Write Down Speak Up Love Where You Live Project – Aston Hall

My interest in history, in what has gone before us, increases by the year, and Aston Hall has 400 years of history, of Civil War, of Kings, Queens and of intrigue. I was delighted to be part of the Write Down Speak up team, comprising Laura Yates, Kurly, Spoz, Maggie Doyle and Charlie Jordan on the day ,who descended upon this House to soak up the atmosphere write a few poems, inspire some others, listen to the contributions of others, and generally have a poetic day influenced by place.

It was fantastic to get children, staff, and visitors to write on the day offering a memorable poetic vox pop of proceedings. Not finely polished work, instead rough immediate responses to the surroundings.

The setting is odd. One of the finest surviving Jacobean mansions in the country, it is now hemmed in by decaying 1970’s housing, Victorian terraced streets, Aston Villa’s football ground and the elevated section of the Aston Expressway. There is much to write about, far too much for any single poem to tackle. To my delight it inspired me to write no fewer than six poems, a sequence, like real poets do!

I perform two poems on the video. The first, Alien Invasion in Aston can be heard as the second poem in on this video, performed by me,, as I liken Aston hall to a spaceship, so out of kilter is it with shat now surrounds it. The second is the penultimate Long Gallery on the video and describes the eponymous room which served as a contemporary gym, providing enclosed walking space for exercise- and gossip.

The four poems not performed on the video include Aston Hall, a cinq cinquaine which name-checks several notable aspects of the House. Visitors records the nasty side of the Holte family, their perverse pleasure in asking their servants to wait on wooden painted cut outs of aristocratic figures which they installed in their drawing room. I was surprised to discover that the deep dark finish of the wood in the Great Hall, and all around the house was not the colour of the original wood, instead it bore the stains of 400 years of living. Great Hall draws a parallel between that and how the colour of relationships can also alter without us noticing. Finally, The Groom to the Stool of the Kings is a piece of fun, based on truth. Introduced by a poem recorded in stone in the Great Hall where the servants would often assemble it is a light hearted look at the job of the groom whose job it was to literally take the Kings toilet to him from which the terms “throne” and “stool” endure.

The texts for each poem follow:

Alien Invasion in Aston

It is as if a spaceship had descended
A bloody great Jacobean one
Descending to destroy the muck and grime
The ugliness of what surrounds , calling time

On the careless buildings which abound

Squat and ugly temporary
Bland insipid monstrosities
That choke at its chimneys
And paw at its gates
Over run by mediocrity most ignominious of fates

A superior race with thought and care
With time to wonder what goes where
Should visit us fast
To conquer those who build not to last
For Holte and Watt were visionaries too
Not men for suffering architectural fools
Who allowed place and sightlines to be wrecked, blocked and mangled
All in the name of progress and new fangled

The alien forms would question the intelligence,
Of those who thought that the M6 had perspective relevance
To splendour and pride and artistic aesthetics
Not a bungled attempt at a modernising quick fix
So roll out your weapons and your powerful armouries
And flatten the offending to restore landscape harmonies.

Groom to the Stool of the King

(Inscription above the fireplace in front of which the servants dined)

If service be thy means to thrive
Thou must therein remain
Both silent faithful just and true
Content to take some pain

If love of virtue may allure
In hope of worldly gain
In fear of God may thee procure
To serve do not disdain

If you are groom to the stool of the king
Whenever his aides came beckoning
It was your task to produce his throne
A seat of which he called his own
For kings do not attend a lavatory
Instead they come to him you see
A noble regal affectation
Providing comfy defacation
And because sometimes before relief
His majesty would sup upon gold leaf
The groom would sift the contents rough and runny
As where there’s muck there’s always money

Aston Hall

Chestnuts
Grand avenue
A mile long colonnade
Such grandeur and flat bread in a
Nutshell

Great hall
Roaring fireplace
Hosting nobility
Impressing Kings in a room and
A half

Staircase
Shattered fragments
Blown by Parliament’s force
Munitions and splinters remain
In place

Secret
Tunnels and doors
To the church or beyond
Escape route from foul treachery
And fear

Tow’ring
Wealth and excess
In perfect symmetry
Subjugation and achievement
Glowers

The Long Gallery- Aston Hall

Where ladies pout whilst showing out
Escorted by husbands or young men
Where gossip slips from indiscreet lips
Of who, and what and when
With reports exchanged of Trafalgar or Waterloo
Or other tales of Empire derring-do
On the turn she might expose a heel, perhaps an ankle
Just a glimpse enough to make paramours thankful
Haughtily ignoring the gasps, the sighs
For really this was but light exercise
When outside rain might smudge a perfectly powdered nose
Or risk a stain on virgin white hose
When precipitation might flatten carefully coiffeured tresses
Or dampen the line of voluminous dresses
Which dipped, swept and ostentatiously swayed
At the distinguished , morning promenade

The Great Hall

I had imagined that it was always like this
Dark heavy hue on ancient panelling
Distinguished, authentic, imposing

Until a chipped fragment revealed the truth
Light bright vibrant oak
With bold veins

I looked again
Only then did I see the grimy layers
Of soot, touch, animal brush and repair

Veneers that accumulate
Disfigure, dull, sap
And I thought of us

Visitors

They stood silent, erect
Imperious figures by the fireplace
Standing, impassive, unmoved by the hearth’s heat

Mysterious, but of unquestionable social status
Their deportment and the cut of their cloth
Resplendent for all to see in high finery

Distinguished guests of Sir Thomas Holte
Welcome and revered visitors
Of an uncertain Parish

For whom places must be set
Cushions plumped
Rooms made ready

To whom deference, a bow and a curtsy was demanded
Accompanied by offers of refreshment
And hot baths

Not by way of hospitality
But of amusement
To the dummy boards

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