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T.S. Eliot and The Human’s in the Telling

TS Eliot was a poetic contemporary of David Maxwell Fyfe, living like him in central London through the chaos of the Blitz. His wisdom, and poetic vision of that time, with the spiritual struggle it induced in him, provide both atmosphere and a frame to our ghost story.

As Ralph Fiennes begins a limited run of his extraordinary tour de force performance of T S Eliot’s Four Quartets in London’s West End, Sue Casson explores the themes that resonate with The Human’s in the Telling.

The inspirational writing of poet and philosopher T S Eliot casts a long shadow over The Humans in the Telling.

The Human’s in the Telling logo

Its’ logo, white on black with a dancing flame depicts the symbol conjured in the final lines of Little Gidding, the closing poem of Eliot’s monumental poetic meditation on time and salvation, Four Quartets‘the fire and the rose’ made one.

Dreams of Peace & Freedom, the song cycle at its’ heart, closes with a setting of lines by the 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich quoted in the same poem, ‘All shall be well’, whilst the immersive performance opens with a quotation from Burnt Norton, projected on a photo of roses taken at Kew Gardens.

In this way, lines from Four Quartets clearly bookend our story of David Maxwell Fyfe’s journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg, a story we tell in his own words and through musical settings of poems he found inspiring. But as the writers who tell that story, T S Eliot’s Four Quartets, largely written whilst the world was at war, are an inspiration that stretches beyond the beginning and the end.

T S Eliot

Eliot was a poetic contemporary of Maxwell Fyfe, living like him in central London through the chaos of the Blitz. His wisdom, and poetic vision of that time, with the spiritual struggle it induced in him, provide both atmosphere and a frame to our ghost story.

In Little Gidding, which in Section IV references the Battle of Britain in its’ imagery, Eliot tries to see an unseen, unknowable future.

‘History may be servitude / History may be freedom’

Little Gidding III

The war through which he is living as he writes, its’ overwhelming physical and mental darkness, clouds his thinking and freezes expectation for the future. ‘Where is the summer’ he asks in Little Gidding, published in 1942, ‘the unimaginable, zero summer’. His spirit longs for salvation, purifying ‘pentecostal fire / In the dark time of the year’. The longing for spring in the depths of frozen, lifeless Midwinter.

Little Gidding

Four Quartets documents a very personal struggle, but what happened after the war, which is the largest part of our story, needs to be seen in this context. The attempts made to reassert order out of chaos and attempt to put right what has gone catastrophically wrong.

As part of Winston Churchill’s wartime cabinet, and the immediate post-war parliament, David Maxwell Fyfe was in the position of having the power to shape what happened next. First at the trials at Nuremberg, where he was part of the team identifying those culpable and establishing evidence to prove their guilt and the opportunity to confront their crimes in a courtroom. And later, as part of the United Europe Movement which ultimately led to the European Convention on Human Rights, which Fyfe championed and drafted.

‘History is a pattern / Of timeless moments’

Little Gidding V

Here are two not taught in school, which is disturbing, for those who lived through these events are dwindling year by year and the result is they have become widely unknown and worse, misunderstood.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George Santayana

Throughout his meditation on the nature of Time in Four Quartets, Eliot makes us aware that the consequences of our actions and decisions live on in the future they create. ‘In my beginning is my end’ he writes at the beginning of East Coker. Or in the very first poem in the sequence, Burnt Norton, published in 1936, three years before war broke out.

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end which is always present.

Burnt Norton I

Which is why Eliot’s words seemed a fitting beginning to our Dreams of Peace & Freedom performance, in which Maxwell Fyfe expresses his distress that ‘the hopeful enthusiastic beginnings’ of the European project ultimately dissolved into ’doubt, hesitation and pain’.

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose garden.

Burnt Norton

The Four Quartets centre on resolution and struggle, and the tension between these, has marked Britain’s recent relationship with Europe, which has been the unfortunate background to our telling. It may never have been ‘a rose garden’ (to use Eliot’s symbol), but in the wake of Brexit, the Convention that countries who had only recently been at war worked so hard to create together in its’ aftermath, has lost its’ significance. In such a political climate, can ‘All be well’, as Dame Julian of Norwich hopes, or has the ground shifted?

‘… what you thought you came for/ Is only a shell, a husk of meaning’

Little Gidding I
Etching in Salisbury Cathedral

Eliot, searching for reconciliation after a struggle of the spirit concludes Four Quartets with cleansing Pentecostal fire.

All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one                         

Final lines of Four Quartets

The Humans in the Telling tells the story of how a lasting peace is wrought from the fires of war. That fashioning, with international co-operation and diplomacy, of what Fyfe called ‘a simple, safe insurance policy’ from the ashes of holocaust and barbarity, leading to 75 years of peace deserves to be celebrated by fortunate generations untouched by the trauma of war. Only by confronting the stories of the past can we hope to build a secure future.

