Freedom of The Mantlepiece being a menagerie of Calke Abbey poems Â
© 2014 expresseum poetics press www.expresseumpoetics.org.uk Authors retain sole copyright of their individual poems.
The poems in this pamphlet were created from the Locks, Bells & Peeling Wallpaper series of poetry workshops facilitated by Mark Goodwin in 2013. The series of poetry workshops was a Writing East Midlands’ Write Here Residency.
Funded by: Writing East Midlands, Museum Development East Midlands & expresseum poetics
‘Please Don’t Touch’ Light? Can’t see Touch ivory space No sound Feel cold glass Get warmer Brush soft velvet Shutters rise And shapes appear
Catalogue Twenty-four portraits, graded by importance; Fourteen heads of creatures, all long dead; Four skull-less antlers; stuffed birds in glass cages; Corpses, rocks and fossils, too many to be gauged. Furthest from the sea, their collected shells astounding, all catalogued in handwriting on card with faded ink. A room full of dead things bleached stone grey, outlined by an edging of faded red gentility the curators do all they can to keep the way they found it.
Alison Mott Â
As They Left It Their secret world: the past rippling through old glass, stuffily welcoming the new world in, disguising rust and ruin under herds of heads silently roaring down echoing passages, leopards ridden through doors, along carpeted halls. Dark wooden galloper tethered at the foot of the stairs. A brown-haired girl, age about four, played there, air hushed by plush rugs. Voices heard through walls, down chimneys. Behind gilt-frames eyes smile, knowing where gold was hid. Cold hands clasp forgotten dogs. Wings, shells, dried, boxed, tamed. The whole world is wrapped inside this house. The kiss of life on a windowsill: Michaelmas daisies fresh from the garden.
Alison Riley Â
Out of Mind The servant's hall, Calke Abbey. Outside there is sunlight, paths lit by fluorescent runners numbered, like cars they brought here. Garden entrance and door watched by uniformed volunteers. They click for every passing head. But I am half submerged, in a world of grey dust, frosted windows, walls damp enough for anonymous plants to grow. Here, everyone was a name, a title, a small courtesy on the lips that hid, and emphasised, inequalities. They had place: Maid, Cook, Valet, Butler, Miss, Mrs., Mr., all set in position, ornaments for gentry to display. Today named me six-five-three. No title.
Gary Carr Â
Un Titled no one is titled here nor entitled all is tilted to wards time’s name less light some prince lies curled in stone his grey back bone regal but unknown some duke’s skull has bite but crocodiles swallow flesh bones blood cartilage and even the teeth of the rich dissolve in time’s enzymes for here is now’s long un named gut
A caricature history Distemper-blue back-drop to white bowls of marble, wasting not wanting, always work to be done. Maids find their own sugar, name cold-meat days as Britannia dishes civilisation to the savages, cut-throats and second sons flanking her side. Behind the guts of the clock the old cook misses the puncture of cellophane, the ping of the bell. Where once there was fire, damp seeps in; Where once was a furnace, in creeps the cold. Cookery, butchery, servitude, husbandry. Rusted past buffering, they melt before the searing sun.
Alison Mott Â
‘A Handbook to the Order Lepidoptera’ He who binds to himself a joy Does the wingèd life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity's sun rise. William Blake
Vauncey's heaven is a field of flowers, late Spring and a butterfly net. A handle like an old friend, habit. Glorious days, lying in the grass with those great Longhorns grazing in the middle distance, as he stalks his small prey. By the age of twelve he is solitary, educated, ordering boxes in his chilly room, writing ‘A Natural History of Calke’. Lost, sadly, somewhere or put on a fire. Breakfast finished, he pockets supplies, pushes open the door to sunshine, like any other boy, almost. His Tortoiseshell familiars overwinter, emerge ragged, brave, absorbing warmth. Their wings like Turkish carpets, rich russet, sapphire blue, charcoal. He's by the hedge - staking out a Humming Bird Hawk Moth, ecstatic, its wings blurring. Honeysuckling for the last time. Celestrina, Lycaena, Hesperia, a spell he’s under sounding their names, marking his bounds. They are his first love. 'Silver Washed Fritillary – elusive.’ His notes to self.
The desire to possess grows within, the need to catch, inflict the pin, and bind each to his will, hold it still. His rapture now his hoard, his shield. He becomes a glutton for butterflies. Surfeit; he does not see it. By increments the gathering grows lumbering, burdening the spaces. Lantern-lit nocturnal forays, collecting, avaricious for dark arches, mother shipton, a grey company of lost souls. Footman, Brimstone, Chimneysweeper. Fingertips dusted with pollen scales. He's working on their coffins. Autographa bractea Inachis io inanimate wings poised, going nowhere Dryads, Ringlets, Coppers, Silver Studded Blues. Culled, stacked, and congregated. A strange inheritance of wraiths, variations on a theme. A sad army of ephemera. Vauncey, older, heavier, skulks amongst the trees, skilled at his obsessions if nothing else. He's an errant curator, with money left to spend on books, specimens, a damn good net. Â
Cinnabar caterpillarsâ€™ hundreds and thousands, alkaloid, vivid, banded black, strip ragwort's gold, signify the season's bankruptcy. In time, these wings will seem tokens, the shape of things to come. Traces, veins of ruin, inklings, emblems of decline. Heralds of a family's dead-end. Mother-of-Pearl Moths, ghosting above the nettles of a summer's evening long gone.
