Thursday, 17 November 2011

Day 2 the good and the brave spoke, and a marvellous article about Swindon

On Wednesday afternoon, members of the public who had registered their interest in doing so were given time to speak, with the proviso they didn't repeat what others had said.
Jean Saunders spoke first giving a highly illuminating talk about the area, then Mr Wood, Andrew Bennett, Felicity Cobb who talked at length about collecting 18000 out of the 52000 signatures for the petition. Tim French gave a moving presentation about what Coate and it's surroundings means to him, and lastly Adrian Moor talked about traffic and leisure activities conflicting.

Jean has today emailed an article in December 2011's edition of The Oldie page 65 which I thought I'd include:
Unwrecked England

The Richard Jefferies Museum and Landscape, Swindon
Candida Lycett Green

[inset picture of Liddington Hill with caption: Liddington Hill: 'By the time I had reached the summit I had entirely forgotten the petty circumstances and the annoyances of existence' (Richard Jefferies)]

Swindon's Great Western heart is the same as it ever was and the local character of some of the town's centre has stayed intact. For the last few decades however, its anonymous suburbs have sprawled so far that you need to be an orienteer to find your way around the relentless, could-be-anywhere housing develop­ments, industrial estates and clutches of titanic superstores. Vast tracts of farmland as well as woods and copses I knew as a child are now under concrete: whole villages have been swallowed up.
But there is one corner left untouched - the gentle, pastoral landscape which was the inspiration of Swindon’s famous son, Richard Jefferies, one of our greatest country writers and visionaries. 'One day the area will be glorified,' Edward Thomas wrote in his biography of Jef­feries, 'It will be known as Jefferies' Landscape and it will be as Selborne was to Gilbert White.'
If you take the very smallest road off the Coate roundabout you can park under trees beside Coate Water, the set­ting for Jefferies' classic children's book Bevis: The Story of a Boy. 'So we will,' said Bevis, 'we will find a new sea where no one has ever been before. Look! There it is; is it not wonderful?' And it is.
This expansive and gracefully sinuous reservoir was created in the 1820s by the Wilts and Berks Canal Company as a means of topping up the canal. When I went there were dozens of fishermen around its edges, an abandoned 1930s concrete diving board hovering over it, and children flying kites nearby. A new cinder path leads along the familiar hedgeline to Coate Farmhouse where Jefferies was born in 1848 and which is now looked after by Richard Jefferies So­ciety volunteers. Although the adjacent road has now become a dual carriageway, once you are through the front door you feel calm. It is one the nicest museums you could wish for - well loved, cosy and intimate. From the living room there is a view of the mulberry tree mentioned in a poem and the deep shade of the ever­green oak planted by Richard's father. From his study-cum-teenage-bedroom on the attic floor, his simple drop-leaved writing table stands where it always did, by the window which looks onto the orchard and the Sun Inn beyond.
There are letters written by the seven-year-old Richard to his beloved aunt Ellen; photographs of local farm workers squinting against the sun together with the gangly gamekeeper of Burderop Park from whom Jefferies learnt so much; beautiful sketches by his uncle and lots of small oils and watercolours of nearby scenes painted by an early Jefferies groupie. Kate Tryon lived in Massachu­setts and was a keen Thoreau enthusiast, but as soon as she read Jefferies she became obsessed. She visited Coate for twelve consecutive years in the early 1900s, following in her hero's footsteps and illustrating his every literary descrip­tion. The landscape is still magical even though the M4 slices through it a mile or so away. The trees and woods around Day House Farm, along the lane from the Jefferies' smallholding, are just as they were when Tryon painted them. (The farmhouse itself was the home of Jessie Baden, who became Richard's wife: he wrote of their courtship in Greene Ferne Farm). It seems unbeliev­able that despite the large number of brownfield sites in Swindon, Persimmon and Redrow are appealing to build 900 houses here. It will kill Richard Jefferies' landscape stone dead.

To join the Richard Jefferies Society visit the website or call 01793 783040
Candida Lycett Green's new book Seaside Resorts is now available. , 'If there's a better book to give for Christmas published this autumn, I'd like to see it’: Cressida Connolly, the Spectator.

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