What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

Little Gidding V

A livestream performance of Dreams of Peace & Freedom is now available to watch on demand at C the Arts. Book tickets here.

Where the streams of natural law flow

Dreams of Peace & Freedom evokes the streams that carried David Maxwell Fyfe on his journey and the river of rights and freedoms that flowed first from Nuremberg to Strasbourg, and then on into 75 years of liberty.

August 28th and 29th this year are the 75th anniversary of the only speech given by David Maxwell Fyfe at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. Tom Blackmore writes about the ‘deeper magic’ of Natural Law, which Fyfe extols in this speech, and underpins the Convention he was later to draft and champion in the Council of Europe.

Nature is a revelation. And as just now we are seeking to protect our environment, we must at the same time protect the best of our nature. Wherever and whenever humans have roamed the earth, they have carried with them an instinct for rightness and fairness, a respect for the freedoms and rights of others. This instinct can be swamped by others, instincts for brutality, power, and control through fear. But that finer instinct remains and has been named natural law, which like a stream, is a mutable constant.

By the River Itchen, Winchester

There are countless streams of natural law.

On Instagram this summer, we have been exploring just some of them -capturing the rivers that run through the great Magna Carta cities, which saved and preserved copies of that early testimony to freedom. That Great Charter was the first written expression of natural law that has since formed a basis for democracy all over the world.

David Maxwell Fyfe was carried through his life along his own streams to Nuremberg and then Strasbourg, from his Scottish childhood, through university at Oxford, an early working life in Liverpool and so to the Inns of Court and Westminster. Prepared, he made his mark in Nuremberg and Strasbourg, and sowed the seed for human rights protection in Europe. In each stream he found further wisdom that developed his understanding and appreciation of natural law. (Read more about Maxwell Fyfe’s Stream of Natural Law in our previous blog here.)

During this 75th anniversary year, I have been spending time examining my grandfather’s only speech at the trial, his closing in the case against the Nazi organisations.

First, I looked at his forensic analysis of institutions of the Nazi party and state, and his attempts to describe their evil. As a lawyer it was the corruption of the law and its execution that moved him most. In this extract he focuses on that corruption: 

Let me conclude by reminding you of the opinion of the Supreme Court. Of the murders committed during the 1938 demonstrations by Hoheitstraeger (bearers of sovereignty) and members of the SA and SS it was pleaded that, I quote,

“in such cases as when Jews were killed without an order or contrary to orders, ignoble motives could not be determined.” 

The purpose of those proceedings in the Party Court were, I quote again,

“to protect those Party comrades who, motivated by decent National Socialist attitude and initiative, had overshot their mark.”  

In those few lines you have the secret of all the death and suffering, the horror and tragedy, that these defendants and the members of these organizations have brought upon the world. You see to what depths of evil they corrupted the human conscience. No ignoble motive – the murder of women and children through

“decent National Socialist attitude and initiative.”   

From David Maxwell Fyfe speech at Nuremberg against the Nazi organisations

 The Court’s explanation of slaughter as reasonable, reveals the abyss that had grown between fair judgement and monstrous justification. The evil was clear to all, except those who could not see because of indoctrination into the power of sovereignty (as expressed in the fuhrerprinzip), and a subsequent capacity to judge wrong as right. All of this was of course built on a foundation of fear. 

Time and again the Nazi state turned its back on the rigours of natural justice and the sense of natural law.

But secondly, and perhaps most importantly, at the end of the speech Maxwell Fyfe seeks to describe how this could be put right.

It might be presumptuous of lawyers who did not claim to be more than the cement of society to speculate or even dream of what we wish to see in place of the Nazi spirit, but I give you the faith of a lawyer, some things are surely universal: tolerance, decency, kindliness.

When such qualities have been given the chance to flourish in the ground that you have cleared, a great step will have been taken. It will be a step towards the universal recognition that :

“sights and sounds, dreams happy as her day/ And laughter learnt of friends, and gentleness/ In hearts at peace…”

Are not the prerogative of any one country. They are the inalienable heritage of mankind.

David Maxwell Fyfe quotes Rupert Brooke in his speech at Nuremberg against the Nazi organisations

It is here that he conjures the need for the restoration of natural law for all, which was beginning to become known as universal human rights.

In 1950, months before he tied together natural law with the need for effective international criminal law and human rights in the European Convention, he stated his creed in this speech:

Most people approach the subject of War Crimes Trials fundamentally either as cynic or idealist. This is, I think, because in essence the case for or against trying war criminals depends on that controversial subject which has become succinctly known as human rights.

