Parallel Broughtons

Unreliable Geographies by Aeneas McHaar

No. 11: Broughton, Buckinghamshire, England

52º 3’ N, 41” W

Young men are deplorable. All those ridiculous fashion statements, the obsession with their own and other people’s bits, too much time spent playing games, fighting and swearing. The inhabitants of Broughton in Buckinghamshire know this.

They’re a conservative lot. Theirs was an affluent and traditional English village swallowed whole in 1967 by the expanding dragon which is Milton Keynes. They weren’t happy then at such modern enormities, and they’re not happy now having recently refused admission to a Google streetview camera on the grounds that it would allow burglars to case Broughton properties from the comfort of less historic homes elsewhere. But such disapproval of the outside world – and of young men in particular –  is nothing new. Some Broughtonians have been disapproving since at least the 15th century, and the proof is in St Lawrence’s parish church.

In 1849, it was felt that the 14th-century building’s interior could do with a lick of paint. Renovation work discovered extensive murals dating from the mid-1400s, one of which is an unconventional piéta: the sorrowing Virgin Mary supports the mangled body of Christ, whose right foot is missing.

Around this group – and more exuberantly if crudely depicted – strut 9 snazzily dressed youfs. Flamboyant hats, elaborate gowns, capes and particoloured bright red and blue hose were once de rigueur in the local hood, and, as today, no self-respecting geezer would be seen dead on the street without an enormous blade. Less familiar to modern eyes is the way they display various dismembered body parts, including ­ handfuls of bones, a fistful of hand, a head, a heart and – oh, Lord – a right foot. To add insult to injury, some of the swaggering yobs are doing something they shouldn’t to a sacred host. Meanwhile, 2 others have fallen out over a game of backgammon; one now clobbers his pal (who sports a crucifix or enormous item of bling) over the head with a sword.

Contrary to first appearances, this is not some piece of  Tarantino-esque pulp piety, but a serious-minded ‘Warning to Swearers’. Clerics perceived a major problem in medieval England: the use of foul language which swore by holy body parts and sacramental symbols. Even the Royal Family did it, King John famously declaring that ‘By God’s feet’ either he or the barons would rule the country.  Parish priests hated the practice, and the purpose of the Broughton mural was to instruct that such blasphemy literally adds to Christ’s wounds. Our 9 snappy dressers have literally used bad language to cut Jesus to pieces. Swearers are sinners and will pay for their potty-mouthed profanities come the reckoning.

Games of hazard – like backgammon, anything involving dice (including Subaru Imprezas) – are closely linked to swearing, and to the Roman executioners who gambled before the Cross, and so lead naturally to the everlasting bonfire. Chaucer’s Pardoner described them as ‘the very mother of lies, deceit, cursed perjuring, blaspheming of Christ, manslaughter, and waste of money and time’. All that, 650 years before the arrival of Grand Theft Auto.

Young men are deplorable, we know that. But I blame their parents. Zounds, it’s parents’ money which pays for all the particoloured hose and violence-desensitising software, and it’s by parents that most swearing is first taught or then tolerated. God’s teeth, it’s high time we meted out some tough love and taught the little bleeders a lesson.



                                               [Middle image above courtesy of commons Wikimedia.]