James Somersett

Head of a Negro by James Copley


James Somersett

“Granville Sharp the abolitionist and Lord Mansfield of the King’s Bench are well known, but the eponymous defendant is more of a mystery.”
                                                                                                                              – The Sunday Items

He ran from the court
To the door of his champion,
Slaved no more,
And he knocked on the door of his champion
To show he was free –
He ran from the court and he ran from our history.

Did James and Granville then
Shake hands like proper gentlemen ?
Did they embrace, perhaps,
In a quite un-English way ?
We cannot say,
For James is never heard agen.

Did he and Granville,
As they bid goodbye,
Look in one-another’s eye
And share a smile and knowing nod
That seemed to subtly imply
“We’ve started something here, by God !”

Maybe he died that very day,
Or lived another three long score,
Maybe rich, maybe poor –
He went about his way.
The last we see of James
Is at that door.



Obey in All Things your Masters According to the Flesh

Battle of Vertières by Ulrich Jean-Pierre


Obey in All Things your Masters According to the Flesh

When even Jesus shrugs his shoulders,
Utters not a word ag’enst,
And Paul is rooting with the holders
Over people bought and fenced –
All these chattels in their fetters
Must submit unto their betters.
God had cursed the sons of Ham –
So help yourself – he just don’t give a damn

And thus were Haitians much maligned
By France, the Pope, and even God,
(Who spat upon their Negro kind
And swore to keep them ’neath His rod.)
Till after ev’ry prayer had failed,
They struck a pact which countervailed –
It’s such a sorry state of works
When Satan saves and idle Jesus shirks.




Talk Like a Pirate

Long John Silver
Long John Silver by Robert Ingpen


Talk Like a Pirate

Curse ye, Robbie Newton !
Curse your lily-lubbered hide !
For thanks to ye, all pirates be
The yokels o’ the crimson sea !
We used to hail from Luton,
Or from Whitby Bay, or Morningside –
But now it’s said we’re born an’ bred
In Lynmouth, Lyme an’ Lizard Head.

From Foway to Zoyland, thar we blow
From Durdle Door to Westward Ho !

Ye scurvy-livered, timber-shivered blaggard, Robert Newton !
Ye turned us to a joke, to the folk that we be lootin’ !
Ye’d have us be a parody o’ peggy-leg an’ lock-o’-dread
Of parrot-shouldered patchy eyes fore’er a-lookin’ ’skance.
We used-a be the buccaneers o’ Buckin’ham an’ Birkenhead,
But now we’re jus’ the poxy-pillaged pirates o’ Penzance.

From Brizzle Dock to Davey Jones,
We curse your skull an’ cross your bones !



Shall-he Shanty

Jewel of the Amazon by Stephen Jesic


Shall-he Shanty

One man drifts upon a door –
Too far from home, too far from shore,
Without supplies, without an oar.
Or so I’ve heard it told.
Both he and raft, three days ago,
Were languishing upon the deck –
Now all the rest are ten below,
And he by chance escaped the wreck.
Instead, he gets to starve and stare
     At water, water ev’rywhere !
Beneath the fierce, unflinching skies,
He waits his death and hungry flies –
When a shadow crosses salt-caked eyes…
A figurehead in gold !

So weigh the anchor, hitch the stay,
I’ll blow you back to yesterday –
We’re all adrift and outwards bound,
An island’s waiting to be found.
So dance with the carambola,
Come to my isola of the giorno prima,
Ev’ry newborn gleamer.

One man drifts below a prow
Too far from home – but safer now,
If he can only climb somehow…
And so our yarn sets sail.
Up top, he finds no sign of life,
Yet down below are cages crammed
With birds, and beasts, and flowers rife:
As live as he, and just as damned.
A hold to behold !  All brought
     From out the land he sees to port.
But where are they who stocked this store ?
If only he could swim ashore,
To the island of the day before…
Ah, therein hangs a tale…

So drop the anchor, be becalmed,
We’re porpoised, parroted and palmed
In paradise, in distant climes
A long long way from Greenwich times.
So dance with the mola mola,
Come to my isola of the giorno prima,
Ev’ry shipworn dreamer.


This is based on the opening of Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before.



Sonnet of the Portuguese



Sonnet of the Portuguese

They’re coming !  Raise the alarm on the dockside !
They’re swarming, and pushing us out of the sea !
Their billowing sails, from Pembroke to Leigh,
Are storming our beaches, invading our sands !
Their cargo is toxic, their ballast monoxide –
These by-the-wind sailors, these rafts of medusa.
Mohican’d above, while their dreadlocks hang looser –
All laces and ruffles, and hooks ’stead of hands !
On the hottest of days, when the skies are clear blue,
And the southerlies breeze off the sea to the shore,
This deadly armada with venomous crew
Are planting their colonies right at our door…
These silent bluejackets are coming for you –
These unthinking killers, these seamen o’ war.



Hounslow Fast & Hounslow Slow

Early 20th Century views of Hounslow High Street


Hounslow Fast & Hounslow Slow

All the stages came through Hounslow,
All the coaches heading West:
Driving on to Staines and Windsor,
Bristol, Plymouth, and the rest.
All the coaches came through Hounslow,
From each Western vale and down,
Stretching legs and changing horses
For the final push to town.

They all knew Hounslow then:
The drovers, grooms and highwaymen.
But nothing stays the same –
And so one day the railway came.

Only three miles north of Hounslow,
Yet those three miles meant a lot:
Steaming on to Slough and Reading,
Faster than a horse can trot.
All the West once came through Hounslow,
Then the bypass passed you by –
And little mark is left to show
From when this High Street lived so high.

There’s nobody to blame,
For nothing ever stays the same –
The world still comes your way,
But now they do not leave, and so they stay.



Put out to Pasture

Bringing up the Guns by Harold Power


Put out to Pasture

Once a time, horses were ev’rywhere:
Carrying knights on their scoutings and charges,
Galloping messengers, lancers in battle,
Winding our winches and towing our barges,
Trekking our caravans, herding our cattle,
Ploughing our fields and pulling our drays,
Hauling our minecarts, waggons and hearses,
The Hansom and omnibus, stagecoach and chaise
Were drawn with a mixture of carrots and curses.
Chestnuts and roans and brindles and bays,
Black beauties, piebalds and fleabitten greys.
Rocking our children and hobbying fairs,
Stuffing our cushions and gluing our chairs.

So where are they now ?
They all got replaced by machines in the end,
That can do their jobs better and do their jobs faster –
They’re cheaper to build and are quicker to mend,
And don’t need reminding just who is their master.
The horses can only be worked to the bone,
They try hard, but haven’t the means.
They’ve all been replaced, through no fault of their own –
For who can compete with machines ?
In hindsight, of course, it is always the case:
When a horse must compete with the new iron horse,
Then it’s always a one-horse race.

These day, humans are ev’rywhere –
Building our furniture, stitching our clothes,
Driving our buses and stacking our shelves.
Doing the jobs the majority loathes,
For who else could do it for us but ourselves ?
Builders and farmers and doctors and tutors –
Of course they need humans !  Whyever d’you ask ?
You can’t leave the it down to machines and computers –
It’s not like there’s robots for every task.
We’ll be here for donkey’s years, my dears,
Despite such market forces –
So close up the stable door once more,
We’re all safe as horses !