Friday, 12 December 2014

The Witching Hour

It is nearly Halloween and the time when witches are abroad casting spells and causing mayhem. Witches hold a powerful hold on the imagination as the interest in the Pendle case in Lancashire of the 17th century testifies. The fear of witches and their persecution resulted in a discussion I had in 1991 with a friend when visiting the Museum of Witchcraft in the delightful Cornish village of Boscastle. I had read a book on European witchcraft in the 17th century and remarked that the increase in witch hunts was linked to times of social distress and political upheaval. It was particularly marked in Germany when the number of cases increased greatly during the period of the 17th century 30 Years War. Over 30,000 people were convicted and executed during this period in a time when Germany was divided by strife. In Britain the number of witches executed was around 1,200. The majority, about 70% , were women

. It is a fallacy to think that British witches were burned: burning was practised on the Continent. The favoured method in England was hanging and the peak of witch trials was in a 50 year period from 1590 to 1640. In England this was a time when the country suffered with famine, growing poverty, religious intolerance and ultimately civil war. In short my contention was that the times called for scapegoats when people were looking to fix their fears on some poor unfortunate usually a woman.

 The counter argument put by my woman friend is a feminist one that the persecution of witches is a frightened response to the power of women. Women have always been healers. They were the unlicensed doctors and healers in rural societies carrying out a variety of roles. They were abortionists, nurses and counsellors. They were midwives, travelling from home to home and village to village. “For centuries women were doctors without degrees, barred from books and lectures, learning from each other, and passing on experience from neighbour to neighbour and mother to daughter. They were called “wise women” by the people, witches by the authorities”.

Irrespective of the reasons stories about witches abounded in the community. Locally one of the better known stories concerns the Witch of Getliffe’s Yard who had the ability to change shape into a cat. Another Leek witch in an interesting clash between the old world and the new caused a factory to stop production when she put a spell on machinery until bought off with drink. The Moorlands does not feature in any major witch trial in the period, but elsewhere in the county investigations did take place. In 1596 a 13 year old boy Thomas Darling claimed that he came across a little old woman wearing a grey gown, black fringe cape, broad hat, and who had three warts on her face. Darling angered the woman, causing her to curse him to go to hell. Darling believes this was the Witch of Stapenhill named as Alice Goodridge and her mother were interrogated at Burton. Under pressure, they confessed.

  By the 18th century a more rational view of the existence of witchcraft came to the fore and the last witch trial that resulted in an execution was  in 1716. By the Victorian Age a belief in witches was thought absurd. In 1857 the Times reported mockingly of an allegation of witchcraft in a case of obtaining money under false pretences when a “cunning man” named Tunnicliffe convinced a Rugeley farmer called Charlesworth that his cattle herd was bewitched.

Gunpowder Treason and Plot

There was a story circulating around my old  University York  that the distinguished historian Gerald Aymler  one November evening was stopped by children to ask for  a  “ penny for the guy”?. Professor Aylmer’s speciality was 17th century English History and so he answered humorously that if the children went away and came back to tell him about Guy Fawkes then he would give them a pound. A pound in 1976 is about the equivalent of a fiver today. If the children had done their home work they would have discovered that Fawkes was a local lad who was born in High Petergate in 1570. A soldier Fawkes spent much time in what is now Holland fighting against the Dutch who wished to free themselves from the yoke of Spanish  power. They would have also found out that many of the plotters in the Gunpowder Plot were Midlanders with homes in Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire. In fact the last stand of the conspirators was at Holbeche House in Staffordshire after the plot had been discovered. The plot they would have researched was a desperate attempt by leading Catholics to assassinate King James 1st as he opened Parliament on the 5th November 1605 by packing a cellar under the building with gunpowder. Of course the attempt on the Kings life was revealed when the shadowy Lord Monteagle was tipped off and Fawkes captured as he made ready to lay the fuse.

Since then the exposure of the plot has been commemorated by bonfires and fireworks, but the people lighting fires this evening are perhaps unaware that the object of Bonfire Night in the past was a brutal assertion of Protestant Ascendency over Roman Catholicism. The date November 5th has another significance as it is  the date that William of Orange later William III landed at Torbay in 1688 to wrestle the crown from Catholic James II. To complete the Protestant triple whammy of key dates in November, the 17th was the date that Elizabeth 1st the person who established the Church of  England succeeded to the throne in 1558 after the death of her Catholic half sister Mary.

