Friday, December 16, 2005

Reflections on Jefferies' idyll

The following article was published in the Swindon Advertiser last Saturday.

One of their journalists has "tried to recreate some of Jefferies' writings to see how he might have described a walk near the new campus, should it go ahead".

It falls far short on both accounts.

Swindon Advertiser

10 December 2005 - page 16

Next chapter..... What would Swindon author Richard Jefferies think of the plans for his former home at Coate?

Reflections on Jefferies' idyll

Writer Richard Jefferies is to Swindon, like Thomas hardy is to Dorset.

The town's most esteemed writer is not celebrated in the same way as his counterpart from Dorchester, but his life has been pushed into the spotlight with the controversy surrounding his birthplace.

Jefferies was born in 1848 at the family home in Coate, which is now a museum of his life.

He was never a best-seller, but experts feel he was one of the finest writers of his generation.

The internet teems with references to and quotations from him, while every second-hand book seller knows his name, and recognises him for beautiful stories, and wondrous descriptions of nature.

Ray Morse, a members of the Richard Jefferies Society which aims to preserve the writer's memory said: "Richard Jefferies is a well-known name across the UK and internationally, but it's always been somewhat of a mystery as to why he's not as well known in Swindon. He made a great contribution to English Literature. Jefferies had a way with words, his descriptions of nature and country life were truly remarkable, but he had a tragically short life. He died just before his 39th birthday but he made a big contribution, writing many books and papers over those short years. He has been truly inspirational.

Jefferies died suffering from what doctors believed at the time to be tuberculosis.

He took great inspiration from Coate.

Now the landscape he once described faces controversial plans for development by the University of Bath in Swindon for its new campus.

We have tried to recreate some of Jefferies' writings to see how he might have described a walk near the new campus, should it go ahead.


I Left the old house at Coate, and wandered through the wood towards the lake.

The summer evening was bright and warm, the beams of light arced through the trees.

Ducks fluttered, rising out of the water, drops of water reflecting on their underside. Nearby, swans looked on, their graceful arcing long necks moved with delicate, precision, their bodies creating a silent wave shimmering the surface of the water.

A slight breeze gusted the trees, and hapless leaves struggled against the life-force of air, again and again.

The wind was stronger here, the tall buildings beyond sent the wind rushing between the grand designs of our modern age.

The giants towered over the trees, and the warm gentle evening light glowed upon the many a clay brick, the strong-armed steel structure and the bright translucent panes of glass, reflecting the nearby hills.

Gone are some of the sounds of nature's forces, replaced by the silent rumble of air-cooling machines. They somehow make life comfortable for those on the inside, but the insistent humming and droning, is incessant.

And one is never allowed to forget the rumbling of the highway.

How does nature try to fit in with such monoliths of mankind? It gives, gives, gives and somehow succeeds.

Pigeons are among the many new arrivals. Dozens sit atop the grand structures.

They enjoy the warm air, they do not swoop or swift through the wind but fly with intent and purpose, staring at all the nature below. They are undistressed, but far from tame, and the slightest disturbance would send them off.

On the ground, young people with essays on their minds go about their daily routine, chattering and laughing as they scurry to lectures in sleek, angular prisms, which rise from their soft, green haven.

Nature's life force remains, succeeds but struggles against mankind's forces, but always shall overcome.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Ex-education officer launches a broadside

by Kevin Shoesmith
Swindon Advertiser, 3 December 2005

MANY think it is now a matter of when and not if bulldozers roll onto Coate.

Government planning inspector David Fenton yesterday concluded that a university and 1,800 homes could be built between Coate Water and the Great Western Hospital.

But a fierce opponent to the scheme - and retired education officer - warned last night that the university would be a "glorified college" with only a few facilities.

The Government's conclusion came in spite of years of protests and a petition, organised by the Save Coate campaign, signed by 26,000 people.

John Price, who worked in several local schools before coming chief education officer of the Atlantic island of St Helena, is chairman of the Richard Jefferies Society.

Jefferies, a 19th century author, often turned to the countryside around Coate for inspiration.

Mr Price admits the new university is looking increasingly likely but added that it would do nothing for Swindon's image..

He criticised science-focused University of Bath for failing to recognise culture.

Mr Price said: "It will not be a proper university - more of a glorified college with a few faculties."

The University of Bath still has to find financial backing before plans can be taken further.

Mr Fenton also recommended increased protection for the country park and an extension to the buffer zone, taking it to at least 200m.

The New Swindon Company - which featured in our recent Big Debate series on plans for Coate - echoed the thoughts of many.

Spokeswoman Rosemary Wells wanted to look at the report in detail before making an in-depth comment, but she said the university is crucial for the town's growth.

"We are keen that Swindon should get a university," she said. "We do not have that level of education in Swindon and it needs it. It is accepted that a university gives breadth and diversity to a town."

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Local Plan inspector rules out the importance of the literary landscape at Coate.

You can read some basic information about what the Local Plan inspector said about the Coate policies on the Save Coate newsblog. It is mostly bad news for Jefferies Land although there are some rays of hope.

However, David Fenton had this to say about Jefferies literary landscape:

"I understand the relevance of the Coate landscape to the life and works of local writer Richard Jefferies. Much of his writing has drawn upon his upbringing in the immediate area and is set within this landscape, around Coate, Day House Farm and Coate Water. The development land is a central and integral part of the landscape depicted in his writings. However, I do not find that I can attribute such weight to this factor as to justify turning down the designation of this area for development. To some people Jefferies and his works are an integral part of the literary landscape of Britain. However, it seems to me that he is not known or thought of in the same way as more major figures such as Hardy or Wordsworth. That is not to denigrate his works or to undervalue his contributions, but there does not seem to me to be the weight of acclaim to justify a stop being placed upon the development of this land.

PPS7 makes reference to historic areas, but, overall there is little in national or local policy guidance that would directly support the protection of land such as here at Coate for this reason, regardless of the cultural importance of his writings. The land carries no formal historic designation. Development, although directly affecting the immediate area of Richard Jefferies’ upbringing, would still leave intact some of the landscapes whose virtues he extolled in his writings. In conclusion, I do not consider that it would be justified for the Local Plan to protect this area because of its literary links."