Note: The title comes from a book in the Library at Calke
Heidi Chiang Â
The gout stool is broken it requires significant repair Where shall I put it? In the cupboard, â€˜neath the stair? Place it in the kitchen, the table is the place The cook has long since gone so shall not miss the space. Jennie Lloyd
Hornbone branches lean down to lift unsuspecting visitors
Birds trapped in glass their flight abruptly halted, their beady glass eyes dismal at the prospect of never again knowing the freedom of the thermal. Jennie Lloyd
Ride leopards through doors along carpeted halls Alison Riley
Vauncey Dreams of Fire That damn girl. Smoking again by her window 'Airmyne Catherine Harper-Crewe What the Hell..?' Now she come running, to the foot of my stairs on the landing, crying about curtains catching, how she couldn't get it out. I can hear the sound of it, taking hold, that dread noise. Its hunger, a flicker quickening across the Turkish carpets. Its fingers grip the doorframe down the hall, it leans out, searching. I pull at the great rubber hose, a flat python coiled on the wall but it knots in my hands it’s such a tangle I know it’s a dream but now servants, family, push past me carrying objects hurrying down the steps onto the lawn, and there seem to be even more rooms than usual even more confusion, smoke billowing a charcoal ballgown of destruction. Walnut furniture, Old Masters, that uncomfortable writing table. Oak chairs, silver candlesticks look perturbed sat on wet grass, as if for a midnight picnic. Portraits too high to reach look down their noses horrified at the ruin. Those doomed, painted children hug their mastiff as their house burns down. Priceless - so many more things than people. We are vastly outnumbered by stuff. A crash and I know that it has eaten the legs of my cabinets, and I fall to my knees in the hall. I hear it smash the glass of my cases, I try to shout, but all that will come is a tawny owl shriek ye ik yee ik yee ik
My birds blacken, tinder. The dead zoo cages are all unlatched. The seals are selkies, stolen skins burst, slither to freedom they sing and bubble. A box of foxes lose themselves in darkness slink away. Shadow fox, smoke fox, soot fox, their paw prints in the hall.
Heidi Chiang Â
The Entrance Hall Welcoming with taxidermy: Hamish the Highland cattle head, horns–nodding seemingly smiling. Deer and stags when antlers fall Boars and bulls up on the wall– Frightening in the wild fighting till death not here, all is quiet. The log fire is warm tonight. A matchbox props up the broken leg of the china pug dog near the door Into the entrance Hall.
Kitchen Circus Stoke the fire Wipe your forehead Knives cut through steam Scales weigh the air Bubbling, frothing pans Roll up, roll up Aching triceps Slap the meat Pink and bloody Cymbals clash Burning, scolded flesh Cool, damp cloth Soothes the skin Salty tears drip In enamelled jug
Susie Fletcher Â
The Old Kitchen Generations of paint and skin and blood flake off these walls. Lead-lined, held together with dust and flies. Fingers intertwined with meat and dough and each other. The blood that pumps through these veins, these pipes these centuries mixed with its own flesh just keeping these fingers alive so they can keep kneading moulding pounding.
Kristin Stock Â
Wash Day Blues Backbreaking laundry work replaced by cold silence. Fingers blue with cold where once they were red and sore. Mangles sit, solid and purposeless on flagstone floors. Three modern heaters, red tripod legs. Shelving unit in bubble wrap, replacing rainbow soap bubbles. A motley collection of misplaced bottles and jars perch on shelves. Long planked table holds rusting flat irons.
Sheila Lockett Â
Looking Back Behind the blinds we find layers of blistered paint that colour time. Behind the blinds we find hooks perched on unknown purposes, locked cupboards guarding unremembered thoughts and one bare lamp hanging above the box-mangle that wrings out schemes to torture clothes with wheels, levers, chains. Behind the blinds we find flat irons, a wide and shallow sink, a rocking horse by stairs, oven-handles that are gripping hands, a gong and a creeping on of ferns. Behind the blinds, in the darkest place, we find the permanent blue-black larder that used to house a feast of dreams and wishes. Behind the blinds we also find remnants of unfiled syllables that glow among the ashes and words that shuffle recollections behind the blinds, behind the blinds of the eye.
Lucretia Luke Â
Observations From The Saloon â€“ Calke The heron is a solitary bird; high above the sea-birds it has a solitary cage from where it once watched men play billiards whilst ladies sat chattering beneath portraits and deer skulls. With watchful glass eyes alert hares, that had escaped the jugging of the kitchen, but not the taxidermists art, stare out, to where the seasons dry leaves have been collected and arranged with stones and nuts and shells and scraps of half-finished notes which never found the fire place or waste-paper basket, or the heart of an unknown love. Swords and crowns and cannon-balls show the masculinity of this side of the room, but, sadly, someone has taken away the piano keyboard so Sybil cannot entertain with Mendelsohnâ€™s Songs Without Words, whilst Annie serves tea and conserves
Jeremy Duffield Â
Calke – a play on the word Calk the timbers of your mind before you sail forth across imagination’s oceans Beneath the exhalations of billowing canvas with the Crows nest above you, and the wild Gulls swooping around you, and diving across the eyes of your mind Will they leave black guano or a drift of pure white feathers to coat your imagination?
Collection A saloon crammed full with emptiness, every corner struggling with the weight of it, floorboards straining under the creaking load. Nothing smiled. Behind the door, a cabinet stuffed with solemn owls; the heads of stags gazing from sad walls; blinded windows that had forgotten the tall-beeched avenue. Then a piano with a lost voice, a letter-box with no words; the evolution of a thought caught in the fossilled whisper of dust; and the clock stuck forever in the fixed and silent stare of a child’s fear of a case bursting with a brilliance of feathers.