Your cynic says, “Human Rights? There are none.” Your idealist, however, takes the view that there are certain rights and freedoms not created by lawyers but to which mankind as such is heir and which cannot be alienated. It is a conception akin to the idea of the Law of Nature which had such a wide influence on relationship in past centuries, although now somewhat outmoded… The idea of fundamental Human Rights is one in which I firmly believe.

David Maxwell Fyfe’s speech at the Athenaeum January 1950

On the 75th anniversary of Maxwell Fyfe’s turning point speech at Nuremberg, we will perform a live streamed performance of Dreams of Peace & Freedom. This is our commemoration of Maxwell Fyfe’s work in Nuremberg and Strasbourg. Dreams of Peace & Freedom evokes the streams that carried Maxwell Fyfe on his journey and the river of rights and freedoms that flowed first from Nuremberg to Strasbourg, and then on into 75 years of liberty.

English Cabaret are performing a special livestream performance of Dreams of Peace & Freedom on the anniversary dates. Find out more here.

Discover our Instagram feeds exploring #streamsofnaturallaw here.

Read more excerpts from Maxwell Fyfe’s speech at Nuremberg here.

Streams of Natural Law Diaries : No. 9 : Lincoln and the River Witham

The latest instalment in our Streams of Natural Law Diaries, is Lincoln, home to one of the four surviving 1215 Magna Cartas, and the River Witham. As we walk beside the water, we discover how the river divides the ancient and modern that stand side by side in this cathedral city.


To launch our film, book and recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Humans in the Telling and preview forthcoming performances, we are walking streams of natural law in the UK. Visit our multi-media hub at www.thehumansinthetelling.org.

LINCOLN & THE RIVER WITHAM

The strong twin towers of Lincoln Cathedral rise above the surrounding flatlands, making them a visible beacon for miles. For years the home of the best preserved 1215 Magna Carta (though it’s now on display in a special vault in next door Lincoln Castle) the cathedral’s significance in the landscape seems a stone symbol of the high aspirations of the original Great Charter.

A fair framework, fixed
Justice assured, signed and sealed
Balanced towers reaching

A HAIKU BY SUE CASSON

The latest stop on our Streams of Natural Law tour was Lincoln, and a walk along the River Witham. Lincoln is home to one of four surviving original 1215 copies of the Magna Carta and is also the birthplace of Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury who played a significant part in its’ creation and final signing.

Arriving over the flat plains of the Fens, the cathedral dominates the landscape. However you approach Lincoln, it always seems like a distant citadel that takes much longer than you might expect to reach. So I was delighted when we drove into the city centre and were able to park at the far end of the high street.

Walking through the bustling shoppers and modern shops, as we made our way towards the ancient cathedral and castle our journey was broken by the River Witham, which runs directly through the city centre.

Just steps down from the buzzing shops, the river runs serenely, flowing gently under High Bridge, the oldest bridge with buildings on in the UK. This style of bridge was common in the Middle Ages including the famous old London Bridge over the Thames but few examples still stand today.

The Witham is enjoyed by canal boats and swans alike, a quiet oasis amongst the hustle and bustle. The timbered buildings reminded me of European cities such as Strasbourg and Nuremberg where the old houses overlook the water, reflecting the architecture back at you.

An imposing gateway marks the boundary between the new and ancient city. We walked through it, up Steep Hill, which is aptly named as it takes a certain amount of puff to get up it (!) We passed beautifully kept cafes and fascinating shops on either side as we made our way to the top.

Close to, the sheer size of the Cathedral was awe-inspiring – it is the fourth largest in the UK. Around it, the cobbled close and surrounding streets have a different atmosphere – it’s almost like stepping back in time. Inside, there is a copy of the Magna Carta which was held for so many years by the cathedral, however the original is now housed in a specially built vault in the Castle where it can be visited across the square. It is one of the best preserved versions of the Great Charter, which in recent years has enabled it to travel to Australia as well as to the United States.

We walked from the Cathedral, over the picturesque square, past a pub taking its name from Magna Carta and through the stone arch into the Castle. From inside the castle walls, an elevated walkway offers stunning panoramic views across the rooftops to the city laid out below.

Then it was time to move on to our next location – come back to read the next instalment of the Stream of Natural Law diaries!

River Witham at Lincoln

Follow our journey as it happens on Instagram @streamsofnaturallaw and share yours with #streamsofnaturallaw.

Streams of Natural Law Diaries : No. 8 : Durham and the River Wear

The latest instalment in our Streams of Natural Law Diaries, is Durham and the River Wear, home to 3 different copies of Magna Carta. As we walk beside the stream, we discover the bounty of bridges and natural beauty in this Cathedral city.


