Tag Archives: Marshall’s Arm

Maggoty Johnson

Maggoty Johnson is a real person, who was the last professional jester in Britain. He was also a playwright and actor, under the stage name Lord Flame. He knew the family who lived at Gawsworth Hall, Cheshire, and asked to be buried in nearby woods, Maggoty Woods, when he died. His last wishes were followed and his grave can be seen. There is a legend that, if you go there on Hallowe’en and call his name 13 times, he will rise up from his grave and dance for you.
I wrote this poem about him, and it subsequently won a Highly Commended in the Cheshire Prize for Children’s Literature, and a nice cheque. At the awards evening, it was read out by Tony Robinson (who gives very good hugs).
I will be performing this poem the day after Hallowe’en at Marshall’s Arm on 1st November 2014, at a family event which runs from 6-8pm. I will also be telling stories and reading other spooky poems. There will be refreshments and a section of the woods will be decorated. Children may wear their Hallowe’en costumes and bring lanterns. (There will be prizes for the best ones)Torches will also be needed.

Maggoty Johnson

In Maggoty Woods it’s dark and grim.
The worms crawl out and the worms crawl in.
Maggoty’s buried six feet deep.
He rests his eyes but he’s not asleep.

Maggoty Johnson loved to dance.
with his cap and bells, he used to prance
and caper up and down on stage.
Now he’s at the skeleton age.

In Maggoty Woods there’s no church near.
The ground’s unholy, it’s dark and drear.
Maggoty chose it specially
as the sort of place he’d like to be.

Maggoty Johnson was called Lord Flame.
Now he goes by a different name.
He haunts these woods and he haunts them well.
Sooner or later you’ll be under his spell.

In Maggoty Woods it’s dark and grim.
The worms crawl out and the worms crawl in.
Maggoty’s buried six feet deep.
He rests his eyes but he’s not asleep.

Angela Topping

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Marshall’s Arm Poetry Walk – the texts

Marshall's Arm 012

I’ve had a request to share the texts I chose for my poetry walk last weekend, through Marshall’s Arm Nature Reserve in my village. So here they are. As well as those listed in full, I also read John Clare poems taken from The Wood is Sweet (John Clare Society edited by David Powell): The Woodland Style, extract from Summer Images, Meet Me in the Green Glen, Hedge Sparrow.

Tall Nettles

TALL nettles cover up, as they have done
These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough
Long worn out, and the roller made of stone:
Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.

This corner of the farmyard I like most:
As well as any bloom upon a flower
I like the dust on the nettles, never lost
Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.

Edward Thomas




Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost

 Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins


GLORY be to God for dappled things—

  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;


    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:


                  Praise him.

From Hamlet

There is a willow grows aslant a brook

That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.

Duke’s Clough

Leaving the copse, walking back to bikes,

feet snag on ruts. Glancing back

from here, it’s nothing much,

just trees, battered by the motorway.

‘Come on’, says dad, it’s time to go.’

back to the fusty house for Sunday tea.

Brambles snatch our slacks, fruitless hooks

fragmenting the track as we climb.

Armfuls of bluebells powder the air,

cool and woody, intoxicating as whispered words.

Thrushes threaten their neighbours in syllabics.

Crass cars tune up through engines’ scales.

As the bike’s pedals respond to weight and time

the clough is lost to us, a closed fist, a shut eye.

Angela Topping


Passer, deliciae meae puellae – Catullus


When wind and earth joined together

to make the sparrow, they set

its toy heart flickering,

its small feet clicking. The breast

was made from speckled foam,

the wings painted with colours

left over from other creations:

burnt sienna, cafe latte, sludge.

Although the bird’s beauty

was doubtful, it could weave in

and out of hedges, eaves and thatch.

The voice was nothing special:

a chirrup like a giggle fastened

in its throat like a comedy brooch.

Wind and earth baptised their child.

The first fairy godmother named it passer,

the second gave it joy, the third

the greatest gift of all: to be convivial.

The sparrow was a great success,

beloved of a poet’s paramour, able to

hop into human habitations unafraid.

Angela Topping

Bee! I’m expecting you!
Was saying Yesterday
To Somebody you know
That you were due —

The Frogs got Home last Week —
Are settled, and at work —
Birds, mostly back —
The Clover warm and thick —

You’ll get my Letter by
The seventeenth; Reply
Or better, be with me —
Yours, Fly.

Emily Dickinson





Incorrigible, brash,
They brightened the cinder path of my childhood.
Unsubtle, the opposite of primroses,
But, unlike primroses, capable
Of growing anywhere, railway track, pierhead,
Like our extrovert friends who never
Make us fall in love, yet fill
The primroseless roseless gaps.

~ Louis MacNeice (1907-1963), Irish poet


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Poetry Walk and Picnic

On Saturday 6th of July, I will be providing some poetry and a workshop at a free family event in our local woods, Marshall’s Arm. Today I was taken on a rekkie walk to look at the terrain. There is a wonderful variety of plants and trees, birdsong and a stream, lots of interesting fungi and wildlife. We met two different parties of primary school children, and some secondary school pupils who use it was a short cut home. It was good to see it so busy. If anyone wants to come on Saturday, it starts at 12 noon at Stones Manor Lane entrance and you bring your own picnic.

I now have the lovely task of finding some poems to inspire the group at various stopping off points, as well as some workshop ideas when they arrive at the picnic site, which is a beautiful oak tree standing in a clearing, which has been mowed today into a fary ring. John Clare, Edward Thomas, Robert Frost and many other poets will be on my list for this event. There is also a plan to display some of the poems written on the day in a glass covered notice board. Once through the woods, there is an oxbow lake with many birds, including a regular heron. There’s also frequent sightings of owls, buzzards, wagtails, ducks of several kinds and many others. Image

I was pleased to be invited to bring poetry to the community in this way. For me it is all about giving something back to the environment and the community, and spreading my love of poetry as wide as possible.


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