Wessex Attractions: Little Fleece Bookshop

Former bookshops are, sadly, far more common nowadays than still-open ones. But how about former bookshops owned by the National Trust, and available to let as a holiday cottage?

The Little Fleece in Painswick is a fine example of a Cotswold stone building, refurbished in the Arts & Crafts style so strongly associated with the Cotswolds. It will reopen on July 21st, having been closed due to the COVID19 lockdown. It has 3 bedrooms, and can accommodate up to 5 guests. The bad news? It costs £371 a night to rent, and the minimum stay is 2 nights. The property carries a 4 acorn rating (out of a maximum of 5), signifying luxury accommodation with premium features. For those who can afford it, it provides a perfect base for exploring the Cotswolds.

Obituary: Woody

Woody (left) with Jim Gunter and Emma Belenkina in Salisbury, 2015

It is with great regret that we announce the passing of a long-time Mercian ally of the Society, who was present at both our inaugural meeting in 1999 and our most recent meeting in February. The name on his birth certificate was Bruce Arthur Wood, but he was known to all simply as Woody. Below, a couple of the people who knew him best share their memories:

David robins

Bruce Wood died on 15th June 2020 at the age of 84, though such was his energy that only those who knew him a long time would have thought him that old. Universally known as ‘Woody’ – I never discovered his first name while he was alive – he devoted himself to a long succession of radical movements, making a pivotal contribution to English regionalism along the way.By the time he came to regionalism in the late 1980s, Woody had already been involved in practically every dissident cause going. Radicalised as a squaddie with the British Army of the Rhine and in Ghana – where he was to become a blood brother in the Dagomba tribe – he had by the 1970s rejected mainstream politics as a dead end. His Labour mentors had let it be known that, if he kept to the party line, he could be a councillor or a magistrate in a few years. He decided that machine cynicism of that sort was not what worthwhile change was about. Having given up a job with the Central Electricity Generating Board, he became a community-based electrician in Leicester. With Mandy Taverner and Ray Trader he co-founded the Movement for Middle England in 1988. This later became Devolve! and inspired the formation of the Mercia Movement. Woody’s life in the alternative and co-operative world led him to an interest in the relationship between culture, communities and peoples, and the ecology within which they must exist. He came to view conventional green politics with suspicion as too anthropocentric. Aware of the legacy of personality cults, he fought egotism at every level. His methods ranged from using a lower-case ‘i’ when writing about himself to vehemently rejecting suggestions that he was leader of any initiative he undertook, always foregrounding the contributions of others. Although he took an interest in the Wessex Regionalists, electoral politics within the UK framework was not something for which Woody felt any enthusiasm. He was very pleased though to support Wessex Society and any activity in favour of English culture, notably Ða Engliscan Gesiðas (The English Companions). He often returned to the theme of the Norman Yoke as the origin of England’s social ills, though he took a pragmatic approach to how this realisation might be applied to modern circumstances. His inclusivity extended beyond England: Celtic nationalists,he argued, had lost their countries, and know that they lost; the English lost too, in 1066, but, encouraged to identify with the victors, they think they won. That self-image had to change if a world based on mutual respect was to be achieved.In recent years, it became obvious that he was short of time, devoting much of his remaining energy to setting his ideas down in a series of short books about the values needed in a less egotistical world. He became pessimistic about the chances of a developed civilisation surviving the challenges of the 21st century. In thinking about the ecological footprint everyone makes, he saw too much emphasis on reducing births: people living unreasonably long are also a burden on the planet. He looked forward to making his contribution to easing that burden, so our loss is one that, ever self-effacing, he would no doubt prefer to celebrate as a tiny gain for Gaia.

Jeff Kent (Acting Witan of mercia)

Such has been the changeover of Mercian activists in the last two years that I think only half of you have ever met Woody (Bruce Wood) and some of you may never have heard of him. However, with his sad passing, of which Tony kindly gave us notice yesterday, his importance to our initiative needs to be fully known and put into perspective. It's no exaggeration to say that without him, there might well never have been an Independent Mercia campaign, so I might well not have sent this email and you therefore may well not have received it. Although the English campaign for freedom from the Norman Yoke has been continual since 1066, the specific one in the Midlands and Mercia had been dormant for quite some time until Woody founded the ground-breaking, radical Movement for Middle England in 1988, which had the essence of what over time developed into the Constitution of Mercia and Independent Mercia. In the early 1970s, I'd wanted to set up what I provisionally called the English People's Freedom Movement, to overthrow the Norman-British Yoke and get our land back, but I never found anyone interested in joining it. But, in 1988, Woody was successful in founding a similar organisation on a regional level, with a number of members, the achievement of which cannot be underestimated. I read about it in 1991 and joined immediately. The Mercia Movement, an offshoot of MfME, published The Mercia Manifesto and A Draft Constitution For Mercia and was the catalyst for the formation of the Mercian Constitutional Convention in 2001 from regionalist radicals from right across Mercia. Woody was a key member of the convention and influence on The Constitution Of Mercia, which was agreed in 2003 and remains the bedrock of our law. When the convention declared the independence of Mercia, in Victoria Square, Birmingham, on 29 May 2003, Woody was, of course, involved and particularly did a magnificent job in keeping the police at bay by plying them with sweets and charming them with sweet chat! Its job done, the convention metamorphosed into the Acting Witan of Mercia, to spearhead the drive to actual independence, and Woody was an important member until his death on Monday, at the age of 84. In the last couple of years, it became obvious that he was slowing down and the final meeting he came to was on 23 February last year. Woody has probably more lived the life of our principles than anyone I know, having long lived in a real community in Leicester, in which money and resources were pooled and decisions taken democratically. He always emphasised communitarianism and team playing and was the epitome of organic democracy in constantly trying to power-share and to empower the powerless in any situation. Woody's impact on Independent Mercia has been seminal and our loss of him is irreplaceable, but we must continue our campaign with vigour in his honour, as well as that of the countless Mercians who have died for the cause over the centuries, and for the future of the yet unborn who will suffer terrible consequences (with the breakdown of the ecosystem) if our fundamental principles aren't adopted.

