A Poem Upon the Ceremonial Opening of Coggeshall’s Listening Bench

As part of our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place, we are working with volunteers to install listening benches across Essex. These solar-powered park benches play clips of recordings from the Essex Sound and Video Archive, recordings chosen and put together by our volunteers. The listening bench for Coggeshall was successfully unveiled on Tuesday 11 July. Each listening bench launch has its own character, but this was the first to include a poetry recital in honour of the bench! We loved the poem so much that we wanted to reprint it, with an introduction by another volunteer to explain how the Coggeshall bench came about.

Miall James writes:

Back in January I went into the Coggeshall Library, and one of the staff asked me if I knew anyone who’d be interested in setting up a Listening Bench. So I asked what it was, was told, and said, OK, I’ll give it a go. I recruited my friend Nic Johnson, a well known, if fairly new in Coggeshall terms, local resident, and together we enlisted the aid of two more, thought that was enough and presented ourselves to the Essex Record Office.

Photograph of volunteers with listening bench

Volunteers who worked on Coggeshall’s listening bench (L-R: Michael Horne, Nic Johnson, Miall James, Stan Haines (who opened the bench), and Sylvie Overnell).

One of the two was Michael Horne, a well-known local historian and poet (and Lord of the Manor of Little Coggeshall), who in fact wrote some of what finally went onto the bench; the other was Sylvie Overnell, a retired local teacher, with local contacts. We looked at what was required, divided up the work and got on with it. There were no arguments; we discussed what to do, agreed and got on with it. Indeed it’s wonderful what can be done if no one’s bothered about who gets the credit! Finally, after about five months’ work we were ready, and the bench was ready for use.

Photograph of Miall James and Stan Haines standing behind listening bench

Miall James with Stan Haines officially ‘opening’ Coggeshall’s listening bench

We recruited Stan Haines, who has lived in the town most of his life, and was Chairman of the Parish Council for 48 years, to officiate at the opening.

The only thing that went wrong was the weather on the day, which wasn’t as kind as it might have been!

We’ve had some very good feedback, and we feel that, with a little fine-tuning, our Listening Bench will be something our fellow citizens can enjoy for many years to come.

Michael Horne’s poem composed for the occasion

A Poem Upon the Ceremonial Opening of Coggeshall’s Listening Bench at Doubleday Corner
11 July 2017

Photograph of Michael Horne in front of bench

Michael Horne reciting his poem

On this occasion so polite,
I can do nothing but endite
A hymn of praise, with joy intense,
To Coggeshall’s newborn Listening Bench.

We’ll take upon us, even now,
An eleemosynary vow
To set up Peace, Goodwill and Sense
Upon our worthy Listening Bench.

The stories that we now can hear
Bring memories back that are so dear
To all who’ve taken up residence
Near Coggeshall’s stalwart Listening Bench.

They speak of pubs and crafts and trades
From days of yore, of men and maids
Who gave our town its eminence,
Preserved now on the Listening Bench.

In times of great austerities,
With caps on pay and a pension squeeze,
When fiscal stocks we must retrench,
We’ll still possess our Listening Bench.

People will come this bench to view
Both in and outside the EU,
And accents Dutch, Peruvian, French
Will echo from our Listening Bench.

So men may come and men may go,
Enslaved by Time’s incessant flow,
But anything of permanence
Will stay within our Listening Bench.

And now I’ll cease these paltry rhymes
Unworthy of these glorious times,
Let’s shout instead, with Power Immense,
Three cheers for Coggeshall’s Listening Bench!

Check our website for details of further listening bench launches, and to keep track of our two touring benches. Can you visit them all?

Map of all 18 listening benches

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How to choose a wife, Victorian style

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager

Archives are wonderful places for surprise discoveries. When searching for one thing, you will often come across something completely different that you would never have thought to go looking for. In this sense working in an archive is challenging for the easily distracted, as there is always something intriguing to pursue.

My latest find, from the parish records of St Botolph’s in Colchester, is this Victorian poem, which gives advice to a man named Fred in choosing a wife (click the images for larger versions, and see below for a transcript):

Now why my dear Fred don’t you marry?

