A blog by an historian, Pagan and fanfiction writer, with left-wing leaning politics. In short, I could be waffling on about anything.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

History of Wolverhampton: The Standing Stones

During Neolithic times, our ancestors were moving huge chunks of rock around the country. The reason that they did it has been lost to antiquity, but the theories abound. These standing stones could have marked meeting places or graves; or they could have been territorial markers. The circular henges (think Stonehenge or Avebury) might have been huge calendars or ceremonial areas. The first 'churches' of all. The long and short of it is that we don't know. No-one at the time was blogging about it.

Stonehenge From Inside 5
Stonehenge: Not in Wolverhampton

There were people in and around the Wolverhampton area during the Neolithic. We know this because they brought megaliths here. A community would have had to come together to do it, because one person can't shift these standing stones on their own.

The first to arrive wasn't carried here by human engineering. In my previous blog, I mentioned that a huge, wild river once deposited all that 'Bunter' sandstone into our bedrock. The melting of the ice age might have caused that. As mile-high walls of ice dripped into thawing, mighty rivers were formed. One of them was strong enough to carve a massive monolith of felsite, from the vicinity of Arenig, Gwynedd. Imagine the force of nature necessary to carry that, all the way from west Wales, to where Oak Street, in Wolverhampton, is now.

View Larger Map

This standing stone is no longer in Oak Street. Wulfrunians belatedly got involved in moving it, in 1881, when they carted it off to West Park. It can be seen there now, with a little plaque on it, placing Arenig in its old county name of Merionethshire.

Outside St Peter's Collegiate Church, there is another interesting stone. Most people miss it, because it's behind the railings and hidden from the garden view by a large bush. Those who do spot it generally mistake it either for a gravestone or else excitedly believe that they are glimpsing evidence of Wolverhampton's Neolithic past.

Image: Bargain Stone in St Peter's Collegiate Church gardens, Wolverhampton
Unfortunately, it is neither of those things. It's actually a bit of the church that fell off some time in the 17th century. It used to be up with the gargoyles. The hole is were the drainpipe went through. But before you write it off completely, there is some interesting history attached.

In the days when Wolverhampton was getting rich off wool, the drovers would come down from the Welsh mountains to sell their sheep. (Some of them following the path of that great chunk of rock in West Park.) This wasn't the age of lawyers and contracts, it was a time of deals being struck with a handshake. In order that no-one reneged on the exchange, woolman and drover would walk off to Queen Square, where the stone used to sit. They would both place their hands through the hole in the stone and their handshake meant an unbreakable bargain had been made. To this day, it is called the Bargain Stone.

However, before you leave in disappointment at the lack of genuine Neolithic stones to see in the city, there is still some evidence that they were about. On the outskirts of Wolverhampton is Featherstone. The name means has nothing to do with things found on birds. Feotherestan was its 10th century name. Feother was 'four' in Old English. The 'stone' part speaks for itself.

South Armagh - Ballykeel Dolmen. March 1988
Ballykeel Dolmen - Did the Featherstone one look like this?

Scholars believe that there was once a tetralith (or dolmen) in the area. A tetralith consisted of three standing stones with a fourth balanced on top.

In 1971, a farmer named Mr Harper was digging a drain, on Brookhouse Farm, Brookhouse Lane, Featherstone. His shovel uncovered a 5,000 year old stone axe head. It's now in the Birmingham Museum.

Also, just over the modern day M6 from Featherstone, is Landywood, in Great Wyrley. Until living memory, there was a stone circle to the side of Holly Lane. During World War Two, the stones were removed to make way for open cast mining. They were just dumped in a ditch along Gorsey Lane. Later still, a housing estate was built and the Landywood Great Stones were taken away, never to be seen again.

View Larger Map

The only evidence that remains that they were ever there is a kink in the path of Holly Lane. It should be a straight line, but the road veers off, as if it is continuing into Gorsey Lane. Then suddenly, it reverts back onto its original line and carries on up to the forked junctions with Strawberry Lane and Streets Lane. That strange bend once took Holly Lane around the edge of the Great Stones, long before Gorsey Lane was even created.

