Between Rivers

BETWEEN RIVERS AUTUMN 2022: JANE BRERETON – ALAN HORNE

BETWEEN RIVERS is a quarterly series – https://www.davidselzer.com/2022/05/between-rivers-introduction/  – focused on the area bounded by the rivers Alyn, Dee and Gowy, on the border between England and Wales in Flintshire and Cheshire.

For Autumn 2022 we have a special edition devoted to a selection of the work of Jane Brereton (1685-1740), a Welsh poet writing in English:

Melissa to Sylvanus Urban: from the Gentleman’s Magazine, October 1735 (excerpt);

To Cynthio. In imitation of the thirty third Ode of the first Book of Horace;

Letter to Miss ****, In answer to hers of December 2, 1739;

An Account of the Life of Mrs BRERETON (excerpt).

 

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Jane Brereton

Jane Hughes was born in Mold in 1685. She was the only surviving child of her parents, and her father took pains with her education. She soon began writing her own poetry, and went on to live the life of an educated gentlewoman of modest means. In 1711 she married Thomas Brereton, and they moved to London to pursue their common interest in literature at a time when women poets were beginning to emerge into publication. Unfortunately, the marriage did not go well. Thomas was prone to fits of temper and failed with both money and work. In 1721 Jane separated from him and returned with their children to Mold. Thomas soon obtained a post not far away, with the Customs in Parkgate on the Wirral, and the couple’s relationship may have been cordial; but he died in an accident the following year. After that, Jane Brereton moved to Wrexham, joining the literary circle around Mary Myddelton of Croesnewydd. She lived in Wrexham until her death in 1740.

We know of Brereton for two reasons. The first is that during the 1730s she was a regular contributor of poetry, under the pen-name Melissa, to the Gentleman’s Magazine, published in London by Edward Cave: the magazine has received some attention in more recent times. The second is that, on her death, friends and supporters subscribed to a volume of her work, the splendidly titled Poems on Several Occasions: with letters to her friends and an account of her life. Copies of this, placed in the National Library of Wales and British Library, might have mouldered down the centuries but for the growth of interest in the ‘Atlantic Archipelago’ as a curative to British history focused on London or England. Thanks to the British Library’s programme of digitization, the complete work is now available for you to read online here and a facsimile paperback edition is available. Brereton features in Sarah Prescott’s Eighteenth-Century Writing From Wales: Bards and Britons, published in 2008 by the University of Wales Press.

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Four selections from Poems on Several Occasions are given here: an excerpt from the verse correspondence in the Gentleman’s Magazine; the short poem To Cynthio, an example of her more serious work; a letter to an anonymous correspondent; and an excerpt from the account of her life, which tells of her relationship with her husband, and his untimely death. Some eighteenth-century typesetting conventions are replaced for ease of reading; otherwise, the text is as in the original.

Melissa to Sylvanus Urban: from the Gentleman’s Magazine, October 1735 (excerpt).

In an era when the ability to write correspondence in verse was an educated accomplishment and a means of clarifying one’s thought, Brereton wrote a number of letter-poems, and came to public attention through those published under her pen-name Melissa in the Gentleman’s Magazine, especially in ‘the Controversy with Fidelia, Fido &c. which so agreeably entertained the Public in the Years 1734 and 1735.’ Melissa to Sylvanus Urban is one of her contributions to that controversy.

A prize of £50 had been offered for ‘the best POEM by May next on five Subjects, viz. Life, Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.’ Another woman correspondent, Fidelia (possibly Kezia Wesley, youngest sister of John Wesley), responded in verses declaring that an extra zero should be added to the prize for such a task; or that an alternative prize for women could be marriage to Jonathan Swift, whose splenetic poem  The Furniture of a Woman’s Mind, had been published in the magazine. Others replied with their own displays of wit, including Melissa (Brereton), who suggested – incorrectly, it would seem – that Fidelia’s verses were really written by the editor. Brereton discussed this and further submissions with Thomas Beach, one of her friends in Wrexham. Without her knowledge, at least at first, Beach joined in the correspondence, using the name Captain Fido and posing as Fidelia’s admirer.  There was then a rather flirtatious war of wit between Melissa, Fidelia, and Captain Fido, who eventually signed off with some disparaging remarks about women writers. But Beach then wrote again, with a new persona, Mrs Prudence Manage (who has a daughter: Miss Manage). Brereton, perhaps catching on, carried out her own switch of gender: her final verses were in the name of clerical heart-throb Parson Lovemore. Our preconceptions as to what women might write about in the 1730s are set right: there is much poking of fun, discussion of who admires whom, and a joke about farting. In this excerpt, Melissa has put Captain Fido in his place, and turns her attention to Fidelia. She is responding to witticisms about her own supposedly devastating beauty. Urban is Edward Cave, who used the name Sylvanus Urban in his role as editor.

