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.
Outside Richard Jefferies’ Home – pic by Paul Atkinson
The Plaque at RJ’s house in Ewell Road, Tolworth
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.
Richard Jefferies shares a joke with Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum 😉 Pic by Paul Atkinson
Richard Jefferies takes a walk down Tolworth Broadway
Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor, site of The Barn
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…
I have just pinned Hogsmill Tiddlers to another map, showing the location of the poem, on the Places of Poetry web site. This is an AHRC and Arts Council funded project which “aims to use creative writing to prompt reflection on national and cultural identities in England and Wales, celebrating the diversity, heritage
and personalities of place.”
We still cross the bridge nearly every day on our walks ‘Over the Fields’. Five generations of Furlongs and counting…
“Jefferies left school at fifteen and at first continued his habits of solitary wanderings about the local countryside. He dressed carelessly and allowed his hair to grow down to his collar. This, with his “bent form and long, rapid stride made him an object of wonder in the town of Swindon. But he was perfectly unconscious of this, or indifferent to it.”
“Later, after becoming ill in the 1867-1868 “My legs are as thin as a grasshopper’s”, he wrote to his aunt. Illness also prompted some reconsideration of his own character: he was going to be “not swell but stylish” in future, since people set so much store by appearance.”
“Open your eyes and see those things which are around us at this hour. If any imagine they shall find thoughts in many books, certainly they will be disappointed. Thought dwells by the stream and sea, by the hill and in the woodland, in the sunlight and free wind, where the wild dove haunts.” Richard Jefferies in Looker
“In the mind all things are written in pictures.” Richard Jefferies in Looker
“Though we have been so many thousands of years upon the earth, we do not seem to have done any more as yet than walk along beaten footpaths.” Richard Jefferies
At Tolworth Station, Under the railway bridge
“It is but a strip of sward, but it is as wild as if in the midst of a forest. A pleasure to everyone- therefore destroy it.” Richard Jefferies in Looker
(As it was in Jefferies day, so it is now.Surveyors and roadmen make sure that the delightful green strips that once surrounded many sign-posts at lonely lane ends are well covered with disfiguring gravel or lime heaps.)
Samuel J Looker writing in 1946 – what would they think now?
EWELL ROAD FOOTPRINT
Sun glaring off the pavement, off the bitumen
smell of dust and petrol- the suburbs in the summer
the smell of the spiky checquered upholstery
on the 281 bus, stuck in the traffic backed-up
along the Ewell Road.
Police Station, Red Lion pub
the last wooden bus shelter in London, removed – no longer the haunt
of crafty school-age smokers on the way home from school.
Bryants men’s outfitters opposite the church,
the church on hot days of May, a rosary month
where we would pray the beads at lunchtime
sometimes hide in the confessional.
Father Kirby with his Dot Cotton fag on
Leading the school mascot and pet goat, Olly.
fainting at the front of the church
holding a flag dressed in Guide uniform
that would be the incense.
My Uncle Bern fixing cars in the Blue Star garage
when Tesco was a twinkle in the cash register.
Buying my first single in Woolworths,
watching my Gran with the Greenshield stamps in the co-op,
ice cream floats and squeezy tomatoes in the Wimpy,
Verity’s with its never-changing ladies fashions.
Slippery subway steps under the Broadway.
Bells camping shop for my first sleeping bag,
Lorimers, and Superfish- still the same.
Standing outside Fine Fare on blustery days
on one of the Brutalist fountains,
holding my umbrella, hoping for Mary Poppins action,
spending pocket money in the supermarket on Lucozade and Dairy Milk
Collecting my copy of Jinty from Mouldy’s, opposite Raeburn,
Walking is also known to relieve depression and stress, freeing the mind to explore imaginary worlds. A 2012 study found that participants with clinical depression who took a walk in nature experienced improved memory, while an earlier 2008 study found that healthy adults experienced a mental boost after walking for an hour in the park.
Said Charles Dickens: “The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy.”
The White Cycle Bridge over the confluence of the Hogsmill and The Bonesgate Stream and a peek at Tolworth Court Farm Fields
“The meadow glows with buttercups in spring, the hedges are green, the woods lovely; but these are not to be enjoyed in their full significance unless you have traversed the same places when bare, and have watched the slow fulfilment of the flowers.” Richard Jefferies in Looker
RAIN-SUNKEN roof, grown green and thin
For sparrows’ nests and starlings’ nests;
Dishevelled eaves; unwieldy doors,
Cracked rusty pump, and oaken floors,
And idly-pencilled names and jests
Upon the posts within.
The light pales at the spider’s lust,
The wind tangs through the shattered pane:
An empty hop-poke spreads across
The gaping frame to mend the loss
And keeps out sun as well as rain,
Mildewed with clammy dust.
The smell of apples stored in hay
And homely cattle-cake is there.
Use and disuse have come to terms,
The walls are hollowed out by worms,
But men’s feet keep the mid-floor bare
And free from worse decay.
All merry noise of hens astir
Or sparrows squabbling on the roof
Comes to the barn’s broad open door;
You hear upon the stable floor
Old hungry Dapple strike his hoof,
And the blue fan-tail’s whirr.
