Sward {skin of the earth}

My new chapbook, Sward {skin of the earth}, published by Sampson Low Ltd, is available for purchase here

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Sward represents my walks up and down the central reservation of the A240, Kingston Road, from the Tolworth Roundabout to the border of Surrey, where the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames meets the Borough of Epsom and Ewell.

Inspired by Richard Jefferies, the prolific Victorian nature writer, author and walker, whose seminal work Nature Near London contains essays about his walks and observations of Tolworth and the surrounding areas.

Jefferies lived in Tolworth for several years, and last year Alison Fure and myself, as part of our Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum project took between 30-40 people on a walk in Richard Jefferies’ Footsteps, aided and abetted by our friend Ben Henderson who very kindly agreed to play the part of Jefferies on the day, and did so with great aplomb, providing us with a sprinkle of magic for our journey.

The walk, which took place on a hot and sunny May Bank Holiday in 2018, was recorded for a show on Radio 4,The Art of Now: Women Who Walk’,  celebrating women walking artists, and we were delighted to be involved in this.

This is my last walking and writing on Tolworth for now, although there may be a couple of essays lurking. My family has lived here for generations, since my grandparents came over from Wexford, Ireland during the second world war, and I have spent the last few years walking and writing and thinking and trying to engage other people in the treasures that exist nearby, before they are lost.

Alison and I documented our walks for Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum, and were glad to meet lots of lovely local folk and make new friends, and we continue to walk, write, celebrate and try to conserve the nature on our doorsteps.

This year I decided to focus on a small patch of nature, a long, thin one, in the middle of the A240 – a narrow but important nature corridor, with grasses, 20-odd mature trees and lots of wild flowers. I named the project Sward after Richard Jefferies’ use of the word in his writing.

Last year this slim but vital patch of nature was placed under threat of being concreted over from one end to the other, as the proposed Tolworth Area Plan wished to see this an extension of the Tolworth Greenway – green stripy concrete.

This central reservation, which helps pollinators and other fauna find their way across the busy road from one green space to the other (Kingston University Playing Fields and Tolworth Court Farm Fields respectively) must be kept and properly managed. It also does an important job of mitigating air pollution – and providing beauty – something we mustn’t overlook!

I was glad that many objections to this part of the plan were received and it has been dropped, but I worry it will happen anyway in increments, as Tfl will be extending the ‘greenway’ to Tolworth Station. Although at the moment this does not mean the loss of all the grassy and floriferous ‘sward’ I have been walking up and down for the last six months – and seeing all my life, it still could be in the near future…

 

Cambridge Road Estate Tree Poems

Below are two of the poems I wrote specially for and read on Alison Fure’s Walk with Jane Soundwalk with the Museum of Walking back in September.

There is another soundwalk taking place on Saturday 19th October from 10.30am. It is FREE but please book via the Walk with Jane website. See Alison’s blog for a guest post about the walk from Alison Whybrow.

Walk with Jane on the Cambridge Estate

Ecologist, bat expert and walking artist Alison Fure

Alison Fure is leading a Soundwalk as part of her Walks with Jane project, in conjunction with The Museum of Walking, through the Cambridge Estate in Kingston Upon Thames, this Saturday evening, 7th September, 2019.

From the Museum of Walking website event page:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Soundwalk will explore the wildlife and human ecology on this large estate with 230 trees.

We will listen to the web of life from replayed recordings of bird song, talking heads and listen to bats in real time (bat detection equipment provided).

This event is free but booking is essential – Call +44 (0) 7867507086

  • 19.00 start – meeting place will be revealed on booking 
  • Walk with Jane listening to the sounds of a local community
  • 20.00 listen to bats in real time (bat detection equipment provided)
  • 20.30 finish
Me and the Witness Tree, Museum of Futures, 2018. Pic by Madeleine Elliott

I am currently writing elegies / eulogies for the trees on the estate and will be reading these brand new, site specific poems on the night. Please join us…

Sward

Meaning “sod, turf” developed from the notion of the “skin” of the earth (compare Old Norse grassvörðr, Danish grønsvær “greensward”).

Walking the central reservation of the A240 Kingston Road, from Tolworth Roundabout to the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames boundary with the Borough of Epsom and Ewell.

The project is called ‘Sward’ after reading Richard Jefferies’ works, and seeing his frequent use of it. I am walking while considering Jefferies’ writing, his prolific walking of the local area. I am also doing this in the context of the present threat of development to the precious and unique green spaces nearby – and possibly to part of the central reservation itself.

 

Votes For Women! Annie Kenney and the 26 Armistice Project

Last year I was lucky enough to be part of a wonderful project by 26 and the Imperial War Museum: Armistice 100 Days. This ambitious project involved 100 writers each writing a centena – a specially created form of writing for the project – about someone who was alive during the First World War. Each of these centenas would then be published, one per day, for a 100 days leading up to the centenery of Armistice Day.

I chose Annie Kenney, the amazing working-class suffragette, and this is how I went about creating the centena:

Annie Kenney, Suffragette

Annie Kenney (1879-1953), in 1905, at  a Liberal Party rally at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, stood on a chair and unfurled a banner on which was printed the legend ‘Votes for Women’. She had gone along with Christabel Pankhurst to try to get the question of suffrage for women heard, and ended up being arrested and put in Strangeways prison for three days. This was the start of the militant movement and the suffragettes.

Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst

A mill worker from Oldham, Annie Kenney was the only working class woman to be part of the executive of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and was instrumental in helping women to get the vote. In fact, by 1912 she was running the WSPU while Christabel Pankhurst had escaped arrest by fleeing to Paris, and was visiting her there weekly, as well as directing the organisation in London.

I read her autobiography, Memories of a Militant, which was published in 1924, and is sadly long out of print. What shines out of the pages of her book, is the clear voice of someone who knew exactly what she was doing and was fiercely intelligent. Her writing is passionate and energetic, showing a determined positivity, as well as great comedic flair and lyrical wit.

My intention was to create a centena that would give Annie Kenney her voice, using snatches of her book to do this, as respectfully as possible.  I needed to give it a structure, and to choose moments which would highlight Annie’s character and reflect the important part she played in the struggle for women’s suffrage.

The Kenney Papers held at the University of East Anglia added to the biographical information I had from Annie herself, and are a fascinating insight into the Kenney family.  I re-watched the film Suffragette, and saw the wonderful and recent BBC programme Suffragettes with Lucy Worsley where, amongst others, Annie Kenney was brought to life on the screen.

Millicent Fawcett’s book, Women’s Suffrage: A Short History of a Great Movement was a very useful and illuminating read on the roots of the suffragist movement, and her views on the militant movement.

Suffragettes were “like eels” is at odds with the image of the starving mouse in the Cat and Mouse Act. Of course the suffragettes were slippery customers, doing everything possible to escape capture, and- eels are very strong. This quote along with the defiant bravery of Kenney regarding prison and hunger strikes is here in the face of her many arrests, hunger strikes and force-feedings.

The start of the First World War in 1914 came at the height of the suffragette campaign, and saw the WSPU declare a ceasefire on all of their activism and a determination to do everything possible to contribute to the war effort. In 1918 Annie Kenney saw victory, with women over thirty gaining the vote. She retired from activism, married and had a child. But she was once a militant.

Here is the centena:

Lisa Andrews, me and Faye Sharpe at the IWM

I had the wonderful surprise of being invited to the Imperial War Museum, along with other members of 26 (see films of Lisa Andrews’s and Faye Sharpe’s centenas) and was inspired to dress as a suffragette for the day. It was great fun to go out with my green and purple VOTES FOR WOMEN rosette, and to be filmed in the museum’s beautiful peace garden on a very nosiy, hot and sunny day. It took many ‘takes’ to get the filming just right and the film crew were very patient and diligent.

The film above is the result of probably eighteen or so takes – I hope I did Annie some justice.  I am very grateful to have had this wonderful experience and many thanks to the 26 and IWM team!

I realised I hadn’t blogged about this when I was alerted to an interview with Liz Robertson from the Imperial War Museum, about the project, and in celebration of 26’s Armistice 100 Days book of the project winning a prestigious Drum Award.

Liz very kindly said that one of her personal highlights was: “Lucy Furlong performing her centena in full suffragette costume in the gardens outside the museum and shouting Votes for women!so loudly that it made the sound recordist jump…”

I am very proud that some relatives of Annie Kenney saw my centena and were delighted with it. A letter from Annie to her sister was discovered in September last year, a very important historical document – a letter to her sister sent from Strangeways Prison in 1905, which is now on display in the museum in Oldham. There is a new statue of Annie, unveiled in December 14th last year outside Oldham Town Hall to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave some British women the right to vote.

Maxine Peake summed up Annie Kenney’s importance beautifully at the unveiling

There is so much more to say about Annie Kenney – I am glad to say that in my own research I discovered there is plenty of other research going on into her and her extraordinary family, as well as the suffragettes.

Thanks to Lisa for inviting me to be part of it! I am very glad to be a member of 26 and looking forward to the next project…

 

 

 

It is the Urban Tree Festival this weekend – celebrating London’s amazing Urban Forest. While we celebrate our wonderful leafy friends this weekend, I am also commemorating the significant number of trees that are being destroyed at an unprecedented rate at the moment in the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames. This is not something I want to write about but I made a commitment to focus on climate change in my writing (most of my writing is about that anyway) and so I begin here… we must value and protect our trees! #climateemergency

The Moon Over Tolworth

Harvest Moon by Samuel Palmer (1905-1881)

In the mundane modern

semi-detached suburbs

slippers, gravel, teatime tables

GCSE revision

the Moon guides me home

welcomes me to this season

with its golden corona

moonflower harvest sky

 

The Moon ~O~

 

I speed down the A3 toward

Tolworth

Tower

follow the curve of the road

there it is again on the right

above the cleared MAFF site

behind the bowling alley

 

The Moon ~O~

 

The Moon is over the fields

Giving it the full Samuel Palmer

Richard Jefferies is walking out

late to see the moonlit silver

gold of the harvest under this

crystal studded Prussian blue sky

almost cold and glowing

 

The Moon ~O~

 

I want to stop the car and see the fields

in this Autumn moonlight

but life like a kite pulls me on

a different journey

I hope darkness prevails in the fields

so I can see them like this next year