But, now, for Fidelia’s Epistle profound,-

(Which she hobbles about, like a Lancashire Round)

That her Vein is most easy, by Fido’s decreed;

But I’m greatly concern’d, now, I find she can’t read:

But to those that can, I appeal for this Truth,

That I neither pretended to Beauty, or Youth.

Whoe’er will my Lines condescend to revise,

Will find I make free with my own hollow Eyes.

‘Twas Fido, the Head of your triple Alliance,

First sent the poor Things (and my Pen) a defiance;

The innocent Peepers, he attack’d with much spight,

Abandon’d Fidelia, wou’d veil them from Light.

Yet longs for to see of my Face every Feature;

Good Urban! convey my kind Thanks to the Creature.

I hope she’ll be satisfy’d, when she is told,

Melissa declares herself – ugly and old.

And surely the Publick, will grant this Confession,

From a Woman’s own Hand, is an ample Concession!

But if Fidy persists, – I’ll here lay before ye,

For her Consid’ration, a very short Story.

A Monarch more famous for Wit, than for Grace,

Once pluck’t off a Mask, from a Lady’s foul Face;

But finding her vext, that her Face had been shewn,

He appeas’d her, by shewing a worse of his own.

My Meaning, as plain as a Pikestaff, I’ll make,

For I find dear Fidelia is apt to mistake.

‘Tis rude to expose my poor Phiz to disgrace,

Unless, like the Monarch, she’ll shew a worse Face.

As Fido to Sylvius; – so now, I declare,

If Fidy replies not; – here ends all the War.

Her Champion is gone; – and with her, I’ve done;

Who stood out a Blunderbuss, scorns a Pot-gun.

 

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To Cynthio. In imitation of the thirty third Ode of the first Book of Horace.

Away from the freedom of her informal epistolatory verse, Brereton’s serious poetry can seem rather conventional to the twenty-first century reader. This is not a matter of the rhyming couplets, peopled by Jove, Phœbus & Co., but of seemingly conventional sentiments of piety, pro-Hanoverian patriotism and Enlightenment virtues. The sketch of her life in Poems on Several Occasions says that she worried that her displays of wit might be prideful, and perhaps these were curbed in the poems. But some of the concerns which seem conventional to us were not to her. The Hanoverian settlement and the Enlightenment were battles being fought during her lifetime. The Stuart rising of 1715, which attempted to place James Edward Stuart (the Old Pretender) on the throne, took place when she was thirty; and the last burning of a woman for witchcraft in Britain was in 1727: one of Brereton’s verses refers to the Witchcraft Act of 1735, which abolished the offence. In a way Brereton was a political poet, with a new perspective as a Welsh woman. Only our distance from the events of those days causes these poems to seem conventional at first sight.

Some of the poems are more personal. An example is To Cynthio, with its wry reflections on love which, in the last verse, are suddenly turned back against the ‘I’ of the poem.

Cease, gen’rous Cynthio, cease to mourn!

And let the proud Eliza’s Scorn

No more thy Anger move:

No more in soft Complaints declare,

The giddy injudicious Fair

Prefers a meaner Love.

 

The beauteous Cloe Damon loves;

But he Corinna more approves,

Though stock’d with much Ill-nature,

While she regardless of his Sighs,

As he from Cloe, from him flies

T’embrace another Creature.

 

Thus cruel Love maintains his Sway!

The Rich, the Mean, the Rude, the Gay,

Unequal he insnares:

In vain or Sense or Merit pleads,

In vain sincerest Truth persuades;

He laughs at all our Cares!

 

E’en I this mad Caprice have prov’d,

When gentle Youths admir’d and lov’d,

And did my Grace implore:

Ill-natured Cymon I receive,

Rough as the wild Hibernian Wave,

That beats our Cambrian Shore!

 

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Letter to Miss ****, In answer to hers of December 2, 1739.

