This town, overlooked
By residents of towers
Living layered lives up Hill Street on the Chuckery
Where long ago people raised poultry
This town, passed over
By the motorway
Raised on stilts above soiled fields
This town has history scored in bricks and street signs
See how rich in life
This poor town has once been
Walsall, valley of the Welsh
Who lived here first
A place of water for the trades
Potters on Warewell Street
Drew water to work clay
Clothiers of Persehouse Street
These mills not just for grain
Brought in by reapers from Tasker Street
The noise of the Rollingmill
Giving metal a squeeze
Go to Wittimere and the canal basin
Washed black with tan
From stained saddlers’ hands
Tackle for the palfrey who grazed
On Acres Short and Long
Since ploughed up for streets
As are the Butts
Where ‘Tavern, school and skyscraper stand
The site of men bending longbows in practice
But Time’s arrow has taken flight
Follow this town through these names
The route to the Marsh
Flowing into Navigation Street
Where manufactures and goods
Hauled to the Wharf
Were sent to imperial ports
By canal up through the locks
And from that empire have returned
Nurses, doctors and busmen, carers
Shopkeepers, police and railway workers
Teachers, binmen, footballers
Who filled Walsall’s gapped terraces
When jobs went and hope had gone
The glebe still marked, was land for priests
Who lived off tithes
Paid by men and women of the fields
Lying beneath the cobbles, concrete and stone
But now alongside the Christian
Churches, halls and schools
Nanaksar Gurdwara and Aisha Mosque
Have made good derelict space
For this poor town
Is not a godless place
6th June, 2020
n.b. These are just a few of the place, street and road names I wondered about when I worked and wandered about Walsall for four months during the first half of 2019. A town rich in people and history.
Chuckery: an area of Walsall thought to have specialised in raising poultry.
Warewell: a water source associated with making wares, usually pottery.
Persehouse: A place of clothe makers.
Tasker: A worker, labourer, often a reaper, or thresher.
Rollingmill: A machine that compresses metal to specific thickness.
Mere (as in Wittimere): lake.
Palfrey: A gentle pony for women to ride.
Long Acre / Short Acre: Roadside grazing area.
Butts: Targets for archery. Shares the source of “but” the French for goal in football.
Glebe: land reserved for priests to cultivate.
Tithes: Annual charge of 1/10th of all produce given to the clerics of Medieval England.
Nanaksar Gurdwara: One of Walsall’s Sikh temples.
Aisha Mosque: One of the Muslim mosques of Walsall.
This poem was my entry for a competition about Walsall, a town in the Black Country in central England. A thriving centre of industry for generations, it now features annually as one of the four most socially deprived boroughs in the England. What went wrong?
CLP 8th June 2020