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.

 

Hogsmill Tiddlers

Hogsmill Tiddler

At the wooden bridge, beside

the washing-willow,

under frayed dare-devil

rope-swing, we small-fry gather;

splash-paddle in the sun-filled

slipstream, our expectant

jam jars perched ready on banks

for contents of day-glo

Hogsmill Tween

nets on bamboo poles,

skim-dunked, dipped into laughing

sparkle, we seek out elusive

piscine lurkers, shoal-darters,

minnow-school pretty-carpers,

spike-backed silver-bellied

sticklebacks, shimmer and shift

in ever-changing shallow-shadows.

We graft all afternoon, rewarded

by encounters with small wildness,

iridescent scale inspection

Kids at the third bridge, 6 Acre Meadow

through jars held up to the light.

A busy day meeting our fishy friends,

our neighbours of the water;

we send them back before barefoot-flapping,

wet and toasted, up the hill home.

 

Over the Fields poetry map

Hogsmill Tiddlers was originally published as one of the poems on my now sold-out Over the Fields map, back in September 2015. It has since been published in The Countryman magazine and is also used in teaching materials for the Open University’s MA in Creative Writing.

 

 

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

laughing sparke

and personalities of place.”

We still cross the bridge nearly every day on our walks ‘Over the Fields’. Five generations of Furlongs and counting…

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

Ancient Droves and the Tolworth Area Plan

A few days before our walk, another walk with my Dad and son, in the heatwave…
“The poetry of earth is never dead:

When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,

And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run

From hedge to hedge, about the new-mown mead;

That is the Grasshopper’s.”

On the Grasshopper and Cricket, John Keats

In the midst of the summer heatwave and haze, we had another Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum walk in one of the most ancient and beautiful places at the heart of Tolworth.

Walking the droves

Well, we thought it would be blazing hot but in the end it was raincoats and brollies weather. A welcome respite from the sultry shimmer of the weeks preceding, and not so wet that we couldn’t wander gently, and stop for a poem or two. Proper British Summer Time drizzle. So, where is this special place in the heart of suburban Tolworth?

It is part of an ancient drove road, in the middle of Tolworth Court Farm Fields, hidden behind hedgerow on the A240. A beautiful wild, nature reserve, which until the 1980s had been farmed for a 1000 years at least, and is mentioned in the Domesday book.

The Ancient Drove on Tolworth Court Farm Fields

Drove roads were the network of roads used over the centuries to move live stock up and down and across the countryside, all over the UK. There are traces of them everywhere, and where the drove has disappeared in its original rural form, it may be identified by names, including ‘Lane’, ‘Drift’, ‘Ox’, ‘Way’ and many other lexical giveaways.

There are certainly lots of them in this area. On my Over the Fields poetry map is ‘Sheephouse Way’ – a road characterised for its large number of blocks of flats these days, but which is shown with the same name on maps which are 500 years old of the local area, and which I was lucky to see at the St John the Baptist Old Malden Heritage Day, when I was doing my research at the time.

Drove roads avoided toll roads, and were a direct and safe route through the countryside for the drovers who could be taking large flocks of sheep, herds of cattle, or even large numbers of geese or turkeys to market. The largest and most famous of these markets  being Smithfields Market in London.

Alison talking about drove roads

They were wide, as much as 20 metres, and usually hedged on both sides, containing the valuable stock, and also helping to keep the animals safe and stopping them from getting infected by other possibly diseased animals living in farms en route.

Elizabeth reading a poem in the heart of the ancient drove on Tolworth Court Farm Fields.
Blackberrying

How sweet I roamed from field to field

And tasted all the summer’s pride.

William Blake

Lots have been paved over, but there is a part of ancient drove in the fields in Tolworth which is grass underfoot, with its double hedge intact, and it is a magical place. And this is where we ended up reading poems, in the drizzle and the green, surrounded by hedges already heavy with blackberries and elderberries, interrupted only by an occasional enthusiastic dog plus owner, not used to seeing a large gathering of people reading and chatting in this in-between-space-between-places. Perfect.

I had hoped to sing John Barleycorn, as we were walking just after Lammas, but my voice was croaky, so I read the words to the old song instead. Alison read the John Clare poem Insects, and Elizabeth read a poem My Orcha’d in Lindèn Lea written by Dorset writer and poet William Barnes (1801-1886)

I also read some Keats and Blake and, not forgetting, some Richard Jefferies.

