Friday, 9 November 2012

Rookhope in Auden

I was in Rookhope on Monday, went up Bolt's Law and then met a Rookhope resident on Wednesday. It made me think that I should share this. There follows my Rookhope entry (matched illustrations here) from my part completed An A-Y of Auden's Pennine Landscapes: “The valley of the Rookhope Burn, a northwestern tributary joining the River Wear at Eastgate, is the site of the earliest reference to metal mining in the Pennines in medieval records. In 1153 an iron mine and  a lead mine in ‘Rykhup’ were granted by King Stephen to his nephew the Palatine Bishop Hugh de Pusiet of Durham...............I first became acquainted with Rookhope mining in 1929.................In addition to the big water-wheel another feature of the industrial archaeology was still intact at the time. This was the smelt mill, beyond the west end of the village. The hearth was still intact and an arch carried the great stone-built flue over the road and up the valley side for over a mile. This mill had been in use until 1919, the last of the traditional mills to operate”[1]. Those are not the words of W. H. Auden though one feels that they easily could be. He, however, would only have needed to substitute 1919 for 1929 and so indicate that at his arrival the great smelt mill and its matching railway system with its incline ascending Bolt’s Law from the village was just about operational.

The quotation is by Sir Kingsley Dunham F.R.S.[2]. It is profoundly ironic and fascinating that two of the great intellects of the 20th century both found the experience of inter-war Rookhope seminal for their lives. Rookhope is not on the tourist trail, it is not the subject of a large popular literature. The vast majority of Auden’s readers have probably either not known of its location or still worse but quite plausibly, assumed that it is an imaginery location. In the 1930s, a view gained currency, which is still repeated today, that Auden’s play Paid On Both Sides was set in the mill communities of Northern England. Nothing could be further from the truth (by about 100 miles). It is explicitly said to be set in Rookhope. The mill of Paid On Both Sides is not a Yorkshire textile mill but the wholly different structure of Rookhope smelt mill located beside the still surviving Lintzgarth house, itself named in Paid on Both Sides.

Sadly, neither Sir Kingsley nor Wystan ever met. Wystan possibly never even knew of Sir Kingsley whose recognition really followed after Wystan had left England. Sir Kingsley was a Durham undergraduate studying geology when he first came to Rookhope in 1929. Essentially Sir Kingsley and Wystan were of the same generation. Rookhope’s mineralogical fame brought Sir Kingsley and both Wystan and John Auden (the Boltsburn Flats had a reputation for great riches amongst miners and were being worked between the wars). Sir Kingsley went onto post graduate study into the origin of the lead, zinc and fluorspar deposits of the North Pennines. As such he became a mining apprentice with the Weardale Lead Company in Rookhope in 1930 and the proud owner of a secondhand Morris Cowley. His studies eventually took him to almost every hole in the ground in the Pennines north of the Craven fault (Auden’s Craven Ladies in Age of Anxiety).

Sir Kingsley’s first published work on Rookhope appeared a few years after Wystan’s. His literary debut was in 1934. From 1939, Sir Kingsley was back in the area, this time on urgent war work assessing the contribution the mines could make. This led in 1949 to the first edition of his magnum opus the Geology of the Norhern Pennine Orefield, a work which was thoroughly revised and re-issued in two volumes in 1990. In the meantime Sir Kingsley had become Professor of Geology at Durham in 1950 and then Director of the British Geological Survey between 1966 and 1975. In 1961 Sir Kingsley’s most famous research project came to fruition when the Rookhope Borehole reached granite. Throughout these years Sir Kingsley retained close connections with the companies working Rookhope, a connection he retained into the 1990s.

He saw in the millennium in retirement in Durham, Sir Kingsley’s recollections of the North Pennines were then as vivid as ever. A few days before I first wrote this Sir Kingsley came with friends from Durham to what was probably the first ever reading of Auden’s Pennine poetry in the North Pennines, at Allendale Library. When the Auden’s Pennine Landscapes exhibition opened at Nenthead Mines in 1999, Sir Kingsley was one of the guest speakers and represented Wystan’s generation.

It might seem odd to be devoting so much of this account to a summary of someone else’s career but a key point follows. Sir Kingsley’s career might have been Wystan’s or with just a tiny change in fortune John Auden’s -Wystan’s brother whose life was spent with the Indian Geological Survey. Rookhope was a place of great intellectual potential. Sir Kingsley’s career shows that. Here you have two men for whom the physical accidents of location (its bleak, apparently unpromising and unfashionable nature) became trivial compared with its real potential. Both men explored Rookhope in depth, both had started with the same agenda, an interest in geology. One fulfilled that agenda, another took the same bedrock and turned it into a poetic landscape, one capable of articulating the deepest concerns and dilemmas of the human condition. Each offering is a quite stunning achievement.