The sectarian nature of Bonfire Night was especially marked in the past. In 1827 in Coventry a newspaper account  records that the fires along roads were so great that coaches had to zigzag through the bonfires “ amidst the bursting of fireworks and showers of serpents- it is truly astonishing that no serious event took place. We have heard of the horses of a wagon taking fright, which only stimulated the lads to a more energetic assault of fireworks, but the poor animals did no damage to themselves or others”. In Preston the following year the discovery of the Popish Plot “was celebrated with much spirit”.  In Reading a strong “Church and King “town, the Guy was committed to the flames “with exultant shouts and the explosion of squibs, crackers and rockets” In Chester the Cathedral bells were rung and the garrison cannon fired. And finally closer to home in Macclesfield the police fought a losing battle with a mob determined to celebrate the discovery of the “detestable conspiracy” with displays of fireworks and the discharge of guns.

It is worth noting that during this time the Tory Government led by Wellington struggled against fierce opposition to remove 17th century laws applied to Roman Catholics denying them full citizenship and passed at a time when Catholics were regarded with suspicion following incidents such as the Gunpowder Plot.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The eating of "umbles"

One of the delights of the summer is eating samphire the sea weed that grows in the salt marshes of the coastal regions. You can usually get it in June or July. I  first became acquainted with it in East Anglia. It is very tasty boiled and served with lemon and butter. A French lad who was in a group I was camping with thought it was one of the tastiest things he had tried whilst on holiday, a rare acknowledgement indeed .

Samphire appears in the “Whole Art of Cookery” published in the early 19th century by a local publisher in Bemersley near Knypersley. What makes the book unique was that it was published by Primitive Methodists. It was produced in Hugh Bourne’s, the founder of Primitive Methodism, own publishing house. The printer was more used to producing prayer books and religious tracts rather than such works of domesticity. However early Methodists were very keen on personal development and the book had a strong ethic of self improvement which would have fitted with the ethos of advancement. It would have achieved the Primitive Methodist seal of approval. Although one aspect of a puritanical religious movement they would have baulked at was the copious amounts of wine that many of the recipes required. The cynic in me thinks that knocking back a few bottles of Sack may have been one way to cope with some of the servings.

The unknown author of the work  drew on  earlier writings. In the 18th century cookery writers such as Hannah Glasse and Susannah Carter dominated the scene and some of their recipes  appear in the “Whole Art of Cookery”. One example was a dismal sea  farers dish called Portable Soup which even then was thought to resemble glue. It was a mistake that one of the characters in “Swiss Family Robinson” also makes It might be useful to speculate whether the poor diet of the sailors indicated by the existence of portable soup might be a reason why there were so many naval mutinies in the late 18th century. Another strand that is evident in the “Whole Art of Cookery” is the drawing  from earlier culinary traditions of  the medieval period as the book includes heavy use of spices and dried fruit in such dishes as sweet chicken pie 
or lamb with currants. One item that appears in a number of meals is the oyster. In the early 19th century oysters were the dish of the poor until later in the Victorian Age when pollution destroyed the oyster beds driving the price beyond the reach of working people. They appear in such dishes as “Oysters and pistachio nuts” and “oyster ragout”. Verjuice is also mentioned made from crab apples as an alternative to vinegar. In the Middle Ages it was widely used and more recently has made something of a comeback.

Tastes change especially in regard to the use of “umbles” or offal which many turn their nose up at. It was not always the case. As a child I have eaten tripe, chitterlings and pigs trotters. Many would be appalled at the prospect. In the “Whole Art” there are instructions to make Calf Head Pie which includes sliced palates and coxcombs. Battalia Pie requires two lamb’s  testicles or stones.. An essential ingredients of hashed calf’s head are “brain cakes”. The recipe for dressing “Calves Chitterlings curiously” calls for the meal to be “closely covered with fire”

 The book includes directions for making wine, elder, cherry and gooseberry wines indicating the range of flowers and fruits that could be turned into semi palatable alcohol. Home brewing of beer was always a commonplace activity in the 18th century home. Instructions are given for “strong October” as well as “small beer” and “strong ale”.

