Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Western Daily Press


3 January 2006

A Row over the merits of 19th century West Country literary giants Thomas Hardy and Richard Jefferies has gone all the way to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. It was sparked after Planning Inspector David Fenton's views on eminent Victorian nature writer Richard Jefferies enraged an appreciation group formed in his home town of Swindon.

The Richard Jefferies Society is fighting to prevent wildlife-rich countryside, known as Jefferies Land, from being destroyed by a £500million development on the edge of Swindon.

A university, offices and 1,800 homes are proposed for 500 acres of fields around the hamlet of Coate, an area objectors say was immortalized by the writings of Jefferies, who lived there. The society insists the area is part of Swindon's cultural heritage and as such should be preserved.

But after examining its objections, Mr Fenton felt the land could be developed. His report said: "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." The society has now written to Mr Fenton's boss Mr Prescott, challenging his decision that Jefferies writings should have no bearing on the proposals.

The letter points out that Jefferies (18481887) was recently voted "by far the most frequently nominated author" when he came third in a national poll to find Britain's most popular nature writer.

This, the society notes, was higher than both Wordsworth and Hardy, whose works were also inspired by the West Country.

Jefferies society member Jean Saunders wrote: "We are dismayed to read the inspector's views related to the lack of weight he has afforded to the special quality of the literary landscape of land at Coate." She said Jefferies Land is a "most valued landscape" in terms of planning policy guidelines regarding the quality of life and the environment in rural areas.

THE letter goes on: "Given that Swindon has such a poor cultural image in Britain, when it has such an important and influential figurehead born and bred at Coate, we are at a loss to understand the inspector's point of view.

"We request that you might explore our concerns as we believe a major constraint to development has been summarily dismissed." To help guide Mr Prescott's deliberations, the society has sent him a copy of a new publication, Coate and Richard Jefferies by John Chandler. The Save Coate campaign has collected 26,000 signatures in its battle to protect Jefferies Land, which lies next to Coate Water Country Park.

In September, campaigners launched the Jefferies Land Conservation Trust which is seeking an alterative use for the rural site, situated near Junction 15 of the M4 and the Great Western Hospital.

The trust says the land should be preserved "for visitors to enjoy a special rural climate, and as a centre for study of the environment and historic landscapes". But the University of Bath in Swindon says it is the only viable site for its campus and denies campaigners' claims that it could be built in the town centre.

It has linked up with developers whose proposed 1,800 homes and commercial park will finance the infrastructure for the university, including sewers and roads. This Gateway scheme will also help fast-growing Swindon fill its Government housing quota for the next few years, says the council.

Richard Jefferies (1848-1887)
BEST known for his prolific and sensitive writing on natural history, village life and agriculture in late Victorian England, Jefferies' career also revealed a many-sided author who was something of an enigma.

Some associate him with the children's classic Bevis or the strange futuristic fantasy After London. But his finest work, including his autobiography The Story of my Heart, was inspired by the countryside around Coate, near Swindon, where he grew up and spent much of his life.

He is cited as an inspiration to a number of better known writers including John Fowles, who lived in Dorset, and A A 'Christopher Robin' Milne.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
Poet and novelist born in Dorchester, Hardy created the literary region of Wessex, based in an around Dorset, where many of his stories are set.

His career as writer spanned more than 50 years, during which he wrote classic novels including Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude The Obscure.

His novels bravely challenged many of the sexual and religious conventions of the Victorian age, and dared to present a bleak view of human nature.

In his poems, Hardy depicted rural life without sentimentality - his mood was often stoic and gloomy.

1 comment:

Richard Jefferies Society said...

Richard Jefferies was actually the most frequently nominated nature writer - not the third.