To launch our film, book and recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Humans in the Telling and preview forthcoming performances, we are walking streams of natural law in the UK. Visit our multi-media hub at www.thehumansinthetelling.org.

DURHAM & THE RIVER WEAR

Durham Cathedral has three issues of Magna Carta, dated 1216, a year after the original, 1225 (sealed by Henry III) and the final charter of 1300 (of which the cathedral holds the best preserved of the seven that survive) “…although it is not entirely clear why.” (Durham Cathedral website.)

We don't know how they got there
And their contents are unclear
But the Durham Magna Cartas
Are most definitely here

And here they've always been we think
Safe under lock and key
Near perfect in condition
If you saw them you'd agree

Three issues signed and sealed, intact
And though not on display
These Charters for our freedoms
Still protect us to this day

A POEM BY SUE CASSON

Next stop on our Magna Carta tour was Durham, where the enormous cathedral is home to 3 different editions of the Great Charter. As a legal document, editions were circulated to centres that could ensure the contents were made widely known and obeyed, so usually earlier issues were destroyed when an updated version was issued to avoid confusion. It’s thought that the cathedral’s large and comprehensive library is what made it possible to archive outdated copies, and although they are not on display, they are noted to be in excellent condition.

As we drove into the city centre, the skyline was dominated by the Cathedral, perched high on the top of its hill, towering over everything below. The river Wear meanders around the cliff below, making it seem as if the cathedral is built on an island of its’ own. Parking at the Princes Bishop car park, we made our way down the stairs and were delighted to find that it was set just beside the river, and the Elvet bridge was visible from the windows.

Down at river level, the air was full of the cheerful sound of ducks quacking and the water had a beautiful delicate movement as if the surface was gently eddying underneath the bridge. The sun was clamouring to get through the clouds, turning them almost every shade of grey, which reflected in the water creating an immense amount of drama. Some tourists were enjoying the imposing scenery with a trip in a rowing boat.

Walking beside the river, we found our way up a flight of steep stairs to the contrastingly modern Kingsgate Bridge, whose height offers amazing views over the landscape from a completely different perspective.

Over cobbles, we made our way up to the Cathedral, where the most important medieval saint of Northern England, St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne is buried. Surprisingly given the number of visitors, there was an almost celestial hush over Palace Green. Until the 12th century this was the market square, marking Durham’s centre, but it’s now an open space flanked by the castle with its’ impressive keep (home of the Prince Bishops in former times) and a number of historic buildings which are part of the university. Once a busy meeting place, it now feels very tranquil to walk around, admiring the architecture.

There was a queue to enter the Cathedral but as soon we were inside it was worth the wait. It was extraordinary to think of all the pilgrims over the centuries who had passed through to visit and pay homage, who are joined by still more today. The sunlight finally broke through the clouds and made a beautiful rainbow of colours through the stained glass.

After our trip to the Cathedral, with a quick pit stop for lunch, we wandered back down to the winding river, now alive with butterflies in dappled sunshine, with the giant green trees towering over us. We chose the side of the river which hugs the base of the cathedral cliff, so although we missed seeing its’ towers above the foliage, we walked past the Fulling Mill, making us aware of the Wear’s industrial history, which with coal and lead mining, and limestone quarrying has contributed to increasing mineral pollution since Victorian times. Over the last ten years much has been done to clean it up, and it is now listed amongst the top ten most improved rivers in the UK. As if to confirm this the verdant green seemed to be everywhere, and whenever you turned around another bend there was always some new wildlife to enjoy. We passed a Weir (on The Wear!) as we returned to our starting point, back with the car.

Then it was time to move on to our next location – come back to read the next instalment of the Stream of Natural Law diaries!

River Wear at Durham

Follow our journey as it happens on Instagram @streamsofnaturallaw and share yours with #streamsofnaturallaw.

Streams of Natural Law Diaries : No. 7 : Grantchester and the River Cam

The latest instalment in our Streams of Natural Law Diaries, is Grantchester on the River Cam, where Rupert Brooke lived and worked, who was Maxwell Fyfe’s inspiration. As we walk beside the stream, we discover how the landscape impacted his poetry and still linger there to this day.


To launch our film, book and recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Humans in the Telling and preview forthcoming performances, we are walking streams of natural law in the UK. Visit our multi-media hub at www.thehumansinthetelling.org.

GRANTCHESTER & THE RIVER CAM

The war sonnets of Rupert Brooke, first published in 1914, are at the heart of Dreams of Peace & Freedom. After he studied at Kings College, Cambridge, he lodged in Grantchester from 1909 – 12 and his presence is still very much felt there today.

