Category Archives: Literature

Another place with “too much history”

Yesterday to Durham and The Big Meeting (133rd iteration).

The Lady in my Life and myself are there, dead in front of the microphones, and about four rows back. The last time I went was mid-1960s, and the main speaker was Harold Wilson. There were still coal-mines working then. Durham’s very last was Monkwearmouth, where the last shift was worked on 10th December 1993. The site, today, is the Stadium of Light, Sunderland’s home ground.

In 1937 George Orwell was factually stating the importance of coal:

Practically everything we do, from eating an ice to crossing the Atlantic, and from baking a loaf to writing a novel, involves the use of coal, directly or indirectly. For all the arts of peace coal is needed; if war breaks out it is needed all the more. In time of revolution the miner must go on working or the revolution must stop, for revolution as much as reaction needs coal. Whatever may be happening on the surface, the hacking and shovelling have got to continue without a pause, or at any rate without pausing for more than a few weeks at the most. In order that Hitler may march the goose-step, that the Pope may denounce Bolshevism, that the cricket crowds may assemble at Lords, that the poets may scratch one another’s backs, coal has got to be forthcoming. But on the whole we are not aware of it; we all know that we ‘must have coal’, but we seldom or never remember what coal-getting involves. Here am I sitting writing in front of my comfortable coal fire. It is April but I still need a fire. Once a fortnight the coal cart drives up to the door and men in leather jerkins carry the coal indoors in stout sacks smelling of tar and shoot it clanking into the coal-hole under the stairs. It is only very rarely, when I make a definite mental-effort, that I connect this coal with that far-off labour in the mines. It is just ‘coal’ — something that I have got to have; black stuff that arrives mysteriously from nowhere in particular, like manna except that you have to pay for it. You could quite easily drive a car right across the north of England and never once remember that hundreds of feet below the road you are on the miners are hacking at the coal. Yet in a sense it is the miners who are driving your car forward. Their lamp-lit world down there is as necessary to the daylight world above as the root is to the flower.

It is not long since conditions in the mines were worse than they are now. There are still living a few very old women who in their youth have worked underground, with the harness round their waists, and a chain that passed between their legs, crawling on all fours and dragging tubs of coal. They used to go on doing this even when they were pregnant. And even now, if coal could not be produced without pregnant women dragging it to and fro, I fancy we should let them do it rather than deprive ourselves of coal.

Eighty years on, 21st April 2017, Britain went a day without coal, while the lights stayed on.

There have been no active coal-mines, and no coal-miners in the County Palatine this quarter-century. But the Durham Miners’ Gala, the Big Meetin’, goes on, and this year was bigger and brassier than ever.

Durham has too much history for its own good. That’s an expression I have seen applied to Ireland, to the island of Cyprus and to Naples in recent times. It has degrees of truth in every case. In Durham, though, the history is close enough to touch:

… the miners who died in the many pit disasters of the Durham coalfields.

They number thousands, including 164 at Seaham in 1880 and 168 at Stanley in 1909, and are commemorated by a memorial in Durham Cathedral, a spectacular Romanesque landmark that this autumn celebrates the 25th anniversary of its designation as a Unesco World Heritage Site, along with the rest of the historic city. Next to the memorial to the victims of pit disasters is a book of remembrance that the Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, was at pains to point out to me. “Here’s one 15 years of age,” he said. “J E Scott. Died at Shotton [in 1953]. This is a really poignant place.”

The Dean talked of “the big meeting”, the annual miners’ gala in July when the former mining communities pour through the city behind their colliery banners and wind their way up to the cathedral for the miners’ service. “It’s a kind of echo of the Middle Ages when people would flock into this place and believe they were part of something bigger than they were,” said the Dean.

Any rail journey takes one past acres of rough scrub that not too long ago were coal-tips. Railway yards and sidings stretch far, far further than any conceivable modern need. Few villages lack what once was (and may still be marked as) the Miners’ Welfare hall. In the streets and pubs one brushes past ageing faces and limbs, marked with the blue of coal-dust tattooed under the skin.

