Friday, 13 July 2018

On Arcadia

Hotfoot from viewing new documentary film Arcadia, some initial thoughts on what seems quite a zeitgeist-y piece of work for those in the landscape/ place bubble.

Directed by Paul Wright, the film is constructed from digitised footage in the BFI National Archive inter-cut with fictional excerpts from cinema and television.* An 'old-weird-Britain mash-up' of imagery swirling around the last hundred years that hangs on the directors wish to explore 'how we connect with the land around us and with each other'. Adrian Utley of Portishead and Goldfrapp's Will Gregory provide the soundtrack, pulsing audio-cue's amongst the visual montage, recalling British Sea Power's work for From the Sea to the Land Beyond. Here and there the spectral folk voice of Anne Briggs melts and distorts into the mix.

The narrative, such as it is, rests on a journey through the seasons; but this is a loose story, and all the better for it. A lack of intruding commentary also gives the footage space to tell a story, gifting the watcher's imagination permission to roam. Paul Wright has explained how atmospheres, ideas and themes for each 'season' underscored the search through the deep and rich archive sources, though the aim was often to seek out material 'that you wouldn't expect to be in a film about the British countryside.' This cut-up approach reflects the director's desire to create sensory experiences through image and sound rather than a straight-forward linear narrative progression. As such, comparisons have been made with Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi films scored by Philip Glass. Common ground can also be found with the Robinson films of Patrick Keiller. Political or politicised questions of society's relationship with the land and nature, of identity, of class are surfaced but this is no polemic, it is left to the viewer to piece together their own interpretation. A point to return to.

Arcadia has been positioned as a 'folk horror' artifact, part of a fecund wyrd Britain arcania that has come out of the long shadows to be part of the contemporary landscape vibe. Although the film has deliberately avoided using some of the more obvious and over-exposed reference points such as The Wicker Man, the folk horror genre is certainly well-represented through haunting imagery of bodies rising from the grave in Requiem for a Village and the like. Also present are snatches of the frankly strange folk rituals on display in a highly-recommended previous BFI crate-digging exercise, Here's a Health to the Barley Mow  

As for my own feelings on viewing the film, an initial reaction was that it was following a rather hackneyed trope of contrasting modern dystopian imagery with a seemingly idyllic past, but as the temporal contrasts progressed and mingled a more nuanced and muddied picture emerged. All to the good. This is what history shows us. Processes and patterns of change - in life, society, the landscape - are complex, contradictory and unexpected, hard to pin down, especially when you are in the moment. Humanity may well be experiencing a long fall, unable now to stop a self-inflicted wrecking ball from wiping out civilisations and eco-systems. This may be already happening; we know we can do better. But we can't really know what the future holds: what great and terrible prospects and unforeseen technologies and events will come to pass. 

Many of the visions of sunlit unchanging rurality that front-load the film are pure mid-twentieth century propaganda. Much of it would surely have looked archaic (though perhaps reassuring) to contemporary viewers. Yes, those children playing cricket on the village green look innocently happy, but kids were still dying of TB and suffering from rickets; the coming welfare state desperately needed. The countryside looks ravishing and immutable, but it always does in sun-bleached black and white. Captured on these early reels was a receding world. The farm labourers were already a dying breed and, in truth, their forebears had suffered untold ructions and dislocations over centuries past. Things had been so stable and orderly in the Victorian English village that many could not wait to defect to the foul, teeming rising cities of wages and freedom or endure harsh journeys to the unknown potential of the colonies (or had no other choice).   

The juxtapose of old and new tempts another thought: that folk rituals, hippy happenings, raves, music festivals and other raged communions with nature all share a common wealth through the ages; psychic (or psychedelic) portals out of normality. Echoes of a Merrie England always on the margins, dangerous and under threat. The past may be gone but it can punch through time, revived or repurposed into something new but familiar, even if we don't realise it. That's how history rolls. Same old wyrd magic, same old shite.  

