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Printing History Lulu edition published 2006 Printed in Garamond 20/11pt Copyright ÂŠ John Rogers 2005 - 06
Introduction Drift #1 Drift #2 Drift #2.5 The Lunchtime Dérive Lunchtime Dérive Report Lunchtime Dérive #2 Grand Dérive “GO-AHEAD SOON FOR A NEW WYCOMBE” “TOWN CENTRE REDEVELOPMENT GETS GO-AHEAD” ‘Nodules of Energy’ Walk Tour of the TCR Site Significant Sites: a summer solstice dérive Head East - along the Wyke
2 5 9 18 22 25 35 38 45 48 50 78 83 90
Appendix Emails about secret tunnels and Tom Burt’s Hill Letter to the Octagon Centre Myrtle’s Map of Newlands Myrtle’s Notes Advice for Derivers by S.P.B Mais (circa 1930)
101 104 105 106 107
Introduction “I am quite certain that everything has its origins in the place we are born” Dario Fo
My sister, Cathy Rogers, and I were propelled back to the place of our birth, High Wycombe, by a force described by geographer David Harvey as ‘time-space compression.’ As the world is shrunk and homogenised by the cream on a Frappucino and narcoleptic effects of mall-culture, what did it mean to come from a particular place? The new town centre redevelopment in High Wycombe, the so-called Western Sector, had provided the catalyst. Urban planners, surveyors, architects, and developers had descended on the town producing studies, plans, axonometric diagrams. A “mixed use retail-driven scheme” called ‘Project Phoenix’ boasting a 12- screen multiplex cinema, bowling alley and department stores would rise in an area once known as Newlands. The purpose of our mission was to re-map and re-imagine the area before it changed forever; the ripples from this scheme would resonate throughout the District where we had grown up. We called our project ‘Remapping High Wycombe.’ Whilst Cathy, a public artist, worked on a structure of engagement, looking at plans, maps and archive film, my investigation took the form of several walks or ‘dérives’, purposeful drifts stalking moods, atmospheres, hidden histories and lost voices. We formed the Desborough 2
Hundred Psychogeographical Society as our front organisation, issued a newsletter and left calling cards in department store cafes and phone boxes. Our work would form a parallel scheme, a psychogeographical vision of the area.
Wycombe is the point westwards at which London’s gravitational pull ends. Shielded by the Chilterns it takes a turbo-charged train from Marylebone Station to pull clear of the capital’s vortex. This is where people from west London were evacuated to during the Second World War. One such evacuee was writer and poet B.S. Johnson who wrote a long topographical description of the town in his novel ‘Trawl’. The babbling river Wye stood out for Johnson among its highlights, along with vivid memories of The Rye, Keep Hill and West Wycombe. In the paranoia of the post September 11th world, the Bucks Free Press reports that Wycombe again has been adopted by the Whitehall strategists as a potential safe haven for fleeing Londoners in the event of a catastrophe. Topographical writers have served Wycombe well. Daniel Defoe came this way on his tour of the island, and journalist Harry Hopkins followed in his footsteps in the 1950’s by starting his circuit of England in Wycombe. William Cobbet came through on his ‘Rural Rides’ in the 18th century and admired the local women. Gordon S. Maxwell devoted a chapter of ‘The Fringe of London’ to an encounter with one of the last minstrels in the hills above the town. Anan Dickson’s 1940’s book of ‘Chiltern Footpaths’ fan out from the earthwork of Desborough Castle on the western edge of the town. Fieldfare of The Evening News published several walks starting or ending in the town in ‘More Walks with Fieldfare’, and New Statesman columnist Andrew Martin recently described Wycombe as “a place where every car stops for you even if you are thinking of crossing the road.” Apparently there is a saying that the river Wye gave the town its mills, the mills produced the market and the market gave birth to the town. It’s where the early translators of the Bible found support, where English Civil War took root, where the Quakers plotted their flight to America, the 3
US Air Force ran their WWII campaign and based their Cold War communications; and where RAF Strike Command still rests in the hills.
This book contains reports from the ‘dérives’ we took in order to find our own Wycombe. It was the redevelopment that had brought us home and it was where our journey began.
Drift #1 July 2004
We rendezvous at the Wycombe District Council Planning Office. The staff are friendly and helpful and hand over the latest plans for the scheme, which apparently is now called The Wycombe Regeneration Project. Looking at the drawings and plans induces a raging hunger and although the traffic flow diagrams are mildly hypnotic we need food. We head off for Pop’s Caff on Frogmoor only to discover that it’s gone, replaced by some Formica-free takeaway place. We end up in Littlewoods café and leave a calling card on one of the menus exhorting people to join us in remapping and reimagining the town. We start our orbital tour of the regeneration site at the side entrance to the bus station on Lily’s Walk, which is like a portal into the fume-soaked sunless Hades that is Wycombe Bus Station. I admire the geometric patterns formed by the cris-crossing concrete ramps of the multistorey carpark. The alley that runs off to the left leads to the old Wanderers pitch of Loakes Park and I have memories of the excitement of being in the pre-match throng as a kid and the fear of being caught up in the ruck after the Slough Town Cup match. Cathy takes photos of the dilapidated gas works in all its rusted elegance. Men in fluro vests pass carrying plans and white spray paint. 5
Traffic. Two women in saris. I climb the bank next to what is/was the Dole office, step over the wooden fence, stand outside the zone, feel it from the raised level shaded by trees. This spot feels special somehow – a remnant of the old path through to the Rye? It’s wedged in between roads and brick walls. Looking at old maps in the pub later this could be what’s left of Pagan’s Mead.
Post office vans lined up in the car park. “He’s been so pissed off. He got laid off in December…” two dolled-up girls pass by. The Desborough Road section is desperate. Takeaways, boarded up derelict shacks. Fried Food Strip. Best One Foods. Tuckin Takeaway with Pukka Pies. AT&T Video, Pizza and Kebabs. Numerous alleys ripe for night-time vice lead into the carpark – neglected corners of coke cans. Loud Hindi music blaring from suped-up Nissans, close-cropped youths, bleach blonde black-rooted girls, drawn faced guy on crutches, black youths in hooded tops, white boys in Hackett rip-offs. Cultures meet/collide on the corner of Bridge Street and Desborough Road. Caribbean, Asian, White, mixed race. Second Hand City on the opposite corner looks as though it’ll survive – furnish the new units? The old map shows that the boundary of the Borough cut through here and it has retained that borderland feel. 6
Dougie’s Snacks Take Away on Bridge Street “Feeding Wycombe since 1989. Food that’s good enough to eat!” Bridge Street gives me nothing leaves me cold except a planning notice and a view of the site from the corner of Denmark Street – the Church spire pokes up above the Octagon. All the interest is on the other side of the road - Le Sandwich boasting Segafredo coffee and the College Halls student colony. The Esso petrol station is boarded up, decommissioned, environmental hazard. Oxford Road. The Leaning Tower of Pizza has risen nearby Scorpion Records - the gravitational centre of my Wycombe. I can’t resist going over. I chat with Cheryl and Steg and tell them about our project. Steg has been in the shop for 27 years and says there have always been plans for the site. He makes some good suggestions for creating 3D walk through maps with transparent screens. Maybe we’ll stick one in the carpark. Oxford Road is a racetrack, grass it over, restore it to meadowland, that’d be the civilised thing to do. Forget about bowling alleys, this is Death Race 2000. The pigeons love the carpark. Police sign warning you not to leave valuables in your car. The roundabout looks like a burial mound – the final resting place of crushed up Cortinas. I meet up with Cathy outside Tescos (a poster behind the checkout reads: “Helping you to spend less everyday”. This could be a slogan for the anti-consumerist brigade). We survey the site from the top of the multi-storey carpark. The town pours into the parking bays below, from the roads propelled by the roundabout, from the lanes running down from the higher ground, it all runs off into this spot, just like the Wye stream.
Drift #2 August 2004
I start at the station with the fine civic sweep of Crendon Street and the curved building into Castle Street. Crendon Lane was an ancient British road ran along one side of Malmer’s Well, a British/ Celtic fortification. My intention is to follow part of the old Borough Boundary and carry out my own tramping of the bounds. In Birdcage Walk I find some steps leading off down to No.7 Easton Street, a cottage standing alone next to a multi-storey carpark, it has a small well-kept lawn. I wonder if it is the last remnant of the lost village of Croynden, the remains of a community wiped out by the industrial blocks on all sides. One of the blocks turns out to be the Memorial School. I continue down the alley that runs beside the Church ‘The Hub’. A friendly man with a bucket approaches me as I walk back up past the cottage, the gates should be shut. He tells me that the cottage belongs to the Church, as does the school, and is called Baines Cottage. It is now a drug rehab centre. Birdcage Walk is warm, undergrowth in bloom spilling over through the chain-link fence. Brick’n’flint wall past the council offices, the green and yellow door of the Irish Club. A public footpath heads into the underpass that leads under the railway tracks, opposite the Mason’s Arms and for a moment I’m nearly drawn in but I remember that I want to trace at least part of the old Borough boundary. 9
Down Saffron Road to the sound of a cooing pigeon. This area is curiously referred to as Saffron Platt and I can only guess that saffron was grown here once, a popular medieval crop for hiding the taste of putrid meat. I can’t resist the alley beside Crendon Hall. Low brick’n’flint wall. Was once called The Rope Walk. Trinity Reformed Church first stone laid 1850. Along the rows of cottages and yards of Easton Terrace and into Stuart Road where two big old houses stand guard. I’m following the route taken when ‘Beating the Bounds’ as described in ‘Strange Wycombe’ by Alan Cleaver. They partially re-enacted this curious old custom in 1985. It involved visiting the marker stones of the borough boundary and bumping a boy’s head upon them. Cleaver goes into the likely pagan origins of the ritual and the possibility that it was linked to archaic practices of child sacrifice. At the end, on the corner of London Road, The Willows still shows crumbling engravings on the pillars at the gothic side entrance. Opposite is the Friends House facing the Rye and Quakers are still in residence. Quakers and other religious dissenters have had a strong foothold in the area for some time and Wycombe returned the first member of The Society of Friends to sit in the House of Commons when Thomas Archdale was elected in 1698. “World Peace will come through the will of ordinary people like yourself” on a faded sign in the grounds. Next door is a fine colonial veranda that reminds me of the posher parts of Sydney. There’s a path leading up to a partially concealed old house sat well back from the road. Can I allow my curiosity to take me up somebody’s garden path? Crown House Independent School and a prosperous looking row of Georgian cottages complete the picture that this was once the wealthy part of town before the London Road barged through choking it up with commuter fumes.
