Hugh le Biron of Clayton Hall,
Loyal soldier of the Crown,
Answered at once when came the call,
“To arms! To arms!” Brave men stand tall
And don’t let their country down.

The Crown’s ministers had decreed
A distant emergency,
Some foreign land had to be freed
From a terror that mustn’t succeed;
A wicked insurgency.

Hugh buttoned up his battle dress,
As kith and kin gathered near
To wish him well and sure success;
Yet, he left his wife in distress
Possessed by terrible fear.

How skilled he proved in arts of war,
His courage beyond compare:
If some killed ten he’d slay a score
And then go after many more;
Where others might flinch he’d dare.

One night came a surprise attack
On the post he commanded,
His men urged that they should fall back
Before the fanatical pack:
Defence would leave them stranded.

Hugh was far too proud to retreat,
“We will hold our ground or die.”
A dreadful fight took place that night
Resulting in utter defeat
Once the dawn sun took the sky.

Though it wasn’t le Biron who’d lost,
His foes slaughtered to a man,
Their bodies lying cold as frost;
His own men bore an awful cost,
But he carried through his plan

Exhausted then he fell asleep
And as he slept came a dream:
His wife, so pale, began to weep
As she sank in dark waters deep,
Slipping from sight with a scream.

Then he was taking a salute
From a column marching by,
Their bodies pulped like rotting fruit,
Wounded, bleeding, all marching mute,
Ranks of those who’d had to die.
Which were enemies? Which were friends?
Hugh could not tell them apart.
Next came the throng, which never ends,
Those to whom such misfortune sends
The very worst when wars start.

Mothers and fathers of the slain
Whose tears can’t bring back lost lives.
Brothers and sisters bear the pain
Of those killed again and again,
And with them children and wives.

Hugh le Biron woke with a start,
Martial pride fallen away,
Iron grip of grief squeezed his heart,
He knew he had no further part
In this tragedy to play.

Dispatched on the next transport home,
With the wounded, and the dead
Who were then little more than loam
In fields they’d never again roam;
And many a one he’d led.

Hugh’d done it all for crown and state
And never once wondered why
Soldiers were sent to meet their fate
On foreign fields so sown with hate
Strangers met only to die.

Along the roads, along the lanes,
Over rivers in full spate,
To Clayton Hall through driving rains,
To Clayton Hall, ignoring pains,
He arrived, he arrived, but just too late.

Withered oak leaves hung limp from trees,
Dank hedgerows seemed dark with dread,
Spiders wove sombre filigrees
And Hugh was brought down to his knees,
Finding his wife three days dead.

Home too late, away far too long,
This last death a final knell,
For though the chimes of war are strong
Hugh learned to sing a different song
In retreat in Kersal Cell.

Hugh le Biron, hailed as hero,
By those who feel their pride swell
With tales of war they do not know,
Nor wounds that fester long and slow
For one alone in his cell.

In Durham City’s market place
Proudly stands in public view
Testament to a sculptor’s grace
Such a perfectly cast statue.
Without fault it seems to passers by,
Even to a discerning eye.

A county lord upon his steed
Replete in fine martial attire,
A horse, the finest of its breed,
Both set for all to admire.
What was once flesh and bone now stands
Rendered in bronze by cunning hands.

So proud the sculptor of his art,
His bragging was both broad and rife,
He claimed none might find a faulty part
And backed his boast with his own life.
“If there’s found the merest mistake,
Then let my fee pay for my wake.”

Truly, no one wished him ill,
But how his self-praise provoked them,
If only his vain tongue would still
Before all his boasting choked them.
At last some citizens revolted,
Convinced the piece must be faulted.

A servant viewed the manikin,
Having served his lordship for so long
He knew the eyes, forehead and chin
And soon would spot what was wrong.
At last he said, “I must confess,
This is my lord’s unique likeness.”

On to the plinth an ostler leapt
To see what clue he could gain,
Was the horse’s moulding inept?
Looked at fetlocks, haunches, mane
And declared, “This beast, with hooves well shod,
Might well have been fashioned by God.”

