I think some food would be good too; maybe a ploughman’s lunch with a pint of something or other to quench my parched throat. Damn, it is hot today; it must be about 28% (80F) which is unusual for England.

As a child my family would often have these curious gatherings where my East End born grandparents would collect together with other members of my family and we would all sing an odd mix of Cockney songs and Irish melodies. Although I am neither a Cockney nor Irish, both of these traditions have an appeal for me and are never far from my heart. Irish wisdom is a good and wholesome wisdom. May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sunshine warm upon your face. And the rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His Hand. The roads I walk are hedge heavy. The hedgerow grows thick and tall about me and prevents, in many places, cars from passing each other comfortably but there are occasional passing places. These are small dips into the hedge with just enough room for a car to pull into. I keep an ever open eye on the road ahead in case a car comes roaring around the bend. The sun hovers over head overhead while a gentle breeze blows across the fields of rape so that they move like a golden tide. There is a song here but if there is I cannot bring to mind what it is: Sting’s beautiful ‘Fields of Gold’ maybe? Nature has its own divine poetry against which the human variant pales by comparison. I take a photo and keep my fingers crossed it proves to be a good one. The sounds of birds are hushed as though they are schoolboys in a public library; well behaved perhaps because the schoolmaster is with them. My I-pod plays Massive Attack’s ‘Dark Angel.’ Ahead: Layer Breton Music plays such a large part in my life and always has but the older I get the more I return to the time of my youth. The sixties have been turned into the golden age of pop but that isn’t the point I am making here. Even if the sixties were as good as they are constantly made out to be, it is more their generous spirit that I look to and learn from. There was an all encompassing feeling of general acceptance that allowed all forms of music, from po-faced Rock to the obviously crass and commercial, to coexist , leaving both to sit side by side and not feel that either was better than the other. Intellectual experimentation such as the Soft Machine was no better or any worse than the songs of Engelbert Humperdink. Personally I am no fan of that gentleman but that is just a matter taste and I have no desire to look down my nose at acts or artists whose sole purpose is merely to entertain, any more than I want to elevate artists who do what they do for the sheer love of it or to break new and un-chartered waters. Both are fine by me and I listen to both. Now it is Massive Attack from their album Mezzanine which, although not the choice of purists, is one of my favourite albums. I idly wonder whether the two things that separate us from the other animals, our creativity and natural spirituality, are in fact one and the same thing; or if both come from the same well source: our imagination? Our imagination is the engine room for our creativity for without it we would not be able to visualise or hear or feel the things that form in our heads, the things we create. Imagination is another world entirely and one we co-exist in at the same time as we do this plane of reality, this life we lead. The immaterial, the world of our imagination, is as real as the everyday, as concrete as the mundane chores we perform day in, day out, the only difference is that one exists in our hearts and heads whereas

the other is the reality of our lives, the one we have to do simply to pay the bills, buy our food and to find fuel to feed our immaterial, creative selves. But if that is so then perhaps our imagination that fires our creativity in turn fires our spirituality. After all there are those among us who believe that a supreme being gave life to us all, that all living things were created by the greatest artist of all: God. Others would argue that the very idea of a God has to have sprung from our highly active imaginations as there is no proof of God’s existence and that it all sounds remarkably like a myth. Having said that, I cannot conceive why God and spirituality is one and the same thing. Oh sure, they are connected but isn’t it a bit foolish, arrogant even, to surmise that to have spirituality you have to believe in a divine, omnipotent force? We too easily forget the likes of Confucius or Lao Tsu both of whom spoke of a moral code that was bereft of gods and any form of organised religion and yet still had its own spirituality. I don’t think creativity and spirituality are the self same thing, connected perhaps but independent of each other. I think that the link between the two invisible forces is in part our desire to categorise all things, to conveniently box and label for the purposes of understanding those very acts of creation we can only mimic but never truly understand. It is the same for those who believe in a single creator, the monotheists. The concept of random creativity is just too alien, too without any form of order that comprehension of its randomness is impossible to fathom, frightening even. It takes away the desire to control our lives with a regimented form of discipline that negates all sense of order. Suddenly the rational belief in things following a pattern is blown away as we are faced with acts that just happen but without thought of construction or any idea, they simply just occur. Layer Breton is come by through a series of other villages all of which could be something from a Miss Marple novel. Easthorpe has a feel of old England, an encompassing feeling that is as much a statement as it is a sensation: here we are and here we have been since goodness knows when. There is a house which looks vaguely Tudor in design and another that has the quaint picture postcard look of a cottage of character; it even has a name board with a question mark hanging from it. There is no question about this village’s identity though as it whispers it in a faint burr of an accent that is true Essex and not the mockney so often heard these days: life passes here at a slow, more accommodating pace.

Birch too has that timeless feel. I cannot put an era to it. Part early Victorian maybe, part early Thirties. But even those guesstimates aren’t right as the country feel is of so many disparate ages that are somehow all joined by the singular thread that still exists, the thread of rural life; of hard work in fields, of early mornings and of ploughman lunches. In truth I doubt whether the modern residents are involved in such work but even if they aren’t the area still has that quality about it. There are no supermarkets, no shopping malls or arcades, all there is, is a mini market the size of a very small shop. It is hard to imagine that anyone could get their weekly groceries from here as it is simply too small yet there are people leaving with shopping bags full so I guess it more than has its value. The steeple of Birch Church springs from the ground in peacock proud fashion, a single finger that points toward the heaven and the seat of the God that it worships. It has a clutch of houses that orbit its celestial presence and these too have a charm that is all their own: simple, rural, warm and friendly; less the desirable house and more the delectable home. These are the sort of homes one reads about in romantic novels where little old ladies sit knitting scarves of purest wool while the menfolk toil for extraordinarily long hours all for the pleasure of a few pennies worth of wages, enough to buy food for the table with a little to spare for an evening pint. Churches are fine places to locate and then recount old local histories. Great Birch church is no different. In fourteen ninety one, John Kyrkby left ten shillings to an honest priest to celebrate a trental for his soul and a further cow, which was worth another ten shillings, so that the church would forever more celebrate his birthday, his stab at immortality perhaps. And for those who don’t know what a trental is, and seeing as how I now know having researched the word, let me tell you that a trental is to have thirty masses for the dead read for you. In fifteen hundred another farmer, William Tey of Leyer-DeLa-Haye left thirteen shillings and four pence to the church. Richard Colyn who desperately wanted to be buried in the sanctity of the church ground paid six shillings and eight pence for the privilege. Suddenly these ghostly faces come, by means of reading about them, briefly back to life. They are all somehow entwined in the fabric of the village’s existence; threads of their lives forever woven into the then and now of Birch. Some of the vicars and rectors of the church are worth a mention even if only to see their odd surnames that in reality are no more odd than our own. In fact their names give the impression that little has changed in hundreds of years, in terms of forenames. • • • • • • John Wytcherche 1369 Thomas Frating 1371 William Sharnbrooke 1431 Richard Baldwyre 1544 Francis de la Motte 1678 George Kilby 1752

No matter what your beliefs, a church has an aura about it, a certain feeling of reverence, largely psychological I am certain but still I find a calmness drips from the silent gables and creeps into your soul. The church would have been the hub of village life where families would have gathered every Sunday to worship together but it was and still is the local public house that took more money in its plate. A stalwart of village life was the local blacksmith and wheelwright. A blacksmith was vital to life in a village from medieval times until Victorian. He not only made horseshoes but also fixed and made wagon wheels and tools for the farmers. He was the man who not only turned swords into ploughshares but could also claim to be an expert on diseases which as far as the local farmers were concerned was a benefit worth paying for. The local blacksmith also provided a worthy meeting place where villagers could meet to exchange news and bits of gossip. From what can be gleaned of the past it would seem as though Isaac Munson was a well liked man who was described as having a tender heart. But a village wasn’t just a blacksmiths, there were also corn millers, schoolmasters, butchers, bricklayers, parish clerks, shoemakers, shopkeepers and of course farmers; lots of farmers. I am sure that much of the past is seen now through rose coloured spectacles and life wasn’t, couldn’t have been, as good as it is now. Not so much the quality of life as the way of life. Today we are fortunate to have medicines and knowledge that they didn’t have then and today we are able to keep alive vast numbers of people who then would have simply died. I still, like many others, yearn for those less pressured times; times when life, hard work though it undoubtedly was, could be lived at a pace that suited the individual and not industry. I have always admired the French for their ‘work to live’ rather than ‘live to work’ ethics but I think even the French are succumbing to the corporate world. With that thought in mind I wonder if, with the advent of computers and the oncoming vogue to ‘work from home,’ we might not soon return, in part, to a time when people, if still under the pressures and demands of modern life, will be able to live in the villages again in much the same way as before? It is very conceivable that many of us who now work from offices could do the same roles at home. The only ingredient needed is a bit of self motivation and that might be the flaw to my scheme. However, with all this in mind there are scant few truths in life; one is that you are born and the other is that you die but the third, clichéd but true, is that in between you pay your taxes. Back in sixteen sixty two a tax measure was passed to ensured a twice yearly tax collection. This tax was in aid of paying King Charles II a wage and it was called Hearth Taxes. Like many an old tax it sounds the work of fiction and makes you understand why the Pilgrim Fathers left for the America’s. This particular tax was called a ‘Hearth Tax’ and was another form of ‘heat’ tax. The tax was collected twice a year: once at Michaelmas which fell on the 20th September and again on Lady Day, the 25th March. It was hoped that £160,000 could be raised to be given to Bonny King Charlie for him to whore away and keep his spaniels well watered. Like many a tax in those days, and many a tax today, it was an outrage and depended on how many hearths could be found in an area. In sixteen sixty two there were one hundred and thirty nine hearths in fifty five properties, many of which belonged to the poorest. Layer Breton was, and still is, much smaller than Birch and in sixteen sixty two had only twenty one dwellings. Neither size of home nor wealth made much difference as the tax had to be paid.

Layer Breton looms into view in a most unexpected manner. Almost as though it were there in waiting but hidden from sight, it suddenly, and very quietly, slides up before me. The Breton family came in with William the Conqueror and they had lands here. It was from the Bretons that the manor passed to the Waldens and then, in sixteen seventy seven it became the property of Sir Isaac Rebow esquire, the then Lord of the Manor. The village of Layer Breton lies six miles South, South West of Colchester and a little East of Kelvedon. It is a fragile place with strong character. There is a tombstone near the church, missing its effigies which were stolen, that contains the remains of the wife of Nicholas Breton who died in thirteen ninety two. She died on the 6th May. The old church at layer Breton was demolished in nineteen fifteen during the Great War and all that is left is the original site and the churchyard. Before this, a church that had stood there since Norman times. The new church, as pictured above, was built in nineteen twenty three and was dedicated to Saint Mary-the-Virgin. The old rectory, now Shalom Hall, was once the home of Margery Allingham, the author I spoke of previously. She lived there with her parents from nineteen hundred and nine until nineteen sixteen. The family moved there when she was four years old. She seemed to be rather lonely during her time here although she had nothing but praise for the place in her autobiography. I can quite easily see how she incorporated the area into many of her Albert Campion novels of which, I still haven’t found a one. I rest awhile here and take several shots. I never know how good these snaps will be as I have little or no confidence in my photographic skills. The roads around here are but lanes that are formed into tunnels by the growth of hedgerow and trees to create an effect of merging into a corridor of green. Quite picturesque to behold and typically English. The fields flow from the roadside like a river from a narrow bridge; their undulating patch-worked, patterned earth strung with little culverts where the seeds of this or that vegetable grow. It is like the scene of Eden; blessed, bountiful and dirt brown beautiful. I imagine, in my mind’s eye, the scene as it may have been one hundred and forty years ago at about the time my paternal Grandfather was born, eighteen seventy eight. A large man is trailing a horse-drawn farming vehicle. The three horses in front have their heads down and are breathing heavily through flared nostrils. They shunt along like animated locomotives, their breath coming in sharp blasts. Behind them a cloud of dirt has billowed up and gathers into a plume of dust. Following behind a murder of crows pock mark the sky with their dark bodies: black birds on a pale sky. The carrion fowl of creation give chase for the chance of small pickings. On the common chickens range free, pecking at the grass while a solitary egg waits for some child to pick it up. Nature has such a way to make us, the human race, seem so small, at least that is how I feel in light of all that surrounds me; a small part of a larger Tao. My feet ache a little and my throat feels dry what with all this walking and the thought of all that dust being kicked up by the bones of long dead farmers. I have brought two bottles of Cherry Coke with me, now my favourite cordial if indeed Diet

Cherry Coke makes it as a cordial? I don’t know, cordial sounds so old and so of another time which is somehow befitting the countryside I walk in. I take a couple of swigs from the plastic bottle and the fact that it is plastic brings me back to the present with a bang. I remember when Coke bottles were made of glass. Who was it that decided to make them plastic? They certainly didn’t ask me and now we are told by PC environmentalists that plastic is bad for us all. But no one asked me. I wouldn’t have wanted plastic over glass; same as those god awful plastic carrier bags. I didn’t ask for supermarkets to create and give them to me and yet I am now being discouraged by the likes of Tesco and others from using their plastic bags, which is all very fine and good but why did they create them in the first place? And why are they acting so saintly now having caused the problem in the first place? Sheesh! Hobstevens cottage is a little wonder, a chocolate box pretty country cottage that sits where it has for the past four hundred years. If there were gingerbread men or wolves and girls with hoods of red then this is the home they would have sprung from. Defying modernity in a frightfully polite and inoffensive English way, it shyly snuggles back away from the road as if embarrassed by its own good looks and hearty disposition. The tale of Hobstevens cottage can be traced back to fifteen twenty three when a wealthy clothier left in his will a tenement that he owned, along with the land attached to it, to be held in trust, with all income that came from it to be used to maintain the bridge at Nayland. The bridge was called Plod Bridge but has changed its name many times over the years and is now known as Anchor Bridge due to its close proximity to a pub. (Yep, another one.) Another thought occurs when I look at this residence that has seen so many inhabitants over the years and it is this: have there ever been any murders committed within its walls or, failing that, in the neighbouring villages? The answer, as you all rightly guessed, is a resounding, yes.

part eleven
* Murder at Birch *
8th December, nineteen forty three. A Tiptree policeman, unnamed, found a taxi cab abandoned in Haynes Green Road, Layer Marney. There was strong evidence of a struggle and the car had been parked on the wrong side of the road. Its lights had been left on and there was no sign of the driver of the vehicle. Upon further investigation it was discovered that the driver’s name was Harry C Hailstone. Further to their investigations the police also found out that Harry had called at his landlady’s in Colchester at eleven o’clock the previous evening informing her that he would not be in for supper as he had two coloured servicemen who wanted to be taken to Birch.

This was the last time Harry C Hailstone was ever seen alive by his landlady. He was found dead two days later in a ditch by Birch Rectory. He had been murdered and no, it had nothing to do with Margery Allingham or one of her novels. Initially, there seemed to be three possible motives for the murder: robbery, an argument over the fare or the passengers or thirdly the passengers tried bilking the fare (running away without paying). The first motive was easily dismissed as the victim’s wallet, with all his cash, was still on his body although it was obvious that his murderer had gone through it. An inquest was called for where self strangulation or accidental death were both ruled out as being highly unlikely. There was also distinct evidence of violence around the scene of the crime. It was reported in the local newspaper, The Essex County Standard of 21st January 1944 that two coloured US soldiers had both been accused of the murder of H.C. Hailstone at a court martial in Ipswich. The local paper went on to say that the case was unique in that the two accused men were tried by separate courts conducted in two adjoining rooms. The two men were Private J.C. Leatherberry and Private George Fowler. It was Fowler who, after a twelve hour sitting, was found guilty of murder. Fowler was sentenced to life imprisonment, “confinement to prison with hard labour for life.” The case had a twist though. A blood-stained mackintosh was found six miles away on the main road leading to Tollesbury. The label inside the coat had a Canadian maker’s name and also the owner’s name. The owner was traced to Sussex where he was identified and interviewed by the Sussex police. He was a Canadian Captain who had been stationed at the 18th Canadian General Hospital, Cherry Tree Camp, Colchester on the 5th December. Whilst returning to camp via Liverpool Street Station in London, he had met with a black US Sergeant. The American had invited him back for a drink. He had, good naturedly, gone along and whilst there asked to use the WC. When he returned the Sergeant had gone along with a bottle of whiskey and his mackintosh. The coat had contained five pound notes, a Rolex watch, a torch and a pair of gloves. The Canadian officer had been robbed. Not only that but also by default, implicated in the murder. Fortunately for the Canadian his story was corroborated. A US soldier had seen another US soldier wearing a light raincoat while making a telephone call outside a pub in Messing. The same soldier had also witnessed the coloured soldier climb into a cab. Other evidence came to light that proved the Canadian’s innocence. When Fowler’s testimony was investigated much of it didn’t hold up and so the police did a thorough search of his billet. They found a soldier’s blouse with sergeant’s stripes along with a pawn ticket for a Rolex watch. Fowler denied stealing the watch or trying to pawn it but the evidence against him was mounting and he started to show the strains of guilt. Finally, the truth came tumbling out. Fowler admitted to having taken the Canadian’s raincoat as a gift but claimed the pockets had been empty. He said that he had caught a bus back to Birch where he met with another soldier. Seeing as he was already two days overdue on his pass they two American’s decided to go to London. The pair returned to Colchester a few days later and although both had been drinking heavily, neither of them was drunk. At Leatherberry’s suggestion they hired a taxi to return to Birch. They stopped

briefly at Hailstone’s lodgings before driving on to Birch. Fowler asked Hailstone to pull over on the pretext of needing to urinate and while he was doing this Leatherberry over-powered Hailstone and killed him. Together, Leatherberry and Fowler carried the body to the ditch and threw the corpse in. Leatherberry was found guilty of murder, was sentenced to death and executed at Shepton Mallet on the 16th May 1944. Fowler was returned to The United States of America where he served his life sentence. Harry C Hailstone’s murder was the third tragedy to afflict the Hailstone family during the Second World War. His mother and brother were the first victims when their home was bombed during a German air raid. The case was investigated by Superintendent Totterdell of the Essex CID who would later write a book about the affair, entitled “Country Copper.”
With grateful thanks to Geoff Russell Grant and The Centenary Chronicles number 13.

part twelve
* The Ballad of Willie Samuel Faircloth * * A Postman’s Lot Was Not an Easy One *
Willie Samuel Faircloth was born on the thirteenth of August eighteen sixty six in a four roomed cottage at Hardy’s Green. It was the same cottage his father shared with his mother and their other children, Willie’s brothers, Harry and Fred. The men were all farm labourers. Before becoming a postman, Willie had worked as an ostler at ‘The Fleece’ in Head Street. As a postman Willie’s duties began at six in the morning. He worked out of Colchester Post Office and therefore would have had to get out of bed at about five. He would dress by the light of the fire leaving it to burn so that his family would feel the benefit when they rose from their slumbers. He worked a split shift which meant that he would collect the mail, sort it and then deliver it to the residents of Birch and

other places on the way. His first call was always his own home where he would brew a cup of tea; one for himself and one for his wife. If it was a particularly cold winter’s morning he would lace the tea with a tot of his favourite tipple, Johnny Walker whisky. Then he would pedal off through the Birch countryside. His next port of call was Shrub End Post Office and Mrs. Morris. Willie was responsible for delivering to all the houses between Straight road and Birch Post Office and also Stanway Green. It was a huge round and one that modern day postmen would not be asked to do or if they were would simply refuse. He normally finished his deliveries between nine thirty and ten in the morning. This meant that he was free from then until four in the afternoon when he would start his collections from the post boxes in the Birch area. For most of his thirty six year career he worked on his own but later he was joined by an auxiliary postman, an ex-naval chap, Phil Fisher who lived nearby in a cottage on the Birch side of Heckford Bridge. A postman in those days was so much more than just a deliverer of mail; he was a friendly face who called once or twice a day, someone you could chat to and gather bits of gossip from, someone who was able, by the very job they performed, to connect you to the further reaches of the area, far beyond your own small village sphere. Willie spent nearly all of his seventy nine years on this earth in and around Birch. He died in the house he was born in at Hardy’s Green in nineteen forty five.

I walk now with the sullen summer sun sinking over fields of taupe. twilight descends, drawing in the light as though the day were a candle being filmed but in a reverse cycle so that the light, rather than growing brighter goes into decline and slowly peters out. This sight of daylight fading is the saddest thing in the world and has the effect of making me feel the pinch of loneliness. Once the day has gone people disappear while they all prepare for their slumbers. Meals are cooked, families sit down to share the day’s events, televisions spring into life and mums run children’s baths before tucking them in and reading them their nightly stories. My children have all grown up and no longer require that service. It was always a two way thing and I miss those short moments spent reading to them; I miss reading Fox Under My Jacket, Watership Down, The Hobbit and the wonderful tales of Winnie The Pooh.

We used to play Pooh sticks my kids and me. We would find small sticks and throw them from a bridge into the stream before running quick as you like to the downstream side of the bridge to see whose sticks came out first. They were magic times; the best of times and ones that went too soon. I have no regrets for those days as they were, as far as I remember, the very best days of my life. I do regret not knowing how to behave when their teenage years arrived and I, the worst of teenage rebels, couldn’t find a way to deal with my son’s problems. I loved him then and I love him now, I just wish I could have shown him that then, when life seemed so full of pain and hurt for him. My son is a handsome man and I am very proud of him. Proud that he made his own choice to be a Royal Marine Commando; proud even though it was the very last thing that I would have wanted him to do; proud of the way he has changed and turned into the man he now is but more than this, proud just because he is my son. Life is so damn short and a new one can’t be bought but what you’ve got means such a lot to me. I shrug off my melancholy trying to remember that each day is a brand new start and tomorrow will shake off these dusty dusk thoughts. The streams still flow and life goes on and not so far away Tiptree and Colchester beckon. If there is one thing in life that you must try before you die it is the jam that comes from fair Tiptree.

part thirteen
* Hot Buttered Toast with Jam * Fruits and Timekeepers * * Medlar’s by Tradition * The Fall of Zeppelins * * Coffee over Tea – Italian or French? * *The Delights of Tiptree * * Queen Boudica *
With one short sentence I could so easily bring my brief visit to Tiptree to a swift conclusion. Tiptree, sadly, has little or none of the charm that its neighbouring villages have. There was a time when Tiptree’s headcount was numbered in the hundreds instead of the thousands but I guess that is the price for its success. If Tiptree is no longer the pretty place it was of yore then that is in part due to its greatest renown: Wilkins Jam. It is Wilkins’s jam that has given the world one of its greatest delights while also supplying livelihoods for hundreds of people. If you ever go across the sea to Ireland then you will soon become acquainted with that country’s premier export, certainly to England, Guinness; dark as ebony, smooth as silk and as Irish as the morning dew. Tiptree doesn’t make stout but instead the best thing to go onto hot buttered toast: jam. (Well, some might argue for Marmalade but let us not get pedantic or fall out over such trifles.) If you have never tried Wilkins jam from Tiptree then you have not lived. It is as rich as the fruit that makes it and if such a natural gift as fruit can be bettered, which is doubtful, then the thing to make you waver before you decide is Tiptree’s jam as made by Wilkin and Son. In a single word it is delicious. The taste of strawberries or indeed raspberries, or any one of a number of different fruits is mouth watering. Of course, being English, there is only one drink to wash down such a sweet start to the day and that, naturally enough, is tea. I do drink coffee but seldom first thing and never before ten and never after seven in the evening. The French would argue that they make the best coffee and I think they may be right but then again, and to offer a balanced view, the Italians would say the same about their coffees and, to be fair, Italy does have a lovely range of coffees; everything from Lattés to Mochas, Espressos to Cappuccinos. Difficult for me to choose so I will have to select another method. French women are reputedly chic and Parisian women, what I have seen of them, are drop dead gorgeous but then again, so are Italian females; all that Latin sultry sexuality, smoldering like sex on a Sunday. As I say difficult to choose so instead, being as English as Ray Davies, I will stick with my tea. The only way to eat toast (forget what the health monitors tell you) is with a dollop of real butter and not that margarine stuff, spread liberally over a hot slice.. Add to this either marmalade or jam and your day’s start has just been given the boost it needs. The best way to enjoy your toast is when the butter runs down your chin leaving a

silken thread coating your morning stubble which, if you are a lady might be a little hard to imagine – the stubble that is. Way back when there were Druids, before the Romans and long before the Saxon hordes came marauding these lands the two main tribes of this area were the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni. Both were Iron Age tribes and both lived in and around the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex regions. The Romans didn’t like this area much as the soil wasn’t good enough for what they wanted. They preferred instead to be closer to the harbour town of Colchester, once the capital of Britain, and also, slightly further south, Maldon. The name Tiptree comes from an Anglo-Saxon named Tippa who settled on a hill just above the River Blackwater. Upon this hill stood a tree and thereby came the name of Tippa’s Tree which, with the passing of time became: Tiptree. It was somewhere around here that Boadicea fought her great battle against the legions of Suetonius. We Brits have a long line of great female leaders and surely Boadicea has to be, if not the first then the fiercest. Of course, we no longer call her Boadicea as research shows she should be called Boudica (bu:dika). The Welsh would have called her Buddug which has a faintly insect sound to it and I think I prefer Boudica. Anyway, whatever her name or how you pronounce it Boudica was Queen to Prasutagus who was King of the Iceni tribe. Prasutagus had been an ally to Rome but when he died, leaving a will that gave his kingdom jointly to his daughters and to the Emperor, Prasutagus will was totally ignored. His kingdom was annexed and both his wife and daughters were flogged then raped. Probably not the smartest move the Romans made, certainly not from Gaius Suetonius Paulinus point of view. In 60 or 61 AD Boudica led an uprising of the Iceni. They attacked Camulodunum (Colchester) which at the time had only a small army of some few hundred troops. Boudica’s army destroyed both the army and the city. When Quintus Petillius Ceralis, the future governor, tried to recapture the city he too suffered a resounding defeat. England 2, Italy 0. News of the rebellion reached the ears of Gaius Suetonius Paulinus who marched his forces along Watling Street to Londinium. In those days, London was a relatively new town but was growing rapidly. Unable to stop Boudica, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus left the future capital of England to its fate and screaming hordes of Boudica’s army who burnt the city down to the ground. England 3, Italy 0. Next city to be laid waste to Boudica’s wrath was Saint Albans which suffered a similar fate to that of Colchester and London with more burning and more deaths. England 4, Italy 0. In terms of human life the destruction of three large cities equated to the loss of eighty thousand lives. Boudica simply didn’t care and her revenge was beyond anything rational. Women were found impaled with their breasts cut off and sewn to their mouths. This act of barbarism so enraged the Romans that they gathered together ten thousand men and took a stand against Boudica and her army somewhere north of

Norfolk. The Romans, greatly outnumbered but with a far superior tactical know how, defeated the Britons. The ‘treacherous Lioness’ was beaten. England 4, Italy 5. All of which has little to do with fruits for jam or the fabled mechanics of timekeepers. Tiptree has both as we will see. Were you to be in the vicinity of the Wilkins jam making factory either first thing in the morning or just before morning break or at lunch time or, at the best time of day, home time, you would hear a resounding blast from the steam boilers. Even as far away as the fields where the fruit is picked, the factory hooter can be heard, a powerful enraged bull of a sound that reverberates loudly. You can picture the scene when, back in the early nineteen hundreds, a male worker would stand beside the hooter with his pocket watch in his hand waiting for the moment when he should ‘blow’ the hooter. As he did this, the local watch maker would wait with baited breath, his hand hovering over the mechanism of his very own timepiece and, as the claxon sounded at lunchtime, so the watchmaker would carefully correct his clock so that the factory and he were synchronised, a symbiosis of time and jam. Now a medlar is a strange looking thing. A cross between an apple and a rosehip and has to be the oddest of fruits to come out of Tiptree. The busiest time for picking fruit is from the height of the strawberry season right up until October. by then all the plums and quinces will have been picked. Then, as the last of the students and caravanners have up and gone home the medlars can be picked; once picked the fruit is left out until Bonfire night (November 5th) and then it is cooked before being squeezed through a sieve and the skins thrown away. The jelly from the medlar is a delicious preserve, spicy and full of flavour and goes down well with cooked meats. The farm workers who pick the fruit use a specially shaped basket to aid with their collecting. The basket is made from a plywood tube which has a canvas tube inside. The basket hangs from the worker’s neck and when full is taken to the waiting tractor where the fruit is released from the basket to fall gently into the trailer which in turn is taken to the factory. James Wilkin and Workforce circa 1900 James Wilkin and Workforce circa 1900

In nineteen sixteen, as it was passing over nearby Wigborough, a German airship began to fall from the sky. The crew, in desperation, started throwing whatever they could overboard. Bits of this and that fell from the failing Zeppelin onto the ground below where it was discovered the following day. It became apparent that the ship was rapidly running out of both time and air space. The next day, in the farm that acts as home to the Wilkins factory, a large machine gun complete with ammunition and log book was found lying on the ground. Apparently the Zeppelin, the L33, had been hit by an anti-aircraft shell while on a mission to bomb London. Kapitan Alois Bocker instructed his crew to jettison anything and everything they could find in an attempt to keep the airship afloat. The airship finally crash landed near New Hall Cottages, Little Wigborough. The Kapitan and his crew survived and he gave the order to set fire to the ship to prevent its secrets falling into enemy hands. Being a man of honour he knocked on the door of the cottages to pre-warn the families of his intention. He then marched with his crew to nearby Peldon. As they were marching the body of men were spotted by a local Bobby, Special Constable Edgar Nicholas who was very surprised to see a bunch of Germans striding bold as brass through the open countryside. Words were exchanged and the crew marched on followed by the incredulous Nicholas. Eventually the host were joined by another Special Constable, Elijah Taylor and then by Sergeant Ernest Edwards. Scratching their heads as to what they should do, the three decided to ‘escort’ the German crew to Peldon Post Office where they were met by yet another PC, Charles Smith who joined the march and took the ‘captured’ Germans to the nearest military garrison. Charles Smith was commended for taking responsibility for the situation and was promoted to Sergeant and from that moment on was forever known as ‘Zepp’ Smith: all of this sounds remarkably like a script from that glorious old TV series ‘Dad’s Army’ but so very typical of us English. The thought of three village Bobbies ‘escorting’ a crack German air crew down winding country roads has an element of farce about it. Lovely story though.

part fourteen
*A Second Pause in the Journey with more Thoughts of a wayfarer *
The pint and ploughman’s taste good and refresh the parts that needed refreshing. My feet might disagree with that statement but since they are a long way from my head and not likely to ever meet it I don’t overly worry. It has been a lovely day. The sun has given me a faint tan, especially where my hair has started to say goodbye to my forehead. I have taken some photos that I hope will turn out alright but if not I am sure Wikipedia and the internet will ably assist me. As my journey progresses and I discover, re-discover in some cases, parts of where I live, I find that I am also reconnecting to the thing that still sits in me.

Buried maybe by years of self-loathing and neglect but the child is still there, the non judgemental, loving individual that used to infuriate teachers and others. All my rage seems to be going the way of summer mist as it is burnt off by the heat of self examination. A lot of what I had become was my own doing: my self centred sulking, my foul abusive mouth. I blamed others of course but the only one to blame was me. It is always easier to shove the responsibility for bad behaviour onto others while shrugging and pretending that you aren’t culpable. I was, and the only one to make any significant change is me. It has been bloody hard but by accepting my faults I can do my best to make that change and I think I am. My road goes on and the next stop is Colchester. I wonder what I will learn there.

