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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

At the Edge

'A SHORT HOLIDAY'

[The letter below was written by my father, Cyril ‘Jay’ Johnson, three weeks before his death on 14 October 1943. He is writing to his brother Robert Johnson].

1615489 RAFVR
Sgt. Johnson, C.
Pupil Sergeants’ Mess
R.A.F. Station
MILLOM, Cumberland

24th September 1943

Dear Doris and Bob

I have been here for a fortnight now but have found little time for letter writing, for one reason we are very busy and work seven days a week, and moreover Meg has been here for a short holiday.

When I got back to Harrogate, I was soon posted here. As you may remember, Meg was planning to spend a few days with me there, of course that became U/S and so we decided to try here.

I had the utmost difficulty in finding accommodation, spending nearly all my spare time in my first week going here and there, however eventually I was lucky and found some excellent digs in a small house in the country near the village of Silecroft about two miles from the camp.

As it was Meg was very comfortable and had a really nice holiday. She had good company in the day, a very comfy room and was provided with a bicycle. She had several trips into the hills on this and also found it pleasant walking down to the shore and along the beach.

I managed to get a bicycle too and so could get into Silecroft easily. By dint of wangling I got two sleeping out passes and on an average was able to spend one and a half hours a day with her.

Millom itself is a somewhat grim mining and iron working town and she would not have enjoyed it there, but the country at Silecroft is very pleasant and we had some good walks in the evening, visiting the truly rural ‘locals’ [inns] in the neighbouring villages.

We are on the edge of the Lake District here, under a mountain called Black Coombe.

The weather hasn’t been too good but hasn’t kept us in. Meg called at the Verona on the way here and left Sue there. She called for her yesterday and today they will be on their way back to 67 (the family home, 67 Roundmead Avenue, Loughton, Essex).

This is an Advanced Flying Unit and we shall be here for a few weeks, getting used to English flying conditions. Actually I do not find them much different except, of course, there is more cloud and we have to fly lower. I have had some good trips including one to Northern Ireland.

The camp itself is not bad – you get used to it. There is little to do outside but then we have little time to ourselves, as there is extra work to be done after hours. However, I am not complaining. I did very well while Meg was here.

How are things with you three? I trust you are well and all is O.K. I shan’t get leave for sometime but I shall look forward to seeing you again and meanwhile shall be very interested to hear your news. I trust Jan [their daughter, Janice] is well and as lively as ever.

All the best, Cyril

[I was born on 9th June 1944, eight months after my father’s death, having started life in Silecroft]

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Andrew Baird (1869-1944) - planting Scotland's far-famed tree in Southland, New Zealand.



MY NATIVE LAND SAE FAR AWA

On 22nd July 1879, nineteen year old Andrew Baird arrived in Dunedin, NZ on the ‘Calypso’ after a 3 month voyage from London. He journeyed alone. Andrew had been born on 8th March in Kilmaurs, Ayrshire in 1860. He was the son of Hugh Baird (b 1834) and Mary (b 1837, nee Mary Anton) who were born and married (24th June 1859) in Sorn, Ayrshire.

By 1891, Andrew was well-established enough as a farmer in Thornbury, Southland to marry a local girl Hannah Maria Foster in the house of Hannah’s father in Riverton on the 16th of December. Among their children was Hugh Charles Leslie Baird (1906-1993) who went on to marry Edna May Shaw (1910-1997) – great grandparents to my 2 younger sons.

The picture above shows Andrew as a prosperous Southland farmer, resplendent with a large and newish car in 1941. He was then 81 years old – and he is shown proudly posing with his NZ grand-daughter, 5 year old Shirley Baird.

Fortunately form a research point of view, the fine online tribute to the Baird family that has been compiled by Kenny Baird provides the means of unravelling the deeper ancestry of Andrew Baird (see ‘Baird History and Genealogy’ at: http://www.bairdnet.com/).

Andrew’s father Hugh Baird Sr. was the son of Andrew Baird Sr. (b 1792, Sorn) and Jean / Jane Mitchell. It seems that both Andrew Sr. and Jean may have died by 1841 as the census of that year records the three younger sons James (12), Andrew (9) and Hugh (7) as living on the farm of George and Jean Mitchener.

The elder Andrew Baird was one of the 14 children of James Baird (b 1742) and his wife Jean (nee Jean Miller) of Blackside Farm, Sorn who had married on 12th March 1769. James in turn was one of the 11 children of Hugh Baird and Sarah Howat who farmed at New Cumnock, Ayrshire and who had married in 1729.

The past stretches back then to a prolific family, with the Ayrshire strands ultimately contributing to a wider Scottish ‘Clan Baird’. And, if one explores the Ayrshire family history in more detail, one sees that there was a constant flux in tenant farming families between farms and localities, with younger sons drifting off to work as agricultural labourers, miners or factory operatives in the textile mills.

Also of course there was an accelerating drift overseas – at first particularly to the West Indies where Ayrshire farm boys became plantation overseers and mechanics (as once tempted the poet Robert Burns) – and then as farmer settlers in North America, Australia and New Zealand (as is evident from the family trees supplied online by Kenny Baird).

So Andrew Baird and his family also provide a wider opportunity to relate to some of Burns’ poetry - in terms of both the harsh life that the Burns and Baird farming families faced and the hard choices that had to be made about moving up and away to pursue independence and financial security.

And like as not, Andrew left a lassie behind in Scotland:

‘O sad and heavy, should I part,
But for her sake, sae far awa;
Unknowing what my way may thwart,
My native land sae far awa.

Thou that of a' things Maker art,
That formed this Fair sae far awa,
Gie body strength, then I'll ne'er start
At this my way sae far awa.

How true is love to pure desert!
Like mine for her sae far awa;
And nocht can heal my bosom's smart,
While, oh, she is sae far awa!

Nane other love, nane other dart,
I feel but her's sae far awa;
But fairer never touch'd a heart
Than her's, the Fair, sae far awa’.

THE LAND LOVED AND LOST





We know from the 1861 census that Andrew’s father Hugh was then working in Tarbolton, Ayrshire as a ploughman. As a younger and possibly orphaned son, he struggled to gain the stubborn independence that his grandparents James and Jean had enjoyed at Blackside Farm (see top photo above).

On a fine early summer’s day, a ploughman could sing with the joys of life:

‘As I was a-wand'ring ae morning in spring,
I heard a young ploughman sae sweetly to sing;
And as he was singin', thir words he did say, -
There's nae life like the ploughman's in the month o' sweet May.

The lav'rock in the morning she'll rise frae her nest,
And mount i' the air wi' the dew on her breast,
And wi' the merry ploughman she'll whistle and sing,
And at night she'll return to her nest back again’.

But then again, the rich could sing their own songs by the fire accompanied by the piano at any time of year – and they rarely spared a thought for their tenants and farm workers. Reflecting on this, Burns provides a bitter epitaph on the death of the local squire James Grieve, Laird Of Boghead, Tarbolton:

‘Here lies Boghead amang the dead
In hopes to get salvation;
But if such as he in Heav'n may be,
Then welcome, hail! Damnation’.

Looking more objectively at the local agricultural economy, farmers and their workers were constantly pushed towards poverty by poor soils, a harsh climate, competition for resources among a rapidly rising population, and the absence of sufficient surplus for investment.

Writing in 1898, Helen Steven (‘Sorn Parish - its history and associations’) describes the context of the privations that the Bairds and Burns would have faced:

‘The parish of Sorn consists of about 19,000 acres, and a century ago there were 3000 acres of moss, 7000 of hills, moor, and other pasture lands, 200 acres of natural wood or plantings, and of the remaining 9000 or so of arable ground, all was not under actual cultivation. Few tenants possessed more than a ploughgate of land, and many of them much less.

‘Those small holdings were a decided disadvantage to the parish, as the farmers could not afford to keep the necessary implements or horses, and so were often dependent for ploughing upon hired labour, or had to wait until someone else could lend them implement or horse, and often they missed their season.

‘They seldom could afford to pay a rent, or paid a very small one when the season was good; and there was not sufficient work on their small holdings to keep them busy all the year through. The proprietors of such small farms, if they farmed their land themselves, simply made a shift to exist and exerted themselves as little as possible. A farm of moderate size was much better kept and more profitable than the very small holdings, and much more provocative of industry.

‘But even the best of farmers was very far behind, as looked at from the standpoint of scientific farming of today. The leases were for eighteen or nineteen years, and a rotation of crops was prescribed, but, through inattention of farmers and absence of landlords, was not strictly enforced.

‘The general rules of rotation were the following: Only one third of a farm to be ploughed at a time, the first two crops to be oats, the third bear and grass seeds, the fourth hay, and the next five years pasture. The farms were not properly subdivided, however, and the farmers were careless of rules made by absent, uninterested landlords. Too often, instead of varying the third and fourth crops, a crop of oats was taken from the ground three or four years in succession, and then, without any kind of seed being sown at all, it grew a rank kind of pasture for the cattle.

‘Farm-houses were beginning to be rebuilt, a century ago, in a better style than the cot-houses or hovels which formerly were the dwelling-houses, with men and cattle living under the same roof, and often only a narrow passage between the byres and the kitchen. Some of the cot-houses fell into ruins and the pendicles were annexed to the adjacent farms. The cottars went to live in the villages, where they found employment of various kinds, the young people readily getting work in the new mills at Catrine.

‘The rent of the arable farms under the old leases was only about five shillings an acre; but as the leases expired the rents were much raised, and a century ago, ten or twelve shillings an acre was quite common, and near the villages as much as twenty or thirty shillings was asked and obtained.

