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…
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.
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.
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.
How sweet I roamed from field to field
And tasted all the summer’s pride.
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 poemInsects, 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.
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, 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…”
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 Fieldsis a wonderful wild treasure, which should stay that way.
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.
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?
A small band of friends and family took a walk Over the Fields yesterday, to help me harvest the new poetry map. A glorious late September afternoon, close to the Autumn Equinox, traditionally associated with the second harvest…perfect timing.
We met at the church and were greeted by the vicar, Kevin, who was very generous in allowing us to wander around the beautiful church that is in his care, even letting Techno the Great Dane have a nose inside, and letting the children have a go on the church organ.
We rambled down the hill into the valley; along paths, over and under bridges, by the river and through fields, stopping at various points to read poems. Thank you to Dad’s friend Roger White, who grew up and played in the fields too. He read us two pieces of writing he had published back in 1960, which was a great addition to the occasion. One about the Hogsmill River, published in his school magazine, and the other, a small clipping from the Surrey Comet, a news story about a local ‘incident’, which took place in 1959…
Thank you to the family and friends who have helped me to make this new map, and who have been so kind and generous with their time, skills and support. Thanks to Bill Mudge, who recently took photos of me over the fields as I was finishing the map and taking a last walk there before signing off the final proof at my friend Mel’s studio. (Mega thanks to Mel- the map wouldn’t exist without her) Bill has kindly allowed me to use his photos, and a couple of them are on my web site. You can find more of Bill’s work here – the photos of me and Mel are part of his project 20 in 15.
The map is officially ready to find its way into the world, and with a bit of luck will help people wend their way around this patch of ‘green’…maybe you will be one of them…? You can buy the Over the Fields map HERE, right now, and the first 25 people to order one will also get a FREE limited edition postcard (1 of 50) with a brand new poem which is also connected to this area, but not on the map… Your journey begins here!
There may be other walks – please ‘like’ my Facebook page for updates.
The new poetry map I have been working on for the last 18 months is on its way to being published…there are still final bits and bobs of writing to do, photos to select and final edits but the art work is taking shape. I am very excited about this as it is highly personal – a map of Furlong territory, especially my Dad’s, and his brothers’ and sisters’ – their ‘second home.’ It continues to amaze me, how much this small piece of land contains in terms of stories, nature and deep history. I cannot possibly cram all the writing and poems, pictures and information I have gathered and created, and am continuing to amass on to two sides of A2 map…maybe this will become something else in the future…
More news and updates on this as it continues to materialise into something tangible. For now, the photos above are of where I lay the other afternoon, listening to many different birds singing, bees buzzing, watching fronds and flowers swaying in the breeze… a ten minute walk from the white noise of the A3 in one direction, and the train to Waterloo in the other.