Many a paradox here, but then the English vision of arcadia was always conflicted. As Adam Nicholson has chronicled, Renaissance England 'dreamed of a lost world, an ideal and unapproachable realm of bliss and beauty'; a seeking of 'the perfect interfolding of the human and the natural' as perceived in Classical pastorals. Nicholson characterises this movement as at once a search for the simpler Golden Age of ancient Sicily and Greek Arcadia - a longing underpinning many subsequent counter-cultures - whilst also being inherently conservative and elitist, raging against the forces of modernity: 'a dream of nature' though one exclusive to a rich squirarchy, heavily mediated and manipulated. A forgotten idealism which flowered but was then crushed by a brutal civil war. 

The visceral sonic and visual representations crackling through this film aptly show how the search for Arcadia has always been mixed-up, conflicted and probably doomed. 

An afterword on the recent Twitter squall on the Paul Kingsnorth's essay written to accompany the release of Arcadia. The piece, criticised for pandering to re-emerging 'blood and soil' nationalism, seems to have disappeared from the web, but a couple of Twitter responses to it and the author's 'open letter' reply posted on his website can be seen below. My own initial take was that, having previously admired Paul's non-conformism (and writing), these are dangerous Brexit-cult times in which to express sentiments that could be interpreted as mystical English exceptionalism. This may be a bit alarmist (Hell, Gareth Southgate may even come riding over the hill to show us a new more-inclusive path to Eden!). Anyway, have a read of both sides of the story and see what you think ...

 * The archive films which are utilised are listed on the Arcadia website.  

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Pagan sampler interlude

New substantive post on the way soon, an archaeology of walking; in the meantime here's a musical interlude, some post-Easter pagan and animist sounds.

Trembling Bells - Christ's Entry Into Govan

Goat - Let It Burn

Mandy Morton and Spriguns (Spriguns of Tolgus) - Witchfinder

Erland Cooper - Solun Goose

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Pathways through long winter days until bright Phoebus shines down again

A quick ramble here through an assemblage of mid-winter cultural highlights. If record shops are a species indicator of a civilised polis (which they surely are), then it was good to have affirmation that the force remains strong in Bristol with the opening of a new Rough Trade store. A first wander around the racks yielded Bright Pheobus, songs by Lal and Mike Waterson, newly re-released on vinyl. Its 'lost folk-rock classic' story is unfurled in sleeve notes by Pete Paphides largely replicated in a Radio 4 documentary. Featuring Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings and a seemingly endless cast of early 70s electric folk, Bright Pheobus has joined the ever-replenished cast of misunderstood or under-marketed records of the time which have resurfaced, championed anew. A highlight for me is the track, Child Among the Weeds, featuring Lal Waterson and Bob Davenport's extraordinary, unrestrained vocals.

The post-war folk music revival is not covered by Steve Roud's magisterial (i.e. dauntingly massive) Folk Song In England, but I will try and persevere with this sweeping history of, well folk song in England. A chapter on sea shanties is included, a sound brought to vivid life by a communal sing-along with Halifax's finest renderers of whaling song, Kimber's Men, upstairs at The Greenbank, Easton in November. Other reading matter on 'the book pile' comes in the form of the multitude of pagan arcania found within the pages of Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies and the no-less fascinating A Natural History of the Hedgerow by John Wright. The 'folk horror' label perhaps encompasses Ben Myers The Gallows Pole, which I enthusiastically reviewed earlier in the year and remains a favourite recent fiction read.

