Echoes of a Trumpet - a legend of Selborne after the Riots
Fact laced with supposition from the great-great-granddaughter of the 'Trumpeter' of Selborne, Hampshire
Availability: Usually despatched by return of post
Front cover: A meadow in Selborne below the famous Zig-Zag
Back cover: The Trumpeter's descendants play at Selborne today
Paperback - 148 pages
John Owen Smith; ISBN: 978-1-873855-30-0; November 1998
Associated title: Echoes of Home by Jean Newland; To Follow a Dream by Jean Newland; One Monday in November by John Owen Smith
Publisher's Coments . Author's Comments . Inside Flap . Back Cover . Excerpt . About the Publisher . Further information
The village of Selborne in Hampshire is the home of the famed naturalist-curate Gilbert White. But between the south door of the church and the old yew tree, visitors will also see a stone marking the grave of Selborne's other legendary figure, 'The Trumpeter', John Newland who was supposed to have led the labourers to riot and overthrow their workhouse in 1830.
In this book, the great-great-granddaughter of The Trumpeter laces fact with supposition to bring us her story of the years following the riots.
Includes a family tree of The Trumpeter's descendants.
(At the October 1996 meeting of the Selborne Association, publisher John Owen Smith brought along three descendants of men convicted for the Selborne Workhouse Riot of 1830, to speak about how the families had fared after their breadwinners had been imprisoned or transported. This transcript tells some of what Jean Newland had to say about her Selborne ancestors)
The first question most people ask me on hearing of my great-great-grandfather's involvement with the Selborne riots is, "Why wasn't he transported along with all the other participants?" A good question. For if, in fact, John Newland had really been the leader and organiser of the mob he would surely have suffered the same fate instead of getting off with a six-month prison sentence.
The answer, of course, is that he was not the leader-not in the accepted sense of the word-but because he had a horn or bugle, most likely kept from his military service, he was persuaded to walk in front of the mob. It must have made the jeering, noisy throng look pretty impressive.
I am sure he felt it the right thing to do at the time, because although he was a hard-working man, he had a large family to keep on very little money. In fact, the Newland family were paupers, most likely supplementing their living on hand-outs. I try to imagine what it must have been like for him after the fuss had all died down. With the other rioters sentenced and transported, how must he have felt then? I have to assume he kept rather quiet about it, and I'll tell you why.
In 1976 a letter appeared in the Farnham Herald from a man living in Tasmania asking if there were any of the Newland family still living in the area. My father wrote to him and received an answer almost by return. It turned out that they were cousins. His father, my father's uncle George, had emigrated to Tasmania in 1898, settled well and had a family. Now they wanted to know the family history. Had great uncle George dropped a few hints I wonder?
My father had been born and brought up in Bentley and so it seemed the obvious place to start until an aunt told us that she thought the family had originally come from Selborne. Now, to be honest, I had only the vaguest idea where Selborne was, in spite of the fact that we had lived in Blackmoor when I was a child.
My parents, sister and I came to Selborne one day hoping the vicar would have the parish records to hand, but no such luck-they were by this time all at the Hampshire Record Office at Winchester. While we were in the village, though, we decided to visit the museum in the Wakes and found a reference to a John Newland, 'The Trumpeter,' allegedly the leader of the Selborne riots. Could this man be one of our ancestors, we wondered?
My father was cautious, but a visit to the Record Office confirmed the line from John Newland through his son James to his son Frederick, my father's father. Now we knew the connection, but nothing more. And that was how it stayed for a while.
My father died two years later, my mother's health declined, and sadly the correspondence with Tasmania petered out. Nothing more happened until 1993, when over lunch one day some colleagues and I were discussing our family backgrounds. Of course I proudly mentioned my link to Selborne and then, only a few days later, one of the ladies brought me in a copy of an Alton newspaper which had an article about someone having written a book (One Monday in November), and a play, about the Selborne riots.
Well, this sounded interesting so I rang and booked a couple of seats for the play, This Bloody Crew. What a revelation! The myth of 'The Trumpeter' was exposed, but the story was fascinating nonetheless. And it was a strange feeling seeing your ancestors playing out events before your eyes, I can tell you.