In The Servant’s Hall – Calke The coat-pegs are still here, long, angled, made to bear the weight of wool, fustian, gabardine, wet outdoor clothing to change out of and into smocks, aprons, caps. Outside, a child’s hand draws patterns on the opaque window glass, footsteps echo on floor-tiles, yet the hiss of gas-mantles is silenced, the fire-place cold, plaster, lifting from walls, separates its thickness, falls. Roistering drinkers have left their overturned bottles on the long dusty table, taken their coats, their hats, their gabardines, walked out of the house and into the night. Only imagined shadows of themselves sweep across walls, whisper along passages, make exposed ceilings creak with their unseen feet, and leave us the holes where cupboards were hung, and a living greenness of curling ferns.
The Servants Hall Meeting place for matters domestic Silent now as ribbled tonged ferns reclaim Lime rich plaster lining and dark, damp, tile clad rammed earth floor Over which small creatures scuttle In every corner pungent odours ooze Crumbling plaster and rotting wood From whose flaws and defects strange patterns form Maybe in the Abbeys heyday long ago An astute tea leaf predicting Housemaid Could from these shapes futures foretell In our age this task must fall To a highly educated social Psychologist In ink blot patterns most proficient The accruements now we will consider Long broad table for Servants victualing, badly scuffed and stained now From years of use severe Flanked on both sides by low hard benches Smoothed and polished by many bottoms Filthy now and battered too Pompous Butler and hard tongued Housekeeper Here once presided over staff of lesser rank Father and Mother, harsh in manner, strict, demanding Even upstairs folk the landing feared to cross Too short, too short those structured times Blown away by two World wars
John Barnett Â
Servantsâ€™ Hall A desiccated bunch of flowers lies forgotten like the room. No ceiling, just beams line spotted with rusty nails. Above the broken fireplace plaster hangs precariously. Black fungus spreads to the ceiling encouraging sprouting green ferns. Long trestle table, still in situ fills the space, with two long benches. A pile of forgotten plates stands among discarded bottles. Muffled footsteps from above are broken by childâ€™s laughter. Planes roar over the decaying house. Tired wooden shutters droop from opaque windows. Do ghosts of the past peer through the dusty panes at the vibrant green grounds?
Sheila Lockett Â
Calke Abbey, October 2013 (The Residue that remains) Mighty treasure house, marooned in an ocean of bright green Its superstructure like piles of bleached stones, cast up behind the sand dunes On the Northumbrian shore Tides of visitors flow in, around, and over her, in waves of varying volume As interest Waxes and wanes, fickle as the seasons The visitorsâ€™ fragile transports are moored all around Drawn to their temporary harbour over a bright ribbon of asphalt Navigable as any charted route over the wild ocean The wreckage of this enterprise proudly stands Through clement and un-clement weather Testament to a way of life In years gone by Available only to a fortunate few Now practically un-attainable to the common man He can only squint, through a film coated, cracked window pane Over a cill, where squadrons of flies have expired True inheritors, of that glorious earlier time, are Minions of the mighty Unimpeachable Corporations Who now direct the fate of The residue that remains.
John Barnett Â
The Kitchen At Calke Abbey Sharp angles of window space swoop down Upon disintegrating lime wall, yellow as salamander. The kitchen space is watched by blowing fir trees The fervent catering heat of eating has gone. Underfoot, ochre-black tiles, Square like the worn shades of time, Used to strike a din of comestibles, Tuned to the beating clogs of maids and manservants. In the now dank wall Is sunk an alcove: 'Beeston Domestic Boiler' , Rust-medalled, robust, it Endlessly boiled the water Whose steam filled this high kitchen hall. Potatoes - tea - gamebird stew - their Smoking heat smelled of sweating labour. Madame Head Servant; how burnished did you keep these metal pipes Now mildewed, winding serpently past bricks of Titanic strength ? >From muddy fields came turnips, carrots. You knew - they all knew - of the fresh century's World War battle in France. It seemed to promise glory. Better I wonder than your fifty years in Calke ? Well ask our gardener Harry ; HE has lost his head.
Mike Green Â
Arrive in cars daily flash through rooms, flicker around gardens leave before nightfall. Solid as an abandoned table broken bottle dried spill Name : Position : Number Birth : Marriage : Children : Death Pay : Service : Discipline : Promotion Books full of lives.
Gary Carr Â
The Dry Laundry The blue of burning skies underneath peeling grey paint. Ancient machinery, of more than one kind. A single bare light bulb. Even the air is mottled. A giant wheel cries out for a body. On the back wall blackened mould and the smell of broken minds. And pipes, everywhere there are pipes. A light on a tall stand, cable around its neck. Spikes lunge out of the walls. A solitary heater, unplugged. A million ways to finish off the living dead who fill this house.
Kristin Stock Â
Light Steal a lamp, light it and go. Around the house When all the staff are asleep. When all the hustle of the day Is quietened by the darkness. And the house creeks with The noises of the silence.
