Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Willful Walks of Russell C.J Duffy - Book 2 - The Whispering of Grass (Chapter 4) - REVISED

*Humanism - another religion* *The English - The Oldest Immigrants in Britain* - *The Phantom Hitchhiker* 

When we are talking history then Stambridge stands proudly with the best of them. Evidence of a settlement during the Iron Age, that is about 500 BCE, has been found. Not only that but excavations at Hampton Barns revealed a creek once ran there and that two settlements, two villages as it were, developed in the area during this period. Oddly, unlike neighbouring Rochford, there are no signs of the Roman occupation. That being so, there is more than enough evidence to prove that between 450 and 740 CE, at a time when Britain was being invaded by a number of European tribes, namely the Angles from Denmark, the Jutes from Jutland, the Frisian's from the Netherlands and of course the Saxons from Germany, that Stambridge was being  colonisedIt is from these invaders that the English have developed. You could say the English are the oldest immigrants living in these islands.

Way back then, as Britain was being divided up into Seven Kingdoms, namely Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex, Essex, Sussex and Kent, and as the natural Pagan religion was subsumed into the nascent Christianity these Germanic tribes brought with them, so the Saxon's, who had settled in Great Stambridge, built a stockade by which to live in. With the sea to one side of them and a river to another, they needed to protect themselves and their livestock from marauding tribes. It was a  robust building constructed very much with defence in mind. Stakes were driven in surrounding the stockade to deter attack and a ditch was created so as to dissuade any assault.

Originally, Stambridge was divided in two. Very probably due to the Saxon settlements.This meant that there were two churches. One in Little Stambridge, St. Mary's, and the other St. Mary's and All Saints in Great Stambridge.  The smaller church of Little Stambridge was demolished in 1891.
Little Stambridge Church taken about 1890
Photo courtesy of

No sooner was the smaller church removed from the land it stood on then the two Stambridge's, Great and Little, were joined as one leaving St. Mary's and All Saints as the parish church. Dates as to when this church was built vary but I think it safe to say it is as near as damn as old as Ashingdon church. There has been many an additional wall constructed or tower raised but the original build date is somewhere between 1020 and 1040. This meant that when the Norman invasion took place that William the Conqueror would have seen the Saxon church before altering it. The only original bits still standing are the north wall, from the tower to the clergy vestry, and a small piece on the south side of the tower.

Even with those facts in mind the church - definitely, Norman rather than Saxon - is still impressive. It stands on the corner of the road staring out over farmers land but also adjacent to the parish school. As I stand here now, on a Sunday at about 11 am, so a small flock, a very small flock it has to be said, of worshipers are gathered outside. Awaiting no doubt the appearance of the vicar.

Combined, as they naturally are, church and school give an aura of quaint, rustic respectability. Suddenly, the veil of history is drawn aside and we catch a glimpse of how Victorian England would have appeared during that period. Church and school as the pillars of society overlooking the rural industry of farmland England. Let's not forget that the dream was not the reality. Children were used as chimney sweeps, the poor were shoved into the workhouse and class was rigidly enforced. 

Inside the church, it looks much like any other church yet I can hear a choir of ghosts singing down the centuries. Different voices with different accents, different dialects singing, singing the Lord's name, praising a deity no one has seen but each parishioner gathered believes passionately in. Anglo-Saxon peasants, Norman noblemen, Victorian farmhands, all praising that which holds them firmly in the grip of its faith for faith is blind and they all have blind faith.

I and my forebears would have known their place. I hail from the lower end of the class spectrum yet, conversely, would, largely due to my parents, be regarded as middle-class. Having a pot to piss in apparently confers status. This means I rank higher than my grandparents and parents? I think not. I am a peasant. I work for a living, therefore I am working class. Really? Having a class divide is a fiction, a man made illusion. We are all subject to a series of preconceived circumstances created by those seeking to elevate themselves above the ordinary.  I am ordinary, I am one of the seven billion.

The word peasant is a word related to pagan. The original inhabitants of these islands were pagan. They worshipped a pantheon rich with gods and goddesses. Oddly enough, when Christianity first entered the lives of Albion's oldest tribes, sometime in the 1st century, it was not so rigorously enforced as it was when those Germanic immigrant invaders landed here. Following Augustine's arrival in 597 CE Christianity, whose own Hebrew influence was formerly pagan, not only subsumed festivals like Eostre and The Yule into their own Easter and Christmas but violently forced Christianity on those they conquered. Over the course of several hundreds of years, until about 700 CE, Christianity flourished. It remained the nation's faith until comparatively recent times. Now, religion in Britain is on the decline even though half the nation is of faith.

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”  - Lord Buddha.

When I first read Richard Dawkins life-affirming "The God Delusion" I bought into it totally. The cold logic of it revealed a very flawed Bible riddled with passages both vile and twisted. This echoed deep within me for as an adolescent I read the Bible and made the same mistake Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett made. They take the words of the Bible literally when in point of fact the Bible isn't a book to be read literally. It is a work of symbolism. Perfect examples of this are easy enough to find. A star being dragged across the heavens to be set above the baby Jesus' birthplace is one such example. There are about five occasions when this symbolic act is used within the ancient scriptures to signify the birth of someone of importance. Another famous slice of symbolism is when God commands Abraham to take his own son, Issac's, life. 