As for the rest, unfortunately it's believed that the Industrial Revolution and the sprawling development, in the Black Country, destroyed all of our long barrows. The Neolithic sank, almost without trace, under the black smoke and coal that gave us our name.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

History of Wolverhampton: The Prehistoric Landscape

After some rather disparaging comments about Wolverhampton this week, I thought that a series of blogs about the city's history might be in order. We certainly have a lot of it; and the traces of the past can seen be found dotted around the city centre in particular.

I could do this without chronology, just whistling through random stories, focusing on the interesting bits; or I could take the Lewis Carroll approach, 'start at the beginning; keep going until you reach the end; stop.' Let's do the latter. :D

Image: Wolverhampton in Colour by Lee Jordan
Image: Wolverhampton in Colour by Lee Jordan

Where is This Wolverhampton Anyway?

This is for the non-Wulfrunians, as the rest of us know that it's the place up the hill, with shops and a profusion of people wearing old gold and black. For the rest of Britain, it's the place where Wolverhampton Wanderers FC come from, hence the colours.

Wolverhampton is in the English West Midlands. No-one can ever quite agree on whether it is or isn't in the Black Country; but then there's never been a consensus on where the Black Country is either. The signs welcoming you into the city state that this is Wolverhampton, in the Black Country; the football matches between Wolves and West Bromwich Albion are billed as Black Country derbies; and I'm personally quite happy to call myself a Black Country wench. However there are still histories, guide books and emphatic people in pubs, who will state that the Black Country's border ends at Sedgley, or Tipton, or Dudley, or somewhere to the south, east, north or west. As I said, there never has been a consensus.

Britain's second city, the sprawling metropolis of Birmingham, is just down the road. If the traffic isn't too bad, then a driver leaving Wolverhampton, on the M54, M6 or down the Birmingham New Road (it hasn't been that new for over a century), can reach that city in about 20 minutes. A whole network of roads and motorways surround Wolverhampton. It's always been a bit of a thoroughfare. A Roman road is not too far away; and our economy boomed on the back of Welsh sheep drovers, bringing their livestock (and therefore the wool) into the many 'folds' dotted around our centre.

The city sits on a dorsal ridge of Triassic rock, stretching all the way towards Dudley. At around 394ft above sea level, overlooking the plains of Staffordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire, on a clear day the views can be tremendous. The Welsh border is not too far away, as the crow flies. It used to be much nearer.

The Prehistoric Landscape of Wolverhampton

In its ancient past, Wolverhampton has been both under a shallow sea and completely covered in a vast, dense forest. It may be difficult to imagine the former, given the aching leg muscles that follow any major trek up into the city centre. However, we hadn't yet had the ice ages, that forced the land up into the hillside upon which the city perches.

The land beneath our feet contains both limestone (formed from the bodies of all those sea-creatures that lived and perished in the sea) and carboniferous (coal-bearing) layers. The latter came from the trees and plants that fell, and were crushed, as glaciers grew above us.

There is also plenty of 'Keuper' sandstone, dating from over 200 million years ago, again from Wolverhampton's prehistoric sojourn under a Triassic sea. Some of this hints at a later landscape too, during the melting of each of the ice ages, just 10,000 years ago. 'Bunter' sandstone contains rounded pebbles, some of which originated in modern day Brittany, in France. They would have been carried on a vast, turbulent river, which presumably ran through the area that became Wolverhampton.

To my knowledge, there have never been any major dinosaur nor fossil finds in Wolverhampton. But we are only about ten minutes drive away from a very substantial spot for that. Wren's Nest, on the outskirts of Dudley, became a National Reserve in 1956, because of such discoveries. The same limestone, that yields so many Silurian Era fossils there, lies beneath us here too.

Heading out of the city centre, towards New Cross Hospital, in Wednesfield, dolerite has been found in huge quantities. To the initiated, this is melted rock. In short, there was once a volcano near by. This shouldn't come as a surprise. Half of the Black Country is built on volcanoes, that became dormant way back in antiquity.

Image: St. Peter's Collegiate Church by Roger Kidd

Seeing It Today

Sea, forest, volcano, ice and scary river, Wolverhampton has had its fair share of major changes in the past; and that was before any people even arrived!

