Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Culham Hythe

For now is culhan hithe i com to an ende,
And al the contre better an no man the worse.
Few folke there were coude that wey wende,
But the waged a wed or payed of her purse.

And if it were a begger gad breed in his bagge,
He schulde be ryght soone i bid for to goo aboute,
And of the pore penyles the hiereward wold habbe
A hood or a girdle, and let hem goo withoute.

Many moo myscheves there weren I say.
Culham hithe hath causid many a curse.
I blyssyd be oure helpers we have a better waye,
Withoute any peny for cart and for horse.

(lines 95 - 108)

wed = gage, hiereward = ferryman

From Richard Forman's 15th-century poem on the building of Abingdon and Culham bridges (in Oxfordshire) and the causeway between them.

Full text:

Translation into modern English:

A "hythe" or "hithe" (OE "hyð") was a small landing-place or harbour, either coastal or on the bank of a river, stioll frequent in place-names (Lambeth (=Lamb-Hythe), Rotherhithe, Queenhithe (City of London),  Hythe (Kent), Small Hythe (near Tenterden, Kent), Bulverhythe (Hastings, E. Sussex)...). So Culham Hythe meant a ferry service, an extortionate one in the eyes of this ironmonger poet.  The building of the bridges in 1416-22 meant that carts could cross the Thames for free.

Richard Forman (Fannande?) wrote his poem in rhymed alliterative long lines. In several places the influence of Piers Plowman is palpable, though in Langland's great poem the word "beggars" has negative connotations that seem to be absent here.

Ironically the bridge later became a toll bridge, so Forman's vision of free movement was shortlived. It spans the Swift Ditch, now a backwater, but then the main navigation channel down the Thames. Because of its strategic importance the bridge was the scene of conflict during the Civil War, first in 1644, then again in 1645.

I learnt about the poem from reading this post on Edmund Hardy's marvellous blog:

Culham old bridge

[Image source:]


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