There are some omissions: no bread or scone recipes are included and, given that it is a North Staffordshire cookbook, no oatcakes

Black Consciousness and Delma

It was almost certainly a rare sight in a town like Leek in the early 1950s. The black face of little Delma stares out apprehensively at the camerain  February 1950.  She is wearing the school blazer of All Saints School which she was soon to start. Delma’s guardian appears more confident. The Reverend Payton, vicar of All Saint’s was a man in his early 40s. He stands in the doorway of the Vicarage with his wife. Delma aged 10 was the daughter of a Nigerian barrister  staying at the Payton’s for several months before becoming a boarder at Wellington private school in Shropshire. She was enrolling at a local school before moving to Wellington the following Autumn. I imagine that Delma would have been the only person of colour in Leek at the time. I wonder how she would have been treated?  Probably as a figure of curiosity as  all social surveys carried out at the time do not report overt  hostility to black people. Writing in the early 1950s the South African writer Doris Lessing thought that the general positive  attitude to race in Britain then stood in marked contrast to her own country and the decade before black servicemen in the US Army report on the friendliness of British people compared to the segregated nature of society back home.

If there is one characteristic that comes through in the reporting of Delma’s arrival it is a patronising one that was a standard response throughout much of the media at the time of her arrival in Leek coincided with some debate over mixed marriages. As a leading advocate of African self determination the Botswanan leader Seretse Kharma had married a fellow Oxford student a white woman leading to discussion on the subject of mixed marriage.

 However the 50s began to see a change in the question of an African consciousness that begin to see the granting of independence to African countries by the end of the 50s and into the following decade. The seeds were sown not too far away from Leek in Manchester. In 1945 the fifth Pan African Congress held at Chorlton Town Hall was significant politically, coming as it did just months after the end of the Second World War. The war had been fought in the name of freedom, yet around the globe hundreds of millions of people lived in colonies run by  European powers. The Congress brought together a number of important political activists including Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah who went on to lead anti-colonial struggles in Kenya and Ghana. Delma’s own country would become free from colonial rule in 1960 and as a professional her own father may have played a part in the administration of the newly independent Nigeria.

This is not to say that the transition was a smooth one. The 50s saw the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya which was brutally suppressed by British forces, the implications of which are still being played out in the law courts.  It saw ferocity and slaughter in other European colonies most notably in the Belgian Congo and in French North Africa and the consequences of colonial powers arbitrarily drawing a line on a map would eventually lead to a Civil War in Delma’s own country in the 1960s and into the 1990s with the horrors of Rwanda

Alstonefield Church

During the summer I visited Alstonefield Church. It was a late June day and the wild flowers rich in colour crowded round the grave stones. It was a place to take in the wonderful countryside and reflect.  Alstonefield is interesting in that some of the oldest gravestones in the country stand in the church yard. The oldest I saw belonged to Alice Green who died in April 1518. There seem to be others of a similar age. The beginning of the 16th century is a very interesting time. Within a 50 year period from 1490 to 1540 a person like Alice would have heard of new countries being found  across the western sea, new ideas of Luther and Calvin were challenging the orthodoxies of faith , books were published on the new printing presses to spread new ideas. I wonder if Alice Green was aware of the radical transformations.  Or was Alstonefield too remote a backwater place that by the time of her death in the second decade of the 16th century the news had not reached the community?

Inside the church are impressively ornate pews carved by a local craftsman sometime in the 1630s as well as a Jacobean three decker pew with sub ordinate clerk’s seat and the family pew of the Cotton family painted green and also dating from the 17th century.

One item I had not seen before. It was discovered in the rubble several years ago and now  fixed on the wall. It was described as a head of Sheela Na gig, a carved fertility figure from about 1100. The figure is usually quite a sexually graphic one. A very good example , if not explicit one is outside the 12th century Church at Kilpeck in Herefordshire. There is some debate on whether Sheela Na gigs were first carved at around the time of the Norman Conquest or whether they are from an earlier time and are representative of a pagan tradition that clung on in the more remote areas. Another interpretation is that they were  warnings against lust.

It has been suggested to me that the Alstonefield figure is not a Sheela Na gig at all, but the remnants of the head of the triple goddess. A better example of the stone head of this deity exists not too far away  in a porch at Grindon Church. The triple goddess theme is common to a number of religions including the Celts and the Norse. In Irish tradition the Morrigan are depicted as three powerful goddesses who influence power, battle and sovereignty. Some suggest that Morgan le Fay of Arthurian legend is a later representation of the Morrigans. The Norns in the Norse tradition are female beings who control the destiny of the Gods and men. And some neo pagans believe that the early Christian Church accommodated ancient beliefs such as the Goddesses in their own beliefs in for instance the Three Marys.

Whatever the stone represents, at some point in the past the Alstonefield figure was wrenched from the wall and buried in rubble to resurface in the early 21st century. Perhaps it was the result of the early Protestant zeal directed at idolatry and graven images that first occurs  in the period that Alice Green lived. 


