Friday, July 03, 2020

GUEST POST Around Tolworth in the footsteps of Richard Jefferies

Lucy Furlong explains the genesis of her recent chapbook Sward.

Published by Sampson Low, Sward: Skin of the Earth is the product of my last walking and writing project centred around Tolworth (for now). Six months plus of walking up and down the central reservation of the A240 from Tolworth Roundabout to the end of the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames and the boundary with Surrey. 

Sward was a performative series of radical walks, of reclamation and acknowledgement that this central reservation, a slim strip of grass, trees, and in some places cracked pavement, concrete and detritus, is a 'place' all of its own. 

It is important as part of the local distinctiveness of Tolworth and should be valued and recognised as such. Additionally, it is an important nature corridor, inhabited by small mammals, birds, insects and pollinators, which allows them to find a way from one side of the road to the other, as well as mitigating air pollution. 

My family has lived in Tolworth for generations, enjoying its wild, green spaces, lesser-known and recognised than the famous brutalist Tolworth Tower and congested roundabout, but substantially more significant and historically important than either. 

All of these green spaces, including the Hogsmill River at Malden Manor, where the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais painted the backdrop to Ophelia (Tate Britain’s most popular painting) and Tolworth Court Farm Fields, the borough’s largest protected nature reserve with rare butterflies and wild deer, are all coming under threat from development and pollution.

I was inspired by the Victorian nature writer Richard Jefferies, who lived in Tolworth from 1877 to 1882, and wrote about it in his most famous book of essays, Nature Near London. His use of the word ‘sward’ in his writings gave me the name for this project and a way of linking my very contemporary form of walking and observing with his extensive walks around Tolworth and its environs, which are beautifully evoked in his essays.

Lucy Furlong (right) with Alison Fure and 'Richard Jefferies'. Photo: Paul Atkindon

My Sward project came six months after Alison Fure and I completed our Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum series of public walks and writing workshops around Tolworth’s open green spaces and along the Hogsmill River, which is a rare chalk stream. 

A highlight of this was our walk ‘In Richard Jefferies Footsteps’ which attracted about 40 people on a blazing May bank holiday Monday in May 2018, and was recorded for the Radio 4 programme, Women Who Walk. This was part of the Art of Now series, a programme exploring the work of women walking artists. 

Sward was officially launched on 8 February this year at the Poets for the Planet all-day fundraising event, Verse Aid, which was held at the Society of Authors in London. As well as reading poems from Sward, I led two workshops exploring the themes of Sward: walking, writing about and valuing local wild spaces and a look at the work of Richard Jefferies. 

If you would like a copy of Sward you can buy one online. For more information on Tolworth Treasure and the Hogsmill Hum follow TolworthTreasure on Twitter  

Lucy Furlong is a writer, poet and walking artist whose work has been published widely, exhibited nationally and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Her poetry map Amniotic City was featured in The Guardian and poetry from her Over the Fields map is taught as part of the Open University MA in Creative Writing. She recently moved to Wexford, Ireland. Follow her on Twitter.

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