In addition to the letter-poems, five of Brereton’s prose letters are included in Poems on Several Occasions. They are discussions with friends (all anonymized by the editor) about faith, philosophy and society. They show that Brereton’s Christian belief was carefully thought through. All the letters are vivid and direct: arguably her most striking work. Brereton generally moves between protesting her lack of wit and contradicting the opinion of some established authority: in this case William Law, for whose devotional works she expressed a great, but by no means uncritical, liking despite his Jacobite loyalties. Here she takes issue with his fictional character Miranda, a model of the frugal gentlewoman. The Downs, mentioned at the end of the letter, is an anchorage off Deal in Kent, at the junction of the North Sea and the English Channel.

I grant you, Madam, that Pride is an insinuating and predominant Passion; but that there is the least Appearance, or Symptom of it, in your Letter, is what I can by no means admit. Nothing can be more just than your Sentiments of that Passion; and nothing less so, than your Application of it to yourself. There is certainly a Pleasure in the giving, or receiving a just disinterested Approbation; but I cannot believe, that a Pleasure of this Nature is either a Cause or a Consequence of Pride: On the contrary, I apprehend it to be, the pure Joy, and Satisfaction, which a benevolent Mind receives from whatever is Praise-worthy.

It must be confess’d that Pride is a sort of a Proteus; it can vary its Form, to gratify its own Vanity, or to elude Discovery: It is sometimes imperceptible, where it bears the greatest Sway; and, on the other Hand, it is often suspected to be where it really is not. As, for Instance, in the Article of Dress: A fashionable Garb, put on in a genteel Manner, is, in the Opinion of some rigid People, an infallible Indication of Pride. But if, as some have thought, (and if my Memory deceives me not, Mr Ray says) the improving and beautifying the Earth, with Plantations, Gardens &c. ought to be considered as a religious Duty; why is it not laudable in the Chief of the Creation to adorn themselves with all the Elegance of Dress, suitable to their Age and Condition, and conformable to the Mode of the Country they live in?

Some Divines have taught, that the Consideration of the richest Garments being chiefly made of the Bowels of an ugly Worm, should humble the Wearer. -True;- But may not this be an Argument for wearing that, which affords an humbling Consideration?

Mr Law, in his character of Miranda (in his Call to a devout and holy Life) says, she dresses meanly, that she may be able to support indigent Families. There are Calamities and Circumstances, which ought to be particularly considered. But, in the general, is there not greater Charity in employing the Industrious, and, consequently, preventing them from being reduc’d to Poverty, than in relieving them when they are so? There may be, I am persuaded, as much Pride in the Contempt of Dress, as in too great a Fondness of it. Who doubts, but that Diogenes was prouder in his Tub than Plato on his Carpet? The Remark which that polite Philosopher made on seeing the Cynic up to the Chin in Water was certainly very just. – But where am I rambling! – I know not how far I might have expatiated on this Topic, which you threw in my Way; had not the shocking Thought of the Situation, the mad Cynic was in, joyn’d with the severe coldness of the Weather, set me a shuddering, tho’ by a good Fire, and, happily for you, put a stop to my Speculations.

I should be glad to know the Name of the Ship, which your Friend goes in, that I may rejoyce with you, tho’ at the Distance of two hundred Miles, when I read the News, that she is safely arriv’d in the Downs, with a rich Prize.

I have made a long Paper-Visit; but as I have not been able to say any thing entertaining, I think the most obliging Thing I can do, is to take my Leave: So shall only stay to assure you, that I am,

Dear Madam!

Jan. 18, 1740                                         Yours, &c.

J.B.

 

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An Account of the Life of Mrs BRERETON (excerpt).

We might think of Brereton today as a neglected poet, but at her death more than a hundred friends and supporters subscribed so that Poems on Several Occasions might be published by Edward Cave. In addition to the poems and letters, this includes an Advertisement, possibly written by Cave, and an account of Brereton’s life. The latter tends to dwell on Brereton’s virtues rather than her acts. But the following excerpt, about her relationship with her husband and the circumstances of his death, fills out Brereton’s hints, in verses and letters, at a difficult family life; and the anonymous author’s high-mindedness combines with the folly surrounding her husband’s death to give us an absurd tragedy. In this passage there is, in addition to Brereton’s husband, another Thomas Brereton, a relative and a member of Parliament for Liverpool; Mrs Hughes is Jane Brereton prior to her marriage.