 It’s the month of the Leek Blues Festival in which musicians both local and further afield will be bringing the music of the Deep South to local pubs and clubs. It’s over 40 years since I saw Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee perform in the  Legendary Bluesmen Tour. They appeared at the Heavy Steam Machine in Hanley. Older readers might recall the venue. It had been a ten pin bowling establishment until turned into a music venue in around 1972.( I also saw a young Elton John there )  Both men were the real deal in terms of living the life of true bluesmen. Terry’s father was a share cropper and Sonny went blind in his teens the result of an accident while McGee was from a working class family whose father was a factory worker. He was crippled with polio as a child and was pushed around in a cart by his brother until a charity organised an operation to cure the illness. Both men were from the south and both experienced hardship and racism as travelling musicians through the country during the 40s and 50s. Like many blacks they moved north and established themselves on the folk music scene in New York.  They were welcomed in the left leaning bohemian clubs of Greenwich Village, venues that would later nurture Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

 McGee and Terry toured the UK frequently after 1957 so when I saw them in the Potteries they were well known and had played with some of the most influential musicians of the period. Curiously I gather although it was a musical partnership that carried over a 30 year period the two men disliked each other intensely and off stage would not talk to each other. I saw a clip of them on You tube from a TV show of the 50s. They were playing with Woody Guthrie the legendary folk singer and song writer. Guthrie  chronicled life in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma in the depression of the 1930s in his songs and writing who then went on to influence Bob Dylan.

What musicians like McGee, Terry and Guthrie( and from an earlier generation Leadbelly, Son House and Robert Johnson) had was authenticity. They had the genuine  experience of working in the fields or factories and in the case of Lead belly and House grim experience in the prison farms of the South. Some of them found solace in religion or in politics. House was an itinerant Baptist preacher. Leadbelly and Guthrie supported left wing causes which led to them coming under scrutiny in the communist “witch hunting” phase of the 1950s.

 They learned their skills at the feet of earlier musicians such as Blind Blake and Irene Scruggs of the Piedmont Blues style. McGee and Terry in turn went on to inspire later musicians such as Led Zeppelin, Rory Gallagher, the Animals and Rod Stewart whom I saw in the music venues of the Potteries in the 1970s. And the baton is now being passed to another generation who are playing at the Leek Festival.

I will end with an anecdote: Jeff Parton of Werrington  used to run the Folk Club at the Red Lion in Stoke, now part of the Crich Tram Museum. Woody Guthrie’s son Arlo was touring UK folkclubs in the 60s and wandered in to Stoke Folk Club. Arlo later went on to write many political songs following in his father’s tradition but was then unknown. The manager  of the Folk Club asked  to do an audition which compliantly he did.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

King John- a misunderstood Monarch

In truth King John has had a bad press. He is usually considered one of the worst Kings ever to rule England which he did for 17 years from 1199 to 1216. John is in the same league as Edward II, Richard II and Henry VI in terms of  inept medieval monarchs. Cruel, militarily inept, untrustworthy, devious and sadistic are just some of the epithets that are usually directed against him. It culminated in the Barons forcing him to sign the “Great Charter” or Magna Carta in a field by the Thames curbing his dictatorial powers. I was thinking of him as a gazed down on his tomb at Worcester Cathedral. He asked to be buried in the same church as St Wulfstan, a local saint, so on his death at Newark( after according to one source eating unripe peaches and drinking too much cider) his corpse undertook a long cross country journey before it was buried beside the River Severn.

But Leek owes John a lot and perhaps his reputation needs to be restored.  It was John who granted the Market Charter to Leek in 1207 as he did for many other towns in the country. Liverpool got its charter in the same year. This was a consequence of the king needing to raise additional revenue as a consequence of losing all his family’s possessions and land in Normandy. John stands poorly in comparison with his brother the courageous Richard the Lion Heart who only spent a short period in England before going on the Third Crusade and in consequence bankrupting the country. John followed in the steps of his father Henry II who energetically got round the country administering justice. John was in his father’s mould in being a serious administrator. He was probably the first King since the Conqueror to know  England very well, crisscrossing the country in frenetic activity, like his father, personally overseeing the running of his land. His awareness of the country was assisted by his enthusiastic pursuit of game. John like all the Angevin Kings was a keen hunter and there is evidence that he hunted throughout the Midlands, the North and the West Country. As a consequence he was one of the few medieval monarchs to encourage the building of bridges and improving roads. He was also the first to recognise the pottery industry in Staffordshire as an order for 4,000 plates and 500 cups was made to supply a Christmas banquet at Tewkesbury in 1204.

