Fresh to Bleed

Red cliffs staining the sea

Red cliffs staining the sea

Today we beat the record for the age of verse associated with Teignmouth.

Leaving Jason’s Garden behind we make our way back down to the sea-front to continue the walk eastward, walking along the redstone cliffs that are characteristic of Teignmouth and this stretch of coast. The Breccia sandstone is 250 million years old and once lay on the equator.

It features as a reminder of an apparent bloody episode in Teignmouth’s history – the raid by the Danes, as the following couplet testifies:

 

“In memory whereof, the clift exceeding red
Doth seem hereat again full fresh to bleed.”

Does this couplet stand on its own? Or is it part of a larger work on the invasion of the Danes? When was it written? Who wrote it? ….. unanswered questions.

The earliest reference I have found to it is around 1630 when Tristram Risdon is estimated to have written his “Chorographical Description or Survey of the County of Devon” which remained unpublished until 1714. Risdon died in 1640.

To quote from Risdon’s manuscript (1811 edition):

“At West-Teignmouth, it seems, the Danes committed such horrid slaughter in 970, that the cliffs have, ever since, been stained with blood: they are ‘so very red, we are told, that they apparently memorize the bloodshed of those times’ …..

West-Teignmouth ….. is remarkable for the Danes’ first arrival for the invasion of this kingdom, a nation accustomed to piracy upon the coast of France and Normandy. Here, in the year 970, they landed out of their ships to discover the country, for a greater force to follow; whereof the king’s lieutenant more hasty than advised, demanded their name, and cause of coming and arrival; and attempting to seize on them by force, to present them to the king, was himself slain. After which they so prosecuted their begun attempt in this island, with unhuman and unheard of cruelty, even unto the Norman conquest, that the very cliff here red, seems yet to memorize the bloodshed and calamities of these times; according to these verses: In memory whereof, the clift exceeding red Doth seem hereat again full fresh to bleed.”

Researching this topic it is evident that there has been some dispute about whether and when it actually happened. Dates vary from 787 to 970 and the alternative location proposed is Tynemouth.

Want to know more? Check out:

A chorographical description or survey of the county of Devon, Tristram Risdon, 1811

Danmonii Orientales Illustres, or the Worthies of Devon, John Prince 1810

The History of Cornwall, Richard Polwhele, 1816

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