Ian Taylor has been writing about the lost landscapes of the North for over forty years – old earthworks, ruined churches, derelict mineworkings, Neolithic barrows and deserted villages. Bringing together the best of this work in a single volume, Dusk is a book about enclosure, famine and deforestation, about bleak moorlands, sunken roads, nettles and cobwebs. Exploring between the pages of history, superstition, myth and the ‘threadbare cloak of folk tradition’, Taylor listens to the drovers, peat-cutters, ironstone miners, seasonal labourers, landless farmers and tramps in whose ‘hollow voice of loss’ he hears a renegade and still undefeated Albion, like a fox running from the ‘cleanshaven faces and privileged profiles’ of the Hunt, the Green Man still dancing in the trees.
Author photo: Max Payne
1 left their houses weeping and became unemployed and finally... died in poverty and so ended their days (Commission of Inquiry Returns, 1517) Tenant at Will, Wharram Percy (c.1500): They found me at Milndam, at the fish pond, the landmaster’s men. they said Leave your nets, William. We’re fishers of men. Come with us to the Lord’s house. Come, and receive the Word. I followed, sharp as a fox out of cover. Squire Hilton hung like a cloud on his front step. His smile axed at my heart. He gave me till Michaelmas – ‘Tell the whole village the same.’ I looked up to the furlongs, the skyline of corn. I heard children laugh by the stream. I turned from his gate. For Hilton a sheep-run. For the cottar death with the plough. Our young men wanted to fight, but I counselled acceptance: To sever one stoat will summon the pack. We have no rights here, leave behind little. Our tears like our toil will fade into the land... We gathered below Town Field. Swallows twitched from the church tower, bellied the shallows. Next year they’ll nest in the houses, singing to idle spindles and empty hearths. 2 for where there have been a great many householders and inhabitants there is now but a shepherd and his dog (Bishop Latimer, 1549) Shepherd of Wharram Percy (c.1501): Wharram, Octon, Bartindale, Argam gone – choked under wool. What weighs more than a bag o’ wheat? Why, man – a bleat! I’m lucky, I know. I’ve moved to this fine stone house that was William’s. The others are down. The best timbers gone for the Hall, the rest for the sheep fence. Last September groped by like a blind hag. Most cursed the shepherd, many the priest. Hilton had need of us both. Like rabbits we kept to our doors. I watched them, threading away down the valley. Bent like a wind-whipped thorn, the priest wept alone in the church. I crept the Manor lawns, waiting Hilton’s command. 3 whither shall they go? – forth from shire to shire and to be scattered thus abroad... by compulsion driven some of them to beg and some to steal (Sheep Pamphlets) Former Cottar of Wharram Percy: On the Wolds’ slopes distrust. In the towns rejection. At Grimston mute cottagers stared. In Malton they barred the doors. To York, William said: There’ll be work. Shelter. A larger place will seclude us. But in York there were many like us and a threatening fear among townsmen. Some of us left for the coast. In our camp by the Derwent old William failed. We fashioned a hurdle, then Thomas and I bore him back to the village... In William’s cottage the shepherd slept, thick as a mole under a clod. We hunched in a doorway. Cold chiselled our bones. As first-light dusted the hills the slight breathing stopped. We built a low cairn for the body, our words too stubborn for prayer. 4 But I fancy that the town has been eaten up with time, poverty, and pasturage (Abraham de la Pryme,1697) Wharram Percy in recent times: If you ask in the parish they’ll tell you the way – unless they’re keepers. Press them, and they’ll say it was taken by plague... Come in July to the dig. Learn of the finds that jog a response to the pulse of the place: the pair of dice, the bone needle, a thimble, a coin... Or come in spring when the form of the land is most easily seen: Fasten your boots. For the last half mile follow the hollow way. Descend between swallows cresting the slopes of young corn. The roofless church is alone in the valley like an old jaw loose with decay. To the west, on the scarp-edge, are the humps of the houses, shallow graves in the grass. The earth lies quiet above them, preserving a sadness restrained over time.
‘Taylor’s is an inventive, controlled, authoritative voice, unafraid of the rare but exact word... contemplative, intelligently and movingly eloquent on behalf of those silent people and places for which he invents voices.’
‘I.P. Taylor\'s vision of agricultural man shares with Hughes and Heaney a noble poetic ancestry running from Wordsworth to Hardy to Lawrence, but his poetry is all his own because he has lived through his subjects in mud, words and imagination.’