John’s main problem was an inability to get on with the leading barons and the high handedness he frequently showed to them would eventually lead to the showdown at Runnymede. This can be demonstrated by his handling of the most powerful lord in these parts, the founder of Dieulacres Abbey, Ranulph Earl of Chester a very loyal and dependable knight. In 1203 John accused him of aiding his enemies in France and the following year of siding with the rebel Welsh. Despite these slurs Ranulph remained faithful aiding him  in the last rebellions of his rule and acted as executor of John’s will.

John was unlucky. The poor economic situation of England forced him to embark upon ever more ingenious ways of extracting money from the barons which caused ill feeling. The brutal methods that he employed to ensure their loyalty such as hostage taking only worsened the situation. The verdict of history on him must be that he had the ability and energy to be a great king, but all too often he acted like a petty tyrant

West Indian Cricket

It’s the 50th anniversary of me seeing sporting legends at Norton Cricket Club. I was 9 and not really aware that I was in the presence of two of the greatest cricketers who were playing in North Staffordshire league. They were the West Indians Gary Sobers and Wes Hall. My father took me to watch cricket at a couple of local league grounds such as Knypersley or Norton although the latter was a very attractive proposition for my father with the great Sobers playing. Of course both Sobers and Hall were not the first West Indians to play in North Staffordshire. Both Sonny Ramadhin and Frank Worrell had played locally in the previous decade.  Ramadhin who played for Ashcombe Park has the distinction of being immortalised in at least three calypsos because of his role in the famous victory against England at Lords in 1950. The first time that the Caribbean had beaten the “mother country Along with Valentine he is immortalised in “Cricket Lovely Cricket” by Lord Beginner (“With those little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine”); Ramadhin on the Ball by King Radio (“We want Ramadhin on the ball”); Cricket Calypso by Lord Kitchener (“Ramadhin, you deserve a title, Sir Ramadhin, followed by a medal”).

But back to 1964, I had seen the West Indies play against England the previous year when Cowdray the England captain returned to the crease with arm in plaster having broken it after been hit by a delivery by Wes Hall the demon fast bowler.  Cow dray’s brave and resolute action resulted in a draw and a year later I was to see Hall not too far away from the family home in Stoke. I was recently informed by Peter Wright from King St that he recalled that Leek cricketers wore extra padding when playing against Hall. I gather though that he was a good natured man although it must have been intimidating to see that 6 foot 3 inch muscular frame bear down at you at high speed. Sobers also exuded grace and athleticism whenever he played and he has been described as the “greatest all round cricketer the world has ever seen”. Who could forget the six sixes he scored at a Glamorgan against Nottinghamshire some time  later? Some years later the proudest boast of Peter Fitchford who used to get into the Swan was not only had he played football against John Charles of Wales and Juventus- Il Gigante Buono – The Gentle Giant. But he had also taken the wicket of Sobers when he played for Knypersley which is something to brag about.

Later on I have seen a number of touring West Indian sides at work and at play. I saw Joel Garner “the Big Bird” squeeze his 6 foot 8 inch frame under a low beamed Worcester pub during the tour of 1980 and a 1984 match at Old Trafford when King Viv and Gordon Greenidge were in their pomp.

The West Indian approach to life was recalled to me in a Wigan pub once when a  stranger told me that he was stopped  by a car load of fellow West Indians who were lost on their way to Old Trafford. He got in the car with them and  was offered a bottle of Rum and was “lost” for three days. His wife took a dim view. “She never did have a sense of humour” he said.

The Return of the Otter

Otters have been seen locally. Altogether it’s very good news and although understandably the authorities want to keep  the animal’s location secret it is cause for celebration. Otters have been seen locally. I’ve been told  they are living in the waterways of the Moorlands including in the upper reaches of the Trent as well as the Churnet. They have even  been seen within the boundaries of Stoke!!  This sleek and playful mammal almost became extinct about 50 years ago as a combination of persecution and change to  its habitat. One factor was the use of pesticides after the War which affected fish stocks on which the Otter depends. Belatedly in 1978 the Government banned hunting of the animal and the Otter achieved further protection from wildlife legislation passed in 1981.  It is certainly a testament to the cleanliness of local rivers especially the Trent which suffered from pollution and neglect for many years. It is not only in Staffordshire but reports of otter increase have been reported from the Ribble in Lancashire to the Medway in Kent in areas where they have not been reported for many years