Scott and Scot

Yesterday, then, to Durham’s Racecourse. The site stretches past the Wear river-bank, and to its other side the massive ridge (as above):

Well yet I love thy mix’d and massive piles,
Half church of God, half castle ’gainst the Scot …

For sixty-odd years that tag has come to my mind, and mouth, every time I have seen an image or the reality of Durham’s great, looming cathedral. I somehow knew it was Walter Scott. That may be because anything so romantic had to derive from the same source that gave us swash-and-buckle, the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood and even Tony Curtis’s fictional “Yonda lies the castle of my fodder“. Precisely locating the reference isn’t quite that easy. To save others the sweat, it is found in Canto Third of Harold the Dauntless of 1817.

For contemporary tastes, Scott’s romantic world contains too much “hied me home” or

Wrinkled his brows grew, and hoary his hair

That’s unfair in this case, because the 1817 poem is prefaced by a more-cynical Scott. He deplores O tempora! O mores, as Cicero did Against Catiline: —

Ennui! — or, as our mothers call’d thee, Spleen!
To thee we owe full many a rare device;
Thine is the sheaf of painted cards, I ween,
The rolling billiard-ball, the rattling dice,
The turning-lathe for framing gimcrack nice;
The amateur’s blotch’d pallet thou mayst claim,
Retort, and air-pump, threatening frogs and mice,
(Murders disguised by philosophic name,)
And much of trifling grave, and much of buxom game.

At the moment, the imposing central tower of the Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham has scaffolding all round, and wears a square white cook’s bonnet.

The proceedings

When we finally came to the speechifying, even that have to be after a brass-band rendering of “The Miner’s Hymn”, Gresford:

The story behind that is told here:

Written by a former miner, Robert Saint, to commemorate the Gresford pit disaster in 1934 it has been played at mining events ever since; most notably at the famous Durham Miners’ Gala.

What is too easily forgotten is that, in the days of working pits, the attendees at the Gala would have held silence to that every year and recalled the death-toll.

My first teaching job was in a boys’ grammar school in the County Durham. Male teachers in an all-male (with one brave exception) staff-room constitute a cynical lot. So, morning break, 21st October 1966, was eerily quiet. The news was coming through of the Aberfan disaster and the immolation of Pantglas Primary school. By no coincidence, Alan Plater’s Close the Coalhouse Door (originally intended as a BBC radio play) went on stage in April 1968:

A few years back I was at the packed Richmond Theatre for Sam West’s revival (lightly trimmed by Lee Hall). The same evocative, eye-pricking power was there. All the way from Thomas Hepburn and Peter Lee.

It’s the same tradition as Abide With Me before the Cup Final. It’s very much the mood of “those no longer with us”. But for industrial workers, especially in the heaviest industries, it’s also “those taken from us because of managerial mistakes and incompetence”.

This year the Miner’s Hymn had added plangency:

Not just an Elf

There is a message here; and it’s the box that most of the speakers at the Big Meeting ticked.

Disasters like Gresford in 1934, Aberfan in 1966 and the Grenfell Tower this year are “accidents-waiting-to-happen”. They derive from decisions taken, or studiously ignored, by bureaucratic processes beyond the control of us ordinary folk. What we have to protect us, to some extent, are Health and Safety Regulations. That is, of course, if they are policed and enforced.

Even then there are arrogant twazzles who mock them:

“We could, if we wanted, accept emissions standards from India, America, and Europe. There’d be no contradiction with that,” Mr Rees-Mogg said.

“We could say, if it’s good enough in India, it’s good enough for here. There’s nothing to stop that.

“We could take it a very long way. American emission standards are fine – probably in some cases higher. 

“I accept that we’re not going to allow dangerous toys to come in from China, we don’t want to see those kind of risks. But there’s a very long way you can go.”

The MP’s comments came in the context of a discussion about trade deals with other countries following Brexit.

Said twazzle now fancies himself to chair the highly-important Treasury select committee, and stamp Asian labour practices, and US water standards on post-Brexit Britain.

Too much history? Or not enough yet?

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B(r)ought to book

There is a special joy in discovering a new (at least, new to me) novel sequence.

I will have fingered the piles in the local Waterstone’s serially, before taking the plunge. Sometimes it works (those “get second book half-price” offers help). Too often it doesn’t; and a couple of years later I might be, plucking at the shelf, having a second bite.

Then the bitterest gall of all is to find the paperback the tables, while at home lurks the tasted-but-unfinished hardback.

