Glorious Gloucestershire

I have written about the Gloucestershire poet, FW Harvey before but today I was reminded of him strongly when I visited Hartpury, which is the village where he was born on 26th March 1888. Harvey was a contemporary of the great War Poets, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, Ivor Gurney and Rupert Brooke; indeed he became a close friend of Ivor Gurney and his fellow composer Herbert Howells while he was at King’s School in Gloucester before the First World War.

As I have written in a previous post, Will Harvey fought in the trenches of Flanders in that horrific war and was a prisoner for some time.  As I wandered through the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin in Hartpury on this idyllic afternoon in beautiful Spring sunshine, I couldn’t help but think of him.  How dreadful it must have been for Will and all the other young men to leave their homes and be transported to a living hell in the trenches.  No wonder Will Harvey wrote so fondly of Gloucestershire and the beautiful English countryside, as in this moving poem.

After Long Wandering:
I will go back to Gloucestershire,
To the spot where I was born
To talk at eve with men and women
And song on the roads at morn.
And I’ll sing as I tramp by dusty hedges
Or drink my ale in the shade
How Gloucestershire is the finest home
That the Lord God ever made.

I’ll drink my perry and sing my song
Of home and home again,
Pierced with the old miraculous pleasure 
Keen as sharpest pain;
And if I rise to sing on the morrow
Or if I die in my bed,
‘Tis all the same: I’ll be home again,
And happy alive or dead.

I went to Hartpury to see the Bee Wall or shelter that was moved some years ago from Hartpury College to the graveyard at the village church.  It was in a dreadful state the last time I saw it, but now it has been beautifully restored to its original state.  It is a truly unique structure built by a bee-keeping stonemason named Paul Tuffley in the mid19th century, using  locally quarried Cotswold stone.  The bee shelter was meant to house wicker hives or skeps in which the bees would lay down their honey.  It is incredibly decorative with carvings on both sides.  7.3 metres long, 2.5 metres tall and 75centimetres deep, it has 28 sections or ‘boles’ for the hives or ‘skeps’ to go in.

Today there were just 2 skeps in the boles but there were plenty of bees buzzing around the beautiful churchyard.  According to the Domesday Book, Gloucester paid 12 sesters, or 24lbs, of honey every year to King Edward.  And in 1260 it is recorded that tenants from Hartpury Manor held land in return for payments in honey.  So bee-keeping has been a feature of Gloucestershire life for a very long time, and still is.

I hope you enjoy my photos of the Bee Shelter which I took today and find it as fascinating as I do.

Stained Glass Window in memory of Ivor Gurney, WW1 Composer and Poet of Gloucestershire

Stained Glass Window in memory of Ivor Gurney, WW1 Composer and Poet of Gloucestershire

 

Ivor Gurney Window by Denny 3Ivor Gurney Window by Denny 10

In Gloucester Cathedral there is a new stained glass window created by Tom Denny, which is a memorial to the Gloucestershire poet, Ivor Gurney.  Like Will Harvey, whom I have written about before, he was a pupil and chorister at the Cathedral school before joining the Gloucestershire Regiment to serve in the First World War.  Indeed, they were great friends.  Gurney was a talented musician firstly, but in the thick of war, poetry became his creative outlet.   Like Will Harvey  he survived the war but was drastically changed by it.  So much so that his fragile mental health was totally destroyed, and he spent many years in a mental asylum where he eventually died before he was 50.  Gurney is buried at Twigworth, where his gravestone commemorates him as ‘poet composer of the Severn and Somme’.

Gurney’s poetry is beautiful and reflects his love for the Cotswolds, the countryside and the beauty of nature.  I’d like to share 2 of them with you that touch me deeply for different reasons.

Firstly, To His Love which is a poem thought to be written by Ivor Gurney when he thought his friend Will Harvey had been killed.

To His Love’

He’s gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswolds
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn River
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now…
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers-
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.

The second is The Bugle, written after Gurney returned from the war, a sadder and wiser man.  I include it as my grandfather was a bugler in WW1, and also because it speaks to me loudly of how ordinary life and commerce still goes on while soldiers suffer and die ‘out of sight, and out of mind.’ 

