Forlorn Hope

Forlorn Hope from ‘A Coat Worth Wearing’ by Neil McSweeney

A couple of years ago we went on holiday with friends to Wells-Next-The-Sea on the north-Norfolk coast. It’s a beautiful spot although when we were there I think the fields around our holiday house had just been doused in chicken shit and the stench was, at times, tear-jerking.

We spent one idyllic day pottering with the children along the shore on Holkham beach. The tide was out and the fine, yellow sand rippled and rose up in perfect dunes. Away from the shore, a long row of colourful beach huts in the Edwardian style stood out from the fringe of pine trees.

Eventually, the sun lowered and the beach narrowed, so we left, the path threading between the huts. As we passed through, I noticed one was for sale. As soon as I regained a signal I had a quick search out of interest and was a little surprised to find an asking price north of sixty grand. The listing advised that only the hut itself was for sale – the land remaining the property of the Eighth Earl of Leicester, Thomas Coke.

It is commonplace when standing in an English beauty spot to discover that it belongs to the descendant of some ancient noble or other. However, stuck as we are in the twenty-first century, it still occasionally has the power to shock. It doesn’t take much digging at all to reveal the extent of hereditary privilege in modern Britain. And to remark upon it, perhaps to assert that it is unjust, is as original and provocative as to notice the weather.

The Coke family were set on the path of greatness by Sir Edward of that name – a committed and talented Norfolk lawyer who ascended to the post of Lord Chief Justice during the reign of Elizabeth I. Their wealth is bound up with that of the nation as a whole. It has been preserved through uprisings, wars and revolutions at home and abroad. It is wealth that, while unequally shared within, is yet more unequally shared without the kingdom.

forlorn-hopeThe attack of the Chartists on the Westgate Hotel, Newport.

Forlorn Hope

How did we get here?
From the Newport Rising
To the Mutineers of Barrackpore,
Them men did fall –
Chopped to pieces with
The Jewelled Sword
Then stacked on ships in bloody bits
One more cargo with a lading chit
For the city men, the company board,
The Queen of Hearts and the House of Lords

Pirate or privateer?
When the Prize Court sits at them pearly gates
It will reckon clear all this plundered gear
Strip all warrant of the mortal sphere
Then stacked on ships in bloody bits
One more cargo with a lading chit
Will be the city men, the company board,
The Queen of Hearts and the House of Lords

Or shame for the Forlorn Hope
Shame for the Forlorn Hope

How did we get here?
To the quiet seats in a circle box while young players
Here now come to cheer
Test their talents while we sit and sneer
But never stacked on ships in bloody bits
Never hell-bound cargo with a lading chit
Were those city men,
The company board,
The Queen of Hearts or the House of Lords

So shame for the Forlorn Hope
Shame for the Forlorn Hope

Forlorn Hope (n)

i) A band of soldiers or other combatants chosen to take the leading part in a military operation, such as an assault on a defended position, where the risk of casualties is high.
ii) A persistent or desperate hope that is unlikely to be fulfilled.

felice_beato_british_born_italy_-_two_sepoys_of_the_31st_native_infantry_who_were_hanged_at_lucknow_1857_-_google_art_project2Photograph by Felice Beato of the execution of Sepoy mutineers after the rebellion of 1857

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