“Respect yourself and others will respect you” Confucius

part fifteen
*Onwards Ever Onwards through Marsh and Fen * Walking the Lonely Heart * Creeping up on Camulodunum * That rebellious Rogue, Wat Tyler * The Great Rising *
Seeing as I took a train from Chelmsford, using the National Express East Anglia line, my wilful walks have taken a slightly different approach this time. The line runs from Liverpool Street in London through to Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, stopping along the way at various places including Witham, Marks Tey, Kelvedon, Colchester, Ipswich and Norwich. I really enjoy a train journey, it has something enchanting associated with it when not caught up in the hurly burly of the commuter hour, some degree of luxuriant adventure when you climb aboard a train that you have never been on before. The walk from Colchester station into the town itself (and all via North Hill), is a bit of a bugger though, especially I imagine if you are elderly as it is a long walk with a slow gradient. As you walk you are again greeted by that ever present sense of history re-forming about you. The plod of sandal-booted Centurions marching in perfect time up the hillside; the arrival of the Saxons after the Romans’ demise; then the medieval merchants trading silks and spices; the Tudors with their pomp and frills and all those wooden beams that line the buildings with black lines against stark white walls. It has been hot of late and today is no different. Summer has been good this year so far and looks set to continue. We have had days as high as twenty eight degrees and today has exceeded that, hitting thirty. The say that by the middle of this century England will have summers like those currently seen on the Mediterranean. The idea of balmy summers would sound wonderful were it not for the horrendous prospect of the damage caused by global warming. The magic of Tiptree with all its history fades in the distance; ahead is Colchester, the one time capital not of England but of Britain. It is hard to grasp how old Colchester is but it can claim to go back as far as the Roman occupation some two thousand years ago. Makes the one thousand history of my local church seem lame by comparison doesn’t it? Camulodunon is a Celtic name which means ‘the fortress of the Camulos’ who in turn was a war god. When the Romans conquered Britain they modified the name to Camulodunum. Today there is only a little of that history remaining with no real signs of Rome or of Italy unless you count the obligatory Pizza House which owes more to America than Italy. For many years the Romans made Colchester the capital of all of Britain but after Boudica destroyed the town they turned to London which became the capital of the province of Britannia. I like that name, Britannia and also the other ancient name for these islands, Albion; the later features in my Fekenham Tales as the name of the parallel universe Britain of

my creation. It has a certain archaic charm about it that carries such a weight of history going well beyond the Anglo Saxon name of England. Still, I am as English as they come and proud of it even with all its faults and problems England is still a great country to live in. I mean where else could you get fish and chips drowning in vinegar? Where else would celebrate spotted dick pudding flooded with creamy custard? What country would stand for all the jibes about its supposedly god awful cuisine? You got it in one: England. Incidentally of the one hundred top chefs in the world, fifty of them are in London. Things change and our national cuisine is not the same as it was when my Grand parents Grandparents were alive or when my parents were younger. The most popular food in Britain is curry and has been for more years than I care to remember. Few English regularly eat roast beef as we now have such a vast array of culinary delights from around the world to choose from and London, if not Colchester, is the number one cosmopolitan city in the world with as many cultures, creeds, and races as there are cuisines. Colchester, though far smaller than London, has an equally impressive history but still eats fish and chips. If we dig deep enough, using information gained from the book by respected historian Doctor John Morris (1913 to 1977), ‘The Age of Arthur,’ we learn that he held the view that as the descendants of Romanised Britons looked back to the golden age of Roman rule, which brought with it peace and prosperity, that the name ‘Camelot’ may well have been a reference to Camulodunum. So here I am walking through streets that King Arthur may have passed down, turning into courtyards that Merlin may have wiggled his wand at, roving past alleys where Lancelot gave Guinevere more than just the eye. Even archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler put forward a proposal based on the lack of finds of early Anglo-Saxon materials in what is described as a triangle that sits between London, Colchester and Saint Albans as being proof that a civilisation existed there that was still of Roman/British sympathy and was not part of the AngloSaxon settlements. However, by as early as the fifth century the Saxons had moved in, evidenced by a hut that was built during that time on old Roman ruins. By the ninth century the AngloSaxons had taken Colchester and most of Essex. The streets of Colchester are chronicles unwritten in books or ledgers for here the past sits waiting in the bent old buildings that line the lanes and avenues. You do not need pen or paper to record history when architecture tells its own tale. The buildings here are testament to that. Mostly they appear to be medieval or Tudor; warped timbers that somehow defy the ravages of time while leaning against each other like drunks in a bar. There stands an old hotel with timbers bent and windows glazed with tiny panes so that when you walk past it your reflection returns to you as though seen through the eyes of a fly, or perhaps that description fails as it makes it seem that you see several

images of yourself reflected; you don’t: what you do see is a series of images that appear to be shattered reflections, a mirror that has been broken but still sticks to the wall with dozens of different images of you seen at curious angles as you pass. Somewhere just to the left of the hotel door, but still within the structure of the building, is an alley leading into a larger recess filled with smaller shops. It could be something from a Harry Potter film. The Post Office building is of a similar nature with that overhanging series of wooden beams that separate one floor from the other. There are many structures like that here; warm buildings formed from timber and plaster and age-old craft. Garrulous alleys that lead you by a sense of exploration, only for you to discover that they either offer more wobbly, misshapen relics of wood and glass oroften just a brick wall that possibly hides more historical mystery or possibly nothing at all. Colchester Castle stands as proud as your aging grand father Grandfather. A face full of character but scarred by the passage of time. It is a medieval Norman building dating from the eleventh century but it stands on even older ruins, those of a Roman temple; now it stands alone surrounded by some splendid grounds which were opened as a public park in 1892. There is some god-awful music playing today which sounds like a cat being tortured but is in fact a karaoke concert. I buy an ice cream and sit for awhile enjoying the flavour of the confection and the sun’s warmth. Colchester claims not only to be the oldest recorded town in Britain, sitting as it does some 56 miles northeast of London but also to have the oldest market. Today the market sells T-shirts and CDs and I wonder what the Saxons would have made of those items. The town doesn’t have a cathedral and therefore doesn’t qualify as a city but it is twinned with the French town of Avignon which somehow makes sense. I have been to Avignon and it too has a deep, historical past, a long finger that rakes back the dirt and grime of things forgotten and presents them forever more to those that look for them. In recent years the natural accent of Colchester has been replaced and sounds now, like so many towns and villages that orbit London, to be some form of Estuary or Mockney dialect. Gone is that quaint old Suffolk/Norfolk/Anglia twang and instead we have people who sound as though they could easily be from the capital. Not everyone though, there are one or two who still have that faint burr of true East Anglians. Most towns that sit as satellites around London and are within the M25 ring road fall under the sway of London. My Grandparents were East Enders and both my parents were born there; all of true working class stock but times and attitudes have changed.

A young woman passes me while chatting to her friend; she is recounting a story of another friend who had a tattoo. She didn’t describe the tattoo as being on her friend’s stomach but rather her belly. Had I said belly or arse as a child my Mum would have scolded me and my Mum is very proud to have been born working class. Still, it is just a word and times change. My Grandparents left the East End so that their children

would have a better lifestyle and they were possibly the forerunners of all those other East Enders who have followed suit. Nowadays London has grown like a bloated spider to encompass virtually all of the area within the M25 including Sutton and Leatherhead in Surrey; from Maidstone in Kent to Slough in Berkshire and of course Romford in Essex. With the virtual emigration of Londoners comes change. [What I find funny though is how the ancestors of immigrants can so easily forget their history and turn against the newer immigrant with bile and rancour as if they were to blame for the ills they believe beset them, as if all their true history can be consigned to some dim and dark cupboard where no one looks any more. As if the truth can be shackled and hidden away, the better to twist the myth, as if being a member of the human race is not enough, you still have to join and subscribe to a given tribe; their tribe, their clan, their faith. I can trace my ancestors back to the mid 1700s. We are all white (well sort of, okay) but the fact is that the original Londoners were described, from the manuscripts kept at the time, of ‘having a ‘muddy’ complexion/skin colour. If you were to DNA test me, or any other traditional Londoner you would find that 95% would have either black or brown origins. Whatever happened to one god, one faith and one human race? Essex today is not what it was. The accents have changed and so has the way of life. Modern day Essex people are caught up, as we all are, in the hurly burly of twenty first century life. The country gent and labourer have been replaced. We are all living life at a faster pace. The mockney is a latter-day Cockney but without all the cheeky chappie myth that used to surround those east London people and without having been born within the sound of the Bow bells Bells. I also see a profusion of elderly gentlemen in shorts. Surely that is illegal? All that white flesh on display. Is there not some bye-law against men of a certain vintage being able to show off their varicose veined limbs? One chap looks as if he has legs that are one stump short of a wicket: thin and white with dints and dents and abrasions. One of the kicks I get from visiting places like this is to learn of the famous people who either lived here, even if for a while, or were born and bred here. quite a few relatively famous people have associations with Colchester; the most famous has to be Margaret Thatcher who stayed here during her time as a research chemist in the 1940s. Also, Mary Whitehouse, that self-proclaimed guardian of our morals, who died in Colchester in 2001. Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon and Dave Rowntree of Blur fame and also Jay Kay of Jamiroquai: Daniel Defoe (1660 to 1731): John Constable (1776 to 1837): Sir William Withey Gull who was not only Queen Victoria’s personal household physician but was also suspected of being involved in the Jack the Ripper murders: Joan Hickson (1906 to 1998) the actress who was best known for playing Miss Marple. John Grant the author of the Lovejoy series of books and my personal favourite: Jane Taylor (1783 to 1824) the poet and author who wrote: “Twinkle, Twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are Up above the world so high Like a diamond in the sky”

The poem was originally published under the title of “The Star” and was composed by Jane Taylor whilst she was living in the Dutch Quarter which in itself was a settlement of weavers and cloth makers who emigrated from Flanders to Colchester between 1550 and 1600. Another couple of famous nursery rhymes are ‘Old King Cole’ and ‘Humpty Dumpty.’ ‘Old King Cole’ has a lengthy and, I think, dubious explanation to its origins which seem to centre around some misinformed Brit’s thinking that Colchester’s meaning was Cole’s Castle when in point of fact it wasn’t but instead is taken from the Roman ‘Colonia’ for fort. Such is the way local legends are made. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ is newer and comes from the time of the Civil War (the oddest Civil War that I have heard when the King is deposed then beheaded only for his son, years later, to take up where his old Pop left off). It was during the siege of Colchester that a Royalist sniper who was known as One-Eyed Thompson stood in the belfry of the church Saint Mary-at-the-Walls. He was given the second nickname, Humpty Dumpty because he was fat. He was shot down and the town fell into the hands of the Parliamentarians. It all makes some kind of sense when you put it together as the rhyme we know. ‘Humpty Dumpty (Thompson) sat on the Wall (the belfry) Humpty Dumpty had a big fall (Thompson being shot) All the King’s horses and all the King’s men Couldn’t put Humpty together again’ (Having been shot and falling from a great height it is hardly surprising). Of course there is another and far more disconcerting mention of Colchester in literature in George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ when Winston Smith recounts his war time memories: “Perhaps it was the time when the atomic bomb had fallen on Colchester,” Fortunately, there have been no atomic wars and hopefully there never will be. Now, in this the century where science fiction evolves from the imagination of Isaac Asimov and from the scripts of Star Trek, Colchester is a thriving place again. No longer the capital of Britain as no city can claim that; no longer the county town of Essex as that honour belongs to nearby Chelmsford but still Colchester is a vital town not only in Essex but in the region of Anglia. Colchester, along with Chelmsford and the far tinier habitation of Maldon, form a triumvirate of Essex towns that, in my view, are the core three places that act as the hub of the county. Maldon is far smaller but just as interesting and it is there where I am next headed.

the great rising
Events that lead up to England’s Peasants’ Revolt or Great Uprising began in 1377 when a third poll tax was levied. As with most taxes revenue was generated for purposes other than to benefit the poor. This poll tax was required to pay for the

continuing war in Europe: the Hundred Years War. Once again the underprivileged were being put upon and for once they were not going to take it. Initially the peasants only protested but their protestations went unheeded so, Wat Tyler, along with the Kentish Rebels marched on London. It is nigh on impossible to say exactly where Wat was born but it is widely believed that, like me, Wat was an Essex boy. He wasn’t alone in his rebellion but found kindred spirits in Jack Straw and John Ball. John Ball was born in Saint Albans, Hertfordshire in 1338 and went on to become a Lollard priest. He was known to have many outspoken views and even spent time in prison. To many he was no more than a ‘hedge priest’ who, bereft of parish or church, would rove about the countryside preaching the doctrine of John Wycliffe. The following quotation is from John Ball just before the uprising: “Why are those whom we call lords, masters over us? How have they deserved it? By what right do they keep us enslaved? We are all descended from our first parents, Adam and Eve; how then can they say that they are better than us... At the beginning we were all created equal. If God willed that there should be serfs, he would have said so at the beginning of the world. We are formed in Christ's likeness, and they treat us like animals... They are dressed in velvet and furs, while we wear only cloth. They have wine, and spices and good bread, while we have rye bread and water. They have fine houses and manors, and we have to brave the wind and rain as we toil in the fields. It is by the sweat of our brows that they maintain their high state. We are called serfs, and we are beaten if we do not perform our task... Let us go to see King Richard. He is young, and we will show him our miserable slavery, we will tell him it must be changed, or else we will provide the remedy ourselves. When the King sees us, either he will listen to us, or we will help ourselves. When we are ready to march on London I will send you a secret message. The message is "Now is the time. Stand together in God's name." John Ball, along with Wat Tyler, led their gathered rebels from Kent into London by crossing London Bridge and then went on into the heart of the city. Meanwhile, Jack Straw had gathered the ‘Men of Essex’ at Great Baddow and then they too marched into London, arriving at Stepney. The expected riot turned out to be quite lame with only a few properties being attacked and even they were the ones owned by John Gaunt (the acting regent for the young King Richard II). While this typically genteel English rebellion was taking place, a far less sanguine affair was taking place over at the Tower of London where a group of rebels stormed into the building executing everyone inside including the Lord Chancellor Simon of Sudbury and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Following this the King agreed to meet with Wat Tyler and his forces at Smithfield but the parley between King and commoner did not go the way either had planned. Apparently Wat Tyler behaved like a lout pulling out a knife and brandishing it in front of the King. He is said to have demanded drink be brought to him and became rude and abusive. Upon seeing what he believed to be an attack on his monarch, William Walworth, Lord Mayor of London, drew his sword and slashed Tyler across the neck. The wound was a mortal one but Sir Ralph de Standish, one of the King’s knights, not wishing to be left out of the action, drove his sword through the stomach of Wat Tyler killing him instantly. The crowd rose in uproar against the King and his

men but the young King acted swiftly saying: “You shall have no captain but me.” The crowd, momentarily taken aback by the King’s bold but vague command held back, giving the King time to collect his thoughts and beseech them to calm down while he offered them justice by meeting their demands. The revolt had failed but although a failure in one sense it still had the effect of altering the political system of England. The term ‘poll tax’ was not used again in England or Britain for another six hundred years and even then it was only the opposition parties that used that term for a tax factually called The Community Charge. Funny thing was, this 20th century tax, the brainchild of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, also caused riots but fortunately no murders.

part sixteen
* Maldon and shops * Blyrhtnoth the Anglo Saxon * * Edward Bright: The fattest man of Britain *
There is a shop I like in Maldon, full of odd bits and bobs, largely kitchen utensils and the like. When I was young it would have been called an Ironmongers although this shop isn’t truly that. It sells lots of other stuff as well and it is the sort of shop you can browse around without feeling that the proprietor is watching and tutting, as you pick up to examine various items, . I like shops like this; I like the way you are able to wander around at leisure with a stupid look on your face as you absorb the ambience. There are mugs on stands, spotted and scripted with a variety of designs and names. There are wooden spoons and plastic ones in garish colours; sieves in both metal and plastic (mostly metal though) and even one or two that have been painted. There are kettles and teapots, knives of all descriptions, utensils for scraping potatoes, specially designed single-serving tea leaf holders for you to brew tea in a mug: ‘Ladies, the day of the tea bag is over. Here is the future of tea making: freshly brewed tea in your own mug. Lose none of the flavour of real tea while retaining the modern convenience of a single, immediate cup of tea especially brewed in the old fashioned way just for you.’ I leave the shop with its assortment of kitchenware and make my way back up the High Street. I find an old tea rooms that has evolved from the bones of a tiny shop. Goodness knows what it used to be but now it serves to give refreshment and at this stage of my walk I very much need it. I order a pot of tea for one and a cream tea. The pot of tea is delicious and I drink three cups but the cream tea, with its warmed up (by microwave I suspect) scones are awful. I find it hard to pick the bloody scone up as it crumbles to bits only to fall onto my plate in a mess of jam, cream, butter and dough. I pay my bill, and being the aging, polite Brit I am, even leave a small tip then curse the fact as I walk up the rest of the road. We Brits are like that you know, all genteel politeness. At least we are meant to be but I confess to not being so stereotypical and have often been known to say in curt terms exactly how I feel about a given thing. Today I don’t but instead just mutter a bit then walk on. The High Street is being converted to the modern world but it hasn’t fully fallen beneath the modernist sway. There are still quite a few shops here that existed long before brand identity and global conglomerates moved in. The name Maldon comes

from Mael (not to be confused with the band Sparks) which means ‘meeting place’ and from dun which means hill. The walk up the hill is far shorter than the Colchester walk but far steeper too. Maldon is not as big as Colchester and its history is not as long. Maldon was settled by East Saxons in about the fifth century. A famous battle was fought here in 991 and as with so many battles, fought on these shores not by the original inhabitants but between The Anglo-Saxons lead by Blyrhtnoth (name and a half that) and Olaf Tryggvason. It was on August the 10th when Olaf Tryggvason brought his Viking forces to Britain’s south eastern shore and, along with an army of somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 men, joined battle against the Anglo Saxon warriors. Ethelred, who was the King of the English and probably not best pleased too have two armies waging war on his lands, couldn’t make the fray so perhaps he was more ready than his name suggests. The Viking’s were met by a far smaller force led by the aforementioned Blyrhtnoth. The Vikings sailed up the Blackwater (Panta) with Olaf’s men feeling confident due to their superior numbers. Blyrhtnoth told his men, mostly peasants and householders to ‘stand ready.’ The long and short of it all is that old Blyrhtnoth and his army were defeated and the poor old chap lost his head, not in a metaphorical way but someone really cut it off and he was found, or rather his body was, much later but missing the all important head. A statue of him can be seen in the town. Raids like these by the Danes were quite regular occurrences back then and very troublesome to the likes of Ethelred.

There are two improbable facts about Maldon that appeal to me. The first is the notorious Maldon Mud Race which holds an enormous appeal to me, all for the wrong reasons, and the second is Edward Bright (1721-1750) who at an impossible 47.5 stone (665 lb or 302 kg) was said to be the fattest man in Britain. The Maldon Mud Race is one of the insane fun races that we Brits seem to excel at. When it comes to being the best at the sports we have gifted the world with, the likes of football, cricket and rugby, not to mention those American variants that our cousins across the way seem to think they invented and by that I mean American football, (which is in fact rugby but with another name and wearing lots of padding), or baseball, (which I love, but which again is just rounders brushed up with that glorious American razzle dazzle), we don’t seem to do very well. However, when it comes to mud racing or chasing cheese down a hillside or shin kicking we are numero uno. And for those overseas readers please bear in mind, before you all laugh your socks off, that we were once the world’s greatest Empire. (No wonder the Pilgrim Fathers set sail!)

Edward Bright was a grocer but not just any old grocer. He must
have eaten virtually all the stock he ever held to have grown so fat. He lived his life in a house on Maldon's High Street and when he died he was buried in Maldon's Church of All Saints. He was, at the time, said to be the fattest man in Britain and even had people gamble on how many men it would take to fill his coat. The wager was made by two blokes drinking in a pub when one said they could fit seven hundred men into Mister Bright’s waistcoat but, when volunteers were found, only seven could squeeze in. Edward Bright’s portrait can be found hanging in the National Portrait Gallery. A copy is reproduced below. Not sure what all the health and safety people who now patrol our lives would say about this gent if he were alive today, but he looks happy enough judging by this portrait. I take my leave of this splendid town and walk on but not before mentioning one final fact; when H.G.Wells wrote his novel, ‘War of the Worlds’, it was from here in Maldon that the narrator's brother and two female companions managed to escape across the English Channel.

part seventeen
* The Trees of Hoary Mundon * * The Lay of the Weeping Ladies *
They rise out of the clinging wet marsh lands like the talons of some unforgiving, unrelenting feral gang of nature. Their blackened branches claw the sky as if beseeching the forgiveness of a higher god so that he will allow them access back into the heaven they were so rudely pushed from. They have no names, or at least none the living can remember, but they have been here for as long as memory can recall, they are the tress of hoary Mundon; the charred remnants of an ancient forest now gone forever. The trees are one thousand years old and all that remains of a forest that was used in its day as timber for boats. The dead forest narrowly escaped being chopped down for lumber during the days of Queen Elizabeth the First when they were designated to be used for ship masts to fight the Armada. Fortunately the wood was declared to be too twisted and warped and therefore the woods had a lucky escape. Today there is an

eerie feeling as I chance upon them during my walk. I cam imagine how spooky they must seem when the mists roll in or on cold dark evenings with only the moon to light their glowering limbs. The light is fading now and the heat is starting to leave the day. I turn and think of Tom Bombadil and of Fangorn and of Ents. These woods have that fairytale feel about them, something dark and gothic and just a little freaky. And then of course there are the two women. You see them sometimes when the phantom mist rolls like the frayed edge of a careworn cloak billowing over the marsh land ,their faces filled with sorrow and loss as they walk side by side. You see them sometimes as dark shapes moving through a gauze of grey . Bent and troubled but unable to stop, they continue their woebegone wait the two women, one old and bent the other young and pretty. You see them sometimes small beneath the claw fingers of the crippled oaks that stand raking the Essex skyline. The old forest is dead now and the corpse wood, with black bark and stark profiles, stretches its branches up and out as the talons of fables and tall tales reach from the past to persecute the present. The two women walk this way often. One still waits for the son who left her to become a sailor; the son who yearned to see the world. She remembers still when she lined up his boots for cleaning and polishing. A row of boots that lay upon the path like a long march of ants or a row of dead beetle husks; brown and black, brown and black. She recalls cleaning them. First she spat onto the cloth, then with tiny circular motions, she would begin the process of polishing them until they shone like mirrored glass. Her son has gone a-roving, sailing the seas and the heavens above . She misses him deeply and walks with her daughter-in-law this woeful path as the two women wait and weep forever more.

part eighteen
* Chelmsford, the usurper * * The Pricking of Ladies Thumbs * * Matthew Hopkins – Witch-finder General *
It’s funny the way things turn out sometimes isn’t it? You think things are firmly routed one way only to find that with a sudden movement everything that was established was in fact built on shifting sands. Chelmsford was only ever a minor town during the Roman period when compared to Colchester. It was never the capital of Britain and although popular with the Romans, it never quite occupied the same status that it now does. Okay, it isn’t the capital of England as that role belongs to London, nor is it the capital of Anglia as there isn’t one but it is the county town of Essex and as such sits above all other towns. It goes one better than Colchester as it has a cathedral and that qualifies it as a city, only it isn’t, a city that is. Oh, it has as I said the cathedral and it has the university and it has that most English of establishments, the county cricket ground but still it has not been awarded the accolade of city; undoubtedly some red tape rigmarole prevents or forbids it; bloody daft whatever the reason.

I like Chelmsford for its Waterstone’s; it is a lovely shop to browse for books and comics but it also has the added benefit of having a café that serves a delicious latté. I like its ambiance, the genteel surroundings where you can sip coffee while reading your latest purchase. Of late I have been catching up on the works of P.G.Wodehouse and G.K. Chesterton although at the moment I am reading an odd book by American Wm Paul Young entitled ‘The Shack.’ I say odd as I don’t quite know how best to describe it unless to say it is a tale, written by a Christian I would guess, about the disappearance and possible murder of a child, the grief of the father (who I am very suspicious of) and a rather whimsical meeting in a shack of the holy trinity with the said father. Worth grabbing a copy if only to say you have read it. Chelmsford’s name comes from the Roman Caesoromagus which means Caesar’s market place as Chelmsford would have served as a local market town halfway between London and Colchester. The link between London and Chelmsford has only grown stronger in the passing years due in part to their closeness to one another; London is only thirty two miles from Chelmsford and is connected by rail link. Today though I am here to visit my favourite book shop (second favourite in fact to Foyle’s of London), then to meander a bit around the shops before I make my way by train to Colchester. So, I sit at the table, the one that overlooks the settee below and I sip on my latté while from my shopping bag I pull out the Wodehouse book I have bought, ‘Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves’ which I then flick through, delighting in the exquisite way in which P.G. Wodehouse plays with the English language. I so wish that I had his ability to write such divine sentences that sparkle with wit and charm. I take another sip on the coffee and this time drag out my free copy of the Waterstone’s magazine, ‘Books Quarterly.’ Like all such free publications it comes with a baited hook for it contains enough temptation to test a saint but I am as skint as they come at the moment so all temptation is less a test and more a torture. I really fancy getting a copy of Sarah Waters’ ‘The Little Stranger’ which, according to the blurb, is a ghost story set in 1947 in a small Warwickshire village. I first came across Sarah Waters when she rose to sudden fame through her daring novel ‘Tipping the Velvet,’ which I watched when it was serialised on television. I have always been a sucker for Victoriana and this story tickled my fancy, which I guess is an apt description given the tale’s content. Then, sipping again on the creamy froth of the latté, I leaf through my final magazine purchase, the BBC’s classical music magazine. At this point I have to say that my love of music, certainly of Jazz and what we all term as Classical did not arrive with middle age. I got into both when I was seventeen or thereabouts although my interest in Classical sounds would have been sparked by The Beatles and their wonderful ‘Eleanor Rigby;’ no it was King Crimson that made me buy Beethoven’s Ninth and Fifth and it was the same band that kindled my interest in Jazz. The copy that I am holding has a piece on American composers; most notably and typically Aaron Copland and his protégé Leonard Bernstein both of whom I like. The article also makes mention of John Adam, another American composer I like although I cannot for the life of me remember the full title of his ‘fast car’ piece. I note that Zappa isn’t mentioned and I think he should be. Zappa was as close to genius as you can get not just with his witty satires but also by virtue of the fact that he truly composed all that he or the Mothers played. I think that

his sound was far more naturally American that either of the two esteemed predecessors whose work was European with a certain additional Jazz quality. This is not my attempt at knocking two highly original and influential modern day composers but rather, in my mind, to source and seek out a truly American musical creation; something that comes from the heart of that nation. This train of thought gets me thinking about so many genres that I like and have enjoyed over the years. Musical styles as diverse and broad ranging as Gospel, Soul, Rhythm and Blues, Funk, Disco, Hip Hop, Rap and of course the Blues. Surely the Blues has to be the pumping heart beat of American music. What other sound is so pure, so natural, so very black and spiritual? Yet, as great as the Blues is and continues to be, it is played on a Spanish instrument and sung in an English tongue. Of course all music has its influences, its well-spring from where come its origins. European classical music is no different and no better as it borrowed from many sources but the end result was as European as the Alps. For me, American composers such as Copland, Bernstein and Zappa differ from their European counterparts in the way that they allow their music greater flexibility, more room to toss and rumble, freeform almost whereas European music, even Stravinsky, is more architectural, more formal and it this difference in styles that profiles the differences between the two cultures: Europe with its deeper history and long established protocols and America with its liberal heart. This large panoramic, free thinking form though does not entirely reflect in American ‘classical’ music. The sound is still deeply based in European methods and cannot mirror the soul of this vast continent. Neither does the Blues even if the Blues has the most natural rhythm this side of the heart beat. So then, with all that America has given us in musical styles and genres, which or rather what music is purely of its own creation even if it does owe a huge debt to its sire, the Blues? For me the answer is an easy one. It comes from the cool tones of Miles Davis when he plays ‘Kinda Blue’ or from the flying fingertips of Oscar Peterson or else it comes from that erratic genius Thelonius Monk... the music is of course black and it is of course Jazz. Jazz is as American as bourbon on rye, as natural as sex and as liberating as dancing naked on New Years Day in Central Park. The music that is the true creation of America and an equally wonderful hybrid is, Jazz. I finish what remains of the coffee, draining the dregs before wiping the back of my hand across my mouth. Picking myself up from the table I replace the magazines and book back in my bag and leave the shop behind. A little way off is an HMV store and as addicted as I am to books and music, I am equally entranced by film. I browse around the shelves picking up this and that, looking at Anime and in particular the Studio Ghibli section. Then I move as my spirit takes me onto the romantic comedies where I see ‘As Good as it Gets’ a film starring the brilliant Jack Nicholson and the inspired Helen Hunt. I love this film not just because it has such terrific acting with such an incredible storyline but also because in some odd way I identify with the character, Melvin, that Jack Nicholson plays, a novelist suffering with compulsive, obsessive disorder or is it the other way round? Obsessive, compulsive disorder? Whatever, I see a lot of how I had started to become in that role: a flawed and troubled man who so desperately wants to repair himself while finding a love that fits him. It is quite amazing how fragile even the strongest minds can be, how easily they can dissolve into such a mess of panic-driven, obsessive desires that drive you on as though you were on the brink of insanity. The way your mood can swing from the jolly, jovial clown of dinner parties to the demonic, abusive circus freak that juggles

with loved ones’ feelings as though they were nothing more than playthings. And the truth of the matter is that even when you have beaten the panic attacks and the dark mood swings and have returned to being the fun loving person you always were, that other side still sits within you curled up and waiting. You simply have to take one day at a time and remember that life goes on within you and without you. Chelmsford is another old market town chock full of alleys that lead you past curious curves and hidden histories. There is much of the golden age of Victoria here with many buildings having been built during England’s golden era. There is a bridge built by Victorians that spans the road as a testament to those halcyon days. Its architecture has all the grandiose hallmarks of that period: tall arches that rise like arrogant eyebrows, disciplined brickwork that scorns the passage of time. And of course there is the magnificent cathedral that not so long ago was just another church. It has that grandiose elegance that strikes you as so typically European with its daunting tower and blazing stained glass windows. But it is neither the railway arch nor the county cricket, nor is it the beautiful church/come cathedral that impresses me but the newly acquired university with its links with famed Cambridge. Not that I am easily impressed with the status provided by having a University in town but rather the rush of young life that it drags in its wake. Chelmsford literally buzzes with throngs of students who litter its cafés and lean chatting against its walls. They give it a modern, pulsing feel that I find exciting. A hubris of noise and colour that sounds raucous, joyous and neon bright; a little bit brash maybe with all the shrill laughter and mock hip hop street cred but they, these modern youths, are pretty harmless and definitely not as rebellious as the generation that I came from; far more conservative in their politics and music and clothes. Yes, I like it here where the past moves gently allowing modernity to come swaggering on the feet of the young and trendy. Of course, if that doesn’t float your boat, there is always Hylands House the mansion built in seventeen thirty by Sir John Comyns and landscaped some sixty years later by Humphry Repton.

500 hundred acres seems a bit extravagant for anyone’s tastes and so nowadays it is owned by Chelmsford Council and is used for the world famous V festival where you can see Razorlight, Oasis, The Specials, Lilly Allen, The Killers, Starsailor, Taylor Swift, McFly and goodness knows how many more. It is one hell of a gig and bloody good fun. My favourite and personal recommendation would have to be MGMT, an incredible band who sound as though they hail from this century rather than the last. And if large country estates don’t do it for you then there is the history of the place which carries enough weight for even the cynics among you to go slack jawed over. Both Neolithic and Bronze age settlements have been found here but it is not the ancient histories that set the flames of interest burning but rather the name Matthew

Hopkins that sets the page alight for me. He lived from 1620 until about 1647 and was the notorious Witch-Finder General. He was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire but it was during the period when he was living in Manningtree (near Chelmsford) and overheard women talking of their illicit meetings with ‘the devil’ that he turned from a lawyer to England’s most notorious witch hunter. Upon hearing of these heinous consultations with the fallen angel, nineteen witches were hanged, four more died in prison and a reputation was forever more sealed. Hopkins, accompanied by his partner in witch hunting, the estimable John Stearne, began their travels over eastern England moving through the Anglian counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. His witchfinding career was relatively short, lasting just two years, from 1645 until 1647, but in such a short space of time he built a myth that has lasted for centuries. Even way back then, torture was technically unlawful but Matthew Hopkins was not the sort of man to let a technicality stand in his way, He used a variety of methods to extract confessions from his unfortunate victims; methods that ranged from verbal browbeating to sleep deprivation but first he would have to find a sign of some sorts on the women that signified that they were of the devil. A birth mark would do or a boil which would then be referred to as a third nipple. Upon finding this mark he would use a blunt knife to slice into the poor woman’s arm and if she didn’t bleed she was declared a witch. He also employed what were colloquially known as witch-prickers who would prick the accused with knives and needles. Hopkins and Stearne were well paid for their work, earning £1 per witch. Good money for pricking and abusing innocent women. I wonder what the pair would make of the women’s liberation movement; a sign of the devil for sure.

Has not this present Parliament A Lieger to the Devil sent, Fully impowr’d to treat about Finding revolted witches out And has not he, within a year, Hang’d threescore of ‘em in one shire? Some only for not being drowned, And some for sitting above ground, Whole days and nights, upon their breeches, And feeling pain, were hang’d for witches.

