Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Upware Republic

This year also marks the centenary of the book that revealed the singular history of The Upware Republic. The principal source for the story of this undergraduate jeu d’esprit is Cambridge Revisited by Arthur B. Gray (1921), not to be confused with the Arthur A. Gray who, as ‘Ingulphus’, wrote a volume of antiquarian ghost stories, Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Grammarye (1919).

Arthur Beales Gray’s book is a collection of pleasant vignettes about Cambridge backwaters. He tells us it was his aim ‘to wander amidst the bye-ways of local history . . . the mass of curious and interesting lore that has gathered about Cambridge to an unusual degree’. And he clearly takes a particular delight in recounting how, in November, 1851, a group of Cambridge University undergraduates proclaimed an independent republic at an old thatched waterside inn, near the Fenland village of Upware, which had the picturesque name of “Five Miles from Anywhere - No Hurry”. 

Officials were appointed for the Republic, a minute book opened, and inscriptions made upon the walls and windows of the pub. Among those that Gray records are: two Consuls, a President, State Chaplain, Minister of Education, Professor, Interpreter, Champion, Tapster, Treasurer, Secretary, Vice-Consul, and, more curiously in a Republic, a Count.

This robust proclamation of independence was in picturesque defiance of the varsity authorities. The advantage of the pub was that it was sufficiently remote from the city to evade the watchful eye of their moral guardians while the students indulged in drinking, riot and revelry, although it was also the base for more hearty pursuits such as rowing, boating and skating.

The members of the Republic included several who were to become eminent in various spheres in later life, including a Master of the Rolls, a Solicitor-General, two co-authors of an authoritative work on the natural history of Central America, a President of the mountaineering society The Alpine Club, the man who sold Lord’s cricket ground to the MCC, and many others.

But perhaps the most intriguing name in the Republic’s records is that of Samuel Butler, the author of the imaginary-world satire Erewhon, who was at Cambridge from 1854-8. Could the recollection of this fantastical invented state in his student days have seeded the idea of an upside-down, contrary world found in Butler’s book?

The student involvement in the Republic seems to have waned after 5 or 6 years, but in the 1860s and later it became instead a Kingdom under the sway of the eccentric poet Richard Ramsay Fielder MA, of Jesus College, Cambridge, who in “red waistcoat and corduroy breeches”, would swig from an earthenware jug of enormous capacity, which he called “His Majesty’s pint”. 

In this regal capacity, Fielder was the author of Shakespeare! Lines written for the Tercentenary Anniversary Festival in commemoration of his birth, ... at Stratford-on-Avon By “His Majesty of Upware.” R. R. F. (Ely, 1871), and of several other commemorative pamphlets for other figures, also issued from Ely.

Arthur B Gray presented the Upware Republic Society Visitors' Book 1851-1856 to Cambridge University Library in 1921, presumably following the publication of his own book. The library describes the book as follows: ‘Visitors' book, in various hands, listing members of Cambridge University who visited Upware, 6 November 1851 - 14 May 1856, with notes and remarks, 46 folios. Inside the front cover is the bookplate of Arthur B. Gray’.

Alas, the original pub seems to have long vanished, although there is a modern replacement of the same name, but The Upware Republic was relaunched by a group of reprobates as an unusual literary society on its 150th anniversary, in November 2001, and this conducted research, revived interest in the tradition, championed Butler, and issued several newsletters.

It also issued its own stamp, designed by distinguished fantasy and SF artist C.P. Langeveld. The one farthing sepia features a portrait of Samuel Butler, and was issued in an edition of 640 copies on 30 August 2003 for the purpose of validating the Republic’s postal communications to and between its citizens (it is now unavailable). This was the start of the Strange Stamps series.

It is thought that The Upware Republic may be one of the first, possibly indeed the very first, in the colourful history of what are now known as ‘micro-nations’, self-proclaimed and often eccentric enclaves within or without the more conventional nations, or possibly on other planes of existence altogether.

(Mark Valentine)


Monday, June 28, 2021

Subscribing to this Blog by Email Updated

Okay, since Google's Feedburner is closing down their email subscription function for blogs, I have migrated this blog's subscriber list to "".  If it worked right, subscribers should get this post as usual, but from a different source.  I do know that some supposedly redundant email addresses were purged during the move, so if you were on the list, and want to still be on the list but didn't get this, then resubscribe via the updated "get new posts by email" button at the top right of this blog.  

