A Moorland Grave Mound

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O gentle Spirit of the hills,
Come stay with me, and rest
Where rolls this lonely heather sea,
Grey-billowed to the west ;
The passion of the day hath died
Along yon fading height,
And white the stars like flowering thong
The garden of the night.

In upland hollows lies the mist,
In folds of silver grey,
And sleeping lies the harvest wind
Among the new mown hay ;
The moor crags rise against the sky,
A dark and ragged line,
And red along the dusky hills
The farm-house windows shine.

Far from the rude and noisy throng,
By some sweet impulse led,
I like among the grass that hides
The long-forgotten dead ;
And thou, meek spirit of the hills,
O hearken to my plea !
For fain would I miss this summer night
Go down the past with thee.

The purple flame of August ling,
The bracken green and deep,
The sweet, clear bugles of the wind
That play along the steep ;
The flush of dawn, the grey of eve,
The storms that rip and rave,
Have they not brought thee secrets from
This lonely moorland grave ?

Then say in what departed age
This simple mound was reared,
By what strange people of the past
With pagan rites and weird ?
Whence did they come, and whither gone
The unknown mountain race ?
Who found on this bird-haunted hill
A noble burial place ?

How lived they on these windy heights ?
What simple span was theirs ?
To what strange customs were they bound ?
To what god said their prayers ?
A speck of dust, a smear on Time,
Is all that we can see !
So much will future ages know
Of all my friends and me.

And who was laid with reverence here,
What mother, youth, or maid ?
Or stalwart father don to death
In some wild hunting raid ?
Or heathen seer whose name by all
The hillmen was revered ?
Or warrior chief whose spear of flint
Had made him great and feared ?

Perchance some maid, the loved of all,
The flower of her race,
Here gave to earth all that was her’s
Of loveliness and grace !
And here, maybe, some valiant youth
Was stretched upon the pyre !
While hapless kindred wailed around
The red cremating fire.

O well it is these ancient dead –
That their last sleep should be
Upon the high and heathery moor
Where all is wild and free !
Though dark and rude their earthly path,
Their gods to us unknown !
Are they less sacred than the dead
Beneath the sculptured stone ?

I feel sweet Spirit, thou art near,
So holy and profound !
I feel thy presence in the night
Above this grassy mound !
I hear thee speak a mystic tongue
In accents all divine !
A language that immortals speak
In other worlds than mine.

Good-night ! sweet Spirit, I am earth,
And dark and dull and foul,
And all unfit to question thee
Who art the purest soul !
And as I came, so I return,
Still leaning in thy trust !
What far off ages gave to thee
An ancient Britain’s dust.

 

Ammon Wrigley (1861-1946)
Songs of a Moorland Parish, 1912.

On A Yorkshire Moor

Millstone Edge at Standedge, Overlooking Ammon Wrigley's birthplace in Saddleworth.

Millstone Edge at Standedge, Overlooking Ammon Wrigley’s birthplace in Saddleworth.

Over a hill the west wind loves,
There lies a quiet glen,
Far away from the roaring world,
Far from the strife of men ;
Out to the south a lordly wall
Reared by no human hands,
A cloud-dark wall that overlooks
The windy heather lands.

Crags to the north like fortress bold,
A proud arrogant steep,
That shelters from the raiding storms
The winter-harassed sheep ;
Out to the east a rising fell,
Striped like a tiger’s skin,
With raking flank of yellow grass,
And ribs of darksome whin.

And one grey rock, like pagan god,
Solemn as death, and lone,
That oft, maybe, the hill tribes made
Their ancient worship stone ;
The strange wild people of the past
Have vanished race on race,
And we, like shadows on the grass,
Now pass before its face.

And one clear stream ordained to be
The singer of the heath,
A fairy rising with her songs
From mystic wells beneath ;
The silver mist on wet May moors,
The wild autumnal rain,
That gave their music to the hill,
The stream gives back again.

A singer, that from ancient days
Hath charmed this purple height,
Still singing through the bracken green,
A chorister in white ;
And I poor singer, doomed to seek
My songs with weary thought,
Can never like this streamlet feel
The songs that rise unsought.

O’er pebbles, laid like Eastern floor,
With tiles of every hue,
A jewelled houri flashing down
Long corridors of blue,
And roaming seaward takes the wave,
A gift from moorland wells,
North Sea hath its grandeur from
The rugged Yorkshire fells.

And here there comes on driving wings,
Red-singed by autumn fires,
The Moorcock, lordliest bird that loves
The lusty northern shires ;
And here a falcon strikes across
The lark-hushed spaces high,
A moment-poised, then comes to earth,
A dagger from the sky.

And where the wind-song shakes the grass,
And all the hollow fills,
I lie and hold communion with
The spirit of the hills ;
And nought of greed of petty strife,
Or human fret is here,
But one great feeling sways the heart, –
To worship and revere.

