For many years peacocks have lived in Wimborne, near Deans Court and around the building of the old Queen Elizabeth School. Perhaps you have seen them wandering there or heard their strange cries. No one seems to know how they came there although some people say they were brought from India by adventurers in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In every part of the world, for as long as people can remember, peacocks are thought of as symbols, representing many things, but especially immortality, long life and love. Mostly they’re shy and retiring but also watchful and concerned. They sense when rain is due, and become restless and move in a strange spiraling dance,
Once, over a hundred years ago, at the time of the spring solstice people noticed how the peacocks gathered in the evening by the river at Eye Bridge. Their strange high calls came floating over the water meadows – and another sound, of laughter and voices, light and joyful, almost like the sounds of a stream flowing over rocks or eddying around reeds.
Edith and William were about fifteen, and lived at Pamphill, close to the river. They knew every inch of the fields and the river bank. When they heard these strange sounds they hurried down to the river to investigate.
They hid behind a ridge of black thorn. Six or more peacocks gathered in a clan, and some of the birds strutted and muttered while others were quiet. And then began a kind of song from the birds, low at first then rising up to the high call the females use when mating, but softly. And over and above those sounds came the human voices, young as well as older, and altogether Edith and William thought it sounded like a party.
And yet they saw no one except the peacocks beginning to swirl in a strange shivering dance. And then a wind blew up, and the high reeds began to wave and twist in the evening light. Edith and William felt cool air brush against their cheeks, almost they said as though someone was breathing on them. And then the rain began, a few large drops at first breaking up the surface of the river, and then faster, heavier, drowning out the voices and laughter, until all they could hear was the rain steadily pouring around them. By then they felt cold, and the light had fallen fast, and the peacocks were beginning to move back towards the town.
Edith and William told their story in the way stories are told, over and over, to school friends, teachers, cousins, people they met over the years, and it began to take on a life of its own, until one day in the early years of the twenty-first century, a group of Wimborne residents sat down to talk about the rivers running through their town, and think about what that might mean for the people living there.
And they thought about the strange ways of peacocks and the symbolism attached to them over the centuries, and they imagined those peacocks on that spring evening were carrying out a healing ritual, a way of calling the souls of people who’d drowned in the town’s rivers over the years, calling them back to the river bank to be part of the breeze blowing across the town, which you will feel on a spring evening at Pamphill.