‘A ploughman received £10 or £12 per annum for wages, a woman-servant £4. A farm-labourer earned 1s 3d a day in winter and 1s 8d in summer. Tailors went from one farm to another and made the household garments, of good home spun, on the spot. A tailor received one shilling each day, and his food; a mason received is 8d per day. All those prices are quoted as a great advance on what had been until a few years previously.

‘In 1790 a man-servant's wage was £7 or £8; a woman's £3 10s; a tailor received 8d a day; a labourer 10d in winter and a shilling in summer.

‘There were three corn-mills in the parish and a wauk-mill or bleaching mill, all on the river Ayr, and the farmers were thirled (bonded) to a particular mill. The farmers reared most of their own horses, some of the old diminutive breed of the country, others middle-sized and hardy and suitable for purposes of agriculture.

‘There were about eighty ploughs in the parish and twice that number of carts. Farmers' gigs were utterly unknown, and the farmer rode to market with his wife seated behind on a pillion. The cattle were almost all black, of a small ancient breed, and were reared for dairy purposes, few, if any, for the market.

‘The making of cheese had just been introduced into the parish by some farmers who had settled there from Dunlop. Before the advent of the cheese-makers, butter, exclusively, was made in the dairies and sold in the neighbouring villages and in Glasgow.

‘The potato was a staple article of diet both for man and beast, for it seems at that time both horses and, cows were partly fed with it, and many of the villagers rented a small piece of ground from the nearest farmers to grow the favourite tuber. For the ground they paid a small rent and a hundred acres were under such cultivation.

‘Every farmer and cottar grew a small quantity of flax, sufficient for his own domestic, purposes, but little or none for sale. Wheat had been grown experimentally and successfully on some holm-lands, but oats and bear (inferior barley) were the principal crops’.

Notwithstanding the toil, the farm families were often relatively well-educated for the times. Backed by the teachings of the kirk and the relatively open and progressive village schools, the best developed a rugged personal morality and staunch independence – poverty regardless – as Burns describes in his tribute to his father:

‘My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border, O,
And carefully he bred me in decency and order, O;
He bade me act a manly part, though I had ne'er a farthing, O;
For without an honest manly heart, no man was worth regarding, O.
....

No help, nor hope, nor view had I, nor person to befriend me, O;
So I must toil, and sweat, and moil, and labour to sustain me, O;
To plough and sow, to reap and mow, my father bred me early, O;
For one, he said, to labour bred, was a match for Fortune fairly, O.

Thus all obscure, unknown, and poor, thro' life I'm doom'd to wander, O,
Till down my weary bones I lay in everlasting slumber, O:
No view nor care, but shun whate'er might breed me pain or sorrow, O;
I live to-day as well's I may, regardless of to-morrow, O.

But cheerful still, I am as well as a monarch in his palace, O,
Tho' Fortune's frown still hunts me down, with all her wonted malice, O:
I make indeed my daily bread, but ne'er can make it farther, O:
But as daily bread is all I need, I do not much regard her, O.

When sometimes by my labour, I earn a little money, O,
Some unforeseen misfortune comes gen'rally upon me, O;
Mischance, mistake, or by neglect, or my goodnatur'd folly, O:
But come what will, I've sworn it still, I'll ne'er be melancholy, O.

All you who follow wealth and power with unremitting ardour, O,
The more in this you look for bliss, you leave your view the farther, O:
Had you the wealth Potosi boasts, or nations to adore you, O,
A cheerful honest-hearted clown I will prefer before you, O’.

A NEW AND BONNIER SCOTLAND IN SOUTHLAND


Honest and hardworking, young Andrew Baird ended up by doing quite well for himself when he settled in New Zealand – with no serious hints of ‘mischance, mistake and good-natured folly’.

The landscape that he found in his new home would respond much more favourably to hard work than his native soil. Before European settlement, the low plains of Southland were covered by bush – mataī, rimu, lowland beech, kānuka and mānuka, interspersed with tussock grasslands, and swamp and bog in low-lying areas. Clearing this land took the effort and patience that had long been bred into the Scots.

Settlement of the Southland plains began in the mid-1850s. The shore whaling stations like that of Riverton had all closed by 1850, and inland pioneers including some former whalers, took up pastoral leases. Both Campbelltown (now Bluff) and Invercargill were surveyed in 1856, with Bluff becoming the port, and Invercargill the commercial focus for the new farming districts, such that they gradually replaced Riverton as Southland’s main town.

Much Southland lowland was swampy – a result of a high water table and low evaporation rates – and drainage was needed to make it suitable for farming. Rain also leached the soil of nutrients, especially lime. Early farmers became pioneers in the large-scale use of lime on pasture (again a practice that was common in Ayrshire –as it also was in my home county Cheshire).

The rural population of Southland increased steadily from the 1870s until about 1911, along with the number of farms, as the bush was cleared and flats were drained. From the 1880s the advent of refrigerated shipments of meat and dairy produce to the United Kingdom brought prosperity to the Southland rural economy. Within eight years, four freezing works opened – two at Bluff, in 1885 and 1892, and the others at Makarewa (1887) and Mataura (1893). The first NZ cheese factory opened at Edendale in 1882 – and by 1932, Southland had 80 dairy factories.

As for the settlers, between 1860 and 1863 more Scots left their homeland for New Zealand than for any other destination. In 1864 the Scottish-born accounted for nearly one fifth of the non-Māori population, with a strong concentration in the southern provinces of the South Island. In 1871 they made up about a third of the total population in Otago and Southland, with Lowlanders predominating.

The economic and cultural influence of the Scottish settlers remains strong today throughout New Zealand. The landscape of southern New Zealand is thickly sown with Scottish names like Clyde, Invercargill and Dunedin. And by way of a more direct example relating to the Baird family, the little settlement of Otautau, (formerly in Wallace County), Southland has both Sorn and Katrine Streets.

Red hair and Scottish surnames remain extremely common, with Burns and Baird being well represented - and Wellington is the only English-speaking city that I know where Macdonalds outnumber Johnsons in the phone book. Furthermore, the Lallans ‘Soond o Scots’ still touches everyday speech in Southland and Otago where the burred rolling ‘r’ is still sometimes a feature of speech. Following her grandfather, my mother-in-law still greets visitors with ‘How would ye be?’ and talks of her ‘wee’ grandchildren.

As for Thornbury, where Andrew settled initially, the 1906 Cyclopedia of New Zealand notes that it ‘is the name of a rich agricultural district which stands at an elevation of only fifteen feet above the level of the sea, and is twenty miles from Invercargill and six miles from Riverton, with the district having a population of 262 in 1901’.

The township had been founded by pioneer settlers Matthew Instone and Robert Foster and it was named by Robert Foster after his wife's birthplace, the market town of Thornbury, in Gloucestershire, England. And there we have a merging of the Scottish and New Zealand histories, with Andrew Baird marrying Robert Foster’s daughter Hannah Maria on 16th December 1891.

Somewhat to the discomfort of my wife, this establishes that she also has English forbears – in the persons of Robert Foster who had been born in Lancashire and Helen Matilda Hopton (sometimes referred to as Ellen but actually registered only as Matilda) who he had married in Australia. The Hoptons it seems had had a pub in Thornbury but went bust - maybe they drank all the profits!

There is some Celtic redemption though as Andrew’s son Hugh Charles Leslie Baird laid aside some Presbyterian prejudices for a spirited and fine-looking bride in the form of Edna Mary Shaw. Edna was the daughter of John Thomas Shaw (1879-1946 born Taieri - whose parents were Samuel Shaw and Mary Woodcroft). Edna’s mother was Mary Beatrice Deegan (1879-1958 born Riverton) whose clearly Irish forbears Edward Deegan and Kate McCarthy married in New Zealand 1875.

For all the old country prejudices against their neighbouring nationals, I hazard that Robert Burns would have been very proud of the Tree of Liberty planted in New Zealand under the Union Jack and Southern Cross:

"Let Britain boast her hardy oak,
Her poplar and her pine, man,
Auld Britain ance could crack her joke,
And o'er her neighbours shine, man,
But seek the forest round and round,
And soon 'twill be agreed, man,
That sic a tree can not be found,
Twixt London and the Tweed, man.

"Without this tree, alake this life
Is but a vale o' woe, man;
A scene o' sorrow mixed wi' strife,
Nae real joys we know, man,
We labour soon, we labour late,
To feed the titled knave, man;
And a'the comfort we're to get
Is that ayont the grave, man.

"Wi' plenty o' sic trees, I trow,
The warld would live in peace, man;
The sword would help to mak a plough,
The din o' war wad cease man.
Like brethren wi' a common cause,
We'd on each other smile, man;
And equal rights and equal laws
Wad gladden every isle, man.

"Wae worth the loon wha wadna eat
Sic halesome dainty cheer, man;
I'd gie my shoon frae aff my feet,
To taste sic fruit, I swear, man.
Syne let us pray, auld England may
Sure plant this far-famed tree, man;
And blythe we'll sing, and hail the day
That gave us liberty, man."



Monday, June 13, 2011

A Golden Age of Wifedom and Motherhood in the USA – and its provenance



PURITAN PATRIARCHY

In my previous post, I touched on the question of whether there was ever a golden age in the history of the USA, within which women were held to occupy a “nobler sphere” than men’s “bank-note” world.

And with respect to Sophia Hawthorne’s response to her mother in the 1850s that she did not share her concerns about improving the rights of women, because wives already exerted “a power which no king or conqueror can cope with”, I suggested tongue-in-cheek that this statement was never meant to apply to American women in general and that Sophia’s comment owes much her experiences living in North West England during the period that her husband Nathaniel was the US Consul in Liverpool.

