Skelton, R. (2009-12) Landings Corbel Stone Press ISBN: 978-0-9572121-1-4
“Richard Skelton is a keeper of lost words, […] He is- what else is he? A musician, a writer, a glossarian, an archivist. Landscape, language and loss are the three great subjects of his work, and they are at its heart because of a tragedy.
In 2004 Richard’s wife Louise died. I don’t know how she died; I have never asked and he has never told. She was in her late twenties; he also. Richard, born and brought up in Lancashire, retreated to the West Pennine Moors of that county, close to his birthplace. There, struggling with grief, he began to walk the moors of the nearby parish of Anglezarke. His walking soon took on the status of ritual: a pilgrimage-like beating of the moor’s bounds, a labyrinth-like exploration of its interior. In his own words, he ‘limned the edges of its streams and rivers, followed the contours of its hills, the eaves of its woods’. The purpose of the walking was unclear even to him, perhaps especially to him, some mixture of distraction, diversion, expiation and commemoration. He began also to note the moor’s phenomena, to record its languages (natural and human), and to explore its history in the relatively few archives that documented it.” p182 Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane
I think perhaps I made a mistake when I bought this extraordinary book.
I should have ordered the complete works which also contains the three albums of music, recorded over a period of many years in the meadows, woods and ruined dwellings of Anglezarke and Rivington. That auditory expression of the albums is, as much as the book, the culmination of Skelton’s intense collaboratory relationship with the West Pennine Moors.
In 2009, Skelton published his first edition of Landings, a deeply personal and unique response to the moorland landscape of Anglezarke. Written over the course of half a decade, the book is assembled from a diverse array of materials: texts excised from his own notebooks and diaries are combined with excerpts from census and parish records, maps and historical treatises. The result is what Skelton terms ‘mosaic sequences [of] reclaimed fragments’ – discrete but connected strands form an oblique and poignant testimony to personal grief, a meditation on memory and forgetting, a conjuring of the ghosts and voices of a landscape, and an exposition of the effects of the Industrial Revolution on rural lives.
Near-obsessive walking, researching and recording, nearly half a decade spent exploring the landscape of Anglezarke – an area of moorland, reservoirs and ruined farmsteads – the result is fractured, tangential, no linear narrative here, it’s poetic and part of a wider body of work that creates a chronicle of a disappearance, an insight into knowing, belonging, and perhaps a recording of the process of healing. Landings constitutes a vivid and poignant reflection on place, memory, and the cycles of birth, death and renewal.
The book begins with a simple statement:
“A spur of eatern hills, 1,000 ft
high projecting into the centre. The
greater part a high moorland, 2,792
acres (167 of inland water). There
is no village of Anglezarke, but a
hamlet called White Coppice lies in
the north-west, and another called
Hempshaws in the south-east.”
and expands from there into a mosaic of diary entries, essays, poems and text fragments that intertwine the artist’s own narrative with that of the landscape, its topography, history and place-names.
“More and more, words from the book come to me, unbidden. Fragments. Unconnected. Untethered.
-A corbel stone over the barn door
-The house has gone.
-Raspberry canes in the old garden.
-A complete ruin in 1936.
-The date read 1649.
-The stone edging of a flower bed.
-Some land on the Noon Hill side.
-Found overgrown with turf.
-Referred to in 1765.
-Two joined into one.
But not a riddle, begging to be solved. Or a series of clues, pointing to something. Instead, like the call of that grey bird. Simply there. A presence. More real than the landscape.
The heather. The cotton grass. And bracken. And the wind. And those words, over and over. Two joined into one. A hideous murmur.
Two joined into one.”
The book included over 100 pages of appendices, gathering together the bulk of his research about Anglezarke itself: dialect glossaries, cartographic records and lists of names, dates and places drawn from various sources are carefully catalogued and indexed. In retrospect, it seems as if he was attempting to assemble his own private archive, rather than write a conventional book.
As Robert MacFarlane describes, it is
‘a pained record-keeping of the Anglezarke moor – a textual summoning-back of its lost and forgotten … litanies spoken against loss’.
This is a visually beautiful book, and though a challenge to read, due to the depth of detail, is one that remains in the imagination long after the reading. It’s published by Corbel Stone Press which is run by Richard Skelton and Autumn Richardson. They publish music, books and pamphlets – specialising in handmade editions using environmentally friendly materials wherever possible. Their particular areas of interest are landscape, the poetics of place, ecology, folklore and animism.