I have never seen the animal in the wild. My only sight has been at refuge centres in Devon and Derbyshire but it is certainly an engaging, inquisitive creature almost child like in its liveliness. Otters are playful animals and appear to engage in various behaviours for sheer enjoyment, such as making water slides and diving in to rivers. They may also find and play with small stones. It is also a ferocious defender of its territory and family. It’s the top of the chain as a predator of the waterways feeding on fish and water fowl. Of course its increase has attracted grumbles from some anglers who complain that the growth in numbers has had an impact on fish stocks. However I for one think that the re appearance and advance of the Otter in the Staffordshire Moorlands is unalloyed good news.

Lutra Lutra to give it its Latin name appears in many myths. In Welsh legends the sorceress Ceridwen left young Gwion to guard her cauldron, but he tasted the draught accidentally gaining knowledge of all things. He transformed into a hare to escape her anger, but she pursued him as a dog. When he plunged into the river as a salmon, Ceridwen became an otter to continue her pursuit. Gwion was eventually reborn as the great bard, Taliesin.

. The animal features frequently in modern literature. The Otter in Kenneth Graham's Wind in the Willows is an affable character, with a particularly adventurous son who lives up to the creatures playful image .Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson follows the life of an otter in the rivers of North Devon, and Gavin Maxwell's Ring of Bright Water recounts the touching, funny and tragic true story of his friendship with otters, giving a lyrical portrayal of their intelligence and irrepressible sense of fun. It was later filmed. But perhaps my favourite Otter story is the short story Laura by Saki in which the dying woman has her wish granted by  coming back as an Otter with an “elegant svelte figure”

Walter Scott and the Union

This month the Scots have their referendum to determine whether they stay within the United Kingdom. Most Scots who live locally that I have spoken to are opposed to the country going its own way although I understand that the vote will be close.
One man can claim to have invented “Scottishness”. He’s considered to be the first internationally known novelist. His statue in Edinburgh is the largest to a writer in the world and for most of the early 19th century his reputation stood unparalleled. He organised the visit to Scotland in 1822 of George IV, the first visit of a  monarch from south of the border that wasn’t at the head of an invading army, and was to blame for clothing  the fat, alcoholic King in swathes of tartan and plaid. This writer is also responsible for coining such well known phrases as “caught red handed”, “ wide berth”, “lock, stock and barrel” and “back of beyond” and yet is now completely unread, even with Tony Blair’s endorsement of “Ivanhoe” on radio 4 “ Desert Island Discs”. I am referring to Sir Walter Scott.
What we think of the romantic notion of Scotland, the Highlands, the landscape, the tartans and the tradition can largely be put down to some canny promotion by Scott nearly 200 years ago.
 He wrote “Rob Roy” (1817), Ivanhoe (1819) and Peveril of the Peak (1821).  In 1818 he was knighted. In 1826 circumstances began to turn against him, he became bankrupt when his publisher Archibald Constable and printers Ballantyne failed and on 15th May his wife died. His health began to fail as the pressure of work increased; he suffered a minor stroke. Scott was a man of honour and decided that he would write and any money earned from his writing would go into a trust fund which would be used to clear his debts. The period 1826 to 1828 was a period of ferocious writing including a biography of Napoleon which brought in £40,000 by December 1827. But his most lucrative plan was the production of cheap editions of all his novels with new introductions and copious notes, a project called “Magnum Opus”. He had written “Fair Maid of Perth” by the end of March 1828 and set off to London as soon it was completed to meet with his publisher and to discuss the production of “Magnum Opus”. On the way to London on April 5th he stayed the night in Leek.

April 5th- Breakfasted at Chorley, and slept at Leek. We were in the neighbourhood of some fine rock scenery, but the day was unfavourable; besides I did not come from Scotland to see rocks.

One is clear what Scott’s view of the forthcoming referendum on independence would be. He was a Tory of the most committed kind fiercely attached to maintaining the union with England. He foretold some of the arguments used by both sides of the referendum debate in “Rob Roy” with the dialogue between the clansman Fairservive and Nicol Jarvie on whether to have closer links with England. He was reactionary enough to oppose at the end of his life the Reform Bill which offered limited reform to parliament and concocted a plot to kidnap Princess Victoria should the measure be passed. His historical view prompted another writer and also visitor to Leek Mark Twain to attack “sham chivalry, of a brainless and long vanished society. He did measureless harm”