It was inevitable that, sooner or later, I would go for James Runcie’s Grantchester teccies. I’d caught a couple in their TV adaptations.

Finally I took the plunge, making sure I had the sequence in proper order.

So here I am, setting out with Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death. The next month, with luck, is going to be booked.

Stout, but not Cortez, here I am willing and wishing to be dazzled by this new planet swimming into my ken.

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Filed under Detective fiction, James Runcie, Literature, Quotations, reading

One of the better reading weekends of the year

One of the annuals is the arrival of the new Donna Leon. That was last weekend. The next couple of days are going to be the new Philip Kerr.

The fragrant Ms Leon counts twenty-six Guido Brunetti stories. I have a quick check of that corner of the shelves: —

— hmmm … I reckon I’m missing four. Which, by inference, tells me:

  • when I went beyond borrowing from the local library,
  • when I upgraded from there paperback to the hard-back, and
  • (probably the same moment) when I began buying regularly “on line”.

My OCD ought to make me complete the set by acquiring the missing items. I’ve even gone to the extent of listing them:

  • #3: The Anonymous Venetian;
  • #4: A Venetian Reckoning;
  • #10: A Sea of Troubles;
  • #11: Wilful Behaviour.

On further thoughts, I’d reckon the last two there were once also “mine”; but have been borrowed or “fecked” over the years. Anyway: it’s pleasing to notice that I’ve shelved them in series order.

Then I have a further problem. A sense of neatness means for symmetry I need the old, smaller, paperback format (is that A-format?) for the first two, and  hardbacks, with dust-covers, for the latter two.

By the way, books are the only aspect of my life that come so orderly and ordered. But, then, in  my world, books are about the most important consideration.

Earthly Remains

The new Leon, then, follows one of the usual tropes of the detective-fiction canon. Josephine Tey put her “Alan Grant” into a hospital bed to find The Daughter of Time. That set a pattern. Michael Dibden (the only rival that Leon could possibly have for a Venetian hero — but she has gathered far more moss than he)) gave “Aurelio Zen” gut problems to — literally — put him on the beach. Now Donna Leon has “Brunetti” retreat to an island in the Lagoon to escape a minor crisis at the Questura. In each story, the “mystery” comes to the central character, rather than the more usual other way round.

This means that, in Earthly Remains, we have less of home in Calle Tiepolo, of the noble Paola and the two Brunetti children, but rather more of Brunetti’s own family background.

As always, with a Leon story, the back-end of the book acquires excitement — not from the conventional stand-off — so much as the accelerated conclusion.

I sit amazed how she pulls it off each time: the parallel story lines of a police procedural (with the enigmatic Signorina Elettra, always able to spirit a dea ex machine out of her amazing on-line resources) and a social issue. In this case, something of an old vamp on the chemical poisoning of the Venetian Lagoon.

My ritual here is an end-to-end read, often well into the early hours, in a single sitting.

And now to:

Prussian Blue

This follows immediately from the previous “Bernie Gunther” outing: The Other Side of Silence, when Somerset Maugham was a main feature (with the Burgess and Maclean duo just off-stage).

I’m just getting into Bernie’s debunk from the Riviera, and his need to escape from the grasp of his old mates, formerly of the Kripo, now of the Stasi.

I find I have to suspend disbelief about Bernie’s life-history. He was born, as we were told in March Violets, around 1898, in the trenches of the First World War. Here he is, fit and active in 1956. In between he has been house detective in the Adlon Hotel, had a brush with the KL- camps, stood too close to Reinhard Heydrich and most of the Nazi hierarchy, sniffed around the Katyn massacre, been a POW of the Russians, had brushes in post-war Berlin, pushed off to Buenos Aires and Havana. The “back-story” of this latest involves Berchtesgaden, and a body of the infamous terrace.

I remember, commuting across the North London line, opening the paperback compendium of the first three Bernie Gunther stories for the first time. So that would be 1993. Battered and split, but I still have it here. Oh, the joy of finding a new obsession!

A final thought: I see I have Leon and Kerr under separate “Categories” on this WordPress indexing. The latter as “fiction”, and the former as “literature”. I’d recant on that distinction.

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Filed under Donna Leon, fiction, Literature, Philip Kerr, reading

Books and Bokes of the year

Boke? Or do you prefer Boak? Look it up!