Lying on the grass by Pann Mill I look back across the Rye and imagine grazing cows and wonder if the old rights of pasture still exist. I can see myself leading a herd of Jerseys along Easton Street bringing the rush-hour traffic to a halt. I shall write to the Gildain. Take a picture of the water wheel, in this tiny corner there is something unchanged for roughly a thousand years. The name comes from a French knight, Roger de Panil who acquired the mill in the time of Henry II for the price of one fifth of a knight’s fee. Grapes hang from vines covering one side of the mill, the Romans cultivated grapes here too. Children play on the swings, squealing with delight. A couple of toddlers stare into the Wye. This end of town, the east, still exudes gentility; old money built the piles over on London Road. I want to just lie on the grass next to the stream under the shade of an avenue of limes. Brings back memories of the perfect peace that I found here at times. The path hugs the river which at this point is a stream, and it’s difficult to imagine that it once drove mills along its whole length from Wycombe to Bourne End where it drops into the Thames after running under a small stone bridge. The Wye or The Wyke as it was called, and its mills are central to the area’s identity like the walls of brick and flint, they make us what we are in some way indefinable. None of what has grown up around me would be here if it weren’t for this small tract of tranquil water. The river goes through a weir and turns at what was once a fulling mill for the cloth trade, Rye Mill, now a garage selling performance cars to the marketing consultants who have replaced the mill workers, symbolic of the town’s transition. As I approach Bassetsbury Manor, Wycombe Cricket Club appears on the left. This side of the town brings out the flaneur in me. The manor house has become a conference centre and wedding venue. I wander up the path past the bowls and croquet lawns and into the house unopposed. A busy entourage unload champagne and I resist the urge to ask them directions to the painting by Joshua Reynolds that was here in the days when the house belonged to the furniture maker Fred Skull. He found the site where Alan Basset had entertained King John in a state of ruin 12
and set about restoring and updating, adding a loggia and other features to what was by then mostly a 17th century building. The medieval barns are occupied by the Christian Science Church, and the mill building has been converted into tasteful executive dwellings. When you look back across the Rye from here its history is still very visible. The wealthy in the manor house. The townsfolk at play, although it’s tennis and football instead of backswords. People come from all over the district for the annual Asian Mela and the Wycombe Show just as they did for the public hanging of two robbers who murdered a man in 1736. Even the open-air swimming pool on the site of the Roman Villa is in keeping with the past. A haven, a sanctuary from the rigours of town life. I cross the Dyke over a plank not far from where some people believe there was a Holy Well that was worshipped till St Hugh put a stop to it in the 13th century. Joggers, cyclists, leisure under the cool ancient shade. I turn up into Keep Hill Wood at the Waterfall. A sign announces that the wood has been adopted by Ercol Co., famous as the makers of the G-Plan range of furniture. There are Kids crying and a Mum shouting back by the water, childhood days out come flooding back. The climb into the wood is steep. I’m sweating, a jogger with a personal trainer goes down past me. Dappled sunlight, Pan is here, my pagan senses aroused, well worship seems like a god idea. I’m heading up looking for the site of the ancient British camp marked on some of the old maps. Dad’s only recollection of Keep Hill was that it was where American airmen took their girlfriends ‘courting’. B.S. Johnson wrote about finding used condoms decorating the hawthorn bushes during the war. I regret not bringing a banana. I realise how the woods are part of Wycombe. They exude an arcane influence over the town. People settled here on the wooded banks and hilltops before they ventured down to the valley floor. We came out of the hills and woods. A ditch runs across the footpath, north-south, and if I were intrepid I’d follow it but it looks tough going and my blood sugar is low. I come across a picnic table in a clearing and 13
wrongly identify it as the site of the ancient British camp which is further to the east. It’s covered in graffiti, BOLLOX. WWWANKERS. Eloquent lot. I leave behind a quote by S.P.B Mais on a sticker, “The cry of the age is for distraction. Now distraction is precisely what we do not want.” Further up I find myself boxed in by the chain-link fence of RAF Daws Hill, which is quietly slumbering in the way that only a High Security military installation can in a mad world. I’m aware that I’m walking over a nuclear bunker, 23,000 sq. feet of it buried beneath the woods. In the event of a nuclear strike this is where the US Airforce would have directed its nuclear bombers and cruise missiles from. What is now listed as a distribution and storage depot for the US Navy including a mini-market and bowling alley, was in the 1970’s and 80’s the war HQ for the US Military in Europe. The woods were so alive with the electronic clatter of the Cold War that one walker reported a ‘hill humm’ on a summer’s eve. Large GMC 4x4’s, what they call SUV’s or Yank Tanks, are lined up in the carpark. Small town America is just over the wire. FITNESS CENTER – US spelling. Ministry of Defence Property – KEEP OUT.
The Bucks Free Press reports that the military are moving out, the War on Terror has no use for top secret underground control centres in the English hills. The policy of Full Spectrum 14
Dominance doesn’t require this corner of the American Empire. Ex-US Navy properties in Doolittle Village are already available to rent through the internet.1 There is a break in the razor-wire and to my left a gorgeous wide expanse of parkland stretches out for miles between an avenue of trees. The red and white barrier is raised and I’m filled with the urge to just run straight down the middle. There is a basketball court in the foreground. Nobody at all on the landscape. I decide against it as the next exit would probably be at Hard To Find Farm, which is just too far away for a man with a rumbling belly. The 217 Retail Store and Service Station on First Avenue torments me over the fence. The peace is shattered by the traffic noise of the M40. It was a sound that serenaded me to sleep as a child. Looking through the trees at the six lanes of zooming traffic reminds me of a similar view from the Mother Redcap two or three miles down the asphalt track and how it filled me with a wonder at what might be at the other end of this road, this place where all the cars were going to and coming from. Eventually the footpath comes out at the entrance to the base. The RAF Daws Hill sign has fallen into the undergrowth, it’s given up the ghost even before the ink is dry on the Strategic Defence Review. On Daws Hill Lane I remember stomping this tarmac in summer 17 years ago selling carpet cleaning, hot, sweaty, excited. Working out of the corner of an office in the High Street, employing students like me on summer break the company lasted barely two months, but it provided me with an introduction into the fulltime working world. The new money of Daws Hill Lane is sat up high looking down on the old money below. The Mock Tudor of Knights Templar Way, invoking the ruins of the medieval Hospital of the Order of St John on Easton Street. Tall trees. Old stone columns that once led into Daws Hill House now flank Crispin Way. Over the wall is land still in the Carrington (of Rhodesia) family. 1
When I rang RAF Daws Hill to gain access to the bunker I was told that the facility was fully operational and not in fact closing down.
Feeling that the spirit of the great literary walker S.P.B Mais is with me, I hear him exhorting me to “continually trespass”, and I’m tempted to jump over the wall. I’m interrupted by a phone call from Cathy stuck on the M40, and she tells me not to get arrested. On Marlow Hill I can smell the sea, pungent salty air, blowing in from an imaginary sea. The prohibited land on my right now is that of the Wycombe Abbey School, offering exclusive education for Arabian princesses. It was never an Abbey, the Carringtons changed the name from Loakes Manor when they bought it from the Shelburnes. Samuel Johnson was a regular guest when it was owned by the 2nd Earl of Shelburne, 2nd Baron Wycombe, William Petty, who was Prime Minister from 1782-3. Shelburne stood out from the crowd in that age of great characters. He must be the only British Prime Minister to have been held in high regard by City of London Radicals and French philosophers. Descended from the Lords of Kerry, he preached tolerance of dissenters and argued for conciliation with the colonial rebels in America. I wonder whether this is why the USAF chose his former home as the base for the 8th Bomber Command from 1942-45. Or it was more likely that the Germans found it too difficult to drop bombs on a target sat on the side of a steep hill.
