Guest Post

Guest Blog by Alison Patrick, plus poem: At Large in Ratchup

convicts_at_botany_bay_commonsHenry Foulk appears in records from the eighteenth century held in Shropshire Archives. Prisoners awaiting trial in Shrewsbury Gaol were listed in the Calendar of Prisoners from the records of the Quarter Sessions and Assizes. These were meetings of the Justices of Peace, held as the name suggests, four times a year. Before the establishment of County Councils after 1888, administration at county level was largely in the hands of the Justices of the Peace. Their judicial powers included trying and punishing all felonies and trespasses, arresting on suspicion and taking sureties for good behaviour”.  The Calendar of Prisoners gives the name and age of the prisoner, details of the offence and a note of the sentence given.

Henry Foulk stands out because he escaped while awaiting transportation and was reported as being ‘At Large in Ratchup’. (Ratchup is the Shropshire village of Ratlinghope – correct pronunciation remains controversial even today). He escaped the gaol in April 1785 and was recommitted to Shrewsbury Gaol on 11th September 1786 on the oath of three men.  The charge this time was of being ‘at Large in Ratchup’ having escaped under sentence of Transportation ‘beyond the seas for seven years’.  The accessible records start in 1786 so I haven’t been able to find out the original charge.

AP20192Typically, those sentenced in Shrewsbury to seven years transportation, were charged with stealing: sometimes money but more usually items, such as clothing – which in the records is itemised; e.g. coat & hat worth two shillings, linen waistcoat, two silk handkerchiefs; equipment – a saddle, a pair of stirrup leathers from a stable; or livestock – in one case a single ewe.  My guess is that Henry Foulk was originally on a similar charge of stealing items or livestock.

Foulk appears on the Calendar of Prisoners for the sessions in October 1786, and January 1787.  At the Lent Assize in March 1787 he was sentenced, along with five other prisoners, to ‘Condemned and Reprieved’ i.e. condemned to death – but reprieved at the discretion of the Justices, perhaps because the death penalty was considered too harsh for the offence. This sentence of ‘condemned and reprieved’ appears frequently in the Quarter Session records. Foulk is named as a prisoner condemned and reprieved in the Calendar for April 1787 and then he disappears. He does not seem to be in Gaol awaiting transportation or serving time.  His name is not on any list of convicts that I have been able to find on line for the First, Second or Third Fleets.  These are probably not 100% complete but based on the available evidence he was not transported as per the original sentence.

At each of the Quarter Sessions from this date of 1786 (possibly from earlier) there are several prisoners sentenced to “Transportation Beyond the Seas” – meaning to Van Diemens Land (now Tasmania) and New South Wales in modern day Australia. To be transported to Australia in the early 1790s could not be more frightening, more unknown. Cook mapped and claimed the east coast of Australia for Great Britain in 1783. The First Fleet of convict & supply ships left England in 1787 so if Henry Foulk had not escaped he could have been on the First Fleet as several prisoners convicted at Shrewsbury were. He was sentenced before any ships of convicts had even left England for Australia.

The second Fleet set sail at the beginning of 1790.  Several men sentenced at Shrewsbury at the Quarter Sessions in Shrewsbury in 1790 to Transportation Beyond the Seas for seven years appear on a list of convicts on the Third Fleet, eleven ships, including supply ships, which left England between February and April 1791, arriving between July and October 1791.

The poem imagines the feelings of a man contemplating transportation for seven years to a place which could not be further from the known world, geographically or imaginatively. Foulk is fifty years old. The length and appalling conditions of sentence and voyage mean it is unlikely he would ever return (198 convicts – about 10% – on the Third Fleet died on the voyage; on the Second Fleet it was 273 – a quarter – with many others sick on arrival). Convicts who completed their sentence were free but were not returned to England instead left to fend or find their own way home.

I like to think that in escaping, Foulk gambled and won.