This brings me to Humanism, surely a religion unto itself for without organised religion for it to oppose there could be no Humanism. At first, I thought Humanism was for me but now I see it as being just another unnecessary organisation that harbours like-minded individuals. It doesn't set people free of indoctrination it merely provides another - a shield behind which atheists can gather in opposition of faith. 

Every principle behind Humanism makes perfect sense apart from they overlook the poetry of life. One doesn't have to believe in fairies, deities or the supernatural to have a redefined spirituality. For redefined spirituality is nothing like that as commonly accepted as being spiritual. Recognising that life and all creation are linked and that by virtue of that link reveals something bigger than us yet equally something which we are part of, is not another form of faith nor is it a rejection of science. Rather it is encouraging the individual to think for themselves without the need to belong to any organisation, to see science for what it is, the key to understanding that which is thus far unfathomable. Call it God, call it Tao, call it what you will.

The thin mist that has stayed with me during my walk from Paglesham through to Stambridge settles over the fields to my left and right. It is like a gauze stretched across the day which turns trees and hedgerows into shadowy, spectral whispers of themselves. It isn't particularly cold yet there is little heat to the hour. The weather seems in retreat. It is as though it were a river running back on itself. 

The total population of Stambridge is approximately 700. Most of the villagers were born in the UK so immigration is virtually non-existent. Not sure what I think about that. Immigration is a good thing for immigrants bring with them traditions that add flavour and colour to existing practices. One doesn't replace the other but rather enriches existing customs. After all, isn't curry the favoured food of Britain?

I can feel the bite of winter now. The chill is turning colder by the day. We no longer get the seasons as I remember in my youth and we seldom get winters the like of Northern Europe or Canada or, worst of all, Russia and I for one am grateful we don't.

There is meant to be a phantom hitchhiker that walks these roads but I haven't seen him, or her, yet. Funny how so many sightings are at night. A person of note who hailed from Stambridge was James Harriott. Born in 1745 his childhood was the stuff of belief in the mystical be it his faith as a Christian or the witch whose house he used to pass on his way to school as he walked down Stambridge Road. There the old crone would be in her garden picking daisies which she believed was food for the imps who lived with her. After a time, when his fear had no doubt abated if indeed he ever was scared, he became friendly with the old lady and her funny old, odd ways.

James Harriot led an interesting life, interesting being a metaphor for a varied or unsettled. He lived for a time abroad but later joined the Royal followed by a spell in the Merchant Navy. For a short time, he became a soldier of fortune, a mercenary fighting battles for those who paid for his services notably the East India Company. He was seriously wounded during one escapade which forced him to hang up his pistols and rapier and return to Stambridge where he took up farming. The land he purchased had been reclaimed from the sea but that notwithstanding the whole enterprise was ruined by fire followed by flood.  If he is to be seen as a lucky man then it should be recognised that his luck ran both ways. During this period his wife and son died leaving Harroit without family or income. Not one easily defeated he briefly turned to Lloyds of London where he became a broker.  When that didn't work out as planned he turned his talents to the wine trade. This too failed and so he returned to farming. 
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'James Harriot' page

It is James Harriot that Rochford has to thank for introducing the market. Originally a cattle market, now a mishmash of household goods and clothes. His other notable gift was in starting the Rochford Hundred Association whose focus of attention was the prevention of thievery, murder and robbery. Then, following all that, having spotted the way in which London's  Dock's were prone to all manner of skullduggery, Harriot suggested to the Mayor of London that to prevent the alarming rate of crime he would be best advised to introduce a group of watermen to grapple with the various gangs stealing goods from moored vessels. Hence the birth of the Thames River Police.

To my left is Mill Lane. It is down here that old Stambridge  Mill can be seen. Derelict now,  a shadow of its former self, yet still it makes an impression. What once was the centre of a vital industry now is merely a wooden, lofty structure unused and overlooked. I think it such a waste when these old buildings become vacant and inactive.

What is even more tragic is that this building along with corresponding sites throughout this area used to dig for London clay which they then produced bricks from. An old friend of mine, a chap of perhaps sixty, worked on a similar site. We never seem to plan for the future, by we I mean our politician's and heads of industry. Surely, there would have been signs of the collapse of these factories long before they closed?

I think The Long Now Foundation an admirable project. Rather than view life as an ever shortening process that seems to accelerate as technology advances, instead we should think long term and plan accordingly.

"When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 02000. For the next thirty years they kept talking about what would happen by the year 02000, and now no one mentions a future date at all. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life. I think it is time for us to start a long-term project that gets people thinking past the mental barrier of an ever-shortening future. I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium."

It makes perfect sense to me. Live in the now but plan for the future.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

1 comment:

Cara H said...

A wonderful history lesson, very well written. Thank you for taking the time to teach us!

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