Along the Cam in Grantchester
'The peace and holy quiet there'
Still loiter by the 'slumbrous stream'
Where Rupert Brooke once lived and dreamed
And though a hundred years are gone
Since he was here, his words live on,
Riverborne, upstream they flow
His poems in the undertow
To quarterlies and magazines
Collections, books and other means
They're spoken, quoted, even sung
Because of this - his name lives on
So now, 'the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester.'

POEM BY SUE CASSON

The latest stop on our streams of natural law tour was Grantchester. It really belongs on David Maxwell Fyfe’s stream rather than Magna Carta (although the Cam which flows through on its’ way to Cambridge carries on into the Great Ouse of which the River Lark in Bury St Edmunds is a tributary) but as a river where poet Rupert Brooke lived, whose poems form the musical heart of our telling of David Maxwell Fyfe’s story, it is undoubtedly a tributary of his stream of natural law. Fyfe’s papers are all held a little further upstream, in Cambridge.

Rupert Brooke settled in Grantchester after taking his degree at Cambridge, and before he went away to war. He captured this beautiful natural landscape that he came to love in words, and already making a name for himself as a poet, many famous writers and thinkers of the day came to visit him there.

Having performed in Dreams of Peace & Freedom for years, it was exciting to visit the place where Brooke had lived and worked. His presence is still very much felt in his adopted village, and his name appears on the war memorial by the picturesque church.

Driving in, we were immediately surrounded by the ebullient greenery he writes of in one of his most famous poems describing Grantchester – ‘green as a dream.’ Although there is now a large and successful gastro pub named after him, we drove past it, and made our way to park on a road beside the Orchard Tearooms, which have been created in the garden of one of the places he used to live, where writers from the Bloomsbury set like Virginia Woolf and Bertrand Russell met to discuss their ideas.

It took us some time to find the towpath beside the stream along which Brooke reputedly walked from his lodgings into Cambridge. We first made our way towards Byron’s Pool, to which another famous poet who enjoyed bathing there gave his name. It was overshadowed with trees waving in the breeze and the emerald green reflected in the water. However, we discovered that we were heading in the wrong direction for Cambridge, so double-backed on ourselves, via the Mill pond, (very popular with paddle boarders) the Old Vicarage and Orchard House, which commemorates Brooke’s life as a resident and poet. We finally found a public entrance to the Cam down a small path which led towards the river via the Meadows.

Once we made it to the river, it was brimming with wildlife – ducks, swans and even a statuesque heron amongst the reeds – it was no wonder Brooke was inspired by living here. The willows swayed in the breeze, creating nature’s bead curtain, and the water rippled, gently moved by fish. The flatness of the landscape accentuated the curve of the river and made it look like a painting.

Walking along the long grass of the meadows, we continued the path until we reached the view to Cambridge. It was a popular route, many people – tourists and locals alike were enjoying the stunning surroundings, walking dogs and even swimming. I think Brooke would be delighted that the place he loved so much and captured for others, is still loved to this day!

Come back soon for the next location!

River Cam at Grantchester

Follow our journey as it happens on Instagram @streamsofnaturallaw and share yours with #streamsofnaturallaw.

Streams of Natural Law Diaries : No. 6 : Bury St Edmunds and the River Lark

The latest instalment in our Streams of Natural Law Diaries, is Bury St Edmunds on the River Lark, a pivotal location in the creation of Magna Carta. As we walk beside the stream, we live its’ history in the beautiful Abbey gardens and reflect on the surrounding nature.


To launch our film, book and recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Humans in the Telling and preview forthcoming performances, we are walking streams of natural law in the UK. Visit our multi-media hub at www.thehumansinthetelling.org.

BURY ST EDMUNDS & THE RIVER LARK

The Abbey at Bury St Edmunds is situated where the rivers Lark and Linnet converge. It once housed the relics of beheaded martyr King Edmund, and in 1214 the barons met at its high altar to swear an oath to compel King John to sign the Magna Carta. Fittingly, the borough’s motto is

Shrine of the King, and cradle of the law

Motto of Bury St Edmunds
Two songbirds meet 
At the shrine of a king
'Freedom for all'
Is the song that they sing
Their message has spread
To the world : rich and poor
Where lies Edmund's head
Long lives natural law

A POEM BY SUE CASSON

Next stop on our Magna Carta tour was Bury St Edmunds, which played a leading role in the history of the Great Charter as it was at St Edmund’s Abbey in 1214 that a group of barons swore an oath on the high altar to make King John sign the limitation on his power that became Magna Carta. The altar is now a pile of stones, but it is marked by two plaques – one with a poem explaining its’ significance, and the other with the names of all twenty five barons involved.

The sky was a mottled grey as we drove over the flat plains of East Anglia and into the town itself. Confusingly, although it has a cathedral, Bury St Edmunds doesn’t have city status as it is presided over by the Bishop of Ipswich which means both are designated towns rather than cities.

