Monday, November 21, 2005

Slide show 5 December

The Richard Jefferies Society will be hosting a meeting on Monday 5 December, starting at 7.30pm at the Arts Centre, Devizes Road, Swindon.

Ray Morse will be showing a selection of slides that the Society has collected over the years that include pictures of outings, buildings and places associated with Jefferies and of special occasions such as plaque dedications.

Entrance is free and members of the public will be made most welcome.

A report of the meeting has been published below.

Meeting of the Richard Jefferies Society held in the Studio, The Arts Centre, Devizes Road Swindon

Monday 5 December 2005

Members present: 21
Apologies: Hugoe Matthews and John and Sheila Povey
Chairman: John Price
Subject: Society Slide Show
Speaker: Ray Morse

John Price read out the notes from the last public meeting held on 19 May and observed that there was a considerable amount of news to recount since then.

The Coate Museum: Having recently lost the entire Swindon Borough Council staff who had any dealings with the Museum and the Society, we learnt in the last couple of days that all responsibility for the Museum was now in the hands of Kirsty Hartsiotis, the new Curator based at Bath Road Museum. John Price is now trying to establish with the Curator what will happen to the Task Force that Councillor Justin Tomlinson, Borough Cabinet member for Recreation & Culture, asked David Allen to set up at a meeting last month attended by John Webb and himself and held at the Museum in order to progress the vital work required to the building and grounds.
The saga related to the repair of the damaged fence between the Sun Inn and the orchard rages on. The Society secured an agreement with Arkell’s that the brewery would replace the damaged fence as a gesture of goodwill if the Borough Council cut back the undergrowth. It seems that Swindon Contractors have been overzealous in their activities. In the last few days, a 3 metre wide swathe of shrubbery has been cut back along the fence and heaped to one side whilst a 4 metre cutting has been made between Brook Field [the over-flow car park] into the orchard making the Museum more vulnerable to vandalism than ever before. The Society is now pushing the Borough Council to secure this breach with a fence and gate.

The Swindon Local Plan inquiry: The planning inspector’s report was published on 2 December and, not surprisingly, David Fenton agreed that Coate was suitable for the development of a university campus, no more than 1800 houses and 25 hectares of offices although he believed that the house building was not urgent and the numbers may have to be revised down. His recommendations were extremely guarded proposing that English Nature’s minimum buffer should be accepted around Coate Water nature reserve, that treasured open landscapes to Liddington Hill and the countryside must be preserved to maintain Coate Water’s “Country Park” status, that the University of Bath must agree legal conditions to secure the future of Oakfield Campus and to secure site[s] in the town centre for stand-alone faculties and that business use must be linked to the hospital or university. The leader of the Council, Mike Bawden, was quoted as saying “No University, no houses”. The relevant section of the report was read out that demonstrated the Inspector’s lack of appreciation for protecting Jefferies’ literary landscape. This was based on Mr Fenton’s perception that Jefferies work was not important compared to that of Hardy and Wordsworth. As Government planning policy needs to be strengthened to protect literary landscapes, it was decide that the time was ripe to send off the Society’s letter to The Times and, in the light of the Guardian article that revealed Jefferies’ as the most frequently nominated British nature writer, it was agreed that the Society should write to the Rt Hon John Prescott to challenge the Inspector’s view.

As usual much publicity related to Jefferies has been generated locally as a result of the proposals and letters have been published in the August, November and December of Countryman and in Country Life [Nov 7]. An article about the russet apple and Jefferies will run in the Dec 15 issue of Country Life whilst This England will be covering Jefferies’ literary landscape in their Spring 06 edition.

Members were invited to take copies of the newly published pamphlet Coate and Richard Jefferies written by Society member, John Chandler and to buy the new pamphlet that lists the published work of Jefferies in chronological order.

The dates of future meetings were announced: Study Day- Jefferies’ poetry and poets – 29 July at Lawns Community Centre. AGM and Birthday Lecture to be given by Martin Haggerty on William Morris as a County Writer – 14 October at Chiseldon Church Hall. Janet Flanagan has agreed to talk about the local history of the Wilts & Berks canal at the public meeting here on the 8 May.

A Society Slide Show

Speaker: Ray Morse
5 December 2005

Ray Morse showed a selection of slides collected by the Society that included pictures of outings, buildings, monuments, plaques, people and places associated with Jefferies and of special events. He illustrated some of the slides with short extracts from Jefferies’ works.

Ray displayed the slides in groups starting with photos of Jefferies’ family and the homes and places associated with them relating to the Swindon area. Regrettably most of the buildings and features shown have now been destroyed including the Goddard’s house, Holy Rood Church, the Jefferies’ bakery, Snodshill Farm and an ancient barrow that featured in Wildlife in a Southern County. Apart from the odd tomb-stone at Chiseldon Churchyard, the Game-keepers Cottage, Day House and the Coate Museum, much had changed dramatically. One saving grace demonstrated that the wall at Coate Farm that featured so strongly in Amaryllis at the Fair and later rebuilt at the time of the road-widening scheme was a well-constructed and sympathetic feature albeit that the row of lime trees in the garden ended up next to the road.

There were some interesting historic photos of agricultural workers in their smocks, their machinery and their lives that included a couple sitting next to a cosy inglenook fire place.

Then we were taken to the monuments and plaques: Burderop Downs, Liddington Hill, the milestone and the Frances Gay memorial plaque.

Some pictures of Jefferies’ favourite flowers followed such as of speedwell, cuckoo flower, poppies in wheatfields and blackthorn with blossom… like snow and, of course, pictures of the Downs and Coate Water. An old photo of the Council Oak showed how it looked before losing many of its branches as we see it today.

This was followed by some nostalgic mementos of Society outings and events along with pictures of Society members who attended. This included the visit to the Gamekeepers Cottage at Hodson where the owner made them most welcome.

Surbiton then featured in the next group of slides: the carved wooden plaque commissioned to list the works written at Surbiton that is now in the Surbiton library; the tree-planting ceremony at the Jefferies’ Bird Sanctuary and the Tolworth stream where Jefferies watched the trout for hours on end.

Views of Eltham followed showing Jefferies’ home at ‘Sea View’, Worthing albeit that ‘Sea View’ no longer has a view of the sea, obscured now by development.

Then we visit Goring and the gravestone with the cross that stood upright now knocked down and lying in a prone position.

There were photos of other commemorative events such as the planting of the Mulberry Tree and the visit to Salisbury Cathedral.

Finally we saw the Coate stone circle, the remains of what was Snap village and finally a brick in the wall carved with the initials RJ and HJ.

It was an evening of nostalgia but tinged with sadness at the loss of well-loved Society members along with the loss of buildings and views that no longer exist.