To see some of the evidence of this, try looking up at the very peak of Wolverhampton city centre. St Peter's Collegiate Church is made entirely out of Bunter sandstone rock, mined locally. Alternatively, the towns and villages around are strewn with outcrops of red rock (Tettenhall Rock is a great example). Next time you pass by them, nod knowledgably, as you know they are evidence of Wolverhampton's prehistoric past.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Three (Free) Geek Programs That I Wouldn't Do Without

Forget the riots, there seems to be another epidemic of disaster sweeping Wolverhampton at the moment - people's computers going down. Yesterday alone, I was called out to three of them. I'm not an official IT person, just the local geek. Those with problems were all people who get a bit lost, if things don't work as usual, once the computer is switched on.

(NB These programs are free and available for download off the internet. I don't represent the companies nor individuals making them in any way; neither do I make money off their promotion. I'm just very grateful that they exist!)

1, CCleaner. My absolutely top pick is CCleaner. If I can ninja nothing else onto the computers of my family and friends, then I'll get CCleaner on there.

Here's how I described it to my Mum's friend yesterday: 'You know the gunk that acculumates behind the cooker? Well, something similar happens in your hard-drive, as you surf the net. CCleaner is the computer equivalent of bleach and a scouring pad for crap.' She seemed to get it then.

I installed and ran it for her. The program found 2GB of rubbish that was slowing down her computer. One click of a button deleted it and the effect on speeding things up was immediate.

CCleaner is developed by hard-core geeks. They know what's safe to remove and what is better left alone. Whatever is listed, after a scan, just delete. I have been using this program for years and I've never had any issues with it. Whenever my computer starts slowing down or chugging away, I run CCleaner. If that doesn't fix it, then I know I have a problem!


2, Speccy. If you do have a real problem, then Speccy is a great little program for finding out what's going on. It quickly analyses your hardware and not only tells you what is, and isn't, running normally, but also provides a very accurate temperature.

For those with little to no knowledge of what goes on inside their computer, then this is your way to sound very informed.

You can copy and paste what Speccy tells you, into forums or e-mails, so that your geek friends have the details to help you. It might save a bob or two down the repair shops, if your problem turns out to be something very simple.

Speccy was recommended to me by someone who works in a said repair shop. When a customer brings their computer in, this is the first program that he runs. He has it on a memory stick, so he can just plug it in and voila! Then he takes the repairs from there.


3, Crossloop. I love the people who made this program. If I could find them, I'd get down onto my knees and kiss their feet. They are my gods, my idols, my heroes. What is it? It's a way to remotely operate the computer of your clueless relative, who lives miles away.

Ever sat on the 'phone for an hour just trying to explain where the 'start' button is to your old Gran? Ever thought it might just be easier to get in the car and drive across the country to do it yourself? This program is your saviour!

Obviously getting it installed on their system in the first place is going to be an issue, but if you can wade through that, your troubles are over. You download it and they download it. You ask them to read the code for this session and you type that into your interface. They get a request for access and press yes.

Then they can go away and make a cup of tea, while you use your own computer to empty their recycle bin; or deal with the virus; or get their photographs off the camera's memory card; or set up their e-mail; or whatever else they've called you about.

At any time, they can click a prominent button to eject you from their system. At the end of the session, you (or they) break the connection between your computers. You can't get in again. You would need a brand new access code to start a new session.

This program has saved me hours of frustration; and saved the feelings of elderly relatives, who were humiliated by their own lack of understanding. The makers deserve a medal.


So those are my three geek programs that I wouldn't do without. You're very welcome. <3

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Protecting Wolverhampton: A Religious Response

broom Wolverhampton is a city of many religions and a large proportion of atheists too. As the riots raged, there were a lot of people who turned to their prayers, especially those who felt helpless in the face of the violence. But spirituality had a practical side and unifying side too.

The RiotCleanUpWolv gathering saw a very visible Christian continguent. Reverends Arun Arora and Richard Moy were there with their brooms and both stood on benches to speak with the crowd. The former led everyone in a prayer, which he acknowledged in advance might not tally with the religion (or lack thereof) of all present. He hoped that we'd agree with the sentiment and, if not an amen, then a 'hey yeah!' could be substituted at the end. It struck a cord with everyone. It was all about keeping Wolverhampton safe.