Publisher's note - The myth that the 'Trumpeter' was leader of the riot had been based largely on interviews which W H Hudson recorded with two daughters of John Newland early in the 20th century, and published in his book 'Hampshire Days.' In fact these daughters, Eliza and Harriet, had not been born at the time of the riot, and were passing on to him a family legend which appears to have grown with the telling!
On a sunny afternoon in Selborne, I stood at a five-bar gate and gazed out across a green meadow. In my mind's eye the grass changed in shape and form to become a field of golden corn; and standing at its edge was a boy.
He had light brown hair and friendly grey eyes; and when he smiled at me, I knew it was James ... and this is his story.
After the labourers' riots of 1830, the village of Selborne was in turmoil.
Whole families were left without breadwinners when husbands and sons were transported to the other side of the world for their part in the uprising. But John Newland-the legendary ring-leader and 'Trumpeter'-was released after only six months custody in Winchester gaol.
In this book his great-great-granddaughter serves us fact laced with supposition, to bring us a story of two young people caught up in the bitterness of a conflict which had happened before they were even born.
Only the strength of their love for each other can overcome such a legacy-the strained echoes of a trumpet, still stirring discontent after all those years.
Front cover illustration - A meadow in Selborne below the Zig-Zag.
Back cover illustration - The Trumpeter's descendants play at Selborne today.
James shivered and pulled the collar of his shabby jacket up around his neck. The early mist, instead of clearing, had become a light drizzle.
After waiting so impatiently for three years for this day to come, he wondered why he felt so nervous. It had all sounded so simple when his father had told him of Mr Turner's offer, but now that he was actually here...
He hoped Mr Harris would arrive soon. It had been the man's idea to meet here at daybreak, at the point where the fields gave way to a tree-covered hillside, but James had been waiting for what seemed like hours. It was quite chilly for late May too and as yet there were no birds on the wing nor tiny creatures about to entertain him. They were probably still tucked up snug and warm in nest or burrow.
He was feeling uncomfortably overdressed wearing Arthur's cast-offs, as they were still too big for him. The well-patched jacket covered his cotton shirt and the rough woollen material of his trousers chafed his skin, especially just below the knees where he had tied twine around his legs, to prevent anything small and furry going up any further. His boots were fine though; his father had insisted that he have a new pair and his feet were warm and dry.
At last he saw the gamekeeper coming along the lane towards him, a large man with a bristling black and grey streaked beard. He did not look over-pleased to see James, but the young man smiled, said, "Good morning, Mr Harris," and touched his forelock.
Mr Harris grunted. "Right Newland, all ready? let's get on then," and started off up the track leading into the trees. They passed through a gate which James closed carefully behind him. Better make a good impression, he thought. But the man strode on ahead without a word and his young apprentice could only follow in his wake, gazing at the big-framed figure with a leather-holstered shotgun slung across his back.
After a while they turned onto a narrow footpath heavily overhung with bushes and trees. The rain had become a downpour and soon James was soaked to the skin. He worried fleetingly about the bread and cheese for his lunch which was in his jacket pocket. His wet hair flopped over his face, causing rivulets of water to run down his face and off the end of his nose. With a cold hand he pushed the hair back. Where could they be going?
They came at last to a clearing, in the middle of which stood an enclosure of some kind. From inside this came the piping of young birds. James hurried forward and peered over the top of one of the hazel-wood hurdles. The sight which greeted him brought a wide smile to his face, all discomfort forgotten. Inside were about a hundred baby pheasants, falling over one another on still spindly legs-and the noise...
The boy was enchanted; guessing that they had come to feed them, he looked at Mr Harris, who had by now untied one of the hurdles and was stepping inside.
"Come on then, Newland. Don't just stand there, there's work to be done."
James sheepishly walked around to join him.
"Now," said the gamekeeper, "we've got to sort these birds out. Some of 'em is not up to scratch, see, like that one there." He pointed. "Now we can't 'ave them takin' space an' eatin' good food when it's obvious they ain't goin' to be no use. I'll do first one; it ain't very nice, but you'll soon get used to it."
To James' horror, the man grabbed the bird and swiftly wrung its neck, tossing the lifeless body over the hurdle. Then he turned towards his apprentice, who was by this time feeling sick, every nerve jangling with the certain knowledge of what was to come.
Mr Harris, seeing the boy's pallor, said, "It's got to be done. Do it quick, afore yer think too much 'bout it. That one there, 'e's pretty sickly."
Still the boy hesitated.