One of the many aspects of the “festive season” (Bah! Humbug!) that I sincerely, utterly, quiveringly loath is the lists of “best books of the year”.

The New York Times one is up already, so I know what will puff out the “Culture” pages of the weekend papers and magazines.

My reasons for this dyspepsia are:

  • the lists prove what an illiterate, narrow-minded swine I am;
  • are usually full of stuff I see as detritus;
  • induce guilt that I didn’t read the one or two worthy items on the list;
  • and I’ve not caught up with the last century, let alone the last twelve months.

Taking the NYT as an example, I see just the one there that I intend to read: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railway.

My own list?

Well, it would have to include:

  • Ian Rankin’s latest, and 21st, Rebus: published on 3rd November, arrived, courtesy of Amazon Prime, a day early, read and shelved within a couple of days. One of the very few “newly-published” novels I’ve bought this year, along with the latest Donna Leon and Philip Kerr.
  • Under “military history”, Trevor Royle’s Culloden. Royle did a synopsis for The Scotsman, and that sold it to me.
  • A weekend in Belfast coincided with the Linen Hall Library pop-up second-hand shop, filled with cart-loads of rubbish. Still, I rescued a (apparently unopened) biography of Joseph Walshe and a couple of other items. Nolan on Walshe is a decent effort, not without faults, but it helps to join the dots. Across Fountain Street, a couple of doors down from the Linen Hall itself, is Waterstones. Any large “provincial” Waterstones is always worth a rummage, to see what the locals are keeping to themselves: there, three years late, I found Roger Courtney’s Dissenting Voices.
  • My expensive habit of buying exhibition catalogues means I now own You Say You Want a Revolution, Records and Rebels 1966-1970 from the Victoria and Albert. The whole exhibition seems to spring from the record collection of the late John Peel, padded out with ephemera. If you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there, of course. I was, and I do. Nice to meet old friends (and sing along with Country Joe).
  • Theatre: as age affects the hearing (and the Siemens earpieces help only a little) I tend to buy play-scripts. Confession time: I had never tackled Fletcher and Bill Shagsper’s Two Noble Kinsmen until a weekend in Stratford. Yeah, but nowhere near the exuberance and sheer fun of Aphra Benn’s The Rover in the afternoon matinee (my copy of that script goes back to the RSC production of 1986).
  • Oh, and two real goodies, thieved from one of those pubs which decorate with aged and crumbling books. Also always worth a rummage: there are treasures among the Farmers’ Handbooks for 1922 and the discarded law manuals. One was Anthony Hope’s wry, charming The Dolly Dialogues (a first edition, “reprinted from the Westminster Gazette“, 1896) and RLS’s St Ives.

Eccentric. Eclectic. Pompous. Guilty as charged (even of those last two slight volumes).

Only then do I start to wonder what I’ve missed.

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Filed under History, Literature, New York Times, Northern Ireland, reading, Uncategorized

Unfinished stories

No: not in this case Vice-Admiral John Poo Beresford. I’m still working up to that one.

This is more personal.

I spent an extended weekend in the cold of Prague. Hadn’t been there since 1994; and — wow! — how things have changed. Mostly for the better. Little changed —praise be! — is one of the most effective, efficient and cost-friendly public transport systems anywhere.

The first “problem” was leaving behind my teccie.

Reading logette:

baroque1

After some weeks and some thousands of pages of Neal Stephenson, I needed light refreshment.

A chance encounter with a first edition (well, “reprinted from the Westminster Gazette“, 1896) of Anthony Hope’s The Dolly Dialogues was just what was needed. Yes: that is Anthony Prisoner of Zenda Hope. And, no: this was not something I had read previously. But above all, light, tight and wickedly amusing.

Then The Hanging Tree, Ben Aaronovitch’s latest in his Rivers of London sequence. Nice one; but I’m out-Granted by Pert Young Piece who has the graphic novel, Body Workand I need to catch up with the significance of a particular car. Still, I have the experts at York’s Travelling Man working on it.

9200000051259436A passing encounter with RLS’s (no relation, different spelling) unfinished St Ives. Another one of which I was only “aware”
Finally, and the “problem”: Lindsey Davis’s The Graveyard of the Hesperides. I used to follow the Falco series assiduously, and then moved on. I haven’t been plugged into this Albia spin-off in the same way, so this is something of a return for me. The problem being this is a mystery novel. And I left it behind on page 367 (of 4o3).