I’m relieved to hit the bottom of Marlow Hill and get that feeling of re-entering the heart of the town. A full tour of the old borough boundary would have taken me over Tom Burt’s Hill to Castlefield across to Hughenden, then on to Totteridge finishing at The Nags Head exhausted. But I have an appointment with some old maps at the museum. I duck past Wycombe College, like an ugly duckling transformed into Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College. In many ways it was my alma mater, in the refectory, the YAC, and the Students Union Bar in a portacabin in the carpark. But that was back before the days of
security when every fella in a two-bit Grebo band hung around the jukebox blaring out The Damned and The Rose of Avalanche. In Lilys Walk it’s quite difficult to summon visions of ‘Our Lady of the Lilies’, at nighttime it’s mugger’s paradise. The doors of the Multi-Racial Centre are open and a meeting is taking place, people spill out into the sunshine. The next night a woman is shot and killed at a party there. I read about it in The Observer which makes it seems so distant when just the day before I was standing right there. I’ve lived in parts of London where shootings were a weekly occurrence; one of my local hospitals was famed for its treatment of gunshot wounds. As hard a place as Wycombe can be at times, you just don’t expect 23-year women to get shot in the face.
MacDonald’s is rammed. Under 10’s being Super-sized. The market is in full swing, the sun shining, people sit on tables on the street opposite The Guildhall like it’s Madrid. The spirit of the ancient market borough is unleashed, the Chepping should replace the High before Wycombe. Everything is on sale from vintage comics to designer rip-offs, mop-heads, combat gear and Chinese electronics. I munch a vast baguette in the graveyard before pushing on up Castle Place to the museum on the site of an old Norman fort and Well and Castle Hill House. As I pass through the gates I make a nod to the station to complete my circuit.
Drift #2.5 September 04
I walk out of the Octagon where we have been stopped from filming by Security. No video or cameras allowed. We are marched along back corridors up to the Centre Supervisor’s office to ask for permission. The Security mistakenly says that we are tourists from abroad. The stern lady behind the desk tells us that the owners of the Octagon, Stannifer, don’t allow any photography or filming in the Octagon. We have to request permission, which will almost certainly be refused. Corporate Stalinism. I become very aware of the highly visible Security presence throughout the centre – a privately policed controlled zone, a miniature Singapore. Head out through Tesco across Denmark Street and connect with Desborough Road/ Strata Dusteburg by the second-hand furniture place on the corner. Yellow banners proclaim “Welcome to Desborough Road”. Council sponsored branding extolling the area’s appeal as a hive of independent traders. Mr Frills Sex Shop, door wide open, multicoloured dildos lined up inside the door, not dark and seedy. It would be as easy to pop in and pick up a latex fist as a greeting card from the shop next door. I used to have my hair cut down here. Arched alleys lead down between the shops. A row of Churches. Wycombe was known for its Chapels. The Kings Centre is offering Free Lunch For Students. No such thing as a free lunch, they’re after your soul son. 18
Hook left up Desborough Avenue near St. John’s Hall. An excavation here found skeletons without fingers leading to the conclusion that this was the site of St Margaret and St Giles Leper Hospital of the middle ages. A grassy alley leads off running parallel to West End Road but I’m drawn up the hill. Sari shop mass of colour. Raja House at 115 painted pink and white, the colours of Disraeli. Into Suffield Road and up over a mound covered in tarmac. There’s an isolated corrugated-tin hut with a rusted bed-frame leant against the side. From here you can see ridges of terraced housing running up the northern bank of the valley. I turn into West End Street – Wycombe Industrial Mall, automotive services, mechanics stalking stalled cars. Private Property. I pick up the footpath I’d seen before and follow it eastwards past a skipping Sari girl. I pass garden gates and lawns, some well kept, one with two cars parked half-way up, old household appliances, greenhouses, wooden work-bench rescued from one of the disused furniture factories that proliferated in this area. The back of an old industrial block sitting nervously among a development of executive flats. Shopping trolley, stinging nettles, muddy puddles, sound of someone sawing wood.
Another shopping trolley turned over on its side marks the point where the footpath emerges behind the Benefits Office on Wendover Street and right near the spot I was drawn to on our orbital tour of the TCR site. The footpath effectively runs into the gas works, but I check the maps later and see that it lines up with Lilys Walk and the footpath running across the Rye by the Dyke, which then runs up through Keep Hill Wood. In the other direction it lines up with a small section of footpath near Desborough Castle. This overgrown alley behind a row of houses seems to be a small section of the ancient track called Green Street that runs in an almost straight line from the Icknield Way at Bledlow to Hedsor Wharf near Cliveden as described by Anan Dickson in ‘Chiltern Footpaths’. Follow the alley to the west, go between two huge old factories and it joins a street bearing the name of Green Street just as Dickson described in 1947. This area was one of the parts of the town built up in the Borough expansion of the late 19th Century; West End Road one of the oldest. The path has merely been built around left with no purpose but to connect the Industrial Mall to the Benefits Office. But still you can imagine an unbroken passage leading through the valley past the iron age Desborough Castle, the Roman Villa on the Rye with the Holy Well nearby, through the Ancient British Camp at Wycombe Marsh, nodding to the standing stone on Wooburn Green and on to the Thames. I follow Rutland Street up towards the hills again and at the end run into the Westminster Shelburne Lodge; can’t work out what it is, some kind of motel or conference venue; I eventually discover that it is a retirement home. Nestled alongside are new homes for the aspirant classes. The old terraces and semis round here have long alleys running down the backs and sides of the houses that remind me of Forest Gate. East London was a furniture area too.
On the opposite hill a Radio Mast sticks up above the houses. The view from behind the Gas Works is of the town roofscape: Octagon, Newlands Multi-storey, Parish Church, cranes. After our experience with the Octagon authorities I am clouded by an atmosphere of control; CCTV, suppress the volatile multi-ethnic and working class mix. Wycombe is a resolutely artisanproletarian town and has at times in its history taken to the streets to assert its rights with the Paper Riots, depression era curfew breakers, and so-called Race Riots of the eighties. When the Moscow city authorities decided to install CCTV, they came to Wycombe to see how it was done. The path to my left leads back to the bus station. Loakes Road shows no sign of its famous ghost. So I head down towards the Fritz Lang flyover that they were so proud of in the sixties. Stencil graffito of a hand-grenade and smoking cigarette on the chainlink wrapped around disused brownfield site that will probably take several generations to decontaminate. The town centre is closing down but I manage to obtain a copy of Druid Chris Park’s ‘Sacred Wye’ from Ruby Moon. I see a sign for the monthly Wycombe Moot meeting at the Environment Centre on the Rye restoring one of its original uses. 21
The Lunchtime Dérive October 04
The aim of the Lunchtime Dérive was to study how, by following a simple instruction, a group of workers could re-experience the town during their lunch break. The daily hunt for a prawn sandwich or Chicken Tikka Marsala Ready Meal will be replaced with a drift motivated by following a basic algorithm provided by Dutch psychogeographers Social Fiction.
In an email to Cathy I sketch out the theoretical background to the exercise and how we might go about organizing it: According to geographer David Pinder (1996) part of the purpose of the dérive was to allow “participants to drift from their usual activities and to become more aware of their surroundings while simultaneously seeking out ways of changing them.” Our intervention is in part in reference to Chombart de Lauwe’s study of the movement’s made in a year by a Paris student. Guy Debord referred to the data produced by this study as ‘a modern poetry capable of provoking sharp emotional reactions.’ By asking the office workers to map their usual lunchtime routines we may find that this precious hour of free time is also similarly limited. 22
Debord describes the dérive as a period when one or more persons “drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.” We will be asking people to drop their usual lunch-time routine of the trip to M&S for a sarnie or surfing the net at their desk and to follow an algorithm wherever it may take them and experience the town as they find it. We will employ an algorithm to jolt people from their routines and drive the drift most likely taking them into areas they wouldn’t normally consider going to at lunch-time. Debord suggests that the dérivers may discover new ‘psychogeographical attractions’ to which they may be drawn back, in this way our intervention may have deeply subversive consequences in changing the lunch-time habits of a group of office workers, the hunt for grub between 12 and 2 being one of the town’s primary motors. By mapping this dynamic then by interfering with it we can start to truly understand and interact with the ‘psychogeographical articulations’ of the town.
Process: 1. Organize an initial meeting with the workers 1 week or so before the derive. Ask them to map their usual lunchtime movements. 2. On the day of the derive meet the volunteers outside their workplace. Issue them with: notepad, disposable camera, piece of paper containing the algorithm. 3. Make sure that everybody understands the instructions and send the groups of 2-3 people off in different directions. 4. We will accompany the groups to record the event but not intervene. The groups record their route, observations etc. on the notepads. 5. The derive finishes after 30 minutes and we reassemble for lunch and debrief. 23
6. We collect in notepads and cameras and process the results creating maps of the routes followed. (we could give them a small amount of money to collect food along the way for the lunch at the end)
Rules for a Dérive: 1.
One or more persons may derive.
The most fruitful numerical arrangement consists of several groups of two or three people.
It is preferable for the composition of these groups to change from one dérive to another.
Drop your usual motives for movement and action, relations, work and leisure activities.
The average duration of a dérive is a day, considered as the time between two periods of sleep.
The times of beginning and ending have no necessary relation to the solar day.
The last hours of the night are generally unsuitable for dérives.