The man barked. "Go on, do it now."
And then James, who had never in his life, knowingly killed anything, gritted his teeth and made a grab for the tiny, feathered body. Shaking all over, he did what he had seen Mr Harris do, praying that he had done it right. It would be awful to cause the bird suffering.
He looked at the limp body in his hands.
Never. Never, would he get used to doing this sort of thing. Throwing the bird over the hurdle to join its sibling, James ran to the edge of the pen and retched.
Mr Harris did not seem in the least worried; perhaps he had seen it all before. He quickly sent two more of the hapless birds to their fate and then handed the boy an old sack saying, "'Ere, put 'em in that," and set about the business of feeding the lucky survivors. "You'll get used to it, lad. It's all in a day's work, this time of year anyway." Then he retied the hurdles. "Best get on."
They set off back along the pathway under the dripping trees, soon turning off again; this time there was no clear track, but the man seemed to know where he was heading.
In his mind James kept going over what had just happened. He hadn't dreamed that there would be such awful jobs to do. He realised that it must have been necessary otherwise Mr Harris would not have done it. Mr Turner was renowned for the shooting parties he gave every October, men coming from as far away as London to join in. Everyone said what a fine gamekeeper he had, what fine birds. To the youngster it was a bitter experience. To him it was a mystery why anyone would want to shoot the birds, or anything else for that matter, in the first place.
Mr Harris had stopped at a half-grown silver birch tree and was crouching over something on the ground. His assistant walked across to see what it was.
On the ground lay the body of a fox, a noose of thin wire pulled tightly around its neck. James caught his breath and swallowed hard.
The man swung around, "What do yer mean, poor thing. Bloody vermin, more like. This is one less to feed on me birds." So that was it, the poor animal had supposedly caught some of the young pheasants. To James' mind it was just as likely to be a magpie or a crow. It was the way of things.
"Put 'im in the bag an' all; we'll get rid of 'em when we get back to the office."
'Im? Didn't the man know anything. It was a female, not a male. James fumed. What if she had young? It was a little early in the year but you never knew; it had been a mild spring and sometimes the foxes mated early.
He gently placed the tawny body into the sack and then started peering and prodding under nearby bushes.
"What're yer doin'?" asked the man.
"Lookin' fer 'er lair. She might 'ave young'uns. They'll die if we leave 'em."
"Bloody good job too, bloody vermin," he said again, spitting on the ground as though to emphasise his words. "We've no time for that kind o' rubbish. Now, let's be gettin' on. I'm ready for me breakfast." So saying, Mr Harris stomped off the way they had come.
How could the man do that? just go off.
James was dumbfounded. Oh, what an awful morning; not a very good start to his working life that was sure. He knew everything had to die some time, it was all a part of life. Animals were killed for food every day. He had witnessed the slaughter of pigs and sheep at the farm and even enjoyed the end result. And Mr Turner's lovely hunting horse had been shot last year, watched tearfully by stable lads and grooms alike, but that had been different, the poor animal had broken his leg and was screaming in agony.
Today though, James thought the look on Mr Harris' face had been malicious. Was he perhaps not the kindhearted and friendly gamekeeper everyone thought so much of...?
Now he knew for sure that he would never like the man. He felt uncomfortable with him, a gut feeling. He was an odd person; apart from anything else he had hardly spoken a word, although to be fair he probably wasn't used to having anyone with him.
The years ahead did not look so rosy now.
Mr Harris had stopped again. They were just inside the copse, not far from the track along which they had first travelled. He picked up a stout stick and began prodding the earth around the base of a small fir tree. James watched, a frown creasing his brow. What was he looking for now?
Seemingly satisfied with whatever he had been checking, the gamekeeper straightened his back and set off again. Not one word passed his lips and the young would-be apprentice felt no desire to converse with so sullen a man, but hurried along behind him, his wet clothes chilling his body to the bone.
James suddenly realised what Mr Harris could have been looking for. A badger sett. There were several in the area. Surely the man would not harm them, there was no need. He decided that it might be an idea to keep an eye on that spot himself.
Now his immediate problem was what to tell his parents. They would be bound to ask how his day had gone. Should he lie and say all was well, or tell the truth? The situation would require a great deal of thought. And it wasn't even mid-morning yet. None too soon he saw the estate office ahead. Oh, for a hot drink and a little warmth!