The Bugle

High over London
Victory floats
And high, high, high,
Harsh bugle notes
Rend and embronze the air.
Triumph is there
With sombre sunbeams mixed of Autumn rare.
Over and over the loud brass makes its cry,
Summons to exultancy
Of past in Victory.
Yet in the grey street women void of grace
Chatter of trifles,
Hurry to barter, wander aimlessly
The heedless town,
Men lose their souls in care of business,
As men had not been mown
Like corn swathes East of Ypres or the Somme
Never again home
Or beauty most beloved to see, for that
London Town might still be busy at
Its sordid cares
Traffic of wares.
O Town, O Town
In soldiers’ faces one might see the fear
That once again they should be called to bear
Arms, and to save England from her own.

There are many learned websites with information about Ivor Gurney, but my wish today is simply to share the beauty and poignancy of the new window and explain a little of its background.

Ivor Gurney Window by Denny 2

There are 8 lights or panes overall and each reflects something from the life and writing of Ivor Gurney.  The notes are a precis of those that appear in the Cathedral by the window.

Light 1 ~ Glimmering Dusk ~ a figure walks at dusk in a Vale landscape.  there are dark pools of rain on the white road and May Hill can be seen in the distance.

Windows 1 & 2

Light 2 ~ The Stone Breaker ~ In Flanders a chance encounter with some road menders reminds Gurney of a much earlier meeting (“Oh years ago and near forgot”), in the fresh beauty of a summer’s early morning, in a landscape of Vale orchards.

Light 3 ~ Brimscombe ~ Gurney remembers a night-time walk through the fir trees of the steep-sided Brimscombe valley near Stroud.  The “pure clemency” of the moment enables him to forget the “blackness and pain” of France.

Windows 3 & 4

Light 4 ~ Severn Meadows ~This was written in March 1917 at Caulaincourt.  As the sun sets over Severn meadows, a figure, in the shadow of a willow, looks back at the river and the willows.

Light 5 ~ Pain ~ Gurney recalls the grey-white Somme battlefield.

“Pain, pain continual; pain unending;….

Grey monotony lending

Weight to the grey skies, grey mud where goes

An army of grey bedraggled scarecrows in rows

Careless at last of cruellest Fate-sending.

Seeing pitiful eyes of men foredone,

Or horses shot, too tired to merely stir,

Dying in shell-holes both, slain by the mud.

…………………………………….

The amazed heart cries out to God.

Windows 5 & 6

Light 6 ~ To His Love ~ Probably drafted on the Somme battlefield, Gurney reacts to the news (false as it turns out) that his great friend, the poet Will Harvey, is presumed killed.  A couple walk on the Cotswold hills as their dead friend lies among the violets.

Light 7 ~ To God ~ In the intense suffering from mental illness, surely aggravated by his experiences on the battlefields, Gurney cries out for death, “I am praying for death, death, death”.

Windows 7 & 8

Light 8 ~ Song and Pain ~ A more optimistic end to the window as a figure emerges from an understanding of pain to enter “The House of Joy”.

As I stood and gazed at these incredibly beautiful but harrowing windows, there were people around me moved to tears by what Gurney had seen and suffered.  Tom Denny is a wonderful artist. He has captured and honoured Gurney’s genius, his love of Gloucestershire, and his suffering in that dreadful war and in his mental distress.

http://wp.me/p2gGsd-153

https://wordpress.com/post/heavenhappens.me/4977

http://www.ivorgurney.org.uk/biography.htm

http://movehimintothesun.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/to-his-love-ivor-gurney/

Pop, Poets and Plays

Community Choir at Tuckwell

Community Choir at Tuckwell

It’s been quite a cultural summer so far for me in the Cotswolds. I sang in a super concert at the local open air theatre, which was amazing. There were 150 of us aged from 5 to 90 singing together in the community choir. Sometimes we split up and sang in individual choirs, and we sang such a variety of songs. It was great to listen to the other choirs, especially the children. The setting was magical. We were in a dell surrounded on 3 sides by trees and with a stream running behind. On the fourth side was a tiered seating area. All the trees were sparkling with lights and there were candles along the paths and down the steps. The theme for dress was ‘festival’ so there were flowers in our hair and lots of pretty dresses. It took me back to my teenage years in the 1960s. I loved every minute of it. Sitting in the audience were two ladies who are direct descendants of a Gloucestershire poet who coincidentally is the subject of the rest of this post, Will Harvey.

