Wycombe on the day of the new King

Mayor and Beadle of High Wycombe, September 2022

Somehow it was so apt to be in Wycombe on the day the new King was proclaimed at the Town Hall two weeks ago. I wondered whether the ghost of Dr Martin Lluelyn popped along. He’d been physician to both Charles I and Charles II, attending to Charles I on the scaffold before his execution and then served as Mayor of High Wycombe in 1671 when residing in Crendon Street. Charles III is bound to Wycombe through this historical thread whether he likes it or not.

As a town it does ceremonial occasions so well with its ancient tradition of the weighing-in of the Mayor and previous heritage of building giant chair arches. I’d expected a sleepy Sunday stroll in the territory of my birth but found the crowds streaming along Queen Victoria Road.

Queen Victoria Road, High Wycombe, 11th September 2022 proclamation of King Charles III
Queen Victoria Road, High Wycombe, 11th September 2022
High Street, High Wycombe September 11th 2022
High Street, High Wycombe
Cafe on High Wycombe High Street
High Street, High Wycombe

There was life in the High Street too, a plush new cafe had opened up next to a restored building that had recently discovered to be the oldest in the town apart from the Norman church. The Octagon Centre was bereft, haunted by the ghost of its fountain where now there’s only a bare sunlit space.

Octagon Centre High Wycombe
Octagon Centre High Wycombe
River Wye High Wycombe
River Wye
Deangarden Wood High Wycombe
Deangarden Wood
Tunnel under M40 High Wycombe
Fennell’s Wood

I followed the River Wye out of the town across the Rye and then along the bottom of Deangarden Wood. Another footpath took me up the steep valley side and through a long tunnel beneath the M40 into Fennell’s Wood. It’s these beech woods hugging the Chiltern Hills, that not only gave the town and its satellite villages their identity and culture but also their industry. Bodgers turned chair legs and piled them high in their woodland camps. In the brick and flint cottages, chair caners wove the seats. On the valley floor, factories assembled the chairs that gave Wycombe the moniker of Chairopolis. This is where your Windsor chairs actually come from. Wycombe Wanderers still go by the nickname of the Chairboys, and my grandfather used to walk through these woods on the way to watch the Wanderers at their old ground of Loakes Park.

Juniper Hill Water Tower, Flackwell Heath
Juniper Hill Tower

My walk was part nostalgia trip and part recce for a piece of writing I started during one of the lockdowns and had reached a dead end. Following the narrative thread from my Mum’s burial in Wooburn cemetery had somehow led me to the location of a water tower in Flackwell Heath on the opposite side of the valley. It occurred to me that I’d never noticed this great looming structure before – even in the years when I drank and worked in the Green Dragon pub nearby and walked down Juniper Lane almost daily. The tower had grown and grown within the shell of what could become a book until it formed a significant block on my progress. I needed to actually visit the site. And here it was – a beautiful brutalist hulk hidden in a nest of residential streets. It deserves a chunk of my book (if I can ever finish it).

Ronald Wood, Flackwell Heath
Ronald Wood
View of Wooburn Green, Bucks
the view over Wooburn Green

I cut down the side of a wood that also features in the book (although I’m nervous to call it that when it currently only stands at six thousand words) and drop across the fields to Wooburn Green. After a quick visit to my mother’s grave I watch a few overs of Wooburn Narkovians at the Park remembering all those happy childhood summers spent scampering around this pitch as my Dad bowled leggies from Church end and smoked Embassy cigarettes while waiting to go out to bat.

Wooburn Town
Wooburn Town
Wooburn Narkovians Cricket Club at  Wooburn Park 11th September 2022
Wooburn Park

Kensal Rise Has A Story – video

At the beginning of 2020 I was commissioned to create a project by Brent 2020 London Borough of Culture in collaboration with Kensal Rise Community Library. The resulting project, Kensal Rise Has A Story, launched in September 2020 as part of the inaugural Brent Biennial. This is how I described the project in an interview with Art Review:
“It’s a geographic sound map or trail of Kensal Rise. The form the project takes has partly been informed by the COVID-19 restrictions. I had planned this beautiful archive inside the library and some of the sound works were going to be burnt onto vinyl which could be listened to within a listening booth. We’ve not got those, but its ok, those were outcomes, they weren’t really the work itself which is a portrait of the community in their own words. By ‘community’ I mean the community of the library. Where it becomes geographic is that the emphasis is on the subjective responses to the environment and the changes within that environment rather than looking for some objective, dry, historical overview of the area, or even contemporary commentary on the area.
The ethos of the Kensal Rise Library is at the heart of the project. About 60 percent of the contributors are connected to the library, as users or in some other way. You can’t listen to any of the clips without feeling the presence of the library.”
You can read the rest of the interview here

It gave me enormous pleasure putting this video together with snippets of footage captured on some of the walks with local residents and some of the 51 audio clips that made up the audio trail.

You can listen to the full list of audio clips here

Massive thanks to everyone who contributed interviews, Brent 2020, Kensal Rise Community Library, curator Henry Coleman, designer Joe Hales, Willesden Local History Society, Winkball (James, Tom, Gideon), and Brent Borough Archives.

Offbeat in London around Grays Inn & Lamb’s Conduit Street 

A stroll around the streets between Grays Inn, Bedford Row, Great James Street, Doughty Street, Lamb’s Conduit Street, Northington Street, Coram’s Fields, and Guilford Street. Featuring one of Geoffrey Fletcher’s favourite gas lamps and the Dickens Museum. Shot in January 2022 and part of a sequence of videos of walks around this area:
Fleet Street – London’s Street of Stories
Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Holborn Nightwalk (2015)