(Based on research of original records and on microfiche at Shropshire Archives plus web research;; Wikipedia – Penal Transportation;;;

About Alison Patrick: Originally from Nottinghamshire I have lived in Shrewsbury, Shropshire for 30 years.  For many years I was a local government Tourism Officer.  Since 2015 my partner and I have been running and working in the cornershop in our own neighbourhood of Shrewsbury.  I did an English degree at Leeds University a long time ago (and loved it).  I have dabbled in writing poetry on and off but only recently submitted any for publication.  At Large in Ratchup was written as a result of a Poetry Workshop led by Jean Atkin at Shropshire Archives.  I like giving a voice to these people who appear as a few lines in an official document, in a newspaper report or as an unnamed face in a photograph.  It’s mostly speculation of course but the records in the Archives give us a hotline to the past.  These were real people with real lives, problems, dreams, passions and personalities. As a Unitarian I write and broadcast an occasional piece for Pause for Thought on BBC Radio Shropshire; lead services, as a lay person, at Shrewsbury Unitarian and other Unitarian churches and write some worship material.  I also often use (other people’s) poetry and fiction finding it provides more interesting and revealing material for services than overtly spiritual writing.

(Henry Foulk, 50, charged with escaping from Shrewsbury Gaol while under sentence of Transportation).

At Large in Ratchup

One nail’s breadth at a time
Or even less, this little, black, hard beetle
Scales the grass blade. And will
Reach the top. I will not see
The tip bend with the tiny weight.

Now that I have been written out of life
In copperplate italics
I find I am afraid.
Hiding in woods and ditches.
Warm dry straw and a barn on a good day.
Thieving scraps from dogs and
Shirts from hedges.
Foraging in summer.
Starving in winter.
In the spring, the gallows.
Better than this.
This falling off the edge of things
Into whatever unknown hell awaits
Beyond the seas.

I hear them coming.

Guest Post by Steve Pottinger, with his poem ‘Desaparecida’

sofaOn January 8th this year, a friend of mine was kidnapped by a Mexican drugs cartel. John Sevigny is a photographer, a US national who spends a lot of time in Central America; he was visiting Cordoba, in Veracruz state in Mexico, when he and a woman he was working with were abducted by a large number of heavily armed men.

Abduction in Mexico isn’t uncommon. Over 30,000 people have disappeared, and while I knew of los desaparecidos I guess it’s human nature to believe this ongoing tragedy – like all tragedies – is something which happens to others, and never to anyone you know or care about. Maybe that’s a necessary disconnect which allows us to live free from anxiety and constant fear. Perhaps that explains the shock when it turns out not to be true.

3926767553_5c10b7d25c_zAfter two long, brutal days, John and his friend were set free. He is now recovering in the States, and she has got well away from Cordoba. However, she’s still in Mexico. That’s one reason for not naming her. The fact that what happened to her is her story to tell, and not ours, is another.

What has this got to do with poetry? Well, one of the pleasures of poetry is that it allows us to speak our truth in our voice. One of its privileges is that it gives us a platform to point a reader at something we feel they should know about and say Look! Look at this. I’ve always written about the world around me, because that’s what makes me tick. At the same time, I’m aware that writing a poem about a desaparecida – a disappeared woman –  does next to nothing. When things change in Mexico, it will like as not be the result of backroom deals, of huge pressure, of political leverage being lined up and brought into play. It won’t be because of a poem. But here’s the poem, nonetheless.

postscript: to draw attention to what’s happening in Mexico, John has started writing about what he and his friend went through. If you want to, you can read what he has to say here, but I should warn you that it’s as far from an easy read as it’s possible to get, and comes with a fistful of trigger warnings.

Steve Pottinger has gigged the length and breadth of the country, in pubs and clubs, at poetry nights and festivals. But that doesn’t really tell you anything. He loves words, loves people more, and enjoys poetry which makes him smile, or think, or want to man the barricades. When not standing behind a microphone or in front of an audience, he can often be found down the pub. He hopes you enjoy his work.” You can find out more about Steve at; twitter @BigStevePoet.


I did not know you.

