The Rebirth of England and English

The following review originally appeared in the Wessex Chronicle volume 2, issue 2 (Summer 2000)

(Published by Anglo-Saxon Books price £9.95 ISBN 1-898281-17-3)

Subtitled The Vision Of William Barnes, this masterly study does not concentrate so much on Barnes's poetry, which has already been covered in numerous other books, as on his philosophy of life. Actually, "philosophy" is probably the wrong word, due to its Greek origin, but more on this anon.

The book is divided into two parts. Part one, The Rebirth Of England, starts with a brief biography of Barnes, and follows it with six chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of Barnes's outlook. The chapters are: Religion; Nature and Art; Marriage; Society; Economics and Politics.

In truth, these views are not so easily compartmentalised, and there is considerable overlap between the chapters. Also, the heading of chapter 4, "Marriage", is rather too narrow, as it really deals with the whole vexed question of the relations between the sexes. Barnes was no feminist, but neither was he a male chauvinist pig, believing that women should be second-class citizens, even though he lived in an age when they were widely regarded as such.

Part two, The Rebirth Of English, concerns Barnes's efforts to "purify and fix" the English language by coming up with native English equivalents for foreign loan-words. More importantly for us, he wrote poems in his native Dorset dialect, which he argued was the language of Wessex. He was something of a mentor to Thomas Hardy, and the book tells us that "Hardy…got his idea of 'Wessex' directly from Barnes" (we would of course dispute that Wessex was Hardy's idea!).

Phillips is keen to point out that the desire for "pure" English was not motivated by xenophobia, but by a love of plain speech. According to Barnes, his native English words were more comprehensible to Wessex folk and other Englishmen than their Latinate equivalents. This was not always the case, though, and some of his words were longer than their Standard English equivalents. Who but the most rabid nationalist would use "push-wainling" instead of "pram", for example?

Father Andrew also ventures his own Barnesian equivalents to more modern words, such as "upthinker" for computer and "farspeaker" for telephone. But the real selling point of the book is that it gathers together for the first time all Barnes's pure English words from the variety of works in which they were originally scattered. These include original words coined by Barnes (some of which have passed into common parlance, such as "folklore" and "foreword") as well as plain English substitutions for words derived from Latin or French (eg "spyglass" for telescope). This makes for fascinating reading, and the effect is quite infectious.

Whilst I would have liked to see more on Barnes's dialect works, this book does illustrate that Wessex dialect was the standard form of Old English, and that Wessex English is perhaps the purest form of English there is. The sneers of the metropolitan elite are historical in origin, reflecting the Normans' contempt for their conquered English subjects. Wessex people have no cause to be afraid of the way we speak. As this book puts it, "BBC English, the English of the upper class, is merely a Norman accent, that of invaders who could not speak English properly and then, ironically, passed on their accent to succeeding generations as a status symbol, the sign of their superiority and prestige over the English peasantry". Well, quite.

Wessex Aviation Industry, by Mike Phipp (Amberley Publishing, 2011)

This review originally appeared in Wessex Chronicle volume 14, issue 2 (summer 2013)

Mike Phipp has been watching planes come and go at Bournemouth’s airport since the
1960s, so is well-placed to write the definitive book on the Wessex aviation industry. This is not yet it. He confines ‘Wessex’ to Dorset and Wiltshire and the western parts of Hampshire and Berkshire. Can you write our aviation history and exclude Westland of Yeovil, makers of the Wessex and the
Wyvern? Or Bristol, birthplace of the Brabazon and Concorde?

Or Farnborough, home of military flying? That the book actually makes frequent passing reference to all three places, and others in Wessex, only underlines its chief shortcoming. At 317 pages, however, Mike Phipp’s work does offer plenty to be getting on with.