A dérive seldom occurs in its pure form.
The spatial field of the dérive may be precisely delimited or vague.
10. The spatial field depends first of all on the point of departure. 11. The maximum area of this spatial field does not extend beyond the entirety of a large city and its suburbs. 12. The minimum area can be limited to a small self-contained ambiance (the extreme case being the static-dérive of an entire day within the Saint-Lazare train station).
Extrapolated from Guy Debord’s 1958 Theory of the Dérive 24
Lunchtime Dérive Report November 04
We sent an invitation out to companies in the area of the Town Centre Redevelopment to take part in the Lunchtime Dérive. We received one response, from Alan Petherbridge, a keen walker and employee of The Guiness Trust.
Met Alan at the Guinness Trust Offices in Mendy Street at 12.30pm. He was ready for action. He handed me a piece of paper recording his lunchtime movements over the previous week:
Monday – out for a quick sandwich Out of office, turn left along Mendy Street, turn right into Denmark Street. Straight to Tescos and return. Tuesday – shopping. As above to Tescos. Through Octagon and along White Hart Street turn left round Church Street to card shop opposite M&S. 25
Out of card shop, turn right back along Church Street and turn left into High Street to WH Smith. Return along High Street, White Hart Street, through Octagon and along Denmark Street, Mendy Street. Wednesday â€“ quick dash to Sainsburys. Out of office, turn left, across car park up Bellfield Road, turn right into Dovecote Road and into Sainsburys. Return by same route.
I gave him the notepad, disposable camera and choice of two algorithms written on white postcards which he picked blind. He chose:
I explained that he should follow the algorithm as closely as possible but if it led to a deadend to head back to a point where the algorithm could be resumed. I also said that he should allow himself to be diverted from his route if he saw anything particularly interesting and then resume the formula. At the bottom of the steps he could choose whether to start to the right or left down Mendy Street and he chose to go right towards Desborough Road. I followed filming with the video camera. He started making notes and taking photos pretty quickly and very soon had his head down and was straight into the spirit of the dérive as he turned right off Desborough Road into Westbourne Street. The first left took him into the Desborough Road Service Road where we ran along the backs of garages dodging cars and palette trucks as lorries unloaded. You’d never normally go down here. With his head down writing and taking photos then purposefully marching off led by the algorithm it almost seemed that Alan had entered into the state of reverie of the ‘Fugueur’. The next turning was into Desborough Avenue but at a point so unfamiliar to Alan that he had to go and find a street sign. This was the second new experience for him of the dérive so far and led onto a third as we crossed a small open section of the river Wye at a low bridge babbling its way through an industrial estate and close to where it becomes culverted. We were both quite taken with this.
We next hit the heavy traffic of Oxford Road and some semi-derelict buildings. But even here amongst the banality there was beauty in the autumnal leaves by the roadside. From here it was into Bellfield Road and under a tunnel towards Hughenden and Morrisons supermarket. Alan photographed the overgrown railway banks with weeds in flower. We then headed in a loop around Parker Knoll Way, me scampering to keep up, Alan drawn to admire the verdant banks. This is an area of mini-roundabouts, a drive-through zone that Alan, a keen walker, had never 27
explored on foot. We then crossed Temple End and under the railway bridge as a London-bound train clattered by overhead. This felt like a special moment as the deriver in the grip of the algorithm re-entered the life of the town. He stopped to take notes as the town bustled past him, took photos of a group of noisy lads drinking outside a pub. He was apart from this Spectacle, drifting through the lunchtime buzz like an urban explorer, a decipherer of the code of the everyday narrative. He headed into White Hart Street after stopping to admire the fountain on Frogmore. Then into Bull Lane where he reported that he thought the algorithm had broken down. As we’d been going for 45 minutes and the original intention had been to walk for 30 minutes I said he could stop here but he wanted to carry on; he thought he knew where it had gone wrong and so headed off along Church Street past M&S then past the Church into Castle Street and finally into Corporation Street. He decided to stop as he hit the High Street. The next left would take him towards Easton Street and the second right would most likely be at the Law Courts. We discussed what had happened and Alan was enthusiastic about the experience; he was keen to be loyal to the algorithm and said it was so often open to interpretation what the next right or left may be. This is part of what makes the process interesting and it was in these choices that much of the psychogeography lies. It confirms the idea that two people with the same algorithm starting from the same point would take a different route – we passed a few alleys and slip roads that other people may have taken. I think we can say that our first experiment in algorithmic psychogeography was a success. Alan certainly seemed to find “the unknown facets of the known, astonishment on the terrain of boredom, innocence in the face of experience”, as Greill Marcus identifies as the point of the Dérive.
At the end of the DĂŠrive Alan was inducted into the Desborough Hundred Psychogeographical Society.
Alan’s Lunchtime Dérive route
Alan’s lunchtime movements the days preceding the derive. Monday to Tesco, Tuesday to Tesco and White Hart Street and Wednesday to Sainsbury
Alan Petherbridge’s Lunchtime Derive Notes
Turn right out of office to be away from town Desborough Road – shops changing Desborough Road Service Road Trying to guess where it will all end up and failing and hoping to end up somewhere I have never been Scruffy backs of shops always interesting Noticed crack in old red brick building across the car park Backs of new buildings later so boring Castle like roofs of Family Centre a contrast to squareness Turn right into Desborough Ave Houses ahead piled up the Hillside Good day for a walk Good reflections in the stream. Perhaps I should bring my camera to work 2nd Right This was going to be the Oxford Road back into Town and kind of hoped for a road I didn’t know before that but there was none. Why do cars break down at traffic lights! Even along a busy road there is beauty in a beech tree in its autumn glory Shopping trolley goes for a paddle in the stream! 31
Having the camera made me look around even more than usual Lovely old houses next to new job centre. Contrasts. Left up Bellfield Road
Lovely warm sun Very familiar piece of road but because I seldom walk up here (past the turning to Sainsburys) time to look at the bridge Love the wild tumble of plants below Focus Do It All. Sense of wildness amongst the regimented streets Photo of Old Mans Beard â€“ not many people know itâ€™s a Clematis 32
2nd Right into Parker Knoll Way do I stick to the pavement do I take a short cut like others across the grass Who makes these paths Ahead - lovely old jumble of buildings and roofs. New and old and trees on the skyline. I like all the trees in HW Nice “jungle” along the railway embankment. Could hear birds in spite of the roar of the traffic 2nd right a bit contrived at by junction Right backs towards Frogmore Past a sad neglected flower bed but even so the roses are still in flower 1st left under bridge into Frogmore The Clock House has great character. But in some ways you feel it could be happier in a country estate! You have to be an optimist to put tables outside a pub in HW in November. But there were some takers More people about now – felt a contrast of my wandering and their purposeful walking. The sun playing on the fountain gave great light effects but hard to capture with a camera. Idea/thought of capturing in fixed form the dynamic movement of something i.e. fountain Imprisoning? Into Oxford Street Interpretation of what is a right can give different routes 33
Right down Queens Square Right down White Hart Street Bull Lane Coming out of Bull Lane into Oxford Street Turn Right Left along past M&S Everything must go – where to! Up Castle Street Like the quietness behind the church and the other buildings along north side of Castle Street Amusing contrast of “scruffy” girls looking at dresses in a bride’s shop. 2nd Right down Corporation Street to High Street. THE END
Lunchtime DĂŠrive #2 January 05
On 19th January 2005 we undertook our second lunchtime derive, with 3 students from Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College. Mark, Daniel and Bex were all first year Arts and Media students. We altered the algorithm slightly.
The dérive lasted for over two-and-a-half hours with Mark, Daniel and Bex thoroughly surrendering themselves to the spirit of drift. We followed a hidden footpath behind the derelict CompAir factory where scenes from the new Willy Wonka film were shot (Johnny Depp popping into Sainsbury’s for beer). Some steps hoisted us up to high ground with views of two valleys (the Hughenden and the Wye), Desborough Castle and the Golden Ball. The Pastures Service Road was a sublime example of the urban poetry of street names. A mobile library conned us into going inside but was filled with potboilers and videos (they’ve been de-commissioned and are up for grabs from the Council). We finished in Desborough high on the fumes from Stuart Linford’s furniture workshops and the thrill of following the Wye stream into CCTV monitored space. The dérivers questioned notions of planned space, were prepared to trespass in the pursuit of the algorithm as bland suburban streets became part of an epic quest. It demonstrated how the algorithmic dérive is the antithesis of the led walk, the choices of the walkers and the algorithm drive the experience. It is a self-authored heritage trail of the present.
notes taken by Mark, Daniel and Bex 37
Grand Dérive November 04
The following dérive was undertaken using an algorithm of 2nd Right, 2nd Right, 1st Left, Repeat. It seemed appropriate for this exercise as it would force us to explore the seemingly mundane corners of Wycombe’s small but diverse urban realm.