Words by Sam

“Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, I do like to be beside the sea, I do like to stroll along the prom, prom, prom, Where the brass bands play Tiddley-om-pom-pom! So just let me be beside the seaside, I'll be beside myself with glee; And there's lots of girls beside, I should like to be beside, Beside the seaside, beside the sea.”

part twenty
* Frolicking in Frinton * *The Crumbling of Walton-on-the-Naze * * Peter Bruff and the invention of the English Seaside resort *
After the initial blast of a fine summer, the sun has been doing a spectacularly good job of hiding itself. Wimbledon fortnight was glorious and we had some blazing sunshine either side of that period but since then, the sun has been replaced by that fine old tradition of grey, wet weather. As Lennon once sang in ‘I am the Walrus’ – “if the sun don’t come you get a tan from standing in the English rain.” Today though, Sunday 9th August 2009, the sun has done us proud. The first thing I notice as I saunter into Frinton is the genteel quality that slumbers here; a silent politeness that pervades the streets and houses with a stereotypical

Englishness. The houses are of character but neither grandiose nor ostentatious. There is money here but it is not the money of recently acquired wealth but rather the money of the retired who have worked hard all their lives and have settled here to live out their days in relative comfort. Well preserved Mercedes are polished and parked in neatly kept shingle drives. The streets are litter free; the kerbs tidy and trimmed. The sea front, where children splash and play, has a hushed sense of frivolity about it rather than the accustomed raucous display of normal holiday makers. I suppose, as a bit of a generalisation, Frinton still has vestiges of the late Victorian, early Edwardian age clinging to it. Frinton and Walton, like their bigger brother Clacton, owe a huge debt to the Victorian entrepreneur Peter Bruff who, almost single- handedly, created these Essex seaside resorts. Less bombastic than jovial Brighton, Frinton is the gentle Essex retreat. There are rows of beach huts in solemn lines like a procession of military men. They stand in regular formation with their blunt wooden steps and their single windows steadfastly looking out to sea. Above them, looking down with decadent eyes, are two art deco houses. White and resplendent they gaze imperiously with arched, ironic eyebrows reflecting their mirrored memories of the gay thirties. I wonder if Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot ever solved the odd murder here. Perhaps Bertie Wooster, accompanied by the ever faithful, ever resourceful Jeeves holidayed here? If they didn’t then they should have, it would have suited them perfectly. Even the road names have a certain portentousness to them: Winchester Road, Oxford Road, Eton Road, Cambridge Road, as if by association a certain degree of quality will rub off on the surrounding environs and in fairness it does seem to. Even the parked cars know their place and are neatly lined up in little bays that are equidistant from each other. Frinton really is the epitome of an Edwardian/Victorian resort. The polite town presents itself with a stiff upper-lipped and elegant style, but never starchy, just reserved; reserved but not shy and it is that air of polite reservation that gives it its charm. It wouldn’t surprise me to see gentlemen in straw boaters, linen trousers with wide blue and red striped jackets promenading along the front, arm in arm with young ladies dressed in floral, crinoline dresses and gaily coloured hats. I watch as a couple pass by hand in hand licking ice cream from cones as it melts and runs down onto their fingers. An Asian family, the ladies in saris, giggle past me like a gaggle of geese but it is still the polite laughter of polite people in a very polite town. I spot an empty bench and take a pew. I watch a family at play; mother with her baby daughter and father with his young son. The baby girl holds a round Velcro pad, the sort that balls attach to when thrown. The mum is trying to teach the infant to catch the ball but the child just stands watching as the ball flys past. I smile at the memory this vision invokes. I pick up my camera and take a few snaps. The sea is far away and vibrant blue, the sky pale eggshell; colours that flow into each other. A series of beach huts circle the sand that softens to the gentle lapping of the waves. In the distance boats bob with a gentle rise as the ocean holds the vessels in the hollow of its hand. Even

from here the sound of water slapping against the shore and the hulls can be heard, a faint hiss that no simile can do justice to. Nature has a way of doing that. Today I am listening to the captivating album that has been nominated for so many awards: Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. For me it was one of the albums of 2008 and I find that I repeatedly return to listen to it. There are a couple of songs on it that hold a resonance for me, songs that seem to sum up nicely how I feel about given topics that run through my life. The song Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) is a perfect example:
Some sunny day-hay baby When everything seems okay, baby You’ll wake and find that you’re alone ’Cause I’ll be gone Gone, gone, gone Really gone Gone, gone, gone, ‘cause you’ve done me wrong Everyone that you know baby As you walk down the street baby Will ask you why you’re walking all alone Why you’re on your own Just say I’m gone Gone, gone, gone Gone, gone, ‘cause you done me wrong. And if you change your way baby You might get back to stay baby You better hurry up if you don’t wanna be alone Or I’ll be gone Gone, gone, gone Really gone Gone, gone ‘cause you done me wrong

The song was written by Don and Phil Everly whose beautiful harmonies are now legendary. I have to say that Alison Krauss and Robert Plant are no mean shakes at harmonising either. They seem to be able to make such an intimate sound that is so close, so warm that it feels like a couple from a bygone age caught singing during their courtship; truly enchanting. There are no public houses here and never have been which seems a bit strange at first. Normally every seaside town has at least one pub but not Frinton. The more I think on this, the more sense it makes, after all it probably deters hooligans and louts and perhaps these days, what with the English disease of binge drinking, it keeps that element of society away. A shame really as having a drink should not cause any problems but in this we have brought it upon ourselves. Our reputation for being unable to hold our liquor is large in Europe and a great embarrassment. Funny how these things happen, the way it has gone. I, like most of my generation, have been drunk as a skunk at times but it is sad to see the gender I thought superior to my own acting like men and throwing up before falling into the gutter in a stupor but who am I

to judge. Anyway, speaking of louts, I think it time I moved on. I fancy a cup of tea and I know just the café in Walton-on-the-Naze to buy one. How about you ladies, may I buy you one? It is only a relatively short walk from Frinton into Walton. At a guess I would say a mile, maybe two but no more. Walton church stands alone and to one side as I pass it. Before me the town and the cup of tea that I am gasping for lay waiting If Frinton is a polite gentleman in a tweed suit walking slowly, twirling his summer cane then Walton, equally delightful, is a bloke in a garish shirt, opened to the waist revealing a large tattoo. He has a cheeky grin and is holding up some saucy seaside postcards while eating fish and chips out of yesterday’s newspaper. I locate the café that my wife and I used to frequent. It hasn’t changed in years although the poems that used to decorate the walls have gone. I sit in the corner at a table that looks out the window. A lady, presumably the owner approaches me and asks me what I want. I order two eggs, sunny side up on toast and then that cup of tea I am still gasping for. I cover the eggs liberally with ketchup and then I wolf them down. The tea is a potent brew, dark and strong but I don’t mind it that way as it goes down a treat. Outside the window folks walk by with children in buggies, all bound for the seafront no doubt. I swallow the last of the tea resisting the urge to buy another, pay my bill then leave. The heat outside is pleasant enough but within minutes of walking I feel a sheen of sweat coat my chest. I could have circumnavigated the crowds by turning left out of the café and then followed the seawall down to the Naze but instead I turned right and carried on straight ahead. There are crowds of people around me, couples and families and I am acutely aware of being on my own, not that that bothers me but I would imagine I look slightly out of place. The laughter is robust and the sense of fun tangible. These people are here to enjoy themselves, it is Sunday and rather than be inside a church they have taken to the seaside. Everywhere there is the smell of vinegar and of burgers being cooked; a tempting scent even for a veggie like me and besides, they do veggie burgers now don’t they? Maybe a can of Coke, nice and chilled will suffice. The colours of the shops are proud and bright. They fit the theme of the town naturally with a cheap but cheerful display. There is even a Rock Shop and that, as every Englishman will tell you, does not mean a shop selling Led Zeppelin or Metallica memorabilia but a shop dedicated to that age old British custom of creating a stick of confection with the resort’s name running through it. It could equally be called tooth decay on a stick but we still refer to it as a stick of rock. The Coke goes down nicely and swills about oddly with the tea but in the heat I hardly feel it. I have an American friend who, when I told her we were hitting the eighties this summer, laughed and said that eighty was cool and that she was living through a summer in the nineties. She does live in Louisiana though, Lafayette. As I said, we only had a

glimpse of summer this year and then for just two weeks. This heat today is welcome but has been absent too long. As I walk, I pass the Walton-on-Naze leisure centre. The place is named after a gallant First World War soldier; one Herbert George Columbine. Herbert was born in 1893 in Penge, London and died in 1918 defending his position. The Great War was, as the now departed Harry Patch has said, organised murder; a stupid war, an uncalled for evil of gargantuan proportions; a sin committed for no other reason than the building and defence of empires. Thank the gods that all empires have now gone but this fact should not undermine this or any other man’s bravery and this chap’s act of heroism was huge. On March 22nd in Hevilly in France, Private Herbert Columbine took command of a gun. When the position became untenable due to flying aircraft bombing them constantly, Columbine told his comrades to flee saying that he would hold the position whilst they escaped. He kept firing from 9 in the morning until 1p.m when he was hit by a bomb that not only destroyed his gun but killed him in the process. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour given to a British soldier. Ironically, Harry Patch died at about the same time as I discovered this memorial. Harry was another true hero who should be remembered forever more especially for his observations as a foot soldier in the god-awful war and his honest and outspoken views on war. There is nothing pretentious about Walton. It is what it is and makes no bones about it. The sounds of laughter are loud as are the shops’ facades. I hear children screaming as they run into the sea. I hear mothers shouting to their offspring to be careful, not to jump on their sister’s leg like that, to keep the noise down, not to wave that spade about like that or you’ll have someone’s eye out but the kids don’t listen and do precisely what children were born to do , have fun. Perhaps Walton is tacky but what of it? It is the perfect foil to Frinton’s quiet charm: a working class folly full of amusement arcades and ice cream vans. I walk on leaving the small seafront behind. It is time now to move onto the dangerous, crumbling Naze itself with its highly regarded remnants of London Clay that are said to be 54 million years old. The Naze is perfect for kite flying as it stands high above the sea but sadly the place is eroding. Years and years of remorseless nature have taken their toll and the sea combined with the wind has reduced the area to silt that is constantly being eroded. There are many Pill Boxes along the East coast of England. They were built as a defence against the threat of German invasion. The Pill Boxes are concrete slabs that could have withstood machine gun fire with impenetrable ease but have not a cat in hell’s chance of stopping Mother Nature. There are a couple of ruined Pill Boxes on the beach. Green with seaweed, fractured by the bruising waves; they now lie broken and defeated as relics of another time. There is something oddly wonderful about them though even now as they await that final blow that will forever remove their remains from these shores.

There is a great deal of sadness to observe. The cliffs are crumbling at such a rate that you can almost see it before your eyes. I haven’t been to Walton for a couple of years and in that time it is quite unbelievable just how much soil has eroded. I first came here as child and remember walking where now there is empty space. War heroes and decaying battlements to one side, Walton has another figure of historical renown who lived the last years of his life here. Frank Paton was an artist who included Queen Victoria among his fans and patrons and who rose to prominence during those halcyon days. The art of Frank Paton is not the sort that has great appeal to me although I can see its virtues but it is very much of the age it was painted in and not as lasting as the Impressionists. It is rather twee and coy with lots of images of cute little animals often captured peering into looking glasses or posing with neatly placed balls. It has to be said that the gentleman managed to capture their likeness extremely well but I still have reservations about their worth.

Paton wasn’t born in Walton nor in Essex; Paton was a Londoner and was born in Stepney. Although famed for his paintings it was his etched Christmas cards that cemented his fame and made him large amounts on money as the cards, marketed as a quality product, sold for half a guinea each which was expensive for those days. He moved to Walton when he was 53 but only lived there for a short time as he died in November 1909 just ten days before his 54th birthday. He was described as a “kindly, unassuming man with a rare fund of humour,” which may be why he drew such quaint portraits. Another claim to fame that Walton has is its pier. Built in 1830, some say it is one of the oldest piers in Britain, if not the oldest. It has none of the Victorian elegance associated with such structures and lacks the grace, style and class of Brighton Pier but that notwithstanding it still has rough-hewn charm. It is not the longest pier as that title belongs to Southend but it is the third longest. (Southport coming a firm second.) There is nothing quite like taking a walk along a pier. Ice cream in one hand, seagulls overhead and a lusty, salt breeze blowing through your hair but I have no intention of walking down any pier today, be it Southport, Southend or indeed Walton. My feet are fine but I am still thirsty and it is a desperate thirst that needs quenching. The pier stands behind me and the day is drawing on so I decide to make a move. There is still Harwich to see and Dedham and then Borley. Americans love Borely not just because it is such a pretty place and not because of the spectres that have been seen there but also because Harry Price psychic researcher, author and ghost hunter did much of his famed research there. But then I hear you cry, wait, you haven’t told us what London Clay is. (I did mention it earlier.) Is it hardcore shipped from the heart of Hackney or mud from the middle of Millwall? Neither! London Clay is a marine geological formation of Ypresian age. It is found around the areas of Wiltshire, Kent and in great supply here in Essex, more specifically at Walton-on-the-Naze. (Bet you wished you had never asked now!) The clay has been used for making house bricks and for pottery but it is not for that

purpose that London Clay is most notable for but rather that it dates back millions of years to when this region would have been covered in a lush green forest much like East Africa or Indonesia today. Among the many fossils that can be found are bivalves (not spare car parts), gastropods (not French chefs), worm tubes, brittle stars, sharks teeth and birds that no longer exist: Antalavis Oxfordi (it looked a lot like or was possibly related to the Magpie-Goose of Australia). There were also remains found of a type of horse, Hyracotherium. Quite amazing what you can find buried in a load of mud isn’t it? I take my leave of Walton with its finite future, fling a farewell wave toward Frinton and head off toward Harwich, the seaport from where ships set sail to Holland.

part twenty-one
*‘Twas from Hearty Harwich that Christopher Jones and Captain Christopher Newport, those pilgrim sailors Hailed *
I have already spoken of one famous artist who lived, for part of his life in Walton (Frank Paton) and the above, highly individual artwork, is by another, more modern artist, Simon Carter of whom I will speak more later but for now, using his painting of Harwich by means of an illustration, let us investigate the history of the place ourselves. Harwich is a port known for its connection to Hook in Holland. It is, as such places always are, a hive of industry. The hustle and bustle of traffic making its way to the port mixes with the smell of salt sea air and the raucous cries of seagulls as they fly low above the town. Much of the town is of great architectural importance and has a conservation order on it. Harwich quay has some truly spectacular buildings: As with so many areas of interest in this region, John Constable captured their likeness on canvas. His view of old Harwich, painted in 1820, is vastly different to the contemporary port. Far more silent with its images of graceful sail ships passing like distant ghosts. No siren horns sounding, no motor car exhausts. During the 1600s, due to its strategic position, Harwich was the perfect port for navy vessels to moor up as it was fortified. Daniel Defoe had this to say of Harwich when he visited in 1722: "Harwich is a town of hurry and business, not much of gaiety and pleasure; yet the inhabitants seem warm in their nests and some of them are very wealthy." And on that score the place hasn’t changed much, in fact I suspect if the famed author were to return he would be gob-smacked at the modern pace of industry. It is not a large place with only some 15,000 people living here but it is riddled with sneaky alleys that betray its medieval past. There are also other buildings of a curious and lovely vintage: The Electric Palace being one such. It is the oldest cinema of its kind in Britain being built in 1911. It was closed in 1956 after being damaged but reopened in 1981 and is now a community cinema.

Again there are some noteworthy individuals who either were born here or lived within the town. Christopher Jones was born in 1570 in Harwich. In 1606 he boughtone quarter of a ship called The Mayflower which he sailed as captain, in 1660 along with the other Plymouth Brethren, to the New World. There is a river in Kingston, Massachusetts named after him: The Jones River. Then there is the other Christopher; Christopher Newport; Captain and privateer who in 1607 sailed the Susan Constant, the largest in a fleet of three ships, with its human cargo of settlers to a settlement in Jamestown. It was the first such permanent settlement in North America. Captain Newport was born in 1561 in London but lived in Harwich. Before his famed journey to the Americas on behalf of The Virginia Company, Newport had been not only a privateer but as near as damn it a pirate. I guess it could be argued that the United States of America owe a great debt of thanks to those two Christophers; Jones and Newport without whom etc. That is not the only slice of history that Harwich has to offer although it is probably the most significant and important. Harwich, like most of the area that surrounds it has a history as dark as it is bright and you won’t get far in Essex without tripping over the corpse or corpses of the odd witch or three. Somewhere between 1601 and 1660, just as the Christophers were sailing hither and thither, the people of Harwich, under the guidance of Mathew Hopkins (see last Wilful Walk 4) killed or murdered some fifteen women accused of being witches. Those same women, were they able to return now, would notice little difference in much of Harwich as the self same 16 th century facades are still in place. Among the women tortured by the said Witch Finder General were Mary Hart, Bridget Weaver and Margaret Buller but it wasn’t just women who suffered, for supposedly using the dark arts , Vicar John Lowes was also killed having been accused and found guilty of using his familiar to sink a ship somewhere between Landguard and Harwich. Nowadays we would lock Hopkins up for his acts of homicidal slaughter and bunkum but back then he was well thought of although not by the people he pursued.

part twenty-two
* On the banks of the Stour * * Of Flatford Mill and Hay Wain’s * *Where Constable Dreamt the Dedham Dream * * The Visions of Alfred Munnings * * Art and Postmen according to Simon Carter * * The Haunting of Borley and Dear Mister Price *

The first thing I know, even before I enter this quaint old English town of Dedham with its array of picturesque houses and aging pubs, is its association with the river Stour that runs through it. It is the Stour that links us neatly, not just to Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, for that is where the Stour threads its ceaseless route, but also to the famed artist John Constable. It was along the Stour that Constable, with his wondrous gift, and some liberal imagination, painted his legendary works of art. Dedham is as close as you can get, while still being in Essex, to the neighbouring county of Suffolk. Obviously Constable must have loved the area as it was from here that he would walk and wander looking, researching before finally settling down with paintbrush and easel to paint those fantastic images he is now remembered for. I say fantastic as I have a huge respect for the man’s natural gift but it is not the sort of art that excites me but more of that later on. Here is Dedham; and as English a town as you could wish for. The Marlborough Head is a public house of declining years. Much of the building appears to be sinking into itself; the top section looks as though it is sliding down into the ground floor while the building shapes itself, clinging in disregard to gravity, to the slight incline it is built upon. The pub is old, dating back to Tudor times. Opposite the pub and across the road is another establishment of venerable years; The English Rose tea rooms built in the 16th century. Yes, the tea rooms are a temptation but with a struggle I resist. I follow the hill down to where a bridge crosses a river. It is of course the river that I spoke: the river Stour and the bridge is the structure that links Essex to Suffolk. People sit along the bank while geese stroll to and fro occasionally sounding their curious claxon warning if some child should wander too close. I lean over the bridge and watch the life below. A collection of boats float in a sort of semi-circle so spotting the obvious photo opportunity I take a swift snap. Only a short walk away is the place were Constable painted his famed Flatford Mills and again only a short walk from here where he sat and created The Hay Wain. Wain is a funny word now, very old and archaic but a good, if infrequently used, word nonetheless. There is of course another famous artist from around here, in fact Sir Alfred Munnings resided in Dedham and has a museum dedicated to him. Munnings, like Constable used the natural countryside as an influence but he concentrated more on a narrative form of art than Constable. He was especially regarded as having one hell of an eye for detail and definition when it came to drawing or painting things equine. Personally, I prefer him to Constable although I have nothing in particular against the latter it is just that I like art with a story behind it. Having said that I do like abstract expressionism too! Munnings would not have approved of my appreciating abstract or modern art as he utterly loathed it. He was very outspoken about anything modern and was heavily critical of, rude even about Cézanne, Matisse and even that genius of modern art, Picasso. Once, when Winston Churchill asked him what he would do if he met Picasso coming down the street asking if he would join the war time leader in kicking his arse, Munnings replied, “Yes, Sir, I would.”

Alfred Munnings was born in Mendham, Suffolk, in 1878. He lost the sight of one eye in 1898 but this did not deter him a bit and as soon as his apprenticeship finished (he worked initially for a Norwich printer) he went on to become a full time painter. He volunteered to serve in the Great War but was told he was unfit to fight so instead was employed by the Canadian Cavalry Brigade as an artist. I like the man because of his outspoken and individual attitude to life. I cannot agree with him about modern art but I have to admire his principles and staunch beliefs even if I don’t accept them. He lived until the ripe old age of 81 dying in 1959. Sadly, I very much doubt if he would have liked Simon Carter or that said gent’s art. I find Simon Carter’s work electrifying. It strikes me as having elements of impressionism and the abstract. His colours are a vibrant and wonderful depiction of the Stour valley where, just like Constable, he works. He has this almost childlike way of daubing paint so that it has a bold and decisive feel to it, very different from Constable who used subtle tones of colour to create his images. There is a pub in Dedham called The Sun Inn. It is a public house with a ghost. The ghost in question is a girl who has been seen in full skirts walking down the staircase between the two bars. Her skirt is of a brown hue and she is seen weeping and sometimes sitting on the stairs. It is said that she is the ghost of a young witch who was burnt at the stake by the locals. Some say that was not the case as in point of fact she was hung in 1771 and that her name is Elsa. 1771 is a bit late for witch trials though, so this may be more hearsay. Whatever the truth is the ghost of the girl has been seen by various people and on many occasions with some even venturing that she appears to like women but not men. Perhaps whoever ended her life was a man hence the natural dislike. I now say my fond farewells to Constable, Munnings, Carter and to the village of Dedham. Although not to ghosts as I am about to visit yet another village and this one with more ghostly tales than you can shake a stick at: Borley village. To get there I follow the northern curve of Essex round where it kisses Suffolk. Borley is a part of the Stour valley collection of villages and lays some few miles north west of Sudbury in Suffolk. Forever more the village, pretty as a picture, will be remembered, less for its delightful charms and more for Borley Church and the equally notorious Borley Rectory. The church, as seen below, is said to be haunted by ghosts who were made homeless when the Rectory was burnt to the ground in 1939 before being demolished in 1944. The name Borley comes from the ancient Anglo-Saxon: Bar as in boar and Ley as in pasture or field thereby making Barley (the Boar Field) or, in modern spelling Borley. The church was built around the 12th century but it is widely believed that the site the Rectory was built on is where the curse of the spectres comes from. Possibly built by Benedictine monks around the same period it is said that a nun fell in love with a monk and they, like Adam and Eve before them couldn’t resist temptation and eloped together. Sadly, their plans to run away became known to the other monks. Another monk, and a friend of the couple, volunteered to help them escape by driving a carriage with them hidden inside.

On the fateful night the monks captured the trio, whereupon they beheaded the friendly monk, hung the amorous lover by the neck and bricked the nun alive in the walls of the Rectory. Borley Rectory was then built on the site of the ancient building in 1862 by the Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull. A year later he moved in after being appointed rector of the parish. The first paranormal event took place the same year, 1863, when a group of locals heard unexplained footsteps padding around the place. Then, some years later in 1900, the daughters of the family living there were scared out of their wits when they saw a ghostly nun walking past them. The children tried to talk to the spectre but it vanished as they pursued it. This tale has been dismissed as a childish invention although subsequent sightings haven’t. Years later, after Henry Dawson Ellis Bull had died and so had his successor, his son, Henry Bull, a third rector was appointed, the Reverend Guy Eric Smith. His wife, when cleaning a cupboard found a brown paper package which contained the skull of a young female. This horrific find was followed by a series of alarming events. The servants’ alarm bells would sound even though the strings to pull them had been cut, lights mysteriously appeared at windows then vanished and there were more unexplained footsteps. Then, one sooty night, a horse-drawn carriage was seen by Mrs. Smith. The family called for the expert skills of paranormal and psychic researcher, Harry Price. Harry was born in 1881 in Red Lion Square, London, even though he claimed to have been born in Shropshire. At the turn of the century, Harry came to the attention of the press when he claimed an interest in space-telegraphy. He went so far as to set up a transmitter and receiver that operated between Telegraph Hill, Hatcham and St. Peter’s Church, Brockley. Harry was widely regarded as a genuine sort of fellow, if a little misguided, and did his utmost to expose hoaxers. His most famous exposé was William Hope, the spirit photographer. Hope took a photo of Price which featured a ‘spirit’ in the foreground. It was later proven to be a hoax. Oddly though, bunkum or not, Price went on to receive acclaim in other fields. His psychic research library was given on permanent loan to the University of London; he was involved in the formation of the National Film Library (now the British Film Institute) eventually becoming its chairman and the founding member of the Shakespeare Film Society. Having concluded his investigations at Borley Rectory, Price claimed to have found a great many strange and inexplicable events: bell-ringing, bottle-throwing, windows breaking and many other odd goings-on. Mrs. Smith said, after Price had left that all such incidents ceased and stated that she suspected Price all along. The Smiths left in 1929 to be replaced by a new rector and his family, the Foysters. Then odd things started happening again, the daughter of the Foysters was locked in a room that had no key in the lock and the wife reported being thrown, physically from her bed. Then Adelaide was attacked by something horrible. The vicar tried to exorcise whatever demons inhabited his home but all to no avail. Then Foyster was struck in his shoulder by a fist sized stone.

After the Foysters had left due to the rector’s ill health, Harry Price returned to conduct more tests and experiments. His findings, never proven, were alarming. Price pulled together some forty eight people who he asked to act as observers within the Rectory. Most of these people were students and all the observations were carried out at the weekend. At the end of this experiment Price, having correlated his evidence then conducted a Planchette séance. A connection was made and a history was revealed.

The woman who conducted the séance was a young lady named Helen Glanville. She made contact with two spirits. The first was a nun who said her name was Marie Lairre. She claimed that she had been murdered at Borley Rectory. According to Marie, she was a French nun who had left her order to get married. She then came to live in England. Her husband was Henry Waldergrave, the owner of the 17th century manor house. Marie claimed that she had been killed in 1667. Price believed this tale and held it up for scrutiny. He suggested that the wall writings were those of Marie as she tried to leave messages for the living, informing them of her death, pleas for help as it were. Of course, nothing could be verified. Helen Glanville then made contact with a second spirit who claimed to be Sunex Amures saying that it was he who set fire to the Rectory. He did this so as to reveal the bones of the dead. The then owner confirmed that, as he was unpacking boxes, an oil lamp mysteriously fell over setting fire to the hallway. The fire spread rapidly and the Rectory was severely damaged. Harry Price then conducted a search of the ruined house where he found the bones of a young woman along with a medal of Saint Ignatius. The medal was typical of those worn by nuns during the 1600s. However, since his death in 1948, a lot of doubt has been cast over the honesty of Harry Price and many who have researched his claims have found his evidence was often falsified and, as much as he may have seemed to have exposed hoaxers, he was perhaps the biggest hoaxer of them all. Marie Lairre has never been seen again but is thought to be wandering still.

“The gift of truth excels all other gifts.” Buddha

part twenty three
* An Association of Sizes: Great and Little Henny, Great and Little Maplestead * * Mindful of Middleton and in league with Twinstead: thatched cottages in abundance * * Pebmarsh; the Normans and the Severed Head * *A matrimony of villages: Sible and Castle Hedingham * * Edward de Vere and the mystery of William Shakespeare *
I could, if I wanted, as I leave Borley with its ghosts and mysteries behind, follow the northern curve of Essex as it touches Suffolk, trailing the border between the two counties. I decide not to and instead turn my ox-blood DMs toward the small villages of Great and Little Henny. There is something quite delightful and dotty about the collection of old villages that hang around the neck of the Essex/Suffolk border like a string of pearls. Perfectly formed and tiny as they appear, they are, to all intents and purposes, throwbacks to another age; an age when Britain was far more rural, less cosmopolitan perhaps and still in touch with the concept of communities. The roads are small and traffic low. The rivers and streams dance and sparkle with a glorious lustre. Above me, a phalanx of ducks (is that the correct collective noun for ducks?) flies across the eggshell blue sky. One or two quacks crack the air. I watch as they fly on heavy wings from left to right and across my horizon. As I look away, I notice by my feet a rose that has fallen to the pavement; my boot has crushed a part of the head. The damsel soft petals splay out on the tired tarmac as though they are spilt tears. Nature is such a curious thing; both fair and kind while cruel and harsh. My eldest daughter is a cardiologist and has achieved great things in her twenty six years. She has always been, just like Mean Mister Mustard’s sister, a go getter; always focused, forever hardworking. She has strived to do better for herself and she has, much to her credit and my insane pride, succeeded. My chest fills every time I speak to someone new about her and I have to remind myself not to bore people with endless accounts of all her achievements. She ran for both school and county and also swam for both and she, unlike me who was expelled from school, has so many qualifications that you could fill a bag with them. I have always called her, since she

snuggled in the womb, Thumbscrew: the first, the fastest and also the feistiest of all my children. Then there is Squid, my third child and my princess. If ever God had a sense of balance or irony then he employed it here with these two siblings, these two beautiful daughters of mine. Squid has learning difficulties, speech problems and also a mild form of epilepsy known as absence seizures. She will never scale the academic heights that Thumbscrew has. She will never soar high in an industrial career. All I and her mother can hope for is that she achieves the greatest gift of life, happiness. At the end of the day though, with or without a bevy of grades to her name she is still my princess, still my pride and joy and I am so blessed to have four such beautiful kids to my name. I do worry though just how the hell she will get by when either my wife or I aren’t there to help her. Sometimes she snuggles up to me for a hug and upon smelling the garlic bread that I have recently eaten announces in a loud and derogatory voice, “Your breath stinks, Daddy.” She is right of course but then again, sometimes, so is nature. Anyway, after all that sentimental stuff I think I need a drink and here is just the right place. The delightful public house called “The Swan.” Pubs are not what they once were. No more the snug filled with a thick fug of smoke. No more ladies stuck together like laundry in a basket as they tittle tattle the day’s news, weaving gossip into gospel truths and facts out of widows’ fictions. No more the men with nicotine stained fingers and rheumy eyes that strain to see the good in a tankard of ale whose head is more froth than substance. The gathering of such folk is now the stuff of old books; of Thomas Hardy and James Joyce, of Dylan Thomas as he spins his words on cotton threads of verbs and adjectives. Today’s pubs are cool gatherings of the young and of families who visit, regular as a supermarket trip, to feast on high days and Sundays. Few people nowadays treat the pub as the meeting place after work; the place where one goes to relax, socialise and gather news. The world changes and the people change with it. Old customs become careworn before becoming quaint, for who needs dominoes when you can have Playstation? I buy a pint of Coke, getting an odd look from the barmaid for my troubles, then I settle down to drink, think and observe. Gathered here with me in this hospitable, venerable establishment with its rare glass windows that allow in a frail light, are the future phantoms of a passing age; the ghosts to be as it were. These are the technogeneration who will be remembered, possibly, as the lot who thought themselves so ingenious, with all their microscopic, miniscule inventions, only to find themselves patronised and replaced, by a subsequent generation. It happens to us all doesn’t it, eventually? I still think Dylan Thomas had it just about right though with his genius of a poem: Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night. Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight, Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. I have always struggled to write what I call proper poetry. I find it all a bit too mathematical for my liking, a bit too rigid and too structured. Perhaps that is my defence to say those things as the poetry I have written has little or no substance and I am far too lazy to bother to try to understand the mechanics of proper poetry. I love haiku but could never be bothered to attempt such a discipline and would rather create something like it that is similar but not the same. This is not an attempt at Haiku or at any other form of wordplay but is my attempt at poetry. I call my idea poetry, with not too much arrogance or vain pretension I hope, Minima-B.
Monday Poem One
Ticking time, Traces of water on a window pane. I drift away like sleep, I drift away like smoke, In my mind A tattoo forms on an angels skin.. The sky folds into another day. Light sticks my eyes like needles, Like spiteful pine needles. I wrap the cotton wool morning around my head And break into the shower

My attempts are lame so I put my pen away and leave the pub to the brittle bones and speak-easy angels of modern man. The road I take from north Essex weaves its crooked way around the fields like a sly serpent. The summer sun has retuned itself to the season and fills the sky with a blaze of gold. The heat is back and I feel it now licking my face and head with its false promise of a tan. The quilted countryside lays silent and dormant as if dreaming of other seasons. It is late summer now, soon to be autumn but the sun is out and birds keep a lid on their jubilance chirrupping quietly as if observing some unwritten, unspoken law of nature. The hedgerows have grown tall making it difficult in places to see the fields beyond. Occasionally I catch a glimpse of the sleepy scene as it unfolds itself in colours of taupe, brown, green and eggshell blue. The best way to see England is by air as only then do you get a full view of the patchwork irregularity of this green and pleasant land. Suspended high overhead a hawk hovers, its beady eye following the tiny movements of a shrew or vole or field

mouse. Suddenly, as if by some distant command, it drops from the sky like death descending. Its wings folded back, its head thrust forward as it plummets downward in its merciless descent. For a moment it disappears from view beneath the inconspicuous grass. Then, seconds later it appears again as it wings its way back to its vantage point in the sky. I cannot see from here whether it has a meal or not but as it begins the whole exercise again I can only guess that it hasn’t. Little, along with Great Henny form part of the necklace of border land villages that ease Essex into Suffolk. They are as pretty as a picture and exist here and now as comfortably as they did in the thirties, as quietly as in Edwardian times and could quite easily, if one closes ones eyes and suspends belief, be the backdrop to an episode of Midsummer Murders. Thatched cottages caress red brick houses that sidle up to each other in a comfort of forgotten eras. Time still makes its own way here and at a different pace to the rest of the kingdom. I find it hard to conceive that anyone here, and I know I am being naive, suffers from stress or anxiety; life seems so easy here, so laid back and unhurried. There is also an abundance of villages in this region with the prefix of either little or great. Great and Little Henny being two but there are also Great and Little Maplestock, Great Dunmow which is further in the heart of Essex, Great Baddow, Little Burstead, Great Sampford, Great Wakering, Great Leigh’s and goodness knows how many more. Perhaps these ancient names, or at least the people who created them, were caught in some peasant game of one-up-man-ship? Maybe somewhere there is a series of villages with a string of ludicrous names that begin with lesser before moving onto little which in turn is superseded by great only for that superlative to be outdone by supreme. There are several signs forewarning you that you have entered rural England. The smell of compost, the circle of birds that hover over the fields of grain, the excitable pheasant that does an idiot jig in front of me zigzagging from left to right as I approach and the liberally released cow pats that be-speckle the road like corrupt, rotten pancakes. Two horses give me the once over when they see me before returning to chewing grass. A small dog, a terrier, yaps a warning as I pass, its tiny frame shaking with each violent, if a little squeaky, bark. Its tail stands proud and quivering as though it were an arrow that has just struck its mark. The village church hides itself in peaceful seclusion behind a growth of hedge and tree. The arched gateway has a smaller side gate that leans against the main structure in a manner that reminds me of a foal leaning against its mother. The legend carved above the gateway is, presumably Norman, as this church, like so many in this area, was built in that period. A scattering of gravestones give an indication of the time this place has stood here, of its history. One of the gravestones, broken and splintered and sinking back into the soil, has the lid hanging half off. I want to go closer to look but have a creepy notion that if I did a skeletal hand would reach and grab me, dragging me deep down into the remorseless dirt and clay. It has a haunted feeling that is hard to shake off. I move on.