Another unfinished story

This is not fiction; but it is a mystery.

We came out of Prague on the 2130 Easyjet flight into Gatwick.

Yeah. Yeah. EasyJet, punctuality, end of the day.

So the incoming flight didn’t arrive on time. The crew did a heroic turn-around in half-an-hour. There was a delay for some theatrical de-icing. Arrival at Gatwick just before 2300.

Then an unaccountable hold-up at the arrival pad before disembarking. We were held on board for a long 15-20 minutes. At first the captain was announcing that the reception wasn’t ready. The steps arrived at the rear; but the air-bridge at the front seemed to be the hold-up. Eventually a name was called: could Mr X (and the name escapes me) make his way to the front of the cabin and make himself known?

Now: imagine. As if. A full load of walk-on freight. Cabin bags out of overhead lockers. A couple of hundred passengers either out of seats, and getting that way.

This arcane utterance was immediately followed by another: would all male passengers have their passports and identification ready for checking by the police on the airbridge?

And we were then released.

Sure enough: immediately past the cabin door, a posse of police, including the dog handler.

Since I was to the rear of the aircraft, I was one of the last off.

Whoever was the target, he apparently hadn’t emerged. But with one eye-flick the police officer was able to pass me on my way, and addressed me by my first name.

Odd, huh?

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Filed under air travel., Ben Aaronovitch, fiction, leisure travel, Lindsey Davis, policing, reading, Robert Louis Stevenson

Ulster’s “New Men”, 1610

Here I am again, slip-sliding gently towards a promise on Sir John Poo Beresford, (1766–1844).

Getting there involves getting my mind around the Beresford family, and that was where I was starting.

New Men

What was in my mind was how the Ulster Plantation represents another dimension of the “New Men” of the Renaissance and its aftermath.

The conceit starts in ancient Rome. A novus homo would be, precisely, the individual, the first person in a previously-undistinguished family, elected to the Senate.  Seneca, in Epistle XLIV, laid down the rules (or lack of them):

… who is well-born?  He who is by nature well fitted for virtue. That is the one point to be considered; otherwise, if you hark back to antiquity, every one traces back to a date before which there is nothing. From the earliest beginnings of the universe to the present time, we have been led forward out of origins that were alternately illustrious and ignoble. A hall full of smoke- begrimed busts does not make the nobleman.  No past life has been lived to lend us glory, and that which has existed before us is not ours; the soul alone renders us noble, and it may rise superior to Fortune out of any earlier condition, no matter what that condition has been.

The notion was serially revisited by Boethius (a civil servant under Theodoric), Dante (whose background is cloudy), Petrarch (son of a lawyer), and Chaucer (a background from Ipswich shoe-makers). It regains currency in the Italian fifteenth-century, and the ideas are current in Elizabethan England.

Enter the Beresfords

Another point of departure was John Lodge, The Peerage of Ireland, revised by Mervyn Archdall, vol 2, pages 296-7:

Tristram Beresford, Esq., the third son, was born before the year 1574, and coming into Ireland as manager for the corporation of Londoners, known by the name of the society of the New-Plantation in Ulster, at the time they made the plantation in county of Derry, in the reign of James I, settled at Coleraine in the coiunty of Londonderry, having issue by the daughter of _____ Brooke [*] of London, two sons and three daughters, viz:

(1) Sir Tristram, his successor.

(2) Michael of Dungarvan and of Coleraine, Esq., who was constituted, with his brother, and others, commissioners in the precinct of Derry, for examining the delinquency of the Irish, in order so the distinguishing of their qualifications for transplantion; and in 1654 he was sheriff of the counties of Derry, Donegall, and Tyrone, of which he was also a commissioner of the civil survey and revenue. He married Mary, daughter of Sir John Leake, Knt. and by his will, dated 5 July 1660, directed his body to be buried in the church of Coleraine, in his father’s sepulchre, which was done accordingly; and he had issue by her, who was buried at Temple-Patrick in the county of Antrim, one son Tristram, who died young; and four daughters his coheirs, viz: Anne, married to Thomas Whyte, of Redhills in county of Cavan, Esq.; Olive, first to _____ Thornton, and secondly to Sir Oliver St George, of Headford in Galway, Bart.; Elizabeth to captain Robert Shields; and _____ to Arthur Upton of Temple-Patrick, Esq.