As I ventured into St John's Retail Park yesterday, I bumped into Mandy Chatha. She saw my broom, so approached me to ask what it was like in the city centre. She was about to go and lend a hand too. During the course of our conversation, she told me about the people that had protected Sedgley Street Sikh Temple, off the Dudley Road, the night before. The temple has a gym attached and, on the night of August 9th, the news went out there that the city was rioting. Those inside immediately ended their work-outs and dashed to protect the building.

Word-of-mouth quickly swelled their numbers, until 'between 70-80' men were arm in arm around the temple. Some of the older men were wearing all five of the sacred Ks of Sikhism, including the curved kirpan blade. It wasn't just the Sikh Temple under their protection, it was the entire neighbourhood. The nearby church also got a cordon of Sikh men around it. It wasn't about religious pathways. It was about keeping the rioters away from Dudley Road's sacred places and they were happy to go where they were needed.

Though I have heard nothing specific about Wolverhampton's other religious communities, that doesn't mean that they aren't also out there, helping where they can. Islam was certainly represented in Birmingham two nights ago, when three young Muslim men were killed, while protecting properties in their city centre. It is heart-breaking to note that Tariq Jahan heard the bang and rushed to the scene to discover that one of the casualties was his son. He immediately administered CPR to another man, having already accepted that his own boy was beyond help. Could we all hope to remain so calm in such circumstances?

So what then of my own lot - the Pagans? Unless we're in full regalia, floating down the high street with our cloaks billowing behind us, it might not be obvious that we are there. Pagan holy places tend to be temporary circles, so there aren't the huge edifices of buildings to protect. But nevertheless there has been a Pagan response up and down the country. What you do you expect from witches? We dug out our broomsticks!

There is a reason that brooms (often called besoms in Wicca) are associated with witchcraft. As much as we'd love to soar, like Harry Potter, over the rooftops, unfortunately flight isn't actually amongst its uses. However, their use as everyday religious artefacts is well documented, both historically and in modern practice. In previous burning times, the stick would conceal a stang (an old Norse word meaning 'stick'), which became an altar, with the addition of a few flowers and other foliage. Moreover, a besom is commonly used in purification rituals.

Negative energy is swept away with each thrust of the broom handle. In its wake comes positivity. Out with the old; in with the new. It's a rite in which even non-Pagans still participate, though many call it 'spring cleaning'.

So when the clarion call of @RiotCleanUp sounded, Pagans throughout the nation noted with glee the encouragement to bring their brooms into the city centres. There were practical purposes, of course, but there was definitely the spiritual too. Did the sweeper beside you seem lost in concentration? Then it is possible that (s)he was a witch performing a rite, as the glass and litter got swept into the waiting bin-bags.

The Pagans were present and I can assure you that, on August 10th, 2011, the diameter of Wolverhampton's Ring Road was enclosed in a protective circle. The streets within it were purified. The witches brought their brooms.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

I've Been Featured on KicFM

I'm the first person interviewed here. To see more from KicFM and the Wolverhampton Riots, visit KicFM/shows/riots. I'm also the second person to speak in the 'Why are young people rioting?' slot, which can be heard using the mini player at that same link. That's me waffling on about people losing jobs, the economy and the example of government.

Photographs: Damage/Aftermath Wolverhampton Riots August 9th 2011

These pictures were all taken on the morning of August 10th, 2011, after the Wolverhampton riots the night before. I was there because I was part of the riot clean up. click on the pictures for full size.

Bit of context on the above picture. The gentleman in grey is the owner. His window was already smashed and the door was jammed. I don't know if it was because of debris inside or the lock had been damaged. He was trying to remove more of the glass in order to give himself room to climb through and gain access. The police officer assisted with his baton to help shatter the window. Then a couple of officers helped the owner get inside.

I could have cried for this lady. I think her name is Mrs Sharma, but I'm not sure. (Partial deafness + crowds makes name hearing difficult.) The shop is Sunitek, in Broad Street, Wolverhampton. It's an independently owned, family-run electrical repair shop, which also stocked items like laptops and televisions. It and Le Monde were two of the most ransacked businesses in the city. She looked shattered. Ill. The shop behind her was devoid of goods, but completely smashed up. She's lost it all. This is the human face of the riot damage.

I have 210 pictures, so these are just a selection. I think they're fairly representative though.

PS I love this story about Louise Johnson, a grandmother, who stood in front of her shop with her arms open, guarding it from the rioters. She succeeded too.