I walk on, dust gathering on my blood-red boots. A single pigeon, stupid and slow watches me as I gain ground on it then, at the last moment before I tread on the dumb bird, it takes flight. Turning a bend in the road I see a series of reclusive thatched cottages that shelter timidly behind a tangle of hedgerow. The shrubbery keeps their beauty secret while their inhabitants have an enviable privacy. There are so many thatched cottages here that I am truly spoilt for choice in selecting a few for photos. They are so very pretty and picturesque, lying quietly, demurely even as they bask in this odd autumn weather we are having. Today it is in the mid-eighties and my tan, which I am very proud of and which, I have to say is typically English in that it only covers my forearms, face and my neck, is topping up nicely. Any one of these delightful cottages would make fine chocolate box lids or greetings card covers. I try to find some fault with these antiquated homesteads but I am hard pushed to find any as they all seem so perfect. Perhaps, and being purely selfish, the owners might trim their hedges more often and to a lesser height just so that I, and anyone else for that matter, might better see the homes behind them. It is only a thought, mind. Great and Little Henny fall behind me; Middleton, Twinstead and Pebmarsh lay ahead. They too have the same sort of homes that angle themselves away from prying eyes while remaining as coquettish as seventeenth century ladies gathered at a ball. I wonder if there is a season that matches the charm of these places other than summer. I imagine that winter, if we still had the winters of Dickens’ day, snow white and crystal precise, would make a fine picture if set against these venerable cottages. The art of thatching is still very much alive in Britain and especially England as there are still a great many cottages like these about. In many ways they, along with the patchwork quilted farm lands, are the epitome of the English countryside. I have holidayed in places like these and they make fine homes with their odd little nooks and crannies, their unforgiving beams and their stone flagged floors. Like any decent architecture, the soul of the people and the surrounding area that claims home to them is reflected in their pastoral design. They are as much a part of where they stand as the trees and hedgerow. Pebmarsh church is far larger and grander than its Henny counterpart. A plaque on the door informs me that is has mention made of it in the Domesday Book of 1086. More history brought to life in the here and now. There is one gravestone that bears an inscription along with a date: 1742. The gravestone has a rather macabre skull adorning it that instantly makes me think of Captain Jack Sparrow and of pirates. There are no pirates here though as we are far from the sea and equally far from the estuary. The church has all the hallmark characteristics of Norman design: long, elegant pointed arches, stout parapets and sharp corners. They are far less rustic than the ones built by the Anglo-Saxons and are often far larger too.

The Normans landed here, as most people know, in 1066, well, not here exactly but down in Hastings where a battle was fought between William the Conqueror’s men and those of the Anglo–Saxon King Harold. Harold copped an arrow in his eye and the Normans went on to bring a new prosperity to these lands, returning the kingdom to an era of disciplined control not seen since the Roman occupation. The Normans were the last people to ever conqueror Britain, not even mad Adolph could succeed with his invincible armed forces. Conquest ultimately brings a time of peace and creativity and the Norman reign has bequeathed to us some incredible architecture. The church at Pebmarsh is one fine example but there are others that I note as I walk. When the Normans arrived in England, they found a rustic country filled by a people who lived as serfs, poor people with few or no rights. The period has become known as the dark ages but were very likely less dark than we have been led to believe but the Anglo-Saxons did not seem to have any vision of betterment or development and simply existed in their tiny kingdoms. There was a degree of unification of England but nothing like that of the Romans who preceded them or the Normans who followed them. Until William of Normandy’s arrival in England, English Kings had not succeeded to the throne by hereditary right but by a virtual cock fight with a multitude of candidates all vying for and claiming kingship. Any Lord who had some small amount of royal blood could make a claim for the throne. When Harold became King it was after he had been nominated by his predecessor Edward the Confessor who was childless. It was only as King Edward lay dying that a select group of magnates confirmed Harold as the new King of England. Harold was a fine and noble King but he was not the only Lord given consideration. Among the other candidates were another Harold, Harold Hardrada, King of Norway who had been promised the throne by his father who in turn had been promised the kingdom by King Harthacnut who had preceded Edward the Confessor. Another was Prince Edgar the grandson of Edmund Ironside who could trace his ancestry directly from Alfred the Great and finally there was William, Duke of Normandy which in itself was rather dubious as William was illegitimate. (Well, the Anglo-Saxons said he was a right bastard.) William held that he had been promised the kingship by Edward the Confessor back in 1051. William also claimed that Harold had sworn allegiance to him when he had visited Normandy in 1064, something that Harold denied. Trouble was brewing for Harold. In September 1066 the other Harold (Hardrada) invaded England with a huge fleet of some three hundred ships. Harold II (the English one) had a brother who turned against his own brother, taking up allegiance with the King of Norway. Their combined forces marched on York where they were met by two of Harold II’s allies. Unfortunately the allied army was beaten with Harold of Norway claiming victory before occupying York. Harold of England rode north with his army where he commenced battle at Stamford Bridge. The battle was fierce and bloody but ended with Harold of England victorious and both Tostig, Harold’s brother and Harold of Norway dead. At this point Harold of England would have liked to have rested his forces but was unable to as William

had arrived some three hundred miles south. Harold and his men had just marched three hundred miles north, fought and won a hard battle and now were faced with repeating the whole episode in reverse. The battle of Hastings awaited. It is hard to conceive that somewhere as beautiful as this could harbour a homicidal maniac. Such natural charm and beauty would, you might think, have somehow negated any such arcane designs but sadly nowhere is free of madness if indeed this vile act was madness. One bright and early Wednesday morning on 2nd September 1896, Samuel Collis became unhinged and started attacking his family. Armed with a shotgun, a pistol and a carving knife he chased his mother and sister into their house where they barricaded themselves in, crying out for help. Alerted by the cries, Robert John Cockerill, the farm bailiff, rushed to assist. The following article is from the 3 rd September 1896 edition of the Halstead and Colne Valley Gazette:

Halstead & Colne Valley Gazette
3rd September 1896

Shocking Murder at Pebmarsh
A Man's Head Cut off
Full Details
Early on Wednesday morning, the inhabitants of the quiet village of Pebmarsh were put in a great state of excitement, by the report that a shocking murder had been committed in their midst. The report only proved too true, and the particulars are of a shocking nature. It appears that a young farmer named Samuel Bentall Collis, well known in the neighbourhood, had for some time past been in a queer state of mind. He lived in a house on the Garlands Farm Road, about a quarter of a mile from Bromptons Farm, where his mother and sister reside, his father being dead. Early on Wednesday morning Mrs Ellen Turpiu, the married sister of Collis, got up about a quarter to six, and on going out to feed the chickens, she saw her brother in the yard. Without any warning he rushed at her and knocked her down, and said he meant to do for the whole lot of them. Mrs Collis saw what was happening and rushed out. She shouted and he let go his sister, and both women ran into the house and barricaded the doors. Collis then began to break the kitchen window with the butt end of a double barrelled gun, but the inmates saw no more of him for some time afterwards.

A little before six o'clock the farm bailiff, Robert John Cockerill, who lives about five hundred yards away from the farm, came to the farm, and it appears that he was met in the yard by Collis and the two were seen by a lad named Warren to be conversing together. The lad was ordered to go and feed the pigs by Cockerill, but just before leaving saw Collis hit the farm bailiff with his open hand on the face. Shortly afterwards the lad heard the report of a firearm but did not go back and look, but ran away. From all appearances it is evident Collis pulled out a revolver and fired at Cockerill, the bullet coming out of the roof of the head. Death must have been instantaneous, as the firearm was of exceptionally large bore. After shooting him, Collis must have severed the head from the body with a large carving knife, and placing it in a bowl, he proceeded down the road towards his own residence. In the meantime, the inmates of the farmhouse had sent down for PC Cook, and the constable immediately hastened to the scene on his bicycle. Between the two houses he met Collis and asked him what he had been doing. Collis, who still had the bowl under his arm said "I have been killing a sheep and here's its head," producing the head of the murdered man, whom the constable recognised as Cockerill. PC Cook was completely taken aback, and told Collis he would have to go back to the farm with him. They both went to the farm and while the constable was trying to get the inmates to come out, Collis escaped and running through the farmyard, climbed a wall and got into the fields. PC Cook followed and while doing so he saw the headless body of a man lying in the yard. He overtook Collis after a hard run and just before he got up to his man, Collis turned round and presenting a revolver at Cook threatened to shoot him if he came too near. PC Cook, with the remarkable pluck that characterised his action all through, drew his truncheon and threatened to split Collis's head open if he didn't lower the revolver. The man was evidently scared for he put his revolver in his pocket. Cook then closed with Collis and notwithstanding the immense strength of his opponent, he managed to get him down and take the revolver out of his pocket. He then called for help and the man Warren came to his assistance. Another man named Rust also came up and between them they securely bound Collis and conveyed him in a trap to Halstead. Some five years ago the father of Collis died, and the murdered man was appointed as farm bailiff. Although the two men seemed to be on fairly friendly terms, it could be seen that there was a spirit of jealousy in Collis's remarks, as he thought he ought to have been appointed bailiff. When searched by PC Cook among other things found on Collis were the revolver, carving knife stained with blood, the bent barrels of a

doubled barrelled gun with a broken stock, a baby's bib, powder flask, razor, cork screw, scissors, cigar case, old empty cartridges, matches, tooth brush, screw driver, pocket book, and other things. On the road to Halstead he made some very queer remarks and said that he was Napoleon, and kept on exclaiming "Vive I'Anarchie". The deceased man leaves a widow and eight children, only two of the latter being at home. Collis is a very large man, weighing nearly 16 stone, and standing some good bit over six foot, and is about 35 years of age. He has acted very queerly on several occasions lately, and it was intended to put him under restraint today. Long before legal proceedings were undertaken and during the court case Samuel Collis gave all the signs of being a total lunatic. Whilst detained by the police he spoke of ‘doing for the lot of them’ and also of being both Napoleon and Pitt (William). He also claimed to have killed a girl a week before the murder of Collis. His very actions seemed to be those of a madman. Eventually the court found him guilty but he was declared mad after extensive examination by doctors and specialists and was sentenced to serve his punishment in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum where he remained.
With grateful thanks to for all information on The Severed Head of Pebmarsh

The gravestone above is the one I mentioned earlier with the date of birth being 1721 (I think) and the death 1744. It is very hard to discern a name though as the stone is much worn and has, as can clearly be seen, a large lump missing. Below is a shed I saw on the walk away from Henny on my way to Pebmarsh. It caught my eye as it seems to be growing from the ground it sits on rather than having been placed there. Leaving poor old Samuel Collis vegetating in the Broadmoor loony bin I take a slightly northern turn in my walk twisting back up, and a little over, toward Sible and Castle Hedingham. Upon hearing those quaint old names you could be forgiven for thinking that these two aging villages are nothing more than a long married couple or perhaps a sister and brother who live in close proximity to each other. I think I prefer the later option. I imagine the two neighbouring villages, late at night as the moon waxes full and only a lonely fox can be seen scratching its living out of the bins of the sleeping villagers, merging together in a psychedelic mass of timbers, tile and thatch and shuffling closer to each other as the villagers dream their clotted dreams on wafts of warm scents and summer breezes. Sible sits down next to Castle and gossips candidly about the issues that matter most to her while Castle nods in a manly way, agreeing visibly while all the while thinking of the fleshy parts of faraway Saffron Walden who, in secret, he loves and harbours illicit fantasies about. She of course knows nothing of this and sits waiting just as she has for hundreds of years for the man of her dreams to whisk her away. I turn into Sible Hedingham first as it comes before Castle Hedingham and am instantly bowled over by the length of the High Street; one mile long and filled with timber framed fourteenth century properties, exquisite buildings running in curves and

sweeping along with the tarmac of the road. Sible Hedingham is the second largest village in Essex and its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘ham of Hedin’s people’ and Sible from the widow of Geoffrey de Laventon who held land in Sible Hedingham in 1237. During its lengthy lifetime it has had a myriad of different industries: agriculture, hop planting, cloth trade, tanning, straw plaiting, iron foundries, tinsmiths, coopers, basket making, toy making, coach builders, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, carpenters, thatchers, bricklayers, bakers, butchers and shoemakers. (Cobblers to you mate.) Of course, Sible Hedingham has other , less obvious tales to tell but can also lay claim to having had a very famous thirteenth century mercenary or soldier of fortune born in the village. The gentleman in question was Sir John Hawkwood. Born in Sible Hedingham in 1320, Hawkwood was the second son of a local tanner and was apprenticed under that trade in London. Unhappy with such a pedestrian lifestyle, Hawkwood joined the army and served England during the Hundred Years’ War fighting for Edward III. He is believed to have fought in the battle of Crécy and also, possibly, Poitiers. He may have been knighted by King Edward but there are no historical proofs to this effect and his title may have been self-appointed. He moved to Burgundy where he joined the small mercenary force known as the White Company, a group that fought for money in France. They were a notorious bunch, fierce and able to fight hard in battle and skirmishes. He eventually became leader of the group and cemented its growing reputation by once having signed up for a particular cause, unlike many other mercenaries, staying with it until the bitter end. On a personal front, he had a reputation as a fierce, brutal warrior but of also being very chivalrous. In 1375 he fought for and on behalf of the Pope. In 1377 he led the destruction of Cesena again on behalf of the Pope. In 1381 King Richard II of England appointed Hawkwood as ambassador to the Roman Court. He died in Florence in 1394 on March 17th. He was buried with honours in Duomo. Shortly after, Richard II had his body brought back to England where it was buried. His son moved to Essex to live there. Castle Hedingham follows on, male and always glorious but in truth still in thrall to the feminine quality of nearby Sible. Here the High Street is short and stocky, a blunt outlet of public houses and a few odd shops. I buy two Kitkats from one then limp away into the heat of the September sun. My blood sugar is low and I need to sit and eat and drink some Lucozade. Liquids are the quickest way to get sugar into the blood and I always carry a supply with me just in case. The older I get, and the less fit, so the effort of walking burns up my blood sugar. I always try to weigh up the pitfalls before I walk, ensuring that I have eaten double my normal intake of slow acting carbohydrates but today I misjudged and the consequence is the awful shaky feeling. Still, a couple of swigs of the old ‘sugar water’ and a couple of digestives and I am as right as rain again: onwards. The confectionary of homes that greet me, coated in sugar pinks, yellows and blues is mouth watering and lyrical, a sonnet of hues that wash the eye with a pleasing array of primary colours. I cross over from my photo opportunity position to bathe in the

colours and to be near these sweet old residences, remarkable places that have seen so much during their time here. There is a public house sweltering beneath the sun. The roof appears to be melting. As it does it slips and slides down into itself, the roof bending with the coarse weight of time that sits so heavy upon its beams and lintels. The wood that frames it was chopped down from the vast woods that used to form ancient Essex. Many of the buildings around here were cut from the same woodlands. Houses built and armadas set sail by virtue of the virgin timbers taken from Essex woods. Of course, with the exception of Epping Forrest and perhaps Hockley Woods, few of the woodlands remain but the investment in buildings does and what a fantastic investment it has proven to be. As gnarled and crooked as a seafarer’s hands the public house stares back at me as if to say ‘and what of it, you young whipper snapper? Pray tell me what have you seen in your brief life that could even begin to compete with what I have seen? I have stood on this very street since the fourteenth century and I have seen sights that would freeze the blood in your veins and set your heart pumping like a piston.’ With King Street on my left and St. James Street curving away to my right, I go the way of the sainted James for that leads me onto the Castle grounds and as that is the reason, or one of them at least for my visit, it only seems sensible to follow its course. I pass the tennis courts that lay to my left and find that I am unable to resist sitting on the bench that sneaks into the area. The courts are humble as there are only three and any thoughts of Wimbledon soon vanish. I sit with the sun glaring onto my face. Its heat is a rush of comfort that beckons on and brings out a sudden weariness. My head nods and I drift, momentarily into a doze. It only lasts some ten minutes or so but I awake with a start. Looking about me I check to see if anyone noticed, not that they could mind if I did, let alone say anything but there is no one that I can see about. I pick up my camera and bag put some music on to wake me up and send a buzz of electricity through my heart. The music comes from the excellent first eponymous Roxy Music album and it is the brilliant Virginia Plain. After the Beatles had split I, and many of my generation, felt bereft of any form of identity. There had been Prog rock but that, okay as it was, did not replace that heady feeling the sixties had given us. There had been the fallout from the Beatles in terms of early Lennon, Harrison and McCartney but, good as they were, they were not what I was looking for. It wasn’t until Bowie and then this lot arrived that music really meant something again. My generation suddenly had an outrageous identity. With the music blasting in my ears and a stupid grin on my face, I enter the grounds of Castle Hedingham where a gentleman waits to collect payment for entry into the castle itself. We exchange pleasantries and I hand over my fiver and head up toward the castle keep. I walk around the grounds first, going through the car park, then through the mottled avenues of the small woods that sit left of the keep and then onto the placid pond that reflects the September sun with such a sparkling delight. I throw my gear onto the cracked, dry earth that has seen not a drop of rain for weeks and sit down. The sun above gurns at me, I lay back with hands behind my head and sunglasses firmly on whereupon I gaze at the clouds as they slip by.

Getting up I collect my rag tag bags and camera, then I walk on to where the castle keep stands high and proud. Firstly though I come across where the descendents of Edward de Vere now live. Edward de Vere and his family were the original Lords of this manor and all these grounds were theirs but more of them and the controversy that surrounds Edward later; first here is the house they, the Lindsays, for that is the name of the de Vere descendents, now live in. It is smart without being overly grand, large without any traces of ostentation. The castle keep is one of the finest examples of Norman buildings of this kind found anywhere in England. It towers above you as you approach it; imperial, stern, seemingly impervious, stout and sharp of edge. It doesn’t so much look down upon you as it does leer at you. The look is both a warning and a challenge. The walls are pocked mark but more likely by decay than the scars of war. Inside the tower are uneven, broken steps that take you both up and down the structure. A rope is hung along the interior wall so that you can hold it for security while you either climb or descend. There was a time when, for the sake of seeming cool, I would have no more taken hold of the rope than fly. Today though, all ego has gone and cool can jump out of the nearest portcullis; I take a firm grip on the rope and climb the stairs. Once I reach the top I can see for what seems like miles. The soft colours of Essex and Suffolk lay eiderdown neat below me, the air seems crisp and fresh. There is a faint smell of mown grass It must have made a devil of job trying to attack a place like this back in the day as it is set so high up but no doubt some foolhardy foe did, armed with mace, shield and battle axe and a belly full of ferocious loathing. Still firmly holding the rope I descend the way I came and thankfully there is no one coming the other way which allows me to climb on down without having to grant them access by me, showing all due courtesy, releasing my grip on the rope and moving over to where the steps are smaller and far more lethal. It is cool as I climb down. The thick walls prevent heat penetrating. This would have proven a boon in summer but what of winter nights when the cold pervades all? It must have been bloody freezing in here. I suspect that whoever set guard in here would have gathered downstairs where there is now a tea room and would have huddled around a roaring fire eating the catch of the day while drinking flagons of ale or whatever it was that Normans drank. Mead perhaps or mulled wine, warmed and spiced. As I leave the keep the sun that I had tied to the outside to await my return rushes at me with a thankfully warm grin and I accept its embrace with all due grace. As an Englishman I have learnt over the years that the national pastime of always complaining about the weather is all well and good, great fun at times to knock our much berated forecasters but when the sun is out, especially in September then just be grateful as it won’t be long before autumn, swiftly followed by winter comes rushing in wet, windy and woefully inclement. I take my leave of Castle Hedingham and its keep by retracing my steps passing as I go this attractive arched small bridge that leads you up onto the keep itself. Behind the little bridge is a wing of the property that the Lindsay family now live in. Today’s wilful walk has been a splendid one that I have enjoyed to its fullest. I have travelled from curvy country lanes that fold their summer hedgerows down onto you as you pass, through history and murder, beheadings and battles, mercenary knights, villages

that have played witness to events and people that have come and gone, bones to ash, flesh to dust. I have watched as birds have flown across my skyline, animals have crossed my path. It has been a glorious day but like all days it has to come to a close. Before this day ends though, I have still to tell you of Edward de Vere and the mystery of Shakespeare. There are those who ponder long on a multitude of things; examining this and investigating that. They are the sort of people so necessary as, much like scientists, they are constantly trying to disprove what we have all been lead to believe is fact. When Einstein started to develop his theory of relativity there were a great many, indeed most, scientists who said his theory clashed with that of Newton’s laws of gravity. Newton’s laws were held as tantamount to fact beyond doubt. Einstein proved this to not be the case finding an error in Newton’s theory. As with science, academics of literature have found that much of what we all believed to be Shakespeare’s work may in fact have been the work of someone else. The Shakespeare-Oxford Society is an organisation who has set itself up to re-examine the pertinent facts surrounding the works of Shakespeare and they believe that we may be giving all the acclaim to the wrong man. It has to be said that the society, started in 1957, is an American body and, with all due respect to our cousins across the pond, Americans are very fond of their conspiracy theories. There have been a few candidates who may fit the alternative author theory: Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe being two of the better known but there have been others, Ben Jonson, a Shakespeare contemporary, for example. However, it is Edward de Vere (12th April 1550 to 24th June 1604), the 17th Earl of Oxford who was born at Castle Hedingham who the society claims was Shakespeare. It has to be said that most historians and literary scholars reject this idea but still there are sufficient doubts in the minds of the society and its members for them to continue with their research. Edward de Vere was an Elizabethan courtier, poet and playwright and, judging by the acclaim he received, a very good one too. During his early years he received, after the death of his father, the 16th Earl of Oxford, an annual income of around £2,000. This would have been an absolute fortune in those days and should have left him wealthy indeed. Shortly after his father’s death his mother re-married and the young Earl became a Royal ward placed in the household of Sir William Cecil, the then secretary of state. He was then placed, at the age of eight, into Queen’s College Cambridge where he learnt, among other things, French, Latin, writing, dancing, riding, shooting, drawing and cosmography. He joined the court of Queen Elizabeth I in 1570 as a courtier and was said to have been favoured by the Queen. He toured parts of Europe in 1576 but was hijacked by pirates on his return journey. In 1581 he became embroiled in a scandal when he was accused of being Catholic and he in turn accused his protagonists and old friends, Lord Henry Howard and Charles Arundel of treason. The two were in fact in league with the King of Spain but neither ever faced any recriminations even though Oxford was found innocent. He never recovered his favour in the Queen’s eyes though and it wasn’t until James I came to the throne that he once again regained his position. During his lifetime not only was De Vere accused of Catholicism but also of having fathered an illegitimate child for which he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for

six months. This affair led to a duel in which Oxford was injured, leaving him with a limp. He then served in the Battle of the Spanish Armada in 1588. He was a great patron of the arts having received 33 works dedicated to him. These works included publications on religion, philosophy, music and also medicine. A great many notable authors also chose to dedicate their works to his name, these included: Edmund Spenser, Thomas Churchyard and Arthur Golding. This is no mean feat to have so many great writers, translators and playwrights dedicating works to a given soul but it does not prove, by any stretch of the imagination, that Edward de Vere was indeed Shakespeare. The first doubts about Shakespeare having written all his own works date back to the early 18th century when a debate sprang up that suggested the works attributed to the bard were either those of another author or a collective of writers. The argument put forward to suggest Edward de Vere as a potential candidate is one based on his Cambridge education that would and did include learning how to compose and write but then again the same could also be said of a host of the Elizabethan elite. Edward de Vere was without a doubt a fine poet although little of his work remains extant. He certainly did support the arts and theatre but there are a series of doubts about him that need to be addressed. In Macbeth mention is made of the Gunpowder Plot which took place in 1605 (Earl Oxford died in 1604. Also the Tempest, which used as reference material the sinking of the Sea Venture in 1609. We know from the words of William Basse (another Shakespeare contemporary) that the bard died in 1616. I cannot say one way or another if doubts about Shakespeare’s veracity as the author of his works are right or not; nor can I disclaim Edward de Vere for the self same reasons as I really don’t know enough about the facts, interesting though they may be. The sun is still up but the day is fading fast. It is four in the afternoon now as I leave the Hedingham couple behind me and still time for me to catch up on that other pastime that I enjoy so much; reading. I have spoken about my love of music and of comics but I also enjoy a good read. In my bag, along with the spare bottle of Lucozade and the half packet of biscuits is a book by Kiran Desai. The book is entitled The Inheritance of Loss and it is a quite remarkable read. I would recommend it to anyone. I take the same seat by the tennis courts that I sat on a short while ago and pull out the book. I am about halfway through and I open it at page 219, chapter 28. The words are incredible, potent, touching. I turn the pages in quick succession unable to stop myself, the words carry me on. Then I read the final paragraph of the chapter and the written words burn like coals, they resonate deeply within me: “By the year’s end the dread they had for each other was so severe it was as if they had tapped themselves into a limitless bitterness carrying them beyond the parameters of what any individual is normally capable of feeling. They belonged to the emotion more than to themselves, experienced anger with enough muscle in it for entire nations coupled in hate.” To be captivated by a book is all any of us can hope for. To be trapped like a fly in amber by its truth is something rare. This book is a distinctly beautiful find.

“When you bow deeply to the universe, it bows back; when you call out the name of God, it echoes inside you.”

Morihei Ueshiba

part twenty four
* Dancing the Divine, with faltering steps, into Finchingfield * * A begging bowl for pennies: The Almshouses of Essex * * The House of many chimneys: Spains Hall *
Autumn arrived on September 16th with a wet wind and a chill heart. Summer was shut out as if by a giant grey curtain being drawn across the sky. Amazing to see how quickly one season can move into another as though a switch had been flicked. Of course England is like that. We Brits are known for our favourite topic of conversation being that of the weather but when you live in a climate that is forever in a state of flux it is hardly surprising. Leaves are falling now like embers from a furnace in colours both red and gold; they trickle to earth with a sigh as yet another year turns from warmth to the expected cold of winter. There is something delicious about an autumn day though with its rustic colours and fresh hours. Daylight becomes scarcer and you have to squeeze in as much as you can in the shrinking minutes of the day. Today though it is warm, later it will be hot, almost as if autumn has retreated for the course of my walk; today I have walked to Finchingfield, a gloriously positioned village straight out of a story book. It lies west of Halstead, north of Great Dunmow and away from the Essex/Suffolk border. We are now further into Essex, more central but still in the north of the county. The path I am taking is a zig zag route; partly because I want to see places that I haven’t before, ones that are right on my doorstep, as much as for the cathartic experience. Moving away from that border land, I intend to take in some other villages that speak of the past; cottages and wishing wells, haunted histories, folklore forgotten. Finchingfield is the first village on my points of interest. I remember coming here with my Mum, Dad and Nana when I was a child. As I recall there was a pond in the centre with village life orbiting around it. I will have to see if that is still the case or whether it is just my childhood memory playing tricks on me. In several of my previous visits I have often made reference to Essex villages and how pretty, picturesque and delightful they are and how easy it would be to imagine photos of them adorning chocolate box lids or calendar pictures. With Finchingfield this allusion is correct for here is quite literally where the ideal Essex village exists. It has, on a great many occasions been voted the best of the Essex villages and the images of the village really are used for such decoration. I enter the village and know that I have by the nameplate that stands on the outskirts. Somewhere distant a church bell tolls. It is the sound of comfort, of welcome and of reassurance. It is the sort of booming sound a mother makes so that her children know precisely where she is and that should they need her she is there for them. Accompanying the sound are others, less loud, background comforts, everyday sounds that are never faraway. A motorbike throbs by, birds call to each other with

their ceaseless chatter, ducks squabble and, not so far away, villagers greet each other with warm hellos and news. As I said, the sun is up and it is warm but at this stage of my walk there is still a chill in the air that nips at my finger tips as I write these preliminary sketch notes. I have slung across my shoulder my camera, a bag with food and a drink, my writing pad and a pen. The music playing is that of Kate Bush. If ever a girl was given the gift of total originality if not the spark of genius, it is Kate Bush. Cloudbursting sounds as fresh, as unique, as good as the day I first heard it. It is a fabulous piece of music. I see the village green and am instantly smitten. I think I may be in heaven. I throw my stuff onto the first empty bench I come across and sit down, mouth and eyes wide. This is the village of England that the rest of the world dreams of when they think of this country: quiet, reserved, peaceful, polite, rural, delicate, elegant, charming, and graceful. I sit on the green and, Kate Bush notwithstanding, my mind springs instantly to the Kinks song, the Village Green Preservation Society. I can best describe this place as virtually idyllic; virtually only because there is still traffic that passes irritatingly through it but apart from that it carries all the hallmarks you would expect of such an English village. The pond is exactly as I remember it. It still has that queer, uncertain triangular shape that stretches across the village centre but with a brick built bridge that spans it allowing vehicles and pedestrians to cross from one side to the other. To the left is a curious shop, or rather a set of shops curiously built and placed together: G.W.Hardy & Sons, funeral directors, then an arch with an open wooden gate before the friendly face of the much larger Finchleyfields Flowers, a florist. There is another set of shops that connects to the first two but by now my attention has been taken by the windmill that stands like a cardinal’s hat only a short distance away. It seems from where I sit that it is a stubby vision of a windmill and not at all like the ones you think of but just as I am mulling this odd building over my attention is again hustled away, this time by a family of ducks who, keen people watchers all, having spotted me and are arguing over the man they have come across and who is now seated directly in front of them. He stands somewhere between five feet ten and five feet eleven, wayward hair that looks as if it is in the initial stages of receding, a cocky grin leaps from his face above which sits a large nose, he is dressed in a frock coat, faded blue jeans and ox-blood Doc Martens. The big disappointment is that he is not carrying any bread crumbs. I drag my concentration away from the ducks and continue to scan my surroundings with my camera. The ducks quack seeking to regain some sort of contact with me but I ignore them. A string of houses, full of aging charm curve away from the windmill taking my curiosity with them. Rising from the bench I follow the road up the slight incline past a broad alley that has two crusty old buildings that stand either side of the alley. They remind me of two housewives nattering across a garden fence. Then I walk past a building that shrugs its old timbers at me; gnarled black gables now twisted and tired from supporting the weighty ceiling and floor above. This long, ancient building is what used to be an almshouse or home for the poor.

There are a great many of these to be found around northern parts of Essex and throughout the length and breadth of Britain. Beyond the almshouse, standing as its neighbour, is the local church, Norman I would guess, that hunkers squat but not unlovely while surrounded by a collection of trees. I can hear voices singing in harmony which can only be the vocals of the locals gathered in worship. A gentle wind shuffles the leaves, they rustle as they dance, skirting around the gravestones and along the path. I feel a reluctance to leave. Not the church but the place; Finchingfield’s magic has hexed me and I could quite easily stay, sat on a bench on the green, watching the comings and goings. I had a mind to move onto Thaxted, and then Saffron Walden but I could just as easily gather dust idling time here in Finchingfield. For a fleeting moment my heart flutters as I think of the one love, the only love I have ever had, wishing she were here with me now, walking with me through these blessed villages and towns, enjoying the delights that I come across.

There is nothing new about almshouses; they have existed in one form or another for a thousand years. The first almshouse in the British Isles was founded by King Athelstan in York around the 10th century. The oldest surviving almshouse is probably the Hospital of St. Oswald in Worcester that was founded in or about 990. The very name almshouse comes from the Christian tradition of giving alms, or aid or monies to the needy. There are almshouses here in Finchingfield, as well as in Thaxted (my next port of call) and also in my home town of Rochford. These homes were created for the poor, ill or homeless people so that they could have somewhere they could live. The old English name for them was Bede house. The cost and upkeep was traditionally paid for by a rich benefactor who would dictate just who he thought were suitable candidates to receive help. Originally these houses would have been built by monasteries in medieval times from where food and shelter were given. The almshouse would often have a chapel for prayer included in its construction where a priest would hold services. The self same benefactor would also supply money for food, drink, clothing and fuel. One of the more obvious stipulations was that only Christians could get alms there, which rather defeats, in my opinion, the whole object of being a follower of Christ. Most almshouse, although architecturally different, are like the one in Finchingfield in that they are all very old. There are about 2,000 extant in the UK today with some 36,000 people housed in them. The society that supports them has as its patron Prince Charles.