With man and mount being so well rendered,
Perhaps in the military wear
Lies some catch unattended,
Button here, and tassel there.
A tailor was duly deputed
Who found the lord perfectly suited.

Finally the town’s folk conceded
The monument had not a snag,
Tragedy, for nothing now impeded
Total removal of modesty’s gag.
The craftsman assailed humanity
With his constant verbal vanity.

Durham folk shut up their shutters
And hardly dare brave the street,
Whispered grumbles and urgent mutters,
“Don’t go out in case you meet
The man who with such resilience
Will dazzle you with his brilliance.”

Then a story started around
A rumour that brought people out,
Someone claimed fault could be found
Someone who hadn’t the slightest doubt.
So, folk gathered, but what did they find?
A beggar, confident…and blind.

“Why waste your time and ours,” the crowd wailed
“When the sharpest eyed have looked
And looked again and failed?”
The ancient itinerant rucked
Up his sleeves and loudly declared,
“Those who see least are them that stared.”

On to the plinth he carefully climbed
Feeling his way around the steed,
Spat on his hands and with fingers primed
Set about his tactile deed.
Would his lordship have been amused
At being so intimately abused?

When the horse received his attention
Many had to look away,
Where he fumbled none might mention
But, at last, they heard him say,
“It’s done, and I know what is wrong,
This stallion has no…tongue.”

All stood and stared and it was true,
Though the whinnying mouth gaped
No lolling tongue was showing through,
How had that detail escaped?
Those who have eyes to see can find,
It’s not looking that makes folk blind.

The beggar might have been rewarded,
Praised for being a sightless seer,
Glittering gifts could be afforded,
But, he just seemed to disappear.
Pity the proud sculptor, such was his fall,
He slipped away and surrendered his soul.

And yet the statue is standing still
Though few pause to stand and stare,
However there are a few who will
And are, probably, unaware
Of the sculptor who did little wrong
Other than to forget his tongue.

“Primitive Methodist Chapel”,
Was engraved over the door
Of the holiday conversion;
A place of worship no more.

The village long since stopped praying,
The villagers moved away
As property prices blossomed,
As commuters came to stay.

The old chapel was transformed with
Gold standard fittings throughout;
Wet room, king size beds, wood burner,
A plush holiday redoubt.

First guests were a married couple
Still living the lover’s life,
For she had a husband at home,
While he’d left behind his wife.

Safe in that secluded idyll
They could enjoy, undisturbed,
Illicit concupiscent fun
Without ever being perturbed

About possibly being found out,
Such a perfect spot they chose,
As no one for miles knew them, so
No harm done if nobody knows?

On their first night they lay dozing
In their mezzanine bedroom,
When an organ began playing
With a sound like sombre doom,

Assembled voices were singing
A drear hymn of bleak good news,
As if a congregation had
Gathered downstairs in their pews.

Pews that had long since been removed
And sold at a canny price
As feature benches to rich folk
Possessed by the antiques vice.

Yet there could be no room for doubt,
Those old pews were back, and filled,
Even as the singing died down
And the final chord was stilled.

Hiss and flicker of gaslights as
A baleful sermon began,
A preacher denounced wickedness,
While on their king size divan

The couple cowered, shaking with fear
As preaching gave full measure
To those who stained the House of God
Pursuing carnal pleasure.

Damned they were, and double damned who
Thought they’d easily afford
To pay for the sins of their flesh
While in the place of the Lord.

The organ struck up a discord,
Ecstatic voices were raised,
The dreadful God of vengeance being
Enthusiastically praised.

The couple crept down from their bed,
They must settle their affairs,
Exposing themselves for judgement
By the pious folk downstairs.

But they found all was in darkness,
No preacher, no pews, no heads
Turning towards them, yet, that night,
They lay in separate beds.

The aldermen of Morpeth met
To discuss their common weal,
For trade was good and commerce strong,
Their coffers deep and purses long,
Business had a busy feel.

And yet, they were not satisfied
Despite their profits being fine,
For greater income they would see,
Think how much better it could be
If Wansbeck was like the Tyne.