When Major Brereton died, he left his Son a considerable Fortune in Money; but being too young, and in the Management of Guardians, and his Mother marrying Captain Brown, there was not the Care taken of his Education that ought to have been: Mr Brereton was so much a fine Gentleman that he soon ran out most of his Fortune. He went over for a short Time to Paris; and, at his Return, the Earl of Stair, then Ambassador there, was pleased to recommend him, in the strongest Manner, to the Duke of Marlborough, as the Son of his old Soldier Major Brereton, and his Grace seem’d determined to provide for him if his ill State of Health had not prevented it. Some time after this, Mrs Brereton was advised, by all who had any Regard for her, to separate from her Husband: But tho’ all the Reason in the World pleaded for it, yet she express’d great Reluctance at it, especially unless she could have her Children with her; and that being at last brought about, she left London about the Year 1721, and retired to her native Country Wales, where she led a solitary Life, seeing little Company, except some intimate Friends, Persons of great Merit; well knowing what a critical Case it is to behave without the Censure of the World, when separated from an Husband. Soon after this Mr Brereton had a Post given him by the late Earl of Sunderland, belonging to the Customs at Park-Gate, near Chester. This brought him down from London. That Nobleman had promised also to advance him on the first proper Vacancy; but he liv’d not to claim it; for on the [number missing] Day of February 1722, he was unfortunately drown’d in adventurously crossing the Water of Saltney, when the Tide was coming in. His Body was afterwards found, and decently interred in Shotwick Chapel belonging to Thomas Brereton Esq; one of the Representatives in Parliament for Liverpoole, his intimate Friend and Relation, and in whose Service he lost his Life; for this Gentleman being at that Time concern’d in an Election, with a very powerful Antagonist, Mr Brereton, out of his great Zeal for his Friend, wrote a sort of Libel against the Gentleman, and in it he gave himself such a Loose as to come within the Power of the Law; upon which Mr Brereton advised him to abscond to avoid Prosecution (tho’ he highly lik’d the Piece which was written by his Instigation,) and so, by making too much Haste to get beyond the Knowledge of his Persuers, rush’d into Eternity. He was an unhappy Proof of the Prejudice of an indulgent Education. He used to say himself, that he never in his Life remembered being contradicted. His Parts were naturally very good; but entirely neglected. He was very positive and passionate; but could upon Occasion command himself surprisingly; so that while he made his Addresses to Mrs Hughes, she took him for a person of a sweet calm Temper: And his first Fit of Passion, after their Marriage, was like a Thunder-clap to her; yet he would sometimes, in a handsome Manner, acknowledge his Fault, and seem so sensible, that any, who did not know him too well, would have imagined him secure against a Relapse. He was generous to a Fault; a very indulgent Father; used frequently to admire his Wife’s Oeconomy; and confess that his Fortune must have been spent long before it was, had it not been for her surprizing Management. He was remarkable for his skill in swimming, beyond most Men, on which he relied too much, at the Time of his Death; and he was entreated by people on the Shore, not to quit his Horse, which he would do, and so perished about the two and thirtieth Year of his Age. He frequently saw his Children, while he was in that Neighbourhood, and had that Satisfaction the very Night before he was lost. So sudden a Death was an inexpressible Grief to his Wife; she could hardly support herself under the Shock; she fell into violent Faintings, when a Clergyman of great Piety, and a Lady, her intimate Friend, acquainted her with the News, tho’ she was perfectly free from any Kind of Fits, till this unhappy Accident.

BETWEEN RIVERS SUMMER 2022: ‘THE COOK’ & ‘THE LADY OF LLONG’ – ALAN HORNE

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BETWEEN RIVERS is a quarterly series focused on the area bounded by the rivers Alyn, Dee and Gowy, on the border between England and Wales in Flintshire and Cheshire.

 

In this edition we feature a poem, Sarah Dolan’s ‘The Cook’ from 2015, and an archaeological piece from the Curious Clwyd website about the discovery of The Lady of Llong and her necklace.