Kathleen Bartholomew Â
Tempus Fugit While things marched on outside you lounged about on overstuffed sofas, dandled fingers in the dust. Poked about in drawers put the dolls to sleep in cobwebs. Stared gloomily out of tall windows on rainy afternoons. Hiding out, bored, wishing to meddle. Surveyed the collections of the dead, pinned stock-still in lifelike poses. You snapped your fingers. ‘Time’s up’ you said. ‘But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail.’ ‘Sed fugit interea, fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore’ Virgil from ‘Georgics’
Clock stopped No more counting the hours until your work is done feeling your sweat pouring, your hands reddening, your face flushing, your throat drying Time is no longer flying, all the fleeting seconds of your future dreams have ticked away - and Time is dying
Sheila Sharpe Â
The Servants Hall By the computer on a green laminated board was written: ‘The future of the environment is in your hands’ for child tourists to play with. We were tourists looking at the decay of the north part of the house. Where servants spent their play, The monks lived there in a past life and now their spirits stay with the black mould creeping up the wall as a restless river devouring all. Ferns growing from the floor, tall; through nooks and crannies Some more from the uneven wall made their home there. The walls corrugated by the lack of plaster like a tombstone relic. Or the remnants of boards one still clings dangerously on, one leans against the wall the rest lost, rotted, burned for firewood– long gone. The exposed bare bricks cracked by damp and frost, exposing shivers of light. Wooden trestle, edged with metal, accompanied by wooden wobbly forms, where servants sat and drank. Bottles strewn on the table top, labels marked brewed in Wales and Liverpool. Cider and beer bottles from local hops. The two with broken necks like the men-of-war facing each other. The servants couldn’t keep their cool. We agree, it is cold and eerie Lost generations. Rusty, seized up generator. Giant Time Clock ticked the time away and stopped. Exposed beams cracked ready to fall through woodworm and age decay. Red quarry tiles turned brown crumbled under foot Cast fireplace downcast reduced to a lacy panel, cobwebbed by defiant age:
useless now no more warm glow. An old metal mattress base– standing up against the wall. The births it bore, and the children slept, the couples, the granddads and the dead lay. Along with an abandoned chair and a broken shelf. Not much to preserve here now in the Servant’s Hall. Not in need of wealth– it was the fervent lack of care.
Contraband Six broken chairs Three stone sinks One little china dish Sitting on a shelf Iron hooks unoccupied And a half-hidden churn Could it contain contraband That I could claim for myself
Sheila Sharpe Â
Judicious marriage Relegated below stairs behind the big oak desk where wages were met, estate matters settled, men held to account and brought to book, the picture of the second wife looks down, name hidden by marriage, existence obscured by the bloodline of his firstborn son.
Alison Mott Â
Servants' stairs Steps defined by function ghost Steps banisters thrown in shadow Steps on walls by hard unshaded Steps bulbs. Bannister rails polished Steps by sweat on busy Steps palms. No trace left Steps of tears of girls Steps preparing to take Steps at a fall, the paupers' abortion.
Gary Carr Â
The stairs There are two 4 tiered stair cases. One for the house and one for the servants. The one is bare bland, and narrow where loud bells hang aboveâ€“ calling them to come and go pretending love. The other furnished and grand, where the family, the Lords and Ladies, honoured special guests who would rest here, stay overnight. Wide enough for the flouncily dressed, or the guests to be introduced. The stairs all led to the Great Halls. Each landing furnished with a special thing: A mahogany red bureaux Two giant pot pigs one green one pink A pair of great Ming vases A collection of copper items A pair of 19th century potted eagles This family collected everything.
Kathleen Bartholomew Â
Experiencing ... Grand piano, high mantelpiece, and stags – how many antlers? A rusted Boar and Crest (fact: a boar was attached to the top of a helmet) Ammonites and semi-precious stones, dead ancestors above, dead animals below Rabbits, hares, foxes, owls and gulls, all manner of creatures, In a glass case A portrait, of a lady wearing strange headgear, preserved alongside medals, buckles and all manner of unidentifiable objects, A huge skull that must surely have once snapped shut a massive jaw, Chinese dragons flanked by vases on an over-reaching mantel Two eagles bear witness to an imperialistic past A box that asks “Open Me” which, when aforesaid instructions are dutifully obeyed, is found to hold a loud whisper of far oceans Cushions, sofas, and chairs, squashed aside Shells, shells, shells, oceans without number. plundered Dark radiators crouching like petrified prehistoric reptiles Studs in a red baize door, its keyhole delicately, secretly, covered by a brass acorn One lampstand has a shade missing A clock with gilt (guilt?) written upon its face Flowers, bright in a bowl on a circle of glass, leave something to reflect upon And one, single, blue-plumaged bird, lonely in a dark case And upstairs, in the room of learning, an old wooden press If I opened it, would I find another land - far stranger than Narnia?
Room it is not a wardrobe’s brown smooth stare nor a creak of hinge on entering or leaving it is not a wardrobe’s shoulders nor face it is a crumbling collection of moths
Objects, some with purpose unknown, taken, gathered, acquired, displayed in a fashion of lazy abandon reflecting a collectorâ€™s insatiable greed. Jennie Lloyd
The Saloon Cluttered floor space, cluttered walls Full of interest, ultimately empty Curiosities gathered at a time of plenty Large glass showcases, crammed with stuffed birds Small mammals, in the round, and as skeleton Curios of every kind, rocks, metals, dried leaves and paper Ivory in the tusk or deftly carved Head of crocodile, stripped of flesh and glaring white A Jews harp from a timber box concocted Unused for many years Similarly Erard Grand Piano Forlornly waiting for repair Glassy eyed visitors sift through all the flotsam Then back to the car All is forgotten
John Barnett Â
His Ghost is Incandescent, Raging. ‘There is a carpark, a bloody carpark,’ Vauncey says, ‘at Calke!’ He banned cars liked birds better, best in the sights of his gun, best falling, sniffed out, carried home to cure and dry. He stroked their feathers tenderly. In a back room he put out their eyes, it brought to mind King Lear. Vauncy knew all about errant daughters, stuffed that thought back where it came from. Glass eyes stared blackly in the dark of a draw. All sizes. He rattled about choosing, hummed a tune, happy at his work.
‘Further Afield in Bird Land’ 1886 and it’s his turn to be the master. Inimical to company, Vauncey turns to taxidermy . There’s a gleam in his eye as he surveys his kingdom. Its tussocks, its horizons, all speak to him of one thing. Evangelist for the birds, his edicts are issued – his tenants told ‘grow your hedges wild and high’. All the better for nesting season. Open season, his love of guns keeps the future at bay. Killing the predators, gamekeepers are a gang of hangmen who string up foes stoats, magpies, foxes swing on the fence, garish masks - a last defiant snarl at death. Vauncey gleans the hedges for small fry – blue tits, wrens, that odd blackbird with pied tail feathers. He likes anomalies, knows his flaws, a queerness indulged. Collecting the whole damn set.