Spains hall

Spains Hall sits a little distant from Finchingfield but is in the general vicinity of the village. The house is named after Hervey de Ispania who held the manor during the time the Domesday Book was compiled. Aged as old bones maybe but Spains Hall is largely thought of as being an Elizabethan house as the principal facade was refashioned in 1585 by William Kempe. The family history is a lengthy one starting, as I have already said, with Hervey de Ispania but followed by the Kempe family when Margery de Ispania married Nicholas Kempe in the early 1500s. When the Kempe line failed, they were superseded by the Ruggles when Samuel Ruggles brought the place in 1760. Much of the old building still has remains of its medieval past including the king post roof; so much history thrown into each brazen brick. The grounds comprise of some 7 hectares which were landscaped by Humphry Repton circa 1807. There also remains, in part at least, a moat that used to run around an earlier house. Nowadays the hall is used for functions, weddings, conferences etc. Even if this is a bit of a come down for the old place, at least it is still standing. Maybe one day, when I have made me fortune, I will buy it and take it back to its glory days. Duffy Manor does have a certain ring to it. The roads wind on and on and it suddenly strikes me, as I wander these Essex byways that the seasons too move ever on in their natural ballet as one shifts into another. I started these walks back in March 2009 when it was still spring. May moved softly into June then, for the first time in goodness knows how long, the Wimbledon month of July came in with the sun and for once it stayed and didn’t rain. It was only a brief hint of what a summer could be though as August was limp, lame and rather wet. Now summer has gone and autumn, the fall, creeps swiftly on to winter. The way these seasons change while still being part of the same cohesive whole gives me an insight into the nature of all things. I am a part of the same universal energy that allows the moon to tug and pull the tides, lets the breeze blow freely, carpets the sky with diamond studded dreams. Heaven and earth and I are of the same root, the ten thousand things and I are of one substance, one unified existence. All the principles of heaven and earth are living inside me and the words of Desiderata come back to me in bold and beautiful colours. “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.” Einstein once said that “a human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affectation for a few people near us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

There is a part of his heart that is damp and dark and covered in mossy leaves that smell of soil and moonlight. If you brush your fingers across the acrid mulch it will part with a soft moist squelching sound and you will find buried deep within the pungent corruption a timid, frightened creature with large liquid eyes and a hot desire to love and to be loved; a creature with a savage bite and a wicked claw that it uses to rake a protest and to scar the heathen world with its fear, its fury, its loathing and its singular lack of comprehension for so brutal and ugly an existence. The stars spin, the oceans rise and life goes on relentlessly and remorselessly claiming victims in a vortex of unfeeling and disquiet as though all humanity can be reduced to a set of improbable whispers echoed in the still silence of a sterile dawn that blinks blindly into the shattered dream of universal longing. We are not alone Hold out your hands We are not alone

part twenty five
* When the Cloud Messenger came to stay with visions of Jupiter, Uranus, Venus, Neptune, Mercury, Saturn and Mars * * The Church that thinks it is a Cathedral * * Conrad Noel: Anglican Priest and Socialist *
Before reaching Thaxted, I pass through the smaller hamlet of Great Sampford with its scattering of thatched cottages that have been such a feature of this sojourn. The land around here is a patchwork of farmed fields, dry as dust now after weeks of no rain. Agriculture used to play such a big part in England, its economy and community but it has been eroded during my lifetime. Like virtually every other business, farms work on having a healthy P and L and are less about well spread fields than they are about well presented spreadsheets. The heart and soul of local communities have been replaced by the cold heart of corporate calculations. As I enter Thaxted the first thing I see, after the magnificent church spire that stakes heaven with its pointed needle, is a small park with its bye-law sign that states: NO BALL GAMES NO CYCLING NO DOGS Embracing each other while in full view of anyone who cares to look are a young couple whose passions burn so fiercely that they are evidently unaware of anyone apart from themselves. Linked at the lips, their tongues slide down each others’ throats as their hands glide down each others jeans; love is a splendid thing and I really have no objection to this public display of lustful ambition but perhaps, after some careful consideration, the sign should also read:

NO PETTING In need of a pee I find the nearest toilet in a relatively empty car park. Having relieved my bladder of its swishy content I, and another gentleman, present ourselves at the futuristic hand basins. There are no faucets, no buttons; the soap is dispensed with a meaty fart of a sound followed by a sibilant hiss of water being sprayed. The spraying water continues for an overly long time, far longer than necessary and long after all traces of soap have gone. This in turn is followed by an eruption of hot air propelled onto my hands. This release of hot air only lasts a few seconds and one is left with wet hands which both I and the other gentleman rub down the backs of our jeans. We smile, nod and say good day to each other before entering into a conversation about the absurdity of the modern world. We part company with the most English of goodbyes. “Beautiful weather for this time of year isn’t it?” Somewhere between 1914 and 1918 Gustav Holst, whilst holidaying in his cottage with his wife Isobel, composed The Planets Suite. It is probably his best known piece of music and its very popularity was something he would moan about for the rest of his life as he felt it overshadowed all his other work. Holst was actually born Gustavus Theodor von Holst in Cheltenham in 1874. He dropped the von bit during the Great War when there was a feeling of anti-Germanic sentiment in Britain. He was in fact very English and a fellow student of Ralph Vaughan Williams. He came on Thaxted by accident whilst on a walking holiday in North Essex. He arrived at Colchester station and from there began his walking holiday taking in the villages and views of Essex. Holst was short sighted, shy and middle-aged but the moment he saw the church of St. John the Baptist, he fell in love with it and the town it towered over. Holst described it like this: “It stood high above the surrounding cornfields and meadows and willow trees, with a view of the church spire in the distance. It was so quiet that we could hear the bees in the dark red clover beyond the garden hedge. We could watch the meadow grass being scythed, and in the cornfields we saw the farmer sowing the seed by hand, scattering in the breeze as he strode up and down. The only traffic along what is now the main road was the carrier’s cart which stopped every few hundred yards to pick up parcels and passengers on Wednesday afternoons: on the other days people walked.” An almost certain inspiration to Holst was the church at Thaxted which even today looks, and more importantly sounds, like a cathedral. It is very spacious and light inside and would have suited his musical vision perfectly with its slight echo that would have had the organ reverberating and the strings cascading like a waterfall. One of Holst’s dreams was to hold a festival there, to have music playing, filling the church with its wondrous sound while giving the local population a treat like none before. He realised this dream in 1916 when from the church came the sound of constant singing, melodious noises that rose and fled into the town, sparking a series of impromptu musics in the local houses and throughout

the countryside. It must have been sheer magic to have heard such an event; a modern day Glastonbury but without the amps or rain. This event has now turned into a tradition. Every Whitsuntide a festival is still held and now has turned into something more than that as the festival has become a series of festivals; a glorious legacy left by a genuinely humble, talented man. Holst was never a particularly robust man always appearing quite frail. He was a committed socialist and was influenced by the speeches of George Bernard Shaw and also by William Morris. Both of these men were highly outspoken individuals who were passionately committed to the cause of the socialist movement. Holst was fortunate enough to live in a world that was occupied by some of the greatest talents we have ever known: Wagner, Monet, Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde and H.G.Wells. It was an incredible time, the best of times and yet also the worst of times as the Great War will always hold testament to. Following a lifetime of poor health which was made all the worse after a fall, Holst died on 25th May 1934 suffering complications from stomach surgery. He was just sixty. He was buried at Chichester Cathedral in West Sussex. The mellifluous, potent tones of Jupiter accompany me as I walk into Thaxted and the church really does have an imposing presence, looming over the town like some omnipotent demi-god, observing the comings and goings of all who pass through. It is often given the false title of Cathedral of Essex but that is not the case, even if it should be. Somehow the music seems to fit perfectly with this place but then again, Holst did adapt his Jupiter piece to fit the patriotic poem by Cecil Spring-Rice making it into a hymn so maybe that knowledge plays on my mind. Nice to have a piece of music not only dedicated to, but given the eponymous title of, Thaxted. Thaxted’s name was originally Tachesteda which is Old English for ‘place where thatch was got’, a bit of a mouthful that but, like North American Indians when they named their children, it seems strangely appropriate. There is, of course, an entry about Thaxted in the Domesday Book. I gaze now at the entrance to the church and note the intricate designs and patterns that adorn the masonry. It is a spectacular sight to behold, incongruous almost seeing such a stately building in so rustic a setting. Sadly my photo doesn’t do it justice as the sun was in my lens making it a difficult shot to take. I turn away from St.John’s and walk down a slight incline passing a multitude of aged homes. There are plenty of these houses with creaking timber frames and all just oozing with character. The most notable ones are Horham Hall, Thaxted Guildhall which dates from around 1450 and which is featured first below and also Dick Turpin’s cottage (more of him later on in the series) which is featured last. The Guildhall looks like a grey faced old dowager whose flesh has faded from pink to pasty, china white.

I love the way the whole edifice seems to be top heavy somehow giving the image of an old woman whose bust has grown too fat and wobbles high above her pinched waistline and stick thin legs. An odd fact about Thaxted is that for several centuries the population has remained virtually the same at about 2,000. Currently there are 2,526 and in 1829 there were 2,293. It seems to be a self-regulating, unwritten law that the population never grows or shrinks above or beyond those figures. The High Street is broad and unburdened by modernity. The shops are small and still unique to Thaxted; there doesn’t seem to be the obligatory MacDonald’s or Marks and Spencer. There are public houses of course and these seem to be fully peopled with drinking and eating customers. If they weren’t so obviously dressed in the clothes of the 21st century they could be of any time at all. And that is the key to this place, this town with its veiled past and its musical memories, it is unchanged; the modern world has entered it but has no left no real, discernible trace unless it is the yellow, no parking lines or the traffic control signs. With a shrug of its tired old limbs Thaxted could quite easily be a medieval town again. The only giveaway to the 21st century are the aeroplanes that fly from Stanstead. An unfortunate but understandable addition to the world we live in. One of the men Gustav Holst met and instantly formed a friendship with was Conrad Noel, an Anglican vicar with a heart as red as Castro’s. Conrad Noel was a bit of a loose cannon (excuse the pun), his form of Socialist Christianity didn’t always sit well with the Anglican Church hierarchy, in fact, at the early stages of his career, he was twice refused ordination. Setbacks never meant much to this passionately committed man who accepted poverty rather than give up his beliefs. He was eventually ordained but it took a remarkable degree of stubbornness mixed with an unswerving belief in his methods to see him through. He wasn’t born to poverty though, quite the reverse. He was born on 12th July 1869 at Kew. His grandfather was the Earl of Gainsborough and his Aunt was a Lady in Waiting to Queen Victoria. His father, Roden Noel, was the famous poet, who, in his own right, was one hell of a character. He went to all the posh schools one would expect of his class including Winchester and Cheltenham which eventually led him to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Unfortunately, his behaviour was so extreme, so outlandish that he was ‘sent down’ for a year and missed his degree. Hmmm, reminds me of a certain Fekenham cleric! Cambridge still proved to be very useful to him though, after a lecture he attended by Annie Besant, following his reading of J.L Joyne’s ‘The Socialist Catechism.’ In 1894 he married Miriam Greenwood and was shortly after appointed curate at Floweryfield in Cheshire where he worked for the vicar. The Bishop of Exeter though didn’t like his political stance which was becoming more evident and he was refused ordination. His wife gave birth in 1897 and the family were forced to live on the bread line. But God, they say, moves in mysterious ways and maybe votes with a tinge of red to mark his X on the ballot paper.

He was refused ordination once again but, with a dogged perseverance and with the passage of time and the change in political stances, by 1910 he was appointed to Thaxted church. He turned the place into a centre of pilgrimage, refurbishing, restoring and revitalising the church with bold colours and with a nod to ancient ceremonies. He appealed to the locals by including them in his sermons with an unabashed political slant. They, in turn, appeared to warm to him and took him to their hearts. As soon as Holst and Noel met there was an instant frisson between the two, a depth of understanding rare in two people. Both loved music, both were religious (Holst had an interest in Hinduism), both were socialist. A match made in heaven perhaps. The press daubed him “The Red Vicar” and he lived up to that title when he placed no less than three flags inside his church in Thaxted: The Union Jack, the Sinn Fein Banner and the Hammer and Sickle. This sparked off a host of students from Cambridge who turned up to pull them down. By 1919 a body of opposition had formed against Noel which tried its level best to get the flags removed and eventually they were, as Noel was forced to concede; less of a concession and more a tacit agreement that if he took the flags down he could stay in place as vicar. In 1935 he developed Diabetes which led to his going blind but still he was undeterred maintaining Thaxted as the centre for Christian Socialism. Then, in 1940, at the start of World War 2, he became ill with cancer. It would prove to be the final fight for the feisty cleric and he died on 22nd July 1942. If nothing else he was, and still is, a beacon to those who hold their belief dear. He never really gave in and even if he lost the occasional battle he fought a good war. His autobiography was published posthumously in 1945. No doubt the jacket was red with a large cross firmly in the centre. My time spent at Thaxted has been both enjoyable and informative. There is much I have seen and learnt here. Once again there has been that swell of history, an inexorable tide that rises up unseen like a tsunami to rush in on you. Now it is time to move on. Saffron Walden lies to the north and west of here and it is there I am next headed. Again I take to the twists and turns of the English country roads, surrounded by fields, the curve of the trees acting as an escort, as a permanent guardian for the small wildlife that still shrinks from the age of civilisation. So much wildlife has departed these shores never to be seen again. The wolf went more than a hundred years ago, the bear long before that; an age before that. The red squirrel wages a losing battle with the grey, birds of prey are rarely seen as they all seem to have headed north. England is still the land of green but even that is changing, the grass in the south is progressively turning from a rich, verdant green to a dried corn shade of pale faded yellow. Summers may not be as hot as we would expect but the seasons now appear to have merged into one. A long season whose only variation is the slight chill that arrives somewhere about October/November and stays with us until March. Maybe not one long season with an occasional, slight change but two: spring and autumn as both summer and winter seem to have departed.

part twenty six
* The Only Real Old English living in England * * The Food Riots of 1795 * *The Family Hart and their beloved Nancy *
Saffron Walden lies to the north west of me, resting on the sleeping slopes of the Upper Cam valley. From archaeological evidence it would seem this area has been inhabited since the Neolithic period although there is little evidence to be seen of those times now. Not far away is Stanstead airport, the bane of a great many locals’ lives as they are all against any further development of yet another London City Airport terminal. Saffron Walden is a good thirty five miles from London so it does beggar belief why anyone would want to call it, let alone think of it, as part of London; it isn’t but it is near enough to make it a prime location for building more runways to allow greater air traffic. It is thought that Saffron Walden once had a small Roman settlement, one that included a small fort. As time passed and the Romans left the invasion of the Angles occurred and they in turn settled down in the Cam Valley. The name Walden comes from the Old English ‘Weala-denu’ which means the valley of the serfs. There are few serfs here nowadays, just working people making their way in life. The suggestion is that the current inhabitants are descended directly from the Old English and are not of the Anglo-Saxon line at all but you will have to make of that what you will. During the Norman period, according to the Domesday Book, the area was owned by Ansgar, a powerful and loyal member of the King’s court. Ansgar was wealthy having earnt his fortune as the King’s standard bearer. He owned some 2,200 acres of land throughout Essex. Upon his death his land was given, bequeathed maybe, to Geoffrey de Mandeville, first constable of the Tower of London. It was Geoffrey’s grandson who turned Walden into a town. Geoffrey II built the Priory of Saint James between 1125 and 1141. The next decisive move he made was to take the market at nearby Newport and bring it to Walden. Economically this proved a sound move. The priory was built, as far as I can tell, for a dual purpose: one was to house the monks who needed a home and a base to work from and secondly to offer hospitality to anyone, wayfarer or lost soul, who passed by. The area around the abbey then in turn grew to encompass and include, by 1400, a shop, 51 houses and 2 streets. When laws were passed, as the burgeoning Protestant faith spread through England instigated by Henry VIII, to dissolve all monasteries, the abbey and the land surrounding it were given to Sir Thomas Audley. It wasn’t, oddly enough, Sir Thomas who built the palace at Audley End but his descendent Thomas Howard. The wealth of Walden grew through the passing years , driven initially by the wool trade that flourished in the 14th and 15th centuries. As time went by the wool trade faded only to be replaced by the saffron industry which became the main source of

local wealth. It was under good Queen Bess that Walden reached her pinnacle of prosperity. The influence of those days still shows in the door frames and gables and of course the name is no longer just Walden but now has the additional first name of Saffron. Throughout the following centuries Saffron Walden’s fortunes waxed and waned. During the Civil War of the 1600s, the presence of soldiers became a regular occurrence and in 1647 the town became the headquarters, under direction from General Fairfax, of the New Model Army. The town even had a visit from Oliver Cromwell who was sent to quell any political unrest. He seemed to have an uncanny ability to do such things but was as subtle as a mallet. The Irish still despise his name and memory to this day and I can’t say that I blame them. The food riots of the late 18th, early 19th century caught Saffron Walden in a storm of violent reaction. It was during July 1795 when the town became embroiled by food riots. The price of bread had risen to an extreme cost and other provisions were also expensive and hard to come by. There is still a large bundle of documents held in the Essex Record Office, all of which are dated and clearly show the events as they happened and were recorded for posterity. Here are some snippet samples of them: April 13th 1795 June 29th July 10th meeting of committee: to stop bread and flour being sold outside the parish Signed Thos Day, A Gibson, Wm Archer, James Searle, Henry Archer, Wm Archer resolution regarding a rate - subscription nearly exhausted and further assistance must be continued to relieve the poor during present high price of provisions - rate of 4d in £ agreed (27 present) Mr. Black of Hockrill letter to Lord Howard: ‘Mr Andrews is a respectable young man, I must rely on his veracity’

meeting of inhabitants at workhouse (20 present) - ‘it appears highly necessary from the great scarcity of wheat and flour in hand that every expedient should be used for lessening the consumption and eking out the supply; the inhabitants present do thereupon resolve to use in their July 10th own families a coarser sort of flour, and a small a quantity of it as possible, using every substitute that can be devised and do most earnestly recommend the same to the parish in general as a measure in their opinion absolutely necessary.’ meeting re price of bread etc. - also adds that Henry Archer buying more wheat from John Carter at £26 a loaf; also Undated thanks for Lord Howard for ‘his very handsome proposal of a premium of two guineas over and above the market price for every load of wheat brought to Mr. Henry Archer.’

re grinding arrangements. - Mr. John’s statement of produce of flour – delivered to meeting of Corporation July 18th: Number of tickets given to poor: 1254 persons relieved at 3d each either in bread or flour = £15.13.6 . 220 families received additional allowance for spinning this week £5.12.10. Amount of [?]usual allowances exclusive of workhouse charges etc. - £21.6.4. Letter from Henry Archer, Mayor to Lord Howard: ‘A very alarming riot has taken place here in consequence of the high price of provisions and it appears to me and several of the most respectable inhabitants that the civil power of the place will not be efficient to quiet the disturbance without the aid of the military - indeed great apprehensions are entertained that some mischief will take place in the course of the evening at the request of several of the inhabitants, I am induced to take the liberty of applying to your lordship for your assistance in obtaining some assistance from a party of the military.’


July 27th

Aug letter to Lord Howard from Onslow praising him, etc. 3rd Aug letter to Lord Howard re arrival of Troop of Surry Fencibles 5th under Capt Vincent - 4 of principal ringleaders to Chelmsford, another under bail, information against several others, who for the present have escaped from the neighbourhoods. The effect that these commitments have had is already felt in the neighbourhood’ - it justified sending the troops. ‘The magistrates of Walden, encouraged by the military protection his lordship has afforded them, begin to be held in more respect, and to do them justice are using their best endeavours to give themselves authority to govern, keep in proper subjection a very disaffected class... threats of various kinds are in circulation...harvesting crops of corn growing in the neighbouring parishes... from all these different circumstances I am apprehensive it will take us more time than we could wish before we can for the security say we are safe without the military assistance.’ Also re constables: 32 extra ones sworn in - Mr. Hall objected to Erswell personally on the ground of his having suffered an improper meeting at his house at the time of riot, and that consequently he would not trust himself in the situation of an

officer with a character who had so conducted himself - he seemed to require further explanation, but was left in the dark; - so Capt Vincent would have an nco and 2 privates ‘to attend the culprit - more constables to be sworn in on Thursday (this was sent Tuesday). The archives show the state of alarm caused by the riots. There are no riots today though as I stroll into the town although Saffron Walden seems far busier than either Finchingfield or Thaxted. The market square is full of parked cars that gather around the library like the faithful around a pulpit. The sun is still brandishing its flaming face as an act of desperate defiance, glaring down with all the power it can muster as the globe spins into another season. The library has a stifled solemnity about it. It prepares itself for a royal visit but has neglected to dress appropriately and no one seems to have told it that its puffed up grandeur looks somehow incongruous, out of place, pompous; friendly, quaint even but still vaguely incongruous. Again I find a bench to sit and observe. This time the bench is situated in the centre of the square looking onto the library and a mall run of impromptu shops that circle the square like braves around a wagon train. A lot of these buildings were built in the 19 th century when a great many of the older ones were pulled down. The Corn Exchange, the Museum and the Library, (which used to be the Literary & Scientific Institute) all date from hat time. Perhaps that is the library’s dark secret, it used to be something other than a library and cannot let go of its vain glorious past. Many of the residents here then were Quakers. One family of Quakers was the Gibsons who not only had interests in banking but were also keen businessmen when it came to malting and brewing. It was they who brought the railway to Saffron Walden as well as setting up the Friends School, the British School, the Teacher Training School plus the waterworks, gasworks and the water company. Of course the modern world holds little regard for the nostalgia of history that it constrains to the pages of books. The challenge now is whether the people of Saffron Walden can retain the identity of the community that has taken over 2,000 years to evolve. A short distance from the town are the ruins of the old castle but there is little to see of it anymore. There is also the maze, a series of bewildering circular excavations that spiral into the turf on the common. Then there is Audley End, now owned by English Heritage but which was built by the Earl of Suffolk in the 17 th century. Much of the old house has been knocked down as it as believed to have been too large to maintain . Nowadays the house and grounds are used by the BBC when they televise their Proms seasons. Unsurprisingly Saffron Walden is currently controlled by the Conservative Party. There are a number of well known people who live or have lived here in Saffron Walden: • Tom Robinson the British songwriter, performer and musician who rose to fame in the late 70s following a string of successful singles during the punk age. He attended Friends School Saffron Walden. • Stephen McGann actor and brother to Paul McGann.

• • •

Diana Wynne Jones, author of Howl’s Moving Castle which just so happens to be one of my favourite films from Studio Ghibli. Hattie Jacques the famed British actress who starred in so many of those excellent Carry On films and also appeared on TV alongside Eric Sykes. Ian Lavendar the actor who first appeared as Pike in the utterly brilliant Dad’s Army TV comedy and who more recently appeared in Eastenders.

The light is beginning to fade now and so it comes time for me to move away from Saffron Walden and make my way to wherever it is I will next be going. The choices are still wide open but I quite fancy finding out more about the forest of Epping and its long association with Dick Turpin the notorious highwayman, outlaw and thief and, according to fact not myth one nasty individual. First though, there is still the matter of the family Hart and their beloved sister Nancy. Ask anyone who hails from Saffron Walden and they will confirm that they know the name of the Hart family. As like as not they will also say they know precisely where the family business can be found and, having given you the address, might even guide you there. The Harts are well known, as is their history. Henry Hart, son of a carpenter, was apprenticed in 1814 as a printer to George Youngman in Market Hill, then, being of an entrepreneurial spirit, went into business himself in 1836 setting up his own stationery shop. When Henry died he passed the business onto his son William who took the Hart name and business into more diverse arenas, namely musical instruments and fancy goods. Ernest, William’s son, took over the business but as an individual is best remembered as an activist and staunch Dissenter and radical. It was during this time, when Saffron Walden had no local newspaper, that Ernest recorded local events in sparkling detail. All of these diary documents are now to be found in the Saffron Walden museum archives. But it is not Henry, William or Ernest Hart that takes my interest but Nancy, daughter of William and her sister Fanny. William and his wife Fannie had a total of nine children. Three of these, two sons and a daughter all died. Of the remaining five sisters Fanny, Gertie, Effie, Annie (Nancy) and Agnes, all of whom were described as being pretty young things but also industrious for, as very middle class young ladies who had no need to work, they all became involved in the various family businesses at which they worked hard. Gertie married into a family who also owned a retail stationery business; Effie ran a wool shop but never married, instead devoting her life to the business and the church; Fanny met and fell in love with a local lad by the name of William Harber. Now mister Harber was the sort of man who had a vision and enough raw talent and courage to see the dream fulfilled. He emigrated to the far west of America, going by stagecoach to Montana. He left Fanny behind and for five years made his mark in the land of the free. This was 1884. Five years later he returned determined to collect the love of his life, sweep her off of her feet, marry her and take her back to his mountain home in Montana. The couple married in 1889 in Liverpool and sailed from there to New York. Will, as Fanny called him, had made his fortune owning and editing the River Press.

It must have been tough on Fanny having to move, as exciting as it sounds now, to a pioneering, remote outpost of west America but she fell in love with this place, with its often harsh beauty. Some ten or so years after the couple went out west, sister Effie followed. She arrived in Montana in 1898 with a view to emigrate. She too left via Liverpool but hit a vile and violent storm off the coast of Ireland. After what she described as being ‘dreadfully rough, could hardly keep in my berth’ she arrived in New York. She found the city of the 20th century to be a fantastic place, full of exciting new inventions, nothing like the rather pedestrian life she and her fellows from Saffron Walden led. Immeasurably tall buildings described as skyscrapers, humanity poured like a river of souls all along the eager streets while overhead railways ran as did electric trams. And she positively loved the largest store she had seen; Seigel Coopers whose bottom floor she described as being as large as the Saffron Common. It is not clear why Effie, unlike her sister didn’t emigrate to the USA but she didn’t and in 1901 she came back to Essex and to Walden. She arrived back just in time to see her younger sister, Nancy, marry Herbert (Jack) Bunting. Herbert had a brother, Arthur, an ill looking man and an alcoholic, who shared the same house as Herbert and Nancy. It became apparent to Herbert that Arthur was not only smitten by Nancy but was completely obsessed by her. After a huge row, Herbert turned his brother out forbidding him to ever speak to Nancy again. October 1901 Nancy went to visit her relatives and then met up with Agnes. The pair went shopping in London. It was the last time that Agnes would see Nancy alive. As Nancy waved goodbye to her sister as she boarded the train at Liverpool Street she was horrified to see Arthur waiting for her on the platform. Unsure of what to do she allowed Arthur to accompany her to Blackfriars Station where Herbert worked and who she had arranged to meet as he left work. During the short journey Arthur repeatedly threatened to take her life. Herbert had already encountered his drunken lout of a brother when Arthur had burst into Herbert’s place of work. Seeing his beloved Nancy with his drunken brother shocked him beyond belief and he yelled at her that she was forbidden to go near him. Herbert watched with grim horror as Arthur’s right hand stealthily stole into his trouser pocket furtively searching for something hidden. Herbert told the press later: ‘I knew instantly what he was going to do, and I dashed forward toward my wife who was about two yards away from me. At the same moment I saw him steadily raise his arm and simultaneously a flash and a report followed.’ Arthur had shot at Herbert but, by divine intervention or preposterous good luck the bullet was deflected by Herbert’s waistcoat button and embedded itself in his pocket knife. Herbert grabbed hold of Nancy and the pair made a run for it, dashing as best they could toward St. Paul’s station. Herbert was screaming at Nancy to run as fast as she could but before the couple could get far away another blast rang out. Nancy threw her hand up to her breast where a thin trickle of blood escaped from between her fingers. “Oh! Jack, I’m shot.” Herbert tried to pull Nancy toward him but a third shot was fired and Nancy shuddered as the bullet struck her back. Herbert managed to half pull, half carry the wounded Nancy away from the lunatic Arthur and into Queen Victoria Street. As he held his wife desperately in his arms he heard a forth and final shot ring out; Arthur had shot himself.

Herbert cradled his love in his arms and managed to hail a cab which took the couple to Bart’s Hospital. Although seriously injured it was at first thought she would recover and as she regained consciousness she was able to talk. Herbert asked her what had happened. Her voice was weak and Herbert had to bend in close to hear what she said, her voice the merest of whispers: “He was jealous of you living with me, Jack. He gave me five seconds to stay with you or to come and live with him.” Nancy lived for a further ten days but deteriorated and died. Her funeral was attended by no less than 700 people who all gathered at Saffron Walden Cemetery for the funeral. The irony of the tragic tale is that the gun that killed Nancy was an American Smith and Wesson revolver.

“As iron is eaten by rust, so are the envious consumed by envy.” Antisthenes

“What is a man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.” Chief Seattle, Suquamish and Duwamish

part twenty seven
* Oh, What a Lovely Big Green You Have * * The Old and New of Harlow Town * * THEM TREE’S are like a TANGLE of SPOOKS * *The Vandals of the Highways: Robbers, Thieves & Cutthroats * *Evan Andrew and the Haunting Truth *

Leaving the treasures of Saffron Walden nestling in the topmost north western part of Essex, I press on taking a road that leads me south, but still on the western side, passing a collection of villages and towns as I go. Stebbing, Barnston, Felstead, all to the east of me; Great and Little Easton, slightly more to the west. (In 1912 H.G.Wells moved to Little Easton; (another celebrity of literature, one of the fathers of science fiction some would say, who lived and breathed right where I am passing) and then Great Canfield which lies a little south west of the twins of Easton. It would be easy to write about yet another quaint, typically English village but having already written on that particular subject I would find it boring to repeat myself, as I would, I suspect, bore whoever reads these journals. I also feel that I have visited enough quaint villages and besides, I wanted to visit and then write about a diverse set of Essex places and not just repeat myself ad nauseam. October is shuffling along with November only a matter of weeks away. Leaves are gathering now wherever I walk, often scattered across the paths and pavements but also collected en masse leaning against walls and fences. There is a brief period during the day when the sun weakly shines through but its heat is waning, its power gone as the globe circles the seasons into their ritual cycle of decay and rebirth. The hungry night sneaks in earlier each evening to bite chunks out of the day. The first treasure that I encounter is the unbelievably large common that is Matching Green. The green is part of a trio of areas that all collide into one village , Matching . Connected to the village is the green and also Matching Tye. Matching sits some 3 miles east of Harlow, 4 and a half miles north west of Chipping Ongar and approximately 4 miles south east of Sawbridgeworth. However, it is the green that gives the village its edge even over the splendour of Finchingfield as the green is one of the largest in Essex. Triangular in shape and circled by detached cottages and houses, some dating as far back as the 14th century. There is an air of tranquil civility here, a nod to the old ways of England, of tea and buttered crumpets with cricket played upon the green on balmy summer days, of men in white linens bowling leather balls at wooden wickets shouting Howzat while tossing their caps high into the air. I have never understood cricket, I have always found it to be slow, complex and by equal definition completely unfathomable but as I grow older there is something about its quintessential Englishness, something understated in its makeup that so clearly defines our nation that I find myself warming to the idea of liking it even if I still haven’t a clue as to what is going on. Football is of course the bigger game, loved by hundreds of millions of people and without any doubt the biggest game in the world, played by more countries than any other sport but it is still cricket that singularly sums up the English. It owes its origins to the wealthy, the upper class; it was always known as the game of gentlemen whereas football was always the game for the working classes. Nowadays

though, things have changed and the heroes of cricket are of the people with the game being one that anyone can play and enjoy but its rules still baffle me. As a child there was Ted Dexter who seemed to be the epitome of what a cricketer should be, well mannered, well spoken and polite. Obviously cricket was not meant for my sort at all. God bless the Aussies for bunging a spectacular spanner into that machine of pretentious twaddle. Matching Green is a common where cricket should be played as somehow having a green is synonymous with playing cricket and playing cricket is the embodiment of being English. Below Matching Green and a little to the east is Fyfield, a small village that has a delightful name but that notwithstanding, I am not going there today. To the west and therefore my right is Harlow; again I am not walking there today but Harlow is worthy of mention. After the second world war as London was being rebuilt from the ruin and rubble that effectively remained, many of its old inhabitants needed new homes so the British government built a series of satellite ‘new towns.’ Among these were Basildon in south east Essex, Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire and of course Harlow. Harlow was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd in 1947 with a conceptual style that was, at the time, thought of as highly modern. The idea was to provide a self-contained series of neighbourhoods that each had their own shopping centres, churches, schools and health facilities. Between each development there was to be a green swathe of land so that everyone living in Harlow had access to open space. Along with the residential plans there was also a plan for businesses to be located on two large industrial sites to the north and west of the town. By and large the ‘new towns’ of Britain have been given a lot of bad critique with many people describing them as soulless and cold with little or no character. I understand this point of view and have to agree in many cases this is true but no so with Harlow. There is something fresh about the place, with all the greenery that springs up, that adds a pleasant aspect to the region. There is also a degree of exciting art in terms of sculptures that decorate the area which in themselves elevate the surrounding area out of the new town definition into something more substantial and lasting. I like Harlow; it doesn’t have the cold chill of stainless steel chrome town about it, sure it is without the spires and curved arches that give so many older villages their character but aging just takes time and I feel that now, as Harlow hits its sixth decade the natural wear and tear of time is already adding a flavour of the newly past to the town. It already has, compared to more recent developments, started to show its age; not in a fading way but rather with a warmth of nostalgia for the time it was built, coming as it did out of a horrid war with its promise of better times ahead. I am now headed toward Epping, the forest and the town, but it is the forest that really interests me. It has a history that goes back even further than that of Colchester, older than the tribes that inhabited this region 2,000 years ago. Epping Forest goes back to a time when Britain was covered in woodlands; when trees covered virtually every square foot of the land mass of these glorious islands. The forests are scattered now,

civilisation must be appeased, farmers need land to plough, people need homes to live in. The woodland is under siege, surrounded by towns and cities the motorways running rings around them while tarmac tributaries slice through them allowing traffic the freedom to cross from one place to the next. There is still deep magic here though, still the rustling whispers of arcane voices. The Green Man is here in all his might and splendour. Thousands of years ago these islands were covered from north to south, from east to west in trees. The land would have looked, had they then had the benefit of satellites, as though it were a floating forest of greens that, when autumn pushed summer to one side, turned to a profusion of burnt oranges, russets and golds. The trees grew thick and varied but mostly consisted of broad leaved trees; the oak being king among them but also elm. The forests were so thick that there was little room for any form of wildlife to roam and feed but nonetheless animals came and lived within the forests.

There would have been bears, wolves, badgers, foxes, red squirrels, deer and goodness knows how many varieties of birds; rodents, insects, serpents and a nameless amount of flora and fauna. This would have been, as the Romans eventually called it, Albion or, as many centuries later, Blake would suggest in his poem Jerusalem, ‘this green and pleasant land.’ 5,000 years ago Neolithic men arrived here and instantly began to clear huge amounts of forest. They needed the wood to build fires and to cultivate the land for their own purposes. We make these people sound like brutes with little or no feelings apart from their own natural urges. I am not sure I agree with that sentiment. Uneducated maybe, unsophisticated perhaps but so much nearer to the planet that gave birth to them than we are today, I don’t think I could exist without a morning cup of tea and I certainly have to take a shower first thing just to wash the sleep out of my head. I often dream of living a rustic, more natural existence but I am not sure I really could; too many years of being civilised has all but destroyed those basic instincts. Having said that, there is still one basic instinct I still enjoy. 500 years BC the Celts arrived from Europe bringing with them a new sophistication: agriculture which they, still in touch with mother earth, used to hone the fields to bring them crops of food and meadows for their cattle to graze in. MacDonald’s was just a wink away but still less than a twinkle in our forebears’ eyes. Then the Romans came with their even greater sophistication and brought with them what we would now refer to as weeds but which in fact are simply wild flowers: corncockle, marigold, scarlet pimpernel, fritillary, spiked speedwell, meadow saffron and the poppy. Imagine, if you can, what a glorious sight those meadows would have been, a burgeoning burst of brilliant colours, a post impressionist’s dream. Epping, as large a woodland area as it is, is nothing but a smattering of what once was, a fragment of a larger whole that sadly, and understandably, has gone forever. The memories and the myths live on though and we can all add to that myth can’t we? We can all share in the distant, nearly forgotten tales of long ago.