I had hop’d the late rumour was true

Now take my advice and don’t tarry

But set off instanter* to woo

But first my dear Fred pay attention

And though you should love and admire

If she’s one of these Ifs that I mention

Dear Fred make your bow & retire

If you find that she can’t darn a stocking

If she can’t make a shirt or a pie

If she says “Oh! Law!” “Mercy”! “How shocking”!

If she ever drinks beer on the sly

If soon of the country she’s weary

If politics e’er are her theme

If she talks about “Hershel’s nice theory”

Or “Lardner’s dear book upon Steam”

If she crosses her legs or her letters

If you’ve seen her drink three cups of tea

If she boasts of those wearing her fetters

If she’s sick when she goes on the sea

If she seems the least bit of a scold

If her manners have any pretence

If her gown does not cover her shoulders

If her bustle is very immense

If she’s nervous, or bilious, or sickly

If she likes to take breakfast in bed

If she can’t take a hint from you quickly

If her nose has the least touch of red

If she screams when she’s told she’s in danger

If she seems a coquette or a flirt

If she’ll polka or galoppe with a stranger

If she’s stupid or if she is pert

If she’s one of these Ifs oh! then sever

The chain she around you has bound

And seek for a maid in whom never

These follies and failings were found

* While not a word we’re familiar with today, this word looks like ‘instanter’. The Oxford English Dictionary lists ‘instanter’ as a humorous or archaic word meaning at once, or immediately

If Fred was fortunate enough to find a girl who measured up to these exacting standards one does have to wonder whether he would ever had any fun with her, or indeed a meaningful conversation.

The poem is unsigned and undated, so I hoped that its content might provide some clues that would help to pin it down at least to a decade. Some of this evidence, however, is a bit contradictory:

‘If her bustle is very immense’

Bustles were fashionable from the late 1860s until the early 1890s.

If she talks about “Hershel’s nice theory”

This seems most likely to refer to Sir John Herschel (1792-1871), a polymath who published papers and books on a range of scientific subjects between 1821 and 1867.

Or “Lardner’s dear book upon Steam”

This could refer to a few different publications by Irish scientific writer Dionysius Lardner, who published works about steam engines in 1828, 1832, 1836, 1840, 1844, 1856 and 1857.

If she’ll polka or galoppe with a stranger

The polka and galop were lively, energetic dances popular across Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century.

 

This evidence all points to a date in the 1840s or 1850s, apart from the line about the bustle. If bustles did not come in until the late 1860s, the poem must date from after then.

If anyone has any further information or spots any more clues that could tell us more about this poem, do please leave a comment or get in touch with us.

Recording of the Month, October 2014: “Dingie ‘Underd Ghoost o’ ‘Alloween”

Our Sound Archivist Martin Astell brings us another highlight from the Essex Sound and Video Archive…

SA 24/221/1

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it is possible that some may knock on your door at the end of October. For that reason, I have chosen this ghostly tale – supposedly recounted in Essex dialect – as our recording for this month.

We know that the poem was written (and presumably spoken) by Mr J. London of Collier Row at some point in the first half of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, we know very little else about this delightful curiosity.

It tells of supernatural goings-on in Essex’s Dengie peninsula, which is still referred to by the historic term of the Dengie Hundred, and why on ‘’Alloween Eve’ you may still hear ghostly cries as you travel through its misty lanes. According to ‘The Witches of Dengie’ by Eric Maple (published in Folklore, Volume 73, Autumn 1962), “the Hundred of Dengie was until comparatively modern times regarded as ‘Witch Country’, to use a local term for any district where the traditions of witchcraft were very strong.” This article goes on to describe reputed encounters with witches said to have the power of flight – “like other witches of the Essex marshlands” – and a number of tales involving horses and carts affected by witchcraft. One wonders whether Mr London had heard some of these tales before he sat down to compose his tale.

Centre disc label

The poem begins: “Should ye ever goo in a pub called Kickin’ Dickey, down Dingie ‘underd way” which is curious as we find no record of a pub with this name in the area. There is a pub called Kicking Dickey in Great Dunmow in Essex, but this is decidedly not in the Dengie Hundred. However, ‘dickey’ is a dialect term for donkey, so could it be that locals used Kickin’ Dickey as a nickname for the White Horse in Southminster, or Mundon, or even the village of Dengie?

If you know, let us know.