Friday, February 28, 2020

An Object as a Writing Prompt: A Seventeenth Century Birthing Chair at Newark Civil War Centre

I live in a town was besieged three times during the English Civil War (1642-1651) before surrendering to the parliamentary army. The remains of a twelfth-century castle and the remains of some of the town's defensive fortifications are visible daily reminders of a grim past. That is partly why the National Civil War Museum is situated in the town.
Photograph courtesy of Newark Civil War Centre

I was recently in the Tudor hall at the museum for a creative writing workshop run by some staff from Leicester University. We had gathered to view a 17th Century birthing chair that was the prompt chosen to inspire our writing.  Birthing chairs, sometimes aptly called groaning chairs, have been made throughout history, in varying shapes and sizes. The example in the museum is German. The brocade upholstery suggests that it belonged to a wealthy family.



Here's a piece of flash fiction that I wrote during the evening  -

It was dark and dank in the cellar. The mother-to-be fearfully approached the birthing chair. The birth would be painful and she or the child, or both of them, might not survive the ordeal. She was powerless. She had been powerless to prevent a child from growing in her belly and was unwilling to bring a child into these terrible times. The environment within the town was not conducive to supporting life. Cannon had bombarded the walls and the buildings in the market square for what seemed an eternity. Food supplies were running low because nobody could leave or enter through the town gates.

 But she drew comfort from the presence of her supporters - two sisters, and the hand woman  - to help her through the process of pushing the child out. She was lucky - many girls had lost their siblings to malnutrition, disease or collapsing buildings. She heaved herself into the birthing chair, grasped the handles, trying to relax as the hands of her sisters grasp her shoulders.  Sudden pain engulfed her. A rat ran across the floor of the cellar and the walls shook.

If you enjoyed learning a little about Newark-on-Trent you can find out more by reading my article on the WanderWisdom website

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