It was an easy pitch to go on to try to claim that American women, as the daughters of the Mayflower, had always been more relatively oppressed than their English cousins. The more so that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ lays bare the ‘morbid intensity’ of Puritan preoccupations with sin, evil and guilt and their interweaving with male perceptions of feminine innocence and powerlessness.

The Scarlet Letter which is set in the period 1642-1649, has also been viewed as a retelling of the loss of Paradise because it similarly links innocence - sin – expulsion – suffering – and redemption through mortification.

Clearly, Hawthorne was well-place to tell the story, being a direct descendant of John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials (1692-1693).

And if we need contemporary validation, we need go no further than John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ which embroils itself in the same bitter puritanical pottage:

‘O fairest of Creation, last and best
Of all Gods works, Creature in whom excell'd
Whatever can to sight or thought be formd,
Holy, divine, good, amiable, or sweet!

‘How art thou lost, how on a sudden lost,
Defac't, deflourd, and now to Death devote?
Rather how hast thou yeelded to transgress
The strict forbiddance, how to violate
The sacred Fruit forbidd'n! som cursed fraud
Of Enemie hath beguil'd thee, yet unknown,
And mee with thee hath ruind, for with thee
Certain my resolution is to Die;

How can I live without thee, how forgoe
Thy sweet Converse and Love so dearly joyn'd,
To live again in these wilde Woods forlorn?

These are the sad and bitter words of a sad and bitter man.

Having lost any opportunity for advancement in public service and facing persecution following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, and having lost his loved second wife, Milton was left blind and plagued by three unruly daughters.

The three girls “on whom he ought now to have been able principally to depend, were his most serious domestic trouble. The poor motherless girls, the eldest in her seventeenth year in 1662, the second in her fifteenth and the youngest in her eleventh, had grown up, in their father’s blindness and too great self-absorption, ill-looked-after and but poorly educated; and the result now appeared.

They “made nothing of neglecting him “; they rebelled against the drudgery of reading to him or otherwise attending on him; they “did combine together and counsel his maid-servant to cheat him in her marketing's” - they actually “had made away some of his books, and would have sold the rest.”

But as Dr Samuel Johnson commented, there was a strong case that Milton only had himself to blame for his predicament:

"It has been observed, that they who most loudly clamour for liberty do not most liberally grant it. What we know of Milton's character, in domestick relations, is, that he was severe and arbitrary. His family consisted of women; and there appears in his books something like a Turkish contempt of females, as subordinate and inferiour beings.

That his own daughters might not break the ranks, he suffered them to be depressed by a mean and penurious education. He thought women made only for obedience, and man only for rebellion."

ENTER A CHESHIRE WENCH

But as for many of us, Milton must have reflected in his later years that ‘life would be pretty terrible if we only got what we deserve’. He was enduringly fortunate that his friend Dr Nathan Paget (an eminent physician who was originally from Stockport, Cheshire) introduced him to his relative Elizabeth Minshull who became his third wife.

She was the daughter of a yeoman farmer from Wistaston in South Cheshire – in fact Elizabeth and I were both born in the same hamlet, within the village bounds, Wells Green.

Elizabeth was 24 years old when they married in London on 24 February 1663. John was 31 years older, blind and had three daughters from a previous marriage, but they were married for over 11 years until he died on 8 November 1674.

"A genteel person, a peaceful and agreeable woman," says Aubrey, who knew her.

‘She was pretty, and had golden hair, which one connects pleasantly with the late sunshine she brought into Milton's life. She sang to his accompaniment on the organ and bass-viol, but is not recorded to have read or written for him; the only direct testimony we have of her care of him is his verbal acknowledgment of her attention to his creature comforts.

Yet Aubrey's memoranda show that she could talk with her husband about Hobbes, and she treasured the letters he had received from distinguished foreigners. At the time of their marriage Milton was living in Jewin Street, Aldersgate, from which he soon afterwards removed to Artillery Walk, Bunhill Fields, their last residence."

As a widow, Elizabeth later returned to Cheshire no later than 1681, living until 1727.

After residing some years in London she retired to Nantwich, Cheshire in 1681, where ‘divers glimpses’ reveal her as leading the decent existence of a poor but comfortable gentlewoman as late as August or September, 1727.

On her death, the inventory of her effects, amounted to £38 8s. 4d. and included: "Mr. Milton's pictures and coat of arms, valued at ten guineas" and "two Books of Paradise," valued at ten shillings.

Well, that’s that, you may say – this time you have really lost yourself in lanes of your boyhood – let’s see how you get back from here to American Womanhood!

ARE YOU NOT ASHAMED TO WALK THUS BETWEEN TWO YOUNG MEN?

Well, it is really not so hard – Elizabeth Minshull was a Quaker.

And, as I pointed out in my article of 8th March ‘Chain Migration from Rural Cheshire to Chester County, Pennsylvania in the 1700s’, the Cheshire Quakers took an important role in the early settlement of Pennsylvania.

In fact there are records for 1663 of a Robert Vernon (22) marrying an Elinor Minshull (15) in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Both bride and groom had been born in Cheshire.

It is highly likely that Elinor and Elizabeth were close relatives.

But there was a world of difference between Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

As a Quaker historian comments:

‘I have noticed in my years that the more uncertain one is in their unbeliefs, the more threatening opposing beliefs are. Many Puritans left England in an earlier age to escape persecution, fleeing to the American colonies. It is tragic that when the Quaker faith arose, the Puritans were the most violent in opposition.

‘I suggest that their faith, based on an extremely rigid outward observance of rules within the Bible, was so fragile, that when the Truth appeared with the Quakers, they were the most frightened. Therefore they reacted in desperation to put out the Light that said their faith was on the sandy bottom, ready to be washed away by the first storm. They viciously persecuted the Quakers and anyone who dared care for them.

‘The Puritans of New England, specifically Connecticut and Massachusetts, exceeded the persecutions that the Quakers experienced in England, principally by hanging three Quaker men and one Quaker woman. Twenty-three other Quakers were scheduled to die by hanging before the King of England intervened.

‘One would think that the Puritans, after escaping persecutions themselves by fleeing to New England, would have been more tolerant. But, as you will see, their self-righteous spirit, viciously dealt with all conflicting religious opinions; and, since the Quakers were far more convicting than any other sect, with their non-traditional doctrines, they were most brutally persecuted.

One of the main issues between the Puritans and the Quakers was their treatment of women. From the start, Quaker women were allowed to speak at meetings, preach to crowds and even travel alone.

This led to the execution of Mary Dyer in Boston in 1656.

In the previous year the General Court of Plymouth had issued a proclamation denouncing Quakers for "publishing dangerous and horrid tracts," and declaring that any convicted of holding their views should be banished from the colony under pain of death.

‘In obedience to this law four persons were ordered to leave. They were William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, William Leddra, and Mary Dyer, who had "come to Boston to labor for their Lord." Following their decision to return from Salem, William, Mary and Marmaduke were arrested.

‘On the day appointed for their execution a band of two hundred armed men, besides many horsemen, were called out to escort these harmless, unarmed Quakers to the gallows. The prisoners were placed in the center with a drummer next to them, who was ordered to make noise enough to drown their voices, if they attempted to speak to the crowds which followed them. The prisoners themselves were at peace.

‘Observing that Mary Dyer walked between her condemned companions, coarsely and tauntingly said to her:

"Are you not ashamed to walk thus between two young men?"

"No,” answered Mary Dyer, to the repulsive observation, "this is to me an hour of the greatest joy I ever had in this world”.

‘We are told "they went with great cheerfulness, as to an everlasting wedding feast." The men were hung first, and then Mary Dyer ascended the scaffold, but as the rope was placed about her neck a cry was heard: "She is reprieved." Her son had made such earnest intercession that her life was granted him on condition she should leave the colony at once.

‘However, Mary returned to Boston in the spring of 1656 and she was immediately sentenced to death by Governor Endicott. When her life was again proffered, before the hanging, on condition she should leave Boston forever, she replied, "No, I cannot promise. In obedience to the will of the Lord I came, and in His will I abide, faithful unto death."



Six years later Alice Ambrose, Mary Tomkins and Ann Coleman were arrested during their missionary work, under the following warrant:

‘To the Constables of Dover, Hampton, Salisbury, Newbury, Rowley, Ipswich, Wenham, Lynn, Boston, Roxbury, Dedhara, and until these vagabond Quakers are carried out of this jurisdiction.

‘You and every of you are required, in the king's name, to take these vagabond Quakers, Ann Coleman, Mary Tomkins, and Alice Ambrose, and make them fast to the cart's tail, and driving the cart through your several towns, to whip them on their backs, not exceeding ten stripes each on each of them, in each town, and so convey them from constable to constable, until they come out of this jurisdiction, as you will answer it at your peril; and this shall be your warrant.

‘At Dover, dated Dec. 22nd, 1662

'Per me, Richard Walden

Consistent with the warrant, the three young women were stripped naked from the middle up and whipped. Later in Hampton, the constable William Fifield told the women to take off all their clothes. When they refused, he stripped them stark naked and lashed them himself.

But ‘the condition of the prisoners as they passed through Salisbury, fastened with ropes to the cart's tail with their "torn bodies and weary steps," excited the sympathies of the spectators; and one of the inhabitants, after persuading the constable to pass the prisoners and the warrant into his hands as deputy, immediately gave them their liberty’.

When the three young women returned to Massachusetts from Maine, they were subjected to further violence. They were dragged head down through snow and across rocks and tree stumps and Alice was dragged along a freezing river behind a canoe and made to swim for her life. When she was providentially spared, her clothes were frozen as ‘hard as boards’.