 

‘THE COOK’

Sarah Dolan is an English poet and artist who lives now in Scotland,  but previously in Wales. She is a long-distance member of Crossborder Poets, who are based at Gladstone’s Library in Flintshire. ‘The Cook’ was written as part of a Crossborder Poets project at Erddig, a National Trust estate near Wrexham. The subject is one of a group of estate staff pictured in an old photograph, and the vivid images of the poem reach back to this long-dead person. You can see more of Sarah Dolan’s work at lemoninkproductions.home.blog and at www.facebook.com/SarahLouiseDolan

 

‘THE COOK’

from a knuckle of bone

time fashions a fist

one for the right and one for the left

 

a knot of carrot roots vein the surface

pumped with sap as sweet as honey

 

wrapped in a tissue paper skin

worn taut as the pastry lid on a pie

 

through fire and ice

her hands scar over

fine filaments of asbestos crow footing the skin

 

puffed pink with scrubbing

peeling and pounding

 

prepared with carbolic soap

the blood stained fingers

dust the table with freckles of flour

 

©Sarah Dolan 2015

 

 

‘THE LADY OF LLONG’

The Curious Clwyd website lives up to its name, with a wide selection of history, myth and other material about north-east Wales. It includes this article on the ‘Lady of Llong’ the remains of a woman found in a Bronze Age tumulus in Llong near Mold, together with a remarkable necklace which has now been re-strung. You can read the introduction below, with a link to the full article and photographs. Prehistoric remains are widespread in the Between Rivers areas, often in homely or industrialised settings. The spectacular grave goods are of course an important aspect of this account, but there is also a fine sense of the archaeological process, the area, and the life of its ancient inhabitants.

They were hoping for something astonishing and the omens were good. The accidental discovery of the Mold Gold Cape at Bryn yr Ellyllon in 1833, and the Caergwrle Bowl in 1823 suggested that the curious, somewhat unusual river valley tumuli along the Alyn were special, that within were treasures that would bring the peoples of the Early Bronze Age further into the light, that would confirm the power, prestige and wealth of this area of north-east Wales. Ellis Davies, writing some twenty years before the excavations noted the name of the field as, Dol yr Orsedd – Meadow of the Throne. Perhaps more interestingly, the tithe map of the area, notes the field as Dol roredd – possibly rendering into English as, Meadow of Abundance. Hopes were then high with the excavation of the burial mound at Llong, two miles to the south-west of Mold – and while no gold cape was found beneath the turves there, something rather impressive was unearthed, nevertheless.

The article includes a photograph of the grassy mound which is all that remains of the tumulus – and   a link to a Google map which takes you straight to the field where the remains are. You can see where the River Alyn runs through the field, which is bordered in part by a section of Alyn Lane. You can read the full, illustrated article here.

[Note: I became aware of ‘The Lady of Llong’ through Sam Hutchinson, who posted a response to the Spring 2022 edition of BETWEEN RIVERS].

 

©Alan Horne 2022

BETWEEN RIVERS: INTRODUCTION – ALAN HORNE

It’s a great pleasure to introduce and act as guest editor for this new section of David’s site.

One day, David and I found that we had both written poems which referred obliquely to the Gresford disaster, a coalmine explosion in a village near Wrexham in north-east Wales which killed 266 people in 1934. We discovered a shared interest in this part of Wales, which centres on the catchment of the River Alyn. No surprise there: the area is a popular destination for days out from Chester where David has lived for most of his life, and from the Wirral where I spent my childhood.

We noticed that, as far as we could see, there is little attention paid to this locality in literature, despite the existence of some remarkable cultural institutions such as the Theatr Clwyd in Mold and Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden. Yet it has an emblematic position in British history: a contested border between England and Wales revised as recently as 1974, and a linguistic frontier, with hills, rivers and fertile lowlands, minerals, heavy industry, ports, and big winners and losers in the post-industrial economy. Others may know of glorious memorializations of this area: we needed to find them.

We envisaged a project which would highlight literary and cultural artifacts relating to the area, and generate new ones. We widened our horizons a little, to include the area delineated by three rivers – the Alyn, the Dee and the Gowy – to include north-east Wales and west Cheshire as well as the Flintshire and Wirral coasts of the Dee Estuary. BEWTEEN RIVERS was born.

This wider area includes the city of Chester, plentifully represented in art and history, though our intention is not to focus on the city but on its extensive hinterland. We hope to be disciplined rather then pedantic about this geographical orientation.

Our intention is that this be a quarterly feature, with two BETWEEN RIVERS items in each edition. Some we will write ourselves. Some we will discover, and we hope that readers of David’s site will point us to others. Over time we will feature a broad range of content, including (but not limited to) drawings, fiction, history, photographs, poetry and reviews.  We will give equal weight and value to the past and the present, with both new and established work. As ever on David’s website, your comments are an integral part of the process, but for BETWEEN RIVERS we would also be keen to receive recommendations of literature, history and cultural objects which might be included.