Note: the title is another derived from a book within the Calke Abbey Library.
Dining Room Sneaking into the dining room One could see the table set. The man said it was for dessert; There were no table cloths left, The damp had rotted them all. It made one feel like sitting down to eat. Dessert is when the cloths were not needed. The glasses and cutlery were all in tact. The beautiful china was a special treat. The walls painted brightly in green, apparently how it was originally. The opulence in the painted panels– Influenced by their trips abroad. The curtains draped still looked good. All this gave the room an elegant look. Hard to imagine with all that wealth The family owed so much In tax and death duties as such. So needs must– They surrendered it all to the National Trust Allowing them the privileges to deal with the politics. And one day the famous family left.
Glass trapped birds of taxidermists pride stare jealously at birds of gaudy purple porcelain that have the freedom of the mantelpiece Jennie Lloyd
Mausoleum Of The Mind Trophy heads of deer hang on high walls above portraits of ancestors long dead, glazed eyes gaze into oblivion. Birds stuffed and posed or poised on wires as if in flight. hares and rabbits stiffly alert against fake painted backgrounds, all life long since departed, only the fur and feathers remain. Artefacts tumbled in glass cases. Arrow heads, hand axes, loom weights, broken pottery, oil lamps, musical instruments, medals. Three blue shabti figures, turquoise fragment of tile the only notes of colour. Detritus of old civilisations, labelled in sepia ink on curling cardboard. Magpie mind of the collector has filled the house with minerals born in the earth, fossils torn from the earth. Clocks whose hands are frozen in time, like the dead of millennia surrounding us.
Sheila Lockett Â
The Saloon A mass collection of coastal stones. A collection of stuffed birds of the sea and coast. Portraits. The origins of some recognizable stones from the east coast and the south–The Witterings. Colour, texture and memories of things. Stones from all over the world impossible to number. The Repton collection– Archaic weapons and teeth from this and that. Old pots and axe heads, Ironstone ware and pretty coloured tiles. An empty Turtle shell abandoned. Fossils of star fish and a black lacy predator: an unknown thing from hell. A large skeleton– a head of a crocodile– captured at last. How many legs torn? How many lives lost? Best we leave them where they cause no harm. A pair of eagles, fierce and carrion stand protectively above their nest; nice neighbours. They stare boldly ready to swoop to kill a harmless prey in order that their family will live another day. The Erard Grande that didn’t go down with the ship. What did they play? When one opens the lid There are no notes there. I doubt they played any music at all. Ladies and Gentlemen’s portraits lining the walls like an internet photo shop Hall. Gossiping between themselves with sideways looks; dressed up. But you young-lady say a whole lot more. The glance from your eyes tell a story– flushed cheeks, a falling curl, beautifully unkempt.
You dance– enhance the four marble pillars holding treasured lamps (1806) to light your chance. A letter in copper plate hand, written in 1826. From Him– dreaming of the silk hanging on their wall at Hollyrood house in Edingburgh. Could this be you in the master’s pen? The collection of Amorite crystal, displayed close by, gives a message of hope to you: The daunting picture of the three children and a Great Dane, he, bigger than the eldest one: who looks upon and claims the same Him. The Head brings the specimens of grouse into the house. Where displayed is his hunting array: a selection of rabbits and hares of pheasants these too are his prey. The room though preserved today was still, as if the tide, like a tsunami, mercilessly had swept in and left the debris– through a shift in the tectonic plates at Calke Abbey so like it’s fate.
The Killing Calendar In August, the calendar suggested fish, caught freshly of course, from the nearest sea or from local streams - Turbot and whiting were favoured, only a few bones needed removing So Cook flavoured them with her special sauces - and garnished them with her dreams In November, the Calendar suggested birds - pigeons, woodcocks, wheatears and snipe But pellets needed carefully removing, with much fumbling amid the drawn feathers So Cook flavoured them with her special sauces - but garnished them with her gripes! Sheila Sharpe Â
Taste the damp. I can still taste the laundry room â€“ the soap and the steam, but now the damp creeps into my nostrils like I have crept along these corridors. The drudgery of the past. Machines, mangles, the looming box mangle, hoists, irons and the range in the corner tucked away for bubbling water and heating irons. Jennie Lloyd
The Laundry A zinc tub and brass ponch. A range of flat irons. A hot stand. A white enamel bowl where the master’s white collars would be soaking in the finest Robin starch. Several pot sinks. A wooden roller mangle close by. An open black iron cast fireplace with boiler and hot plate. Remnants of airing lines in the ceiling and on the walls. Three wooden clothes horses six staves high. Airing cupboard and all these contents: Beer bottles. Ginger Beer, Ales of the best, (made here) cider and a piccalilli jar. A pen and ink tray. What were all these doing there? Two wooden benches. Stone jar marked salt– to make the water softer etcetera. A stack of newer metal shelves of six, 6’ high, 6’ long and 4’6” wide.
Kitchen Courtship Sifts of flour soften the air between us. My whole body aware of that space, the ease of reach. Idle chat, flirtations, activations, sly looks. Cook has gone out to find some apples. That leaves me alone for once, and you, in the kitchenâ€™s forbidden territory, smelling of the horses you gentle.
