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


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