In sum, we hope to instruct ourselves while drawing the attention of others to a fascinating region. I hope you enjoy this new section. Welcome to BETWEEN RIVERS.

 

©Alan Horne 2022

 

Note 1: There have been three editions to date, Spring, Summer and Autumn 2022:

https://www.davidselzer.com/2022/08/between-rivers-summer-2022-the-cook-the-lady-of-llong-alan-horne/;

https://www.davidselzer.com/2022/11/between-rivers-autumn-2022-jane-brereton-alan-horne/

https://www.davidselzer.com/2022/05/between-rivers-spring-2022-at-loggerheads-a-relation-of-some-strange-phaenomena/

 

Note 2: see https://www.davidselzer.com/2021/05/other-peoples-flowers-three-poems-by-alan-horne/

BETWEEN RIVERS SPRING 2022: ‘AT LOGGERHEADS’ & ‘A RELATION OF SOME STRANGE PHÆNOMENA’ – ALAN HORNE

BETWEEN RIVERS is a quarterly series – https://www.davidselzer.com/2022/05/between-rivers-introduction/  – focused on the area bounded by the rivers Alyn, Dee and Gowy, on the border between England and Wales in Flintshire and Cheshire.

This first edition of BETWEEN RIVERS includes two contrasting pieces. One is David Selzer’s 2018 poem ‘At Loggerheads’, and the other is an account by Roger Mostyn,  of explosions in an early Flintshire coal mine owned by his family, taken from the Transactions of the Royal Society and dated 1677.

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‘AT LOGGERHEADS’

This was one of the poems that prompted us to imagine BETWEEN RIVERS. Loggerheads was and is a popular destination in the locality for day trips and walks. David’s poem – previously published on the site in October 2018 – records the murmuring voices which fill the space between the rivers.

 

The Afon Alun rises from hidden springs

on the peaty Llandegla moors, and courses

through ruined mill races to this valley

of ash woodland and wych elm, hazel, oak,

of vast limestone cliffs, of redundant lead mines –

a place named for a dispute between two landlords.

Here the river waltzes, tripping over stones,

and its tawny shallows ripple and gurgle.

 

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My mother and her two sisters, often

at loggerheads, rhapsodized about this place.

Crosville buses would bring day trippers

to enjoy the gardens, the bandstand

and the Crosville Tea House. In spring, folk

would walk the woods blooming with wild garlic,

bluebells, white wood anemones, celandine.

In summer, they would follow the river,

– dry in places where the flow

goes into sink holes and empty shafts –

to cross the bridge over the Devil’s Gorge.

The valley would be full of sounds – voices

calling, murmuring, distant music

echoing from the ancient, climactic cliffs

almost high enough for eagles to soar.

 

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Downstream from the gorge, the Alun turns south east.

It meanders above abandoned coalfields,

and bones of men and boys left where they died.

In landscape shaped by Romans and Normans

it whirls into the Dee.

 

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A RELATION OF SOME STRANGE PHÆNOMENA… IN A COLE WORK IN FLINT SHIRE

Presented by Roger Mostyn  in 1677 and recorded in the Transactions of the Royal Society, this is an early account of experiences with firedamp – explosive methane – in an early coalmine. It is a foundation text about the mining which is such a feature of the region, and earns its place in several ways. It is an intimate historical record of mining and the lives of miners and a vivid example of seventeenth century scientific and technological discourse, in prose that is vigorous and sometimes almost poetical. This is a new transcription of the seventeenth century original, completed specifically for BETWEEN RIVERS. For ease of reading, we have replaced the archaic long s with the modern s and introduced some paragraph breaks. From the original we have retained the sometimes inconsistent spelling and capitalisation, the use of colons and semicolons where contemporary English would use a full stop, and any archaic or idiosyncratic usages. You can find the original document of 1677 online at https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rstl.1677.0026

 

 

A Relation of some strange phænomena, accompanied with mischievous effects in a Cole work in Flint shire sent March 31. 1677. to the Reverend and eminently Learned Dr Bathurst, Dean of Bath and Wells, by an Ingenious Gentleman, Mr. Roger Mostyn, of the Inner Temple, who, at the said Doctors request, obtained it from his Fathers Steward and Overseer of his Cole-works, who was upon the place when the thing was done; the same Mr. Mostyn being also assured of it from his Father, Sr. Roger Mostyn, Lord of the Mannor, and several others, who were Eye-witnesses.

