Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Victorian Country Writers Celebrated

The RICHARD JEFFERIES SOCIETY is holding its Annual General Meeting and Birthday Lecture on Saturday 14th October in Chiseldon Church Hall.

The afternoon session, starting at 2.30 p.m., is devoted to the subject of 'William Morris and the English Countryside'. The Birthday Lecture will be given by Martin Haggerty [1], a researcher and writer who specialises in aspects of English cultural history. He has published work on a wide range of themes, from landscape to philosophy and from architecture to music, but most typically on literary topics. He is also an environmental campaigner.

Both William Morris and Richard Jefferies drew inspiration for their writing from the English countryside, especially the landscapes of Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. Although they were contemporaries (Morris was born in 1834 and Jefferies in 1848) and Morris was the tenant of Kelmscott Manor from 1871, when Jefferies was still living at Coate, there is no record of them meeting. However, Morris was deeply impressed by Jefferies' futuristic novel After London (1885) and it provided part of the impetus for him to write his utopian fantasy News from Nowhere (1891). The essays and articles of both writers show their common interest in wildlife, agriculture, antiquities, social reform and much else.

May Morris, William's second daughter, is on record [2] as supporting a proposed monument to Richard Jefferies and Alfred Williams on Liddington Hill in the 1930s.

Members of the public are welcome to attend the Birthday Lecture. Admission is free.

More information from Jean Saunders: 01793 783040.


Editor's Notes

[1] Martin Haggerty has been a member of the Richard Jefferies Society for many years. His other membership includes Friends of the Earth, the Soil Association, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (founded by William Morris), the British Agricultural History Society, Christian Ecology Link and the Rural Theology Association. He holds Master's degrees in both English and Theology and a postgraduate diploma in Heritage Interpretation.

Martin served on the committee of the William Morris Society from 1997 to 2004 and was the editor of their Newsletter for most of that time. Also since 1997, but continuing, he has been a committee member for the Edward Thomas Fellowship, whose website he manages. His earlier voluntary positions include serving as Open Spaces and Footpaths Secretary for the Ramblers' Association, Inner London Area, from 1995 to '98.

An environmentalist since childhood, Martin has in recent years become prominent as a campaigner against GM food and farming. Consequently, since 2004, he has been a national co-ordinator in the Genetic Engineering Network (GEN), working as an intermediary between NGOs, local groups, farmers, scientists and activists involved in the anti-GM campaign across Britain.

After 15 years living in London, Martin moved to Scarborough, North Yorkshire, in 1998. His main recreations are walking in the countryside and growing food on two large organic-permaculture allotments.

[2] Letter to Swindon scholar J B Jones who was seeking support to erect a memorial plaque to Richard Jefferies and Alfred Williams on Liddington Hill. From the late Miss May Morris. Kelmscott Manor; March 9, 1938: About the Memorial on Liddington Hill: the only sort of a memorial I should support would be something entirely plain; such as a natural grey stone, inscribed. I am sure that both those men whom you wish to honour would have much disliked anything that sticks up on a wild and beautiful place (it is the Down you are thinking of, isn't it?) A piece of rugged stone that one would come upon quietly on the hill-side would be appropriate and dignified. I will be pleased to add my name to your list if the Memorial takes this form; otherwise, i.e. if anything monumental is arranged for, I must be out of it.