THE DOMESTICITY OF FRIENDS

So there you have it – some early American women who really did exert “a power which no king or conqueror could cope with” but they were Quakers not Puritans.

But still, it seems that we are a way short of being able to establish Cheshire and North West England as the provenance of at least one strand of gritty early feminism in the USA. That is unless you are unprepared to take into account the assessment made by Barry Levy in his book ‘Quakers and the American Family: British Settlement in the Delaware Valley’ (1988).

Apparently Levy argues that American domesticity did not originate among 19th Century New Englanders but among middling, north-western British Quakers who spiritualized family life and created an ideology of domesticity in the 17th Century. Habitually poor, according to Levy, ‘north-western middling families from areas like Wales and Cheshire could ‘keep some measure of independence by owning a small business or by securely occupying a piece of land’ and pooling male and female talents and energies.

Consequently, they thrived (like my Darlington Family relatives who were farmers from near Church Minshull, Cheshire) when they settled in the Radnor and Chester areas just west of Philadelphia.

According to reviewers, Levy argues that the Quakers brought a new vision of family and social life to America -- one that contrasted sharply with the harsh, formal world of the New England Puritans. The Quakers stressed affection, friendship and hospitality, the importance of women in the home, and the value of self-disciplined, non-coercive childrearing. This book explains how and why the Quakers have had such a profound cultural impact on America and what the Quakers' experience with their own radical family system tells us about American families.

I might add that it likely was not just a matter of being from the middling sort and coping with 'living on a cinder tip'. There were cultural issues as well - women had always had a higher status and greater independence in the North West.

As for John Milton, back in England, it seems that he knew where his bread was being buttered towards the end of his life. He didn’t stop being horrid to his daughters but he gave up rigid religiosity and went quiet about his beliefs, accepting the reality that every man can really be his own priest. After all, he had a gradely Cheshire wench to fuss him and fother him.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sophia Hawthorne - US Feminist touched by Cartimandua's Daughters



A TERMAGANT DOVE?

In post of the 26th of May, I commented, among other things, on Stephanie Coontz’s recent article on the shifting memes surrounding wifedom and motherhood. In this she appeared to suggest that American women had taken a fall in both status and grace since a supposed golden age in the 1840s.

While I am not qualified to assess the quality of her feminist rhetoric, I am bothered by her grasp of history and place.

In support of her early Victorian Garden of Even, Stephanie quotes Sophia Hawthorne, the wife of novelist Nathaniel, who apparently told her mother that she did not share her concerns about improving the rights of women, because wives already exerted “a power which no king or conqueror can cope with.”

I put forward the challenge that this statement was never meant to apply to American women in general and that Sophia’s comment owes much to her experience in North West England.

Sophia (born Sophia Amelia Peabody born Massachusetts, 1809) was the sickly child of a dentist, who toyed with hypochondria in later life. Mostly bedridden, before she met her beau, her headaches fortunately abated rather than increased after her marriage to Nathaniel. They seem to have been a devoted couple. Naturally somewhat shy, they both appreciated each others’ quiet ways.

Nathaniel wrote of his Dove: ‘she is, in the strictest sense, my sole companion; and I need no other—there is no vacancy in my mind, any more than in my heart... Thank God that I suffice for her boundless heart!"

She was equally gushing: "I am always so dazzled and bewildered with the richness, the depth, the ... jewels of beauty in his productions that I am always looking forward to a second reading where I can ponder and muse and fully take in the miraculous wealth of thoughts".

So the devoted Dove seems an unlikely surrogate king or conqueror of males.

At least until she went to live in Liverpool, Lancashire – which she did in 1853, when Nathaniel was appointed US Consul.

BELLIGERENT PROPENSITIES

The Hawthornes rented an elegant red sandstone villa (26 Rock Park) at Rock Ferry in Cheshire that overlooked the Mersey Estuary. Every morning Nathaniel would take the ferry to work in the Washington Building of the Goree Piazza, Strand, Liverpool.

For recreation, the family explored Chester, dining (like Jonathan Swift) at the Yacht Inn in Watergate Street, and North Wales where Nathaniel was particularly taken with Conway Castle.

[Incidentally, both 25 Rock Park and the Yacht Inn have been demolished to make way for road projects – while Conway Castle now has a motorway beneath it].

But Nathaniel also liked the odd walk on the wild side, observing English life. And what he observed about the Lancashire Lasses of the lower orders in the back streets is interesting;

‘The women and children greatly preponderate in such places; the men probably wandering abroad in quest of that daily miracle, a dinner and a drink, or perhaps slumbering in the daylight that they may the better follow out their cat-like rambles through the dark.

‘Here are women with young figures, but old, wrinkled, yellow faces, fanned and blear-eyed with the smoke which they cannot spare from their scanty fires,--it being too precious for its warmth to be swallowed by the chimney.

'Some of them sit on the doorsteps, nursing their unwashed babies at bosoms which we will glance aside from, for the sake of our mothers and all womanhood, because the fairest spectacle is here the foulest.



‘I am persuaded, however, that there were laws of intercourse which they never violated,--a code of the cellar, the garret, the common staircase, the doorstep, and the pavement, which perhaps had as deep a foundation in natural fitness as the code of the drawing-room.

‘Yet again I doubt whether I may not have been uttering folly in the last two sentences, when I reflect how rude and rough these specimens of feminine character generally were. They had a readiness with their hands that reminded me of Molly Seagrim and other heroines in Fielding's novels.

‘For example, I have seen a woman meet a man in the street, and, for no reason perceptible to me, suddenly clutch him by the hair and cuff his ears,--an infliction which he bore with exemplary patience, only snatching the very earliest opportunity to take to his heels.

‘Where a sharp tongue will not serve the purpose, they trust to the sharpness of their finger-nails, or incarnate a whole vocabulary of vituperative words in a resounding slap, or the downright blow of a doubled fist.

‘All English people, I imagine, are influenced in a far greater degree than ourselves by this simple and honest tendency, in cases of disagreement, to batter one another's persons; and whoever has seen a crowd of English ladies (for instance, at the door of the Sistine Chapel, in Holy Week) will be satisfied that their belligerent propensities are kept in abeyance only by a merciless rigor on the part of society.

‘It requires a vast deal of refinement to spiritualize their large physical endowments’.

So we come back to women that would have excited the imagination of Stephanie Coontz – but they are not in Salem or Boston – they are in Toxteth and Bootle.

And, among the homely red sandstone facades of Rock Ferry, something obviously turned in the delicate young lady from New England, as she fought the belligerent propensities of her Old English female cousins. Sophia the Dove became No Nonsense Sofie.

I am not in the least surprised – as I have discussed on other occasions, the women of the North West of England are a formidable lot.

After they had returned to the States, Nathaniel swapped coffee for tea, buckled and wisely admitted:

"She is the most sensible woman I ever knew in my life, much superior to me in general talent, and of fine cultivation."

Two years later Nathaniel who had been preternaturally active, took sick and died and, after she had tidied up her affairs, Sophia moved back to England with her three children.


For more on Cartimandua, the lusty, devious and tyrannical Queen of the Brigantes under the Romans - the epitome of powerful womanhood in North Western England - see my post of Saturday, June 5, 2010 'Sally Darlington & the Kinseys of Burwardsley, Cheshire'

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mother Country – Revisiting Arthur, Lydia and D.H. Lawrence



YEARNINGS AND CLOSING DOORS

Any attempt on my part to explore the cord that links motherhood and manhood is bound to recall the emotional landscape of my youth, South Cheshire in the 1950s – and its literary distant cousin the South Nottinghamshire of the 1890s.

Like David Lawrence, I caught sparks under the skies from weathered, good-humoured callous-handed sons of toil, only to be nagged to take off my boots when I came inside, hang up my cap and let glow turn grey among the respectability of tea cups, cakes and doilies in the front parlour or, in our case, the ‘Green Room’.

Any inner life it seemed was feminine.

D.H. Lawrence’s "country of my heart" was a mosaic of mining villages and farmland. He would walk out of Eastwood to visit Hagg's Farm, where he developed a friendship with the farmer’s daughter Jessie Chambers.

I was a farmer’s boy (or rather farmer’s step son) who sometimes went to the open market the nearby salt town Winsford, and who attended the delivery of a Christmas chicken to an impoverished but artistic great aunt in the back street terraces of industrial Crewe.

Lawrence attended Beauvale Board School from 1891 until 1898, becoming the first local pupil to win a County Council scholarship to Nottingham High School . He left in 1901. I attended Calveley County Primary School from 1949 until 1955, becoming the first pupil to pass the ’11 Plus’ and win a place at the King’s School, Chester.

Reading Lawrence, I can easily find my way around his landscapes – they are family familiar.

As for pairing off:

Needles and pins
Needles and pins
When a Man marries
His Trouble begins.

Young miner - young farmer, beware the falling latch because it’s a smart lad as can take the sugar but slip the bridle:

‘I, the man with the red scarf,
Will give thee what I have, this last week's earnings.
Take them, and buy thee a silver ring
And wed me, to ease my yearnings.

For the rest, when thou art wedded
I'll wet my brow for thee
With sweat, I'll enter a house for thy sake,
Thou shalt shut doors on me’.

DAVID, ARTHUR AND JOHN LAWRENCE

Lawrence’s father, Arthur is found in the 1851 Census as the John Arthur, (3) the eldest son of a tailor, John Lawrence, who had been born in Birmingham around 1817. Lawrence’s grandmother Louisa (33) had been born in Hinckley, Leicestershire. The family lived in the village of Old Brinsley, Greasley, Nottinghamshire and can be traced there in successive censuses, with John retaining his trade as a tailor. Both Arthur John (as he is better known) and his younger brother James became coalminers.