Yet there is a hint of sadness in this relationship, one that speaks of the separateness and division in human affairs that so drove Wystan. Poetry and geology are not often conjoined. Sir Kingsley could lead almost all his life unaware of Wystan’s interest. When late in life, he learnt of Rookhope’s poetic importance, he was taken aback. That is the point, it is a measure of the failure by English learned society to interpret the correct location and significance of Rookhope that Sir Kingsley knew nothing of the matter.

I too have to add my own ignorance. For in 1978-83, I was exploring the industrial archaeology of Rookhope with passion. I was also studying theology at Durham University with a supervisor ensuring that I bought my first Auden. I never made the connection then; no one at Durham (despite the award of Auden’s D.Litt. and the accompanying oration in 1962), whether in the University or in the County, was making anything of the Pennine Auden. Had I bought Carpenter’s biography published in 1981, the penny would have dropped. That treat had to wait until 1987 and it is to Carpenter’s credit that the Pennine Auden spoke loud in his biography. Carpenter speaks clearly of the importance of Nenthead, Alston Moor, and the Pennines to Auden. Specifically Carpenter gave some prominence to the quotation of the In Rookhope I was first aware of Self and Not-Self, Death and Dread:..... segment of New Year Letter. At that point, I began to realise that Auden’s relationship to the Pennines was out of the ordinary. How on earth had he got there? That was an issue not well addressed by Carpenter and it remains an issue full of mystery.

Before working through the Rookhope material in the Auden canon, it is worthwhile providing a simple list. In chronological order it is ((N) indicates that Rookhope is named):
The Old Lead Mine 1924
The Old Mine 1924
Rookhope (Weardale, Summer 1922) 1924 (N)
The Letter 1927
Paid on Both Sides 1928 (N)
New Year Letter 1940 (N)
England Six Unexpected Days 1954 (N)
Amor Loci 1965.

The chronology of this material does not directly unlock the datelines. Indeed it is necessary to turn to the final poem to answer the leading question: when did Auden first visit Rookhope? Amor Loci or Love of Place describes Rookhope but not by name and it speaks to the seminal importance of the place to Auden’s vision. Three reasons allow us to conclude that its subject is Rookhope. Edward Mendelson in New York confirms that Auden’s pocket diary of the time refers to Amor Loci as the Rookhope poem. Granted this fact, the key line becomes not (as perhaps at twelve I thought it) of Eden. Next in the jigsaw are the memories of Auden’s hosts at his Newcastle Reading in 1972 as narrated by Alan Myers[3]. The key conversation took place between Auden and the author Sid Chaplin. Chaplin who knew Rookhope asked Auden when he had first been there. Chaplin noted the answer as 12. This ties in exactly to Amor Loci and leads to the conclusion that Auden’s first North Pennine visit took place in 1919. And then only in 2014 did I find myself listening to Wystan recorded reading Amor Loci and he says directly to the audience "the place is Rookhope"!

The complications of chronology certainly do not end there. From Auden’s own material, the only other dateline that we might add comes from the title of the poem Rookhope (Weardale, Summer 1922). Additionally the two well known visits to nearby Allenheads (September 1926) and Blanchland (Easter 1930) almost certainly account for other visits. This suggests that Auden was in Rookhope on at least four occasions, but probably more often, before World War Two. None of this really accounts for how Auden got there. Carpenter simply said “At some time during his schooldays, probably when staying with friends, he began to visit a stretch of country in the north-western part of the Pennine range.....”[4]

