In this final instalment of Common People we will look at an egregious instance of ‘Road Capture’ on Berkhamsted Common – the arbitrary closure of a public road by the local landowner – and show how it may always have been part of a cunning plan to enclose (privatise) the central part of the common. We will hear some of the people who put the road out of action (I don’t mean the 7th Earl) – and how local people adapted to the new reality: keeping calm and driving any way they could.… More
‘… Common ’tis named/And calls itself, because the bracken and gorse/Still hold the hedge where plough and scythe have chased them’
‘Up in the Wind’ by Edward Thomas
In 1866 Lord Brownlow, the young and fabulously wealthy owner of the Ashridge Estate, erected iron fences to enclose (privatise) about 400 acres of Berkhamsted Common. Resistance was led by the Commons Preservation Society which had been formed the previous year. The fences were taken down in a celebrated moonlight raid and, after a lengthy legal battle, stayed down.… More
Thu 30 Apr 2020: Eleanor Farjeon’s house, N.W.3., July 2015 (2 min read)
Today I revisit a walk from 2015. It involves a lost garden not unconnected to Edward Thomas and feels sort of zeitgeisty: we all seem to enjoy peeping into celebrities’ homes at the moment. The fact that I could revisit the walk without stretching government exercise guidelines is irrelevant. I don’t want to know what it’s like today. It’s hard to find a house in Hampstead that doesn’t have a blue plaque.… More
Thu 9 Apr 2020: Two unbirthday walks for Edward Thomas (7 min read)
So the first time we had got it together to go on the birthday walk organized by the Edward Thomas Fellowship and … it was cancelled: not because of coronavirus but because of the wettest February on record. The ground was waterlogged and there was storm damage in the hangers – the densely wooded hills above the village of Steep, Hampshire, which were home to the poet and his family in the decade before World War I, and the locus of inspiration for much his late-flowering poetry.… More
Two post-mortem writings on a Hertfordshire airman. Monday 9 March 2020 [7min read]
The photo was in a book called ‘Talks with Spirit Friends, Bench, and Bar: being descriptions of the next world and its activities by well-known persons who live there, given through the trance mediumship of the late Miss S. Harris to a retired public servant, and recorded by him.’ I’m not sure if copyright law extends the other side of the veil.… More
26 July 2019: My book has become a ball & chain. I can’t even look at it. I’m accepting defeat, for now. Thing is: I have problems organising a sentence. I sometimes forget to write in paragraphs. A book? What was I thinking of?
For the moment I am happy being a consumer of words. 25,000 words of evidence from Smith vs Brownlow, for starters. This court case (1866-70), and the events leading up to it, are one of the foundation stories of both the Open Spaces Society (then called The Commons Preservation Society) and the National Trust.… More
A hatchet faced photo of a dozen Berkhamsted School Prefects in the Summer of 1922 shows my grandfather, Dennis Goffey, on the far right, standing. Charles Greene, headmaster & father of Graham, is in the centre, and Claude Cockburn, the writer, and friend of Graham, seated (appropriately, he was once denounced as the ‘eighty-fourth most dangerous Red in the world’ by Senator McCarthy) on the far left.
The photo may or may not explain my interest in Berkhamsted’s most famous literary figure – I mean after Ed Reardon.… More
Thriller in Manila: Did the outcome of one of the most famous battles in American naval history turn on an envelope hidden in the folds of a naturalist’s freshly laundered shirt?
William Doherty has been much on my mind. I’ve been revisiting my Tring Museum research to try and fit Charles Hartert’s story finally into my book, a baggy tome about my great uncle’s war held together by chalk and wishful thinking as much as anything else.… More