The Mayor of High Wycombe complete with solid gold chain of office sees us off on our way from a rainy Bridge Street carpark with a few words about how pleased she is that we’ve brought psychogeography to the town. We’re joined by Dave and Lorna. Cathy heads north, Dave west and I elected to head east. Maybe it was a spiritual pull towards the Rye. Found a spot roughly in the middle of the carpark so that I’d be able to return to the same spot and repeat the exercise in two years when the TCR is finished, it was opposite Leywood House on Denmark Street. Past Tesco’s on Temple Street, a steady cold rain. Already questioning what constitutes a ‘RIGHT’ and realise I’ve passed an entry into one of the carparks. Would be good to dérive parking spaces. Into Rutland street past the dole office – from the dullness towards the Spectre of Loakes Lane, pull up the valley sides. I’m joined by JJ and David who have been commissioned by the 38
Arts Council to film the event. They are already intrigued, fiddling with kit, JJ’s boom swinging round David snapping avidly at street signs and me writing. It’s going to be hard to make good notes, functional only, I’m too inclined to talk if I have a captive audience so that’s what I do, I even talk about making notes. This corner has memories of two previous walks. Need to transcend those experiences and let the algorithm work its magic. Rutland Street bends to the right but I call it a right turn. JJ shares my admiration of the Fritz Lang-like qualities of the Tesco multi-storey, which we view through the scrub and debris by the gas works. Two abandoned trolleys. Our next right takes us into a private road, this is the spirit of the dérive. The next left is into a carpark behind the Lego houses, are they nurses or pensioner’s homes? This is a pensioner’s ghetto. There are steps leading up and we follow the path to its logical conclusion, which is the door of no.25. Dead end. But there is a bank and wooden fence then fields. I hit the fellas with the choice – jump over the fence or go back. I ponder for a second and realise that the only way to go is over the fence, it’s a barrier, it says don’t go here, an artificial demarcation of space, a provocation. The fields are calling me and also I’m intrigued by how the algorithm will behave in the woods. I scramble over the fence inelegantly, trying to ignore the camera. I’m excited by the possibilities that will open up. Still raining I’ve got a red tartan umbrella that I have to rest on my shoulder to write which means I put my pen in my mouth which is no good for the audio. Straight away there’s a mud path heading right. We follow it along a line of beech trees although I confess that despite growing up in ‘Beechy Bucks’ I couldn’t swear that that’s what they are it’s just they match the image of the ubiquitous local tree, therefore must be beech. I now have no bearings as to where we are in relation to the town. There is always a defining moment in a dérive when it takes off, jumping over the fence was that moment, we are now in the grip of the fugue. 39
We’re walking on a muddy path over wet leaves, left the tarmac behind, now in the land of SPB Mais and JJ half remembers his tips for derivers that we posted on the blog advising the walker to carry ten oranges with them. We don’t have a morsel to eat between us, all our hopes in that direction are pinned on our rendezvous with Cathy and Dave and Lorna in The Hogshead. I take a piss-stop in the trees, urinating in town has become a problem. In the trees I notice the plastic sheaves unravelled round the base of the trunks – signs of their days as saplings and visible evidence of recent planned planting. The battery in JJ’s tapeless machine has given up, no audio from now on but that won’t stop me talking. There’s a path to the right – a 1st Right. We stop to note the recurring motif of a Wycombe dérive, the abandoned shopping trolley, this one behind a single-storey block against chainlink fence. A squat man is behind in leather jerkin hands thrust in pockets woolly hat pulled down to his eyes brows, you wouldn’t want to run into him on this path alone. I suspect he’s caught some of our conversation because as we wave him through he says “I’ve lived here 39 years so that’s why I can’t work out what’s so interesting”.
I start to wonder where we are. 40
The path splits three ways ahead of me, then five yards on four ways. One of the paths leading up the hill has wooden steps and I’m very tempted to break the algorithm and follow it. I discuss it with David and JJ and decide that it would be too much of a diversion from the spirit of this dérive and mean we had no hope of making our rendezvous point on time, if at all. I draw the complex pattern of footpaths in my notepad. We’re all quite enamoured with this spaghetti junction like arrangement of paths amongst a small spinney on the edge of town. There is a wooden sign in the trees that says ‘PRIVATE’ and someone has graffitied ‘NON’ above it and ‘FUCK OFF’ on either side. One of these mud paths is our next RIGHT. As we see that we’re heading back into the urban realm David can’t believe that we’ve been walking in woods, when they arrived in Wycombe it was the last thing they had been expecting. As we reach the gate at the end of the path there is a sign that tells us that this is the bottom of Tom Burt’s Hill Woodland and Wildflower meadow. Go through the gate and the first LEFT is Bridle Gate, a sedate little road. Opposite is Two Shires Ambulance NHS Trust. A woman in her little car visibly tuts. At us? The end of Bridle Gate descends into someone’s drive there is no other way through, a woman unloading her car spells it out. I explain what we’re doing and she says that we’ll just have to go back. Was I expecting her to give us a bunk over the wall? We start again on West End Street. We’re going west against the valley along Suffield Road. I get a chance to take a photo of the corrugated tin shed from one of my previous walks, the bed-frame of before supplemented with a great pile of assorted junk leant against the side. RIGHT into Desborough Avenue and now it’s full on traffic and bustle and the spirit of Saturday. The Sari shop is having a sale. I take a photo of the pink & white Raja House and further down there is a second house painted in pink and white, that I read as a homage to Disraeli.
The footpath that excited me on another walk cuts across except I notice that despite the omission on maps it does continue west, I must go back to see if it’ll take me to Desborough Castle. My next turning takes me into West End Road and I get the feeling that I don’t particularly want to go there, I’d walked it before, charted its ambiences. Nevertheless the algorithm has to be obeyed. I quickly realise that I was wrong and I hadn’t walked this section of the street before. Lovely rows of terraced houses. It feels old and I tell the fellas that it was the first of the areas to be built in the borough boundary extension of the late C19th – I’m doing my local history bit and I can see a tour guide bringing people this way but of course they wouldn’t because somehow it isn’t heritage. We’re drawn to a low slightly knackered panel fence, behind is a yard of rubble with a front door dying lying flat in the middle and a couch to one side like a house has exploded. A potent smell of hash is in the air and we joke that an enormous brick of hash caused the house to explode. The LEFT takes us past the side of Isaac Lords and in my head flashes the title of their book ‘A Hundred at Lords’. At this stage it is difficult to say what the next right would be, we are effectively at a T-junction with Desborough Road, it’s hugely open to question, so I declare that Westbourne Street is our next RIGHT despite the fact I’m not particularly drawn to it and it could turn out to be a repetition of the lunchtime dérive. The street I’ve chosen turns out to be Short Street and I note the word ‘unspectacular’ as I look down from the end. Anodyne blocks, Diametrics Medical, vintage ford van that I photo then opposite I spy a classic public loo standing alone on the opposite side of the street. The more I look at it the more it appears perfect in its symmetry, a perfect building, dropped from the sky, on either side its square orange lights glow, it looks Soviet, what is it doing here? It exudes a strong smell of public loo. JJ and David are impressed, in Brighton it would be closed down due to ‘misuse’. I reassure them that it’s probably the offices of some of the local prostitutes. 42
Turn into East Richardson Street, which of course begs the question of where is West Richardson Street. We admire the architecture of an office block on the corner facing the side of the lavs. Strange to find such modernism here. The plaque announces ABBEY CARS FLEET HOUSE and I’m not sure whether fleet house is a company or the building, anyway it’s TO LET. There’s another carpark. The green gate of a factory COMPACTOR HOUSE – we peer through the gate at the stacks of pallets and I can only guess that it was once one of the many furniture factories that proliferated here. Next door is a white paint peeling house. Across is a view of the backs of terraces and JJ makes the point that this is often where the individuality is expressed. At the end of the street David Silvey funeral directors and we’re facing and enormous slab building – VERNON BUILDING – that I feel I’ve seen in a dream, reminds me of something I’ve drifted past in Ultimo Sydney, the printing presses of the Sydney Morning Herald and I remember thinking back then as I first explored those streets of industrial central Sydney how it put me in mind of Wycombe. Even the pubs there were vaguely Wycombesque. LEFT into Westbourne Street and by now we’re feeling the cold and it’s getting dark. Wycombe Insurance down one side in a windowless building. The Gurdwara with its signage in English and what I imagine might be Gujarati, strange setting for a religious building amongst these industrial units. Westbourne Street becomes Westbourne Passage, one of the pieces of old Wycombe that still litter the town as a reminder of the old street pattern. It brings us to behind a large building on Oxford Road that curiously has a ceramic frieze of a Dutch milkmaid on the wall. Where this connects with the back of the circular building there is a gap no more than a foot wide littered with vodka bottles, an illicit skinny alley which has been gated and locked with a padlock. What amuses us is not the closing off of this cranny that would be used as a spot to jack up or urinate but that it has this padlock implying that it can be opened, when? For and by whom? The urban landscape throws up many such enigmas. 43
Oxford Road is the home stretch and we can feel that the dérive is over. We’ve been going more than the allotted hour and the talk is of beer and food. Even so I’m drawn briefly into Brook Street it seems to echo the original layout of Newlands. One of the old style factory units stands alone – EH Milner Electrics. The last RIGHT takes us into Bridge Street which seems like a good resolution to the dérive, back to the point where we stood in the rain with the mayor of High Wycombe wearing her chain of office sending us off with a short speech about algorithms.
Debrief over pints and crisps and maps in The Antelope.