Those merchant men of Newcastle
Make good use of the sea,
Exploiting their commercial trips,
Because the tide brought in their ships
Right up to the city quay.

If the Wansbeck had been tidal
Transport costs could be kept down
As wind and water come for free,
But it wasn’t and never would be.
Then, Michael Scott came to town.

Michael Scott the wonder worker
Who’d bewitched the king of France,
Made trees speak, drew wine out from rock,
A mighty wizard and warlock,
The master of fate and chance.

Demons and sprites did his bidding,
He could turn night into day,
Some said he’d even conquered death,
So to bring the tide to Morpeth
Michael Scott just had to say.

He jibbed awhile at this request
For it was no easy task,
If there was something else, indeed,
Those aldermen might want or need
Then they only had to ask.

They’d each like a lover perhaps,
Or just wives who did not snore,
Recover hair, flatten the belly,
Have socks that were never smelly
Or wings so that they could soar.

May be, they’d like to be poets,
Or dressed in the finest clothes,
How about unicorns instead?
But each alderman shook his head,
No profit in all of those.

They wanted the tide in Morpeth!
Now, would the wizard accede?
He paused awhile and sighed a lot,
Drummed his fingers, then Michael Scott,
Quite reluctantly agreed.

But only the once could he call
This powerful magic down
It was such a hard spell to cast.
He needed someone who’d run fast,
The fastest runner in town.

He must be quick as a whippet
And should a stitch start nagging,
Not give into the pain or doubt,
Just run mile after mile without
Even a hint of flagging.

Young Alan Percy was summoned,
The fleetest youth they had got,
His heart pounded, his eyes glistened,
The while he carefully listened
To the words of Michael Scott.

“Stand at the mouth of the Wansbeck
And watch for the tidal race
As it enters the river, then,
Like being chased by desperate men,
Run for home at such a pace

“You keep ahead of the waters
Surging along at your rear.
You must gallop like a wild steed
Plunging on and on as you lead
That tide all the way back here.

“But, be warned young Alan Percy,
As you race across the ground,
No matter what you hear behind,
However much you are inclined,
You must never once look round.”

Next day, as the tide was rising,
At the Wansbeck’s mouth he stood,
Wave after wave did not relent
And he turned for home at the moment
The river was in full flood.

If he’d thought just a gentle jog
Would bring him to Morpeth’s bounds,
Such wishful hopes soon were gone,
He found a race for life was on,
Pursued by terrible sounds.

The roar of the tidal waters
Hardly a pace behind him,
Pressed his step as panic held sway,
He knew if he was swept away
No one would ever find him.

Worse, though, were cries of sea elves,
The souls of sailors who’d drowned
When their ships simply disappeared,
Down into the depths they were steered
And never a trace was found.

The waves were now their element
And their voice was the surf’s roar,
They’d overwhelm all they could find,
They rode white horses hard behind
The one who’d brought them ashore.

Alan Percy was running hard,
There were still ten miles to go
His lungs were bursting. His side pained,
And yet, at his heels, the tide gained
So he knew he could not slow.

It seemed the world was drained of air,
A pulse beat inside his head,
And sea elves in the urgent tide
Roared with fury, bellowed and cried
To see where they were being led.

Although he tried not to listen
Nor allow his pace to slack,
As he ran ahead of the surge
He became possessed by the urge
To, for a moment, glance back.

How hard he fought that temptation,
As if it might ease his plight.
Past Bothal village he sprinted,
From a distant spire sun glinted,
At last, Morpeth was in sight.

Yet, so tired was he with this race,
His young legs trembled and shook,
The sounds in the tide at his rear,
Screeching sea elves, filled him with fear,
He just had to take a look.

As he glanced over his shoulder
The elves mocked his endeavour,
Tide rushed back to sea in a breath,
The spell was broken, and Morpeth
Had lost the tide forever.

Like the legions long before him
Joseph was walking the Wall,
From Tyneside to the Solway Firth
His boots would tramp it all.

From the metalled streets of Wallsend,
Out over the fells and fields,
Shouldering his pack he rambled
Along to Sewingshields.

