Sunday, 29 March 2009

THE YEAR OF THE OX

The Whitley Great Ox Festival – Saturday 28 March 2009.
In memory of the 18th century Quadruped immortalised by Bewick in his copperplate engraving of The Whitley Large Ox.

The original Ox engraving was produced for the owner Mr Edward Hall and published on the 10 April 1789. The Ox became a beast of folklore in the 1780s due to its immense size, growing to a height of over 5ft 9ins and weighing a massive 216 stones. It was said to have grazed near the site of the aptly named Fat Ox pub in Whitley Bay before it was walked all the way to Newcastle to be slaughtered.

Keith Armstrong has penned these lines:

THE YEAR OF THE OX
It was 1789 the Year of the Great Ox,
the year the beast got loose in Paris,
when Whitley Bay was sleeping.
The year of the storming,
when John Martin was born in Haydon Bridge,
his heart breaking with painting visions;
the year of the slaying
of old regimes
when royalty hung in the slaughterhouse.
The Ox walked seven days,
like a doomed aristocrat
to have its tallow used to light the night,
to show the way
for the Rights of Man,
to sacrifice its beastly life
to keep a candle burning
and give us hope
and faith and charity,
a glint from God
and a gleam in Thomas Bewick’s eye
as he engraved the swollen moment
for all to see.

KEITH ARMSTRONG



THROUGH THE EYES OF A GREAT OX

Exhausted,
what could you see?
The mob grabbing your life,
and Tom Horsley’s butcher’s axe
hanging over your great spirit
as you valiently strode
the mucky road,
along the throbbing seashore,
through the pestilence of Tyneside,
its filth and flames,
its poisoned air and quack’s potions,
its Geordie beauty and debauch.

Edward Hall thought he owned you.
After a few beers, he thought the very universe was his.
But you, my sturdy fellow, were your own Ox
and could see the folly
of the swinish multitude
as it came to get you
to rip out your guts
and feed the Duke and Duchess,
and all their grasping subjects,
to satiate their appalling vanity.

You had more dignity than them.
You gave up your animal life
for others.
While Eddie Hall he died in pomp,
you, my massive beauty, were unselfish,
a Great Beast
full of love,
the very meat
of life itself
in all its morning glory,
in all its starry wonder;
the wide and beautiful sky
through the miraculous eyes of an Ox.

KEITH ARMSTRONG


THE CONSTITUTION OF AN OX

It had the Constitution of an Ox:

Girth at the belly 10 feet 9 inches
Girth at the loins 10 feet 4 inches
Girth at the shoulders 10 feet 3 inches
Girth behind the shoulders 9 feet 9 inches
Breadth at the hips 3 feet
Breadth at the shoulders 2 feet 6 inches
Height at the fore-crop 5 feet 9 iches
Height at the loins 5 feet 11 inches
Height from the ground to the breast 1 feet 6 inches
Weight 216 stones 8lbs.

That was the Constitution of the Ox.
The track record, shape, volume, build, realm, history, cut and nub of it, the scale of things, the order of the Ox, the full measure of the beast drawn by Thomas Bewick for all of us in awe of it, in a world that never ceases, to astonish.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Thomas Bewick and Music: “an emanation from heaven”


Mr. Kinloch's Ball
Originally uploaded by Bewick Society
Last night at the Brunswick Methodist Church Dr Peter Quinn gave a lecture entitled "Thomas Bewick and music: “an emanation from heaven”" The lecture formed part of the Tercentenary celebrations of the Newcastle composer Charles Avison.

In 1770, the year of Charles Avison’s death Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) was an apprentice engraver at the workshop of Ralph Beilby. Situated at Amen Corner to the south of St. Nicholas Church, the workshop placed the young Bewick at the centre of the commercial and cultural heart of Newcastle. He heard a wide-range of music at this time and developed a number of life-long musical enthusiasms. The lecture highlighted those early musical connections and described the importance of music in Bewick’s view of nature and art.

The illustration is a Copperplate etching by Robert Bewick of a drawing by Thomas Bewick for Alexander Kinloch, a local dancing master, c.1812. The musician on the right could be Robert Bewick.

Click on the image to go to the Flikr page where you will find two further illustrations used in the lecture: pages from John Peacock's "A Favourite Collection of Tunes with Variations Adapted for the Northumberland Small Pipes, Violin, or Flute".

Friday, 20 March 2009

WALK ON, TOM BEWICK

Stride Circus Lane
and chip your signature
on the pavement of scrapes and kisses.
Pass the Forth
and skirt
its pleasure gardens;
throw your darts in the archery field.
Skim the bowling green
and walk on water,
doff your hat to Mrs Waldie;
cut along
old scars of lanes
to the bloody gush of Westgate Street;
whistle with birds
in a vicar’s garden,
let warm thoughts fly in Tyneside sun
to bless this Geordie day.
And greet
the morning hours,
Aunt Blackett and Gilbert Gray,
sing to free the world,
the Black Boy;
harmonise your mind
in a churchyard of melancholy.
Dance over the Lort Burn,
the sun in your eyes,
flooding your workshop
with a light fantastic.
Your shoulders so proud
rub with the building girls
and lady barbers
along Sandhill;
the boats of your dreams
bridge the aching Tyne,
ships groaning
in the tender daylight,
longing for the healing moon;
a keelman’s fantasies
of quayside flesh
and the seething sea.
You trip along
searching for electricity and magnetism
in the inns,
winging it
with the bird catchers and canary breeders,
the dirty colliers and the harping whalers.
Walk on Tom,
execute
a portrait
of a hanging man;
let your strong heart
swell with the complex passion
of common folk.

KEITH ARMSTRONG