Chicken Feet. Like demon toes they left their mark in the damp soil. The chicken strutted; tail feathers high; head tall and bobbing. The forest was ancient. If a forest could have a memory then this forest’s memory would stretch back to a time before men, before dinosaurs, before gods. It lay in a valley beneath a tall mountain that itself was covered by the escaping family of trees from the forest proper. There are times still, when a heavy cloud, pregnant with the promise of rain will descend upon the mountain and the forest like the portent of better days and shroud both mountain and forest in a moist mist; a mist that hangs like a veil over the face of a virgin bride. Today though was cloud free and sunny and the sun stole through the trees like a thief: silent and soft. A small homestead stood in a green clearing. A family farm with some livestock and a love of nature. A chicken, a drab rooster, patrolled across the damp floor leaving satanic foot prints in the dirt, the chicken was watched by an old man and his granddaughter. Beyond where they sat and deep in the forest a wolf slipped through the trees. Her eyes shone deepest jet with flashes of hazel. She lifted her snout and sniffed the warm air. Somewhere near was her mate, an old male wolf as cunning as the coming of winter. “Grandpapa?” “Yes child?” “I’m scared. I can see a wolf. Shouldn’t we go indoors?” “Few are the times if any when a wolf has attacked a human, even a child. Do not be scared of wolves my pet, be respectful.” The chicken paraded; devils toes leaving devils prints in dirty soil. “See the chicken my pet? See the way he preens himself? There are those who say that the chicken, stupid as we may think he is, is the bird of Satan; his spy in the land of men. See his feet? See how very much like the Devil’s own feet they are?” The girl child nodded and smiled up at her old grandfather. His dark eyes, flecked with splashes of hazel sparkled. “It is said the reason the chicken crows at the break of dawn is because the dark is the domain of the Devil and the coming of light is God’s. It is also said that to punish Satan for making the chickens his spies that God made man keep and eat chickens to forever show Satan that his spy birds were useless.” The sun climbed higher and laid down more heat for to warm the day. The wolf watched the grandfather and the child. The chicken pranced, its head metronoming back and forth as it walked. Its chest puffed up with foolish pride.

“It is getting warmer. Why not do your old grandfather a favour and put the kettle on, Hmmm? Make me some coffee and while you are doing that I will go and chase the wolf away.” The girl sprang up and ran inside. “Be careful Grandpapa, of the wolf I mean.” “She won’t hurt me child.” The girl clattered about the kitchen filling the kettle with cold water and putting the kettle onto the heat of the stove. She placed two mugs onto the table filling one half with milk and the other with a spoonful of sugar. Her grandfather had a sweet tooth. She waited until the kettle had boiled and then she poured the hot water into the coffee pot. She poured the brew, strong and black into her Grandfathers mug and milky sweet into her own and then took them both outside to where her grandfather, now returned, sat waiting. “Has the wolf gone?” she asked. “For now yes, but remember she too has to live. She will always be out there so make sure you give her the room she needs and respect that she deserves.” “Grandfather?” “Yes child?” “Where has our chicken gone?” “Maybe the wolf took her when I wasn’t looking.” “Grandfather?” “Yes child?” “You have blood on your chin.” “I must have cut myself shaving.” said the Grandfather wiping his chin with the back of his hand. “Now then, where is that coffee that I can smell?” The wind blew and a collection of feathers drew up like autumn leaves, spiralling in the breath of the breeze. They danced around the feet of the old man like confetti. The sun climbed higher into the sky and the pale ghost of the moon stole behind a slim puff of cloud. Overhead a gaggle of geese flew on heavy wings. The grandfather threw back his proud head to drink the coffee. His white teeth clashed against the side of the mug. The she wolf clung to the shadows and moved through the undergrowth with a whisper of grass. Before she disappeared altogether she glanced back over her shoulder at the old man and the girl and then she was gone like smoke on a lake.

The wind whips fallen leaves into a crucifix of debris that momentarily nails itself to the sky before dropping back to earth in a fluster of dust. The motes of dust swirl like a galaxy as yet undiscovered, miniature worlds that float inside a cosmology of their own, unknown and unknowable. Around me is a natural quiet that settles over everything in holy silence so that the twig beneath my foot breaks with a loud snap like a report from a rifle. Pigeons thud their wings in sudden fear, smaller birds send out a symphony of squawks. I feel as though I have entered a god’s library where certain rules need to be observed and I have just broken one. For ages Epping Forest has been many things to many people: to the Iceni and Trinobante warriors it was where they would camp, to the Saxons and then the Normans it was where you could find good wood for building secure homes, to the Tudors it was a place where you could hunt, to the highwaymen of the 1600s and 1700s it was were you could hide when the law came looking and to the modern day gangster it has been a graveyard where many a body has been buried. It wasn’t always called Epping Forest though; it was originally called Waltham which in turn was a reference to the nearby abbey and the monks who lived in it. The name Epinga itself is of Saxon origin. Epping lies close to London and as such is an important town as it connects the capital to the rest of East Anglia. The main roads still run through the town and at one time there were 16 coaching inns that could lay claim to having had many a famed visitor: Samuel Pepys in 1660, Charles II in 1684, Queen Anne in 1705 but Epping Forest is probably better known for its relationship with highwaymen. Dick Turpin, who I mentioned in the last chapbook, often used the forest as a hidey hole, a refuge away from the eyes of the law. There is this romantic notion about highwaymen that is not dissimilar to that of the legend of Robin Hood in that highwaymen are often thought to have been good hearted souls who have either fallen on hard times or were once wealthy themselves and having turned to crime they reinvest a portion of their illgotten gains back to the poor. The myth is sweet but the truth, like so many truths, is sour. Highwaymen were not nice people at all. They were common thieves and robbers who would just as soon shoot you as look at you with little regard for human life at all. It wasn’t until 1617 that the word highwayman became a part of modern language. Prior to that there had been footpads, robbers on foot who would sneak up and lump you a large one across the back of the head before stealing your purse and running off. Highwaymen, as described by Samuel Rid, a pamphleteer, were robbers on the hoof.

Highwaymen didn’t always work alone although the romantic notion of being robbed by a solitary man on a moonlit night has become the way most of us think of them. A great many worked either in pairs or in gangs. Dick Turpin, probably the most famous of all highwaymen, is often portrayed as having worked alone but this is not the case, Turpin was a member of the Essex Gang, a notorious bunch that included Jasper, Jeremy and Samuel Gregory, Mary Brazier, Thomas Barnfield, John Fielder, Ned Rust, Humphrey Walker, Jams Parkinson, John Jones, Thomas Rowden, William Saunders, Herbert Haines, John Wheeler and Joseph Rose. There may have been others but if there were their names are not recorded. The gang’s modus operandi was to locate remote, isolated farmhouses which they would then invade while the female occupants were there alone; then they would torture them until they gave up their valuables. On one such occasion, in Loughton, Turpin had learnt of a wealthy widow who kept hidden in her house the huge amount of £700. The gang broke into the unfortunate woman’s house, threatened her with all manner of foul abuse but she, a stout hearted, fearless lady refused to give in so Dick Turpin grabbed hold of her and placed her onto the lit fire until she gave in; so much for the nobility of highwaymen. Turpin’s Rant On Hounslow Heath as I rid o’er I spy’d a Lawyer just before, I asked him if he was not afraid Of TURPIN, that mischievous Blade. Sing, O rare Turpin, O rare Turpin, O. Says Turpin, I have been most cute,1 For my Money is hid within my Boot, Says the Lawyer, there is none can find For mine lies in my Cape behind. They rid till they came to the powder Mill, When Turpin bid the Lawyer to stand still, Stand, Sir, your Cape it must come off, For my Horse does want a Saddle Cloth. Sing, &c.

He rob’d the Lawyer of all his Store, But he knows how to Lie for more, But if you my Case should Plead, Or ever I should stand in Need, A word or two you may put in, My Name is saucy DICK TURPIN. Sing, &c. At Epping they said they would kill Turpin that had never done them Ill, But he, more nimbler than they, Shot his Carbine, and Dead was he. Sing, &c. And now they say that they will hang Turpin, as they have done his Gang, But an Hundred Pounds whene’er I Die I’ll leave Jack Ketch for a Legacy. Sing, O rare Turpin, O rare Turpin, O. Dick Turpin was born in Thaxted (some say Hempstead), Essex in 1705 and grew up in a reasonably well-to-do family. He was the son of John Turpin who village schoolmaster who described the young Turpin as intelligent but wilful. Dick was apprenticed when he was sixteen to a butcher in Whitechapel which was then a village on the outskirts of London. Again his behaviour was not all it should have been and Dick was described as “loose and disorderly.” After a five year tenure learning the trade of a butcher, Dick bought a shop in Waltham Abbey where he married the innkeeper’s daughter, Hester Palmer, whereupon he set himself up in business. Business was slow and his income low and so Dick, being lazy, turned to stealing cattle but was caught. He ran away into the depths of Essex where he robbed smugglers who plied their trade along the East Anglia coast. He would often pretend to be a Revenue officer to best deceive the unsuspecting smugglers a trick that neither smugglers nor the real Customs men appreciated. For a while he turned to poaching but was known to have been useless at that. He then began to smuggle wagon loads of venison, hidden beneath a layer of vegetables, into London but again he proved to be totally hopeless. It was at this point that he met and joined the Gregory Gang later to be known as the Essex Gang. The gang had some success but this proved to be their undoing as large rewards were placed upon their heads. When three of their members were caught and then hanged, the rest decided to disband the gang and to go their separate ways.

At this point Dick Turpin turned to the career that would seal his fame forever, that of a highwayman. In 1736 whilst on the London to Cambridge Road, Dick caught the eye of a smart looking cove riding a fine horse. “Stand and deliver,” cried Dick to which the man laughed replying, “What, dog eat dog? Come, come brother Turpin, if you don’t know me, I know you and I shall be glad of your company.” The well dressed gentleman was none other than Tom King, another highwayman who was known as the “Gentleman Highwayman” due to his style of dressing like a well-heeled gentleman and for riding well groomed horses. It was after this chance meeting that the pair became partners using a cave in Epping as their hideout. The pair’s notoriety grew as did Dick’s arrogance but sadly his intellect didn’t manage to follow suit. In 1737 he held up Mister Major, a horse dealer, and relieved from him the burden of his horse; a famed steeple-chaser named ‘White Stocking’ who had very distinctive markings around his feet. It may have been better to have eaten the bloody horse rather than keep it but Dick being a highwayman of very little brain did the latter and when Dick stabled the horse at the Red Lion Inn in Whitechapel it was instantly recognised. The local constable suggested that they lay in wait to see who came to collect the beast and so a group of constabulary made ready to ambush. It wasn’t Dick that turned up though but instead Tom King’s brother who was instantly arrested and who, being a cowardly type, agreed to lead the law to where Dick and Tom King where waiting. The arrival of the constable and his men was naturally enough a bit of a surprise to the two outlaws and there followed an exchange of gunfire whereupon Tom King’s brother was wounded. “Damn you, shoot or we are taken, Dick!” cried the wounded man so Dick fired but being as good a shot as he was both butcher and smuggler, Dick shot and killed Tom’s brother. Tom King was taken but Dick abandoned both the dying brother and Tom to their fate and fled the scene. For a while after this Dick was forced to hide away in the Epping cave but Thomas Morris, a local man found the hideout and fired a gun at Turpin who placated the man with false words before shooting him dead. The bounty on Dick Turpin’s head suddenly shot up to £100. Before King died, he gave the constable enough information on Turpin to make the outlaw’s life very uncomfortable so Dick Turpin took to living rough again within Epping Forest. He knew that his time there was coming to an end as every law man and bounty hunter was now after him and so Turpin took off to Yorkshire. Taking on the false identity of John Palmer he then started to work the county of Lincolnshire which lies some miles south of Yorkshire. He would ride from Yorkshire down into Lincolnshire where he would steal horses , do a spot of cattle rustling and the occasional highway robbery. One day, with his usual lack of intelligence and his natural ability to do random acts of gross stupidity, he shot his landlord’s rooster. His landlord, not best pleased at having his cock shot at said, in very strong terms, that he was a little miffed at having his prize bird shot in such a way, to which Dick then threatened to shoot the landlord as well. Not the brightest move in Dick’s murky career as the landlord then informed the local authorities who took Dick into custody demanding to know how he came by all his wealth.

Dick had no answers to these questions nor could he defend allegations that were made by several Lincolnshire farmers to the local Yorkshire constabulary of John Palmer rustling cattle and stealing sheep. Dick could think of no other action than to write to his brother. He sent the letter, pleading for help and assistance, asking his brother-in-law to: ‘procure evidence from London that could give me a character that would go a great way towards my being acquitted.’ Unfortunately Dick had not affixed a stamp to the letter and his brother-in-law, a mean spirited chap to say the least declined to pay for the postage returning the letter to the Post Office. Then yet another bit of bad luck happened as the letter was spotted by Dick’s old schoolmaster who instantly recognised Dick’s handwriting. Being a stalwart kind of a man, James Smith took the letter to the local magistrate who in turn had Smith sent to Yorkshire to make a positive identification of the villainous John Palmer alias Dick Turpin. Finding himself without a leg to stand on, Dick Turpin confessed to all the charges. On the 22nd March 1739 Dick was found guilty of horse stealing and was sentenced to death. During the following weeks Dick spent his time entertaining guests who came to visit him in prison, some even paid good money to see the notorious highwayman. Having spent his adult life as a very ordinary thief and villain, Turpin suddenly started to live up to the reputation he had acquired, buying himself an expensive suit in which he said he wanted to be hanged. He even arranged his own mourners to attend his funeral to whom he paid 10 shillings apiece. Then, on 7 th April 1739, Dick Turpin was taken along the streets of York in an open cart where he bowed and waved to the gathered crowd, playing every inch the dandy highwayman. At York racecourse he climbed the ladder to the gibbet where he sat for half an hour chatting to the spectators, guards and executioner then with a flourish of his hand and, ‘with an undaunted courage looked about him, and after speaking a few words to the topsman, he threw himself off the ladder and expired in about five minutes.’ His final act as a man probably sealed his reputation forever more as a carefree, gallant highwayman that in truth he never was. Recently a modern day identikit was produced of Dick Turpin using factual recorded descriptions of the man that said he was a pox marked average looking man and not the dashing blade of myth. Mentioned in the above song, Dick Turpin’s Rant, was a certain Jack Ketch who was in fact an executioner employed by King Charles II. Jack was in fact John but folks always called him Jack. Jack died in 1686 which begs the question why is he made mention of in a song about Dick Turpin one hundred years later? John ‘Jack’ Ketch was born of Irish stock and was an immigrant to these shores. We don’t know precisely when he arrived but his rise to fame was rapid. He was appointed executioner in 1663 and is remembered for being asked to execute Lord William Russell in Lincoln’s Inn Fields on July 21 st 1683. He also executed James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth on July 15th 1685. The Duke had been involved in the Monmouth Rebellion and King Charles II wanted him beheaded and out of the way and Jack was the man asked to do it.

It has never been proved of course but Jack, notorious as he was, may not have been such a good executioner as we all believe, either that or he was one sadistic son-of-agun as his executions were often described as being awkward, that is to say he didn’t always chop heads off cleanly and would take several attempts to get it right, during which time the guilty party was left with their head half on and half off. On July 21st, 1683, when Jack brought the axe down onto the neck of Lord Russell he did so in a very clumsy fashion which the crowd all loved but poor old Lord Russell didn’t as it took many more attempts before the man’s head fell off. Jack Ketch wrote an apology in pamphlet form (extant to this day) in which he says that he did not “dispose himself as most suitable;” he claimed to have been interrupted when taking aim and therefore missed his target. Again, with the Duke of Monmouth, he had to strike five times with his axe and even then the poor man’s head wouldn’t come off so Jack was forced to resort to using his knife to slice through the man’s neck. In 1686, after a handful of ill aimed axe strokes, Jack Ketch was removed from office and imprisoned at Bridewell only to be replaced by one Paskah Rose, a butcher no less, who was eventually hanged at Tyburn after only four months in office. I would have thought a butcher would have made a fine axe man but perhaps not. Jack was removed from his prison cell and reappointed as executioner only for him to die of natural causes some months later at the end of 1686. The name Jack Ketch has become synonymous with death and to such a degree that the man’s name has passed into popular legend and myth. It is to be found in various comic books, including Marvel Comics Ghost Rider, Pat Mills comic series Defoe; it is also found in the Manga Leviathan and also in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Many Rock bands have made reference to him and even that literary giant Philip Larkin, famed poet and writer, speaks of him in Livings. Jack Ketch is also the name of a character in the original Punch and Judy shows. Jack Ketch was an obnoxious man, vile and sadistic maybe or simply plain clumsy but his name lives on whatever he may have been. The forest closes in around me and momentarily I become disoriented. A feeling of panic grips me as I fear that I am lost but then, oddly reassuringly, I hear the sound of traffic. There are several roads that slice their way through Epping Forest and you are never far from one. Then I hear a crashing of something heavy running fast to my right. I fumble for my camera in the hope of seeing a deer but unfortunately it is nothing more than a rotweiler chasing shadows. I have seen deer before on the edge of this forest, many years ago, while driving late at night through Epping. In a frozen tableau of innocence the two beasts stood gazing at my car as I slowed down, then, with a snort and heads thrown high the regal pair flew across the road to disappear into the moonlit forest. It was a given moment of pure magic. I watch the dog as he slows down snuffling at the ground. A whistle spills from the lips of his master followed by a man’s voice calling the dog’s name. The dog spots me, considers me with reserve, and then, with a dismissive bark, lurches back to where his master is. Animals and men, canines and primates all linked by some forgotten bond. Here in the forest of Epping that common bond somehow makes

sense. The trees have character as much as any ancient house or pub as they gather in their rooted community. It is easy to see how Tolkien could half imagine a race of tree shepherds as many of these aged timbers appear to have personalities that appraise you as you gaze avidly at them. Lovers have carved their marks onto some of the bark, tattoos on a broad oak’s chest. These testaments of affection last many lifetimes but may eventually prove to be an embarrassment to whoever carved them as love doesn’t always live as long as trees. Epping doesn’t just hold a variety of wildlife and fauna, nor is it only the historical haunt of highwaymen, it is also the haunt of things unexplained. If you wonder what exactly I mean, let me introduce, albeit obliquely, 92 year old Evan Andrew who, during World War II, saw events that to this day he finds hard to forget. The men who lived through the hardships and horrors that this country faced from 1939 until 1945 have little need to invent ghostly tales, so when Evan recounted his story it was, and still is, something that he swears, by all he holds dear, to be true. Here is the story of Evan Andrew and his haunting truth. Evan Andrew was born in 1917 smack bang in the middle of the First World War, The Great War, the war to end all wars. It just so happened that this dreadful waste of human life didn’t herald a new age with war a thing of the past as some twenty years later Great Britain found herself at war again. This time though it wasn’t a war of Empires, Royal Families and colonies but rather, if there is such a thing, a ‘just war’; a war of right and wrong, a war of fascism against democracy. Evan, like a lot of young men in the thirties, signed up to fight the tyranny of fascist Germany and its ally Italy. Evan joined the Royal Artillery. It was his time stationed at Hill Hall, Theydon Mount serving as a batman to two officers, a Major and a Captain, that Evan remembers so well, or rather finds hard to forget. Britain was besieged by Nazi Germany, the greatest military might the world had seen, mightier at the time than the United States and certainly far more powerful and organised than Great Britain. The Empire was on its knees; the First War had brought Britain to the edge of calamity and its much vaunted wealth was drained having fought that long and arduous campaign, now, a foe even greater than Napoleon, was conquering large swathes of Europe and no one seemed able to stop them. Adolph Hitler dreamt of a new golden age brought in by the jackboot and the swastika; an age that would last a thousand years; a far right doctrine that supported the belief of nationalism, race purity and the ideology of the supreme white European. Nation after nation fell to the military machine of Hitler’s Germany with only one nation, one island state able to stand up against him: Great Britain. And in case we forget, there are still foolish people today who hold fast to the belief of tribalism, of pure races. They declare themselves to be real English without having the faintest concept of what that phrase means. London has always had a mixture of races living within its walls. We Brits are a bastard race of mixed DNAs, of blacks, browns, of Irish, Scotts Welsh and English, of Jews and Arabs, of Latins and Celts. We have a proud history that owes the Empire as was to the ability to assimilate different races and nations into one: Great Britain.

Whilst stationed at Hill Hall, Evan Andrews helped his officers select a room for themselves to sleep in. They selected a room that was off the Great Hall. It was a room like any other with no particularly distinguishing features however, the next day when the officers had left the room and breakfasted with Evan, they politely asked if they might sleep somewhere other than the room they had shared the night before. When Evan asked then why they became cagey and replied that their night’s sleep had been disturbed and both refused to sleep there again. Evan Andrew did as requested and found the two officers alternative accommodation. The two officers had a good night’s rest in their new chamber and left the following day to go back to the war. Two new officers arrived within a day of the other two leaving and were shown the same room that the previous officers had used. The following day they left, ashen faced and still looking tired and disturbed as though something had kept them awake all night. The original two officers retuned a few days later and when they had asked where they would be sleeping and were told by Evan the same room as before, both men refused to go back into that room again saying: “There is no way on earth that they would sleep in there again and if there is no convenient alternative then we will sleep outside.” Evan was utterly bemused by the officers’ behaviour as both men seemed tried and tested soldiers who had seen the horrors of war and shown little fear of anything apart from the room that the previous officers had also disliked. What made it even odder was that neither the first set of officers, nor the second had ever met each other and yet both sets had an obvious dislike, fear even, of the room off the Great Hall. As Evan said, some fifty four years after the event: “I received the same reaction from both pairs of officers, despite the fact that they had never met each other and had had no opportunity to talk about their experiences.” Whatever caused such irrational phobias in both sets of men is still unknown but the story doesn’t end there even if it did for the officers in question. Hill Hall was built in the 1560s by Sir Thomas Smith, courtier of some quite significant profile to Queen Elizabeth I. The house that stands there now dates back further than the 16th century and was built on the ruins of a far older property, one that was built in the 12th century but was probably burnt down as, strangely enough, was a portion of the existing house in 1969. There are a number of spooky storys that surround the place but the most popular one is the tale of seven brothers and their single sister who are supposed to have lived in the haunted room some three hundred years ago. The sister is said to have fallen in love with a man her brothers did not approve of as they felt he was not good enough to marry their sibling. The brothers fought duels with the man, one at a time until the man had killed all the brothers. The sister, unable to bear the loss of her brothers, killed herself and in so doing left a curse on the room so that her ghost haunts it still.

There are also tales of a spectral horse and carriage that run around with their passengers, a couple, still seated within. Its breath fair raises the fear of the devil himself on anyone who hears the dreaded sound of the hollow hooves as the clippety clop of iron-shod feet echoes. In the late 1920s two friends were cycling along the Epping Road near the Forest when they heard the unnatural sound of a horse braying while galloping along. The sound came from behind them and was growing ever louder. As the friends turned the corner so the pair turned around to see what on earth could be following them. They pulled the bikes over to one side to allow the carriage to pass but as the noise grew louder and eventually passed there was nothing to be seen, only a lick dust flew up from the road. There is much to be said about these solitary walks. The time alone to contemplate idle silences, to discover new truths and ancient histories. I am one who is fortunate to be able to enjoy my own company but that doesn’t mean to say I seek a monastic solitude bereft of any companionship. I enjoy people even if I often seem detached from them. I love my children, love the way each one of them has grown into such individuals. With Thumbscrew, my eldest, it was evident from day one that she was the sort of person who always strives to do well, someone who is driven to succeed. My son, Jimbob Badfinger, has probably the greatest sponge of a brain but doesn’t have either the confidence or focus to achieve the things his big sister has . He is very capable but the desire just isn’t there. Squid I have spoken of, she is special to us all even if she is a pain in the bottom at times we still love her. then there is Tweezil the baby of the family and fast approaching eighteen. Tweezil is in love and it is good to see her so happy, so filled with the joy of being with someone who loves her as much as she loves him.

Recently she has started to spend more time with her boyfriend which in itself is a natural enough thing to do. Sometimes they sleep over in our house in her room but more often than not she goes to his where they get to play house. I never comment to her, as it would only make her feel bad, but I dread the day that will arrive too soon when she moves out. She has already spoken of it, sits and contemplates it, plans her home in her head with all the decorations she wants to apply. I cannot, must not, say to her not to go as it will break my heart but inside that is precisely how I feel. I haven’t the right to stop her nor would I want to but the feelings of fear and loss creep in. I try to rationalise these emotions, I did not have them when either Thumbscrew or Jimbob moved out and I love them no less, no more than I do Tweezil. So then, why do I feel this heavy crush in my chest when I think of my baby girl leaving? Am I jealous of her, envious of her love? No, it isn’t that, it isn’t envy or jealousy that sets these feeling running wild but rather, I believe, that I see the end of days approaching. Not the end of my days, although that too is inevitable, it is more the end of my role as the father figure, the daddy who has the answers to the questions, the man who she has looked up to and worshiped. The bare truth becomes evident as the years move on and maturity sets in. I never was the man she thought I was, no father really is, but I

enjoyed that perception, enjoyed that hero-worship and now I am no longer the man she ran to, no longer the one to read her tales from books, no longer able to throw her on the bed like a sack of spuds. Those days are gone and I bloody well miss them. Oh, but she is a gorgeous girl though and I am so very proud of her. Of course, she is still the one who ‘borrows’ my books, comics, CDs, DVDs and old videos for them all to disappear into a dark void only to be recovered years later with dog eared pages, scratched surfaces and missing cases. On second thoughts, why will I miss her at all? At least I will get to keep my things where I know I can find them. My Mum used to come to Epping Forest. It would have been back in the early thirties when she and my Uncle, her older brother, would catch the tram from Upton Park and ride it to Epping. She described Epping then as seeming to be deep in the country and far removed from London but of course it isn’t. It is as close to London as you can get whilst still being a part of Essex. As the day draws on so the forest closes in again. A silent stain of side of the forest; not the gloriously green verdant woodland that seems so inviting and friendly but the place where ghosts, spooks, robbers and thieves abound; a dark sinister place full of twigs that break with a foreboding snap. I move out of the shaded trees and back onto the road that runs through the forest taking its path into Epping Town. The day is moving towards evening so I need to get into the town before all light fails. The White Stripes play a tune fit for the occasion from their splendid “White Cells” album: “Dead leaves on the dirty ground and I know you’re not around” It is an evocative, potent song that seems so right at this moment.

I stomp along with my feet treading out a beat to keep time with Meg White’s ramshackle rhythm as Jack’s guitar spits notes that remind me of Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck. It is a raw primitive sound that closely resembles the feeling you get as you walk around the swollen floor of the famed forest.

part twenty eight
* Ivy Chimneys and a Spotted Dog; the town Of Epinga and its love child Epping * * The Abode of Celebrity *
Epinga was a small community in the middle of the forest with a few farms here and there and a small chapel. The Domesday Book mentions the village but the name Epping wasn’t, as that was the result of an evolutionary process which took in the changes of name to Epping Upland then Epping Heath before becoming simply Epping. In fact it wasn’t really until the early 19th century that Epping as we know it today came into its own. As with most things Victorian, it was the advent of the the railway that gave a throbbing artery for the heart of industry to beat but also connected many vital market towns together - the better to trade with each other.

The main road that ran, and still runs, through Epping was a much ridden highway with coaches travelling its course on their way from or to London. It was a popular road and as such had many a coaching inn that could boast various famous people of the times. Even today the town has a fair few residents of note with Rod Stewart being probably the most famous. Often seen in local pubs and restaurants, the famed Face and football loving Scott, with a very English accent does not appear to have let his fame go to his head even if his money (and why not) has gilded his cage. He is not the only well known celebrity in Epping though even if he is of world renown; there is also David Byron, ex-lead singer of Uriah Heap, the band CRASS, Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode, ex-England football manager Glen Hoddle, Jessie Wallace actress and one time Eastenders star and my personal favourite, Griff Rhys Jones, actor, TV presenter, the other half of comedy duo Alas Smith and Jones and of course team member of the outlandishly funny Not the Nine O’clock News. Part of the reason for Epping’s popularity is its close proximity to London which allows its residents the added luxury of not only living in such a fine old town with its glorious woods but also the ability, at weekends or whenever the fancy takes them, to jump on the tube and visit London’s varied attractions. However, that in itself is the dichotomy that faces Epping: its closeness to the capital which not only offers a world of entertainment but also, like a bloated spider that has grown large and hungry, is consuming vast areas around it as it spreads ever out. Epping has always been a rural retreat but it now faces, as young families move in along with aspiring professionals, an influx of new residents it is ill prepared for; that, along with the government’s plans to develop Epping within its expanding East of England Plan, is threatening its cherished history. Progress offers so much but it is a double edged sword and it is hanging now over the neck of Epping. I pass along its streets, cursing the empty battery of my camera that has suddenly died, while observing the old clock tower that looms impressive in modest repose above the council offices and then the High Street with its array of shops both old and new and of course the almost obligatory charity shop that haunts every High Street in Britain; beyond that the water tower that was built around the middle of the Victorian era and which stretches with stylish Gothic grace. The thoroughfare seems well spread out but I notice that every car parking space is taken and traffic seems heavy; another sign of Epping’s increasing influx of inhabitants no doubt. I look to see if there is a tea room open or a café, somewhere that I can get a drink before I finally move on but all the shops are shutting so I turn around and head back the way I have come popping in into a petrol station on the way where I buy a highly nutritious bar with half my daily roughage needs packed into it . I know this as it tells me so on the label . I also buy a bottle of diet Doctor Pepper which I use to swill around my mouth to get the crusty bits of nutritious wotsit off my teeth. I like Epping; I like its buzz and the fact it does have so much to offer and I can easily see why people would want to move here but what they don’t seem to realise is that by the very act of moving to the place they like so much they will inevitably destroy the thing they claim to like so much.

I have no way of knowing how things will pan out for Epping, no idea if the growth of the town and region will continue or whether London will continue to spread its ever growing peripheral web until it encompasses Epping and all towns within the M25 circle. Whatever happens, I hope that Epping can maintain its unique history whilst looking after both its best interest and heritage. I turn away from Epping retracing my steps as I go. I could return by way of Harlow taking the A414 which will lead me back to my home but I haven’t quite done yet, there are still one or two places to see and visit before I throw in the towel. I leave Epping behind me and turn towards Chipping Ongar.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”


part twenty nine
* The Curious Case of the Cock-Eyed Conundrum that sits beneath sea level: The Island of Canvey and its Self Catering Community *
I remember as a teenager, my Aunt telling me the best thing that could happen to Canvey Island would be if one of the oil refineries were to blow the place up. Probably one of the least sensible suggestions she ever had. There is a lot of snobbery about Canvey Island and very unjust it is too but one thing is for certain, whether you love or loathe Canvey Island it has one of the closest knit communities in the whole of Essex. Where I live I know my immediate neighbours but very few people beyond that; on Canvey people actually know one another and if they don’t know you, then you can bet they know one of your friends or family. That sort of close knit community is fast fading but Canvey has it still. Canvey has grown from the seaside retreat where Cockneys used to escape to in their rough and ramshackle low budget shacks, to a thriving community that sits somewhat south of Southend-on-Sea. It is still, by and large, the place where Cockneys live but the current generation are more

the grand children of Cockneys than the genuine article; mockney’s for want of a better name. Nowadays the island is filled to bursting with all manner of ill-fitting buildings that have been shuffled together by a chance and random design. It really shouldn’t work, there simply isn’t enough space and yet, somehow, by some odd happenstance of luck it does. The downbeat and ordinary stand next to places of palatial design; ostentatious and proud to be so, swaggering structures that gild the lily with brasso. It is as though the East End costermongers decided to design and build a new place to live but without any knowledge of how to do it and with insufficient funds. Homes out of Dallas with ornate electronically operated gates face average looking properties that squeeze in next to their neighbours. Bungalows edge in beside four bedroom houses with little or no gardens only to be overlooked by a row of apartments that rise like taller plants surrounded by shrubbery. The end result is a roughly hewn, sometimes audacious often ludicrous, skiffle box of homes, industry and entertainment unlike anything anywhere else in Essex or, I strongly suspect, anywhere else in Britain. The other curious fact about Canvey is that it lies below sea level and is only separated from the rest of Essex by a series of creeks. Canvey island is, quite simply, unique. As I said, you either love it or loathe but you cannot deny it is very different and for me, highly individual. Canvey Island hasn’t always been like this and, oddly enough, although some might deny it, there is a history to the place. It wasn’t just created like this overnight by some tinker. It has grown organically over the past one hundred years or so to be the independent outpost of the rich and poor, and all stops in between. It can trace its history back to Roman times and articles have been found buried here to endorse that assertion. Canvey was also recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 and was described as being used for sheep farming. They even used the ewes’ milk to make cheese which in turn became popular with Londoners and also on the continent. Many of modern day Canvey place names have the suffix wick which is derived from the shed the cheeses were produced in. The name Canvey comes from the AngloSaxon Caningaege which means the Island of Cana’s People. Hard to believe now that back in the sixteen hundreds, along with the Spanish and Portuguese, the Dutch were numbered among England’s greatest enemies. Canvey Island owes a lot to the Dutch and much respect is paid to them in terms of street names, one third of all Canvey street names are of Dutch origin as are one or two odd bits of architectural design. There are two rather lovely octagonal Dutch cottages on the island, both built in the sixteen hundreds. Today I have come onto the island via the Benfleet entrance, winding my way down Essex Way with its adornment of wealthy homes that sit beside the road, resplendent courtesans in the court of the nouveau riche. I pass the railway station and then cross the small bridge while below me, gathered in large puddles and creeks are the muddy wetlands of Canvey Island. At this point there are no signs of human habitation and the first building I see is the sports centre, the one that I played Squash at some thirty years ago; Waterside I believe it is called. Before me the road stretches out and encompasses in the near distance a petrol station and the first signs of homes.