Arthur married Lydia in late 1875. In the 1881 Census, they are recorded under the name ‘Laurence’ living at Sutton in Ashfield. Arthur (33) is recorded as a coalminer and at that point Lydia was the mother of two sons, George (4) and William (2).
By 1891, the Lawrence family is shown established in Eastwood / Greasley, with George having already flown the coop.

The children remaining at home were then William (15), Emily (9), David H. (5) and Lettie (2). It is interesting that William was still being supported as a student at the age of 15, unlike many of his peers who would have already ‘gone down the pit’.

Clearly the values of an independent artisan tailor are not necessarily those of the institutionalized working class aristocracy of the miners, so there may well have been some tension between D.H.L’s father Arthur and his grandfather John. Maybe Arthur played up his rough, local image a bit, as the son of a newcomer to Nottinghamshire who practised a fairly genteel trade.

So Arthur was likely desperate to be seen as a real man – and to all accounts he succeeded. Honest, hardworking and a good companion, he was much liked among his peers, though prone to heavy drinking and the odd bout of fisticuffs. But, having taken up the local masculine culture, he occasionally also stood up against and even locked out his hard to please a strident wife who claimed that she had married below her rightful expectations.

In an early version of Sons and Lovers, under the working title ‘Paul Morel’, Lawrence gives his father his due as a story-teller, prankster and well-regarded workman.

For example, he is shown making the family rock with laughter by imitating the snuffling of a pit pony for tobacco in the miners’ pockets.

And he delights the children by bringing them a wild baby rabbit which he has found on his way home across the fields; and he gently contradicts his wife when she protests that it will simply pine and die.

‘At tea-time and breakfast it became the custom to have ‘Adolphus’ on the table. Mrs Morel objected, but Paul persuaded her.

“Well, mother, don't you want to see him, how pretty he is? Just look!”

'Adolphus, the friskiest atom, would give a wild start at the jam, turn, dart six inches, then reconsider himself. He climbed with his fore-feet on the rim of the sugar basin, and helped himself to a lump...’

But it was to be decades before Lawrence could break away from refinement and again portray a gentle but playful full-grown man who whispered into the same sweet spot both natural creatures and women.

In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, there is a scene that illustrates this maturity. Mellors, as part of his game-keeping duties is brooding pheasant chicks under domestic hens and Connie is drawn to the coops at his cottage, by the hatchlings and his husbandry:

‘It was late, and she fled across the park like one who fears to be called back. The sun was setting rosy as she entered the wood, but she pressed on among the flowers. The light would last long overhead.

‘She arrived at the clearing flushed and semi-conscious. The keeper was there, in his shirt-sleeves, just closing up the coops for the night, so the little occupants would be safe. But still one little trio was pattering about on tiny feet, alert drab mites, under the straw shelter, refusing to be called in by the anxious mother.

“I had to come and see the chickens!” she said, panting, glancing shyly at the keeper, almost unaware of him. “Are there any more?”

“Thurty-six so far!” he said. “Not bad!”

‘He too took a curious pleasure in watching the young things come out.

‘Connie crouched in front of the last coop. The three chicks had run in. But still their cheeky heads came poking sharply through the yellow feathers, then withdrawing, then only one beady little head eyeing forth from the vast mother-body.

“I'd love to touch them,” she said, putting her lingers gingerly through the bars of the coop. But the mother-hen pecked at her hand fiercely, and Connie drew back startled and frightened.

“How she pecks at me! She hates me!” she said in a wondering voice. “But I wouldn't hurt them!”

The man standing above her laughed, and crouched down beside her, knees apart, and put his hand with quiet confidence slowly into the coop. The old hen pecked at him, but not so savagely. And slowly, softly, with sure gentle lingers, he felt among the old bird's feathers and drew out a faintly-peeping chick in his closed hand.

“There!” he said, holding out his hand to her. She took the little drab thing between her hands, and there it stood, on its impossible little stalks of legs, its atom of balancing life trembling through its almost weightless feet into Connie's hands.

But it lifted its handsome, clean-shaped little head boldly, and looked sharply round, and gave a little `peep'. “So adorable! So cheeky!” she said softly.’

LYDIA

The conventional assessments still credit Lawrence’s mother Lydia for his gifts and drive:

‘Lydia was the second daughter of Robert Beardsall and his wife, Lydia Newton of Sneinton. Originally lower middle-class, the Beardsalls had suffered financial disaster in the 1860s and Lydia, in spite of attempts to work as a pupil teacher, had, like her sisters, been forced into employment as a sweated home worker in the lace industry.

But she had had more education than her husband, and passed on to her children an enduring love of books, a religious faith, and a commitment to self-improvement, as well as a profound desire to move out of the working class in which she felt herself trapped.’

This appears to confirm that Lydia’s family were indeed a cut above the Lawrences, though the census records are more ambiguous.

In the 1861 census, Lydia appears as a 9 year old, living with her father George Beardsall (36) and her mother an elder Lydia (32) in Sheerness, on the NE Kent Coalfield. The younger Lydia was the second of four daughters and there was also a one year old son George. As the head of household, George had been born in Nottinghamshire but had moved to Kent to become a better remunerated colliery ‘Engine Smith’.

By 1871, the family was back in Nottinghamshire, Lydia was 19 years old and the eldest daughter Emma had left home. However, there were still 7 children in the family house, with the youngest being one month old Herbert. As for George, he is described as an ‘Engine Fitter (superannuated)’.

One assumes then that he had met with an accident at work, leaving his family of nine dependent on a small pension. To help with the now straightened finances, Lawrence’s mother Lydia had taken up employment as a Lace Drawer.

So Lydia’s disappointments in life began at an early age when her father was laid off sick. Not surprisingly, she resented risky dependence on male earnings and having to become, as a young girl, a breadwinner for a large family of siblings. Marrying a relatively high earning young miner as a 24 year old provided an out.

Ever pining for a better life, she took on her sons as protégées, gradually working her way down from the oldest to the youngest. And the youngest provided the best ground to till.

Scrawny and prone to illness, David preferred the company of girls to boys at school and he was bullied wimp. No doubt, he would have been described locally as a ‘mardy custard’ or sissy - what we in New Zealand would now call a ‘girl’s blouse’.

It got worse. A contemporary George Neville recalled that, in his first job, as a tidily-dressed and stuck-up young clerk at Haywood’s Surgical Appliance Factory in Nottingham, D.H. had been cornered in a basement storeroom by ‘devilish coarse, strange wild creatures’ of the feminine variety, who took him down a peg by checking his credentials. Apparently this led to a severe bout of pneumonia so it must have got down to basics.

This was even more fertile soil for suffocating mother love. Not surprisingly, as a writer Lawrence is generally seen as sex-obsessed and neurotic – a sort of worked example of oedipal drives and homoerotic tendencies.

To me though, he’s largely a lad who needed some travel and a few accommodating girl friends to steer him away from the shoals on the dark side of his relationship with his mother.

BREAKING AWAY

Clearly, Lydia Lawrence and I would have not had that much in common – given her preference to ‘sit perfectly at peace, in a quiet room, taking tea with people all of refined manners’.

More to the point, she appears to have shared with my own mother the notion that, having given birth to a male child, she owned its life.

Her personal drama was rekindled in her son’s birth:

‘Mrs. Morel leaned on the garden gate, looking out, and she lost herself awhile. She did not know what she thought. Except for a slight feeling of sickness, and her consciousness in the child, herself melted out like scent into the shiny, pale air.

After a time the child, too, melted with her in the mixing-pot of moonlight, and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses, all swum together in a kind of swoon.’

Assuming a similar coincidence between parent and offspring, my mother would inquire in the wake of my defeats and or the face of my disasters, ‘Why is this happening to me - what have I bred?’

So mixed and melted or not, I could never write as Lawrence did when Lydia was dying:

‘There has been this kind of bond between me and my mother... We knew each other by instinct... We have been like one, so sensitive to each other that we never needed words. It has been rather terrible and has made me, in some respects, abnormal.’

But as stressed by commentators like Anouchka Grose [No More Silly Love Songs: A Realist’s Guide to Romance (2010)], it is one thing to flag an oedipal footnote to a chapter of one’s life and quite another to assume that it explains the book cover to cover. [And social attitudes change. Doesn’t Jocasta now have to share some responsibility - as a cougar?.

‘The elementary understanding being that “You have to stop trying to be everything for your primary carer, and get on with being something for the rest of the world”.

I believe that myself and that Lawrence came to the same view.

In the words of the novelist Ethel Mannin:

"D. H. Lawrence turned his back in disgust on civilization as we know it and attempted to find uncorrupted life in the Mexican wildernesses. Since his death various little people have written patronizing little articles about him pointing to his limitations, regardless of the fact that in his limitations he was infinitely greater than any of them in their fulfilments.

His preoccupation with sex was a preoccupation with life."

While I too spent a good deal of time at my mother’s death bed, I can confidently claim that our relationship was nowhere near as straightforward as that of Lydia and David.

Quite apart from the added complexities of widowhood, posthumous birth, and remarriage, our differences were a tawdry and bitter affair and our affinities were only recognizable in distortion. I would have loved a memorable moment in final resolution but it never came.

That I too was abnormal as a boy, I never doubted. I was quite literally the mother’s boy of a dead father in another man’s house. And best matriarchal efforts were made to divide and rule, by separating the practical outdoor world of my stepfather from the more bookish world of my own father.

