Common People Part 2: Bricks

In the second part of our exploration of 19th-century voices from Berkhamsted Common we will meet a bona fide war hero who fought alongside Lord Nelson and later made the bricks behind the stone facade of Ashridge House. We will also learn about the high calorific value of gorse not to mention its high monetary value: people risked jail to smuggle it to other Chiltern brick works under the eyes of the estate keepers. We will also meet the amazing William Ashby who was never seen without a donkey load of the golden weed: but nobody had ever seen him cut it.… More

Common People Part I: Sheep

‘… 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

Battle Lines

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

Common People: Introduction

Oh, dear. I’m enjoying not blogging every week too much. Maybe it’s reached a natural end. And, well, we have plans: more on which later. Perhaps the blog needs ditching or reinventing. I’m also enjoying getting back into music: which is great, but a time-drain. First-world problems, perhaps. Meantime, I shall carry on posting older stuff. For the next month or so, I shall publish the original version of a deep dive into the 19th-century history of Berkhamsted Common.… More

Paper, Scissors, Gone Again

Grand Union Canal near Berkhamsted, Nash Mills, Sheppeys Lane, Bedmond, field near Shenley
Grand Union Canal near Berkhamsted, Nash Mills, Sheppeys Lane, Bedmond, field near Shenley

This mp3 is a walk I used to do every year at midsummer in the early 2010s. The walk, from Berkhamsted to Kentish Town was 36 miles and used most of the daylight on the longest day of the year. A text version is available on the excellent Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive.

Mon 22 Jun 2020: Introduction. (2 min read, 350 words)

I am proud of it – the writing, not the walk, although I can see its faults.… More

This Wireless Affair

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

A Sort of Death

Friday 27 September, 2019.

I realised when I posted ‘Trouble in Mind’ on my blog that the version published in ASON, the Graham Greene newsletter, had gone out without a couple of corrections. These related to the ‘sunken’ cottages at the bottom of Castle Street. They weren’t, as Greene thought, alms houses. I had removed references to them as such in the final draft.

Not the biggest of big deals, but difficult for an auty.

Last weekend at the excellent Graham Greene International Festival, I suddenly heard my dad saying ‘That’s not the same man you wrote about’.… More

Trouble in Mind

Berkhamsted School Prefects, 1922.

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

Vanishing Men

The rifle range on Berkhamsted Common: A journey with maps.

rifle butt
Berkhamsted Rifle Range, May 2017, author for scale.

For a couple of years now I have helped my father, Brian Shepherd, lead a walk for the Graham Greene Festival. The walk tracks the Berkhamsted author over the common of his childhood and teases out references from Greene’s autobiographical writing and his fiction especially his later novel, The Human Factor (1978), which is partly set in Berkhamsted.… More