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.

 

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…

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

 

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