As I enter the town, leaving the obligatory supermarket on my left, I am struck by the mish mash of shops I see. Everything is here from betting shop to hairdressers, bakers, book shops, banks and barbers. There is little evidence of any sort of historical building in the High Street, mostly shops built in the fifties or sixties. For a greater depth of history I will have to look further afield. I am also struck by the independence of the place. You really wouldn’t need to drive off the island to get anything unless, perhaps, you need something a little out of the ordinary and for that there is Basildon or, better by far and only thirty miles away, London. Londoners have been coming to Canvey for years. Initially in Victorian times to holiday but, and within a very brief space of time, to live here. In 1909 there were only some 300 inhabitants here on Canvey Island, now there are more like 30,000 going on 40,000. It does seem somewhat divorced from the rest of Essex though. Not isolated but living within and without the larger community, a part of, yet a completely separate subcommunity with its own lifestyle and customs. In many ways it is typical of where a host of émigrés settle down into a certain area and bring with them all their old ways but as the years pass, even though the customs remain, they take on or evolve into new ones that define the community with a subtle difference to the outside county. Much like Quebec in Canada which was once a little France but is now a totally separate entity altogether. In front of me I see the road that goes arrow straight and leads to the seafront. The seafront is in fact a seawall built as a means to hold the estuary back and to prevent the waters rising and flooding Canvey again as they did in 1953. Those floods were a time of hardship for all who lived here then, not just because of the damage caused to homes but also because of the toll in terms of human life: fifty eight people died during this period and although, if compared to the Tsunamis that have hit Asia, this seems small, to the people of Canvey it was a horrid time. Fact is that Canvey is nothing more than a reclaimed island that had sunk below sea level. On one count it just goes to prove how industrious and inventive we are as a species but on another, it proves that sometimes nature cannot be held in check. It has, since the arrival of the folks from London who have practically colonised it, been very much a place where families have thrived. This spirit remains and is evident in the people you meet. The flood of 1953, the North Sea Flood to give it is full and proper name, was not just a local or even national disaster, it affected much of North Europe including Denmark, Belgium, Ireland and France. The total loss of human life was 2,725. From 31st January to 1st February 1953, a storm erupted over the North Sea. Many trawlers were sunk and many fishermen lost their lives with waves crashed into their fragile boats as the sea rose in a Shakespearean tempest. The winds flailed like mighty fists and the tide rose to greet the storm. The impact on the land was catastrophic with a great deal of flooding. 70,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Holland, 30,000 animals drowned, 10,000 buildings were destroyed and a further 40,000 damaged. So bad was the disaster in Holland that the US Air Force, then based in West Germany, flew rescue missions to aid the Dutch. The only thing that prevented 3 million Dutch from disaster and potential death was the Schielandse Hoge Zeedijk dyke. Had that watery defence been breached goodness alone knows what might have happened.

The one lesson that should be learned form this natural disaster is that we should never underestimate nature nor should we become complacent in the face of such a primordial force. Just prior to the floods of 1953, an entry was made in the 1949 Canvey Island Official Guide which stated “The valuable and arduous work of the Canvey island Sea Wall Commission, who keeps a vigilant eye on the present works, render such a thing very, very unlikely no.” This confidence followed on from the 1938 report which recorded the highest tides since the 1897 flood when part of Canvey became submerged and also said that the defences were still too low. Fortunately, no flooding followed and didn’t until the 1953 calamity. It still goes to prove though that far too often councils and governments either rest on their laurels or, and more likely, are unwilling to put their hands in the cash box and pay for further improvements. It cannot be stressed enough how fierce those storms were and with what violence they struck. Flood warning alerts were sent from Scotland Yard to the City of London police, as was agreed when plans were drawn up in 1928 on how to defend against the risk of flooding. No one could have known how fierce these storms would be so there is an element of surprise here but still the question remains; why wasn’t more done sooner to secure the sea wall defences? The tide rose above the sea wall on 1st February and the fire brigade were marshalled and sent out to alert the people of Canvey to the threat of flooding. The code name for the operation was aptly, King Canute. Sirens blared out their shrill warning to alert the islanders in the hope of getting them out of their beds. Many didn’t but fortunately the majority did and of these a great many were evacuated. The remainder, still asleep in their beds either didn’t hear the sirens over the sound of the wind howling its fury and lay were they were until the waters washed over them, or sadly didn’t wake at all and were drowned in their beds. All the coastal towns of South East England were hit by these storms but it was Canvey that suffered the most with 58 people dying in the floods. Others clambered onto the roofs of their houses which stood barely above the water line. For these poor souls who were rescued by the emergency forces it was a night to live forever in the memory. The Queen arrived with a young Princess Margaret to administer sympathy and to offer hope but both commodities were in short supply then. Some people managed to stay with friends or family until the clean-up was completed, others were taken in by complete strangers who, out of the kindness of their hearts, invited them to stay with them. Amazing at times that no matter how bad we are capable of being to each other there is still that spark of human decency that runs through us all at times of stress. To assist the residents on their return home, an information centre was set up that gave out leaflets on general hygiene along with vouchers offering free bedding, furniture, coal and disinfectant. In Great Britain 20,000 homes were damaged, 30,000 people had to evacuate while the death toll hit 531. It is hard to imagine now, living in this the 21st Century, that we, the human race, are not able to defeat virtually all that assails us but still we face a force that knows no bounds, a force that never retreats and forever remains greater

and more powerful than we can ever be. Since those dreadful days the sea wall at Canvey has been built higher and the defences made far more robust. It would be foolish to pretend that the sea wall is able to prevent such a natural act from pillaging these shores again and the Islanders remain ever under the potential threat but all are relatively confident that the brickwork is sufficiently strong enough to resist floods like those of the fifties. Even in the light of the inherent risks, the Canvey community remains. The sea wall stands at a distance from me and, as I said, I am not yet about to visit that part of Canvey but instead turn right to follow the road that grants access to the other way on to the island. I take the road marked Long Road which turns out to be an accurate description. The Dutch connection becomes more obvious as I traverse this road. There is, as I swing left off Long Road into Haven Road, an Old Dutch cottage that sandwiches itself between a series of newer properties. The white wall bears the year 1621 in bold black numbers. It is surprisingly small and I cannot help but wonder how tall the original occupants must have been. I am also amazed at the octagonal shape the cottage takes. I was also under the impression that the Dutch and English were at war with each other about this time and so find it rather odd that they would have built such a cottage here but build it they did.

The truth about the Dutch connection is that in 1622 a scheme was dreamt up by Sir Henry Appleton to reclaim the land from the sea and wall the island off from the Thames. To this end he asked Joas Croppenburg, a Dutch Haberdasher who lived in Cheapside, London to manage the project. Knowing of his countryman’s ability and knowledge of dams, dykes and sea defences, it was only natural that Croppenburg chose the very same people to assist here. Cornelius Vermuyden, who was living in England at the time, was commissioned to take on the task but first Vermuyden wanted to make a deal. In 1623 an agreement was reached between the island’s landowners, Sir Henry Appleton, Abigail Baker, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Binckers, Julius Sludder and John, Mary and William Blackmore which suggested a third of the land would go to the Dutch engineers as payment to them and thereafter they could settle on the island and live there. This is probably why one-third of Canvey’s streets have Dutch sounding names. The Dutch held responsibility for maintaining the sea wall but it was something that they alone felt a responsibility for as the other islanders, unlike the Dutch, were not keeping an eye out for their investment. This was a constant thorn in the side of the Dutch as their fellow islanders simply did nothing, leaving all the repair work to the Dutch who eventually left having sold their properties. The sea wall was left to rot and deteriorate. I follow Haven Road, so named not because it offers sanctuary or safety but due to the petrochemical industry that exists next to residential areas. Industry is a vital part

of modern life, none of us could exist without its cold embrace but these hideous storage tanks are warts on the backside of the Canvey community. The oil and petrol industry have been here since 1936 as part of an Anglo-American project that was designed specifically to assess if there was a viable method of transporting liquid natural gas overseas. It was a scheme that worked, but only for a short while, until North Sea gas was discovered which saw the British pulling out of further development. We cannot survive without industry but sometimes its footprint leaves an ugly mark and too often scant regard is paid to the citizens who have to live as neighbours to its facilities. I pass by the Mordor fields of Canvey and venture further down Haven Road. At the end of the road the sea wall rises up, a protective arm against the Thames that stretches for some fifteen miles. Here, at one corner of the island sits its oldest building and public house: The Lobster Smack Inn. Its exact age is uncertain but it probably dates back to the 17th century, the lip tile is dated 1510 but the proof is questionable. It assuredly was around during Elizabeth I reign and Charles Dickens made reference to it in his book ‘Great Expectations.’ Being so close to the river meant that the Lobster Smack, also known as the Sluice House and the World’s End at different stages of its existence, had a relationship with smugglers and contraband and you would often find unlicensed pilots patronising the establishment. Also heard would be Dutch, spoken freely by the fishermen who had sailed over from the Netherlands. A range of their old clay pipes have been found in and around the area. As with most of this coastline smuggling was rife here. Measures were taken to prevent the illegal activity but the inventiveness of men can sometimes run rings around the slow foot of the law. Messages would be relayed to the custom officers that would send them on fool’s errands to one side of the island whilst the criminals carried out whatever devilish deed they were performing on the opposite side. A chief officer was engaged who employed six boatmen to assist him in his duties. A watchtower was built that observed the comings and goings of every ship and these ever watchful men kept a wary eye open for smugglers unless, that is, they had been paid to turn a blind eye which was often the case. The appointed lookout man was also known to have a powerful thirst which could be alleviated if he only looked the other way. The other activity that the Lobster Smack was notorious for was the annual fair which took place on each 25th June. The island’s records show that the fair was well established by 1767 and that it proved to be a worthwhile distraction from the run of the mill agricultural work that the folk were all engaged in. At the fair you could buy toys, gingerbread, ribbons, fruits and all manner of homemade produce from jams to preserves with possibly the odd bottle of homemade ale. The fair operated from the 1700s until 1889. The Lobster Smack held regular bare knuckle prize fights which were staged outside the inn. The fights were nothing like modern day boxing matches as they could last for hours with the two men knocking seven kinds of hell out of each other, both

punching like demons hoping that the other would fall down unconscious or at least give in. Some fights were known to have lasted for 90 rounds. Not sure of the legality of these bouts but I would have thought that they all were perfect lawful if a little insane. Today the Lobster Smack is one of the island’s pubs of choice and serves a decent pint with a snug surrounding by which to drink it. If I am painting Canvey in fresh, modern colours leaving the impression that the island is a relatively new place with a shallow history, or at least a history that is only a couple of hundred years old, then let me set the record straight; Canvey Island has a depth to its history that rivals any other part of Essex or of England to that matter. I turn back down Haven Road and as I retrace my steps so I, in my minds eye, retread the history of this sunken land mass. Originally Canvey was made up of five distinctly separate islands and there are still maps that show the islands as they were. As with so many places in Essex, it was the Anglo-Saxons who named Canvey taking its name from their tribal leader, Cana, or, by way of a literal translation: “The Island of Cana’s People.” There is even a suggestion that Canvey was once a part of the mainland but I suspect many of the locals of modern Canvey would dismiss this notion. In many ways the coarse, wet and wild marshlands of Canvey are the embodiment of how we imagine Anglia to have been with Saxon soldiers marching through the fog bound land, mists swirling about their ankles while a sullen sun hangs invisible behind a net of grey gauze. These marshy fields were perfect for herding sheep, especially the fat-tailed variety, as they offered such wholesome pasture land. Canvey used to belong to a man called Swein. Not sure what his other names might have been or if the name itself is nothing but a token for his real name but nonetheless, he was the proud owner of these islands, this island of Cana’s People. Not only did Swein own Canvey, as if that was not enough, he also laid claim to Thundersley, Hadleigh, Benfleet, Rayleigh, Rochford and Prittlewell. Swein was evidently a man of means, unfortunately his grandson, Henry de Essex, didn’t fare so well as he was accused of cowardice by Henry II who confiscated his lands and then redistributed them. Not sure if the King confiscated Henry de Essex’s head and redistributed that but it does seem likely in light of the way the monarchy behaved back then. I reach the end of Haven Road and turn right passing down the long road that is known, funnily enough as, Long Road. On my left comes the first of two churches a church no more but reinvented as a local museum. It still has a graveyard and today a string of bunting runs from the door. It was Saint Katherine’s, now it is known as The Heritage Centre. The Dutch brought not only their skills at damning but also religion to the island. They petitioned Charles I in the 1600s to allow them to worship in their own tongue and it was Dom Cornelius Jacobson who was elected as the first pastor of what is now St. Katherine’s. The church then would have been no more than a wooden out-

building, rough, raw and crudely built and would soon prove to be a bone of contention between the English and the Dutch as the English were not allowed to worship here but had to travel instead to the nearest alternative church, St. Mary’s in Benfleet. On a Monday in 1650 a host of English turned up outside the church and with menace in their voices demanded the keys of the church. Fighting broke out but the Dutch won and managed to hold onto both the keys and the church. Time has its own way of dealing with such conflicts and eventually the church fell into disrepair and was finally demolished in 1712. There was no complaint from the Dutch as by this time they had left and gone home to Holland. Another church was built in its place on the self same spot and was named St. Catherine’s (with a C) but for a time had no clergyman to oversee its flock at worship. In 1872, as the population was expanding at a fabulous rate, the reverend Harry Hayes, who sounds more like a fishmonger than a cleric, was appointed curate in charge of the whole island. His task was to re-build yet again and this time a more substantial, lasting edifice. Work began in 1875 where it did what churches do until the mid 1960s when it was closed only to be turned into, some years later, the heritage centre it is now. The first school on Canvey can also be attributed to Harry Hayes who was keen to improve conditions for his parishioners. The school was built in 1874 and stood facing the church like husband and wife over a dinning table. The school was but a simple timber framed structure that was closed when the infant and junior school in Long Road opened. The old school building remained in situ as the local village hall until a fire burnt it down. The reverend Harry Hayes keeps popping up in the recent history of Canvey Island and seems to have been a man of huge heart and on a mission. He obviously loved the place as he not only took on the duty of curate at the church, had the first school built but also was instrumental in having the village pump made. The pump was a necessary tool for the islanders it gave them all a free supply of water. The drilling of the well was a responsibility given to a Mister Furlong who had the unenviable task of drilling down through layer upon layer of thick, clinging, pudding-like clay to a depth of 312 feet. The pump’s design was simple enough and it was housed beneath a thatched roofed shelter with an inscription that said, in typical biblical terms: “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” Obviously a drink just for the men then! I take a few snaps and have a peak around the old churchyard, seeing beyond the centre the shoehorned houses offset by the headstones that carry messages of love that outlast death; sentiments and emotions that forever desire to prove that life goes on long after we have departed this world. Then I gather up my cases and move on. Turning left I follow the road then decide to cross over. The traffic is heavy but some kind soul nods me across. I wave a thank you and lope to the other side. Within a matter of a few hundred yards I come across the second church; an austere whitewashed building with a grave, grey roof below which sits a thin, narrow cross, an impossibly long cross that hangs above the head of The Christ.

The church has the unlikely name Our Lady of Canvey and the English Martyrs. An odd, wounded sounding name for a church, as though the name was given after some awful event committed against the faith. I assume the faith must be Christian and of the Catholic persuasion but knowing little of such things I could be wrong. I couldn’t imagine worshiping in here as it seems, from the outside at least, to be the very antithesis of how a church should be but we shouldn’t go by looks and I am very aware of that. The more I look at the church the more it brings to mind a nun, dour in her blacks and whites; cold, dispassionate and frowning down upon anything perceived as frivolous. On that note I move on yet again. Back in the early days of Canvey, known then as Canwaie Iles the dairy farms brought in the money but by 1592 the tides had changed and more than 4,000 sheep were to be found on the island. I have already mentioned the sheep cheese-making industry which is something that sounds so odd to us nowadays but then it was a thriving business as big cheeses were sold for 6d and smaller cheeses, for 2d. This probably doesn’t give any real perspective but when I was a child buying my comics in the sixties, a single copy of the Lion or Valiant would have cost the same as a large cheese. Bearing in mind that there were several hundreds of years between my childhood decade and the 1500s, 6d suddenly seems a lot of money. I find myself back at the spot I described earlier with the sea front to my right this time. I take the curve of the road and walk to where I can see the distant blues of sky and sea merging into one indecisive colour. As you approach what is known as the sea front, the first thing you see is an ornamental garden set into the middle of a roundabout. Beyond that is a car park on the left hand side of which is a circular restaurant. I have eaten there and the cuisine is of a solid nature and the service friendly. The sea front is unlike any sea front that I have ever seen. The land around the front rises up in a slow gradient and as you climb it with a steady pace you realise that all the while you are walking up to the water and not, as is usual, the other way round.. When you reach the top there is the wall and behind it the water slaps The water is only a short drop away and it is not hard to conceive of it rising to the top. I rest for a moment leaning against the wall watching the Thames resolutely flow by; a dark, obscure tide that hides a multitude of past secrets. There are crowds of people here today milling around enjoying themselves on their day off. Couples walk hand in hand against the wind that is picking up. Others are out walking their dogs or simply grabbing what remains of mid-autumn before the days really start to get unpleasant and winter sets in. Some people are leaning against the sea wall looking down to watch the waters eddy past while others take the few short steps down to the footpath that takes you along the water’s edge. I turn to look at what is laying about me and spot a children’s playground a short distance away and to the left, just below the restaurant, looking for all the world like something out of a 1974 film starring David Essex. Of course, Doctor Feelgood came from Canvey and what a fantastic band they were, running before the punk explosion and a huge influence on it. The Feelgoods were a

pub band that played some dazzling old time R’n B, full on, one hundred mile an hour, Rock and Roll. They weren’t the only band to come out of Canvey; there was the excellent Eddie and the Hot Rods who made one of my favourite singles of the seventies, “Do anything you wanna do” and the now forgotten Kursal Flyers. I think that it was the Feelgoods that did it best though and Lee Brilleaux was an outstanding front man, all personality and passion. You might not think of Canvey as having any interest in popular culture or the arts at all but this is simply not the case. The art that I have used to conclude this chapter of walks is by artist Paul Smyth whose paintings of Canvey show the island in its relaxed, rural pomp but also manages to show Canvey in the light that we know she basks in: introspective but warm, conservative but gregarious. I turn away from this part of the seafront deciding to head directly back to the High Street end but going via the road that hugs the sea wall. It is a road that passes row upon row of houses, all tamed but defiant to the threat of flooding as they stare down the barrel of that ominous eventuality. Many of the, roads and streets and much of the island have areas, and schools, with the suffix wick attached to them: Furtherswick, Northwick, Southwick etc; this is due to the cheese industry that I spoke of as wick means dairy farm. There are no cheese firms here now and the marshy lands of Canvey are unsuitable for cattle grazing so the only cheese you will get is from the yarns spun by local residents. Men of Canvey are much like men anywhere in Essex, England or Europe for that matter and the traditions of Canvey are subject to the laws of England and Great Britain. There was a time though, back in the 1700s, when men of Canvey had as many as 15 wives with one gentleman reported as having 35. Not that the chaps of that age were great bigamists or just plain randy as this multitude of wives can relatively easily be explained. A form of malaria, plagued the island in the 18th century and seem to direct its lethal virus at the female population. Exactly why is not truly known but there are many suggestions for this almost irrational or perhaps vindictive appearing contagion; women of the 1700s on Canvey performed far more menial tasks such as milking the ewes (oh what fun those girls had) to cleaning out barns, this coupled with the extraordinarily long hours that they worked may have contributed to the huge number of deaths among the female population. Of course, it may simply have been the viscous husbands who kept bumping these ladies off simply to marry a younger version. In truth men also died from this decease but far fewer of them than the women folk. Famed author Daniel Defoe, who spent much of his time visiting the shires of England, said of Canvey, which he referred to as Candy Island, and its fever that the men of Canvey seemed to repeatedly have a quick succession of brides so maybe my theory holds up after all! Of course there were also the damp, foggy marshlands of Canvey to think of as they too must have been the breeding ground for a large number of unpleasant viruses that would have sprung from there. The street dead ends o I take the first left hand road walking past even more houses with cars parked willy nilly over and on the grass verge. A wind blows to remind me that it is November now, grey and chill, the few leaves there are clinging on with silent determination as the boughs bend and writhe. A cold rain starts to fall but it is

only an intermittent shower, a precursor, judging by the dark clouds that leer down, of a heavier rainfall promised for later. November is still an autumnal month but it is the harbinger of winter. November is also the month that my second daughter was born in so any faults the month may have are banished when think of her. I cannot see the water from here but I imagine it bucking and rising as the winds whip it into a turmoil of motion. Canvey is still in front of me and the sea wall drops behind. I run my hand over my face intending to wipe the rain off but instead end up knocking my glasses off. I still find the newness of them odd as too often I forget that I am wearing them. I pick them up, check they are okay and move along. Possibly the island’s most revered gentleman has to be Frederick Hester who was either a man of great imagination or simply a stalwart gambler; a man of considerable vision or one who took incredible chances; hard to say now but the impact of what he did and achieved can still be felt today for without him, Canvey Island would never have become the Island Resort that made its fortunes back in the Victorian age and by turn of fortune would not be the island community it is today. Frederick Hester was born in Fulham, Middlesex in 1853 the son of George Hester who worked as Bridge Keeper for Putney Bridge. Little is known of Frederick’s formative years although it is documented that young Frederick worked as a carpenter so presumably he would have been apprenticed to that trade. In late 1800s Frederick moved from Middlesex into Hertfordshire and sometime around then had a career change when he turned his hand to property as an Estate Agent. This move was to prove pivotal as it gave him the latitude to branch out into acquiring property for him self himself. It was about this time that Frederick started to buy up bits of Canvey: Leigh Beck, Small Gains Farm, Knightswick, Oysterfleet and Kibcaps. This may have all been part of some grand scheme of his visionary mind or it may have been purely organic, we will never know. He married his first wife, Sibyl Brewster in 1875 and together the couple had five children. By 1901 the family had moved into Essex and onto Leigh Beck, Canvey. It was from here that Frederick began to lay out his plans for the island. They were ambitious and far reaching and quite remarkable for their time. His idea was simple enough; he wanted to turn the island into a retreat for Londoners seeking fresh air and a sea view aspect, a place to recover from the hurly burly of city life, a little bit of the country mixed with the seaside and all on their doorsteps. Hester’s methods were to prove revolutionary and have since been used in modern times by design agencies and large conglomerates alike. He had huge posters printed and placed onto hoardings in the City . This, along with a series of circulars that were sent to shopkeepers, publicans and homeowners, were the tools he used to entice his target audience to the dream he was creating. Taking advantage of the agricultural depression he bought up more and more parts of Canvey which he then divided into smaller plots; these plots were then sold for a handsome profit to the self same shopkeepers, publicans and home owners he had teased with his advertising campaigns. He offered a free meal, rail ticket and a Christmas turkey to any really interested parties who came to peruse his plots of land. So successful were his ploys that not only did a host of private buyers swarm onto Canvey but an equal host of

businesses all of whom could smell the money flocking up behind Frederick Hester’s dream island. He built a Winter Gardens as an attraction, to which he added at the entrance a tower bungalow where he and his family lived. He drew up plans to build a grand promenade alongside a pier that would have matched the world’s longest pier at Southend-on-Sea . There would have been bandstands and a Kursaal. Within the Winter Gardens, which would have covered six square miles when fully built, he had glass conservatories filled with exotic plants and fruits whilst peacocks strutted around the place proud as princes while above, other birds wheeled and spun and in ponds fish of gold and silver swam amid fountains that sparkled and spat flumes of water. It was the start of a glorious future, one that would have put Canvey on the map not just within England but in Europe too, a resplendent vaudeville of seaside delights. He also drew up plans for a mono-rail to carry people around the island and also a tram to run from Canvey to nearby Leigh. He took full advantage of the Dutch connection and even went as far as to have staff dress up in the Dutch national costume. Unfortunately though his ambitious plans fell through when he ran out of money and became bankrupt in 1905. His dreams of an extended Venetian canal with gondolas carrying holiday makers through curving, tranquil waters came to nothing. It was the grandest of schemes though and set Canvey up in the eyes of the East Enders who flocked there for rest and respite. The rain is falling hard now, icy stair rods that sting my face. I spot a man out walking a Jack Russell . Its ears are pulled back and it looks maudlin but the man doesn’t, he seems perfectly at ease walking in the rain and quite undisturbed by its wet persistence. Upon seeing me the man raises his head and nods before engaging me in conversation. No one, I think, has ever before stopped to converse with me when the heavens are throwing it down but this bloke brooks no nonsense from such distractions as rain, famine or hurricane and starts his diatribe. “‘Ello mate, haven’t seen you around ‘ere before; you local or visiting?” I tell him I am visiting hoping all the while this will be a brief conversation as the rain is now running down my neck and my jeans are sodden. “Yeah, I thought so; you don’t look like a Canveyite. You live near ‘ere then?” I tell him I do, I even tell him the area I live in. “Really?” he queries with a degree of disbelief, “posh out there innit?” I reply that it isn’t really, that it is quite ordinary. “Me,” says the man whose dog looks as unhappy as I am now feeling, “born and bred Canvey. Nuffin’ like it mate, nuffin’ like it.” I nod an understanding but say that I have to go as today is one of my daughters’ birthdays. I half expect him to ask which one and how many children I have got and are they all girls or do I have any boys but he doesn’t say anything of the sort he just nods, grunts a bit and tugs on his dog’s lead before walking away. He was a nice bloke, a genuine man and typical of the people of Canvey: friendly but insular, warm

but comfortable with where they are, who they are. He disappears into the grey of the rain and I hurry on back to where I need to get to. There are two ways, as I have said, onto the island but this hasn’t always been the case. Once upon a time the only way onto Canvey was by ferry or, if brave enough, by walking over the stepping stones that were especially placed for such eventualities. The first bridge built to grant access to and from the island was the Colvin Bridge, so named after the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, Brigadier General R.B. Colvin who was present when the official opening ceremony was performed. The grand opening was in May 1931. It must have been quite an incredible moment for the islanders as they suddenly had greater mobility but I suspect there may have been many who cursed the event seeing it as allowing people on to the island as much as it granted the islanders an easier way off. The ferry that preceded the Colvin Bridge was nothing more than a couple of punts and two row boats that only ran during daylight hours and only if weather was clement, which in turn suggests that if any emergency happened in the dead of night you had better hope to goodness that it could wait until the following day as there was zero hope of getting assistance unless it was something the Canvey community could cope with. The rain stops as suddenly as it started and the grey November day rolls back the ominous clouds to momentarily present a shockingly blue sky, there is no heat though, no warmth from the pale sun just the distant memory of summer gone. I have enjoyed this exploration of Canvey; I like the place as it offers something unique and aside from the rest of Essex. It is a difference borne out of its history that gives the place its creditable family feel, its insular defiance to all who cross the roads that lead here. I am not sure if I could live here though as I fancy I would always feel the outsider but let there be no doubt that would be my fault as the people of Canvey are amongst the friendliest folk in Essex even if their attitude toward outsiders is a take it or leave it one. I depart the island by the same route I came, passing Benfleet on my left and taking the long road back up Essex Way before turning right and heading toward Hadleigh and its ruined castle.

part thirty
* Of Hadleigh and its Castle Ruins * * The Sigils and Talismans of James Cunning Murrell *

Hadleigh lies east of Canvey and is sandwiched between Benfleet and Leigh-on-Sea. It is a town where some 18,000 people reside. The streets are rain slick and slippery from the recent downpour and my Doc Martens splash through puddles as I walk. The town is unremarkable filled as it is by shops that can be found in virtually every high street but it too has its history. In 1891 Salvationist General Booth, a visionary in his own right, made plans to establish a farm colony in Hadleigh where the poor and destitute of London could receive lodgings in return for work undertaken, then, if they proved to be sincere individuals they would be trained to farm a smallholding and encouraged to move to the colonies where they could farm and maintain themselves. Today the farm colony helps train people with special needs so that they can obtain work elsewhere. It is a laudable scheme and one that should be encouraged by government. My reason for passing through Hadleigh is obvious: I am on my way to Leigh-on-Sea to visit that old seaside town and reacquaint myself with it but there are things of note at Hadleigh too. The church of St.James the Less which hunkers down in the middle of the A13 being one and the ruins of the ancient Norman castle being another. The castle was built in 1230 during the reign of Henry III and was a vitally important fortification as it was the first defence against invasion on the Essex coast. It now lays in ruin with jagged shards of stonerising broken and crumbling from the grass that surrounds it, like fractured English teeth growing from green gums. The castle was built of Kentish ragstone and has been passed down or sold to innumerable figures from history including Elizabeth Woodville (wife of Edward IV), Catherine Aragon, Anne of Cleeves, and Catherine Parr but it was Lord Rich who plundered the castle taking stones from its structure to build churches. Since then the castle has fallen into neglect due in large part to subsidence. John Constable came here in 1814 to make sketches of the ruins, which he finally ended up painting in oil in 1829. The sketch is a delight but the oil painting truly captures the windswept isolation of the neglected castle giving it an eerie, desolate aspect. James Murrell was born in Rochford, Essex in 1781 at a time when Rochford was an area famed for its witches and witchcraft. Typical of cunning men, Murrell was the seventh son of a seventh son and thereby, according to myth and legend, a man of peculiar powers. It was because of this preconception that the young James received an education. James proved to be of more than average intellect and this, coupled with his education gave him entry into his first job as surveyor’s apprentice, a role he enjoyed but not enough to prevent him progressing to Chemist’s assistant. This career move proved to be instrumental in his makeup. He also learnt, whilst working in London, of astrology and of the occult. The three practises were to become the foundation to his future as a cunning man. It was during this time that Murrell started to build his library of magical texts.

In 1812 Murrell moved to Hadleigh whereupon he opened a shop and worked as a cobbler, repairing and making shoes. His cottage shop faced the door of St. James the Less, the Hadleigh church. His reputation as a shoemaker was soon surpassed by his amazing abilities as an herbalist, a healer and a wise man, which spread like wildfire through the village. This reputation grew in the telling and soon it was not just the locals who came knocking at his door but also wealthy aristocrats looking for cures to certain ailments. Eventually people from all over England came to see and ask advice of the cunning man. His knowledge of herbal remedies was unsurpassed and he was known to often consult from the works of Henry Cornelius Agrippa, William Lilly and Nichel Nostradamus; also he would often leaf through Francis Barrett’s Grimoire. His consulting room was nothing more than the front room of his cottage where he hung drying herbs from the ceiling whilst in a heavy chest he would keep copies of his books and extract them at times to consult His desk took pride of place and stood next to a telescope that he kept pointed out of the window at the stars. Next to this were two chairs he kept just for his patients. His charges were inexpensive as he only asked a halfpenny for curing warts but a half-a-crown to break the spell of another witch. Murrell was an eccentric and colourful man, short but with piercing blue eyes and a ruddy complexion. He would be seen walking about the village wearing a fashionable hard hat on his head, a bob-tailed coat on his back and an umbrella slung over his arm. Should you require him to call on you he would only come at night. He always carried his mirror which was the size of one normally found in a birdcage and with this magical mirror, on which he would often pour a black as ink liquid, he was thought to be able to see things other cannot. He always wore a copper amulet with which he could detect if you were honest or not. In December 1860 Murrell foresaw his own death and soon after fell ill. Taking a pen and paper he wrote down the precise date of his death as the 16th December 1860. As he lay dying the local vicar came to administer his last rights whereupon Murrell roared that he was the Devil’s Master and the vicar fled in fear. James Cunning Murrell died on December 16th 1860 as he said he would and without the help of the doctors or vicars who he saw as interlopers.

“The road goes ever on and on Back to the place where it began”
J.R.R. Tolkien

part thirty one (a)
*The Salty Dog that is sits south of Prittlewell: Southend-on-Sea * * Westcliff the woebegone * * Cockles, Whelks, Winkles and the estuary life of Leigh-on-Sea *
As I near the end of my walks an odd feeling comes over me, a sense of having undertaken something, which should, you would have thought, send a euphoric feeling coursing through me. It does but at the same time there is an equal feeling of not wanting this to end, of still being quite unfulfilled even though I have achieved much of what I set out to accomplish; weird. It is winter now, December, and there is a frost. A bright crystalline day greets me as I walk which makes such a pleasant change from all the rain we have been having of late. The hill, near to where I live, has seen tiny rivers running down it finding larger pools to gather in. Pedestrians have clung to the far edge of pavements for fear of passing cars dousing them as they speed through the kerbside pools. Drains have been filled with brackish water. All in all the weather has been hateful and I for one would much prefer the cold of winter to this constant wet we now seem to get. Today is the sort of winter morning I remember as a child: crisp, fresh with a beautiful clear light, a day to be wrapped up warm but a delight to be alive on. Wisps of white escape me as I breathe out, I pull my collar up around my neck, wrap my scarf around me to keep out the chill. The walk from Canvey Island, via Hadleigh, is but a relatively short one and I take up my journey where I left off. They say that Essex is flat with little or no gradient to hinder your progress. I would suggest that whoever said that should revisit some of the places I have been to. There are no major hills between Canvey and Leigh but there are inclines enough to test the fair weather walker. Coming off Canvey Island you turn into and pass through Benfleet. Today the roads are heaving with traffic; a steady roar of engines accompanies me as I wend my way to the shores of Leigh. Benfleet is a small town that sits close to the estuary but not one I shall be writing about, not that it isn’t worthy but I have an insatiable desire to get to Leigh and then to the conclusion of these wilful walks; Benfleet first and then on through Hadleigh with its toothy range of castle ruins that stand as broken remnants of a time long ago. The morning has a pristine quality to it and the weak winter sun is considering retiring for the season or perhaps going into some form of hibernation but still sparkles amiably. Winter marches on and autumn is now a memory of leaves falling in a spiral of brilliant colours blown to the pavements by winds that bite. My hands feel cold, even in the gloves that wrap them, as they grip the bags slung over my shoulder. The music playing is Seasick Steve, an appropriate name for an artist especially as I approach the sea. It is delta blues sung from the heart and soul of a man who was once a hobo. I feel like a hobo now as I walk these streets.

