LOOKING BACK: November 8, 2018 edition extra: WROTH SILVER 1918 - A short story by Robert Fell

Robert Fell
Robert Fell

The former police officer has also written an anecdote about the Dun Cow at Stretton

WROTH SILVER 1918 by Robert Fell- purely fiction, inspired by attending the ancient ceremony of Wroth Silver many times over the years.

It was still dark, a cold autumnal early morning with evidence of a slight ground frost when they arrived by the carriers cart, a man, his wife and other friends, all warmly wrapped against the cold, They had been travelling for almost two hours from Rugby to be on time reaching the site before dawn.

It had been a long, cold and dreary ride in the slow moving horse drawn cart along Telford’s old narrow coaching road from London to the north, where in days long gone a fresh team of horses from the nearby coaching Inn at Dunchurch would have continued the journey at a much faster pace. However to the occupants in the cart it seemed endless. At last they reached the crossroads on this road meeting the ancient Roman Fosse-way where King George V had reviewed the troops prior to their departure to Gallipoli in foreign fields in March of 1915. Many soldiers were present, a thank you to Warwickshire deemed to be the centre of England. for the help given, and for the soldiers that had trained there for almost a year.

As they passed the crossroads, where later a monument made of Portland Stone was built they knew that they were nearly at their destination. Knightlow Hill at Ryton on Dunsmore for the ancient ceremony of ‘Wroth Silver’. Minutes later they arrived at the site of the ancient stone to await the event.

The man stood there on the mound believed to have been a tumulus by the stone which was the last remains of a prayer cross which had stood at this site for hundreds of years, its origin not known but believed to have been the burial place of an Anglo Saxon Noble, Danish Chief or possibly a Roman General. He draped his arm around his wife’s shoulders as they waited silently for the arrival of the Duke of Buccleuch’s agent to once again begin the ancient ceremony of ‘Wroth Silver.’ He himself had been coming to this event for many years. This day was so different to any that he had previously attended even with his father or his own family and in fact he was only 6 years of age when he was taken for the first time in 1877. Since 1905 this man, Alfred Edward Ward and his wife Clarice had been accompanied by their two young sons, James and William as they were determined that this wonderful old ceremony should not be allowed to disappear as so many had already.

Alfred hoped that the boys would continue this tradition long after he and his wife had passed on. Sadly, this was not to be. In the last four dreadful years the world had been in turmoil with the Great War in progress. Thousands of men and women were dying on a daily basis, on both sides. A pointless, futile exercise. Both James and William had gone to serve their country as had so many other young men.

Alfred and Clarice had lived in hope that the boys would be spared, but in the early part of the conflict the eldest son James had been killed, and that had really taken its toll on both him and his wife. They prayed that William the youngest would survive but they had heard nothing now for many months, so were unaware whether he was still alive or like his brother, lying alone in a foreign field. They still lived in hope as they had not received that dreaded letter as they had when James had died.

Today 11th November 1918, eve of St Martinmas was to be so different. Not only was it the 748th year of continuous record of ‘Wroth Silver’ having taken place, though no longer compulsory since the early 1800’s, it continued as a traditional ceremony. That alone was sufficient. This day however was even more special as it had earlier been dramatically announced from London that, at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month in 1918, the war to end all wars would cease.

This was that day.

As he stood rooted to the spot the chilled Alfred thought ‘Just five hours remain. By the time the ceremony was over, breakfast taken and the long journey home completed it would be past 11a.m. then once again the world would be at peace.’

His thoughts were interrupted as the agent arrived and the ceremony commenced. He read out the names of the villages as money was thrown into the stone accompanied by the cry “Wroth Silver.” Alfred and his wife had travelled from Hillmorton and as that name was called they threw their money, 4d into the stone, the amount due. Having done so Alfred Ward hugged his wife and said a silent prayer that William would be spared and soon be returned to them. He made his mind up that he would continue to pay his dues on that date every year until his health prevented him from doing so. He also held on to the belief that William had been spared and would likewise continue with the tradition long after he had departed, hoping also that any children William may have would likewise be introduced to this wonderful part of the English Heritage, and that no conflict would ever prevent it continuing for another thousand years.

It was, as expected, well passt 11am by they time they had reached their home and the world, at long last was now at peace. Sadly on that day of days, despite their prayers and hope, there was no news of William.

Christmas came and went as did the New year of 1919. The weeks passed but Alfred and his wife Clarice never lost their faith in the belief that William had survived. No news meant that there was still hope.

It was afternoon one day in late March when there was a knock on the front door. As Clarice opened it, he stood there, a tired, totally different man to replace the boy that had left to go to war. William had returned. The prayers of Alfred Ward and his wife Clarice had been answered so the family tradition of attending Wroth Silver could now hopefully continue for many years to come.

