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


OneStonedCrow said...

Great Images Caroline - enjoying the rest of the tale too ...

Vagabonde said...

Writing a whole opera! That takes quite a talent. I also like all the pictures your placed with it.

Lonicera said...

Thank you both. John is very talented, and has a knack for a rattling good tune. The one which will appear in the next Part, about the river Avon, makes me cry every time I hear it.

Coral Wild said...

I'm getting more & more into the libretto - chanting it to myself for lack of the tune:)I would so love to hear the music....
I love your photos of Temple Mead and the Royal Mail train.

Lonicera said...

Thank you Sue! I've read this out to John, who commented - 'I too wish she could hear it'. One dreadful recording was made on the last performance, sadly. Even if there's no money to have it performed again, I'd love to have it professionally recorded in a studio...

Joyful said...

I'm just thinking how talented "your John" is an wondering how long it took him to write the libretto.

Joyful said...

p.s. I think the idea of having the professionally recorded is a good one even if it is not performed again.

Lonicera said...

I've just asked him as he says the music took 3 years, more or less (longer than I expected). The libretto a lot less. He likes the idea of having a professional recording of it - who knows.

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