Ruins at Crow Edge

Cresting on the rising swell of fields,
a rotting hulk of stone and wood.
Soil lapping at your walls,
time dissolves you slowly.

What noises once echoed around your crumbling byres,
laughter, braying and shouts.
Dim, receding memories fly from your crumbling walls,
like the crows nesting in your cracks.

Steps suspended, no longer climbed,
your roof no longer mended.
Once a stern steward, now helpless,
as the green swell pulls you under.

Advertisements

The Corn Law Rhymer

Ebenezer Elliott (17 March 1781 – 1 December 1849)

Ebenezer Elliott's grave in All Saints Churchyard, Darfied

Ebenezer Elliott’s grave in All Saints Churchyard, Darfied (behind railings).

There is one grave that stands out a little from the others in the peaceful churchyard of All Saints in Darfield. It seems slightly better tended with a fresh coat of paint on its iron railings. This is the grave of Ebenezer Elliott.

Known as the Corn Law Rhymer, Elliott was a vociferous champion of the industrial poor and critic of the Corn Laws (or Bread Tax) at a time of great political upheaval. Internationally famous during his own lifetime, he struck an odd figure in that he was a radical of the factory owning class. He was also something of an early exponent of the right to roam, taking to the countryside on a Sunday, freed of the weekday chains of the factory.

Footpaths(excerpt)

The poor man’s walk they take away,
The solace of his only day,
Where now, unseen, the flowers are blowing,
And, all unheard, the stream is flowing

Elliott was born in Masbrough, Rotherham, the son of a foundry owner known as ‘Devil Elliott’, on account of his fiery Calvinist sermons. A rather solitary child, the young Ebenezer preferred to play truant from school and spend his time exploring the countryside around Rotherham. It was his love of nature that influenced his early poetry.

At the age of sixteen he was set to work in his father’s foundry, where he remained until 1816 until the firm failed after his father’s death and he was declared bankrupt. With funds from his wife’s sister, he moved to Sheffield in 1819 to set up as an iron merchant and steel manufacturer.

Throughout this time he continued to write poetry, but his experience of impoverishment forged an affinity with the poor. He could see the effect that the hated Corn Laws (which he named the Bread Tax) had on the poor and blamed them for his own downfall.

The Corn Laws were introduced in 1815 and imposed restrictions and tariffs on imported grain, designed to keep prices high and favour domestic producers. The effect of this was to raise food prices and ensure that shortages left people hungry.

Becoming increasingly politically active, Elliot’s views demanding change to benefit both manufacturers and workers were well  known in Sheffield, where he was often disliked by other business owners. He set up the Sheffield Mechanics’ Anti-Bread Tax Society,  campaigned for the 1832 Reform Act and became active in the Chartist movement.

He earned the name of ‘The Corn Law Rhymer’ following a burst of published poems, The Village Patriarch (1829), The Ranter (1830) and the Corn Law Rhymes (1831). These were followed by the even more incendiary Corn Law Hymns in 1835.

His poems gained him international fame and his most celebrated poem, The People’s Anthem was even sung in schools.

When wilt thou save the people?
Oh, God of mercy! when?
Not kings and lords, but nations!
Not thrones and crowns, but men!

Upon the advice of his doctor, who considered that he may drop dead during one of his furious tirades against the Bread Tax, Elliot retired in 1841 to a house at Hargate Hill near Great Houghton, on the outskirts of Barnsley. Here he lived a quiet life, following his literary interests. He lived to see the Corn Law repealed in 1846, before his death in 1849 after an attempt at self-surgery.

He was buried in the churchyard of nearby All Saints Church at Darfield, where his tomb can still be seen. A monument to Elliott was erected in 1854 outside the post office in Sheffield market place, later moved to its current position in Weston Park on 1874. The statue depicts Elliott sat on his favourite rock in Rivelin Valley. The rock bearing his name can still be seen at the top of Black Brook waterfall.

Celebrated during his lifetime, Ebenezer Elliott has been largely forgotten in the century and a half since his death. He struck an odd figure as a bourgeois factory owning exponent of free trade, yet was ferocious in his defence of the rights and struggles of the working class. His poetry should be remembered for not only casting light upon the conditions that working people were forced to endure, but for his love of nature too. He wrote many poems about the beauty of the Peak District and his beloved Rivelin Valley.

from Win-Hill, or, the Curse of God

High on the topmost jewel of thy crown,
Win-Hill! I sit bareheaded, ankle-deep
In tufts of rose-cupp’d bilberries; and look down
On towns that smoke below, and homes that creep
Into the silvery clouds, which far-off keep
Their sultry state! and many a mountain stream,
And many a mountain vale, “and ridgy steep;”
The Peak, and all his mountains, where they gleam
Or frown, remote or near, more distant than they seem!