Elsewhere on BBC radio, The Drover's Path fitted the bill as a suitably wintry Christmas Eve ghost story, Nick Luscombe presented Radio 3's Late Junction's favourite albums of 2017 and there was a gripping dramatisation of Neil Gaiman's refreshingly non-standard fantasy Anansi Boys, starring Jacob Anderson, Grey Worm from Game of Thrones; a Season Six box set of which was my Christmas guilty pleasure. Robert Macfarlane's #TheDarkIsRising Twitter-athon led to another gem from the BBC radio archive, a 1997 adaptation of Susan Cooper's midwinter classic chronicling a duel between the Dark and the Light across snowy Sussex downland. The ubiquitous (in a good way) Mr Macfarlane also brought forth his importantly beautiful collaborative work with artist Jackie Morris, The Lost Words; if ever there was an example of a Christmas present bought for your child that would give as much pleasure to the giver as the receiver, then this was it.

Fly bird fly on your raven wings
Take to the sky and sing for the love of wheeling and turning

These words, images and songs spun around my head as a post-Christmas walk around YGrib, Waun Fach and Pen Trumau in the post-snow, but still frozen, western Black Mountains literally blew the cobwebs away; awaiting the days when bright Phoebus will shine down again. 

Friday, 29 September 2017

PhD landscape walk - walking the ghost topography of Cwmbran new town

This is a description of one of a series of landscape walks through my PhD case study areas. Here the walk navigates a route around the post-war planned new town of Cwmbran in south-east Wales, developed over the former lands of Magna Porta, the 'home' manor of Llantarnam Abbey during the medieval period.

The walk commences at the church of St. Michael’s in Llantarnam village at the southern limits of the new town, taking in the cul-de-sac lane opposite running parallel with a silted-up ditch draining into a culvert under the main road. This ditch forms part of a system of leats which fed the now demolished corn mill in the village and likely date to the monastic period.

From here a long straight stretch of Llantarnam Road is followed, leading directly from the old lane to the abbey into the centre of Cwmbran. This road follows the line of the route between the abbey and its granges and manorial lands to the north and also forms the start of the pilgrimage way from Llantarnam to the shrine at Penrhys further to the west in the Rhondda valley. Now a main route into the town, this old road is utterly suburban, lined by ribbon development, a mix of some larger Victorian and Edwardian houses, unremarkable housing stock from this period and the mid-twentieth century, and modern day additions.

The mill leat opposite the church (Source: author).

Llantarnam Road looking north-west (Source: author).

Part-way along the road the memory of the abbey's Scybor Court grange (latterly Court Farm) rises. The school built on the site of the demolished farm during the development of the new town in the 1960s has now itself been replaced by a housing estate, ‘St. Michael’s Gate’ (this name a reference to the local church but perhaps a missed opportunity to remember the medieval grange). Further along the road, the grange is memorialised in the 1950s council housing of the ‘Court Farm Estate’, including Court Farm Close and Court Farm Road (is this association with social housing the rationale for the new estate utilising a different name?). Further progress along the road brings more nomenclature linking the area to the abbey: Llantarnam Dental Practice, Llantarnam Primary School, Court Road Industrial Estate etc.

The land farmed by the medieval grange here is uniformly flat, forming the broad flood-plain of the Afon Lwyd a few hundred metres to the east. The old flood meadows of the grange that have not been concreted over form one of the recreational areas created as part of the planned new town, now the site of a large boating and fishing lake and a golf course.

Court Farm Close, part of the 1950s estate built on the agricultural land of the monastic grange of Scybor Court (Source: author).

Passing the green space of Oakfield Park, sited on an area of woodland at a junction of old roads and populated by remnant oak and ash. Further greenery is observed at a roundabout marking the junction of the old road with one of the new access routes through the town. This is the marshy place bordering the lands of Scybor Court grange to the south and the abbey’s Gelli-las grange to the north: the industrial zone along the riverside here interspersed with more open green space and mature trees.
New town roundabout looking north with entrance to Court Road Industrial Estate to right (Source: author).

Across the roundabout a remnant field, crossed by the embankment of a disused railway line, also contains a hollow which may have been the line of the stream bounding the territory of the two granges.

Remnant field at boundary of Scybor Court and Gelli-las granges (Source: author).

Grange Road (Source: author).

