Littleport, 1815 by Michael Laurence.
Samuel was one of the few who spoke out. The threat of French invasion seemed to take the fight out of so many in the village. The landlords, increasingly nameless men from far away had no sympathy for the Fenland ways, the seasonal changes that allowed Samuel and his neighbours to live a good life. The commons were essential for grazing, fishing, peat digging, their land.
All now under threat. Drainage works and forced enclosure was depriving the village of its simple livelihoods. Occasional temporary work for the landlord would not sustain his growing family.
They'd tried to resist. Challenged their right to take the land, pleaded to the local lords, prayed at church.
Some had been more direct, tearing down fences, fighting the workers brought in to do the enclosing, traveling to the local town to protest, banging pots, shouting, even throwing stones. Some men had already been arrested, rumour was sent to Australia in irons.
Their scrappy little cottage sat in the rain, mossy thatch and a muddy path.
They had no money. The children were thin and pale. Samuel and Mary sat in front of the peat fire that never went out. The smoky room was dark except for a faint red glow.
‘What about working the harvest?’
‘That's months away, we need food now and the rent.’
Samuel spoke in a low voice. Years of seeing this coming had affected him more than he realized. Some had curled up and refused to see the truth, and had been driven from their homes.
The hedgerow dwellers were now a common site. Hungry children hanging out by the church, begging for your conscience. Some villagers had a house for the poor. Not theirs. The vicar was in with the local Gentry, looked down on their sort. He’d officiate out of duty, they had married in his church, had the children baptized there, but that meant little when you came to his door asking for help. God's will that you were poor.
Sam spat in the fire. He had to say it.
‘I'll have to go. Maybe London.’
‘We’ll never see you again, that place, you'll be a lost soul.’
‘Well what about Lynn? There's the docks. I'm strong still, can turn a day's work.’
Mary sighed, looked up at him.
‘I don't want to lose you. Promise you'll get word back, come back when you can.’
Sam murmured ‘of course,’ knowing how hard it was to promise. A week later he was on the road. They’d had a tearful last meal, he hugged all the children, the smallest clung to his leg.
He set off at dawn, after a sleepless night. Mary walked a little way on the road with him. The new dyke flowed slowly beside them, draining their world. They held each other. A wave at the corner, and he looked ahead.
About the Student New Angle Prize
The Student New Angle Prize is an annual competition partnered with the New Angle Prize for Literature, a national book award for published authors. SNAP offers all UoS students the chance to enter by submitting 500 words of original writing as prose or poetry. Like the New Angle Prize, entries must either be set in or clearly influenced by our East Anglian region.
The SNAP competition gives us a chance to discover new voices in the region and encourages our students to add to the literary representations which continue to make East Anglia such an important place for art, literature, and poetry.
Are you interested in creative writing? Start your journey by exploring our BA (Hons) English or MA Creative and Critical Writing.
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