Such a land of stringent beauty,
Countryside of austere bliss,
Where the Wall seems insignificant
Perched atop a precipice.

As Joe looked along to the West
He saw a blight on his day,
Massing ranks of lowering cloud;
A storm was blowing his way.

He urgently needed shelter
Being too exposed where he stood,
The wind was rising so he must
Climb down the cliff if he could.

The rocks were wet and treacherous
As rain began to fall,
But part way down he found a cave
Running deep beneath the Wall.

A rough passage, narrow and low,
But a perfect place to hide
As lightning flashed and thunder growled,
Joseph eased himself inside.

Surely it should have been pitch-dark,
Yet, deeper he went roaming
Shadows gathered, but never more
Than to a dismal gloaming.

Gingerly Joseph made his way
Ever further down below,
Carefully edging towards where
There came a feint ruddy glow.

At last the tunnel opened out
Allowing him to pass
Through into a crystal chamber
Fashioned from flawless glass.

It was like being inside a gemstone,
Ruby light suffused the room,
And at the very centre sat
A weaver at her loom.

Intent she was upon her craft
As the busy shuttles flew,
Carrying endless coloured wefts,
All of a rubescent hue.

There was crimson thread and carmine,
Cerise and cinnabar,
Maroon, magenta and cherry,
Prussian rouge and realgar.

Cloth ceaselessly spooled from her loom,
Woven with cunning designs,
While the weaver in her scarlet gown,
Long red hair held by the tines

Of rose coloured combs, glanced at Joe.
Just for a moment, that’s all,
But her fiery eyes searingly
Seemed to burn into his soul.

Dreadful terror welled within him
Of the living and the dead,
Without any hesitation
Joseph turned around and fled

Frantically through the passageway,
And when the entrance was found
Clambered recklessly down the rock
And stood trembling on the ground.

The storm had passed, a bright sun shone,
Joe felt he’d escaped the grave,
Looking back at the sheer cliff face
He saw no sign of a cave.

Being Prince of Powys Benlli was rich; rich of land and rich of cattle, with fine warriors at his beckoning.

Galloping through hoar-frost on his hunter, through winter stripped boughs of his forest, through dawn mist he spied her.

A beautiful young woman in an emerald gown flowing around her as red hair tumble about her slender shoulders.

The prince called through crystal air to her, while mist gathered as a pall so even as she waved she vanished.

On he rode to flush the stag, pursue the boar, but neither felt the sting of his arrows that day.

He could not ignore the vision he’d been granted, it became his mission to seek her, for had not his wife grown old and plain.

Day after day she teased him, never answering his calls except with a smile and a wave. Till the evening she appeased him.

As the gloaming gathered along the woodland path she stood in his way. He begged her to stay and dwell with him in his castle.

So fair of face was she when she smiled and so certain of herself she could make demands upon one so beguiled and expect their fulfilment.

“Send away your wife,” she said, “Then may we wed and share a life with but one condition.

“I must be absent from your bed once a week, for I am from the land of fairy and must return there one night in seven. Please understand,

“You must never follow me, then I shall not grow old, but remain as fair as this day of our pledging.”

With no pause or hedging the prince agreed. He steered his horse, with her set high upon its pommel, towards home to find his wife disappeared.

“My name is Morwen of the Woodlands.” She declared to the servants who were then themselves snared by the spell of her beauty.

How perfectly and well she carried out the duty of being a prince’s wife, except once a week when she deserted him who became troubled by an inner strife.

He was determined to keep his promise and yet he feared he’d fail in this. Was there some devious purpose to her absences?

An undeclared lover? A secret intrigue? Neither by day nor night was he spared this torment of a truth he could not discover.

Wylan, the prince’s confessor and not unversed in magical arts, conjured a confidence from his lord.

The once adored Morwen was the cause of his dark distress, she’d set his enemies free to plot against him, such had been his infatuation.

It was with regret Benlli had come to view their meeting. Had she not seduced him through her fleeting appearances?

Wylan deduced a devious plan whereby his prince would lose the prime source of his present misery while allowing the cunning cleric ample earthy reward.