The borough is very proud of its’ pivotal role in Magna Carta, and we parked near the aptly named Charter Court, a new shopping development, walking from there down to the Abbey Gardens, where the Lark is situated. As we neared the imposing Abbey Gate on Angel Hill, the architecture gradually got older and more picturesque.

Although the Abbey was largely destroyed by townspeople during uprisings in the fourteenth century, the gate, and nearby Norman Tower remain intact, and ruins mark the outline of what was once a powerful political force. As we passed through the entrance, the gardens were bursting with beautiful flowers of all sorts of colours, which looked like nature was at work. Ruins of the original abbey remain throughout the Gardens, making you aware of the history all around.

Under a battered bridge at the edge of the Abbey Gardens runs the River Lark,  a tributary of the Great River Ouse. It was a rather murky colour, almost like a milky cup of builder’s tea, surrounded by deep green and red foliage. Walking beside it, the striking Cathedral tower, only completed in 2005, was visible as it rose above the trees. Nettles, weeds and flowers were growing together in perfect harmony, busy with butterflies and bees.

Making our way back along the river into the Abbey Gardens, we visited the Grade 1 listed Abbots Bridge – another lasting reminder of the history that surrounds this city. In the gardens, everyone was enjoying the unexpected sunshine and the freedoms that were enshrined in law so long ago in Magna Carta.

Then it was time to move on to our next location – come back to read the next instalment of the Stream of Natural Law diaries!

River Lark at Bury St Edmunds

Fun fact – our own songbird Sue Casson was born and brought up in Bury.

Follow our journey as it happens on Instagram @streamsofnaturallaw and share yours with #streamsofnaturallaw.

Streams of Natural Law Diaries : No. 5 : St Albans and the River Ver

The latest instalment in our Streams of Natural Law Diaries, is St Albans & the River Ver, where the story of Magna Carta began! As we walk beside the stream, we uncover the Roman history that lies below the surface and the spring after which the river is named.

To launch our film, book and recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Humans in the Telling and preview forthcoming performances, we are walking streams of natural law in the UK. Visit our multi-media hub at www.thehumansinthetelling.org.

ST ALBANS & THE RIVER VER

In a speech prior to the dedication of the Magna Carta monument in Runnymede in 1957, David Maxwell Fyfe drew a parallel between natural law and the natural world as expressed by a Roman poet.

“You can throw out nature with a pitchfork, But she will always come back.”

Horace
From the river spring Ver
Verulamium rose
To the green river Ver
It's returned


On the banks of the green River Ver
Verulamium grew
For centuries the city was there
And a river Ver too

But were you to visit today
The Ver runs through the plain
Verulamium's vanished away
Just remains remain

And is there a moral to learn?
Poet Horace wrote truth
Disturb nature and it will return
And here lies the proof


From the river spring Ver
Verulamium rose
To the green river Ver
It's returned

A POEM BY SUE CASSON

The latest stop on our Magna Carta tour was St Albans and a walk along the River Ver, a rare chalk stream like the ones in Winchester and Hereford, that is situated in Verulamium Park.

Arriving on a grey muggy Saturday, I was surprised by a huge wave of energy that hit me as I walked through the bustling city centre towards the river. The streets were full of vendors and people out enjoying brunch. We walked past the Cathedral to Holywell Hill, which was quite a steep descent, before finding our way to the valley, and entrance to the River trail.

The River Ver is set in over 100 acres of parkland, a swathe of green that is now a magnet for families and nature lovers. It stands over what was once used the ancient city of Verulamium, the third largest in Roman Britain after London and Colchester. Although very little is visible today, there are remains breaking through the grass in places, and even a mosaic to remind walkers of its’ ancient past. A museum nearby explores the Roman history in more detail, with a collection of fascinating artefacts.

As the river winds through overgrown greenery, remembering my schoolgirl French the name seemed apt, but Ver (rather than vert) means ‘spring’ in Latin and refers to the underground Aquifer that is the river’s source. As we walked along the path, it was sometimes quite difficult to see the water as there were so many nettles! But there were breaks here and there where we could not only see water, flowing quite slowly, but several steps and falls that added charm and interest to its’ course.

We found the source, coming out of the bridge, as we made our way out the park. It made a sparkling pool, and was covered in a canopy of green leaves and branches, which reflected in the water, making it rather magical. During Victorian times, the stream was used to cultivate watercress, but like many chalk streams, the Ver has clearly suffered from pollution in recent years. It is presently undergoing a programme of ‘revitalisation’ to banish the slime and return it to its’ original health, which judging by the signs on the bank, is a project that is bringing the whole community together.