I was under threat, walking a thin line of acceptable masculinity drawn by an unstable woman.

I just had to get away.

So in early 1967, I boarded a train at Crewe Railway Station for Southampton, accompanied by my mother. She was travelling with me to farewell me on my departure for the voyage to Australia. My stepfather had driven us from the farm, appearing unusually taciturn and grim.

As I the train began to pull away, I stood at the carriage window and watched him standing half way up the wide staircase that led down to the platform. Suddenly and totally unexpectedly, he burst into sobbing tears.

Perhaps that is what became so unforgivable to my mother.

Arthur Lawrence died on the 10th September 1924, aged 77. In March, 1924, his son David had left England to establish a community of the like-minded at Taos, New Mexico. My stepfather Horace Darlington died on the 4th August 1968, while I was sleeping under the stars undertaking research in the Northern Territory of Australia. Neither man had their son at hand at the end.

I like to think though that they both would have had few regrets, having done what good fathers can do so well - set their sons on the road to independence.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Exploring the Other Side of Mum


FOR MEN – RISKY EXPLORATIONS OFF THE MAP

As we all know, men are largely mute brutes – the stuff of unresolved feelings, edgy longings and unsatisfactory declarations of commitment. While we have much to say about the exterior world and exalt in action, our inner lives are a mess that is embellished by beer, sport and half-suppressed desires for the last girl who got on the bus.

And that is only the part we can begin to talk about.

Slugs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails after sugar and spice and all things nice.

Well, that’s pretty much what I was brought up to believe during my childhood in the 1950s – by my mother.

She was also fond of quoting the Fifth Commandment: ‘Honour thy father and mother that thy days shall be long in the land that the Lord thy God giveth thee’.

But as she viewed herself effectively as a solo parent, the saying provided her with an unchallengeable mandate.

And if that wasn’t enough, she was capable of imposing considerable psychological duress. Let me quote a relatively uncomplicated example – involving her claim to be able to foretell and even influence the future.

Irked by one of my misdemeanors, she once prophesied my demise in my early 50s. Fortunately, I have survived 15 years beyond this send back date. However, I do not recommend modern parents to predict the deaths of their children – it can cause resentment.

At least some men are prepared to embark on voyages around their fathers but I wouldn’t know where to source sufficient emotional victuals to up anchor and successfully circumnavigate my mum.

But some of the terra incognita that nurtured her can be sketched in using maps drawn by the descendants of the original feminist conquisatadoras.

So I was fascinated to read Stephanie Coontz’s article in the New York Times ‘When we hated Mom’. While Stephanie sees things from a feminist viewpoint, men can re-orientate the chart to get some readings.

Stephanie argues that mothers were held in great esteem 150 years ago, with society putting them on a pedestal and popular culture being filled with paeans to their self-sacrifice and virtue.

She quotes Sophia the wife of the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, who told her mother that she did not share her concerns about improving the rights of women, because wives already exerted “a power which no king or conqueror can cope with.”

That sounds like a good place to start.

FREUDIAN SLIPS

But, says Coontz:

‘In the early 20th century, under the influence of Freudianism, Americans began to view public avowals of “Mother Love” as unmanly and redefine what used to be called “uplifting encouragement” as nagging.

'By the 1940s, educators, psychiatrists and popular opinion-makers were assailing the idealization of mothers; in their view, women should stop seeing themselves as guardians of societal and familial morality and content themselves with being, in the self-deprecating words of so many 1960s homemakers, “just a housewife.”

‘Stay-at-home mothers were often portrayed as an even bigger menace to society than career women. In 1942, in his best-selling “Generation of Vipers,” Philip Wylie coined the term “momism” to describe what he claimed was an epidemic of mothers who kept their sons tied to their apron strings, boasted incessantly of their worth and demanded that politicians heed their moralizing.

‘Momism became seen as a threat to the moral fibre of America on a par with communism. In 1945, the psychiatrist Edward Strecher argued that the 2.5 million men rejected or discharged from the Army as unfit during World War II were the product of overly protective mothers.

‘According to the 1947 best seller “Modern Woman: The Lost Sex,” two-thirds of Americans were neurotic, most of them made so by their mothers.

‘Typical of the invective against homemakers in the 1950s and 1960s was a 1957 best seller, “The Crack in the Picture Window,” which described suburban America as a “matriarchal society,” with the average husband “a woman-bossed, inadequate, money-terrified neuter” and the average wife a “nagging slob.”

‘Anti-mom rhetoric was so pervasive that even Friedan recycled some of this ideology in “The Feminine Mystique” — including the repellent and now-discredited notion that overly devoted mothers turned their sons into homosexuals’.

Coontz then goes on to argue that Post-War men retaliated by walling off their wives in suburban Stepfords - bereft of company, help and opportunity.

To deepen the treachery, the boys who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s lost respect for their mothers because the stay-at-home mums of the day were in a state of constant exhaustion, as a result of fathers doing little to help.

Consequently, the Post-War mums were as cranky as rattlesnakes on a barbecue or maritime explorers spiked on a sandbank.

A MAN WHO SLAP-DASHES KIDS AND DISHES CAN’T BE ALL BAD

One problem for women with all this is that men are now sailing some of these seas, having rounded Cape Horn - like it or not.

Some of us men are now honorary mums – also prone to late dressing, rapid tidying before the spouse comes home, and not immune from crankiness about mud on the carpet - we are the stay-at-home dads.

My brother-in-law Dene Allen who looks after 4 kids (with another on the way) is a second case in point.

This year Dene was a finalist in the NZ ‘Freshly Squeezed Talent’ competition screened on New Year’s Eve TV. He‘s a great singer and was one of four Southlanders who made the finals. But he blotted his copy book a bit with his mother-in-law by blurting out on camera that it ‘only took him an hour or so in the morning to tidy up and do the housework after the kids had gone to school’.

I think that a lot of the criticism that he faced from the females in the family came less from horror at his slap-dashery and more from his lack of solidarity in giving the game away.

So, in the light of contemporary male exposure to the dishes, did the Post-War mums really have it so bad at the hands of their husbands and sons?

I suspect not. After all, there were relatively few kids to look after anyway and labour saving devices were rapidly proliferating.

Unless you aspire to be a domestic goddess or godlet, and as long as you are prepared to put in the time training the kids (and sometimes the spouse), a man can knock off a lot of the basics pretty quickly – though I would be the first to admit that Nigella Lawson or Martha Stewart would make a better job of it, with better grace (at least in front of the TV cameras).

So could there be an alternative explanation for the preponderance of ‘nagging slobs’ and ‘overly protective mothers’ in the period 1910 to 1980, before women rose from their beauty sleep?

Perhaps they were bored but only partly stirred – as simple as that. And their unwillingness to cough out the apple bite and lift the thin glass ceiling of their protective mausoleum awaited the kiss of commerce.

That’s part of it at least. By the 1980s the economies of Western Countries had become much more feminine-friendly – and with many more jobs available in the service sectors in warm, well-lit offices a middle class girl could feel at home as well as pull in a sizeable pay packet.

THE FEMINIST NARRATIVE UPDATED

I realize that I have probably raised the ire of my mother’s spectre at this point – along with that of some contemporary harpies, so I’ll let Stephanie Coontz back into the argument:

‘Contrary to myth, “The Feminine Mystique” and feminism did not represent the beginning of the decline of the stay-at-home mother, but a turning point that led to much stronger legal rights and “working conditions” for her.

‘Domestic violence rates have fallen sharply for all wives, employed or not. As late as 1980, approximately 30 percent of wives said their husbands did no housework at all. By 2000, only 16 percent of wives made that statement and almost one-third said their husbands did half of all housework, child care or both.

‘Most researchers agree that these changes were spurred by the entry of wives and mothers into the work force. But full-time homemakers have especially benefited from them.

‘From 1975 to 1998 men married to full-time homemakers increased their contributions to housework as much, proportionally, as men whose wives were employed. And from 1965 to 1995, homemakers decreased their own housework hours more than did wives in dual-earner families. As a result, most stay-at-home mothers now have shorter total workweeks than their husbands.

‘There also seems to have been a significant shift in the relationship between depression and homemaking. Stay-at-home mothers still recount more feelings of loneliness than working mothers.

'But in a new Council on Contemporary Families briefing paper, the sociologists Margaret Usdansky and Rachel A. Gordon report that among mothers of young children, those who were not working and preferred not to have a job had a relatively low risk of depression — about as low as mothers who chose to work and were able to attain high-quality jobs.

‘These findings suggest that it is time to stop arguing over who has things worse or who does things better, stay-at-home mothers or employed mothers. Instead, we should pay attention to women’s preferences and options.

‘Feminism has also fostered increased respect for men’s ability and desire to be involved parents. So we should also pay attention to expanding men’s ability to choose greater involvement in family life, just as we have expanded women’s ability to choose greater involvement in meaningful work.

‘While stay-at-home mothers may not have the aura of saintliness with which they were endowed in the 19th century, it’s indisputable that their status and lives have improved since their supposed heyday in the 1950s’.

IT IS A TRUTH THAT SEEKS UNIVERSAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENT THAT A HOUSE-HUSBAND MAY EXPECT NO COMPLIMENTS FROM HIS MOTHER-IN-LAW ON HIS COOKING

Just a few comments here from me to round things off.

First, as the UK Open University explains, with respect to England, in the period 1775 to 1850, this was an era of hazardous family building during which there was only a slight improvement in child survival. Throughout this period, families averaged at least five live births – but only half of these children survived to the age of 25. And women were dreadfully at risk from childbirth.