The beautiful corn dolly made by The Wheat Weaver

I had also brought with me a beautiful corn dolly, made by the Wheatweaver, but was worried about it getting damaged during the walk / weather, so I left it for our after-walk chat and write at Court Farm Cafe afterwards- it is exquisitely beautiful, and so good to know that someone is keeping these ancient skills alive.

With enclosure, modernisation, the rail network and then the roads, the droves fell into disuse, farming methods changed and the old songs, traditions and seasonal customs faded… it is good to remember we still rely on the land for food, and that the sun (especially this year!) and rain are still intrinsic to what we eventually put on our plates.

Although this land is no longer farmed, it is a nature reserve, with bats, rare butterflies, deer and beautiful wild flowers, including pepper saxifrage, as well as some of the oldest trees in the borough.

Alison talking about the fact that this is ONE very old Ash tree!

Alison, who has been walking this way for many years, as part of her job as an ecologist and bat expert, has a deep knowledge and passion for this place. I have learned a lot from her and am so glad we have been able to go on these walks together.

People who joined us for the walk, who didn’t already know and love Tolworth Court Farm Fields, were amazed at how easy it was to enter, and how beautiful and special it is.

“…The walk along the old drove road felt like being in the depths of the country and  I’ll try and walk the meadows when they are in flower next year…”

For me it is a jewel in the crown of Tolworth’s Treasures, alongside Six Acre Meadow, where Millais was inspired to paint his Ophelia, Tate Britian’s most popular painting.

 

 

Six Acre Meadow also falls within the Tolworth Area Plan – and today, the 16th September 2018, is the last day that you can have your say on what you think about it.

Click the link here for more information and to fill out the consultation form. Have your say!

 

(poetry quotes taken from Field Days – ideas for Investigations and Celebrations, Common Ground, ISBN 1 870 364 18 X)

Museum of Futures Visual Poetry Exhibition 2018

I am delighted to be performing a new collaboration with Susie Campbell at the opening of the Museum of Futures Visual Poetry exhibition, this Thursday, 22nd February. I am also thrilled to have a piece of work in the show. Last year Susie and I had great fun writing and performing a piece about soil, which you can see here. This year we have had a very synchronicitously splendid time creating a new piece, and are looking forward to performing it in a couple of days’ time.

The opening this year also combines with the Writers’ Centre Kingston ‘Making’ event, featuring three speakers: Stella Duffy, Ann Hulland and Diego Ferrari.

Do come- it’s free and last year was a fantastic event with great readings and lots of wonderful art / poetry to see on the walls!

Tolworth Treasure

Tolworth Court Farm Fields

What kind of Five Year Plan should Tolworth have? I would like to see a commitment to keep and manage its green spaces sensitively – because they are what make Tolworth special.

I was shocked to hear Tolworth referred to as a ‘ghetto’ by staff and students at Kingston University while I was studying there. It is one of the oldest parts of the Borough- with ancient and deep historical roots. There are the remains of a medieval moated manor at Tolworth Court, where Kingston Biodiversity Network holds open days. Tolworth Court Farm Fields is a wonderful wild treasure, which should stay that way.

Can you spot Tolworth Tower?

Alison Fure, a local ecologist, has been taking people on Apple Walks, fascinating insights into the history of orchards and fruit growing in this part of the borough. This includes the Tolworth Apple Store, an important piece of local heritage, which she is campaigning to protect.

Buy Alison’s chap book here.

On the borders of Tolworth is the Hogsmill Valley, where Millais painted the backdrop to his painting Ophelia, something I have written about in my poetry map, Over the Fields, an exploration of four generations of my family’s relationship with the greenbelt, which is at the end of the Sunray Estate, towards Malden Manor.

photograph by Bill Mudge

The other day, on my regular morning run down Old Kingston Road, I got to the bridge over the Hogsmill and stopped, to see a flash of iridescent blue zoom downstream: a kingfisher (click the link for a lovely video on the RSPB web site!). It’s not such a rare sight, if you stop there regularly, and look in the right direction, away from the traffic.

Tolworth is remarkable for its open green spaces, and we have a choice now- do we value them, and protect them, recognising them as our lungs and our unique heritage, or do we lose them and become more urban, more polluted and a lot less interesting?

(This article originally appeared in the ‘Tolworth Observer’ a newspaper produced as part of the public consultation on the draft Tolworth Area Plan. For more information see the Kingston Borough Council web site here.)

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