Saturday, 30 June 2012

Tales of War and Conflict - Clifton Town, an opera by John Humphreys (Part III of IV)

Want to catch up on the story?
To go to previous posts, click on:  Part I, Part II

Part III
October 1831

As the lords and ladies and the mayor were enjoying the banquet in the Mansion House, the Peeler (policeman) keeping guard outside noticed a young waif hovering uncertainly in the shadows.  She was new to Bristol, she explained when the Peeler questioned her, didn’t know where to go and wanted to be part of the procession and the fun, to try to forget the fact that she was homesick for her Cotswold countryside home.  She felt comforted by the fact that the river flowing past close by was the same one where she had lived far away upstream, a reminder of home:

Samuel Jackson:  The proposed Suspension Bridge from Rownham Ferry

The River Avon whispers by my window;
With gentle song she lays me down to rest
Or at the sunrise calls me from my pillow
With a gladness no sadness can banish from my breast;
And it’s O, my river knows - there as she flows -
That she bears with a rustic charm,
(Beautiful, graceful and calm)
Such a name, such a very lovely name,
As they gave to the gentle River Avon.

The Cotswold Hills released her from the shadows
And sent her forth to bear our tears away.
The Wiltshire sunshine warmed her in the meadows
And this city with pity she comforts every day;
And if some day I must die, there let me lie,
Where my river can mourn for me
– Stream that was born for me –
Bearing the name (such a very lovely name!)
That they gave to the lovely River Avon.

Moved by the sadness and beauty of her song, the Peeler added –


O child of Nature, like the River Avon,
A gentle gem that in the summer shone;
A city’s heart of stone’s no loving haven!
She’ll be grieving on leaving and ready to be gone!
Through the Gorge she’ll sadly flee down to the sea,
With the stains of a city’s dirt,
Painfully creeping and hurt
By the same inhumanity and shame
That has tarnished the lovely name of Avon!

She was grateful for his kindness and understanding and they sang the last few words together:

For all the songs she sings
- Tales that she brings
Of the meadow and wooded hill, green in the memory still,
Just the same inhumanity and shame
Ever tarnished the lovely name of Avon...

Painting by Cecil van Haanen

The procession was heard approaching in the distance, and the waif was excited as the sounds became louder.  Then suddenly they were overtaken by the tumult, and the crowds gathered and shouted with a mixture of goodwill and anger, for Sarah and her Trooper had announced that they were now engaged. 

The throng consisted of the grandly dressed lords and ladies, mayor and bishops honouring their new king and they disdained the lower classes hovering around them, who heard them and showed their anger.  The Peeler in vain tried to keep order, but eventually it happened of its own accord as the procession moved on and the crowd’s cries grew fainter.


Saturday October 29th 1831, morning

Amidst a busy roadside market in Clifton, grumbling shopkeepers, stallholders and shoppers were watched over suspiciously by the Peeler.  Brunel appeared and after bidding him good morning, asked the reason for their dissatisfaction.  The Peeler explained to him that they were resentful of the visit of Sir Charles Wetherell, Recorder for Bristol, whose purpose it was to open the Assizes (criminal courts).  His arrival in dignified procession had been supposed to inspire admiration and respect in the local population, but it was clear that he could not have got it more wrong.  The populace was well aware of the lies he had been telling in Parliament.

Seamus Trubble, the rabble rouser, started to shout “Out, Charles Wetherell, Out!” and was joined in turn by the people around him.  Colonel Brereton, the kind and well meaning peace-maker was nearby and heard the noise.  He had considerable personal charm and powers of persuasion; his most effective tool was to single individuals out and communicate with them directly.  It wasn’t long before the situation had been calmed somewhat, and Seamus gave up in disgust –

“Interferin’ old fool” he muttered, as he disappeared into the crowd.

This was also Sarah and her Trooper’s wedding day, and as they happily made their way across the square in their wedding finery, the Trooper bought her some roses.

“My October rose” he said, “while flowers grow in Clifton I shall love you.  Let flowers show the world this is our wedding day!”

Teasingly, the crowd celebrated with them –


They’ve decided to get married, they’ve decided to get wed,
They are tired of being divided, so they’ll multiply instead!

Sarah and Trooper:

We’ve decided to get married and we’ll think in years ahead
What a glorious day in hist’ry was the day when we were wed!


They’ve decided to get married, and you know it’s often said
If you marry in October there are nice long nights ahead...

Painting by Samuel Morse (1831)
The beautiful autumn day and the now jolly atmosphere had its effect on all around them, and before they knew where they were, Bert found himself proposing to Bess and the Peeler to the Waif, and all shared their happiness together.