I did not know you and I was not there
when Tuesday morning burst in upon you,
kicked down the doors and stormed
into the flat, when a dozen men with guns,
– policia doing the work of the cartel –
dragged you to the cars that waited,
idling outside, dance tunes on the radio,
drivers tapping their fingers, humming along.

I did not know you and I was not there
when they drove you to a nameless faceless place
built of breeze blocks, nightmares, fear
of hours that stretch forever
and the death of strangers
I was not there and when they did to you
what men with brutal minds and guns
have always done to women
I still didn’t know you. I still wasn’t there.

I did not know you and I was not there
when they set you free
when you stumbled back home
I was not there and I do not know
if you leant chairs against the broken door
to close out the world and its guns and its hate
I do not know if you curled up on the bed and sobbed
or stood under the shower for dripping hours
hoping to wash away hurt and sin and shame
I was not there when you sat at the table and shook
when you smoked one trembling cigarette after another
when you cursed the god who lets these men
– these malditos culeros – run free
when you prayed to our lady,
to anyone who’d listen.

I did not know you and I was not there
when they came back
when they came back
and took you away again
when the car waited, idling outside,
driver tapping his fingers, humming along
when they wrote your name in sand and blood
in the long long list of desaparecidas

I did not know you and I was not there
and it’s not enough, it will never be enough
but I write this poem
to keep alive your name
to light a candle of words,
a small but steady flame
that burns bright in the howling dark
and remembers you.

© Steve Pottinger, 2019

(over 26,000 people have gone missing in Mexico, victims of drug cartels, the police and state authorities who often work with them)





Guest Blog by Matt Duggan on Henry Hunt, with poem ‘The Orator of Peterloo’.

IMG-20180113-WA0002Henry Hunt also known to some as the ‘Orator’, realised his talent for public speaking in the electoral politics of Bristol. Henry was highlighting the corruption of the ruling classes and the high tariffs given through mercantilist trade, where only landowners would benefit from it. Henry gave a radical speech at St Peter’s Field in Manchester on the 16th August 1819 which is known today as Peterloo (Named after the Battle of Waterloo). The Peterloo Massacre was caused by the over-reaction of local authorities, where 18 people were murdered. (more…)

Guest Post by Ali Jones: Is Home Really a Choice? (with poem ‘Overspill’)

housingHousing in the United Kingdom has always been an area fraught with disparities. When cities began to expand post-industrial revolution, and more places to live were needed in urban settings, people began to move on a scale that hadn’t been seen before.  This flocking of people from rural settings towards employment, allowed opportunistic private builders to provide densely populated and disorganised developments, which subjected many families to poor and overcrowded living conditions, without effective sanitation or natural light. There was pressure on the Government to begin looking at housing issues, and they were slowly persuaded to intervene. (more…)

Guest Blog & Poem ‘Voices’ by Lorraine Carey

20150622_113326 (2)Article 40.3.3, known as the Eighth Amendment, was voted into the Irish Constitution by referendum in 1983. The amendment states: ‘The states acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.’ It equates the life of a pregnant woman with that of an embryo or foetus, and has created an unworkable distinction between a pregnant woman’s life and her health.

On Friday May 25th, Ireland will hold a referendum to Repeal the Eighth Amendment. (more…)

Vane Women. A guest post by Marilyn Longstaff featuring Majuba Road by Julie Hogg

From the Editor

Many poets improve their skills through writing classes and groups; whether with organisations and colleges or with self-organised like-minded people. But what happens when the course or group finishes and you’re poems are ‘ready’ for the world to read. Competition in publishing, as we all know is immense and can be a very dispiriting and lonely experience. Here is how one group of women in the North East of England responded.

Marilyn Longstaff of Vane Women

Marilyn LongstaffVane Women is a women’s collective celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It promotes good writing by organising workshops, mentoring and hosting masterclasses by established writers. It was founded in 1991 to support the development and recognition of women writers in the North East. The writing, publishing and performing collective has come a long way from its beginnings in a women’s writing class at the late lamented Darlington Arts Centre, Vane Terrace.