It arranges alphabetically 26 locations used by aircraft manufacturers. The firms range from Vickers-Supermarine, with 13 locations, to single-site operations like Sheriff Aerospace of Sandown or Jackaroo Aircraft of Thruxton. There is a short bibliography but unfortunately the only thing like an index is the contents listing. The aircraft and their manufacturers have been written about before. What is new is their placing in a geographical context, allowing us to understand how the industry came into being. The south coast’s boat-builders were ready to apply their traditional skills to making seaplanes. In 1912 Saunders and Sopwith collaborated on the Bat Boat, the first flying boat to be built in Europe, with a hull based on Saunders’ racing boat construction methods. In 1959 the same firm, by now Saunders-Roe – ‘Saro’ – of Cowes, built the first full-size hovercraft, the SR-N1. And what exactly IS a hovercraft? The Navy’s were classified as aircraft until 1979, and since then as ships, but really they’re a bit of both, just like the industry that built them. Some firms went back to boat-building when aerial orders were few, with slipways rather than runways the most essential piece of infrastructure they needed to possess. Inland, it was the making of furniture, cars and railway rolling stock that was put on hold for aircraft, especially when Supermarine began to disperse Spitfire production in the summer of 1940. (Just in time, as the Itchen and Woolston factories were bombed in September.) The change has not been all one-way: Honda’s Swindon car plant stands on the old Vickers site at South Marston, with the runway now the test track. Wessex Aviation Industry is not an easy read for the non-specialist, who will struggle to keep up with the stream of carefully recorded design changes and all the details of who ordered what from whom and when. There are enough photos to keep a timetravelling plane-spotter very happy indeed. It’s at its best when the people involved come to the fore: entrepreneurs, designers and sheer enthusiasts for making the most of the air. I’m left wishing there was more about such splendidly-named characters as Major Hereward de Havilland, the family firm’s man at Christchurch Airfield in the 1950s, or Alliott Verdon Roe, who developed not one but two firms in succession (Avro and Saro). This may not be the definitive book but it does whet the appetite.

Book Review: Britanniae Gloria by George Ioannou

George Ioannou is a London-based iconographer of Greek-Cypriot descent, and a follower of the Society's Facebook page. He has just published Britanniae Gloria, the Glory of Britain: An Iconographer's Pattern Book of the British and Irish Saints from the 1st to the 11th Century (Scunthorpe, Bluestone Books, 2019), the full title of which I think is fairly self-explanatory.

The book is the result of some 30 years' work, and features over 1000 saints of the British Isles. The saints are arranged in order of their feast day. Each one has a short biographical entry, and a cartoon (in the original meaning of the word) showing how they ought to be depicted in iconography. There are also outlines of icons showing multiple saints, such as All Saints of Glastonbury (feast day: 26th December). Rather pleasingly, each month begins with an illustration in the style of a medieval woodcut showing the main agricultural activity for that month (January: ploughing; February: cutting wood and so on)

To give you an example of this book's contents, the pattern for an Icon of St Ealdhelm (Aldhelm) is shown. The biographical entry reads as follows:

  • NAME/DESCRIPTION: See line drawing
  • HISTORICAL TITLE: Bishop of Sherborne (+709 AD)
  • BRIEF LIFE: A monk and later Abbot of Malmesbury. Founded monasteries at Frome and Bradford-on-Avon. He later was consecrated a bishop in 705 AD. He is remembered for his songs, poems and devotional works.
  • PROVENANCE/SOURCE: Image of saint from illuminated manuscript (early 10th century) - British Library
  • ATTRIBUTES: Holds a bejewelled golden lyre/harp
  • NOTE: Can hold a bejewelled golden bible

The list of saints covered seems very comprehensive. On cross-referencing it with The Hallowing of England by Fr Andrew Phillips, one of Ioannou's sources, I was able to find only a few Wessex saints who were apparently not included. However, this could be due to their being commemorated on different dates to the ones Phillips lists. Unfortunately the book lacks an alphabetical index of saints, making it a bit laborious to check.

This minor criticism aside, the book is obviously a labour of love, and should hopefully be a boost to the artistic depiction of the saints of these lands.

TV Review: His Dark Materials episode 1

His Dark Materials is an adaptation of Philip Pullman's novel Northern Lights, set in Oxford and partly filmed in Gloucestershire. The Oxford in question is, in the words of the opening crawl, part of "a world both like and unlike our own", where souls take the form of animals known as daemons, and where Oxford University is run by a powerful church known as The Magisterium. The TV adaptation is a hugely expensive co-production between the BBC, HBO and a number of independent production companies, as evidenced by the vast army of executive producers listed in the opening credits.

I have never read the books, though I have seen the film The Golden Compass, which bombed at the box office back in 2007. The film version was criticised for supposedly soft-pedalling Pullman's anti-religious message. This message was not very much in evidence during the first episode of this TV series. We are told that the Magisterium is not very nice, but the portrayal so far seems more like garden-variety anti-Catholicism than anti-religion per se. You will find stronger criticisms of the Church in pretty much any comic written by Pat Mills.

Other people who have not read the books have complained that the opening episode was impenetrable to those not familiar with the world of the novels. I personally didn't find it difficult to follow. I did find it a bit of a slog, though, with its running time feeling much longer than an hour. But there was enough mystery to keep me interested, and Dafne Keen (Wolverine's clone daughter in Logan) is a likeable lead, so I intend to keep watching. I hope the pace picks up a bit, though, in future episodes.