A temple built by nature’s hands,
With transept, nave and aisle,
And hallowed by the holiness
Of some cathedral pile ;
A minster where Eternal rites
And harmonies abound,
The sky above, the moor below,
And the great God around.

Ammon Wrigley (1861-1946)
Songs of a Moorland Parish, 1912.

Here I’ve presented Ammon Wrigley’s ‘On a Yorkshire Moor’ in complete form, as there is little of Ammon’s work on-line and what there is, is either snippets or fragments.

Ammon Wrigley was one a Yorkshire’s greatest poets and as his books are now long out of print, only to be found via second hand book sellers (which can be a bit on the expensive side), I’ll be occasionally posting his work here to make sure that at least a small selection is freely accessible.

Ammon Wrigley’s work has been a huge inspiration to me and I hope to do my bit to make sure that he is not forgotten.

Ammon Wrigley

Ammon Wrigley

Ammon Wrigley

If you venture up on to Millstone Edge, at Standedge on Marsden Moor, you will be in good company. This little corner of the Pennines was so loved by local poet, writer and historian Ammon Wrigley, that his ashes were scattered near the Dinner Stone.

The views over Saddleworth overlook the places where he was born, raised and lived his whole, long life. Look closer and you will spot his memorial plaque. Now sat between those of his two daughters.

The Wrigley Plaques

THE ASHES OF
AMMON WRIGLEY
BELOVED WRITER OF SADDLEWORTH
FOLK-LORE, PROSE AND POEMS,
WERE SCATTERED FROM THIS SPOT

ON THE 14TH SEPTEMBER
— 1946 —

HIS WAS THE SWEET AND GENEROUS SOUL
THAT LOVED NOT SELF ALONE
BUT TO OUR POORER NATURES GAVE
THE FRAGRANCE OF HIS OWN.

WINDS OF THE PENNINES FRESH AND FREE
YOU WERE EVER GOOD FRIENDS TO ME
OUT ON THE MOORS FROM MORN TILL EVE
HAPPY WITH YOU AND LOATHE TO LEAVE.

SO OVER THE HILLS I’LL TAKE MY WAY
AND MATE WITH THE WILD AND FREE
TILL MY DUST IS FLUNG TO THE WINDS
IN MY HILL COUNTRY.

Ammon Wrigley’s writings display the heart and soul of the Pennines. His love of those rocky uplands and the people that inhabited them, shines through his work. This is his story.

Born on October 10th 1861, at Far Hey, near Oxhey in Denshaw, into a typical working class family of the time. His father Thomas worked in the local mills, as did his mother Mary (nee Waddington). They later moved to Millcroft in Castleshaws Valley, where Ammon attended school.

Young Ammon received only the most basic education and suffered at the hands of poverty:

One of the blackest memories of my early years is of a Christmas time. Work at the mill had been bad for over a month, and we were never more poverty stricken. We had no paraffin for our lamp and barely a barrowful of coal. If a neighbour woman had come into our house on the Christmas Eve, she would have seen a father, mother and two little lads sitting in silence and gloom as they watched a few red cinders die down in the grate.”

And one grey rock, like pagan god, Solemn as death, and lone, That oft, maybe, the hill tribes made Their ancient worship stone. On a Yorkshire Moor (except)

And one grey rock, like pagan god,
Solemn as death, and lone,
That oft, maybe, the hill tribes made
Their ancient worship stone.
On a Yorkshire Moor (excerpt)

In 1870 at the age of nine, Ammon began working half days at Johnny Mill, where his mother and father worked, later moving to Linfitts Mill. Ammon was quick to observe the irony that man had to toil away his days, while the cattle could laze away their days in the sunlight fields.

His love of writing began early. He was seven when his father awarded him three pence in appreciation of a poem that he had written about a wayside well. He would often recite Shakespeare for the amusement of his father’s friends.

Ammon was more than just a poet. His books gather up the soul of Saddleworth and describe a world now lost to us. He wrote of the local characters of the area, such as Joe of Ragstones:

The only scrap of homestead left in the neighbourhood is on the edge of the moors, a gable of Ragstones, famous as being once the home of an eccentric and somewhat scholarly recluse named Joseph Radcliffe, better known in the dales as “Joe o’th’ Ragstones.” The old-folk custom of calling men by the names of their farmsteads still prevails in Saddleworth.

Old Joe had a great deal of the hermit in his nature, and cared little for human company. He lived what is now called the simple life, just for the love of it, not as men do now, – merely to advertise themselves. The thing he set great store upon were his books, his dogs, and his lonely, battered old homestead. He had read much, and his knowledge of French history, particularly of the great Napoleonic period, was held to be fairly exhaustive. (1)

He had a keen interest in the history of Saddleworth and would often collect flints from March Hill. He rediscovered the Roman fort at Castleshaw. Originally rediscovered by Thomas Percival in 1752, but subsequently lost again under the plough.

