Monday, 21 July 2014

City rules


So there's this law that we prefer straight streets,
most of us, at most times, Pareto-fashion,
hitting four-fifths with one-fifth effort; dust
gathering meanwhile on the other fifth.
My other fifth is ancient offprints, gems
in dust: John Gunn's woeful extempore
about a Norfolk ruin, or the Baptists
clinging to the equality of races
despite all science, or the Carey Street site:
four thousand people having been turned out,
and houses cleared away from those prime acres,
the Courts of Justice rose in Carey Street --
public knowledge -- no note of disapproval --
eighten-sixty-something... seventy years
deeper in dust than Cable Street... forgotten...

I wrote the above poem in 1996, for a competition organised jointly by the Times literary supplement and Poems on the Underground for poems with an urban theme.  Other poems I entered in that competition are here.  The poem was published in Cambridge University libraries information bulletin 40, 1997, p. 16.  You'll find CULIB at , but unfortunately its online presence doesn't go back before 2000.

The offprints referred to are in the Pitt-Rivers collection at the Haddon Library of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, where I work.  You're welcome to come and see them in the Haddon!  Failing that, here are the references to the articles concerned.

John Gunn's woeful extempore: 'General meetings and excursions.'  Quarterly journal of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, January 1869, pp. 2-17.   The excursion in question was the SIANH day out with the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society, 16 September 1868, and the full embarrassment is on page 16:

"Flixton Ruin was the next locality, where the Rev. John Gunn should have read a paper; but owing, he said, to the fact that fifteen years had elapsed since he visited the locality, he was scarcely prepared to trust his memory."

The Rev. John Gunn was vicar of Irstead and Barton Turf.  It would seem the vagaries of his memory were famous -- and so were his kindness and conscientiousness as a parish priest, and his scientific turn of mind.  A good man, and one hopes his memory did not allow recollections of the Flixton Ruin gaffe to torment him for the rest of his days.


the Baptists clinging to the equality of races despite all science: Bedford Pim,  The negro and Jamaica.  London: Trübner, 1866.  I believe this is the source.  It seems in 1996 I was exercising a dash of poetic licence.  The quotation I'd been spurred by was almost certainly this:

"I shall therefore speak of the negro as I find him in history and in life, though in so doing I may be compelled to present him in language somewhat different from the maudlin eulogiums bestowed on him of late by the enthusiastic negrophilists of Exeter Hall."

Exeter Hall in London was used as  a meeting place by anti-slavery organisations, and the name did not necessarily have the religious connotations I supposed in 1996.  But the science was implicit in the fact that the paper was presented to the Anthropological Society of London.

four thousand people having been turned out: Wilfrid H. Hudleston & F.G. Hilton Price, 'On excavations on the site of the new law courts.'  Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 3(1), 1873, pp. 43-64.  The paper begins:

"It is well known to most of the inhabitants of London that the Government have decided to erect the long-talked-about Courts of Justice in the Strand, upon what is called the Carey Street site.  This site, occupying an area of seven acres, was cleared of its houses about three years ago, when nearly 4000 people were turned out."

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