The old track up to Gelli-las (still called Grange Road) is passed, now a residential street and service road for a supermarket and industrial units. Approaching the centre of Old Cwmbran, the small industrial settlement that preceded the new town and the housing stock becomes a mix of mid-nineteenth century cottages and late century worker’s terraces; the area now somewhat down at heal.

As the post-war trunk road into the centre of the town is bridged the old road curves westwards and climbs up the small hillock on which the medieval chapel of St. Dial’s, a stopping place on the pilgrimage route to Penrhys, stood. As the hill is climbed the character of the route changes, St. Dial’s Lane, bounded by an old wall and then hedge-lined, is now lined by fields: a rural snapshot amidst the urban new town. From a field containing a ruined barn, the site of Llanderfel pilgrimage chapel and the surrounding grange can be seen high on the side of Mynydd Maen looming in the distance to the west. This low river terrace hillock provides a prominent viewpoint and landmark in the landscape, probably explaining the location of the chapel here.

Section of old wall on lane up to St. Dial’s (Source: author).

The rural character of St. Dial’s Lane (Source: author).

Looking west towards the uplands of Mynydd Maen towards the site of Llanderfel chapel on the distant hillside (Source: author). 

The steepness of the northern slope of St. Dial’s descending to the adjacent town centre has preserved it from development. The jumble of post-war buildings forming central Cwmbran, complete with distressed concrete multi-story car park and landmark tower block, now overlie the grange farm of Gelli-las.

Central Cwmbran on the site of the Gelli-las grange (Source: author). 

A further stretch of ‘country lane’ hollows below tree-lined banks. Desire paths through an overgrown field are explored, bushes and trees now reclaiming the site of the long-demolished St. Dial’s House and most probably the medieval chapel. The approximate site of the old settlement along the lane is now unremarkably taken by a small Victorian terrace and a bungalow. As the lane strikes north alongside allotments, the open space to the south is the scene of a rising housing development, part of the Cwmbran neighbourhood which takes its name from the medieval chapel.

The site of St. Dial's House - and probably the medieval chapel - looking southwards (Source: author).

Descending from St. Dial’s, the lane runs alongside one of the modern roads through the new town to a roundabout. From here the line of the pilgrimage route continues westwards towards Llanderfel as a series of walking and cycle paths. This route will be picked up again later in the walk but now a diversion westwards through the remaining woodlands of the Freshwater suburb is followed. Here, remnant trees and dingles are intermixed with the housing of the new town, pathways running through the green spaces and linking residential areas with roads, schools and other infrastructure. The retention of significant woodland within the new town fabric is the result of a mix between idealism - the creation of the liveable, spacious neighbourhoods such as Fairwater and Greenmeadow with plenty of green areas – and pragmatism, with tree cover largely confined to the more difficult and marginal terrain alongside the courses of streams and steeper-sided gulleys.

St. Dial’s Lane beside the modern road through the western suburbs of Cwmbran (Source: author).

The route of the pilgrimage way picked up again via the footpath on the other side of the roundabout (Source: author).

Remnant woodland inter-mixed with new town housing in the Freshwater area of Cwmbran (Source: author).

In this elevated western part of the new town, open and green prospects are juxtaposed in places with some rather tired-looking housing stock. A public footpath followed through the block of woodland below Cwmbran High School comes to a dead-end at the school gates and meandering, sometimes litter-strewn, desire paths eventually lead to the old lane - Graig Road - still zig-zagging its nineteenth century course up through Fairwater, a hidden away but still extant artery for cyclists and dog-walkers masked by suburban closes. This route would have provided a more direct route up to the open common of Mynydd Maen from the abbey, by-passing the hilltop pilgrims diversion of St. Dial’s.

Housing in the Greenmeadow area of Cwmbran (Source: author).

