A Binscombe Tales Spiel


An introduction in a postscript mood

Originally appeared, in amended and shortened form, in Binscombe Tales. Haunted Library 1989

All that a reader need know about me is that I'm struggling up the shore of middle age, living with my wife, Liz, my son, Joseph and daughters, Rebecca and Esther, in a part of the South country where the graveyards and old records are littered, over the last four centuries or so, with strangers bearing my surname. Beyond that there is silence, but I suspect we go back still further.

Apart from the above, I will largely leave it to others to speak for me and the Binscombe Tales. These are stories about the 'least vivacious' (1) and 'most threatened' (2) people in the World - the aboriginal South-east English. They concern a mythical village where strangers are welcome - but not always safe. The cast comprises: 'men of modest means and ancient principles' (3). Possible alternative titles were: Green-belt Gothic and Tales from Tommorrow-land (4). To sum, the spirit which imbues them is best expressed thus :

On the surface, there was always an impeccably realistic world, but underneath, behind the backdrop's cracked canvas, lurked something different, something mysterious or abstract.

.... On the surface, an intelligible lie, underneath, the unintelligible truth. (5)


Our history in these islands is too tragical to think about. We have abandoned its reality, and taken to a myth which is useful for stabilising the State. (6)

It just strikes me that the English are losing sight of their history, that is to say, the vital perceived links between past, present and future - and, just as importantly, their shared mythology. I also gibe at the growing Americanisation and 'Londonization' of everything. The 'Binscombe Tales' emanate from that vague sense of loss. They perhaps seek to prompt an alternative perception of life in England (and Britain, I suppose). They also arise, so I've been assured, from:

.... the twin streams of human consciousness; thoughts of here and - somewhere else (7)

As to the stories' setting, I can wax more loquacious .... ( Isaiah 62:1 : About Zion I will not be silent, About Jerusalem I will not grow weary.)

There is, more or less, a real place called Binscombe, born perhaps in the Iron age, if not earlier, adopted by the Romans (and ending badly), then refounded by our own Abraham, Buden the Saxon. Though definitely around by then, the Domesday Book, the Norman's loot-tally, looked straight through us - and there, doubtless, hangs a tale. It was thus not until 1227 that Binscombe felt ready to stride, gorgeous and pouting, onto the world stage (well, the Rotuli Litterarum Clausarum) for its first written reference.

Amidst all the only-to-be-expected mundanity, it has interesting features - like most places if you only look. Nearby - in the 'old tongue' - is Dragon Hill and Wild Cat Hill and Witch's Valley. The pagan gods lingered longer here, and left a renowned group of missionary-proof place names like Tue(Tiw)sley, Thur(Thor?)sley. A suspicious looking bump bides unregarded in the landscape, perhaps a second Silbury Hill awaiting its Howard Carter.

And on that landscape trod people; remarkable people, such as: Theophilus Oglethorpe, valiant soldier and Jacobite, duellist and all-round English-icon who had the good taste to buy Binscombe Manor in 1688. His mad cavalry charge into Keynsham changed the course of English history, and the great truism dead men tell no tales may be attributable to him.

Back when the Quakers were dangerous radicals, their founder, George Fox, came to Binscombe and the barn he preached in still bears his name. As a result we even have our very own martyr, done-in by the Church of England back in 1660. Thomas Patching of Binscombe Farm heard Fox's words and took them to heart, dying in a foreign land (Kingston-upon-Thames gaol) accordingly. His body, brought home, now rests (one trusts) in the old Quaker burial ground beside that very barn.

Not far away, a woman astounded the 18th century by giving birth to rabbits (we have her word on it). Here the telegraphist-hero, Jack Phillips, of Titanic fame, grew up and became what he was. A short way down the road, in a hamlet still isolated-obscure, a lone Saxon retained his land even after the Norman ethnic cleansing. And a 'person' of sorts (no less revered), the Surrey Puma, indigenous, mysterious and never-yet caught, prowls round about.

There is a working men's club, known as The Moscow, and old men with Anglo-Saxon names like ∆ethelbert. Many family trees verge onto that interesting time before records and the same old names roll on through the centuries. They are still here. Faint hope arises that the real Doomsday will find them so.

They all come back, the local saying maintains and property prices and gentrification notwithstanding, it remains broadly true. I did.

These two Binscombes, literary and amalgam-actual, are not the same but they are linked with subtle and invisible bridges of 'what if?'. Similarly, I have yet to meet Mr Disvan here but his spirit seems ever present - so I don't rule out the possibility ....

However, the truth of the matter is :

that these are just ghost stories which I hope you enjoy.


God gives all men, all earth to love
But since man's heart is small,
Ordains for each one spot shall prove
Beloved over all
. (8)


(1) Matthew Engel ''The Guardian' May 1988.

(2) Sonia Morozov - Political commentator ( 1958 - ).

(3) Oliver Cromwell ( 1599 - 1658 ).

(4) 1980's Government parlance for the South-east.

(5) Milan Kundera ( 1929 - ) from 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' 1984.

(6) Peter Levi ( 1931 - ) from 'The Flutes of Autumn' 1983.

(7) Prof. E Griffiths - Classicist, Philosopher, Celtic Marxist and bon-viveur. ( ? - )

(8) Rudyard Kipling ( 1865 - 1936 ).


A Binscombe Tales Spiel - A complete list of Binscombe Tales - Homage to Surrey

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