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The story behind a Wolverton landmark

Dancing with Words (Citizen First) - Stony Stratford

Graced with inspiration, the poet gilds words into works which soar to the heights of eloquence and passion, and thus it might seem that words are at one with the notes of music. For to be consummate with the joys of literature is to know the sensual intimacy of dance - on which subject the proprietor of a Stony Stratford dancing and deportment academy, Mr. Joseph Hambling, became the inspiration for the character of Mr. Turveydrop in a Charles Dickens novel, Bleak House. From around 1840 to 1870 Mr. Hambling ran his academy in a house at the corner of the Market Square and Mill Lane, and in the novel a description of him is to be found in chapter 14. The house was demolished around the end of the 19th century, but the Cock Hotel still survives, where, with music by local musicians, the dancing lessons took place. Apart from Charles Dickens, this region has many past links with other well known writers and poets - to include William Cowper, John Mason, and Thomas Seaton - but more recently John Betjeman voiced his poetic eloquence when, in their successful fight against London’s third airport at Cublington, he gave evidence for the ‘Resistance Committee.’ However, for the purpose of this article it seems appropriate to continue and conclude with Stony Stratford, and a man who, although possessed of poetic talent, might have had some difficulty with dancing. He was Sam Ashton, the one legged, tee total town crier, and here follows his flowing lines addressed to a Mr. Kightley, on the business of selling peas.

My dear Mr. Kightley, look out and be sprightly,
You are wanted down here, I assure you;
The people want peas, so make haste, if you please,
Or others will be here before you.

We’ve had none here yet, but, fine weather or wet,
I’m expecting them here every morning,
Old Langley or Odell, from Malden will toddle,
Remember, I’ve given you warning.

I know very well, if you come you will sell
A cart load of peas, just like winking;
Our ladies will flock, to purchase your stock,
You’ll have no time for eating or drinking.

If by chance you or I, get a drop by the sly,
To discourse long we should not be able,
Ere Robbins politely, would say, Mr. Kightley,
Our dinner is now on the table.

Your maw for to stuff, you go ready enough,
As you doubtless are tired and weary;
I cut off to work, like a Negro or Turk,
Until night, then return to my deary.

So pray my good man, come as soon as you can,
For I am sure it will give me great pleasure,
The first time this year, I cry peas, cheap or dear,
To bawl round the town, heap’d up measure.

And if you intend, an answer to send,
Don’t forget to address me – Esquire;
Until we meet again, I hope to remain,
Your’s, as ever, the Stratford Town Crier.