Here rural tranquillity is found again as the lane crosses a stone bridge in a dingle carrying a fast-flowing stream down from the hillsides around Llanderfel. The arboreal spell somewhat broken by the litter collecting around the information board at the start of the holloway that runs uphill towards Landerfel. As the board attests, this part of the pilgrimage route is now well publicised. However, less well-known or promoted is the fact that the line of the route east from here to St. Dial’s can also be traced on the ground, preserved as a series of walkways through 1970s housing and crossed by new roads – a linear piece of history stubbornly retaining its place in the modern-day topography.

The old lane through Fairwater disappears into the trees on the curve of this residential close (Source: author).

Bridge carrying the lane, hidden away behind the suburban closes (Source: author).

This route eastwards and downhill, back towards the centre of town, is now followed. A footpath, sometimes following sections of well-worn holloway flanked by the mature remnants of out-grown beech hedges, at others the memory of the old track is only preserved by a line of trees or a depression alongside the tarmac path.

The line of the pilgrim route from St. Dial’s to Llanderfel, now a hollow line behind garden fences (Source: author).

A further section of the track, preserved as a line of trees (Source: author).

A more well-defined section of the track, lined by beech (Source: author).

Crossing a busy through road, a further piece of rural history within the contemporary townscape is observed: Greenmeadow ‘community farm’, its farmhouse partly dating to the seventeenth century, home to post-medieval tenants of the Magna Porta manor and perhaps their monastic period predecessors. A public footpath traverses the perimeter of the farm leading into steep woods shielding the noise and grime of the large central industrial zone of Forge Hammer, previously the site of railway yards and a nut and bolt works. Emerging from the woods, an oasis of grass in the form of a large oval pasture (preserving the shape of a prominent enclosure alongside Church Wood as recorded on the 1887 Ordnance Survey map) is walked through.

Greenmeadow community farm (Source: author).

Hard by the industrial estates, the valley of the Cwm Bran Brook holds a nature reserve along a series of silted-up and wildlife diverse industrial ponds and weirs. Yet another quiet semi-natural place in close proximity to the busy urban apex.

Industrial pond returned to nature, Forge Hammer (Source: author).

Leaving the stream, the walk strikes north along the towpath of the Pontypool to Newport canal towards the northern-most part of the abbey’s Magna Porta lands at Pontnewydd, the gently rising section here lined by a series of deep locks. The canal dissects the manor from north to south, the precursor to later further linear communications routes in the form of railways and roads.

The Pontypool to Newport canal looking southwards (Source: author).

From the canal the route runs through the centre of the industrial village of Pontnewydd, later part of the northern suburbs of Cwmbran and named for a crossing over the Afon Lwyd dating from at least the seventeenth century, now marked by a nineteenth century bridge. Looping southwards having crossed the river, the site of the Gelli-las grange farmstead is now approached. Along the riverside some of the grange’s water meadows are preserved as sports fields. Surrounded by roads, a multiplex cinema, a multi-story car park and a supermarket, can be found, somewhat incongruously, the Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre, housed in the nineteenth century upgrade of the old farmhouse of Gelli-las (which took the name of Llantarnam Grange) and standing in the remains of the ornamental gardens surrounding the house. Although it is hard to get a sense of a medieval agricultural estate in this setting and on the long walk back down Llantarnam Road, it is at least reassuring to know that this particular grange farm has an on-going and distinct afterlife having so nearly been demolished in the 1960s.

Sports fields occupying some of the water meadows of Gelli-las grange between the Afon Lwyd and the railway line (Source: author).

Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre (Source: author).