Office was perhaps rather too grand a name for what was in reality a large wooden hut, but it was a welcome sight today.
After emptying his sack of dead creatures at the back where shown, James walked sadly around to the door, grateful to be getting in out of the rain. And for the first time that day he was not disappointed. It was warm and dry inside, with a large cast-iron stove puffing away in the corner and, standing in front of it, two old chairs with their stuffing hanging out. Somehow it managed to look almost cosy.
An enormous kettle bubbled away on top of the stove, its lid jumping up and down as though in some mad jig and, to the boy's surprise, Mr Harris quickly grabbed an old brown teapot, some tea from a caddy and had a brew made in minutes.
"Be your job usually, t' make tea, but I thought it'd be quicker t' do it meself today. What do yer think then-goin' t' like workin' with me?" The question caught James unawares.
"Uh, well ... I think so," he stammered. "We won't always 'ave t' kill things though, will we?"
The question hung in the air. Mr Harris shrugged. "We 'as to do what's necessary, it's estate management, that's what yer got t' learn. It don't 'appen every day o' course but this is the time o' year when there's a lot to sort out. Yer don't want t' worry so much 'bout animals, they don't 'ave feelin's same as us." James gritted his teeth and stayed silent. "Another day yer can get fed up t' back teeth o' mendin' fences." The shadow of a smile crossed the grizzled features, exposing blackened and broken teeth. "It takes many a long year t' learn it all, yeh, many a long year."
At that, he took a cloth-covered bundle from his pocket, unwrapped it and started eating with relish the bread and cheese it contained.
James pulled his own food from his sodden jacket. The clean cloth his mother had tied it up in was wet and stained with dye and he eyed it miserably. Inside, the bread was rather soggy but the cheese appeared to be edible. He realised sadly that there would not be enough food for two meals. So, should he eat it all now or try to save some for later? His rumbling stomach soon solved that little problem.
The hot, sweet tea was a real treat. James had to give the man his due there, he knew how to brew a good pot of tea. It washed the food down and left the boy feeling content, for a while.
Mr Harris did not talk much more, leaving his apprentice wondering what they were going to do next. Not more killing, he hoped.
Too soon it seemed, they were out in the damp air again. The cool breeze that blew along the hillside chilled their still-wet clothes; so much so, that James felt a longing to go straight home to his mother's cosy kitchen and a dish of her tasty broth.
They started checking the fencing which encircled the estate-to find any breaks which would allow hungry deer in, Mr Harris informed him. It seemed to run for miles and, fit though he was, James could feel his legs starting to ache. The only relief came when they stopped for lunch, which for him was just a mug of tea. Mr Harris seemed to have a never ending supply of food on him, but showed no inclination to share it although he must have realised that his companion had nothing left.
James longed for the day to be over, for more than one reason.
As the afternoon wore on the skies cleared, allowing fitful sunshine to brighten the day and spread enough warmth to stop him shivering, but when at last Mr Harris said, "Right, that'll do for t'day, we'll check rest o' fences tomorrer-see yer bright an' early at the office," the young man felt much relieved.
"Right. Bye, Mr Harris," was all he could manage.
Now, what should he do? Go home and get something to eat and change his clothes, or check on what had been worrying him all day?
His jacket and trousers were by this time almost completely dry. His decision made, he set off towards the copse where that morning they had found the body of the vixen. He had taken careful note of the surroundings and headed straight for the silver-birch.
Again and again he circled the area, crawling under bushes, scraping at leaf-mould-nothing. Then he widened his search, knowing that foxes cover quite a distance when looking for food. Further and further out amongst the trees he went, time forgotten, as was the gnawing in his gut. He felt compelled to carry on.
Suddenly he realised that the daylight was fading. He could not believe it, where had the time had gone? He had better get home-his parents would be worried. It was a shame though. He had felt certain that the vixen had cubs. Perhaps his instinct had been wrong.
James turned to make his way back to the track, but suddenly stopped. There it was again. A tiny sound, barely audible. He dropped to his knees and strained his ears, then, on all fours, crawled across to a nearby bush.
The weak, squealing call led him to a tiny hole hidden under protruding roots.
He had been right after all. Laying full stretch on his stomach he reached forward and by carefully parting grass and bramble shoots managed to lift out a mewling fox cub.