It is hardly surprising then that ‘society put them on a pedestal and that popular culture was filled with paeans to their self-sacrifice and virtue’.

Secondly, I somewhat resent the comment that ‘feminism has fostered increased respect for men’s ability and desire to choose greater involvement in family life’. An alternative view is that the rabbits have become bolder now that the foxes have left for work.

Third, I have to wonder briefly how far stay-at-home blokes, like Dene and I, are now eligible to earn potential sainthood serving wafers in the Convent of the Mum?

I don’t think that we should hold our breath for canonization by the feminists.

There is no doubt in my mind that males are the dumber of the two genders but having said that we also try our best to shore up our inadequacies with straightforward inanity and a devil-may-care attitude.

Better that we just take any opportunity that offers to slope off for a pint, chat about the Rugby and ogle the barmaid – halo be damned.

As for my own mother perhaps she was a throw-back to an earlier era – though I find it more likely that she was just a twentieth century manifestation of the more “general power which no king or conqueror can cope with.”

Let’s face it, things haven’t changed that much. It’s about the survival of the fittest – and if a man says a woman looks fit, it just shows that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Peppered Past



MOTHS AND MOTHERS

Like Margaret Drabble who recently published an assessment of the matrilineal genes and memes that she inherited from the family of her mother, Kathleen Marie Bloor, I have come to feel an affinity with a moth.

Ms Drabble has titled her semi-fictional exploration of family history and the cascading intergenerational quirks of its female members, ‘The Peppered Moth’ – presumably because a moth is a moth and a Bloor is a Bloor, even though both may seek to change their spots to fit in.

The novel deals with difficult relationships - between parents and offspring, and between family and a sense of place. Away from the grime and gloom of South Yorkshire, the youngest in the line of ‘Cudworth’ women, Chrissie (Margaret’s self representation), comes to life in a perverse, wicked, rebellious streak, drawn to "lust, adultery and alcohol".

But fighting off the family curse of depression which has darkened the lives of her womenfolk, the fourth generation narrator finds it difficult to avoid a harsh, dismissive, censorious tone in assessing her forbears. In fact, she finds it hard to avoid sounding like her mother. And left to settle in Sheffield once more, no doubt the darkness would come to predominate in adjusting to nature.

So moths and mothers make an interesting counterpoint.

Let’s start by talking about the moths. The Peppered Moth (Biston betularia) is a dowdy, night-flying moth that used to haunt woodland trees in a greyish-white that blended well with lichen-covered bark.

When the early 19th century collectors first identified it, it was a predominantly light-winged with black speckles. But in 1848, a black variant was identified in Manchester that blended in much more effectively with the increasingly soot-stained trees of industrial Northern England.

By 1895, 95% of the Lancashire peppered moths were black – and this dark form then spread across Britain until the lighter form began a resurgence following the 1956 Clean Air Act.

The shift in hues in response to camouflaging and predation was seen by evolutionists as a clear vindication of the theory of natural selection, though disputes arose on the validity of the science and creationists seized the opportunity to argue that, as their had always been lighter and darker forms, proportionality was the only issue.

But Mike Majerus, Professor of Evolution at Cambridge University recently spent seven years repeating the earlier studies on the predation of the peppered moth. He compiled enough visual sightings of birds eating peppered moths to show that, in rural Cambridgeshire, the black form was significantly more likely to be eaten than the peppered now that air pollution had declined.

“The peppered moth story is easy to understand,” he explained, “because it involves things that we are familiar with: vision and predation and birds and moths and pollution and camouflage and lunch and death. That is why the anti-evolution lobby attacks the peppered moth story. They are frightened that too many people will be able to understand.”

Adding: “If the rise and fall of the peppered moth is one of the most visually impacting and easily understood examples of Darwinian evolution in action, it should be taught. After all, it provides the proof of evolution.”

And more recent research by Ilik Saccheri, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Liverpool, UK, and his colleagues has shown that show one mutation from a single ancestor causes increased dark pigment, called melanism, in the typically light-coloured moth.

Saccheri's team used a genetic technique called linkage mapping to search for the gene responsible. A linkage map puts traits in groups according to how often they are passed on to the next generation together, which indicates how close together they sit on a chromosome. The closer the traits are in the genetic sequence, the less likely it is that they will be separated during sex-cell division, and the more likely it is that they will be passed on together.

To make the map, Saccheri and his colleagues twice crossed a dark male moth with a light-coloured female; the result was 132 offspring with varying traits. The traits most often inherited alongside dark coloration were matched up with genes of the silkworm (Bombyx mori) — a closely related moth species with a sequenced genome.

The locations of the genes for the traits pointed to a narrow region on chromosome 17, where the scientists say that a single gene variant is probably responsible for the peppered moth's melanism, although they don't yet know exactly which one it is.

Once the chromosome region was identified, the researchers examined moth samples collected all over Britain between 1925 and 2009. The same group of gene variants huddled in the chromosome region closest to the mutation in the dark moths, providing strong evidence that natural selection had acted recently on an advantageous mutation from one individual. If a mutation had been in the population for a longer time, or had come from multiple individuals, the selection of traits that were inherited together would vary more widely.

"It's not just the one mutation that has been swept through the population, it's that whole chunk of chromosome that has hitch-hiked," says Saccheri.

"It's a big breakthrough as far as peppered moths' industrial melanism is concerned," says Laurence Cook, a retired population geneticist from the University of Manchester, UK. He has been studying the peppered moth since the 1960s. "We've been going on for an awfully long time knowing just the classical Mendelian genetics."

DISAPPEARANCE OF THE SHORROCKS

Like Margaret Drabble, I have Northern English ancestors and a somewhat quarrelsome relationship with my family’s matriarchy. As my mother used to say ‘You can’t kill squitch’ (i.e. invasive couch grass). As if anyone would dare try?

But in my case it is the male-line ydna rather than the female-line mitochondrial dna that is of most interest from a genetic and behavioural point of view. I never knew my father as he was killed in the RAF in 1943 before I was born and, as my mother pretty much turned her back on his family, I grew up knowing very little about the ‘Johnsons’.

But as with the Peppered Moth, genetic techniques have uncovered a story about evolution – the evolution of my Johnsons from the Shorrocks family of Salford. In a similar effort to avoid being conspicuous – my grandfather changed his name when he left the North around 1905 (though oral history confirms that he could not divest himself of his cloth cap and pipe). Regardless, he could not change the genetic signature that he passed on to succeeding generations.

So we can match the darkening of the moth over the 19th century with the history of my family – though in our case, the change of hue and spots was much more abrupt.

As recounted by Derek Antrobus, pre-industrial Salford was ‘a pretty town with orchards, market gardens and homes of quite prosperous people arranged around a street called Greengate where the market square was to be found’. In 1773, its population was less than 5,000 – but this modest, historic town was already growing and my paternal ancestors who moved there from Blackburn were among the early immigrants.

In 1764 William ‘Sharrock’ married Sarah Rix at Prestwich, and a 1797 Trade Directory record William as a Calico-glazier, living Wood Street, Salford. William and Sarah had two sons, Richard (b 1788) and James (b 1793).

By 1801 the population of Salford had reached 29,495 and it was over 40,000 when James married Elizabeth Butterworth in 1815 (as James Shorrocks). The marriage certificate records James as a Brushmanufacturer, and Pigot’s 1821 Trade Directory shows that James and his brother Richard were joint owners of a workshop at 22 New Bailey Street, Salford.

By this time, Salford had become one of the first sparks off the anvil of the Industrial Revolution. Following the opening of the Bridgewater Canal in 1761, which halved the price of coal, and the development of the steam engine and textile machinery, urban growth caught fire, engulfing the old town. As described by a contemporary of James:

‘Houses have now displaced the verdure in all directions, and the pellucid character of the river has been destroyed by chemical refuse, and although the old localities still retain their favourite names – names suggestive of ‘Flora and the countrie green’ – they form so odd an amalgamation with the new streets to which they are wedded that the contrast raises our mirth along with our melancholy.

Wheat Hill has not an ear of corn to bless itself withal; Springfield has lost every trace of the vernal season; Garden Lane, Posy Street, Blossom Street and the Old Orchard lead to anything rather than fruit and flowers. Even Paradise [Vale] and Paradise Hill are shorn of their primeval attractions; and as to the Green Gate that once guarded Salford’s pastures – where shall we look for that?’

Later, by the time my great, great grandfather Walter Shorrocks was recorded as a 15 year old in the 1841 Census, the population of Salford had reached 91,361. And when my great grandfather Robert Edwin Shorrocks was recorded as a 7 year old in the 1861 Census, the population was 148,740 – with Walter living with his wife Ann (nee Collinge) and their three sons at 21 Islington Street, Salford, employing 2 workmen in the brush manufacturing workshop attached to the dwelling.

As contemporary photographs and the comments of Friedrich Engels make it all too clear, by the mid-1800s, the pleasant town known to William and James had become overcrowded and squalid in many areas. New rail connections in 1841 and 1881 and the opening of Salford Quays on the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894 accentuated the process.

By the time my grandfather Harry Shorrocks was recorded a 2 year old in the 1881 Census, (living with his father Robert who managed the brush stocks as a warehouseman and mother Fanny Eliza [nee Mallinson]) the population of Salford had reached 228,822.

It was over 300,000 in the Dirty Old Town when, as a young man Harry turned his back on Salford forever, settling in South London under his new alias Harry ‘Johnson’.

MOTHS AND FATHERS

There are many young people who run away and start afresh. But going further and changing one’s surname is an act that has repercussions beyond the immediate and personal. It affects all those who come later.

It raises possible limitations to our rights of reinvention.