Hiding a grimoire of sorcery beneath his habit, the monk made his way to the great standing stones marking the portal into the fairy mound.

Firstly came the rustling of leaves settling down and then the sound of the swishing skirts of a silken gown.

He sat and watched while the earth opened and she descended a marble staircase into the forbidden place mostly hidden from mortal eyes.

The monk opened his book and ground shook as he chanted a fine incantation. “Now,” he said, “She is mine.

“Come dawn and she must present herself at the church and be bound by marriage to me. Such is the oath I alone now make.”

Lit by the sun’s first rays Wylan, hurrying to the church, found a strange, grotesquely tall woman, sat on the steps.

By the days early light, though, she seemed familiar, and then he saw, on her third finger, the ruby ring Benlli had given Morwen.

“I am a giantess now.” She confessed. “Your spell made me divest myself of that fey form by which you knew me. But, on the honour of your life,

“By the oath you swore, you must make me your wife.” Wylan was struck dumb.
“I will tell all,” she said, “So come,

“Sit by me and listen. Ugly now and huge though I be, a great beauty I was a score and five years ago when first I married the prince.

“But I lost his love with my looks as years passed, so at last I made a bargain with the fairy folk, by which I’d remain beautiful,

“As long as I became a giantess in their land once a week. So was I able to sneak back into my husband’s affections as Morwen of the Woodlands.

“Now, though, I am ever cast this way and you are bound to me. This day it is that we must be wed.”

Wylan shrank back, made the sign of the cross and cried, “I will thank the angels if she is restored to her spouse and peace is restored to me.”

And so she was. Prince Benlli’s eyes at last saw through the game so he could see both his wife of the first call and Morwen of the Woodlands as being both the same.

Together then they lived out their lives with no further resort to charms, dying at peace, content in each others arms after many, many more years came and went.

Their castle sank into the earth and the waters of Lake Llynelys began to fill and close over them, and there they lie still.

The Manchester Ship Canal Company
Were digging their ditch from city to sea,
With pick and shovel the way was being won
By navvys, and ganger Jim Shackleton.
Jamie-go-deeper, the ganger was known,
Jamie-go-deeper moving earth and stone,
His gang digging the route as it was planned
Till they fetched up against disputed land.
A full field’s width was barring their way
Because seams of coal ran beneath the clay,
Or so said the owner, naming his price,
Making the Company take legal advice.
No agreement found they had to resort
To binding arbitration in court.
The clever landowner’s cunning counsel
Called Jamie-go-deeper, knowing full well,
He crossed that field daily from home to work
And though a Company man he wouldn’t shirk
From telling the truth, whatever the question.
“Your name, sir, is it James Shackleton?”
“So it is,” he replied, “Jim to a pal.”
“And you are a ganger on the canal?”
“That I am and right proud of my gang.”
“You are on oath, so heed consciences’ pang,
When I ask have you ever seen at all,
As you cross that field, men boring for coal?”
Jamie-go-deeper paused, thought, then said, “No!
And it’s true that’s the way most days I go?”
The barrister was surprised, since his youth
Jamie had a reputation for truth.
Once more he asked, “Do you swear by your soul
You’ve never witnessed men boring for coal?”
The court held its breath at this inter-play
Just what would Jamie-go-deeper now say?
“I’ve seen no such thing.” The ganger stated,
Leaving the barrister quite deflated.
“You’ve never seen anyone boring the clay?”
“Oh yes, I’ve seen that, nearly every day.”
The lawyer smiled. “All falsehood must yield,
You’ve seen boring for coal when crossing the field.”
“No!” replied Jim. Counsel seemed he might fall.
“Have you or not seen men boring for coal?”
Jamie knew the truth isn’t for ignoring,
“Not for coal, but I have seen them boring.”
“Then for what purpose,” asked counsel bemused,
“Were those test drillings going to be used?”
Jamie’s pert reply caused a sensation,
“They were only boring for compensation.”
The lawyer caved in, the case could go hang
And Jamie-go-deeper went back to his gang.
Within less than a week of this legal loss
The field had such a deep trench cut across.
So it was because of men such as he,
Jamie saw Manchester through to the sea.