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Ben Myers - The Gallows Pole: Once upon a time in the West Riding

The arresting cover of Ben Myers' sixth novel is a statement of intent for the work inside: historical fiction with danger and harshness and radicalism foregrounded; a bit punk rock, a bit psychedelic, not too knowingly retro. Frankly, I'd have bought it for the cover artwork alone. Thankfully, this is an author with form and the story itself does not disappoint; it cracks along at pace, based on a little-known episode in history tailor-made for the strain of gritty rural-noir which Myers, Paul Kingsnorth, Cynan Jones, Ross Raisin and others have rendered in recent years. The unearthed source material merits such a telling. It's the 1760s and the wild West Riding of Yorkshire is on the cusp of transformation, careless of the coming pandemonium to be wrought by industrialised manufacturing. Amidst the self-reliant weaving communities of the Calder Valley - for William Atkins (The Moor) 'a ditch made dim by its narrowness', a place of fugitives - emerge the Cragg Vale Coiners. Led by the brutally charismatic 'King' David Hartley, their outlaw business is the clipping of coins to produce counterfeit money; local currency for local people, recycled coin outwith the control of not only the crown, government and taxation but also the new capitalists ready to harness and exploit the power of land and labour. Thus, a dangerous business and (literally) a capital offence.    

The book's stylistic and narrative similarities with Kingsnorth's The Wake are striking. Both have central characters - David Hartley and Buccmaster - who are deluded, self-mythologising and ruthless yet also cast with a certain 'Man With no Name' dark allure. Like mythical cowboys of the northern past, these doomed men raging against the dying of the light are also possessed of pagan visions of stagmen and the old gods. Both authors utilise blunt vernacular speech to give voice to their protagonists, albeit in Kingsnorth's case a 'shadow tongue' version of Old English is utilised for the whole narration.

In the opening chapters, we see how up and over from the surrounding valleys men come to King David's call, 'like crows to the first pickings of carrion after the snow melt'; a repetitive roll-call of locally entrenched surnames: Dewhurst, Clayton, Sutcliffe, Bolton, Hepworth, Eastwood, Bentley, Hoyle, Pickles, Sykes, Greenwood, Feather and Proctor. These everyday monikers later counter-pointed by the tally of Yorkshire nobility called from across the ridings to address the threat to their wealth and power presented by the coiners activity. We dig repetition, as Mark E Smith would have it, and so does Ben Myers. It's a technique used deliberately and effectively throughout, toughening the narrative: 'the moors are ours and the woods are ours he said. And the marshes are ours and the sky is ours and the fire is ours and the forge is ours. The might is ours and the means are ours and the moulds are ours and the metal is ours and the coins are ours and the crags are ours and this grand life in the dark wet world is ours.'

Hartley's lair is high amongst 'the hill's hanging silence', to use Ted Hughes' description of this haunted terrain of his youth, where bosky slope gives way to moorland waste. A hint of Cormac McCarthy pervades the depicted harsh beauty of this landscape. When Hartley's nemesis, excise-man William Deighton - a walker of the moors and valleys in pursuit of those who would evade the (real) king's tax - returns to Halifax in the gloaming, the town's lights flicker 'as if the sky had fallen in defeat, and draped itself across the rise and fall of the bloodless, smothering land.' To my mind what elevates Myers prose above much similar place-bound company is the clear rootedness of the writing in the Calderdale-based author's embodied knowledge - based on walking and observing - of the landscape in which the actors operate, buttressed by an authentic portrayal of the life-rhythms of those working the land. This is an author unafraid to leaven the drama of the story with the small detail of rural life: for instance, a couple of pages describing a scything team working their field at pace 'as they raced against the season and the coming of the harvest moon.'

A certain poetic mysticism is also scattered amidst the thrifty speech of Hartley and the Coiners, somewhat at odds with their rough ways: 'rope or rain or a day threshing grain ... I take each as it comes'; 'the moor is the moor and the wind always blows.' Thugs ain't what they used to be, perhaps. Silver-tongued maybe, but there are frequent brutish scenes of rising and implied violence, recalling prime-Scorsese or, closer to home, Shane Meadow's Derbyshire-set Dead Man's Shoes in their cinematic menace and liberal deployment of the harshest word in the English language, not quaint. The shocking end of loud-mouth drunk Abraham Ingham thrust head-first into an open fire, 'left smoldering, a spent match in human form' as his killers return to their tap-room pints, is particularly wince-inducing. As is the defilement of the traitor James Broadbent in York gaol. A gruesome end seems to be a possibility for just about everyone involved.

