The magnum opus



So, by popular request (ahem), here’s the poem. Each of the six stanzas addresses the themes Nigel addresses in each of the six movements of his composition. I’ve stuck footnotes in because there are a lot of local references.

What Hope Saw


From the control tower[i] she gazed out on Kings Hill[ii]

And saw the Walrus[iii] dancing with Amy Johnson[iv] in the mist,

Whilst the crews of phantom squadrons[v] scrambled across the grass[vi]

Where All Muggleton and Dingley Dell[vii] played for posterity

On the back of a ten pound note[viii] as it changed hands

In West Malling’s flourishing market.[ix] 


Looking down from Gundulf’s keep,[x] she wept as the market goers

Sneezed and bled[xi], dwindling down to fifteen[xii]

Desperate souls who’d ever mourn and say[xiii]

How prayer had saved them as the shadow moved on,

Leaving just four sisters to sing for deliverance.[xiv]


She watched the hay bales graze in Old Kent’s stubbled jowl;

In winter, she saw the apple trees claw upwards from his chest to scratch

His sheep-maggoty cheeks. In spring, the farmers ploughed his chin

And talced his blue-ish skin with scattered seed[xv] so that each summer

His beard would grow and the altars fill with abundance.


She smiled through the golden screens of hop tresses as the pickers

Supped and drank, sprawled on the Swan’s lawns[xvi] or astride its benches,

Happily distant from East End murk and stench.[xvii]

Through the night the brewer’s drays dragged their fragrant loads to Faversham,[xviii]

Where the flower cones tumbled into gurgling coppers.[xix]


She lounged behind the boundary rope, sipping fresh scented summer ale,

And watched the shadows slowly stretch out to tickle her toes

As willow and leather and whites and wickets commingled

With sparrowed hedges, hollyhocked gardens and milk-bottled porches,

Whilst the shadows of spitfires and mosquitoes flitted overhead.


She stood at the entrance to Ford House[xx] and watched Wyatt[xxi] drift fruitlessly

Back from Ludgate. She closed her eyes as the rebellion was crushed and Wyatt

Beheaded, but when she opened them again his lands had been returned,

The market was flourishing and the Abbey was rich in song and prayer,

A concert band played in the Tithe Barn,

And in history’s mirror she saw herself running, dove in hand, towards… hope.


[i] The control tower, together with the officers’ mess and a few ‘H-blocks’, is all that is now left of West Malling’s former airfield.

[ii] The airfield is the site of a flourishing mixed development of residential and commercial properties – Kings Hill.

[iii] In 1967 the airport’s runways and hangars were used to film The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, including the ‘I am a Walrus’ sequence.

[iv] During the 1930s, many airshows and displays were held at the airfield. Pioneering English aviatrix Amy Johnson was one famous visitor.

[v] During its RAF life, the airfield hosted various squadrons (141, 29, 322…).

[vi] In June and July 1944 the airfield hosted 322 squadron and its Spitfires (Mk XIV), tasked primarily with intercepting VI ‘doodelbugs’ aimed at London.

[vii] The setting for the cricket match between All Muggleton and Dingley Dell in Charles DickensPickwick Papers was based on an amalgamation of the grounds at West Malling and Maidstone.

[viii] There is a resemblance to West Malling in the original illustration of the match, a version of which featured on the back of the £10 banknote featuring Dickens, first circulated on 29 April 1992.

[ix] West Malling owed its initial prosperity to its flourishing market.

[x] St. Leonard’s Tower, a Norman keep, was built by Bishop Gundulf c.1080.

[xi] Two of the symptoms demonstrated by plague sufferers.

[xii] The 1348-49 plague, with its high mortality rate, reduced West Malling to just 15 people.

[xiii] ‘Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee, and ever mourn and say…’; from the Coventry Carol.

[xiv] The Benedictine Abbey at West Malling was reduced by the plague to just four sisters and five novitiates.

[xv] ‘We plough the fields and scatter/The good seed on the land…’ (Hymn)

[xvi] The Swan is a distinctive eighteenth century coaching inn.

[xvii] Many of those hop picking in Kent, a hop region that was only mechanised in the 1960s, were Eastenders. For them, the annual migration meant not just money in the family pocket but a welcome break from the grime and smoke of London. Whole families would come down on special trains and live in hoppers’ huts and gradients for most of September, even the smallest children helping in the fields.

[xviii] Seat of the Kent region’s renowned Shepherd Neame brewery, founded in 1698.

[xix] During the beer brewing process the liquid created by ‘mashing’ malted grain, the wort, is moved into a large tank known as a ‘copper’ or kettle where it is boiled with the hops.

[xx] Another ancient distinctive building in West Malling, Ford House, is reckoned to be some 600 years old…

[xxi] …and would therefore have witnessed the crushing of the remnants of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion (1554) at West Malling, after it had been repulsed at London Bridge and Ludgate.

1 Comment

  1. Jeannette

    Well done Martin!

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