Heidi Chiang Â
Lullaby at Calke Abbey Hush-a-by, don't you cry, go to sleep my little baby. When you wake, you shall have cake and all the pretty little horses. Juniper is in the lead, Pilot's winning all the prizes. Good Queen Mab, our Pegasus, Is flying o'er the hedges. Blacks and bays, dapples and grays, coach and six a little horses. When you wake you shall have cake and all the pretty little horses. In the yard, the hooves are heard of all the long lost horses. Gentle Mouse, the painted ones, Jason, tall and lordly. Spangle, she's our brave grey mare, she will never, ever fail you. Hush-a-by, don't you cry, go to sleep my little baby. When you wake, you shall have cake and all the pretty little horses.
Notes: The poem is set to the tune of the traditional American lullaby 'All the pretty little horses' and features horses that once lived at Calke Abbey. Their characters are based on fact (as much as I could unearth), from diaries kept at Calke.
Heidi Chiang Â
View Windows, barred, In addition, green doors, doors, doors Stables, no horses, only people, and a weather vane Something rusting quietly away in an open stable Come; sit, here in the grand salon, Smell, hear, taste, touch, and see Imaginations wilderness here, inside Through the gates of your mind Peer through a window to catch a glimpse of the past But, wait... There is a tree outside the window Does it know something we do not know? It is leaning â€“ purposefully. - Away from the house
Sheila Sharpe Â
The Office Through The Office casement window Outside on the hill the Larch tree, lacy, stands gracefully spreading arms, radiating energy over the masses of land as far as the eye can see farmed, at Calke Abbey in Ticknall Derby.
Kathleen Bartholomew Â
Buffalo-Bison-Bull Buffalo-Bison-Bull stares, horns outstretched Above a cupboard with suns and moons adorned But nevertheless closed fast to dreams of his land of open vistas To the orange endings of Autumnâ€™s evenings, And to Springs pale dew-springs of the dawn
Sheila Sharpe Â
All Hallowsâ€™ Eve Deer emerge from the walls head first, wary. Caught between worlds. Stags charge the hallway, colliding. Antlers clashing, breaking, still life, flashing dark eyed, gleaming, solemn, sad.
Heidi Chiang Â
The Salon Poised over billiards’ opening break the gods in crushed velvet bask in Eden’s light surrounded by bucks foxes and ferrets peregrines and owls. Pushing through foliage a stag’s rack greater than the row of skulls belonging to its brethren and longhorn cousins lining the upper walls. But when something is amiss the gods in crushed velvet write missives to the factory room: make the fox longer turn the boar’s tusks out sharpen the falcon’s talons. The cold grey factory room where the hiss of steam the grind of gears and a little oil cling fast to the skin thick and suffocating like the mold layering the nostrils. The concrete floor is blackened in spatters from dusty brown and clear glass bottles of yellow azure and cardamom splattered onto ferret felt and pheasant feathers shelves of drill bits for grooving shells and conches five ten and two-and-a-half pound weights shape and flatten leaves and terrain. The only thing that fails to be made is sound: no one speaks here or in the salon no squawk or cry no music from the piano missing keys hammers and strings no click of billiard balls sent spinning to the corners.
Charles G Lauder, Jr
Crumbling plaster Hot and steaming. Bustle and hustle. Noises, Voices, sounds, shouting, Laughing, sweating, singing. Machinery working, Servants working, Laundry working. Faster, faster. Worn out.
Kathleen Bartholomew Â
The Laundry Press Many hours of toil and labour Carefully layering, smoothing, squeezing Clank and rattle goes the chain As the heavy iron wheels rotate Grudgingly worked by weary Laundry maid Early rising, retiring late To lumpy straw stuffed ticking mattress Supported by hard, unresponsive Plain deal boards Six and a half days striving Shifting heavy pails of water Cold, boiling or merely tepid Spring, summer, autumn, winter Then every Sunday, blest relief To the dark damp church repairing Love of God lusty lungs proclaiming Up to heaven faith declaring For a less robust creature Life would be overwhelming
John Barnett Â
Laundry Maid Our hands move through mist to absolve blood, soot, pungent piss. We work the washing – churn mud, sweat, the grease of living from those collars, we know them all, how to handle tweed and twill, cord and cotton, gravy spills on dinner shirts. We agitate socks and undergarments, whispering. We make them confess their blemish, beat it out of them like sins from a soul, starch them upright. This is our purgatory, our domain. She’s an old boot, Mrs Taylor pinches, slaps and gives hard words; (lazy, slattern, good for nothing) as if the scrubbing isn’t hard enough, pounding soapy garments like a punishment. We’re blurring in the steam, dissolving. We’re the backstage bang and clatter of mangles squeezing flat the cloth. It’s wringing wet for days, strung up on lines zig-sagging, dripping on the flags. It’s dismal. And my hands pink, raw, cracking in the cold, Little enough time to warm them between wash days. And now the ironing! Still, it’s nice to see them Sunday clean and shriven, white, a new beginning.