Coming to the end of his life, Harry must have mused that no harm had been done. His three sons had produced what looked like a final total of four grand-daughters and it would have looked as though the Shorrocks name and ancestry were safely moribund. Then I popped up as a posthumous child, just a year before he died in June 1945.

But as the grandson who was cut free from his family history, I take exception to the fact that my father and his brothers and I were forced to fly, so to speak, under false colours.

Then there are the many, many hours of family history research that I spent dredging through the Johnsons in the Censuses looking for brush manufacturers. And the subsequent loss of my adopted brush manufacturing Johnson family of West Ham – and the embarrassing illegitimacy of my relationship with some of their lovely descendants the Bosleys.

So what drove Harry to turn his back on all that he knew and seek anonymity in London? We’ll never know – but we do know that he died as overweight and probably alcohol dependent. And that he had a reputation within my mother’s family as someone who became animated and inappropriate at any Bit of a Do, trying too hard to impress the ladies.

Or another way of putting it is that, like Chrissie the Margaret Drabble self-insert, he had a ‘wicked, rebellious streak, and was drawn to lust, adultery and alcohol’. Come to think of it, that covers some episodes in my own life.

So an independent streak to the caterpillar can be seen later as selfishness and self-indulgence in the post-pupated moth.

Getting back to my mother, on bad days she saw my grandfather rather than my father born again in me – particularly if I was going through a stouter or more exuberant spell. ‘You are just like your grandfather Johnson’ was sure to bring me to heel.

But like so many of the participants in the ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ series, I have found a sense of resolution and affinity in re-establishing my more distant family links. Looking back, something always seemed to be calling me from the past.

And what of my younger boys – are they, like the Peppered Moth, in the process of returning to ancestral type?

This is a hard question. As with any empirical work in the social sciences, it is difficult to avoid the observer intruding on the experiment.

In fact my own role in the story is now centre stage. Looking back over the last 200 years or so from the marriage of James and Elizabeth Shorrocks in 1815 to the present, you have a neat division between a Shorrocks century and a Johnson century – and I have been around for a third of the overall total.

I would like to think that my boys have inherited Shorrocks virtues and avoided Shorrocks vices but the likelihood is that they will see their lives much more in terms of the present day – focussing on reinvention in the light of the genes that I exhibit and the memes that I have spun.

But the family home is now called ‘Shorrocks Hey’ and my younger boys and I sometimes sing a little song going to school in the car based on a Bob Marley classic - ‘I shot the Shorrocks - but I did not shoot the deputy’. And Sam my eight year old has expressed dissatisfaction at being given his mother’s surname and flagged some interest in renaming himself Sam Shorrocks when he gets older.

As for the thirty and twenty-eight year old sons, they have, for the time being, rejected their father’s mutation into a Kiwi and dissolved back into the life of London - perfectly camouflaged.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

North and South - Cat and Mouse



MADFERIT ARR KID

One of the ways in which I have reconciled the different strands of my background over the years is through geography. As the limited oral history of my father’s family suggested that he had been brought up in Salford as Harry Johnson - and my stepfather’s family were long-established in not so distant Cheshire, there was a link there.

As for my mother’s family, although her maternal grandparents were immigrants to Nantwich in Cheshire in the late 19th Century, strong roots had developed such that their offspring regarded themselves as true locals or ‘Dabbers’. And, on the other side, grand-mother Clarke was a Kenyon from Oldham – you can’t get much more North Western than that.

Cheshire of course is a bit dodgy if you want to be a Northern Nationalist. It is on the edge and can equally be counted as part of the Mercian Midlands – it is somewhere between Maryland and Virginia in its standing.

Anyhow, if a prominent Irish Republican who started life as John Edward Drayton Stephenson (born Leytonstone, London, 1928) can reinvent himself as Seán Mac Stíofáin, I don’t think that you can argue too much about the rights and wrongs of my case.

Years back, when I was a lecturer at the University of Bradford, I had a firebrand spell in the Liberal Democrats and gave a wildly implausible speech to the Annual Conference on regionalism and the need for the South to give greater respect to the North – I sat down to resounding whistles and yells of support.

I guess the main reason for the acclamation was that, unlike most of the other speeches, mine was not that boring. And I think that people were genuinely amazed to be told that the Yorkshire and Humberside Region had a GDP that was larger than that of New Zealand.

[Incidentally, modern New Zealand has a population that is larger than that of the free population of the core states of the Southern Confederacy at the onset of the US Civil War – something I’ll pick up in another article].

Anyhow, having spent more than half of my life now in exile, I have largely given up on the possibility of being invited back to the Independence Celebrations in Harrogate.

But I still follow the subject and have been amused at the row that has broken out about the artistic merits and cultural standing of L.S. Lowry. To me, it is really rather simple. He probably wasn’t all that good an artist but he is ours’ – and, chuck, as they say in Cheshire, ‘a cock fights best on his own bank’.

So I’ll let Gandalf lead the charge.

IAN MCKELLEN LEADS CHALLENGE TO TATE OVER L.S. LOWRY ‘EXCLUSION’

[by Mark Wainwright, The Guardian, 17 April 2011]

The Tate has been challenged to put its collection of paintings by LS Lowry up for sale if it intends to continue to exclude them from its London galleries.

The actor Sir Ian McKellen threw down the challenge in a joint attack by leading figures from the art world which questioned whether the "matchstick men painter" has been sidelined as too northern and provincial.

Although many artists from the north of England enjoy metropolitan critical acclaim, including David Hockney and Damien Hirst, none assert the character of northern people and landscape with Lowry's dogged persistence.

"Over the years, silly lies have been thrown around that he was only a Sunday painter, an amateur, untrained and naive," said McKellen, who narrates a highly critical television programme about Lowry's "exclusion" to be screened by ITV1 on Easter Day.

"His popularity needs no official endorsement from the Tate, but it is a shame verging on the iniquitous that foreign visitors to London shouldn't have access to the painter English people like more than most others."

The film sees others line up to condemn the fact that the Tate has shown only one of its 23 Lowrys – Industrial Landscape, painted in 1955 and owned by the gallery for 50 years – and then only briefly.

Noel Gallagher, of the Manchester band Oasis, said: "They're not considered Tateworthy. Or is it just because he is a northerner?"

The controversy reached a crunch point when the Tate was refused permission to copy Industrial Landscape to form part of a temporary mural on the work of landscape artists. Lowry's estate, which has donated much of his unsold work to the Lowry centre at Salford Quays, has made no secret of its irritation at the continued storage of his work.

The Tate denied any deprecation of "northern-ness" in Lowry's work, pointing to its record of establishing Tate Liverpool and supporting new Hepworth Wakefield gallery, which opens next month. Henry Moore, the Yorkshire sculptor and contemporary of Barbara Hepworth, has also been much feted by the gallery, whose founder Sir Henry Tate, the sugar mogul, was one of Lowry's fellow-Lancastrians.

The Tate said it planned to give Lowry space when its galleries are extended in 2013, but Tate Britain's head of displays, Chris Stephens, said in the television programme:

"What makes Lowry so popular is the same thing which stops him being the subject of serious critical attention. What attracts so many is a sort of sentimentality about him. He's a victim of his own fan base."

McKellen said: "If the Tate feels no responsibility to give the art-viewing public their favourite painters to view, perhaps they could let their stash go elsewhere. They could pass them on to a gallery like the Lowry, which shares its visitors' tastes. Or perhaps a touring retrospective, with a twist – the exhibits would be for sale."

NOT MUCH SENTIMENTALITY AT THE TATE



SENTIMENTALITY, SENSIBILITY AND MICKY MOUSE

Of course, Chris Stevens is just the sort of poncey Southerner who we of the flat vowels love to hate.

I looked him up and found his comments on Tate Britain’s 20th Century Memorial by Michael Sandle:

"As you walk into the gallery, the skeleton-ness and the Mickey Mouse-ness and the machine gun are all immediately apparent, and I think the aggressive tone of the piece is obvious even before you properly discern what it is and what it’s about. It packs a visual punch first of all, and then it’s compelling because there’s enough to it that you stop to think, 'what’s going on here?’

It’s a very confrontational sculpture – it really does stop people in their tracks. Well, apart from children, who seem to have an urge to walk straight across it.

I've met Michael Sandle, and he’s very passionate about this piece. He conceived it in response to the Vietnam War, and was originally going to call it ‘Mickey Mouse Machine Gun Monument For Amerika’, but he changed the title to make it more general after learning the extent of British culpability in that conflict. He sees that as a sort of precedent for what happened with Bush and Blair in Iraq.

Changing the title to ‘Twentieth Century Memorial’ makes it much more about a century of conflict. A century of conflict nevertheless dominated by the US – the mouse is unavoidably a symbol of a rotten and decayed America.

I like how Sandle uses the contrast between the materials – the beautiful polish on the gun, the black skeleton and the head. It all works particularly well in a huge space like the Duveen Gallery, with its shifting daylight. He worked on the sculpture over the best part of a decade, casting each part himself. The gun is not simply cast from a gun, because it’s larger than life-size, so he’s cast the individual components in bronze from moulds.

I’m not sure whether we should call Michael a traditionalist or not, but certainly he believes in painting and sculpture as a craft. He’s very hands-on and proud of the fact that this sculpture is hand-cast”.

Well that’s all very well – but how about the Tate commissioning a new work called a ‘Memorial to the Nineteenth Century North of England’?

It could be built up from shuttles shone by underage mill girls and old coal pit machinery plus a Blackpool Pantomime Cat.

Or, heaven knows, it could draw upon some locally painted images of homely stick people dwarfed by a ghastly, ghostly heimat.