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Peacock Passage

History of the Shut

The passage was named after the inn which stood at the High Street end from 1780 until 1820.

Here stood the pub, here stands the passage, but where struts the peacock?

Who helped Amy create the story

Amy went on her travel to the north of Shrewsbury to perform the workshop which gave birth to this story. She visited Harlescott Women's Club on their home ground during one of their regular meetings.

Harlescott Women's Club originally descended from the suffragette movement and it has now been going for over 50 years.

The group consists of about 30 women of all ages. They are concerned with women's issues and supporting various charities.

the shadowy shut in question
The Story Of Peacock Passage

(So you want to know about Peacock Passage? Interesting bird the peacock. Did you know that in India its name means eternal light? There is a story that when George III had partly recovered from one of his bouts of insanity his ministers got him to read the King's Speech and he ended every sentence with the word peacock. The minister who drilled him said that peacock was an excellent word for ending a sentence, only King's should not let their subjects hear it, but should whisper it softly. The resulting pause at the end of each sentence had an excellent effect.)

One of the rich families in town used to keep peacocks, it may have been the Earl of Powys, he owned a lot of property in Shrewsbury at that time. The peacocks were kept safe in a garden, it wouldn't do for us commoners to see them.

Anyway, you might be able to hide a peacock from sight, but you can't keep them quiet. From March to August they issue their mating cry, a harsh screeching banshee of a sound and it used to echo down the passage.

At the end of the passage on the High Street was the Peacock Inn. No one is entirely sure which came first, the peacocks or the inn - the landlord was a bit like a peacock himself, always trying out the new fashions, strutting up and down the bar - the vainest man in the whole of the town. The peacocks might have been put there just as a joke and a bit of mickey taking.

The inn was one of the more up-market in town and was where the young gentlemen of the town used to meet and gather, and watch the women walking past.

under towering spires

It became a bit of a game. The young men would hang around the inn, strutting up and down, displaying their outfits, not unlike the peacocks themselves. As they saw a young woman walking past, particularly after an ale or two they'd give a great whooping call, imitating the sound of a peacock and give chase after her. Of course depending who was chasing, some young women would run faster than others!

Now Mary was in service at the grand house. She was 13 and as one of the youngest maids, tended to get all the jobs that no one else wanted to do and one of those chores was to look after the peacocks and the peahens, to feed and water them and to try and stop them devouring the flowers on their hunts for insects. Mary didn't think of it as a chore, though, it was one of her favourite jobs. She'd given each a name and loved to stand and watch them parade around the grounds. Unfortunately, she had plenty of other jobs to do and she was usually kept busy, running here and there all day and the young men sat in the inn were always appreciative as she hurried past on this errand or that.

One evening, Mary had been sent out on an errand and had been delayed so that she had to walk home in the dark. She was hurrying back towards the house, the kitchen and her supper. It was early in the year, not quite spring and there was a cold edge to the wind, now that the sun had gone down.

She made her way past the inn and into the passage, but as she passed the door, it swung open, letting the noise and light spill out onto the street. She heard the sound of drunken laughter behind her and then a sound that made her blood run cold, a raucous whooping, a little like the sound of the peacock and then footsteps.

She picked up her skirts and she began to run, as fast as she could, her heart thumping against her ribs. She could see a light before her and ran towards it, looking for an ally.

Suddenly the light grew brighter, almost blinding. Mary stopped dead in her tracks. Filling the end of the passage was a peacock, its tail held aloft, each eye in its tail radiating light. Mary heard the men stumble to a halt behind her.

The peacock slowly turned its head and its glittering black eyes held the men rigid. Suddenly it opened its beak and let forth a loud, harsh grating screech.

All at once the moon and the stars disappeared. There was a whirring sound and suddenly the air was full of fluttering feathers, sharp beaks, and clawing talons. Mary stared in disbelief as pigeons, sparrows, robins, starlings, blackbirds, owls and ravens, all the birds in town, descended into the passage attacking her pursuers, driving them back until they turned on their heels and fled back to the inn.

A whirr and a flutter and once again the sky was clear and the passage empty except for a young girl and an escaped peacock.

copyright Amy Douglas 2001

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