Category Archives: Ron Nurse

The Shrewsbury Guilds, Thomas Anderson, and the Flower Show

Further to the 1973 article by Ron Nurse – on the Shrewsbury guilds and the execution of Thomas Anderson in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion – that I transcribed here, a thread on the ‘You know you’re from Shrewsbury when…’ Facebook page drew my attention to Pauline Fisk’s fascinating My Tonight From Shrewsbury blog and in particular this article on the abolishing of The Old Shrewsbury Show. This grew out of the show organized by the Shrewsbury trade guilds in the Middle Ages, referenced in Ron’s article and in our song Thomas Anderson. However, the show was abolished around the time that the Shrewsbury Flower Show began. I have an idea that the end of the old show was mentioned in ‘Fairfield Folk‘ by Frances Brown, but I don’t have a copy of that book to hand.

The Shropshire Guilds page at Shropshire History also includes some interesting information on the show, and photographs of guildhalls that still survive in Shrewsbury and elsewhere in Shropshire, even though (to the best of my knowledge) the only surviving physical trace of the feast halls on Kingsland is the Shoemakers’ Arbour, transplanted to the Dingle by the newly-established Horticultural Cultural society around 1875.

David Harley
Small Blue-Green World

Black Velvet (article from Shrewsbury folk club magazine, 1973)

[This is an article written by the late Ron Nurse for Issue 10 of the Shrewsbury Folk Club Magazine in 1973, based I think on his own research in the archives of the Shrewsbury Chronicle. Later on, when I’d moved away to Berkshire, I came across the magazine again and used it as the basis for my song Thomas Anderson (which I’ve co-credited to Ron). I don’t think any of us who contributed to that magazine in the early 70s thought in terms of copyright and intellectual property, but I wish I’d been able to confirm with Ron that he didn’t mind my re-using it here. Unfortunately, by the time it occurred to me that readers of this blog – or anyone who knows and likes the song – might find it of interest, Ron was no longer with us. If any member of his family comes across this article and objects to its being made available again, please contact me and I’ll remove it immediately. I’ve made some very light (purely cosmetic) edits.]

Black Velvet

The two figures are of solid stone, but in spite of that fact, and the pious plea once carved between them (now almost effaced), some vandal has helped the hand of time to give them many a hard knock.

WE ARE BUT IMAGES OF STONE DO US NO HARM WE CAN DO NONNE

These images which represent St. Crispin and St. Crispian, and the arch of which they are part, once graced the entrance to the “Shoemakers’ Arbour”. But that was long, long ago: now they are part of the Dingle, that elegant centre piece of Shrewsbury’s Quarry Park. In its present position it does little to grace the orderly plots and rows of flowers, but the arch does have one thing in common with the flora of the Dingle, for it was transplanted here just as they were.

Years ago the arch stood on Kingsland, high on the other side of the river, and was the gateway to one of the many guild arbours that once stood there. Until well into the middle years of the last century the tailors, smiths, butchers, saddlers, and well as the bakers and shoemakers, had small fenced-off guild halls on the stretch of open ground that was Kingsland. These made a centre for all the drinking and merrymaking which took place after the show day procession of the Shrewsbury guilds. This took place on the second Monday after the Trinity Sunday, each year.

What scenes of revelry these old mutilated effigies must have seen in those far-off days, but then, can stone eyes see? Can stone hearts feel? Mayhap it is a blessing at times if they cannot.

One cold December day in the year 1752, a tall man dressed in a handsome suit of black velvet, was standing just below the shoemakers’ arbour on Kingsland. Despite the cold biting wind he was not alone, many others were braving the elements on this dull winter’s morn. Most were here of their own free will, but not the man in black, nor the row of scarlet-clad soldiers facing him.

Behind the soldiers a motley crowd of townsfolk stood silent, and waiting for the last act of a grim drama. Soon that black velvet suit would be stained a sodden red; clothing a corpse, as cold and lifeless as the two stone figures on the arch of the shoemakers’ arbour, overlooking this grim scene.

Sharp and clear across the river, the towers and spires rose above the huddle of buildings sheltering behind the ancient town walls. Sharp and clear on the frosty air rang out the musket shots, and the towers and spires of Shrewsbury flung back the sound. But Thomas Anderson did not hear the echo; did not feel the wind which now seemed to be blowing a little colder; and there was no warmth in the ray of sunlight that broke through the grey clouds, putting its finger on the grey stone arch and its inscription. “We are but images of stone, Do us no harm we can do nonne”.