The mood was abruptly broken however by Seamus Trubble, who came running up shouting

 “He’s coming!  That Wetherell’s procession has reached Totterdown!  We’ll make him pay for every lie he’s uttered in the name of Bristol!  We hate him!  We hate him!  We hate him!

The crowd shouted, as it surged forward, eventually losing control –

We’ll meet him in Totterdown!  We’ll greet him in Totterdown!
We’ll reach him!  We’ll teach him how trials are tried!
Liars who’ve lied are found guilty as charged.
Ah! Now in our fury we’re the jury now!
We are the judge and jury! And he shall judge our fury! 
We are the judge and jury now!  We’ll reach him!
We’ll teach him how trials are tried and liars who’ve lied
Found guilty as charged!  Found guilty! Found guilty!
No pity we feel.  No mercy, no appeal! 
We’ll take him and break him
And wreak our revenge!  Revenge!  Revenge!  Riot!  Riot!
Let him kneel!  No appeal!  We’ll run riot!  Riot! Revenge!
Riot and revenge I’ll seek!  I’ll seek!  I’ll seek!
I’ll seek, I’ll Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil....!

Sarah sadly surveyed the destruction left behind as the crowd sped away –


Oh male of the species... strange creature of contrast...
The gentle creator of life,
Yet born to destruction, cruel violence and strife,
Breaking to pieces all that you build,
All in the name of peace and freedom!
Where is the peace and whose is the freedom?


"Attack on Sir Charles Wetherell at Bristol"
Sir Charles Wetherell found a very hostile atmosphere in Bristol.  His carriage had been pelted with stones as he arrived at the outskirts of the city in Totterdown, and though he opened the Assizes as planned, they had to be adjourned shortly afterwards because of vociferous interruptions.

He was hastily conducted to the Mansion House on Queens Square, and there he found himself trapped with the angry populace seething around the building.

Queens Square, Bristol, by T L S Rowbotham
Major Mackworth of the Dragoon Guards urged Colonel Brereton to give him permission to fire on the rebellious crowds surrounding the Mansion House, but Brereton, a kind and conscientious man, was loth to do so, for he did not want the responsibility of killing people outright when he felt they could be persuaded to desist.  He therefore told him that he could only do so on the specific orders of Bristol’s mayor, Charles Pinney.  The mayor declined. 

Charles Pinney, Mayor of Bristol

Sir Charles Wetherell was forced to escape the besieged building by climbing over the rooftops.  He left the city shortly afterwards.  Charles Pinney did the same, as can be seen in the cartoon below.

The Escape of Charles Pinney

Major Mackworth decided to wait no longer and gave his troops and the reinforcements he had summoned, the order to fire.  During the skirmish that ensued some 200 people were killed.

W M Muller's image of the skirmish mentioned above.

Contemporary notices


1988 Copyright John Humphreys.
Copying any part of John Humphreys' work is
expressly forbidden by copyright laws.
Part IV: The violence and the aftermath.
(Note: all acknowledgments will be given at the end of Part IV)


Photo Finish -
from Lonicera's non-digital archive

More pictures of Bristol

The tower of the Wills Memorial Building,
the heart of the University of Bristol

The semi-circular building is the Council offices

The unicorn, at one end of the Council building

The Victoria Rooms, a theatre,
once the union of the University of Bristol

The SS Great Britain, the 'other' notable
tourist attraction in Bristol.
Now restored to its former glory.

Another view of the Downs of Bristol

St Mary Redcliffe Church,
much admired by Queen Elizabeth I

Admired by me: at the back of St Mary Redcliffe,
barely visible, a monument to the Church Cat,
who frequented its environs between 1912 and 1927.

The Tall Ships Festival, at twilight.
Go to Part IV


Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Tales of War and Conflict - Clifton Town, opera by John Humphreys (Part II of IV)

To start from the beginning
of this story, go to Part I

Part II
October 1831
Bert was holding forth to drinkers in a Clifton pub near the Gorge, while Bess served, tallied and mopped the tables...


Now listen good people to what I am telling you,
I mean you no mischief and I’ll do you no wrong:
‘Tis nothing but water the landlady is selling you,
‘Tis good Bristol water as makes you so strong.
‘Tis water, ‘tis water, in cider or porter,
‘Tis West Country water as sweetens my song.

There’s all kinds of water, water...
Gin, sparkling and clear; brewed into beer;
Stewed into cider inside barrel or keg.
I beg you to drink a toast to water! 
Sink down, drink down a bumper toast to water!

