Stuart Butler

Stuart Butler


Winter Solstice Walk 2016

Painswick Beacon and Botany Bay

The solstice is a time for wonder and the imagination,

But sometimes you need facts, figures and measurements:

Lines of latitude and longitude – maritime chronometers too,

Were needed for New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land,

For those weavers, cloth-workers, hatters, labourers and servants,

Transported as convicts, far distant from their Painswick homes,

On ships such as the Emma Eugenia, Florentia, Lady Ridley,

Duncan, Gilmore, Persian, Lord Hungerford, Bengal Merchant;

People such as Ann Alder, Henry Beard and Samuel Beard,

John Birt, Isaac Estcourt, James Green, William Haines, Charles Cook;

And at winter solstice-tide, we gathered at Painswick Beacon,

Latitude 51°48’27″N and longitude 2°11’44″W; 283m / 928ft.,

SO 86836 12076, ready for sunrise at 8.14, on the 22nd of December,

A dozen of us, to welcome the mid-winter dawn,

Close by an Iron Age hill fort,

The ghosts of our prehistory all around the scarp,

(At a beacon: ‘from the Saxon’,

Meaning a sign, portent, light, lighthouse,

A source of light or inspiration),

Welcoming the first lengthening day of the season,

As it spread its light and inspiration

Over the Malverns, the Cotswolds, the sinuous River Severn,

Over a landscape etched with names and signs and portents

Such as Ongers, Kimsbury, Paradise,

Spoonbed Hill, Kites Hill, Popes Wood, Saltridge Hill, Cud Hill,

Holcombe, Brentlands, Podgewell, Bacchus –

Distant memories for our exiled Painswick ancestors,

Their ghosts gathered to witness farewell 

To the longest day of the year,

Near Botany Bay,

33.9930° S, 151.1753° E …

But today, 

We reunited them with their landscape,

And their history,

With a toast to their memory and to the sun:

Painswick Beacon, Botany Bay,

New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land,

Mid-winter and mid-summer conjoined,

With solstitial imagination,

A lighthouse of time and space.



Captain Swing and the Stroud Valleys

I’m sitting by the fireside, poking the ashes,

Ghost-memories rising with the smoke,

Reawakening all my memories

Of those dark days back in1830;

They threshed the corn by hand back then,

Flailing in the barn in the winter months,

Until the farmers brought in those damned machines;

What with 7 shillings a week for our wages,

High bread prices and low poor relief,

Then the news of Captain Swing in Wiltshire –

We met in ——— ————‘s cottage in November.

We smashed the damned Horsley machines the next day,

————— left a note by the church door:

‘This is to tell all you gentlemen that if you don’t pull down them infernall machines then we will you damnd dogs. An yew mus rise the marrid mens wages tow and sixpence a day an the single tow shillins or we will burn your hay ricks.

From Swing.’

I lost my nerve and stole back in the night,

To hide that note safe within my bible;

But some of the men went on to Tetbury,

Up in the lanes near the Troubled House Inn.

Lord Sherborne sent in the cavalry,

The men tried to escape across the fields,

But they arrested twenty-three good friends;

There was more trouble then at Cherington,

Tetbury, Chavenage and Beverston;

Elizabeth Parker got seven years:

‘Be d—-d if we don’t go to Beverston to break the machines!’

May all their souls rest in Van Diemen’s land,

And may this letter die with the fire.