One warm, dreamy morning in the August of 1897, I chanced to be idling away and hour in one of the high fields above Broadhead. As I looked lazily across the valley, I suddenly saw the complete outlines of the Roman Station at Castleshaw. Giving the field a careful survey I quickly realised that what I had just seen was no trick of the imagination, but, on the contrary, was a very tangible fact. Perhaps I was assisted to the identification by the fact that I was fresh from reading “Forty miles round Manchester,” an old 18th century work which contains a plan of the Castleshaw fort. It may seem a remarkable confession, yet it is none the less true that, although I was reared close to Castleshaw and had roamed over the camp field hundreds of times both before and after I knew something of its archaeological importance, I had seen nothing. I had entirely failed to observe the outlines which had been so clearly revealed to me that morning from the fields across the valley. What had remained, at close quarters, broken, detached, and unintelligible, when seen from a distance formed a compact whole, easily identified. (2)

Overlooking Castleshaws from Northern Rotcher on Millstone Edge

Overlooking Castleshaws from Northern Rotcher on Millstone Edge

He also carried out excavation work at the fort, although his methods would undoubtedly make modern archaeologist baulk!

Castleshaw (extract)
Where the lordly moors of Stanedge
Shake the meadows from their feet,
Where the wind-words heather-scented,
Shape themselves to language sweet :

There in the weeds of silent mourning,
Lines of pain about thy brow,
Grey, old-fashioned country hamlet,
Sad and ruined standest thou.

Widely published during his lifetime, the Ammon Wrigley Fellowship was formed in 1931, to meet annually and celebrate his work while he was still alive. The Fellowship, already numbering over 200 members, held its first annual dinner in 1933. Ammon, well known for disliking public functions, did not attend due to the sudden onset of a ‘cold’. He was persuaded to attend subsequent dinners however and the Fellowship also organised outings to many of the locations featured in Ammon’s poems. The Fellowship lasted up to 1983.

Ammon died on 31st August 1946. His ashes were scattered near the Dinner Stone, as per his instructions, on a stormy September 14th by members of the Ammon Wrigley Fellowship. It is said that when Harry Walne, President of the Fellowship, opened the casket, the wind seized the ashes and carried them up and away.

The Dinner Stone

The Dinner Stone

The Dinner Stone
Where the old rock stands weathered and lone
And black as night, turned into stone,
There’s a green church I call my own,
Take my ashes and scatter them there,
Roughly or kindly, just as you care.

Ammon loved Saddleworth and its people, but his main love was the Pennine Moorland around the area that he was born and raised. Most of his books are now long out of print and can be hard to find. However, it is still possible to piece together a collection by scouring second hand bookshops and keeping watch on various websites.

My response to Ammon’s work is very personal. I find it a source of wonder and inspiration that this man visited the exact same places that I now visit, one hundred years before me and felt much the same awe and attachment that I now feel. His words echo perfectly the sentiment of my photographs of this area, although separated by the passage of a century. When out on the moors around Saddleworth and Marsden, his words ring through my head and I am very conscious that I am following his footsteps.

Ammon's spot

Ammon’s spot

Ammon died twenty years before I was born. I would have loved to have met him and walked the moors with him, or conversed with him in the corner of an old stone Saddleworth pub. We are fortunate however that he left his knowledge behind in his numerous books and that his collections are preserved in the area where they were compiled, at Saddleworth Museum. I would urge anyone to visit that wonderful facility. The £2 admission fee is more than worthwhile and I would even suggest a small donation to help keep it open.

It seems fitting to leave the final words with Ammon:

I could wander through a hundred cathedrals, I could hear a hundred learned divines preach from carved oak pulpits, I could hear a hundred surpliced choirs sing the Nunc Dimittis and feel more impressed than if someone had whistled in my ear ; but I could not tramp across a solitary stretch of moor without being moved by some deep and incomprehensible influence ; the silence, the vastness, and the awesome mystery of the great waste lands awake a feeling which, if not exactly reverence, is closely akin to it. I sometimes wonder if this feeling is merely an impression produced by great contrasts, say, where one has been hemmed in all week by man, ­− his works and his artificialities, − and then comes to be set down among the calm sincerities of lonely moorlands, where mighty forces, obeying unwritten laws, work silently and unceasingly age after age. The moors take the pride out of a man, the humble him by making the span of his life seem even more trivial than it really is ; their vastness makes his smallness even smaller ; to be conscious of this feeling now and then does a man good, it sets him square with himself and prevents him from having a “ swellhead.” (3)

Saddleworth from Millstone Edge, Standedge

Saddleworth from Millstone Edge, Standedge

(1)  Lurden and Joe o’th’ Ragstones – Songs of a Moorland Parish 1912.

(2)  The First Excavations of the Roman Camp at Castleshaw – Songs of a Moorland Parish 1912.

(3)  Songs of a Moorland Parish 1912.

Many of the details of Ammon’s life were taken from Sam Seville’s book, With Ammon Wrigley in Saddleworth.