“GO-AHEAD SOON FOR A NEW WYCOMBE” Bucks Free Press 10th May 1963
1925 Street Plan of Newlands. Courtesy of Wycombe District Council planning office.
“The ambitious project for rebuilding a big central area of High Wycombe, and for a relief road looping south of the town centre to ease traffic congestion, will be approved shortly by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, the ‘Free Press’ understands.
The plan provides for the building of new stores and shops, a pedestrian only precinct with the River Wye running through it, a hotel, a central bus station, three multi-storey car parks, and blocks of offices.
At the public inquiry into the project, it was said that it would bring a breath of new life to the town, so that it could flourish and give it an architecture and a landscape of excitement and charm.” Bucks Free Press 10th May 1963
“Central Redevelopment at High Wycombe” “The basis of the scheme is the complete separation of pedestrians from vehicles…The River Wye, which crosses the central area, has its banks lined and planted as a town centre amenity…The new scheme, properly designed and incorporating the river, can be brought into harmony with the character of the town.” ‘Architect’s Journal’ December 8th 1960
Stills from Central Area, 1963, courtesy of the Wycombe Film Society
“ …such a solution as has been proposed, with an elevated motor road through the heart of the old town, makes me seriously ask to whom or what it is intended to bring ‘relief’: true the motorist may pass through more quickly, but for the citizens the cure seems worse than the disease. A new scheme is clearly required, based on the Buchanan principles of placing environmental considerations before the convenience of through traffic.” Architect’s Journal 20th October 1965 “Not only will it solve the traffic problem but it will visually enhance the townscape…” F.B. Pooley, chief architect for the scheme, ‘Architect’s Journal’ 3rd November 1965
Wycombe District Council has recently announced plans to pull down the Abbey Way Flyover.
“TOWN CENTRE REDEVELOPMENT GETS GO-AHEAD” Bucks Free Press 19th September 2003
High Wycombe Town Centre Extension Plan by architects Benoy for developers Stannifer,2004. Printed by kind permission of Multiplex.
“This mixed-use regeneration scheme will transform the Buckinghamshire town of High Wycombe” leaflet produced by architects Benoy 2004
“I have often heard people say, when looking at pictures of the destruction of old Wycombe and the construction of the Octagon centre: “How could the people of Wycombe allow this to happen 48
to their town?”…What guarantee is there that the same thing won’t happen again?” letter to the Bucks Free Press 23rd May 2003
“We wanted high quality design. We had a particular interest in roofscapes. We feel that because we have a particular topography as when you drive in you look down on the roof.” Cllr Pam Priestley Bucks Free Press 21st September 2004
“New shops and leisure facilities are going to be built and the new name must attract people into the town. It must make people with money, ladies who lunch and residents of Gerrards Cross, want to come to Wycombe to spend their money.” Bucks Free Press 27 February 2004
“We don’t want the name of a typical shopping centre. It has to be bold and innovative and reflect what we are doing in the town.” Alan Peach development director for Stannifer
It has been announced that the scheme will be called ‘EDEN’.
‘Nodules of Energy’ Walk December 04 - May 05
Part I - Dial House to West Wycombe
The aim of the walk was to find our own boundary of Wycombe, to go beyond the pre-defined significant sites of the TCR and also the historic borough boundary. The inspiration in the end came from Iain Sinclair, who we heard in conversation at St Luke’s Church in Clerkenwell, London. Sinclair talked about all the local points of interest near the church such as the house where Daniel Defoe died and the Hawksmoor obelisk and described them as ‘nodules of energy’; they were his markers in the area.3
The idea of ‘nodules of energy’ is a concept used in meditation. They are viewed as having the job of operating the physical body, connecting the vital organs. The belief is that the nodules respond to your thoughts, which they are constantly attuned to. Meditation is used as a method of getting in touch with the nodules of energy in order to help your body function better. If we look at the town as a living organism, the walk then becomes a meditative act to reconnect us to the vital functioning parts of the corporeal townscape. An act of healing.
A quick look at the psychogeography of Wycombe immediately throws up ‘nodules of energy’ and they tend to be situated around the edge of town. You can imagine them radiating their energy into the urbanised sprawl inside their vortex. There is the Hill at West Wycombe topped by the golden ball of St Lawrence’s and marking the spot of the Dashwood Mausoleum, the Hellfire Caves and more importantly, the site of a Bronze Age fort. Then there’s the earthwork of Desborough Castle, Tom Burt’s Hill, Wycombe Abbey, The Rye and the Hospital of St John. The outer tip of the loop is marked by Hughenden with its church, dragon myth and monument to Isaac Disraeli, father of Benjamin. Our walk was an attempt to join them up, to see how the town would look from the outside, to somehow rediscover the origins that led to it being here in the first place. A walk back to the beginnings of High Wycombe.
Matrix of footpaths linking nodules of energy
The first stop was not on the original itinerary. Since our research began I’d been fascinated by the character of Martin Lluelyn, doctor to Charles I and Charles II, acclaimed poet of his age and author of the satiric ‘Men Miracles’. He’d also been Mayor of High Wycombe in 1671. A few days before the walk I discovered the location of his Wycombe home, the Dial House which was demolished in the thirties. It sat at the corner of Crendon Street and Easton Street so this marked the first ‘nodule of energy’. I read a verse from one of his eulogies to Charles II. It was a busy Saturday. I stood outside Don Miguel’s Men’s Hairstylists and people walked past me without batting an eyelid as if it was a normal event. I hoped to stir Lluelyn’s slumbering spirit. I was intrigued by the idea that inside the estate agents and the Spanish barber’s a man sat cherishing the gloves of the only English monarch to be executed by his own parliament. Lluelyn had attended to Charles I on the scaffold and had been given the gloves as a souvenir. I carried this thought with me as I moved on along Easton Street, the mist was heavy in the valley. Past the Union Baptist Chapel and St John’s Gate offices. The doorways and balconies of Easton Street are a wonderful moving slide show; this was the posh end of town before the A40 choked it up with traffic. Nevertheless it still hosts the legal community and two restaurants. I rendezvous with Dad at the site of the ruins of the Hospital of St John. He attended the site behind when it was the Tech. A newish sign carved into the wall declares the status of the ruins as a designated ancient monument, but somehow it rings hollow, as the crumbling arches look lost and neglected amongst the undergrowth suffocated by traffic fumes. An alarm goes off in the old Tech building, now the offices of SPML, which reads like an acronym for Spam Mail. The cleaners vacate the premises and we move along. We pass another church, the Trinity Reformed, which I have been drawn to before, Dad, points out the sandstone façade that has been tagged onto a rather more pedestrian redbrick body of the church. Across the road to Pann Mill. Dad thinks that someone he used to garden for owned it once, ground flour here, but it could have been Bowden Mill. The Mill is closed till May 2005, the Wycombe Society are keeping the place alive, trying to show people what the Wye Stream was 52
once for but a takeaway container washed up in the mill stream answers back. They’ve planted a good selection of plants in the grounds and a millstone lies on its side. Dad tries one of the red grapes hanging down the side and immediately spits it out; they’re for cosmetic purposes only. Onto the Rye, we’ll only touch this side as a symbolic gesture but in the short stretch of path that leads to Wycombe Abbey Dad names the different trees; Turkey Oak with its distinctive leaf segregations, Hornbeam, Maple, Beech and in the upper boughs of a tall oak mistletoe grows in great dark clusters, ‘an invader’ the old chap says. I note the pagan connotations of oak and mistletoe entangled, as there was a pagan spot of well worship on the other side of the Rye. The sexual health clinic now appears to be Busy Bees Children’s Day Nursery and we chuckle at the irony of the transition. We hug the perimeter wall of Wycombe Abbey and Dad’s surprised when I tell him that it never was an Abbey. It still has a certain mystique, a private world of Arabian princesses packed off to Blighty for an expensive education. Dad’s been inside, few locals have. He had to stop the Ivy from climbing up the Abbey clock and winding itself around the hands. He’s seen the hospital in the grounds built by the USAF when they were there during the war. The grounds are immense, the gates are open and we stand at the barrier trying to get a sneaky look at what eight grand a year can get for your kid. When you turn round you see how the Abbey gates line up with Amersham Hill so that it forms a grand long driveway miles long. There’s a plaque commemorating the ownership of the house by the Earl of Shelburne, Prime Minister 1782-3 and frequent host to dictionary writer Samuel Johnson. We move on as we’re getting unwelcome stares from the gate house and Dad points out that the grounds are surrounded with Yew trees to keep out the evil spirits, or I proffer, to keep them in. The traffic on Marlow Hill is deafening. We turn off as soon as we can into the grounds of Wycombe General hospital. It’s depressing to see that the old Wanderers ground of Loakes Park is now just a car park. What heroism took place under that concrete; ‘Bodger’ Horseman’s 60 goals 53