The barn is old, and very old,
But not a place of spectral fear.
Cobwebs and dust and speckling sun
Come to old buildings every one.
Long since they made their dwelling here,
And here you may behold
Nothing but simple wane and change;
Your tread will wake no ghost, your voice
Will fall on silence undeterred.
No phantom wailing will be heard,
Only the farm’s blithe cheerful noise;
The barn is old, not strange.
“The forest is gone; but the spirit of nature stays,
Blossom to Fruit: A writing workshop to explore our relationship with fruit and trees, their histories and our memories…
Write about your favourite pear tree, your grandma’s apple pie, be inspired by our local history of orchards and fruit-growing; is there a particular variety of apple you would like to pay homage to? We will explore all these possibilities and more at the start of Kingston Environment Centre’s Apple Day.
£10 per place- this will be a donation towards raising funds for a leaflet about the Borough’s Apple Story. More about Alison’s fundraising here. This is an important part of our local heritage and I am hoping we can help Alison achieve her aim by having fun writing about our relationships with fruit and trees!
12 places available- please book in advance to secure your place!
Lucy 07859997617 or Alison 07867507086
Time: 10.30-12 midday
Please come! This will be the start of a wonderful day of apple and orchard related talks and activities.
I am delighted to report that Over the Fields, my new poetry map, was featured in the February edition of The Countryman magazine, as part of the Editor’s Diary: “…a fascinating ‘poetry map’, Over the Fields, containing evocative poems and prose fragments, which can also be read in situ, allowing people to read and respond to the poems…”
Alongside the feature they have published a poem from the map, Hogsmill Tiddlers.
Last Sunday me, my son and my dad went for our first proper walk Over the Fields this year. We have all been poorly and the weather has been rubbish but I was desperate to get out and have a walk over there in time for Imbolc/ Candlemas. This is the traditional time of year for sighting the first snowdrops, and maybe to see buds and Blackthorn blossom. With such a mild Winter there was plenty of new green shoots to see, trees in full blossomy bloom, new nettles and dock leaves, hawthorn leaves unfurling… I wrote about the walk for local ecologist Alison Fure’s excellent blog, and you can read what I wrote here.
On Monday afternoon I finally gave up battling with the lurgy I’ve had on and off since mid-December, and went to bed. I’ve been there ever since, apart from a trip to the doctor on Friday. Eye infection, throat infection, chest virus, acute exacerbation of asthma…I’ve been fighting it for ages but finally it got the better of me. This has resulted in a week of cancelled teaching. Not great when you are a self-employed single parent… but…mustn’t grumble eh… my son is being looked after by my amazing dad, and I am safe and warm, if feeling particularly grim.
The silver lining is that being stuck in bed means I have watched a few films. Most affecting of these is This Changes Everything, narrated by Naomi Klein and based on her book of the same name. I need to watch it again and I would recommend that you need to watch it too. So should everyone. It is tough to watch in places but breathtakingly filmed and well put together. A mixture of environmental disaster and tragedy, and the heartening, brave protests of people on the front line, whose land and lives are being profoundly affected by the atrocities of fossil fuel companies and big business. The message is clear and simple. Capitalism vs the Climate- if we don’t fight it we are doomed. Now I need to read the book.
I also watched all of the Hobbit film trilogy- and been for the most part pleasantly surprised; I saw and enjoyed the first one at the flicks, missed the second and third, and was put off watching them by a couple of friends who said the story was poorly handled, there was far too much emphasis on spiders, and that the book had been done a total disservice by the drawing out of the plot to nearly 9 hours of film…I loved the LOTR films but was, like many people, rather surprised and slightly cynical at the announcement that the Hobbit would be made as a three-part series of prequels.
So…slightly late to the party…I watched the final two parts this week. Yes, the story is drawn out but I think it’s ok, if a bit baggy . I find the use of CGI action scenes which look like computer games (and *are* constructed for the computer games market- I know, the biggest part of the film business these days) distracting and annoying- formulaic and jammed into the action of the films- but, otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies- and I would happily watch them again.
After watching This Changes Everything, The Hobbit trilogy of films became a metaphor for the rampaging greed of capitalism destroying nature, Power Over instead of Power With.
I am also re-reading Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking- a fascinating, wonderful read and, as this year I am especially committed to developing my walking/writing/making practice, a necessary one too. Once again, in light of what Klein says at the start of This Changes Everything, about the idea promulgated during the Enlightenment, of Nature as something to be conquered and used for ‘our’ benefit- the history of walking ties in, in some ways, with this view of what Nature is and is not…thought-provoking stuff and I will be returning to it again and again no doubt.
I am currently writing a talk about the new Over the Fields poetry map called ‘Mapping Memories’, for the Free University of Seething’s lecture series. My talk takes place next Tuesday, 19th January at the Museum of Futures,Brighton Road, Surbiton (Facebook event here). More about the delightful world of Seething in another post soon….
I’ve spoken about the map several times in the past but not since it was published. I will be talking about why I decided to write about the space my family calls ‘Over the Fields’, and why this had to be a poetry map and not a book. I will also discuss some of the history of the place, read some poems and talk about what I hope to do with it next. Hope to see you there!