They found their way in ones and twos –
a quiet tree-shaded place
beside the River Thames,
or a clearing in Tubney Woods.
Langley – the last to arrive,
announced the opening hymns.
They lived life by a higher law
than the Act of Uniformity
that prescribed how they should pray.
They felt no need of polished stones
or painted glass. ‘Light shines
in hearts new born in God’s own way’.
The Toleration Act gave license
to meet at Langley’s house
until a hall was built beside the Square
in Abingdon. Men stood apart
from women, crowded galleries,
families in pews as one in prayer.
An old ship’s mast held up the roof.
Some claimed the Pilgrim Fathers sailed
through storms in that same craft,
chancing all on God. More probably,
salvaged from a North Sea wreck,
tailored to keep them strong and fast.
A long week’s work, a long walk down,
villagers stood, in long smock coats, –
lest tiredness rob them of a crumb of truth.
Fisher, a farm labourer; aged man Doe,
‘So long as legs can carry me,
I will worship as the days of youth’.
Poem suggested by reading Two centuries young : Abingdon Congregational Church 1700-1900 by Dr John Stevens.
The crowd has filled up every space
and overflows the Market Place:
mums and dads, daughters, sons
chant ‘We want buns! We want buns!’
Above them on the County Hall –
in answer to the people’s call,
the Lady Mayor and civic graces
look down upon a sea of faces.
At noon the church bells start to ring;
the Mayor takes aim and with a fling
releases her first currant bun.
The throwing frenzy has begun.
The Queen’s been married fifty years,
and from below, arise the cheers.
It’s raining buns and buns and buns;
and buns are shredded into crumbs
as rival hands reach to catch,
and other hands try to snatch.
A wild bun hits me on the head
and flies to someone else instead.
At the front, they have a bag full.
At the rear, they just stay hopeful
until the empty trays are shown.
‘No more buns!’ Then they groan.
Some buns were missed and then got trodden
underfoot and left like fodder
’til crowds of birds joined the feast,
flying down from west and east.
A placard tried to raise the tone:
‘Man shall not live by bread alone’.
Some make friends with those they fought
and share out all the buns they caught.
NOTE: Bun Throwing is an Abingdon Tradition that began with the 1761 Coronation of King George III. It celebrates important royal and other civic events. Buns are thrown by local dignitaries from the roof of the County Hall to the populace who come in great crowds. Pictures are from 2011. I have no pictures from 1997. Entry for Poems about Abingdon. Sent in to the Tithe Farm and Ladygrove Newsletter in 1997, and revised here.
P.S Also to mention that the Abingdon Country Market have their first Market of the year at the Salvation Army in West St Helen Street this Saturday 13th Feb 2021.
Thankyou to Margaret for this poem about Abingdon. In October I will produce a book called ‘Ten poems about Abingdon’ which will include ten poems selected and edited by a local published poet.
Abingdon, Oh Abingdon, what a lovely place to live,
You’ve seen so much and have so much to give.
You started as a crossing across the river Thames,
then the monks came along and chose the spot
to build their abbey, which gave the folk a lot
of work and commerce, stability and peace,
till Henry declared that all abbeys should cease.
Chaos ensued, but in their place
Churches were built, the Market came, life went on apace.
Streets and alleyways were erected up and down
till Abingdon was declared the County town.
The iconic County Hall was erected too
and things all around were bursting with life.
Factories were built with jobs for all comers
in winter, spring and through all summers.
Wars were fought, camps were built
with local men called to fight to the hilt,
then after the war Morris cars were built.
The river flowed on, pleasure boats were seen
and Abingdon people were always keen
to catch the Thrown Buns, a novel way we note
to celebrate events. And now when another
peril threatens our lives we all work together.
We help each other with shopping and chores
as most of us cannot go outdoors.
So live on, Abingdon, your history shows
that you survived all these years
and will continue to do so, despite all our fears.
Alone I wander by the Thames
beside the Anchor inn and
in the space between deep
night and effervescent break of day
ghostly and grey
dawn the shadows of Brick Alley
over the broad flags
next to St Helen’s church.
Across the river
birdsong greets the dawn,
indifferent to my solitude,
needing only small
glimmerings of light
dappling pearlescent water to
orchestrate yet one more time
new life in Abingdon.
Thanks to Paul for an entry. A book of poems with pictures will be produced in the autumn – to be called Ten Poems About Abingdon.