in the 1965-66 season (Dad’s cousin via his Mum, Florence Horseman), and the 0-0 draw with Jack Charlton’s First Division Middlesborough in the FA Cup. Dad used to chat with the kit man during the match about their playing days together and we’d get team news from the subs warming up. The legend I remember hearing was that Frank Adams gave the ground to the club on the understanding that they would never turn professional. When ambition got the better of them it was easy enough to sell the ground off as a bit of prime land and remember Frank’s legacy in the name of the new purpose built stadium constructed to Football League standards. The club has been in the league for a few years now and a sponsor’s name has replaced that of Frank Adams. Past University of Luton’s School of Midwifery, which seems to have curiously made its way to a car park behind the hospital. The old approach to Loakes Park rackety turnstiles is our path onto Tom Burt’s Hill. We look back across the misty valley. “There’s the glory of Wycombe”, Dad says and I don’t think he’s being either ironic or romantic, merely there it is; church steeple, cranes, chimneys, rows of red brick houses and Chilterns rising behind. Tom Burt’s Hill takes its name from the fella who reputedly found a crock of gold there when grubbing around in the undergrowth. It’s many people’s favourites spot in town. They lit a beacon fire here to celebrate the queen’s coronation and it marks a nodule of energy as it sits on a ley line that we’ll now more or less follow to West Wycombe. Dad finds the lone beech tree people used to watch the football from, walk from Flackwell Heath, watch the game then walk home without spending a penny. They also walked this way to their jobs in the furniture factories and as we stand there a steady stream of people purposefully filter down past us into town. We take a path to the right into a Beech Wood. “Ideal weather of shooting Pigeons in beech woods,” and he points up to where the birds sit exposed on the bare boughs. BANG, with his walking stick. He tells me of how only two things grow under beech, holy and yew; the canopy is too dense to let enough light in for anything else. I realise that my father is passing this 54
knowledge on to me and that I should assimilate it, not just remember it but make it a part of me so that it springs into my mind whenever I enter a beech wood. He’s the last of a dying breed of people who grew up in the hills and woods as naturally as I did in our well-kept garden. In one generation it could all be lost, this natural understanding of our environment, not as a textbook study but as a state of being. I have a son now and it’ll be my job to show him these things one day and point out a squirrel’s dray in the trees which Dad does as I’m taking notes. The air is full of pigeons; they stand out dark against the soft greyness of the sky. The wood is marked by footpaths everywhere, confirming its status as a major thoroughfare well before the A40 was dreamt of. Dad stops to cut me a walking stick from a cluster of nut stems, whipping his pruning knife from his pocket, hacking the ten foot length off, then whittling it down to a decent height. He does this in little over five minutes and we barely break our stride. Such skills provided me with a whole armoury of bows, arrows, swords and daggers when I was a kid. I film the act on my Super 8 camera and joke that it would be described as a demonstration of ancient woodcraft. Dad says it’s a pity we can’t find an empty a 12-bore cartridge to finish off the end. We notice a single charred tree standing on the edge of a clump. Dad spots the Golden Ball in the distance. We’re on the ley line and I recall the piece I put in the DHPS newsletter about fires reported in the area that all seemed to be along the Ley, ignited by its energy. We skirt the point I left the wood when doing the algorithmic dérive with JJ and Dave and carry on along the footpath through the trees. We have no sense of our proximity to urban Wycombe. Dad names more birds and plants. This section of the path comes to an end and we are pushed out onto Desborough Avenue. The stillness of the woods is destroyed by cars. We want to wave them down and ask where they could possibly be going and whether it’s totally necessary. But we spot the continuation of the footpath on the other side near Colville Road. There’s a lad in a hooded-top reading a paper near the entrance, a classic urban stereotype and I wonder whether he uses the path we’re about to go 55
up and what he’d think of my theory that all these fragments of footpaths that litter Wycombe in fact join together into a matrix that connects with other paths leading beyond the district, beyond the Chilterns, plugging in to a network that spans the whole island; and in my crazier moments I see a web of footpaths created by the nomadic wanderings of our forebears that covers the globe, in harmony with Bruce Chatwin’s vision of ‘Songlines’. The path leads uphill past long back gardens. Discarded traffic cone on its side, and we don’t really know where we are, the map isn’t a great help, most maps are road maps after all, designed for the vandals in their automobiles. We emerge into a slumbering suburban street. Dad thinks it’s a bit up-market, Baronsmead Road and I wonder if there is anything in the etymology other than a desire for social climbing. An old fella washing his car gives us directions; we’re looking for Desborough Castle. He tells us to ignore the piece of grass that would be the most direct route as there is no way through and to continue round, we’ll get there eventually. We disregard his advice about the park; it’s far too alluring. As we walk onto the wide space a loud Jay flies off. It’s perfectly still. We can hear the guns of the pheasant shoot away in West Wycombe. The green dome of the church built in the shadow of Desborough Castle is in full view. As we discover the wisdom of the man’s advice we wonder how such a lovely patch of land was left untouched surrounded by houses, it does have a special feeling. Dad spots a growth of winter jasmine. Back out onto the road, Carrington Road I think and near the end there’s a gated field, here, seems strange, with no apparent purpose. There’s one allotment surrounded by a fence, I photograph it, allotments will be but a memory soon. The mist hasn’t cleared, “shrouded in mist”, Dad says. Red brick houses are scattered up the opposite hill. A lone tall chimney punctuates the roofscape. It’s so quiet. Wycombe are at home. Light aircraft buzz overhead into Booker Airport. 56
On Oakridge Road we get our first clear view of Desborough Castle looking from the fence of an electricity sub-station. You couldn’t miss it, even if you didn’t know its historic significance. A circle of beech trees stick up straight on the ridge of the hill, on either side the land is clear. I get a tingle of excitement. We have to head down, along Oakridge Road past an abandoned plot of land between houses with an upholstered armchair near the path and a washing machine lying on its back in the middle. Is this another exploded house like the one in West End Road I found on the Grand Dérive? Left into Copyground Lane and Dad recalls that there was a furniture factory down here. Straight away we spy an intriguing brick and flint building sticking out onto the pavement, two stories high with a loading door on the upper level. We admire the quality of the craftsmanship, the closely napped flints smoothed off at the front that marks it out as a building of some age. It’s part of a complex that is now Cutlers Court, HQ to a medical company hiding behind a high metal gate. A hand pump stands in the forecourt relishing the absence of 4x4s at the weekend. The bricks are soft, probably from Nap Hill. “Old Napper Brooks, eh…”, I don’t catch the rest of the reference but it makes me wonder if the people who work in Cutlers Court ever use someone’s occupation as a moniker; “Old BioChem Brown, eh…”, doesn’t quite have the same charm. I wonder whether this was Copyground Farm that ploughed these fields until they dumped an estate on it. Asian faces abound. I guess that we must be near the mosque. There’s a new private development, property has always made money in Wycombe even after the crash of Black Wednesday in ‘92 when I was busy in the repossessions department of a local mortgage company. The furniture factories Dad remembered have become the Brow Business Centre. A row of pebbledashed houses completes the picture. Thara Stores – grocery and provisions. Asian goods, women in saris loading up their cars. Two Polish boys laden with shopping bags cross over to catch a bus. We consider going in for a snack but decide to hold out for the famous bar food at The George and Dragon in West 57
Wycombe, although that could be some way off; we are feeling good, stopping for food would be like a signal of doubt in the strength of our purpose. Anyway I’d packed two bananas and we’ve been slowly eating a bar of whole nut a piece at a time. A middle-aged couple walking four dogs pull up alongside us as we go to cross the road. In their wax-proof jackets and wellington boots they look as incongruous as us amongst the peddle-dash and discarded white goods. We ask them if we’re heading the right way to Desborough Castle. “We call it Round Wood”, and they tell us it’s just around the corner and we walk that way with them as Dad tells them the story of the Reverend Jack Russell and his breed of dogs.
