Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
The Morning Train
The Hythe has had a shower today
Sluiced the weary night away
The platform, wet from recent rain
Is standing for the London train
In sight of automatic gates
The backbone of the nation waits
The clouds are hanging out to dry
For soon the sun will scale the sky
With gelled-up hair, the younger chaps
And too much aftershave, perhaps
In crumpled jackets, scruffy shoes
Go late to jobs, they'd hate to lose
Yawning then, they find a place
To hide themselves in cyber-space
Sequestered in a comfort zone
Of laptop, i-pod, mobile phone
Somewhere near to Seven Kings
A salesgirl thinks engagement rings
Drains her polystyrene cup
And then, reluctantly, moves up
Recalling waterfront estates
In seats not made for vertebrates
For in the hour or so it takes
The backbone of the nation aches.
Swan Fleet In Winter
White on blue, on white, on blue
The swan fleet winters on the Colne
When the sky is full of snow
And the yellow clouds hang low
Over woods at Wivenhoe.
Cotton-swabs to wipe the make-up
From December's streaky face.
On the river rolling slowly
Through the cold rose afternoon
Feather galleons of the moon.
High above them, gulls manoeuvre
Silver seaplanes headed east.
Far below, a flagship's waiting
Twilight on its icy prow
Captain Frost's expected now.
Stalking, silent, through the coalyard
Stooping cranes and frozen ships
Tapioca dock and warehouse
Haunted, now the men are home
And the mud is dirty chrome.
Here the night squats on the water
And the moonlight's on the snow
While the swan fleet sits at anchor
By the corrugated ridges
Of the quay and concrete bridges.
Where the reeds are bent or broken
And the splintered pallets float
In among the ebbing eddies
Bobbing by the wooden jetty
Glistening with cold confetti.
Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes
She had an eye for a fancy hat
Flouncy dresses, bohemian tat
Deep in her jacket she kept a cat
Marmalade Emma adored
Roses, ribbons and ostrich feather
Crowned her head in summer weather
Grimes and she fell in together
They were in accord
Their overcoats were old and frayed
Begging and blagging, the life they made
She had a passion for marmalade
Carried a brolly or stick
Grimes had hair that was matted, grey
Three gold earrings on display
The cap and coat of an emigré
Maybe a bolshevik
The Duke and Duchess of Dispute
Everyone knew who they were
She was devoted to him, though
And he was devoted to her
Slept where they fell, by the roadside
Or kipped on a barge by the Colne
But barring arrests, or hospital tests
Neither would sleep on their own.
Smoked her pipe where she made camp
Marmalade Emma, poor old tramp
Too many years in the cold and damp
Chest pains were her bounty
Hacking up in the hospital bed
Wouldn't part with the cat, she said
Sister locked it up in a shed
Behind the Essex County
Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes
Not much more than petty crimes
What they did in such harsh times
People didn't mind them
After his death was certified
Old Colne barge was where she died
She was buried by his side
Troubles long behind them.
Fluttering flag of mad King George
Cargo of lemons from the far Azores
Back to the glad green English shores
Chased by the high white clouds
Home in an Essex schooner
Couple of weeks or sooner
Lemons wrapped in a corn-cob shell
Packed and loaded in São Miguel
Ship on the North Atlantic swell
Fleeter than any at sea
Home in a fast fruit schooner
Home to the Hythe and home betimes
Back from the Indies with boxes of limes
Westerly, carry St Leonard's chimes
Into the cold blue sky
Cinnamon, clove and mace
Pushed by the trade winds' grace
Up Back Lane with a parakeet,
Rum for the cook and spice for the meat
Christmas oranges light the street
Kissed by the waning sun
Home in an English schooner.
HYTHE OF INDUSTRY
You are standing on Hythe Station. The Hythe has been described as the engine-room of Colchester. If this seems an obvious comparison, there isn't really a better one. From the middle of 19th to the late 20th century, this area, with its factories and workshops, was the hub of our local industry. Up Hythe Hill, by Port Lane, was once the famous Paxman factory, which, in its time, manufactured everything from bicycles, to engines for trains, ships and submarines. Down the hill, around the corner were Colchester Lathes, whose hand-built precision-engineered machines are still internationally, highly-regarded. Things in those days were built to last. Even today, you can travel to practically any corner of the world and find a Colchester lathe or a Paxman engine still chugging away somewhere, doing its job. Until fairly recently, when you looked up the name Colchester, in the world's travel books, under Industries, the entries always mentioned engineering. Sheffield had its steel, Manchester its looms and Colchester had engineering. It was what we were good at.
The Hythe, though, was more than just a manufacturing centre. For at least a thousand years, it was a busy working port too. The River Colne, upon which the Hythe stands, has its sources in two tributaries, which converge near Great Yeldham in the north-west of the county. From there, the river threads its way through the fertile farmlands of the Colne Valley until it reaches east Colchester. Here, it widens for a few miles, its estuary flicking back like a serpent's tongue at Brightlingsea and Mersea, before merging with the North Sea. From its sources, however, it was not until it reached the Hythe, on Colchester's eastern flank, that the river first widened sufficiently to enable the growth of the port, which did so much to boost the early economy of the town.
The Celts, Romans, Saxons, Danes and the Normans would all have known this river in their time and would have seen from their wooden ships, the shallow wooded slopes beyond the muddy marshes which skirt its shores. In mediaeval times, the rich merchants of the Hanseatic League – an early trading cartel formed by north German and Baltic states – came to the Hythe. They brought with them cargoes as diverse as iron ore, fur, wheat, amber, spices, copper and cloth. If you were to imagine a mediaeval multinational with its own parliament, security force and fleet, you'd be somewhere near summing up what the Hanseatic League was. Some of the merchants settled and had warehouses in the town. During the mediaeval period, other trade was also vibrant: wine came in from Gascony, while Russet and Colchester Grey cloth went back across the sea by return. The Hythe port was strategically important enough in English Civil War times for the Parliamentary forces to secure it before a battle ensued, with the Royalists holding out at St Leonard's Church. The history of this area is labyrinthine and endless.
The story of the Hythe, in fact, is one of trade and industry. The site of a 19th century forge on Hythe Hill, for instance, when it was investigated by archaeologists, was found to have been a forge of some sort since very early times. The area's atmosphere was one of a rude, take-as-you-find vitality. Here, after all, for centuries, had been sailors, soldiers, merchants, prisoners, prostitutes, pubs and ships. All of life was here, in a giddying fusion of wealth, poverty, nobility and squalor. Clustered around the river, which served as the main artery to the throbbing heart of Colchester, lived a large community of people. Into their port came citrus fruit from the Azores, ice-blocks from Norway, coal from Northumbria and timber from the Baltic. Back out along their river went grain, cloth, ale, livestock and machinery.
Fuelling this entire smoke-blackened, clattering engine of industry, since the early 19th century, was coal. The coalyards – and there were many of them – stood all along the river and around the area. Coal was even piled next to the railway station upon which you now stand. Sag-roofed cottages once huddled next to the weatherboarded ships' chandlers. Boatsheds leaned into old Victorian grain warehouses. A Georgian merchant's townhouse jostled the timber and lath hall of his mediaeval predecessor. Running between the buildings were the filthy alleys and broken-cobbled pub courtyards. The Hythe with its sprat barrels, coalyards, stables, cranes and machinery was neither a pretty place nor a fragrant one. But it was lively one, unapologetic for itself and belonging to no one but the people who lived and worked here.
And yet, for all those busy centuries, St Leonard's Church on Hythe Hill was thronged each Sunday, stewarding its flock in and out of the world and marrying soldiers and seamen to their sweethearts. Outside, meanwhile, next to its ancient porch, a congregation of bees buzzed in and out of what is still thought to be England's oldest recorded beehive – almost as if in homage to the bustle of the place in which they had chosen chose to settle. For despite the industry of the Hythe, the place is surrounded by the natural world on its flanks, as well as possessing a wildlife haven at its centre. Between Hythe Station and Colchester Town are the twenty acres of tangled wild land known as The Moors. Here is where old Mr Paxman once grazed his cows, planted an orchard and grew cricket willows. Just downriver, within site of the port, are fields, water-meadows, marshland, woods and farms. And right through the Hythe itself, runs the river, playing host to water fowl, waders and seabirds whilst it ebbs and flows, twice a day, to and from the sea. You are standing at the Hythe, Colchester's most venerable and ancient port.