The shuffle of sound matches the broken cracks in the concrete I tread. The blues is the sound of life, albeit American life but it is still a life I can identify with, harsh at times but still worth the living. Written on the hoof and sung from the voice of experience. In some odd way the music, the walk and the destination match each other with a perfect symmetry; they all come from the same well spring and all from the same common set of principles and shared values of a life of hard work. Old Leigh lays waiting in the hollow of the east. It is the nearest seaside place to London and was once a favourite haunt of Cockneys. It hides beneath the High Street and the church and regales itself in modernity mixed with a history that is uniquely its own. The tide hisses like tall grasses and the past begins to open up its closed and glorious secrets. Leigh is referred to in The Domesday Book as Legra, a one horse town. Modern Leigh is nothing of the sort, it is a vibrant, vital community that nestles neighbourly next to big brother Southend-on-Sea and gives its bigger, younger sibling a degree of sophistication and depth of history that the newer community lacks. Originally Leigh would have been a fishing community before becoming a small port that took international trade while also acting as a moderately successful shipbuilding business. Being so near to London it has recorded ships of 340 tons built here. During the 16 th century it was used to defend the kingdom from the Dutch, Spanish and French fleets and also pirates. It is also believed that the Mayflower may have docked here on its way to the Americas. However, its first claims as a fishing village are those that have outlasted all others. Even to this day there exists a small fleet of fishermen. Beneath the leathered, weathered, sun soaked salty skin the oysterman, with bent, aching back and sore limbs, a lit cigarette hanging from his pink, gummy mouth, closed his grubby hand, fingernails grimed by days of dirt, tightly around the glass in front of him. The ale tasted bitter, brown and sunset sinking slow down his parched throat like a blessing of a good day. Heathen and glorious, wet, warm and welcome it sank like a ship on the horizon as it passed over the edge of the world into a new horizon. The day had been spent, as most days were, knuckle down into deep mud that clung to his booted feet with a primordial force, his back creaking low, his hands furtive in the cloying filth, knees aching and spread, brow pouring sweat so that he blinked to see. Above him the sun kept its distance in the lowering sky, an ever glaring presence that hovered over the estuary whenever the cloud parted allowing it access to the world below. The work was honest if back breaking, the rewards were little but enough for a man to make a living. Working in the windy wet during the spring months was a hard task but the thought of an evening spent supping ale sat in the warm around a hot fire in the local public house kept the spirits up. Tonight the Peterboat was full of these tidal scavengers, these men of salt and hard labour who toiled with and against the forces of nature day in, day out. Ruddy faces lined by the salt air, their legs stretched out before them they sat relaxed and happy Their conversations were crude as clay, simple as shrimps, ribald and raucous, filled with anecdotes and fishermen’s tales as long and as witty as the working week: these, the oystermen of Leigh-on-Sea. An oysterman’s lot must have been gruelling, tedious and repetitive but, having said that, enriching and honest. The self same mud still clings to your boots when you try

to walk along the Leigh front. I know this as, back in the spring of 1984 along with my wife and our new baby daughter, I attempted to walk down there. The attempt was a failure; the baby carriage sank into the sediment as did my wife and daughter and it was only with a struggle that, laughing all the while, we managed to schlep our way back to dry land all covered in mud, mud glorious mud. As far back as living memory, Essex, and especially Leigh, have been associated with oyster fishing. Even if the Romans, when they invaded here, conquered this area for its obviously powerful strategic value they were also known to be great lovers of the oyster. It may even have been the Romans that gave the seafood the myth of being an aphrodisiac, although I have no evidence to suggest they did. In the early fourteen hundreds Chalkwell (a neighbouring town to Leigh) Manor was given rights to maintain oyster beds. Back then, and certainly right up until the early part of the twentieth century, oysters were very popular with locals and the general public alike. The modern world has brought with it a great many changes; some fantastic, some mediocre and some just plain daft. Tastes in food have evolved although it is not for me to say whether for better or worse but just to note that I no longer see a butcher’s window with a rabbit hanging from a hook, its stomach opened up, its entrails revealed. Nor do I see butchers’ shops with pigs’ heads laying inside them or though I am sure that there are still some regions of Britain that do but, by and large, consumers have grown, if not more sophisticated, then more squeamish. Also the consumption of meat seems to have been focused largely on beef, lamb, chicken and pork. As a child I would have very likely eaten pigeon, rabbit, duck and goose. People still eat all of those meats but not in such a fashion as they used to. Of course a lot of this could be down to the advent of supermarkets and their incessant desire to do our thinking for us. Oyster fishing was a huge industry in the eighteen hundreds with seventy percent of the world’s supplies coming from rivers and flats just like the ones here in Leigh. During the seventeen hundreds, in and around Colchester the oyster industry became huge with millions of oysters being consumed. It was by accident that, back in the seventeen hundreds a fisherman, upon returning home from a fishing trip, found that he had far too many oysters and decided to throw them over board and onto the shoreline. He thought no more of this until a year later, purely by chance, he came across the self same oysters he had thrown away and after opening them up found that they had grown fatter and larger and were far tastier. From this moment on he started this way of harvesting the oyster crop and was soon followed by others. The fisherman who discovered this incredible way to cultivate oysters was named Outing. After this discovery, which incidentally made a fortune for Mister Outing, the said gentleman built a house near the shore from where he could dig the shoreline for oysters by means of a dredger. His method became so popular that young oysters were imported from France so that they could be laid into the shore off Essex. By 1724 the Essex oyster trade had reached gargantuan proportions and the rest of England, most notably Kent, became envious of their north estuary cousin. They had even moaned to the Archbishop of Canterbury back in 1598 saying: “certain seafaring

men of Essex and other places have been coming hither into Kent and there dredge oysters...” I guess they couldn’t take the competition. Anyway, this rivalry continued for many a year until in 1724 the fishermen of Kent, five hundred in total led by Captain Evans, made a raid, using sloops and other small craft, flags a-flying and guns firing, on the South End of Essex. The Rochford Hundred gathered together its constables to read out the riot act along the shore and to those who would listen but there were no signs of violence. However, much damage was done to the oyster trade and large loads of oysters were carried off. These raids continued throughout the following year and three actions of trespass were taken out against those who took part. Outing was awarded £1,100 in damages which would have been a small fortune back then and William Hutton a further £2,000. The case lasted from 10am one morning until 3am the next day with six counsel and sixty witnesses giving evidence. There were great celebrations when the verdict was announced and much rejoicing. The case had been heard at Westminster giving it a high profile and the Leigh locals were overjoyed with their victory. The greatest victory of all though was the rights given to the Essex fishermen. Oyster collection was, as I have said, hard work not just because of the method used to gather the shell fish but also because of the season you dig them. Throughout February, March and April, poorly paid work labourers would pick and place them into specially made baskets which they wore like yokes around their necks. It was devilish, dirty work but it made a lot of money for those who owned the seabeds. The trade prospered and grew right up until the end of the Victorian era. The virtues of the Thames became world renowned and business boomed. This lasted until about 1906 when, what with the increasing changes brought about by the industrial revolution and the changes taking place in a dying empire, the once vital industry of the oyster beds began their slow decline. People still eat them of course but the trade has dwindled here and lovers of oysters can now get their favourite fare most anywhere you find a supermarket. The clapboard cottages and cobbled streets are a far cry from supermarkets and yet both sit comfortably near to each other as do the cockle sheds, cockle boats and smoke houses that still bear the owners’ names, the same families who have worked these trades for generations. Above the hoary faced, knuckle worn, tin tack sheds and narrow streets of the far flung past, rising up from a series of steep gradients and steps carved out of the cliff sides is the modern town of Leigh-on-Sea. Modern but not without a past, modern as in Victorian with a High Street filled with character: shops with double fronted windows that you browse with a pleasure born of a time before EBay, before Amazon, before the shrinking world of the 21st century came calling with its credit cards and its ability to get you anything you desire for half-the-price and in half the time. I love meandering around here gazing in with empty pockets at the bric-a-brac and books, the clothes shops and cafés that slip out to offer you such delight. Lee Stafford, famed hairdresser and celebrity has a shop here while the furniture used for TV’s Big Brother was supplied by the shop Connections. The one thing you will not find in Leigh though is a nightclub as the town has a ‘no nightclub’ policy to maintain its heritage. I climb the uneven steps that lead up, up and past the church, St.

Clementine’s that stands gazing over both the town and the estuary with an ecclesiastical eye. It is a fine church and worth the visit even if the steps are wonky and long. The graves are venerable and pock marked by time, while the names and dates engraved on them bear witness to how long this town has been the home to so many Essex people. The town opens up before me; to the left the road splits into two with shops gathered round while directly in front the second fork curves around and leads to a stout series of smaller shops and an arcade. To the right the High Street drives a straight course and looks much the same, architecturally speaking, as it did in the splendid photo below. Cars are the curse of any modern photographer who desires to capture the old towns of England in as near as damn it pristine past. You are bound to struggle as I often do. The black and white house, roof tiled with slate is too good a photo opportunity to miss even if the cars parked outside detract somewhat from the image. And even with the unwelcome intrusion of motor cars into the frame, in some odd way they only act as evidence of time passing as the objects being photographed could be from any age as the following picture proves. During the dark days of World War Two when Great Britain stood alone in its fight against the world’s most powerful of enemies, Nazi Germany, the small town of Leigh-on-Sea played an enormous role. Codenamed Operation Dynamo by the British military, Dunkirk evacuation by the rest, was the rescue operation performed by a hastily assembled fleet of fishermen and men of the soil, untrained in warfare who, with as much guts and determination as any Royal Marine, sailed their vessels, 700 of them to war-torn France on June 4 th 1940. Hundreds of thousands of battered, bloodied troops, British, French and Canadian clung onto life there after the bruising they had received from the superior German forces. An unbelievable, unlikely armada consisting of sloops, motorboats, yachts, fishing boats, barges and ferries along with anything else that could float, sail or make its way through water crowded into the Thames. From Leigh-on-Sea in Essex sailed the cockle men with no experience of warfare or of navy know-how they sailed to save the lives of their countrymen. The ramshackle rest was made up of taxi drivers, dentists, doctors, labourers, civil servants, bankers, solicitors, shop keepers and boys. All prepared to die in the attempt to save their comrades. “It was the queerest, most nondescript flotilla that ever was, and it was manned by every kind of Englishman, never more than two men, often only one, to each small boat.” –Arthur D. Divine They didn’t need to use compasses to find their way; they simply followed the boat ahead that was guided by the orange glow of burning Dunkirk. The flames licked the shore and sky and acted as guides to where the soldiers, some shoulder deep in water, waited. As the fleet pulled nearer to Dunkirk they could see the writhing mass of black that covered the beach, a single organic wave of bodies so crowded together that from the boats’ view point it appeared as though the dark huddle was a single

living entity. On the first day only 7,010 men were rescued but on the second day that number grew and each subsequent day until the ninth day of the operation when a staggering 338,226 soldiers were saved. It was, by anyone’s standards, an amazing act of courage and it, along with the Battle of Britain proved to be the turning point in the war. Actions like this broke the Nazi spirit for let there be no doubt that at this time in history Britain was no longer the power it had been and it was faced with an enemy who, should they have so desired, could have given America a bruising. Suddenly people appear as though a siren had sounded an all clear. I walk past a clutch of interesting shops that display works of art, clothes, shoes, and then a café with the glorious smell of real coffee. I stop to peek in Natural Edge, a shop that sells all manner of items: perfumed candles, ornate mirrors, tea cosies, crockery, greetings cards, large and small vases - a cornucopia of delights. My wife and I used to wander round here. We once bought a set of mugs that were decorated with large, multicoloured spots. We went on to purchase the whole shebang including dinner plates, side plates, sugar bowls etc. Modern Leigh feels at the forefront of trendy things. The cafés buzz with chatter; the boutiques sell clothes at astronomical prices while the art shops abound with much sought after paintings and sculptures. Not as funky as Camden maybe but still bright and exuberant. I take off down what remains of the High Street yearning for a leather jacket I spotted in a shop window. The shop was called Zinc but the price of the jacket was pure gold. I slip into a Tesco to buy some Lucozade and a sandwich. Two ladies are struggling with the self-service till which can prove to be irritating at times especially when the machine doesn’t recognise the barcode. She smiles at me mouthing the F word but without making a sound. I smile back at her saying Ladies, please. Then it’s my turn. I swipe the bottle of pop then the sandwich which both work first time then I leave, turning left before crossing the road so that I can slip back down to the water front, to the seaside. The roving hill takes me down toward the estuary. It is somewhere around here at Leigh that the Thames stops being part of London and falls under the Essex, Leigh line. I find it odd that a river can have such a definitive dividing line drawn through it but men do the oddest things don’t they? To the left of me, as I reach the next level of Leigh, a shoulder of land that overlooks the sea below, are a set of houses that must cost a fortune to buy as they peer, with English fortitude and reserve, down onto old Father Thames. Leigh starts to fall behind but Southend waits.

part thirty one (b)
*Prittlewell Priory *
Southend-on-Sea is not one of those new towns that sprang up after the war but it is still relatively new when compared to Leigh. Even the name is not really its own as it came about due to Southend being the south end of Prittlewell. It is far bigger than its older brother Leigh and filled with equal parts wealth and poverty. It doesn’t have quite the same ambience that Leigh has either although, since the arrival of the university, it is a hive of youthful activity. Southend was established in Georgian

times as a seaside town; being much loved by the working folk of London, especially East Enders with their passion for pie and mash and their love of, cockles and whelks. Another attraction was to take a walk down the world’s longest pier which is 1.34 miles long. The town’s association with Queen Victoria is well known and was celebrated by the erection of a statue in 1897 to celebrate the monarch’s Diamond Jubilee. The statue was moved in 1962 from its original position which proved quite popular as for years, among certain wags with a dubious sense of humour, it had been the subject of much comical controversy as the figure of the Queen was seen to be pointing directly at a Gentleman’s public convenience. The statue now faces a different way but Queen Victoria still looks displeased. Coincidentally, two of my grandparents were born the same year and, as I have mentioned before, my grandfather was named Albert Thomas Diamond Jubilee after the event. I recall coming to Southend as a child and even as a young adult and shopping at Keddies or taking tea in Garrons; both shops have now gone as has Jones the jewellers. Jones the jewellers is worthy of mention or at least its founder is: R.A. Jones. R.A. Jones was born in 1849 in Liverpool. He described himself as a ‘Lancashire Welshman’ but to the people of Southend he was very much one of them. He moved to Southend-on-Sea in 1890 where he established a family jewellery business, one that was to long outlast him. I remember as a teenager being fascinated by the shop and by the clock that proudly hung above its entrance. It was so obviously of another age and was held in some kind of, if not awe then, respect by all the locals. As a thirteen year old it just seemed old fashioned and of course I had no idea what kind of man R.A Jones might have been nor did I have any knowledge of the effect he had on the local community. I knew he had donated various parts of land he had owned to the people of the Southend area but little of this knowledge really sank in. In 1913, one year prior to the Great War, the Jones Memorial Ground was opened and given to the public as a playing field. It was given in the memory of R.A Jones’s wife. It is not a huge field but is big enough for games of football to be played in winter and large enough for the local cricket team to use in summer and the wrought iron gate with its ornate wording still stands at the entrance just three short years away from its centenary. When writing of R.A. Jones there are certain words that spring to mind: philanthropist being one, patriarch another and also benefactor. He was by all accounts a warm, generous man who received great pleasure from giving. Whenever children were in his shop he would present them with humbugs, liquorice and boiled sweets. Today, in this Oh so politically correct world, where a broken tooth means a law suit and the thought of sucking sugar sweets instantly gets some lunatic throwing up oral hygiene at you, or the thought of an older man offering children sweets is tantamount to

paedophilia, it is hard to imagine such an innocent time. Each and every year during the Christmas season he would dress up as Santa Claus, visit Southend’s hospitals, the orphans’ home and many homes for the disabled to hand out presents. In 1917 while the Great War raged, Prittlewell Priory, including the 30 acres of land surrounding it, was given by Jones to the community for their ‘perpetual use.’ R.A. Jones’ death in 1925 was greeted by remarkable, unprecedented scenes of mourning as schools ground to a halt and lessons were stopped, shops shut and flags flew at half mast. Thousands of people gathered to mourn a great man’s passing the like of which has never been seen again in the Southend area. It strikes me as odd, as I walk through the town that I have lived near to for the past 42 years, that so much of the history of the place, inarguably relatively modern, has so easily been erased or covered up with the passage of time. The Priory that R.A. Jones acquired then donated to the people of Southend-on-Sea has a history of its own that, although connected to the seaside resort, is quite separate and of its own. The Priory was founded in 1110 AD by Robert FitzSuen, a nobleman of some wealth whose grandfather had been one of several French families that had been given land by Edward the Confessor. The FitzSuen’s owned a great many estates in East Essex but it was Prittlewell that would bear his gift to God, the Priory. Noblemen, in the early Middle Ages, would often build Monasteries and Priories in hope of securing God’s favour and therefore entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. This belief was held to be true and so the nobleman in question would pay the monks to pray for his soul to ensure that it would only spend the minimum of time in purgatory before being released to heaven. Now far be it for me to cast dispersions over the legitimacy of Robert FitzSuen, the founder of the Prittlewell Priory but, apparently, the prefix of Fitz was only ever given to a surname to denote a child born out of wedlock. Not for me to suggest that Robert FitzSuen was illegitimate as his surname may have been passed on many times and therefore he was no more a bastard than I am but it may answer some questions as to why he was so keen to found a Priory here. The Priory at Prittlewell was, much like most monasteries self sufficient but would have received financial support from the local lands, properties and the churches within the parishes surrounding Prittlewell including the area that lay adjacent to the Manor of Southchurch: South End. The buildings that made up the Priory would have consisted of a church, a refectory, storerooms, cellars (Monks liked the odd tipple), the Chapter House with dormitories. These buildings would all have surrounded the square known as the Cloister Garth. Beyond these would have been a series of barns where both threshed and un-threshed barley, wheat, oats and corn would have been stored. There would also have been stables, cow sheds, workshops and almost certainly a smithy.

All in all there would have been as many as eighteen monks but more likely only twelve. Each of whom would have worked from dawn until dusk praying, farming, growing crops and working the smithy. It must have been a hard but rewarding life and one that existed until 1536 when the Suppression of Monasteries Act came into force and the Priory, along with all lesser Monasteries was closed with all the land going to the King. This of course was down to Henry VIII who, with his roving eye and insatiable desire to produce an heir, was driven to fall out with the Catholic Church, taking England with him, who he then turned against with a force of hatred so manifest that he destroyed every last vestige of Catholicism within the kingdom. The priory was purchased from the King by Thomas Audley for the princely sum of £400, then in 1548 Lord Richard Rich, a confidante to Henry VIII, purchased the Priory from Audley for £800 giving him a profit of £400 thereby doubling what he had originally paid for it. Of course, it was Henry VIII who laughed the longest as he hadn’t paid a penny for the land having seized it from the church, bruising his relationship with the Pope and ensuring that England would forever more be Protestant. The church was pulled down as were a great many other buildings and it is believed that the stones from the demolition were used to build Lord Rich’s home; Rochford Hall. Through the passage of time a great many families have owned the land on which the Priory stands. For a great period the Priory was owned by the Scratton family, certainly well into the 19th century. At this stage the grounds had been redesigned to form a pleasure gardens for the family and the detail of what was to be grown has been kept to this day. In 1917 the Priory was again put up for sale and bought by the gentleman described earlier , R.A. Jones and still remains as it did in 1922 and as he had foreseen it should: an area of beauty for the general public to enjoy with the priory as a museum and the grounds for picnics and ball games I have often come here with family and friends and done precisely as described. There is also a small café that sells ice cream and fizzy drinks and we have eaten and drunk our fair share of both. It’s a lovely place well worth visiting.

part thirty one (c)
*The World’s Longest Pier * * The Greatest Ice Cream this side of the Pyrenees *
I think that, if I had the power, I would use the Victorian golden age as a reference point to utilise and build upon. In the 60s English seaside resorts fell into decline as more Brits started to travel abroad, seeking out the sun. The one thing that Southend still has is its excellent vaudeville and music hall traditions established by Cockney

London. The pier would make an excellent venue for a comedy theatre with the trains that run up and down its length used to carry people to the kiosks. The first pier at Southend was built in 1830 of timber by a private company. It was not built merely as a tourist attraction but with a purpose in mind and that purpose was to load and unload vessels that could moor at the seaward end and then, with a horse drawn tramway, deliver and collect goods for transportation. The delivery of such a pier was no easy thing and took quite some political wrangling to have Parliament pass sanction on. You see the problem that Southend Pier had and still has is the estuary itself. Most of the coast at Southend consists of mudflats and even when the tide is in the sea is never very deep, reaching shallow depths of at best twelve feet. This act of nature prevented ships from pulling in as there was always a danger of running aground. This was a commercial catastrophe and one that could only be defeated if the pier were extended to accommodate larger vessels. The work was completed in 1830 but no sooner had the job at hand been completed than it became obvious it still wasn’t long enough. Further work was undertaken to extend the pier in 1833 and work continued until 1848 whereupon the pier at Southend was declared the longest in Europe at 2,100 metres (7,000 feet). By 1877 it was decided that the wooden structure was not of a stout enough nature and therefore should be replaced with an iron one. James Brunlees, the man responsible for the design and building of the iron pier at Southport, was brought in to re-design Southend pier. It took from 1887 until 1889 and cost £17,000. It was an instant success but still not long enough and so further work was undertaken and completed by 1897, just in time for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Work continued though as additional parts were built including an upper deck and the pier was extended again in 1927 to accommodate larger vessels. During its one hundred and eighty year lifetime, the pier has seen many disasters including fires that have burnt down large parts of it and boats that have crashed into its sides. However, the pier is nothing if not a survivor. Much of its bent, broken structure needs some serious repair but plans are afoot and work has begun to regenerate and rejuvenate the town’s world famous landmark. The one thing that I enjoy about the pier is walking it; taking a leisurely stroll down its creaking timber planks whilst able to see the waters below rising and casually licking the supporting beams. As you walk you feel as though you are becoming as one with the sea, its presence consumes and fills you with a natural joy. There is an undoubted memory, prehistoric perhaps and possibly primordial that recalls the days when we humans had a closer association with water. As of September 2009, Southend Borough Council announced that it had found a winner in its competition to find a design worthy for the new pier head. The winner of the design competition was Swedish architects, White Arkitekte. The design will,

without fail, meet with opposition as it is very modern, very cutting edge and a million miles away from the way the pier has historically been seen. It is a bold design and one the meets with my approval (for what its worth) as it takes Southend into the 21st century but without neglecting to remember its past. There will be an open air theatre and a continuance of the re-designed High Street. I said at the beginning of this section that I would like to see a music hall mentality adopted and adapted to suit the pier and I think that this brave design with its echoes of wave and wind captures that sentiment and neatly wraps it up, in a very European way, to encompass both past and present while pointing to the future. My walk to the pier from Leigh had me pass the sea front proper with its compliment of Candy Floss stalls and shops and the infamous Ice Cream parlour of Rossi Ice Cream. I defy anyone, anywhere to suggest that Rossi’s vanilla ice cream isn’t among the best in the world. It is absolutely delicious and if I were able to I would devour huge tubs of the stuff. As a child my parents would drive from our home in Upminster to take in the salty air of Southend while eating the blessed substance to the point of gluttony. Hmmmm, the very thought makes me salivate. In 1932 Luisa and Pietro Rossi left County Durham and moved to Southend. Their one aim was to start an Ice Cream business that would rival the land of their ancestors, Italy. They went into partnership with another family of Italian descent and, oddly enough, a family with the same surname. The two Rossi families opened shops at 37, Marine Parade and along Western Esplanade. The partnership only lasted for a short five year period and was dissolved in 1937 but left Pietro with Marine Parade and Western Esplanade as outlets for his burgeoning business.

When the war arrived Luisa returned to Italy with their two youngest children, Lolanda and Tony, whilst eldest daughter, Maria, stayed with her father in England and Gemma the fourth and final member of the family had married in 1937 and had moved to Portsmouth with yet another ice cream manufacturer. It was a sad period for the Rossi family especially so when Pietro was interned as an alien on the Isle of Wight while Maria worked as a waitress to support her father. After the war, in 1946, the family was reunited and picked up where they had left off, again selling ice cream from Marine Parade and from two sites along Western Esplanade. It was during the 1950s and 1960s that the business really took off and the family had to build a factory so that they could manufacture to meet the demands. During their 77 year history Rossi Ice Cream has won many awards. In 1987 they came first in a national competition for Vanilla Ice Cream; in 1993 they won an award for their Rum and Raisin flavour. In 2007 Rossi, now under new ownership, won the award for the best Lemon Sorbet. It was sad to see a family concern sold off as happened to Rossi in 2006 but the business still operates using the same recipe as devised 77 years ago by Pietro Rossi

and of course there is still one other famous member of the Rossi family who is better known for playing three chord Rock ‘n Roll: Francis Rossi of Status Quo. I confess that I love Rossi’s Ice Cream. It is by far the best vanilla ice cream ever and even though I am not really meant to eat such a huge intake of sugar in one go and sadly rarely get the chance to much anymore, I have devised a method for those rare occasions when I go to Southend seafront. I buy the largest cone you can think of and walk, just like I am now, From Southend into Leigh. Only this time I have reversed the walk. It truly is delicious. Try it some time. Today though it is far too cold for ice cream so I walk on, my body warming as I march. Across my shoulder my camera jostles with the small bag I always carry and so I adjust them so that they sit demurely beside each other. The sky has that defined clarity that only a crisp winter day can produce even if my fingers feel the pinch of Jack Frost. The sea gently laps the shore sighing its melancholic longing for sun to warm its cold waters. The beach at Southend is part shingle, part sand, part mud. It is not the prettiest beach in the world. There is no mile upon mile of golden sand but limitless hours of fun can be had with a bucket and a spade and some youthful energy and imagination. I was a teenager when I moved back into this area and thereby missed many an hour spent playing down on these rough shores but many folk still do and many a child will garner magical memories of times spent playing next to the cold waters. Awhile back I brought my son’s dog, Cookie, down here thinking he might enjoy dipping a paw or two into the sea but the silly beast proved more sensible than I thought and refused to go near the wet stuff, adamantly remaining dry, sniffing around the beach, a bit like me today as I sniff around the town.

part thirty one (d)
*Roll up; Roll up For All the Fun of the Fair And All Under One Roof – The Kursaal *
There had been fun fairs for many years in Southend and all long before the arrival of the Kursaal. They used to pitch up on the green that lies between the road and the beach. You would find there all manner of fairground attractions, everything from shooting galleries and coconut shies to that wonder of the modern age the steam driven roundabout. As the Victorian age grew in its splendour so the poor of the East End of London would venture forth to enjoy the sights, sounds and attractions of nearby Leigh-on-Sea and its rapidly expanding big, but younger brother, Southend. By 1893 so popular were the attractions along the sea front that local father and son, Alfred and Bernard Wiltshire Tollhurst, solicitors but entrepreneurs at heart, bought up a section of land at the east end of the town. The idea behind their purchase was to build a new park that could be enjoyed by both local residents and any passing trade by way of day trippers that happened by.

Initially, it was only a small affair consisting of four acres that offered a dancing platform and a scenic railway but the hunger of the London visitors and many others led to expansion. The Marine Park, as it had been called, required further investment so that a grand entrance could be built to house the rapidly growing enterprise: The Margate and Southend Kursaal Company was one such business that formed to meet those needs. By the end of 1901 the building was complete, resplendent with a large silver dome that encompassed the entrance and predated Coney Island in the United States as the world’s first amusement arcade. The name ‘Kursaal’ is a derivative of the German, meaning a ‘cure hall’ or, most likely a spa. The use here is a corruption of the word as it is used to imply that the Southend Kursaal is a place of ‘healthy’ amusement. It is hard to believe now, as I look upon its rather dilapidated appearance, that this building, designed by Campbell Sherrin, was once deemed the cutting edge of Victorian architecture. It does have the appearance of a Dickensian dame, one who has known better days but whose refined airs and graces have been knocked out of her with the passing of time. Being first was a common theme for The Kursaal, not only was it the first amusement arcade but it could also boast having had the world’s first Lady Lion Tamer (not sure if the tamer was female or the beast tamed), the world’s first Lady Wall of Death Rider and then, as if having been first so often, it went one stage further when in 1933 it displayed Al Capone’s personal car all the way from Chicago. The car was shipped over and upon arrival was placed in a large wooden stall where it could be viewed by children, for only threepence mind (3d), or by adults for sixpence. Cheap at half the price and twice as much fun! Then there was the stuffed whale known as Eric who, having been embalmed and weighing some 60 tonnes, was placed in a glass case. This was one of the biggest attractions in the flirty thirties. During the same period you could pay your money and watch as George “Tornado” Smith rode a motor bike around the “Wall of Death,” while a lioness rode pillion. Not sure what would scare me more the wall the bike or the lioness? When the Second World War came to blight Europe, the Kursaal closed for business but was used to house troops as they came home from battle but even during this hellish time the bands played on beneath the glory of the silver dome so that couples could dance and forget the awful threat that literally hung over them and the dome that covered their heads. There is nothing quite like the Brits in times of adversity, when all seems lost or hopeless we keep our chins up and soldier on. “Swallow Raincoats” formed as a company that worked out of the Kursaal manufacturing rain coats for the troops. It was ‘manned’ mostly by women, much like in nearby Roneo, Romford. The real ‘golden age’ for the Kursaal came after the war; the heydays began in the late 40s and lasted until the mid 60s. Much of this era was fuelled by the fantastic sound of American Rock and Roll that boomed out of speakers dotted about the place, that and the cool echoes of Doo-Wop. The Kursaal even had its own catch phrase, two in fact: “One Bright Spot” and “By the Dome it’s Known.” Then there were the rides, many pre-war: the Water Chute, the Gallopers, the Caterpillar (we took a friend of

ours on this ride and as we got off, he turned a pale green colour), the Cakewalk, the Bowl Slide (sort of like a Helter Skelter), the Rock and Roll Tubs and finally the short lived Flying Coaster. Nothing lasts forever and sadly this applies to the Kursaal. As the 60s melted into the 70s and that decade too faded away so did the need for the Southend amusement arcade. We Brits had started to seek out the sun as the 1960s passed into memory taking our vacations in Italy, France, Spain, Greece and beyond. The ramification of this change in our holidaying habits was the death of the English seaside resort; no one wanted to take a vacation in the rain when they could holiday in the sun. As traditional seaside amusements became passé so the Kursaal’s bright history turned dark. Much of the Kursaal has been shut down and of its 27 acres, much is now housing or flats. The dome is still there, perched above the entrance but the rides have gone and all that remains of the old arcade is a bowling alley, a restaurant, a casino and one or two bars. It is rather lame compared to its glory days as the ghosts of old hanker like spoilt spirits for the days long gone. As I said in my earlier statement, I still think that Southend could do with a kick up the pants and wouldn’t it be lovely if the Kursaal, that proud old friend could be revamped as a theatre or a comedy club, after all, Phil Juiptus does live down the road.

part thirty one (e)
*The Short Walk Home via Hawkwell *
All things must pass even enjoyable sojourns such as these wilful walks. I have learnt a great deal about my birth county with these slight adventures and equally as much about myself. Not sure which has held the greater revelations although both have been fruitful. The sky has drawn itself in charcoal hues with faint streaks of vermillion that lay as ribbons upon the horizon. The cold creeps stealthily into my bones making my fingers grow numb. I growl a curse at the heathen sunset but resign myself to the walk home. It isn’t that long a walk but I want to pass by the other church that stands near where I live, not Saint Andrews, Ashingdon church which is nearer but the larger one that sits in a field by the railway line in Hawkwell. Leaving Southend to chill as winter sets in and the exciting, if daunting, prospect of snowfall becomes more reality than speculation, I pass Prittlewell Park with its old priory and walk on toward Warner’s Bridge. The bridge spans the railway track, The Liverpool Street line, which leads from Rochford into central London. To the left of the bridge is Southend’s very own airport which in itself is a misnomer as the airport is more Rochford than Southend but is named The London Southend Airport which

makes a simple concept all more complex than it need be, especially as London is 40 miles distant. I steadily ascend the bridge that is no more than a hump and plod my weary way past a set of shops and then on to Rochford. The square is all set for Christmas with the imported tree standing tall, adorned with fairy lights of various colours. From the tree a string of other lights sneak out like parts of a vast web that cling to the shops in the square giving them a festive connection. My path curves away from the town going past Rochford’s own Saint Andrews church that lays cheek by jowl with the golf course. I see the house where Anne Boleyn resided for a short while before passing Doctor Timmins’ house on my left where his now departed wife, such a lovely, gregarious lady, used to welcome visitors with a matchless warmth and grace. The sky and road converge into one familiar landscape that has been home to me these past thirty years. Then I am at Hawkwell church with my home laying equidistant between it and the church in Ashingdon. Both churches can be seen long before you reach them and this one, with its equally impressive history, stands on flatter ground that its sibling. The brief walk to my home takes less than twenty minutes and I feel a strange desire to be there, to turn the notes I have taken into some form of narrative and to see this project reach its conclusion. Home is where the heart is after all and my heart will always be here in Essex for, with all its carbuncles and faults, it is still a beautiful county. Thirty Eight miles from Rochford, which is two miles from my home, to London, and five miles from Rochford to Southend