THE END

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THE STRETTON DUN COW - an anecdote by Robert Fell, based on an incident during his time as a traffic officer

It had been an unusually mild January in the winter of 1975 but quite windy. Now on 25th the last Saturday of the month it was F.A. cup-tie time and Coventry City played Arsenal in the fourth Round at Highfied Road. It was a 1-1 draw. At about 8.p.m. a 50 seater coach carrying some Arsenal supporters pulled into the car park of the Dun Cow at Stretton, for the last chance of yet another drink before heading South on the M.45 and M 1 to London. They left the coach to enter the pub whilst the driver, realising that it would be a long stay, curled up on the back seat for a nap.

The drinks flowed as the Arsenal supporters were getting noisier by the minute. All were packed in the public bar. except the female supporters who were not allowed into this area – a male preserve, they remained in the women’s bar where they sat quietly. Drinks arrived at regular intervals from their male partners. Also in the public bar were some locals from nearby Wolston who were Coventry City supporters. Initially there was no trouble but when some of the finer points of the match were being discussed, the argument became heated and overflowed. The landlord, glanced at the clock, it was five minutes to ten and almost with relief he shouted above the noise,

“Last orders please.”

There was no immediate rush from the agitated crowd and so at exactly ten p.m. he placed his towels over the pumps and refused to serve any more drinks. Even before the ten minute drinking-up time had elapsed he was doing his best to usher the supporters out of the pub. It was at that moment that fighting broke out between the rival supporters on the car park. That helped the landlord, as everybody rushed out to watch, or take part. He was soon able to close the door whilst his bar staff escorted the female supporters from the women’s bar through a side entrance.

“ Dial 999 for the Police it’s mayhem out there,” he shouted from the front door.

P.C. Bob Fell had just left the Police Station at the start of his night shift along the A 45 accompanied by a young female probationary officer on her attachment to the Traffic Department when the report of the incident came through on the radio requesting urgent assistance at the Dun Cow Public House at Stretton-on-Dunsmore.

“That’s a good start to the night” he commented as he increased speed out of Rugby in his Jaguar patrol car, whilst his partner switched on the blue light.

“It’s a full scale fight between rival football supporters numbering around 50 people.” Came the comment from the H.Q control room. “ The Wolston car is also attending but is some distance away.”

Within a few minutes the patrol car had arrived on the scene to see a full scale physical battle taking place.

“There’s the Landlord by the back door,.” said P.C. Fell. “Slip out to see him and find out what happened.” She did so and sprinted unnoticed to him, returning after a few second, with the story, and also that there had been no damage inside.

“Well there is no way that the two of us can sort this out on our own, but I’ve an idea.” With the patrol car facing the unruly mob, he switched on the external loud hailer and firmly, with a calm voice. said,

“This is the Police! Stop fighting immediately and those travelling on the coach. Get on it.” The noise from the loud hailer was deafening as it bounced of the wall of the pub. He paused as the fighting stopped. “ You others.” he continued, “Back off, and stand by the wall of the pub.” It was all over. Both officers got out of the car whilst the subdued crowd of well oiled supporters leaning on one another for support, with cuts and bruises to add to their discomfort, did as they were told.

“You get a few details from those by the wall.” Directed P.C. Fell to his partner “I’ll talk to the others on the coach.”

A very relieved coach driver appeared from nowhere and said,

“That was a brilliant idea, the noise must have woken the neighbours.”

“Fortunately there aren’t too many around here.” Was P.C. Fell’s reply and he added

“Is it always like this on away games, drunken louts giving the game a bad name.”

“With a lot of teams it is.” The driver replied, “But not usually with Arsenal supporters. I suppose they thought they should have won but they only managed a draw.” By this time all of the passengers were aboard, including the females who were adding their comments to their irresponsible partners.

As he climbed onto the coach most of the passengers were already sitting but he allowed the driver to get into his seat and was then able to address them all.

“What you have just done is not allowed on my patch, “ he said with a voice of authority. “But fortunately for you, all the only damage has been to yourselves and not the pub. Had that been the case you would have been delayed and suffered even further. As the situation has been resolved, I’m taking no further action except to give you a warning about your conduct. Consider yourselves lucky.” There was silence as nobody said a word. He then added

“Your team will have to try harder in the replay if you want to win. But I’m surprised that Arsenal allowed football hooligans as supporters I thought that was reserved for other known teams”.

“We’re not hooligans.” Came a reply from the back of the coach.

“Well you could have fooled me.” P.C. Fell replied. “Now on your way and in future keep out of this sort of trouble.” He took a step down to get off the coach but as a final comment said,

“Perhaps you should change your support to Rugby and not Soccer, we never get called out after their matches.”

As the coach disappeared he joined his partner who was dressing down the local supporters. Sympathising with them but also admonishing them for their action.

At least another potentially dangerous situation had been averted. The Arsenal football players and supporters must have heeded P.C Fell’s words as Arsenal did win the replay.