As long as the brewers can doctor it properly
Just so’s it don’t turn you all rusty inside –
And yon pretty barmaid don’t serve it up sloppily
Just open the Gorge and let in the high tide!
So come now and follow my message and swallow;
Your bellies are hollow as the Ocean is wide!

There’s all kinds of water, water...
White, tawny or brown, drink it all down;
Drink and your sorrows will drown, here in the town
Of Clifton – a bumper toast to water,
Glass, cup, drink up, for it’s only water!

Ale or cider, hops and apples are plentiful;
Mead, wine, lovage and all
So drink a little tot of cider!
Drink, drink a little cider... drink, drink a little ale!

Drink and be glad to stand up, drink till you fall down dead
Or drink up, stand till you fall instead.
Water is good for you, nothing but food for you
Specially brewed for you, carefully stewed for you,
Drink till you stand or fall,
There, backs to the wall...
It’s only water after all!

Water, water, mug, pail, all are on sale
 – All within call without fail –
And if the gaol should claim you, who is there to blame you?
Drink up, drink up, drink, drink a little water,
Water, water – drink more water!

Francis Danby:  The Avon Gorge,
before Brunel's Clifton Suspension bridge was built

Meanwhile, Colonel Brereton was out for a walk with his two little daughters when he recognised Isambard Brunel coming towards him, clearly with the same intentions.

Born in Ireland 50 years earlier, Thomas Brereton had had a brilliant career serving in the West India Regiment, the Royal African Corps and Royal York Rangers.  Following a governorship in Senegal, he was now semi-retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Dragoons and Recruiting Officer.  He was popular with his troops, yet he had recently suffered the great misfortune of losing his wife in India, and returned to England with his two young daughters aged 6 and 3...

The two men raised their hats to each other and Colonel Brereton introduced himself.  The drinkers at the pub, who despite their earlier song had been imbibing a drink somewhat stronger than water, sought to make merry with these two ‘toffs’ and surrounded them waving their tankards.

The Peeler (policeman), never far away, called out warningly “Move along there!” and Bert teasingly reassured him –


Kind Peeler be patient, restrain your long arm.
We love the dear colonel and mean him no harm.
The brave Colonel Brereton’s in Bristol I’m sure,
To keep us Bristolians from breaking the law…!  

(“Haw haw!”, chorused the others, as they returned to their drinks.)

A Peeler (right)

Well, Colonel, it’s a glorious day to be taking the air
With an elegant pair, may I say, of delightful young ladies;
As clear as summer skies is each countenance beguiling.
Those stars, I surmise, are their mother’s eyes a-smiling?

With a far away look in his eyes, Brereton responded sadly -


Ah yes, my friend, each morning shines on me their mother’s smile.
The breath of heaven soothes the lengthening years away.
Fades then the yearning!
Their mother’s eyes on me: she stands beside me still,
Warm once more the hand I held in mine,
Burns again the prayer within my heart – that when I die
There waits for me the tender welcome shining there
Beyond their mother’s eyes…

The Young Trio by E V Rippingille, 1829


Bess had had enough of the drinking songs of Bert and his friends.  It was her turn to have her say, as she wearily mopped the tables:


They say that men are equal as brothers;
Men fight and men die for the right to be free.
There may be some more equal than others,
But all men, it seems, are more equal than me.

Oh men may sit in fierce debate
Determined to improve their fate;
A modern phrase seems apt these days:
“The winds of change at last are blowing!”

Let menfolk sit about and plan
A MANdate for a modern man –
All very fine, but still no sign,
Of WOMANdate for me is showing!

Mister Wilberforce has done his bit,
With a little help from William Pitt –
The slaves are free, won’t somebody
Now please emancipate me?

If some day, far across the sea,
A statue’s raised to Liberty,
All day to stand, with torch in hand...
...A woman’s certain to be chosen!

Amongst the crockery and glasses
I wait upon the working classes;
Their work is done – MINE’S just begun
With aching back and fingers frozen.

People talk about the idle rich;
It doesn’t seem to matter which
Is rich or poor – what matters more
Is PLEASE emancipate me!


A  group of well-to-do citizens, three city councillors and the Mayor emerged from the inn having just partaken of a good and heavy lunch with plenty of wine.  They were noisily congratulating themselves on the comfortable positions they enjoyed in the city...

Four humble public servants we, upholders of democracy,
Each chosen (by the other three!) to rule our ancient city.
It serves no useful purpose to ask pointed questions as to who
Appointed us, The Chosen Few, as a permanent committee.

(The Council Aldermen elect, who then the candidates select
To serve on Council – in effect we all are sitting pretty!)