Wessex Attractions: Theatre Royal, Bath

The Theatre Royal in Bath is an outstanding example of Georgian theatre architecture. Built in 1805, the original theatre is a grade II listed building. In 1997, the Ustinov Studio, named after Sir Peter Ustinov, who had led the fundraising for the building, was added to the rear; and in 2005, a children's theatre called The Egg was built on the site of the disused Robins Cinema next door.

Like all old theatres, the Theatre Royal is said to be haunted by many ghosts, including the Grey Lady, an unnamed former actress who has her own box, and who is said to leave behind the scent of jasmine after a sighting.

The pub next door to the theatre is known as the Garrick's Head, after the great actor David Garrick, a bust of whom is also displayed above the door. The address of the theatre is Sawclose, Bath, BA1 1ET.

Announcement about Advertising

For some years, the Wessex Society has struggled to keep its head afloat financially. For this reason, we have regretfully taken the decision to allow advertising onto the blog, starting in the first week of July. Those who want to continue enjoying an ad-free version of the blog will be invited to pay a small fee. There will also be an option to receive t a print version every 3 months, as several people have said that they miss the old Wessex Chronicle magazine. We have not taken this decision lightly, and we hope you understand.

Wessex Worthies: PC Wren

This article originally appeared in the Wessex Chronicle Volume 18, Issue 1 (Spring 2017)

An unusual entry into our Wessex Worthies series of biographies of prominent Wessaxons this time, as there is some doubt as to whether its subject actually qualifies for entry. Most “about the author” blurbs on the covers of his 30 novels and 9 collections of short stories will tell you that Percival Christopher Wren was born in Devon in 1885, a direct descendant of the famed architect Sir Christopher Wren. However, Wren was notoriously secretive about his life, and something of a fabulist to boot, so this could well be what we nowadays refer to as an alternative fact. Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, gives his birthplace as Deptford, London; Percy Wren, a humble schoolmaster’s son. It also lists his birth as being 10 years earlier, in 1875. He graduated from what is now St Catherine’s College in Oxford, but which was then St Catherine’s Society, a non-collegiate institution for poorer students. Could it be that the connection to Sir Christopher Wren was a way of elevating the status of a man who was self-conscious about his lowly origins? And who could blame a man who had the misfortune to be born in That London for wishing he had been born in Wessex instead?

Whatever his place of birth, Wren is chiefly known as the inventor of a genre of adventure fiction that was once hugely popular, but which has now fallen into disuse: the Foreign Legion story. Again, Wren’s own service in the Legion is a matter of controversy. No corroborating evidence exists to support the speculation that he had served as a legionnaire, and he refused to either confirm or deny it. It would appear, at least to my eyes, that he didn’t actually serve in the Legion, but wasn’t too upset by people thinking that he did. But his stepson, Alan Graham-Smith, always maintained that Wren was indeed a legionnaire, and was reportedly very upset by those who said otherwise.

He definitely served in World War I, however, in the 101st Grenadiers, a unit of the British Indian Army active in East Africa. After being invalided out in 1915, he concentrated on his fiction, though he had previously written a number of educational textbooks used in India. By far his best-known work is the 1924 novel Beau Geste, which has been filmed a number of times, and which spawned four sequels, two of which were also filmed. It was parodied by the Carry On team in Follow That Camel, and by Marty Feldman in The Last Remake of Beau Geste. The title of the latter proved to be prophetic as far as film is concerned, but it was adapted again for television in 1982 in an 8-part BBC serial written by Alistair Bell & Terrance Dicks and directed by Douglas Camfield.

PC Wren died in 1941, and is buried in the graveyard of Holy Trinity Church, Amberley, Gloucestershire. Whether or not he was born in Devon, he certainly loved the county. Consider this passage from Good Gestes:

“What would be the loveliest thing his mind could possibly conceive? What about a drive in the high dog-cart with Isobel?—through the glorious Devon countryside; the smart cob doing his comfortable ten miles an hour; harness jingling; hoof-beats regular as clockwork; Isobel's hand under his right arm; Devon lanes; Devon fields and orchards; Devon moors; glorious—beyond description.”

So whilst his birth in Wessex may be open to dispute, the fact that his heart, soul, and ultimately body belonged here is not.