This violence, combined with the radical social commentary of the story and pervasive sense of movement through the landscape, bestow filmic qualities which the author acknowledges as he describes an eclectic playlist put together whilst writing the book. It's not hard to hear this music soundtracking a film adaptation of the book, which might look a little like a mash-up between Ben Wheatley's A Field in England, Ken Loach's Black Jack and Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lydon.

As the place-names in the narrative came thick and fast - reminiscent of a seventeenth-century survey of manorial bounds - I pulled out my battered Ordnance Survey map of the South Pennines, weathered by time, held together by yellowing sellotape. Family connections bond me to the country immediately north of Calderdale, Keighley and the Worth Valley over Cock Hill and Nab Hill, and I have previously posted about this landscape, my younger self's introduction to hill walking, now embedded in memory. The names on the map speak of place as, above all, morphology and topography. Northern - mostly Anglo-Saxon or Norse - descriptors of the lie of the land. Clough, slack, holme, delf, edge, nook, wham, carr, hey, hole, head, nab, bank, dyke, shaw, royd, shelf, stones. A lexicon used by Myers to rivet the narrative to its locale; to particularise the valleys and streams and rocky places and moors and woods in which the story unfolds. Many of these toponyms have been appropriated as local surnames, fixing a symbiosis between people and place; the bearers literally a product of their landscape. And there, above the river Ryburn feeding into the main Calder Valley, a crow's fly over Crow Hill from the Hartley homestead in Cragg Vale, spreads Gallows Pole Hill. Presumably, part-inspiration for the book's title (alongside the traditional song, The Maid Freed From the Gallis Pole)?

One minor place-naming misstep is the use of Calderdale and West Yorkshire, modern-day administrative units which would not be used as descriptors of the local area by eighteenth-century folk. Not sure either about the use of the archaic 'Yorvikshire' in Hartley's vernacular, but artistic license at play here so fair enough. Of course, it is the storyteller's prerogative to extrapolate the partial facts that are fed down through history but this reader also wonders whether King David really was as locally revered and acclaimed as suggested. How many really were thankful to Hartley for clothing and feeding them, and giving them hope? Did thousands really line the old streets of York to view his procession to the gallows?

Not in dispute are the economic changes which circle around and loom over the actions of the Coiners (the 'progress' of proto-capitalism, industrial development, a hardening of the rule of law and land ownership), prefiguring the enormous rupture in the way of life of the independent dwellers of these previously left-alone valleys that the Industrial Revolution would bring. Earlier in the eighteenth-century Daniel Defoe had commented approvingly on the lack of dependence on and subservience to the gentry amongst the self-sufficient and egalitarian populations of the farmsteads and hamlets of these hilly districts of the West Riding. As the century draws to a close the characters here are lamenting not only that 'the machines and mills are coming' but also 'they do not give a fuck about us hill-dwellers'; 'the land is being sold off. They say there are mills the size of cathedrals in Lancashire.' The self-made prosperity of the cottage industry of small-holdings and hand-looms is coming to an end. A few decades later Halifax and the Calder Valley would be central to a more famous popular uprising, the revolt of the Luddites; a conflict which Robert Reid in Land of Lost Content described as threatening 'the stability of the nation from within as it had never been threatened since.'

In the end, and in the face of this maelstrom, we leave Hartley dreaming of his moor and woods, and the Stagman: 'still he waches now and so too will be there when im drug up to that gallis pole that awaytes us Heel be thur I no it Waytin a me.' In reality, as the epilogue hammers home, 'the stone cathedrals of mass production' were to win out and King David would be forgotten. Mills and new rows of terraced houses, and turnpike roads, canals and railways, would remorselessly fill the valleys, transforming not only the population's economic and social lives but also the very landscape. The Coiners and their descendents would ultimately bend to the will of the new puritans of capital, commerce and mass-production.