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)

Walking in Richard Jefferies’ Footsteps, Monday May 7th 2018

 

The Plaque at RJ’s house in Ewell Road, Tolworth

Outside Richard Jefferies’ House, Ewell Road

Outside Richard Jefferies’ Home – pic by Paul Atkinson

“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.”

Richard Jefferies takes a walk down Tolworth Broadway

“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

And we follow him…

 “In the mind all things are written in pictures.” Richard Jefferies in Looker

Richard Jefferies navigates the greenway, across the Tolworth Roundabout

“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

And we follow him…

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

Crossing over by Tolworth Station. Pic by Paul Atkinson

(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?

Richard Jefferies walks towards the railway bridge…
Reading Ewell Road Footprint at Tolworth Railway Bridge. Pic by Paul Atkinson

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

Richard Jefferies shares a joke with Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum 😉 Pic by Paul Atkinson

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.

Past Tolworth Station, the air becomes heavy with the scent of blossom

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

Walking down the Kingston Road. It’s so green and leafy! Puc by Paul Atkinson

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,

On the path… Pic by Paul Atkinson

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.

…and traffic and roundabouts…

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 home reading and bumping into lamp posts…

and subways and traffic and subways roundabouts

and traffic and green buses and bus shelters…

And (in the Toby Jug) Ziggy played Guitar

 

“A fresh footpath, a fresh flower, a fresh delight.” Richard Jefferies in Looker

The Kingston Road (A240) Bridge over the Hogsmill

Alison showing everyone the vintage photos of the area, including Tolworth Hall Bridge. Pic by Paul Atkinson

Extract from: What Famous Writers Know About Walking – (full feature here)

“Writing is one way of making the world our own, and… walking is another,” wrote Geoff Nicholson in The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, and Literature of Pedestrianism.

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

Alison speaking at the edge of Tolworth Court Farm Fields

I read Hogsmill Tiddlers from my Over The Fields poetry map – more about that here.

Tolworth Court Moated Manor

“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

Walking across Tolworth Court Farm Moated Manor. Pic by Paul Atkinson

The Barn (extract) by Edmund Blunden

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.

Old Kingston Road. Pic by Paul Atkinson

“The forest is gone; but the spirit of nature stays,

and can be found by those who search for it.”

Richard Jefferies in Looker

 

Please read Alison Fure’s fantastic write up of this walk for the natural history and literature underpinning this exploration into the Tolworth that Richard Jefferies knew. It is compelling- especially as we can still recognise much of it today.

~Tolworth Treasure!~

Thanks to Alison as well for suggesting I read Edmund Blunden’s The Barn.

Thanks to Paul Atkinson for letting me use some of his wonderful pics from the walk here.

A massive thank you to Ben Henderson, who became the embodiment of Mr Jefferies, and for bringing his footsteps to life in such a magical fashion!

Thanks to Gill and everyone at Court Farm Cafe for looking after us, and thanks to everyone who came!

Back to Court Farm Cafe for refreshments, conversation and writing.
Perfect

The walk was also recorded for radio and will be broadcast later in the year…more information on that at a later date.

The majority of the quotes here come from Samuel J Looker’s book The Worthing Cavalcade: Richard Jefferies – A Tribute. Published in 1946.

We will be walking again over the summer- more information on the facebook page here: www.facebook.com/tolworthtreasure

 

Blossom to Fruit Writing Workshop at Kingston Environment Centre, 4th March 2017

apple-day-image

As part of Apple Day at Kingston Environment Centre, on Saturday 4th March, I will be doing this!

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

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this is a picture of my Dad telling me stories about crab apples…

 

Please come! This will be the start of a wonderful day of apple and orchard related talks and activities.

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Mapping Memories, Over the Fields talk at The Museum of Futures

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!