Fate has a way; a path which each of us must follow to the end. She gives favours with one hand, then takes them back with the other. The victim of this grim drama had been spared from death on the battlefield of Culloden, but only to die here on the bank of the Severn. Shot down like a mad dog this raw December day. As warning to the people of Shrewsbury town that it was dangerous to think that a Stuart King could ever again sit on the throne of England.

It all started on the 10th of June 1752. The workers of John Ritchards, master builder, had received their pay at a pub called the ‘Crown’, which once stood on Pride Hill near the old ‘Butter Cross’. The day had been very hot, and building being thirsty work, it was no wonder that some of the hard-earned pay had been exchanged for liquid refreshment. Strong ale can lower the inborn sense for caution so that when a patrol of soldiers happened to pass by the pub, they became the butt for a stream of abuse and coarse with from the drinking men.

In 1752 the events of the 45 Rebellion, when Bonnie Prince Charlie marched his army as far South as Derby, in his bid to place his father on the throne, were just that few years past to be looked upon with a romantic nostalgia. Flora MacDonald, who helped to save the life of Charles Stuart, was a heroine in the eyes of the majority of the people of Britain.

[There is a hand-drawn illustration of the archway and the effigies here in the original article, but they haven’t survived the photocopying process very well. When I have access to a scanner I’ll see if I can clean them up in Photoshop, but in the meantime here are some photographs to take their place.]

arbour3

arbour2On the other hand, the Hanoverian Prince, the Duke of Cumberland, had made a dismal failure of the only victory he ever won in the whole of his military career. For the cruelties he ordered, or allowed, against the Highland Scots after the battle of Culloden had brought him the title ‘The Butcher’.

It was a fact that none of the early Hanoverian kings captured the least spark of respect or loyalty from their British subjects. The only thing in their favour was the fact that they were Protestants.

Then in the year 1750, Prince Charles Stuart renounced the Catholic religion and declared himself a member of the Church of England. Then in 1752 he was plotting to kill or capture the Hanoverian family, and place the ill-fated Stuart line back on the throne.

All these facts made the Whig authorities somewhat jittery. Watch was kept for any hint of the Stuart cause being supported by the people, the faintest sign of which must be stamped out quickly, before the fire could spread.

The affair which started at the ‘Crown’ in Shrewsbury would be looked upon as a demonstration in favour of the Stuarts, for some of the pub’s patrons were wearing white roses, and bawling Jacobite songs at the red-coated soldiery. It is on record that one of the songs they sang was this one, once very popular but now seldom-heard.

OVER THE WATER TO CHARLIE

Come boat me o’er, come row me o’er
Come boat me o’er to Charlie
I’ll gie John Ross another bawbee T
o row me o’er to Charlie

Chorus:
We’ll o’er the water, we’ll o’er the water
We’ll o’er the water to Charlie
Come weal, come woe, we’ll gather and go
And live or die wi’ Charlie

It’s weel I lo’e my Charlie’s name
Though some there be abhor him
But oh! To see ‘Auld Nick’ gaun hame
And Charlie’s foes before him

I swear by moon and stars sae bright
And the sun that glances early
If I had twenty thousand lives
I’d gie them a’ for Charlie

I once had sons, I now ha’e nane
I bred them toiling sairly
But I would bear them a’ again
And lose them a’ for Charlie

[There’s a version from Mudcat including the melody. Ron didn’t have the advantage of the Internet when he wrote this article. – DH]

Needless to say, such conduct by the citizens of Shrewsbury could not be overlooked. Something had to be done to bring the common rabble back into line, and to show them to what end their traitorous action could lead them. Therefore the stage was set for the tragic even which took place six months later.

Thomas Anderson, the man in the handsome black velvet suit, was killed on that steep green slope, just downriver from the ‘Boathouse’, for more than one reason. He had deserted from Sir John Ligonier’s regiment of dragoons. It was alleged that he had taken part in the 1745 rebellion, and that when the black velvet was stripped from his body, a sash was found next to his skin: the colours of the Chevalier, given him for the part he had played in the bid to depose the Hanoverian King George II. But the real reason was to put fear into the hearts of the people of Shrewsbury, especially the ones who had the audacity to sing rebel songs before the red-coated troopers of the Kind.

Although it is almost 200 years since ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ died in Rome, an old embittered drunk, yet we still sing the old songs. Who has never heard ‘The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond’, ‘The Skye Boat Song’, or in the smaller circle of folk song clubs ‘Bonnie Charlie’s noo awa’ or ‘Johnnie Cope’? The words and music of these songs are the same as they always were, yet they have a feeling of bitter sadness that one can almost taste. All the flame and passion has gone from them.

Could these songs have once lit the fires of civil war in Britain? In1752, some men thought so. 

Ron Nurse
(Article transcribed by David Harley, to whom all errors may be attributed…)