Our party - at Divine behest – with every virtue has been blessed,
So what is good for us is best for City and for Nation.
On patriotic grounds alone you can’t expect us, on our own,
To favour measures that are prone to rob us of our station...
Reforms may come, reforms may go; good politicians always know
There’s nothing like the status quo – and rats to reformation!  ....

These boastful words were overheard by the crowd around them, and also by rabble-rouser Seamus Trubble who spat after them in disgust and shook his fist at them shouting that they were scum and arrogant parasites, living on the blood of the poor.

“Some day our turn will come!”  Seeing the positive effect of his cries on the crowd he changed his shout to

“Rebellion!” “Reform!”

A passing Peeler attempted to restore order, removing Seamus from their midst, but it was the presence of Colonel Thomas Brereton nearby which pacified the crowd – he was known for this special quality of dealing with people and had on many occasions been successful at dispersing mobs. 

Colonel Brereton:

Now all good people, now good people, fill up your glasses.
Let us drink a toast to reform if you please!  Landlady:
Fill a jug of ale for our friends if you please!
Let us drink a toast to enlightenment for misguided MPs!
Try to live at peace with your neighbours,
But if you want to fight... why not join the army?

...and right on cue the Recruiting Sergeant made his appearance...

Recruiting Sergeant:

Come and join the Army; come and sign. 
Come and earn yourself
A pretty uniform, just like mine!
Come and sign!  A pretty uniform; what’s more,
A pair of big black bright boots like Wellington wore!

Suitably impressed, a group of bystanders approached to sign, as he continued...

Wake to the sound of the drums in the morning,
Leap from your sleep, there’s no time to be yawning!
Sound the “Advance!” as the daylight is dawning.
Whispering fears in your heart breathe a warning!
March with a pride in each stride you are taking;
Proud as the eagle, his eyrie forsaking -
Fortune or fame, there’s a claim to be staking.
Death has no fears for a man in the making!

The Recruiting Party, by E V Rippingille

Sarah’s little son Billy, known affectionately as Acorn, was hovering, fascinated by the smart recruiting sergeant and his marching song but his mother Sarah left them in no doubt as to her feelings –


Closed be thine eyes to the lies you’ve been reading;
Closed to the lives that the soldiers are leading.
Eyes that can read have no need to be pleading,
Help for a heart that is heedlessly bleeding!

Cold is the straw where the trooper is sleeping,
Cold as the kiss of the mist that is creeping
Stealthily by, where the canvas is weeping,
Cold as the watch that he’ll soon be a-keeping...

...while her Trooper warned young Acorn...


Cold is the heart of a warrior trying
Vainly to comfort a comrade, defying
Merciful death with each breath he is sighing -
Cold is the smile on the lips of the dying...

Brave is the life of a fairytale soldier!
Best when confined to the mind of a child
At play; I’d say that you’d best be a soldier
Only when you’re dreaming, your gleaming
Wooden sword upon your shoulder,
When you’re older find a better game to play!

Stay at home!
Little acorns should be left alone
Where they’ve grown
Till they fall from the tree!


William IV

The Town Crier could be heard proclaiming that to mark the coronation of William IV there would be a parade the following day with flags and banners displayed throughout the city of Bristol, and a great procession.  In answer to Bert’s shouted question he confirmed that the Mayor and the Corporation would not be present, since they were too elite for such things, and would instead be enjoying the festivities within the Mansion House, at public expense...

Quickly changing the subject, Brunel asked the Town Crier how the ‘great debate’ was going.  He was referring to the parliamentary debate on the Reform Bill taking place in London, to which the Town Crier replied that the MP Sir Charles Wetherell had made a total of eighty-three speeches against the Bill.  Although not an MP for Bristol, Wetherell was a Recorder of Bristol, in those days a high judiciary position. 

Cartoon of Sir Charles Wetherell

Both these pieces of information greatly annoyed the crowd, which had not been consulted on what they thought of the Reform Bill, and it was with difficulty that the Town Crier managed to calm them down and exhort them to relax and enjoy themselves the following day, though he could still hear some of them shouting “For shame!” as he continued on his rounds.

1988 Copyright John Humphreys.
Copying any part of John Humphreys' work is
expressly forbidden by copyright laws.

Part III:  Conflagration, looting, destruction. 
(Note:  all acknowledgments will be given at the end of Part IV)


Photo Finish
From Lonicera's non-digital archive

Bristol Temple Meads railway station.
(Part of it was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.)

These pictures were taken one Sunday evening when there was little activity going on - except for the loding and despatch of the mail train, with its red Royal Mail livery.

Totterdown in the background -
an essential part of the history of the riots,
because they started there.

Go to Part III
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