PPS All of the latest information about the Wolverhampton Riots is being kept up to date, on Tumblr, by Mandip Sandhu. Here is the link.

Riot Clean Up: Wolverhampton August 10th 2011

There are times when I really love my city. This morning, strolling along Lichfield Street, still wiping the sleep out of my eyes, was one of them. Last night was not. Then I was sitting helpless in front of my screen, watching gangs of people rampage through Wolverhampton, hurling rocks, smashing glass, attempting to destroy all they could in my familiar streets.

That window put through in Queen's Square? A 100 years ago, when it was still called High Green, my family had a home and habberdashery business there. Down in Dudley Street, the Marks and Spencer's frontage crashes onto the pavement. On that very spot, in 1817, my family took over the Red Cow pub and raised my great-great grandfather in the rooms above. When the riots were down in London, they were shocking. Now that they are in Wolverhampton, it's personal.

So when the call to arms came, via @riotcleanupWolv, I set my alarm. The remit was clear: at 9am, Wulfrunians were meet at the Mon on th' 'Oss. (Translation: Man on the Horse; never referred to as the statue of Prince Albert, raised by public subscription in 1866. It was the display of public kindness that finally got Queen Victoria out of isolation. She agreed to come to Wolverhampton to unveil it, thus ending months of private mourning for her husband.) We were to bring our brooms. We were to clean up the streets, in a show of solidarity with those directly affected. We were to take our city back.

This morning, I marched down Lichfield Street, with my broom over my shoulder, like some kind of domestic cleaning pikeswoman. I wondered how many would come. Birmingham apparently had thirty yesterday morning, in the same campaign; while Clapham attracted 100s. Then I saw them. Loads of them. Across the road, heading into the square, on their own, as couples or in small groups, but they all had their brooms in their hands. The Yam-Yams were out in force!

The RiotCleanUp Broom Army crossing the road at Prince's Square. Ever wondered why the traffic lights here have black and white stripes on them? It's because they were the first in the world. Their trial, right here, was so successful, in controlling traffic, that they spread throughout the country and then into the rest of the world. Wolverhampton did that. Last night, this junction was the scene of much of the rioting. Today, it was full of people with brooms. By the time I reached Queen's Square, there were easily 100-150 Wulfrunians amassed.

That's me in my black Wolves top and my broom in the air; with a friend, who independently decided to go in too. Incidentally, all of these pictures are meant to be thumbnails. Click on them for the full-sized versions.

Audrey and Liam Jones. Aud is one of the local Pagans, who turned up to add a little protection into the sweeping, hence deciding to 'ride' her broom here.

Rev Arun Arora, one of the many people who stood up on a bench to address the crowd. He is a local Church of England vicar, from Wolverhampton Pioneer Ministries, based at St Peter's House. (Thank you to Rev Richard Moy for the information.)

Emma Reynolds, MP for Wolverhampton North-East, was another who gave a speech. My apologies for not grabbing the name of the gentleman with her.

I had set out this morning expecting to be cleaning streets and businesses. What I hadn't reckoned upon was that the press would also be out there. If I had, I might have put some mascara on and chosen a better Wolves top (I have several...). I needn't have worried about vanity. The only ones to interview me were from the radio. Beacon Radio caught me in Victoria Street, while KicFM found me in Dudley Street. Back up in Queen's Square, I photographed Wolf FM conducting interviews.

Once we'd finished listening to speeches and letting the press photograph and record us, it was time to get down to business. The wonderful Wolverhampton Council cleaners had already been out, since 6am this morning, so the streets were actually extremely clean. But we could help with those premises where the owners had had to wait for forensics and/or insurers to finish their inspections. They'd missed the first sweep of tidying, so they got us!

We basically went through the centre, stopping at every property that looked to have been attacked. We took our brooms, gloves, bin-bags and dustpan and brushes; and we offered our assistance. There were so many of us, following such a great clean-up job already, that only a handful were able to actually do anything. You can't get 100 people in your ransacked shop, especially if you have any hope of clearing the place up! Therefore we split up.

