Richard Jefferies (1848-1887)
 
Writing in The Independent today Jack Watkins reports that –
 
Jefferies grew up and, until he married aged 25, lived on a tiny farm at Coate, near Swindon. Here his father kept a small dairy herd, but while Jefferies showed little interest in helping out on the farm, he inherited his father’s love of nature, and spent his days exploring the surrounding meadows and hills, studying flora and fauna and seeking out archaeological sites, while honing the distinctive earth philosophy that elevated his work beyond mere observation.
 

Today Coate farmhouse, its outbuildings and orchard, all so vividly described in his novel Amaryllis at the Fair, survive as the Richard Jefferies Museum. Beyond the ha-ha, dug by Jefferies Snr to prevent the cattle straying into the orchard, is the ancient hedgerow recognised by Jefferies in Wild Life in a Southern County as “the highway of the birds”. Over the ridge beyond is the reservoir of Coate Water, the scene for the mock battles of his children’s novel Bevis. On the skyline is Liddington Hill, crowned by an iron-age hillfort, one of the numerous tumuli of the North Wiltshire hills which the writer memorably wrote of as being “alive with the dead”. It was while lying on the slopes of Liddington Hill that Jefferies experienced the first of what he termed the “soul experiences” leading to his extraordinary autobiography, The Story of My Heart.

Developers have been eyeing the area around Coate Water for years, however, encouraged by a general refusal of the council’s planning department to recognise Jefferies as “a major writer”. A current proposal to build 900 homes and a business park was recently rejected by councillors – stunned by the strength of an opposition campaign which has seen protest letters written in the Times Literary Supplement and a petition signed by over 52,000 people. While that rejection was the first time, says Jean Saunders, secretary of the Richard Jefferies Society, that there had been any recognition of the cultural landscape value of Coate, the developers have appealed and a public inquiry is to be held.

Full article here. Further information on Richard Jefferies and The Jefferies Land Conservation Trust here.

See also our other land battle feature – The Battle for Preseli.