The colossal laundry room with its handles and hooks, once laden with linen and where soap-scented steam soaked the brow of busy maids. Now it sits in abandonment. The handles still, the hooks redundant and a musty damp hangs in the air. The range lurks coldly in the corner. Stone, damp, cold all signs of what it would have been like for those that suffered the long laundry days in here, the crisp white linen freshly pressed, smelling of soap, in contrast to that of the laundry maidâ€™s armpit! Jennie Lloyd
The Other The Servants’ Hall
I’d hoped to conjure up an image pleasing to my eyes A rosy cheeked serving wench. ready with smile, and with an even readier wit Buxom of figure, full of cheeky humour, and owning to a winner’s grit But someone else came instead - unbidden, unwelcome He could not have been more than ten - or ten plus three or four And he will not leave me, ‘though I left hurriedly, shutting fast, with hands that suddenly were fumbling, the sturdy wooden door He is small, slender as a sapling, ill-bent before a waxing breeze A puny, ill-developed sapling, amongst the wished-for, sturdier, human trees I shiver as I return his blank, blue stare I shrink before the blueness of his cheek and lips Seeing the inky, bluish blush of death upon his dirty finger nails and tips He should not be there in that once bustling hall Although the plaster is peeling now, and the hands of time have stripped the once fresh paint from the age-washed walls Who was he? I feel within my now-chilled bones, within my very being, that he once was real Once walked the stone-flagged floor upon which I came to tread Once felt the same sunlight brush with warmth that dirt-blonde tousled head I do not want him to stay but I sense him still there He has washed my years with his tears of desperation His presence whispers of an icy cold decay I wish that he would turn and go away
Reprisal A putting away of lives The dead ancestors above, the dead creatures below Cushions and sofas and chairs squashed aside Grand piano – Erard - voiceless now A clock with gilt (or guilt) written on its face And seventeen smoothing irons – no! - wait – nineteen Smoothing away the years Calk the timbers of your mind Before you set forth upon imagination’s oceans I feel within my now-chilled bones Scales black-pitted And I sense him Still there
Shells and - little boxes? Shells and things that look like little boxes Boxes to put an ocean in Take it away and listen to the oceans conversations of continents Before their voices fade far far away
Sir Henry Harper-Crewe Let them say eccentric they can keep their social whirl, shallow laughter, wife-hunting, witty exchanges, robes and ritual, social standing, and none of it of any consequence. I love the sea, the cliff edge, snowstorm of birds shaken from their ledges, their cries beckoning mystery. These are my wild places just to breathe, be observer, unobserved. Forgetful of the self no longer me. Amen to that. No, I canâ€™t stand it - drawing rooms suffocating in chitter-chatter, china tea sets, subterfuge. People crowd, fawn, cast sideways glances, flash their best smiles like false coins. I will pass, a ghost at the party, flit corridors, away from family, respectable acquaintance. Moving outside their circle my orbit self-described, Their glittering world; a sham, a catch.
Heidi Chiang Â
Ladder Leaning against the wall A ladder He explored the world Every nook, cranny, crevice and crevasse They had lied when they said it was round Flowers once plucked fresh from the garden breeze Now stiff and fragile on the table Swig the last drops Let them eat crumbs Write your name in the dust.
Susie Fletcher Â
This place of damp decay, walls sloughing their plaster like reptilian skin. Dust settles like bakers flour on the abandoned table. Jennie Lloyd
Preservation Room Where we see rooms crammed full and sullen, furnished with dismal treasures, he saw, in memory, meticulous hours, an eye for detail, a practiced hand. Life forms limp on the table ready for a country house kind of immortality. ‘Don’t forget those delicate parts, eyelids, those little membranes on either side of the face, the innards of the ear.’ Relaxed in his makeshift workshop, he’s learnt a lot along the way, read all the books on resurrection, strokes the feathers in delight. ‘Use the sharpest blade for bisecting and exercise your patience. Provided it’s persuaded gently The skin will turn inside out quite neatly.’ Drawers of wires in every gauge, Cotton bandages, brushes, Medlock and Bailey’s Formula. His favourite scissors long and thin, like a probing beak. Knives and pliers, forceps laid out. ‘Of course, you can break the wings of larger birds with a hammer, more pliable then, they accede quite readily to the plan.’ Preparations mixed and ready for immersion, injection, cured with arsenic, camphor, soft white soap. He measures bones and scoops out brains – boils skulls free of flesh. Buys shapes, fake bodies, from a specialist shop. Ties wings in place, does his stitching. Takes care not to burst the eyeballs, paints orbits black.
Anointed, dressed, in natural position, neatness is everything. They take a week to dry.
‘The poetry of bird-stuffing consists in setting up the specimens in proper attitudes, such as faithfully represent their natural instincts and habits....The most skilful bird-stuffer, if he does not follow the birds into their haunts, and observe them there, will fail in the most important point of all.’ The Reverend Henry Housman, in his amusing little book The Story of Our Museum published in 1881. (Courtesy of the British Historical Taxidermy Society’s website)
Note: I have used some of Montague Browne’s phraseology from his book ‘Practical Taxidermy’ (Project Guttenberg).
Black files These black files are a fitting finish to this room of the dead Propped as they are against manufactured wood long dead to the forest Sheila Sharpe
Servants’ Woodland, Calke Abbey step in to the servants’ hall in stantly some musk shock clings to your neck perhaps you are standing in a mouth a huge animal mouth you want to crouch no you need but the long table is not a tongue and the dim lit windows are not gleaming teeth but the faint buzz is some hunger’s tang the long table & long benches have fallen into this moment’s place like felled trees from some history’s thick criss -cross light is fluid in here light is wet and
carries the delicate microbes that feed off decaying memories the walls erupt pocked plaster continents flaky maps of un mapped & un imagined land land that slowly flakes away to fall through yearsâ€™ deep corridors the dark hole of the fireplace is a conflagration of rust the grate a rib cage of creature comfort a hieroglyph of toadlet hop scotches a cross flags a sudden dim yet energetic message where the stone floor meets the crumbling walls ripped tongues of Â
ferns lap up the light’s last
Extinguish the light and put it in a cupboard. It belongs there with the dozens of other lights. Close the door and move from room to room – each one where lights of long ago have been extinguished, abandoned.
Induced Coma This house so long comatose retains a certain joie, innocence, maybe inadvertently saved through closing its doors to corruptions carried by men and equally, now, women
Boer Crimean Great World II Suez Korean Vietnam Falkland
Gary Carr Â
House This house is a box, all in itself A putting away of lives Of people, of memories, of feelings Bounded by walls, and doors, and windows But no ceilings to imaginings It cannot prevent stealing of others lives Of other, bigger, dimensions And sometimes, We, too, are trapped In the bigger house Of that which we call pretensions
Relics of a bustling household now lie in total abandonment. Jennie Lloyd
Introvert I am a creature in a shell, spiral staircase retreating to inner recesses, shy, coiled, away from connection. I cannot conquer it. This house my hiding place, until the world, every day, is more distant, a landscape of itself in watercolour.