James guessed by its size, and the fact that its eyes weren't open, that it could not have been more than a week old. He placed the tiny animal inside his shirt to give it warmth and pushed his other hand down inside the hole to see if there were any more little bodies there, but could feel nothing.
He listened intently for a few more moments and then scrambled to his feet. Holding the precious bundle close, he set off in the gathering dusk towards his home.
Startled faces met him as he entered-his parents, brothers Arthur and William and two young sisters.
"Where on earth 'ave yer bin? an' look at the state o' yer," said his mother as she rose from her seat. "We've bin so worried-surely yer 'aven't bin workin' till this time?" She pulled her son to the chair that she had just vacated, "'Ere sit down, yer look all-in."
Her husband realised that his son held something inside his shirt, and reached out his hand. The other children sat silently at the table.
With stiff and trembling fingers, James gently lifted the tiny creature out onto the palm of his hand.
"Oh," cried Harriet, "look Lizzie, isn't 'e sweet?" The girls crowded round as their father took the animal from his son. "Is it still alive?" asked Eliza, reaching forward to stroke it with one finger.
"Let me get to the light." Mr Newland crossed the tiny room in one stride and peered at the cub by the glow from the candle. He turned to his youngest son. "I'm sorry lad, 'e's dead. Too young to leave its ma, I s'pose. Tell us what 'appened; 'ow did yer come t' find 'im?"
"I think as 'ow we'd better get the boy out o' them damp clothes an' somethin' warm inside 'im afore we start askin' questions, don't you?" Ann Newland cut in, her concern for her son being uppermost in her mind, "an' you girls 'ad better be gettin' off t' bed an' all. Go on, up yer go."
James' sisters turned reluctantly towards the staircase. "Eliza, drop one o' the blankets down, will yer, please." Their mother brooked no argument.
William sat grinning and nudging Arthur, who in turn frowned back at him, but one look from their father put a stop to any trouble.
"Now, son, tell us." John Newland sat down opposite his son, while his wife busied herself ladling hot broth into a bowl.
"'Ere, get them clothes off yer, an' wrap the blanket 'round yerself," she said, "before yer 'ave this."
James undressed, embarrassed by the close proximity of his two brothers, and pulled the rough woollen cover tightly around his shoulders. It felt good to be out of his clothes, and soon the soothing warmth of the broth seeped through him.
He was glad when, at last, his father sent the older boys off to their beds. They were clearly disappointed at having to miss his story, but would not dare defy their parents. William threw James a look of disdain which let the boy know that he would be ribbed mercilessly as soon as it was possible.
Once they had gone, the would-be apprentice gamekeeper, told his parents about his first day at work. It was not a very detailed account, the warm fire and the broth doing nothing to help him fight off his exhaustion, but his father and mother knew their son well enough to fill in any blanks.
They looked at one another, perplexed.
James saw this and tried to reassure them, "I'll be alright. It just takes a bit o' gettin' used to, that's all. I won't let yer down, I promise."
His mother smiled, "We know yer won't, son. Come on, off to yer bed. Y' need yer sleep. Meanwhile, I've got to find yer somethin' to wear for tomorrer."
"Could I have a little more broth first, please ma?"
"Course yer can, son. 'Ere, I'll get it." His mother filled the bowl once more, then glanced towards her husband, "Are yer goin' t' put that outside?" she pointed to the dead cub.
"Yeh, I'll see to 'im." He turned. "Now don't yer worry son, I'm sure everything'll be alright."
"Thanks, pa." The boys eyes were drooping with tiredness and once the last drop of broth had been cleaned from his bowl, he hauled himself up the stairs to the room overhead which he had to share with the other children.
He prayed that William would be asleep; he could not take any of his brothers mockery tonight. But James never knew-the only sound he heard before sleep swept over him, was the quiet breathing of his siblings. His slumbers brought about a strange mixture of dreams; fox cubs, pheasant chicks and ... soggy bread.
About the Publisher
John Owen Smith was born in 1942 and trained as a Chemical Engineer at London University, but spent most of his working life designing commercial Information Systems for the paper-making industry. Following redundancy, he 'fell' into researching and recording the local history of east Hampshire, where he now lives. His own output of historical community plays, lectures, articles and books includes:-
Click for further information on the Selborne Riots
Please feel free to contact me if you would like to share information on the history of the Riots. See address details on Home Page