Apologies for any inconveniences. 

On another front, I have noticed over the last few months that the "Blogs of Interest" roll is not functioning properly. When a blog on this list has been updated, the new post is supposed to be reflected in the blog roll.  But that is not always happening, and I don't know why, nor how to fix it.  For example, my Lesser-Known Writers blog has the newest entry on William L. Chester, click here, but the blog roll shows a previous entry from May 9th as a static one.  I'll be grateful for any suggestions about how to fix this!

Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Lamp: A Christmas Ghost Story Contest

The Lamp magazine, which describes itself as a "lay-edited journal of Catholic letters," is having a Christmas Ghost Story Contest in the spirit of Charles Dickens and M.R. James.  Submissions due by October 31st, 2021. The winner will receive $1000; two runners up will receive $300 each.  Details available here

Thursday, June 24, 2021


Astarology is a new chapbook from Salò Press of Norwich. The poetry (mostly), prose and found texts in this volume explore folklore, mythology and magic, including the magic of the everyday.

Includes: ‘Rain Instruments’, ‘Moss Queen’, ‘Prophecies’, ‘Thirteen Sisters of Madame Sosostris’, ‘The Elephants of Claudius’, ‘White Hound’, ‘The Silver Hollow Boys’ and others.  

‘Mark Valentine finds poetry in the reports sent in by Edwardian rainfall observers, the advertisements of 1940s fortune tellers, the prophecies of apocalypse, and the rumours of lost hill figures, but also in tending a fire, stirring a teacup or following the course of a brook.’

Also newly announced from the press, Hothouse by Alice Hill-Woods, Word Problems by Matthew Mahaney and scavengers by Molly Ellen Pearson.  

(Mark Valentine)

Adam & Eve & Pinch Me

This year marks the centenary of A E Coppard’s Adam & Eve & Pinch Me, his first book, published when he was 43. As I note in my essay on this author in A Wild Tumultory Library, ‘Many major publishers turned this first collection down, but in 1921 the book was accepted as the first title for the fledgling Golden Cockerel Press at Waltham Saint Lawrence, Berkshire. This somewhat idealistic set-up was the brainchild of Harold Midgley Taylor . . .  In accordance with Taylor’s ideals, the author even took a part in the making of the book, setting a line of type, and doing some of the printing, folding, pasting, binding and labelling of some of the copies.’

The edition was of 500 copies and in theory there were 160 copies in white buckram and 340 copies in orange, or salmon, boards (the colour varies slightly). However, in practice, Coppard recalled that Taylor kept the sheets unbound and simply filled orders as they were called for, so there were probably fewer of either state. Some unbound sheets were later sold to Cape, who issued them under their own imprint. It was also included in Cape’s pocket-book Traveller’s Library and published as a Penguin paperback.

Coppard grew up in poverty and hardship, had started work at age 12 and had done a range of jobs on his way to becoming an author. He was also a professional athlete, competing for bets, and a staunch supporter of working-class activities, from sport to adult education to political campaigning to pub games such as darts and skittles. He was acerbic about the prices asked for copies of his rarer books in the sale-rooms, noting: ‘It is evident that my signature, inscription, information or opinion, has been a profit to anyone except myself…’

E F Bleiler, in his Guide to Supernatural Fiction (1983), writes: ‘This first volume shows Coppard at his best, with original themes, remarkable renderings of the speech and thought of rural England, and a bizarre humor.’ He notices in particular the title piece, ‘A dream-like story of a strange state of consciousness’; ‘Piffingcap’, in which ‘the lead shaving-mug has strange properties and is surely associated with evil’; ‘The King of the World’, about a fleeing Assyrian soldier who enters the temple of a god who petrifies his worshippers; and ‘Marching to Zion’, which he finds ‘strangely disturbing’. He thought that Coppard was ‘undeservedly forgotten’.

This and subsequent volumes soon established Coppard as a highly-regarded master of the short story form, praised by Walter de la Mare, Elizabeth Bowen, L.P. Hartley, Rebecca West and many others. Coppard was adamant that the short story is not a cut-down version of the novel but an art in itself, in fact an older one, with its origins in the folk tale, the fairy story, the fireside yarn, the pub anecdote. His own stories often have the timeless, mythic, uncanny qualities of these inspirations.

(Mark Valentine)

Image: The Davidson College Archives.