February 25th – The Festival of the Bridge Returned

When the Gable Bridge was destroyed by record flooding in the winter of 1793, it took seven months for Parliament to approve planning permission for a new one, and a further five for them to select an ‘approved contractor’ to carry out the works. Dandy Burlyman and Sons were eventually awarded the contract (historians broadly agree that this was in no small part influenced by the fact that Burlyman was the father-in-law to an influential parliamentarian), which unfortunately had no provision for enforcing a maximum time limit on the construction. This meant that so long as they made some small progress on the bridge each day they would get paid their, exceedingly generous, ‘labour fee’.

After an additional two months of waiting for the bridge, the local people had had enough. The bridge had been one of the main links between either side of the Moway river, then a busy industrial hub. Residents of the south west of the City had to either travel for over half an hour out of their way, or spend a fortune on ferries, to reach the City centre. The brick-makers whose yards spilled out onto the riverside had to hire specialist barges to keep business flowing efficiently. Chophouses, restaurants and pubs on either side of the destroyed bridge that could once have had a few thousand potential punters walking by each day, now had hundred at most.

Things came to a head when Old Man Hawthorn, a well known storyteller and alcoholic walked out of his favourite pub, The Bell Doth Ring True, and caught a severe case of hypothermia after falling in the river, having ‘jus’ plain forgot’ the bridge was no longer there. Protests were held by the bridge, and the brothers Burlyman were threatened with violence, but unfortunately this had the effect of giving them a good excuse to put down tools. The locals were truly in a bind, that was until Jon Clockshore arrived on the scene.

The arrival of Clockshore, often referred to in the papers of the time as ‘Cocksure Clockshore,’ is a central part of today’s celebrations; last night, in The Bell Doth Ring True, a Moway bitter (a strong alcohol, similar to whisky) drinking competition was held, the winner of which also won the right to become this year’s Cocksure Clockshore. This custom comes from that night, in 1794, when Clockshore, was out carousing in the local pubs, and sought to liven up proceedings with a similar competition. After he had won the competition, he decided that some kind of wager or bet was in order. None of the pub’s inhabitants, few and tired at this point of the night, were really up for that kind of tomfoolery, so one of them called out, ‘Alright, big shot, I bet my lucky cap you can’t rebuild the old Gable Bridge by the end of tomorrow!’

Clockshore was up bright and early the next morning, apparently no worse off for his night of revelry. Before the morning rush he had somehow convinced twelve of the locals to help him in his quest. By noon, forty five strong young people were in the process of construction, directed by Clockshore. They had commandeered the supplies at the Burlyman and Sons warehouse and tied the Burlyman family to their bedposts before they had risen for breakfast. Clockshore claimed that he had been apprenticed to a bridge builder in their previous life in Catrosondia, but no documentation or other evidence has ever been found to confirm this, despite concerted searching by cultural historians well before the sinking of that island. There were also only three bridges on Catrosondia, so this seems unlikely.

Today’s Cocksure Clockshore will spend most of the day travelling around the City, inviting people to the party that will be held on the bridge this evening. The quality of a Clockshore is judged by the amount of people they can gather to the party, so the presumably very hungover volunteer is usually eager to perform. The tradition and lure of the party is usually a good enough pull to gather many folks to the New Gable Bridge today, so today’s Clockshore will not have to possess the legendary seductive powers that their predecessor used to entice the locals into working on the bridge. When the building work was done, well before the end of the day, Clockshore donned his new lucky hat and cracked open a cask of champagne, one of several he had somehow contrived to have ready earlier in the day. The party that ensued was legendary, with many people having to be scooped out of the river.

Tonight’s party will commence in a similar fashion, the Clockshore spraying a bottle of champagne over the thronging crowd from a perch besides a carving of the original Jon Clockshore that he somehow had time to carve and place in the bridge stonework before the day was out. Candles and braziers cover the bridge, which has a canvas canopy placed over it to keep away rain for the night. Musicians play from specially placed plinths, as they did that first night, and the revelry continues long into the night. Stories about the original festival are passed about as if they happened only yesterday.

Jon Clockshore was never seen again after that night; according to some stories, towards the end of the party he stripped naked and dived into the river. Other say he slipped away quietly into a backstreet with a chosen lover. However, cultural historians have tracked the movements of this cult figure in the following months. According to Jacynth Mitch of the Buentoilliçan Retrospective, there is significant evidence that proves Jon Clockshore was usually known as Joan Sandtimer, a reclusive clock smith from the east of the City who eventually became one of the first Buentoillitant transgender activists in 1823.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Reading of the Castgale Demands

  • The Festival of the Luminous Man