Monday, 11 January 2021

THE EXETER WAR MEMORIAL

England can boast many fine war memorials but the bronze group which Devon-born-and-bred sculptor John Angel created for the City of Exeter's War Memorial is as good as any.  Angel was a consummate artist.  His later career was in the United States where there are many examples of his  excellent work. The famous bronze doors of St Patrick's Cathedral in New York are his.   

On the first of August  1923,  shortly after the memorial was unveiled,  The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette published some rather bad couplets under the heading  Exeter War Memorial.  They were  composed by one C.E.B.  


THE SAILOR

Guard of the Seas I sit with eyes that gaze afar;

Foes around me, beneath, affright not the British Tar.


THE SOLDIER.

Ward of the Trenches I sit (I have marched full many a mile)

I have fought, I have suffered,  - I win - and that's why I wearily smile.


THE PRISONER OF WAR.

Prisoner of War I sit behind the fast closed gates.

Unconquered, unbroken, I wait in trust for my rescuing mates.


THE WOMAN.

Woman of Pity ,  I sit and prepare the healing hands

For the shattered and wounded limbs of my Brothers from many lands.


VICTORY.

High above all I stand, bay wreath uplifted to Heaven, 

The Dragon beneath my feet, I honour the men of Devon.


I publish these verses again here because, crude though they are, they remind us of the spirit of the times and of the real sacrifice which these figures represent.   The heroic and colossal four are still sitting in Northernhay Gardens and they are well worth a second look. Victory soars high above their heads like Marianne at the barricades.  Many who pass by do not see her.  Some seem not able to raise their eyes from their mobile phones.  She is truly magnificent.  She rises triumphant, one foot clear of the ground and her lovely arm raised on high.   She is a wonder to gaze on from any angle,  perhaps most glorious  against  summer skies, which  at the moment we do not have, and from Northernhay Gate.    

 


Friday, 8 January 2021

SEMPER FIDELIS


Fidelis is a lovely word and was a favourite name for faithful dogs in the Victorian years. (Willie Maddison's father's old dog was called Fidelis) and, in its shortened form of Fido, (Abraham Lincoln's favourite dog was called Fido ) there are still enough faithful hounds to be found.

Exeter, as every Exonian knows, has the motto Semper Fidelis which translates as Ever Faithful. This is something of a distinction. Most cities have to manage without a motto and none has one so simple, straightforward and honourable as is ours. It is ancient too. It was suggested in the year of the Armada, 1588, in a letter written by Queen Elizabeth l to the citizens of Exeter thanking them for a gift of money towards the expense of seeing off the Spanish. We who today are citizens of Exeter should not forget that mighty monarchs have written thank-you letters to us.

In the preface to his 1878 Reminiscences, Mr James Cossins, the corresponding tobacconist of Paris Street, likes to use Ever Faithful and Semper Fidelis as synonyms for Exeter.  For example he writes in his preface that his book will be perused with some feeling of interest by those who like myself, have always felt a warm attachment to the "Ever Faithful" and elsewhere hr writes. :"Persons who have been absent from "Semper Fideis" for many years, on re-visiting the old city, declare that it is improved and so much altered they cannot recpgnise some of the localities." This seems to me a worthy usage to which we, in our modern age, might well return. One might then perhaps expect to hear on the Cathedral Green snatches of conversation such as: "The homeless seem to be attracted to Semper Fidelis like fleas to a faithful old dog."

Friday, 1 January 2021

UNWELCOME LONDON VISITORS


I am now arrived in Exeter. I am now a citizen and what's more a freeholder of this great city and I have been looking at Mr James Cossins' book Reminiscences of Exeter Fifty Years Since, the Second Edition 1878 and I am grateful to Mr Cossins, who died in 1883 and was a tobacconist in Paris Street, for introducing me to the Norfolk Howards. Norfolk Howards, I was delighted to learn, are bugs. No more, no less! Their story starts in 1862 with this hilarious advertisement in the Times of London:

  " I Norfolk Howard, heretofore called and known by the name of Joshua Bug. late of Epsom. in the county of Surrey, now of Wakefield, in the county of York, and landlord of the Swan Tavern in the same county, do hereby give notice. that on the 20th day of this present month of June, for and on behalf of myself and heirs, lawfully begotten. I did abandon the use of the surname of Bug, and assumed, took and used, and am determined at all times hereafter; in all writings, actions, dealings, matters and things, and upon all other occasions whatsoever, to be distinguished, to subscribe, to be called and known by the name of Norfolk Howard only. I further refer all whom it may concern to the deed poll under my hand and seal. declaring that I choose to renounce the use of the surname of Bug and that I assume in lieu thereof the above surnames of Norfolk Howard, and also declaring my determination, upon all occasions whatsoever, to be called and distinguished exclusively by the said surnames of Norfolk Howard, duly enrolled by me in the High Court of Chancery. - Dated this 23rd day of June,1862. Norfolk Howard, late Joshua Bug." 

The originator of this little masterpiece, this prime example of English humour, is apparently unknown but my bet is that it was marinated in wine and/or spirits and penned at either a London club or an Oxbridge college. None of which has anything to do with the city of Exeter except that I first met the Norfolk Howards in Mr Cossins' book where, a decade or more after The Times advertisement, he writes:

"Visitors arriving from London - the great dread was the uninvited ones, 'Norfolk Howards' of which at this time every house in London was suppose(sic) to have more than agreeable, and to avoid any importation of the above-named, trunks, boxes, &c., were taken to the rear of the premises, opened and examined previous to anything being taken to bedrooms, and, if necessary, underwent the process of fumigating with brimstone."

I am alarmed at the idea of these Georgian hotel or boarding-house servants in Exeter rummaging through the trunks and cases of the London visitors and fumigating the contents with poisonous sulphur-dioxide. Yet is there not in these days of plague, someting thought-provoking, perhaps even heuristic, about Exeter's pragmatic attitude to new arrivals?