(1) Daughter Anne was first married to Sir Edward Doddington, and secondly to Sir Francis Cooke, Knt, and was buried at Coleraine.

(2) Jane, to George Cary of Redcastle in the county of Donegall (descended from the Carys of Clonelly in Devonshire) and by him, who died 22 April 1640, had five sons and four daughters, viz. Francis of Redcastle (who married Avice, sister to Captain Henry Vaughan, and they both lie buried in the church of Redcastle, having had issue Francis; Chichester, who died unmarried; Margaret; Avice; and Letitia); George; Edward of Dungiven in the county of Derry, (who died 4 June 1686, leaving issue Edward, George; Tristram; Elizabeth; Mary; Anee and Jaen); Robert of Whitecastle in the county of Donegall, (who died in March 1681, leaving Robert; George; Edward; Tristram; William; Anne; Letitia and Mary);

(3) Susanna, married to _____ Ellis.

[*] Elsewhere there ‘s “genealogist” gossip which identifies her as Susannah Brooke or Elizabeth Brookes. Note the naming of the third daughter, which may help.

tree1

Already we can outline four generations, and we haven’t ventured beyond the seventeenth century.

We can start to draw some “conclusions”

The most obvious is that the leading Ulster planters were — very definitely — young men (typically younger sons) on the make.

[1] Many were sprung, like Tristram Beresford, from the London guildsmen. This again makes perfect sense. The London liveried companies were not over-pleased by having the whole plantation scheme descended on them:

When the embryo project was unveiled to the liveried companies in July 1609, and individuals invited to adventure, there was a marked lack of enthusiasm. The Mercers were perhaps the frankest. While thanking the king for his offer, they pointed out that ‘they are for the most part men that live by merchandise and therefore are very inexperienced in managing business of that nature and withal want means and ability for the accomplishment thereof. [So] this company are not willing to have a hand or intermeddle in the same’. The Ironmongers expressed their ‘desire with our best means to help the state and commonwealth, but what we would we cannot in respect of weakness’. When it came to attempts to generate subscriptions, members were curiously absent or unavailable because they were dwelling out of the city. Of the 46 men on the Ironmongers’ subscription list, 9 were absen, 10out of the city, and 2 allegedly ‘not of ability’. The story was much the same elsewhere.

[Source: Ó Ciardha & Ó Siochrú (eds): The plantation of Ulster, Ideology and practice, page 82]

Hence any overseers put in place by the London companies would be hungry young thrusters, hard of complexion and temperament.

[2] This was a new, a frontier society. The blueprint was already well-defined. It was a society of incorporated cities and boroughs, which is a prime reason why the liveried companies of London were the chosen means of delivery:

This use of urbanity for colonial purposes was not the mere product of over-ripe imaginations. Rather it was borne of experience and practice. Just as corporations were a crucial dynamic in the plantation of Ulster after 1610, so they had figured prominently in the wide-ranging social and economic reforms initiated in England since the 1540s. The origins of these reforms were many, complex and varied. However, in terms of sanction by central government, the driving force — including urban incorporation — was [Sir Thomas] Smith, [William] Cecil and other members of their sprawling Cambridge mafia who dominated the higher echelons of royal power for much of the Edwardian and Elizabeth eras. More to the point, one of the outcomes by the turn of the seventeenth century was a discernible ‘corporate system’ by which cities and boroughs — or ‘little commonwealths’, as contemporaries described them – had filled the topography of provincial England.

[Source: Ó Ciardha & Ó Siochrú (eds): The plantation of Ulster, Ideology and practice, page 69]

Consequently a main requirement imposed on the planters was the establishment of boroughs: 25 corporate towns (though by 1613 only 14 had been established — and only 16 were to happen) across the plantation. Derry was to have 200 houses, and room for 300 more; Coleraine to have 100 and room for 200 more (that came down to a quibble over what constituted a “house”) [see Ó Ciardha & Ó Siochrú, pages 84-85].