These are some members of Wolverhampton's broom army turning up at Le Monde, one of the more badly damaged businesses, down in Victoria Street:

And a lone individual standing in Prince's Square looking to see where he can go next:

Finally, here are a trio of delightful (and determined) young men, who I bumped into over the road from Beatties. They are (l-r) Ben Rubery, Gurjinder Dhaliwal and Craig Jones. How's this for dedication? Today is Ben's birthday and he chose to celebrate it by coming to fix his city. Happy birthday, Ben!

I took 210 photographs today. If you want to know if I have any of yourself, please comment with what you were wearing and I'll look through for you. As for images of the damage to the city itself, I'm going to add them to a separate blog.

Thank you everyone who answered the call from @riotcleanupWolv. You made me feel very proud to be a Wulfrunian this morning. One very last thing. Some people, having done their rounds and found themselves with nothing left to clean, decided to have an impromptu dance in the middle of Queen's Square. Love you.

Cleaning Up After the Wolverhampton Riots

At 9am, Wulfrunians will be meeting at the Man on the 'Oss. Bring your brooms, gloves, dustpan and brushes, bin bags and a positive attitude.

The man on the 'oss
Time to take our streets back! Oi'll be theear; yam cummin', a'er kid?

This is being organised by @RiotCleanUpWolv.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Preparing for Riot: Photographs from Walsall, 9 August 2011

Walsall felt tense today. Despite internet rumours, there had not been any of the rioting that plagued nearby Birmingham the night before. However, everyone seemed to think that there would be.

Gangs of pubescent kids hung around outside the Saddler's Centre, watching the High Street. They appeared excited, waiting for it all to kick off. All along the shopping centre, members of staff or security guards stood in doorways. At the first sign of trouble, they would be dashing inside to sound the alarm. Nobody could miss the police. They stood in groups or in pairs, highly visible, just a few yards between each cohort. Only the officers appeared relaxed. "There has been no trouble here. We've been here all day and nothing." One told me. "Lots of kids thinking there's something to see, but there really isn't."

That was true. Unlike Birmingham, no shop frontages were boarded up here. No massive clean-up operation had needed to take place. But while rumours abounded, then the police (and the young onlookers cloistered close to them) were out in force. While Birmingham had seemed quite relaxed, there was a palpable air of tension in Walsall.

Here are the photographs from Walsall's town centre, taken this afternoon.

Image: Walsall, August 2011, preparing for riot

Image: Walsall, August 2011, preparing for riot

Image: Walsall, August 2011, preparing for riot

Image: Walsall, August 2011, preparing for riot

Image: Walsall, August 2011, preparing for riot

(Thank you to Miyamashi, for helping me select the photographs. I really did take a lot!)

Photos After the August 2011 Birmingham Riots

I was in Birmingham City Centre today. Last night (August 8th 2011), 800 rioters rampaged through these streets. They out-numbered the police 2 to 1 and mostly raided shops. It was fairly obvious, from looking at the damage, that these were people after all they could steal. This wasn't a political protest, though the recession and the decisions of politicians could well be underlying causes.

Strolling through, Birmingham felt relaxed. There were police everywhere you looked; as well as hordes of workers, boarding up smashed windows and sweeping the streets. That is the story of the city at the moment - police and those securing the properties. By relaxed, I meant that no-one was rioting and there was not an air of tension.

As for the people, the majority were incredulous, staring, taking pictures, shaking their heads and telling anyone who'd listen that this isn't right. One thing that struck me was the dissociation between ordinary Brummie and those who had rioted. "Why would they do this?" "What were they after?" "It looks like they were after 'phones and clothes." Nowhere was it 'us'. No-one was owning the rioters. They were other, distinct, not people from Birmingham.

The destruction had been more apparent, earlier in the day, but council workers, staff from businesses and a broom wielding army of people from Twitter's @RiotCleanUp had already been in. They had done the city proud.

Here are some pictures of Birmingham City Centre, all taken during the afternoon of August 9th 2011, in the aftermath of the riot.

Image: Birmingham Riots 2011

Image: Birmingham Riots 2011

Image: Birmingham Riots 2011

Image: Birmingham Riots 2011

Image: Birmingham Riots 2011

Image: Birmingham Riots 2011

Image: Birmingham Riots 2011

Image: Birmingham Riots 2011

Image: Birmingham Riots 2011

Image: Birmingham Riots 2011

(With much thanks to Miyamashi, for helping me whittle down these from 177 images.)