The Cole-work at Mostyn in Flint shire lies in a large parcel of Wood-land, that from the Countries side which lies to the South hath a great fall to the Sea-side, which is direct North; The dipping or fall of the several Rocks or Quarries of Stone that are above the Cole, and consequently of the Cole lying under them, doth partly cross the fall of the ground, so that the dipping of it falls within a point or less of due East, which is the cause, that the pits that are sunk at the Sea-side in the same level with the full Sea-mark, are not short of the depth of the others that are upon the higher ground, above fifteen or sixteen yards; so that they lie some sixty, some fifty, and the ebbest forty yards under the level of the Sea.

This above-mentioned work is upon, a Cole of five yards in thickness, and hath been begun upon, about six or eight and thirty years ago: When it was first found, it was extream full of water, so that it could not be wrought down to the bottom of the Cole, but a Witchet or Cave was driven out in the middle of it upon a level for gaining of room to work, and drawing down the Spring of water that lies in the Cole to the Eye of the pit; in driving of which Witchet, after they had gone a considerable way underground, and were scanted of wind, the Fire-damp did by little and little begin to breed, and to appear in crevisses and slits of the Cole, where water had lain before the opening of the Cole with a small blewish flame working and moving continually, but not out of its first seal, unless the Workmen came and held their Candle to it, and then, being weak the blaze of the Candle would drive it, with a sudden fizz, away to another Crevess, where it would soon after appear blazing and moving as formerly.

This was the first knowledge of it in this work, which the Workmen made but a sport of, and so partly neglected it till it had gotten some strength, and then upon a morning the first Collier that went down, going forwards in the Witchet with his Candle in hand, the damp presently darted out violently at his Candle, that it struck the man clear down, singed all his hair and clothes, and disabled him for working a while after; some other small warnings it gave them, insomuch that they resolved to employ a man of purpose, that was more resolute than the rest, to go down a while before them every Morning to chase it from place to place, and so to weaken it. His usual manner was to put on the worst raggs he had, and to wet them well in water, and assoon as he came within the danger of it, then he fell grovelling down on his belly and went so forward, holding in one hand a long wand or pole, at the end whereof he tied Candles burning, and reached them by degrees towards it, then the Damp would flie at them, and if it miss’d of putting them out, it would quench it self with a blast, and leave an ill-sented smoke behind it: Thus they dealt with it till they had wrought the Cole down to the bottom, and the water following and not remaining as before in the body of it among sulphureous and brassie Mettal that is in some veins of the Cole, the Fire-damp was not seen or heard of till the latter end of the year 1675, which happened as followeth.

After long working of this five yards Cole, and trial made of it in several places, it was found upon the rising grounds (where the signs of the Cole, and the Cole itself came near the day) that there lay another Roach of Cole at a certain depth under it, which being sunk to, and tried upon some out-skirts of the main work, it was found at fourteen yards depth, and wrought, proving to be three yards and a half thick; and a profitable Cole, but something more sulphureous than the other, and to reach under all the former work. This discovery of so promising a work encouraged us to sink some of the ebbest pits, that we had formerly used on the five yards Cole, down to the lowest Roach, and accordingly we began in one that was about thirty two yards deep, which we went down with perpendicularly from the first shaft, and sunk down twenty yards before we came to the said Roach, in regard it was at the Sea-side, and upon the lowest of the dipp (where the Rocks successively thicken as they fall) having prick’d it, and being sure of it, we let it rest, having had for a considerable time, as we sunk the lower part of it, many appearances of the Fire-damp in watery crevisses of the Rocks we sunk through, flashing and darting from side to side of the Pit, and shewing Rainbow-colour-like on the surface of the water in the bottom; but upon drawing up of the water with Buckets, which stirr’d the Air in the Pit, it would leave burning, till the Colliers at work with their breath and sweat and the smoke of their Candles thickned the Air in the Pit, then it would appear again, they lighting their Candles in it sometimes when they went out; and so in this Pit it did no further harm.

Having brought our first Pit thus forward, we were to consider of another to follow it, both for free passage of Air, as for furtherance of the work, and being desirous to get it in some forwardness before Summer, (when the heat of the weather at some time, and the closeness of the Air in foggy weather at other, occasions the Smothering-damp) it was resolv’d, for expeditions sake and saving of some charges, to sink a Pit within the hollows or deads of the upper work, at 16 or 17 yards distance from the first Pit; this we proceeded in till we came 6 or 7 yards deep, then the Fire-damp began to appear as formerly, accompanying the Workmen still as they sunk, and they using the same means as afore, sometimes blowing it out with a blast of their mouth, at other times with their Candles, or letting it blaze without interruption.