[3] The success (and failure) of the plantation was this focus on ‘urbanity’. Derry and Coleraine (the third largest borough was Strabane) may have been puny in global terms; but they were all that the planted territory could boast. Not that they didn’t do well enough:

… although they didn’t become the thriving metropoloi envisaged by the propaganda of 1609-10, they did enjoy a significant mercantile presence. Merchants from Scotland, Chester and London were soon frequenting the two ports, while as early as 1614-15 a merchant fleet of seven ships accounted for 18.5% of Londonderry’s exports. London derry boasted urban amenities not available elsewhere. Its street were paved: it had a town hall costing between £500 and £1,000; its school was founded by the London merchant Matthew Springham, its master receiving a salary of 20 marks per annum through the London Society; its cathedral church of St Columba, the first purposely built Protestant cathedral in the three kingdoms, costing at least £3,800 opened in 1633 with a capacity of 1,000 people. True, Londonderry lacked other key features found in Englishtowns: there was still no bridge; a recommendation that a bridewell should be built was resisted; and there were no almshouses: indeed there was little sign of any charitable activity at all. A key variable in determining the relative success of Londonderry and Coleraine was the fact that the landlord was directly involved in building whereas elsewhere in the plantation urban development was promoted through the granting of building leases. Urban settlements elsewhere were terribly under-capitalised.

[Source: Ó Ciardha & Ó Siochrú (eds): The plantation of Ulster, Ideology and practice, page 85]

In passing, I suffer a slight cringe over the attempt there to apply anachronistic and economic-history evaluations: “18.5%”, “a capacity of 1,000 people”, “key variable”, “under-capitalised”.

One could — in a more romantic spirit — extrapolate into group psychology. This is the earliest seventeen-century. The minds involved are still accustomed to think of social advance in terms of acquiring lands, rather than anything ‘entrepreneurial’ or ‘proto-capitalist’. Just as in Virginia and the Carolinas, a century later, that kind of social position is going to be found, carving out estates in the countryside.

[4] These interlopers efficiently established themselves, and built networks — those daughters seem to have been seeded very effectively to generate a nexus of power and possession.

Note, though, as far as Beresford genealogy goes, that it is a “west” Ulster concentration: Derry, Donegal, Cavan and Galway. There is not, as yet, a social top-tier: distinctions and titles beyond mere baronet or knight are not yet present. That will come a generation or two still further on.

We can look to a precise contemporary, the glove-maker’s son from Stratford, for the definition of the “new men”. He puts the words into the mouth of Brutus, the old republican patrician, somewhat scornful of the arriviste Caesar — but they could easily apply to himself, his generation, and the aspiring and arriving Ulster ascendancy:

But ’tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round.
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.

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Filed under Chaucer, History, Ireland, Literature, Northern Ireland, politics, Shakespeare, social class

Flagging up an answer

Yesterday I was fretting what would be my reading for the Dutch weekend.

As so often the problem solved itself.

Having spent an hour tidying three shelves, to make space for the latest Rankin (as previously related), I had a handful of books that didn’t fit so easily.

One in particular took my attention: Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flagsin a wartime Book Club economy edition. I had several reasons for this choice:

  • considering its age and provenance, it was in remarkably good shape. The red spine is a trifle faded. There’s a bit of foxing on the exposed edges. The paper is cheap and on the rough side; but I’m a sucker for orphaned books.
  • the original previous owner had inscribed what could be a service serial number (heavily scrubbed out) and a date: the month and year of my birth. This book is as old as I am. Obviously, it lacks the pecuniary value of a genuine 1942 first edition (which would be fun); but it acquires from this inscription a certain sentimental one.
  • some one, if not that original owner, has used a “North Central Finance Ltd” IBM-type 80-column punched-card as a book-mark.
  • I cannot recall reading this Waugh since the 1960s.

My lingering memory of Put Out More Flags is it is Waugh reconciling his natural cynicism with the stiff upper-lippiness of “We’re all in this together”. So he rounds up a cast-list from his pre-War fiction , and shows them to be doing their duty and rising to the occasion. Or, in the thin satire of the effete poets, Parsnip and Pimpernel, he is kicking at the likes of Auden, holed up in New York.

On second thoughts, perhaps I’ll download the text to the iPad, and leave the hard copy to rest securely at home.

 

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Filed under Evelyn Waugh, fiction, History, Literature