There have been all sorts of commemorative events going on to mark the centenary of the start of World War One. Here in Gloucestershire I was involved in a production of a brand new play called Will Harvey’s War at our local theatre, playing the part of a singing farmworker! The play was based on a previously unpublished manuscript written by Will and only recently discovered. It has now been published as a book entitled The Lost Novel of F W Harvey

Will Harvey, better known as Frederick William Harvey DCM (26 March 1888~13 Feb 1957), was a local man, born in a small village called Hartpury in Gloucestershire. I have very fond memories of Hartpury, as my daughter did her degree in Equine Studies there at the college. The setting was perfect. There used to be a great village pub called the Canning Arms where live Jazz was played every Monday night. My husband and I used to go regularly to enjoy the music, the food, and to chat with the great licensees, John and Jean. Sadly, like many country pubs, after Black Wednesday the Canning Arms suffered in the economic downturn and closed. It is now a private house.

Will Harvey moved to Minsterworth and went to the King’s School in Gloucester, where he met Ivor Gurney, a chorister, who went on to become a noted Gloucestershire poet and composer. Along with Herbert Howells they became lifelong friends. Kings school, being a Cathedral school, has a strong music and arts tradition, but it was listening to Elgar’s, Dream of Gerontius that informed Will’s ideas on beauty and creativity. Coincidentally, I worked at King’s School for a time in the 1990’s and have written about it before http://wp.me/p2gGsd-Gp

After school Will trained as a solicitor, but at the age of 26, the First World War intervened in his life. Within days of the war starting in August 1914, Will joined the 5th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment as a private. After a few months training, the battalion was posted to France where Will proved to be quite a hero. He was awarded the DCM or Distinguished Conduct Medal for his bravery. Will was later trained as an officer then sent back to France. Unfortunately, during another brave venture into enemy trenches, he was captured and spent the rest of the war in various prisoner of war camps. Although he made several unsuccessful escape attempts, it was in the camps that Will developed his poetry and writing skills. His most famous poem is Ducks, which he wrote after seeing a picture of ducks on the ceiling of his prison hut, drawn by another prisoner

It is often thought that The Wipers Times was the first trench newspaper, but actually the Fifth Gloucester Gazette came first and Will Harvey was a contributor. It was fortunate that Will was allowed to send his poems home for publication. His first volume was, A Gloucestershire Lad At Home and Abroad, which was soon followed by, Gloucestershire Friends, poems from a German Prison Camp. https://archive.org/details/gloucestershiref00harv

He also wrote about his wartime experiences in Comrades in Captivity. Altogether Will had about 400 poems published. He wrote of war and nature and animals as well as poetry for children.

After WW1 ended, Will came back to Gloucestershire and settled in the Forest of Dean. His poetry was so popular that he was known as “the Laureate of Gloucestershire“. But, now married to a nurse called Anne Kane, Will went back to his career as a solicitor in order to earn a living. To his credit he became known as “the poor man’s solicitor”. Indeed, Will was so compassionate to those facing prison that he often gave his services free. This was great for his reputation but not for his business and eventually it had to be sold. After that, Will joined the BBC and spent years promoting the people of the Forest of Dean, its arts’ scene, culture and heritage. Will’s friends, Ivor Gurney and Howells both set some of Will Harvey’s poems to music. Even today his poetry is set to music by local folk musicians such as Johnny Coppin. He sings of Gloucestershire, its traditions, its people and its culture.

Will Harvey is remembered on a memorial stone at Gloucester Cathedral and a new biography is being published this year.

The whole cast on set at the end of the show

The whole cast on set at the end of the show