As we sunk down and the Damp got still more and more strength, we found that our want of Air perpendicularly from the day was the great cause and nourisher of this Damp; for the Air that followed down into this Pit, came down at the first sunk Pit at the aforementioned distance, after it had been dispersed over all the old hollows and deads of the former work, that were fill’d up with noysom Vapors, thick smothering Fogs, and in some places with the Smothering-damp it self: Nevertheless, we held on sinking, till we came down to 15 yards, plying the work night and day (except Sundays and Holydays) upon which intermission the Pit being left alone for 48 hours and more, and the Damp gaining great strength in the interim, by that time the Workmen went down, they could see it flashing and shooting from side to side like Sword-blades cross one another, that none durst adventure to go down into the Pit: Upon this they took a Pole and bound Candles several times to the end of it, which they no sooner set over the Eye of the pit, but the Damp would flie up with a long sharp flame and put out the Candles, leaving a foul smoke each time behind it.

Findithat things would not allay it, they adventured to bind some Candles at a hook hanging at the Ropes end that was used up and down in the Pit; when they had lower’d these down a little way into the shaft of the Pit, up comes the Damp in a full body, blows out the Candles, disperseth it self about the Eye of the Pit, and burneth a great part of the mens hair, beards and clothes, and strikes down one of them, in the mean time making a noise like the lowing or roaring of a Bull, but lowder, and in the end leaving a smoke and smell behind it worse than that of a Carrion. Upon this discouragement these Men came up, and made no further trial; after this the Water that came from it being drawn up at the other Pit was found to be blood-warm, if not warmer, and then Crevisses of the Rocks where the Damp kept, were all about fire-red Candlemas day following. In this juncture there was a cessation of work for three days, and then the Steward, thinking to fetch a compass about from the eye of the Pit that came from the day, and to bring wind by a secure way along with him, that if it burst again it might be done without danger of mens lives, went down and took two men along with him, which serv’d his turn for this purpose; he was no sooner down, but the rest of the Workmen that had wrought there, disdaining to be left behind in such a time of danger, hasted down after them, and one of them more undiscreet than the rest went headlong with his Candle over the Eye of the damp-Pit, at which the Damp immediately catched and flew to and fro over all the hollows of the work, with a great wind and a continual fire, and as it went, keeping a mighty great roaring noise on all sides.

The Men at first appearance of it had most of them fallen on their faces, and hid themselves as well as they could in the loose sleck or small Cole, and under the shelter of posts; yet nevertheless the Damp returning out of the Hollows, and drawing towards the Eye of the Pit, it came up with incredible force, the Wind and Fire tore most of their clothes off their backs, and singed what was left, burning their hair, faces and hands, the blast falling so sharp on their skin, as if they had been whipt with Rods; some that had least shelter, were carried 15 or 16 yards from their first station and beaten against the roof of the Coal, and sides of the posts, and lay afterwards a good while senseless, so that it was long before they could hear or find one another: As it drew up to the Day-pit, it caught one of the men along with it that was next the Eye, and up it comes with such a terrible crack, not unlike, but more shrill than a Canon, that it was heard fifteen miles off along with the Wind, and such a pillar of Smoke as darkened all the sky overhead for a good while: The brow of the Hill above the Pit was 18 yards high, and on it grew Trees 14 or 15 yards long, yet the mans Body and other things from the Pit were seen above the tops of the highest Trees at least a hundred yards.

On this Pit stood a Horse-engin of substantial Timber, and strong Iron-work, on which lay a trunk or barrel for winding the Rope up and down of above a thousand pound weight, it was then in motion, one Bucket going down and the other coming up full of Water. This Trunk was fastened to the frame with locks and bolts of Iron, yet it was thrown up and carried a good way from the Pit, and pieces of it, though bound with Iron hoops and strong Nails, blown into the Woods about; so likewise were the two buckets, and the ends of the Rope after the Buckets were blown from them stood a while upright in the Air like pikes, and then came leisurely drilling down: The whole frame of the Engin was stirr’d and moved out of its place and those Mens Clothes, Caps and Hats that escaped were afterwards found shattered to pieces, and thrown amongst the Woods a great way from the Pit. This happened the third of February 1675, being a Season when other Damps are scarce felt or heard of.

 

©Alan Horne 2022

 

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