Heidi Chiang Â
Introduction The house is big and cold Not so much a house of style but a house of plain lines and old a few colonial pillars stand outside facing east Inside it is a family place without peace where children played and no attention seemed to be paid to the order of the day The collections are many and must be seen: Which tells another tale of this eccentric familyâ€™s dream. Perhaps they were hoarders and each generation carried the gene.
Kathleen Bartholomew Â
Rocking Horse Two children in a portrait Girl seated, boy standing I see you as once you might have been One riding, one impatient with waiting For a gallop into imagination But the horse is solid, stolid Somehow not built for play Perhaps it is an expression of the aristocrat Sir Vauncey Harpur-Crewe Not needing the attentions of Thomas Punchard – Groom Now wanting for the Farrier’s shoe Was Hunterina Holly Harpur-Crewe The girl – sedate and trim Who sat astride this rocking horse, This solid, stolid, rocking horse, visaged dark and-grim
Odyssey one hoof print on the stair a second on the ceiling thatâ€™s it just two hoof prints to prove Lady Watts -Hurrfacye rode through
Mark Goodwin Â
Inventory Nine the wet foot print by the bath is now kept in a box un der the bed
Mark Goodwin Â
'Inside boxes, more boxes and inside those, a wee house, the size of a large matchbox, tinder, tender lives, that - ah spick and span the years! Little windows we see in and they see out, lighting fires, fighting colds, putting their treasures in boxes, feeling bold or feeling scared, what's in the attic? Dusty, mouldy, spidery affairs, old arguments, time out of mind. These ancestors that got away or never quite left.' Heidi Chiang
Clan Treasures This barrow, set in the lowland, hides old bones a monk beneath. His forsaking the world less than these lonely Baronets. Canny, landed, well-connected so they started out. Some atavus stirred in the blood, contradictory movement to the main theme of social advancement, wealth. The clocks are ticking, temporary heirs to a kingdom, crumbling, afraid. One room after another Shrouded, abandoned to the ministries of spiders, tender mercies, tiny deaths. Furniture that stood its ground for a century, speechless, unmoved. This stuff; this beautiful, useless stuff. This physical haunting. Flowers, paper-thin, air mail papyrus forgotten in the press. Dresses hang in mid-air, A floating wardrobe awaiting a woman in another room, another time. Did those children ever try them on? Hold up the skirts, silk spluttering, shushing around their bare feet, promenading, mock dignified, in ancestral fancy dress.
Glass walls, a fragile dividing. A small hand against the frosted surface there and gone. Their first steps, last breaths all their sorrows, swallows, here and gone. These things remain but those that lived are lost to us.
Cabinet of Owls The bedrooms are full of owls, irascible. Fluffing their feathers, in a huff. Snapping their beaks, complaining, asking again and again their querulous â€˜Who? Whooo?â€™
The Census There was a census in 1890 There were 25 live-in-service staff there. They were mostly from the south, Dover, Eastbourne, Cornwall, except for the groomsman, he was from Louth. The family were away at the time of the census in 1890
The receding servants of yesteryear, make room for tomorrowâ€™s unfurling ferns. Jennie Lloyd
The Servants ' Room At Calke Abbey Terminally crumbly, plasterwork threatens to collapse In final abandon above the hollow fireplace. Try putting your hands into the fireplace-gap ! It shares a chilly ambience, colder even Than the roomspace - itself a cheerless thing. Massive, a table with benches rests heavily Remaining, abandoned, after relays of servants. Silence ! their hierarchy forbade frivolity. See ! Not one love initial has been found carved in that benchwood. Servants ? what remains of their long gone hungry meals ? I think of turnip; radish - those cheapest gut- filler foods â€“ Mattock-dug from uneven farmland surrounding the Abbey. Youngest brats would have got short commons - I don't doubt. Here lies a smashed Hunter's Sherry bottle from Spain. What Christmas feast ? reserved for self - styled elite - below stairs. Four cheap plates rest carelessly left beside, dust-grimed. Fused electric light-switch, ancient, lies burnt-out. Snaky firehoses rot in coils unknown to Health and Safety. Rusty fireguards would crumble at a touch. Last of all, the white faces Of modern children, like ghosts on cue, now shriek by the window.
Mike Green Â
Window Sky Washed out Walls jet black A chimney grows Clay pink within this frame, looks too like life I Turn back As she might Artificial Glare replaces light, life lies suspended
Adonis blue walls of peeling paint Jennie Lloyd
Calke Not crumbling. That is an admitted illusion. Nor held in stasis, only a clever installation. Still it speaks, past subterfuge, to unchanging ears. Saloon. Room of collections collections defined by incompleteness complexity and death. Room of thievery thievery of games from an empire of stolen lands skulls and shells scattered like sands of death. Laundry Room of machinery machinery defined by danger brutish design and a chance of death. Room of sweat sweat the catalyst in a reaction equation removing smells of work sex and death. Kitchen Room of names names of designers with no fear of alliteration: Pembroke Press Kent Knife sharpener Hook Homeware Husqueverna Mincer Â
Russel Range Beeston Boiler To aid living and life Room of measuring measuring gills and named spoonfuls, temperature, timing and life. Servant's Hall Room of needs needs which feed paid slavery and stratification, even amongst staff who sit at days' ends and talk life. Room of connections connections with a world beyond and a world within, reached by hidden corridors where people become human and humans have lives.
Gary Carr Â
An anthology of poetry inspired by Calke Abbey.