There flows the Ashop, yonder bounds the Wye,
And Derwent here towards princely Chatsworth trends;
But, while the Nough steals purple from the sky,
Lo! northward far, what giant’s shadow bends?
A voice of torrents, hark! its wailing sends;
Who drives yon tortured cloud through stone-still air?
A rush! a roar! a wing! a whirlwind rends
The stooping larch! The moorlands cry “Prepare!
It comes! ye gore-gorged foes of want and toil, beware!”
It comes! Behold! – Black Blakelow hoists on high
His signals to the blast from Gledhill’s brow.
Them, slowly glooming on the lessening sky,
The bread-tax’d exile sees, (in speechless woe,
Wandering the melancholy main below,
Where round the shores of Man the dark surge heaves,)
And while his children’s tears in silence flow,
Thinks of sweet scenes to which his soul still cleaves,
That home on Etherow’s side, which he for ever leaves.
Now expectation listens, mute and pale,
While, ridged with sudden foam, the Derwent brawls;
Arrow-like comes the rain, like fire the hail;
And, hark! Mam-Tor on shuddering Stanage calls!
See, what a frown o’er castled Winnat falls!
Down drops the death-black sky! and Kinderscout,
Conscious of glory, laughs at intervals;
Then lifts his helmet, throws his thunders out,
Bathes all the hills in flame, and hails their stormy shout.
High on the topmost jewel of thy crown,
Win-Hill! I sit bareheaded, ankle-deep
In tufts of rose-cupp’d bilberries; and look down
On towns that smoke below, and homes that creep
Into the silvery clouds, which far-off keep
Their sultry state! and many a mountain stream,
And many a mountain vale, “and ridgy steep;”
The Peak, and all his mountains, where they gleam
Or frown, remote or near, more distant than they seem!
There flows the Ashop, yonder bounds the Wye,
And Derwent here towards princely Chatsworth trends;
But, while the Nough steals purple from the sky,
Lo! northward far, what giant’s shadow bends?
A voice of torrents, hark! its wailing sends;
Who drives yon tortured cloud through stone-still air?
A rush! a roar! a wing! a whirlwind rends
The stooping larch! The moorlands cry “Prepare!
It comes! ye gore-gorged foes of want and toil, beware!”
It comes! Behold!—Black Blakelow hoists on high
His signals to the blast from Gledhill’s brow.
Them, slowly glooming on the lessening sky,
The bread-tax’d exile sees, (in speechless woe,
Wandering the melancholy main below,
Where round the shores of Man the dark surge heaves,)
And while his children’s tears in silence flow,
Thinks of sweet scenes to which his soul still cleaves,
That home on Etherow’s side, which he for ever leaves.
Now expectation listens, mute and pale,
While, ridged with sudden foam, the Derwent brawls;
Arrow-like comes the rain, like fire the hail;
And, hark! Mam-Tor on shuddering Stanage calls!
See, what a frown o’er castled Winnat falls!
Down drops the death-black sky! and Kinderscout,
Conscious of glory, laughs at intervals;
Then lifts his helmet, throws his thunders out,
Bathes all the hills in flame, and hails their stormy shout.

Winter Sunrise on Higger Tor

4322878327_93308623b7_o

At first nothing but dark silence,
stretches across the moor.
Frozen and still in the ice,
under the crystalline moon.

Ice puddles recall footprints,
of visitors past.
But I am alone,
none are here now.

Nothing stirs in this liminal place,
even the wind.
Frosted rocks suspended,
waiting for the warmth of the sun.

A sliver of light to the east,
pale but gathering strength.
A line of division,
chasing away the colourless night.

The horizon becomes a delicate spectrum,
of blues and pink.
The moor begins to wake,
red grouse the first early risers.

Colour stained clouds,
announce that the sun is near.
Bright heralds of the coming,
of the Golden One.

Finally, there it is,
a pin-prick of light at first.
Rising pale and red,
out of the cloud.

How many civilisations,
have worshipped this moment of magic?
Raising great stones,
to mark it’s coming?

The rocks of the tor glow,
to greet the arrival of the sun.
Red hot coals,
amongst the white ashen frost.

Light floods across the moor,
yellow grass and brown heather.
Both set ablaze by the fire,
that rises in the east.

6582714369_5ae010345a_o

Pike Lowe

6281314582_82cccc150f_o

The peak is ahead,
Pike Lowe.
I’ve seen it often from afar,
the king of Midhope Moor.
Many times I’ve walked around its base,
but today, I’m heading for the top.

The path ends abruptly,
now there is nothing but open moor.
There is no easy way,
I follow a ruined wall over the gently rising bog.
Towards the horizon,
looking for the easiest steps.

One footfall at a time,
sinking into moss and peat.
Giant spider tree roots crawl from the black,
straining into the light.
Reeds become stepping stones,
a hop, a jump, a squelch.

Higher now,
the bog concedes to rock.
The bones of the hill,
broken tooth crown around its head.
The gentle moorland symphony replaced,
by the clashing howl of wind.

Now to the summit,
surges of wind push me back.
The great cairn at the highest point,
collection of stone that began in the Bronze Age.
The sun is growing weak,
smothered by spoiling cloud.

Light quickly flees,
colour draining in the half light.
Turning, the wind at my back,
picking and sliding down the steep sides.
The bog awaits ahead,
to the darkening east.

Curbar Edge Pinnacle Stone: The Sentinel

The Watcher

A single finger of rock, perched on the edge,
that only the brave dare to conquer.
I edge closer, shuffling, seated on crumbling rock,
clinging to last year’s heather.

Lone and mute, birds give you your voice,
the early risers in the crow’s nest.
Swathed in eiderdown mist, the valley below,
villages still slumber beneath you.

The slow creep of cold dawn, shows the ice on your face,
but time to you has no meaning.
Surely, as season follows season, year after year,
you will always be watching.