Since the first visit to the Keswick area appears to be in 1921 (see Wescoe), we are left with having to explain how a twelve year old child from Birmingham reached Rookhope in 1919, an apparently unlikely event. Several people have tried to unearth more by speaking to Rookhope residents without any real success. I have been told that Auden stayed “at the doctor’s house in Rookhope” but presently have nothing more than a local oral tradition[5]. Other sources suggest Rookhope had no resident doctor. Any link that there may be to a possible friend of Auden’s father deserves examination. Doctors were amongst the earliest groups of people in Britain to obtain cars and such a linkage may help explain how Auden became so familiar with such an inaccessible area far from home.
Granted that he got there in 1919, what did he find? “The Little Nut” (illustrate) might have made an impression. This was a 2’ gauge saddle tank locomotive which worked around the Boltsburn Mine in the centre of the village. Boltsburn was the hub of activity and remained at work until 1940. Its closure was far from the end of the story. Grove Rake, Frazer’s Hush,  Stotfield Burn and Redburn Mines were all functioning in Rookhope at various time since 1945. Physically dominating the village was the Bolt’s Law incline. This was Rookhope’s (freight only) rail link to the outside world. It had opened in about 1846 and would work until 1923 and thence lie derelict for many years. Most traffic had to be hauled up the incline’s 2,000 yards of 1 in 12 track. At the top and 1650’ a.s.l. was a huge steam worked winding engine, a chimney on the skyline, engine sheds and a small railway community.
I turned and travelled quickly down the track
Which grass will cover by and  by
Down the lonely valley; once I looked back
And saw a waste of stones against an angry sky.
That is Auden description’s in The Old Lead-mine (with a variant in The Old Mine). It comes after the stanza that describes the initial stone down the shaft incident which develops through Rookhope (Weardale, Summer 1922) to its climax in New Year Letter’s In Rookhope I first knew self..... Within New Year Letter I shall argue that the incident took place at Sikehead Shafts. The present point is that is congruent with a return to the village along the old trackbeds which linked the two locations. This makes perfect sense of track which grass will cover by and by. The railway was newly derelict. Thence he is walking down the incline, which is certainly Down the lonely valley. It is precise description that turning around on this descent a waste of stones against an angry sky would be seen. That is still the case where the ruins of the railway buildings at Bolt’s Law incline head and a rock cutting come together on the skyline.
Back in the village and railway tracks led south in which direction lay further mine and limekiln remains at Brandon Walls. West of the village the tracks led past the old smelter at Lintzgarth (both names are in Paid on Both Sides) and on up to the most remote of the mines towards Allenheads at Wolfcleugh, Grove Rake and Frazer’s Hush.
These details and timelines are important in order to substantiate the argument that The Letter represents Rookhope and thus the Wear element of the 1979 Selected Poems’ opening triology that seem to describe the North Pennine landscape. For his American audience in 1954 Auden described Rookhope , the most wonderfully desolate of all the dales in England Six Unexpected Days. That desolation had become for Auden the sacrament within this landscape that was able to reveal agape, the vital conclusion to Amor Loci.

Few Americans are likely to have followed Auden’s 1954 itinerary. Until very recently few Auden enthusiasts have made the journey to Rookhope (some have, in 1988 his literary executor Edward Mendelson and Katherine Bucknell the editor of Juvenilia made the trip). However unless the reader of Auden hurries, it will be too late to see a working mine. Perhaps to the surprise of many, the Grove Rake mine was still functioning in 1999 (but closed in 2001). As Sir Kingsley has suggested, there is still likely to be plenty of minerals beneath the dale, the point is that the foreign competition  Auden noted in The Chase has, in all likelihood, finally extinguished the industry.

Grove Rake in 1999 looked straight out of Auden’s poetry. True, there was no waterwheel or steam engines, but there was rusting machinery by the ton, gaunt headgear and hoppers, cages poised in rust above their shafts, numbers of battery locos in varying stages of decay. The one engine that was working was posed on track in front of a windowless stone building from the old days, beside it in fading red on yellow paintwork a truck was marked “Explosives”, behind which there was a backdrop of sheep and cattle grazing the fell. It seemed poignant that the final workings accessed the mine by an inclined adit (not present in Auden’s time) which rejoiced in the thoroughly apt name of the Firestone Incline. Named as a consequence of geological fact but capable of revelatory allegory and symbolism, it is an effective summary of what Auden had found in Rookhope".

[1] “Rookhope in Retrospect” by Sir Kingsley Dunham F.R.S. in Out of the Pennines, editor Bryan Chambers, Friends of Killhope, Killhope, 1997. Sir Kingsley (1910-2001) died 5th April 2001, an obituary appeared in the Hatfield Record 2001 from which many parallels with Auden can be discerned. Les Turnbull’s volume states “the smelter remained in operation until 1919 when it achieved fame as the last of the 28 smelt-mills in the northern orefield to be closed”.
[2] Born 2nd January 1910.
[4] Carpenter p22
[5] Peter Wilkinson to Robert Forsythe. Peter is quoting a Rookhope resident. An oral tradition to this effect appeared in a paper published during the preparation of my own work. ‘My Great Good Place’; W. H. Auden and the North Pennines by Leo Gooch published in The Bonny Moor Hen: Journal of the Weardale Field Study Society No. 10, 1998 editor Dr. Leo Gooch, Wolsingham, Co. Durham. Leo is quoting two ladies Mrs L. Aberdeen and Mrs J. Crosby. His independent research faces the same challenge: no resident doctor is known of for Rookhope. He resolves this by concluding that the doctor who served Rookhope in the relevant years was a Dr. R. C. MacLennan from St Johns Chapel in the main valley of Weardale, He is known to have had one of only two motor cars in the upper dale at the time.

1 comment:

robertatforsythe said...

Also see a matched Facebook album