There looms the oxidised copper green dome of St Mary and St George’s Church, built in the shadow of the Castle beeches. Churches have a tradition of appropriating sites of ancient significance that pre-date the Christ Cult. The spires are like teats on the nodules of energy. The use of the site goes back to the Bronze Age; the church was completed in 1938. A bonfire in the grounds emits smoke up into the mist. We stop at the corner to admire Desborough Castle. It stands out unmistakably from the council estate opposite. It’s a turning point on the bus route. I run towards the ramparts filled with romantic childhood images of the age of chivalry; the spirit of the past lays heavy on the dew-laden grass. The outside trench is deep, it halts my 58
advance and the defences erected to repel incursions from the Midlands still hold sway. Inside there is another high bank, which I scale with my walking stick. You can feel the power of the place as a military stronghold, and this is without it being defended by pumped-up Iron Age warriors. The trenches of the castle are littered with beer cans and take-away containers. There’s a melted wheelie bin in the centre continuing the theme of burnt objects along the ley line. The ramparts are topped with chalk and flint, break the earth round here and that’s what is exposed. Looking back down into the heart of the earthwork it’s easy to imagine the Desborough Hundred Moot taking place here in Saxon days. I can see Village heads and elders gathered to settle disputes, make laws, chew the cud. It would explain why this site sits at the centre of a network of footpaths that spread out in all directions across the hills and valley tramped into the ground over thousands of years. When they tried to close the paths in 1911 it sparked furious protests which resulted in a mass trespass by 4000 people uprooting fence posts singing the Liberal marching song ‘God gave the land to the people!’ as they went. The Hundred moot may never have been held here, historians suggest a site down in the valley somewhere near the parish church (there was a large painting of St Paul converting the Druids behind the alter for many years). The name Desborough Castle apparently a 17th century renaming of what was known as The Roundabout. So the Round Wood that we hear people call it is in fact harking back to this, or is it that it looks like a round wood more than a castle? Myth is always more powerful than empirical fact. The tall beeches seem to be telling us something. Local pagans held a modern day ‘Althing’ here recently, reclaiming the site from the dirt bikers and fly-tippers. We look out to see West Wycombe Hill still clouded in mist. It’s our next stop. I think of the verses of poetry by Ivor Gurney that I’ve written out on a torn up piece of paper: “What must High Wycombe hills look like now!/ Great clouds of miraculous green,!/ green that looks alive!/ and gifted with a voice.! 59
It is a delectable land all this,!/ with changing soils in the valley! / and a happy air of peace over all.” Gurney had two happy spells as organist at Christ Church in the town and spent most of his time at the home of the Chapman family in a house on the Greenway where he knocked out some of his most notable compositions on their piano. Without even hearing his music, it plays as a soundtrack to our walk. We head off across the field to Castlefield Wood, which the dog walkers tell us suffered badly in the great storms of the 1980’s. This area has a reputation as being on the edge of Wycombe’s badlands, the subject of a Panorama documentary and targeted central government funding. Reading internet message boards drawing comparisons with Rio’s favelas, you’d believe we’d need our walking sticks to fend of hoards of muggers rather than scale hill fort ramparts. But the only people around are the dog walkers who we meet again and they chortle at our plan to find the path through to West Wycombe. They advise us to go down to the A40 where there’s also a great Chip Shop. As we go into the wood they remember a path that takes you up to some fine views and give us vague directions. We eat the last of our provisions and head off. The path through Castlefield Wood feels ancient – there’s no doubting the theory that these tracks go back into antiquity. Towards the end we’re a stones throw from the backs of houses. Urban Wycombe and its arcane heart are side by side in denial of each other. We soon come to a busy road and don’t know where to go from here. It’s the madcap roundabout of New Road and Lane End Road. Football fans filter along to the Causeway Stadium for the FA Cup encounter with Luton. Police in fluro vests. The Hour Glass is packed to the rafters. As we tentatively move along Chapel Road The Seventh Day Adventist Church warns us, ‘For the wages of sin is Death.’ The ‘Baguette-Me-Not’ Sandwich Bar opposite pays no heed. We’re looking for a way through. Opposite the end of Gallows Lane we spot the footpath nudging its way between shops and houses. A man playing with his dog in a back garden confirms we’re on the right track for West Wycombe. 60
“How far does this path go?” we ask. “As far as you want it to”, comes the reply.
The steep path is strewn with damp copper leaves. Smell of woodsmoke. Dad admires the houses. Oaksey Dene with its iron gates. Across Heathfield Road and into Sands Bank Nature Reserve where a 4x4 is parked at the gate. A mobile phone mast owned by Crown Castle jostles for sky with the beech trees; aimless conversations irradiating the foliage. There was a top-secret communications network called ‘Backbone’ that planned to have a radio mast in these hills. There were suggestions that the Backbone stations coincided with ley lines. Dad hears a cock bird. Pigeons go up in a clatter of beating wings.
My city life is behind me now, I’ve entered another state, Sinclair’s state of fugue, Mais’ communing with the soul through walking, walking into a legend. It feels epic. Mais writes that when we walk along the ridges we “commune with the spirits of the air”. In the shade of a beech wood it is not only the air that we commune with but the chalk and flint earth exposed beneath our feet and the refracted light on copper leaves. Dad whispers and points to a field of pheasant, “Dashwood”, he says. Sir John Dashwood, current heir of Sir Frances who established the notorious Hellfire Club (although members referred to it as The Brotherhood of Saint Francis of Wycombe) in the 18th century in the caves that he had built on his West Wycombe estate. Believe what legends you will of witchcraft and cavorting whores smuggled in dressed as nuns to frolic with luminaries such as Benjamin Franklin, Lord Sandwich and the poet Paul Whitehead whose heart is interred in the mausoleum. Safe to say that Dashwood brought more than a few paintings back from his Grand Tour and formed the Society of the Dilettanti on his return to further explore his new passions. I suppose I warm to him in this respect, as it was a period abroad that propelled me back here. There’s a lone leather glove in a tree. Smart houses back onto the wood – BEWARE OF DOG and one barks to prove it’s no idle threat. We catch another sight of the Golden Ball, our destination. We’re naturally a tad hungry but the most direct route would take us through the pheasant feeding ground and for all we know directly into the line of the guns. We are forced to stick to the footpath regardless of how far afield it takes us. I mutter that feudalism is alive and well. The path narrows and fields open up to the left and roll into the Chiltern escarpment. In the fold at the base of the hill sits the Causeway Stadium – home to Wycombe Wanderers FC and London Wasps Rugby Club. A nodule of energy that I had initially overlooked. We have now peered down into the grounds of Wycombe old and new. A Red Kite glides above us. There are burnt-out smoke bomb canisters buried beneath the trees. Helicopters criss-cross the sky. 62
The muddy track takes us past the gate of the keeper’s cottage, marked on an old map as the Druid’s Hut. A woman on horseback says hello as she passes. There’s a Hansel and Gretel thatched cottage. The gamekeeper waves as he drives past in his mud-splattered Land Rover. We’re a mile away from one of the most deprived areas in the South East; it feels merely a surreal statistic. There’s a break in the line of trees and there, flanked by two rows of Yews is an impressive statue of a man on horseback; someone later tells me it’s a fibreglass prop from Pinewood studios. Manicured lawns roll down to the Palladian columns of West Wycombe House behind. It’s majestic. A grandiose gesture of a ruling class steeped in imperialism, summoning up the spirit of Alexander, Constantine, Napoleon in a corner of the Chilterns. Scattered pigeon feathers mark the recent kill of a fox. A Wycombe Wanderers supporter complete in club hat and scarf swigging a can of Stella stomps up the path. “Will the pubs be open in West Wycombe?” we ask. “Better pull your finger out”, he advises, “Village pubs remember keep different hours”. We can’t be more than two miles from urban Wycombe and the pubs have different opening times. “Do you watch the game from the hill?” I ask, and he’s slightly taken aback. “No I go in”. My romantic vision of the historic symmetry of men walking up to a hill to watch the Wanderers for free as they did from Tom Burt’s Hill is thwarted. We pick up a tarmac road that sweeps down through fir trees. Open fields to one side, the Chilterns sweeping away with new paths opening up. The guns are getting louder. We emerge at the end of Toweridge Lane at the foot of West Wycombe Hill with the Golden Ball shimmering above us in the fading light. Now all thoughts are on getting to the George and Dragon for food. The scene in the pub is a throwback to days of yore. Huddles of stocky men under low ceiling round a blazing fire swilling mugs of ale. The kitchen closed at 2pm – we missed it by half an hour. We make do with a liquid lunch of Adnams and crisps wallowing in the hubbub. 63
The plan from here was to cheat and get the bus back to Wycombe. Without enough light to get up into the Hughenden Valley there’d be little value in a long yomp along the A40. But in the tradition of our luck with the food the next bus is in 2 hours. We stick our heads in the village hall where there’s a Christmas sale. We are exempted the 30p admission charge after I repeat the Jack Dee gag that I can look round the best shops in the world for free so it had better be good. The scene is so quaint that you could almost believe it was stage managed by the National Trust; fairy cakes, books for 25p, homemade bead necklaces. We’ve no choice but to walk the A40. Streetlights glow orange. The Friend at Hand pub is boarded up, fly-posted with adverts for an end of Eid concert. I spot the footpath heading up to Hughenden; in the summer we’ll do the whole circuit but for now the destination is the car park. The woods we traipsed through form a dark ridge to our right and roughly level with the green dome of the church another footpath heads up to Hughenden. Our arrival back into Wycombe is heralded by a row of dirty terraced houses and a large sign with green electronic lights advertising parking spaces. You’d know you could park before you knew where you actually were. We cut through Bridge Street car park, the final nodule of energy, a site of night-time vice and epicentre of the new TCR. The town centre streets are bedecked with Christmas lights, market traders packing up; we buy a warm shirt each (for the next walk). Finally retracing our steps along Easton Street we come to the ruins of the Hospice of St John with the mist rising off the Wye.
We feel almost euphoric by the end. The walk felt epic. At several points we told people the purpose of our journey. In suburban streets Dad explained that we were retracing the ancient footpaths of Wycombe and drew slightly bemused expressions. Nearing West Wycombe people couldn’t see how we’d walked through from the Rye, to here? 64
We were in no doubt that the fragments of footpaths are part of a whole; we had to leave them only twice to walk on roads for any length of time and that was when walking through the more recently built up areas around Castlefield and Sands (a photo from 1922 shows how it was all open land). From West Wycombe there are two or three paths that would go into the Hughenden Valley (one via Downley) from where you’d be able to follow either Benjamin’s Footpath (Coffin Walk) back to Castle Hill House (museum) or take the path near the Hughenden stream down to Temple End. The town has built up around these tracks but not erased them completely. Whilst the traffic chokes and suffocates the byways the footpaths transport the walker through ancient beechen groves to sites of arcane significance. Our walk became an act; an act of remembering how we came to end up in this verdant valley and the power it still has to transport us from our quotidian town lives.
Note: Towards a Crypto-Topography After this section of the walk we realise that it was psychogeography that brought us here, but we are now in a different land, one that merges the urban, the rural, the mythical, the banal. A land where our guides will not be so much the Situationists with Guy Debord’s ