The poem is, in part, a protest at the neglect of Bredon Hill in an age when only the most pronounced features of the landscape are much noticed. Although not very high or steep, Bredon Hill, in Worcestershire, stands at the joining of the Severn Valley with the Vale of Avon – high ground with good views in all directions, and close to ancient travel routes. These days, Bredon lies to the East of the M5 above Strensham Services. It is on the opposite side of the Severn Valley to the more prominent and celebrated Malvern Hills.
|Lines in poem||Notes|
|Lines in poems|
|Line 1 – |
If truth, as has been said, is old as hills
|If a source is needed, Mohandas Gandhi is supposed to have said, “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills’.|
|Lines 10-11 –|
Squire Parsons’ folly was to raise me up
By nineteen more to make one thousand feet.
The small tower on top of Bredon Hill was built in the 19th Century by the local landowner, John Parsons MP, to add an extra 19 feet to the hill, specifically in order to bring the total height of the hill to 1000 feet.
Perseverance, Sugarloaf and Summerhill.
No soldiers these, but British Camp indeed.
|These are examples of the fanciful names given, mainly by Victorians, to the summits of the Malvern Hills. However, the name of the hill called British Camp alludes to the iron age hill fort that existed there, and to the earthworks that are still plainly visible.|
Then Nottingham, at Cotswolds’ corner,
So cowed by domineering father Cleeve
He’s hardly recognised or shown on maps.
|I suspect that people often assume that the high ground north of the B4362 is simply a continuation of the Cleeve Hill escarpment, with no separate identity. It is named on OS maps as Nottingham Hill, with neighbouring Langley Hill to the NE.|
Good Meon keeps my back as best he can,
Though vexed by phantom hounds that haunt his slopes.
|Meon Hill, an outlier of the Cotswolds that lies across the Vale of Avon from Stratford (so further to the East from Bredon), seems to attract spooky legend, including the ancient claim that it is haunted by black dogs.|
. . . catching them at Evesham,
squashed by Edward’s thumb against the river’s curve,
De Montfort’s body dumped at Pershore Abbey,
His testicles across his nose . . .
|The Second Barons’ War is somewhat romantically associated with the continuing fight to contest the absolute of power of English kings in the decades after Magna Carta. In truth it was more to do with money, mixed with lethal antisemitism. It was brought to an end in 1265, when the armies led by Edward, son of King Henry III, massacred Simon de Montfort’s forces at Evesham. De Montfort thought that his position in a loop of the Avon gave his forces protection from the enemy, which he expected to arrive on the other side of the river. However, Edward’s forces crossed the Avon further upstream, and were then able to swoop down from Green Hill (high ground, still named as part of Evesham) to the North. De Montfort died in the battle, but his mutilated body was taken to nearby Pershore Abbey and displayed.|
As men fought men, and walls and water too,
At Worcester, Powick, Tewkesbury, and more
|This refers to –|
the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471,a very savage and decisive battle in the Wars of the Roses;
the Battle of Powick Bridge in 1642 – more scuffle than battle, it was the first clash of the English Civil War;
the Battle of Worcester in 1651, which ended the Civil War.
The wallowing valley mists that served to hide
The bloody debris of a long day’s battle;
|This refers to the Battle of Edgehill, 1642, early in the Civil War. It took place at the head of the Avon Valley, so visible from Bredon Hill. Although begun as a pitched battle, it became lengthy and disorganised, and wasn’t fully resolved after two days. It was certainy very cold weather, and I have read somewhere that it was foggy, and that soldiers blundered about, coming across the enemy in small and random engagements. Claimed at the time as a victory for the Royalists.|
Saw, at valley’s head, on Burton Dassett hill,
A beacon, flickering, uncertain what the news
Should be to send from Edgehill on to Ivinghoe.
|It seems generally accepted that the news of the win was sent to London by means of beacons – the first lit on the top of nearby Burton Dassett hill. (This pair of small hills can be seen – on a very clear day – from the Malvern Hills, at a distance of almost 40 miles.) The way that the national network of beacons was linked seems not to be well documented, but Ivinghoe is sometimes mentioned as the next beacon from Burton Dassett to London. Google Earth elevation profiles suggest that there is line of sight to Ivinghoe (also 40 miles away), and that there is then another line of sight to Hampstead Heath, another known beacon site – from where the message could easily be sent on to Westminster and Whitehall by beacon or horse. I’m still waiting to be told how the identity of the winning side could be communicated by the flames of one fire.|
The transatlantic red-eye flights that etch
Their contrail stripes against the rising sun;
|This is not fanciful, in essence. For much of the year the position of the rising sun, viewed from Bredon Hill, is close to the bearing for Heathrow and Gatwick, so it’s not unusual for the contrails of overnight flights from North America to be seen converging, as if heading into the glow of the rising sun.|
The unschooled Milton’s bones, an average Alexander’s dust,
Two allusions here, the first to Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard:
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood.
Secondly, to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In Act V, S1 there is an exchange between Horatio and Hamlet about the possibility that the dust of Alexander (the Great) might end up being used as a bung in a barrel. This leads on to Hamlet saying
Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
Oh, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
Should patch a wall t’ expel the winter’s flaw!