Just up the hill, St Albans marks the start of Magna Carta’s story. It was here that Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, met churchmen and barons in 1213, to discuss what could be done to limit the powers of King John. That history is all around us – the natural setting and wildlife, a reminder that the Great Charter was rooted in natural law.

Come back soon for the next location!

River Ver at St Albans

Follow our journey as it happens on Instagram @streamsofnaturallaw and share yours with #streamsofnaturallaw.

Streams of Natural Law Diaries : No. 4 : Runnymede and the River Thames

The latest instalment in our Streams of Natural Law Diaries, is Runnymede on the River Thames, site of King John’s Magna Carta signing in 1215. As we walk beside this busy stream, we reflect on the connection between the land and the law and the significance of the historic site’s monuments.

To launch our film, book and recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Humans in the Telling and preview forthcoming performances, we are walking streams of natural law in the UK. Visit our multi-media hub at www.thehumansinthetelling.org.

RUNNYMEDE & THE RIVER THAMES

In David Maxwell Fyfe’s speech to the American Bar Association, given during their visit to dedicate their monument in 1957 (pictured above left), he concluded with these lines : “Our laws… well grounded in history and watered by wisdom are constantly putting out fresh branches and leaves for the comfort of mankind.” You can read and listen to excerpts from his speech here.

In 1215 
A seed was sown
in a field in Runnymede

Planted in stony soil
First it survived
And then began to thrive
Thrusting out fresh shoots and leaves
Pushing against rocks
until it took root

Libertas Demokratia

A principled genus
With upright trunk and strong branches
Spreading from this small green corner 
All across the world 
To Europe, the Americas, Africa and Japan
From East to West, its' canopy extends 

From a field in Runnymede
where a seed was sown 
in 1215

A POEM BY SUE CASSON

The next stop on our Streams of Natural Law is Runnymede, where the Magna Carta was signed by King John in 1215. It has become the foundation stone supporting the freedoms enjoyed by millions of people in more than a hundred countries.

Driving through the impressive columns that flank the entrance, we were greeted by a wide open space, stretching as far as the eye can see, and unusually green for the time of year. This is the meadow or ‘mede’ from which it takes its name.

Walking down the dusty tow path beside the river Thames, I couldn’t help noticing that the water was so much less clear than in other places we have visited – partly because the surface is regularly churned up by passing river traffic. It is a popular spot with pleasure boats and paddle-boarders alike.

Across the river, is the ruined priory where the barons are said to have stayed as they awaited the arrival of the king and his entourage from nearby Windsor in 1215. It still looks majestic in its white rubble, and is one of the only architectural reminders of over 800 years of history. As they say on the signs around the place, “picnics & politics” co-exist side by side.

After our walk by the river, we visited the monuments that stand on the site dedicated to Magna Carta. For a long time the American Bar Association monument, unveiled on a visit in 1957, stood alone to mark the ‘birthplace of democracy’ – the influence of Magna Carta on the constitution of the United States, as well as the Bill of Rights is openly acknowledged. During the MagnaCarta800 celebrations it was joined by Mark Wallinger’s brutalist Writ in Water nearby, and The Jurors by Hew Locke, an imposing set of chairs set right in the middle of the field.

As we drove away, I reflected that although the history of Magna Carta is well remembered at Runnymede, I did wonder if the people visiting this beautiful corner of Surrey had any idea what an impact it has made on our rights and freedoms, not only when it was signed so long ago, but now, in the present day.

Come back soon for the next instalment!

River Thames at Runnymede

Follow our journey as it happens on Instagram @streamsofnaturallaw and share yours with #streamsofnaturallaw.

Streams of Natural Law Diaries : No. 3 : Hereford and the River Wye

The latest instalment in our Streams of Natural Law Diaries, is Hereford and the River Wye, home to the Mappa Mundi in addition to another copy of the 1217 Magna Carta. As we walk beside the stream, we uncover the plight of the Wye river and the history buried beneath this ancient city!

To launch our film, book and recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Humans in the Telling and preview forthcoming performances, we are walking streams of natural law in the UK. Visit our multi-media hub at www.thehumansinthetelling.org.

HEREFORD & THE RIVER WYE

As we wandered along the banks of the Wye in Hereford on a hot sunny Sunday, we came across a group of peaceful musical climate change protestors, taking up the river song and providing a moving soundtrack to our walk.

Wye is the river low today?
Its' vigorous progress ebbed away
To melancholy protest song
Which bubbles as it flows along
Past paddlers, bathers, angling floats
And folks with nets or makeshift boats
When all these freedoms are no more 
And quiet descends, they can't ignore 
The murmur of the river's song
But join in as it trickles on
Until their voice is one great wave
For now there is a world to save
While river runs it's not yet dry
Now is the time to wonder Wye

Sue Casson

Next stop on our Magna Carta tour was Hereford, which in addition to the Mappa Mundi, a unique map on calfskin vellum showing the known world as it was believed to be around 1300, is home to another 1217 copy of the Magna Carta. Both are on display both in the cathedral and online.

The sun beat down as we entered the cathedral city. It was a scorching day (32’C) so it was a huge relief to seek sanctuary in the calm and quiet of the cathedral close. Hereford Cathedral is smaller than others we have visited on this tour so far but like the others, a serene feeling of peace surrounds it.

Having got our bearings, we followed the signpost to catch our first glimpse of the river Wye, which for much of its hundred and fifty five mile length, forms part of the border between England and Wales. We walked down the winding Gwynne Street, named after Nell Gwynne who was reputedly born there, and who later earned notoriety as a famous London actress who became a favourite mistress of King Charles II. The riverside was buzzing, packed with people enjoying a meal in the surprisingly warm sunshine. We walked across the Old Bridge and noticed a father and son fishing in the river before ducking into a coffee shop for a cool down.

Refreshed, we made our way to Victoria Bridge through green open spaces and past a group of musical climate change protesters with blue placards. The footbridge was delicate, with white iron lacework over the huge expanse of water and it was so hot that locals were paddling and even bathing in the river, which given the deep green of the water I thought was a bit brave!

Although the winding river was low when we visited, the water level is by no means stable, as the Wye is prone to flooding when the winter weather comes. The green we noticed is also a concern, as it is an ‘algal bloom’ caused by pollution. The Wye is one of the longest rivers in Britain, and its’ lower part designated an area of outstanding natural beauty, supporting a wide variety of wildlife so it seems a shame this stream of natural law is struggling for survival.

Having crossed to the green of Bishops Meadow, we walked slowly back along the other bank through a boulevard of magnificent copper beeches, stopping to take the iconic shot of the cathedral with the old bridge in the background.

Then it was time to move on to our next location – come back to read the next instalment of the Stream of Natural Law diaries!

River Wye at Hereford

Follow our journey as it happens on Instagram @streamsofnaturallaw and share yours with #streamsofnaturallaw.

Streams of Natural Law Diaries : No. 2 : Salisbury and the River Avon

The latest instalment in our Streams of Natural Law Diaries, is Salisbury and the River Avon. As we walk beside the stream, we discover years of history and the law of nature embedded in the landscape.

To launch our film, book and recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Humans in the Telling and preview forthcoming performances, we are walking streams of natural law in the UK. Visit our multi-media hub at www.thehumansinthetelling.org.

SALISBURY & THE RIVER AVON

The foundations of Salisbury Cathedral are incredibly only 28 inches (just over 700 mm) and built on a barely drained swamp. Its’ foundation stone was laid only 5 years after Magna Carta was signed, and the spire added 90 years later, almost leading to its’ downfall.

Still standing
Source of inspiration
Symbol of Faith in
Deity, humanity
Solace for the pilgrim and
Site of Magna Carta
Spiritual and functional
Every soul in parity

Equality under the Law
Equal Rights for Rich and Poor
Is now and shall be
Ever more

SUE CASSON

Glorious weather greeted us once again as we rolled through the surrounding hills of Wiltshire into the cathedral city of Salisbury. The cathedral spire (the 5th tallest in Great Britain) was unmissable from every angle as we parked up and made our way into the cathedral close.

The beautifully kept, grand houses and buildings with pretty gardens that surround the cathedral give you the feeling that you have taken a trip through time. The sun shone down on the old grey stone exuding ages of reflection. This is particularly true in the cloisters – a gentle hush seems to fall just as soon as you walk through the door.

Our first glance at the river Avon was surprisingly disappointing as from the road, as it was clear that the grounds around the river were private gardens, allowing for no pathway along. However, further upstream from the Crane Bridge we found a footpath – and it was worth the wait. Elongated reeds swayed under water and were magically bedecked with small white flowers, offering an air of pre-Raphaelite inspiration. It made me think of Millais’ Ophelia, and from our vantage point over the fields, John Constable’s famous view of the spire, with a rainbow behind.

The water reflected the perfect blue sky giving the illusion of 3 dimensions, as people went casually about their daily business, serenity and peace filled the air. The sunshine sparkled off the water’s surface, creating nature’s glitterball. A light wind blew through the willow fronds, hanging like a green curtain, and creating a lullaby background sound against the flowing river.

A home to a copy of the original 1215 Magna Carta and proud to be so. In Salisbury, you can see the power of the law of nature made manifest in the landscape itself. Join us on our stream of natural law for the next adventure!

River Avon

Follow our journey as it happens on Instagram @streamsofnaturallaw and share yours with #streamsofnaturallaw.

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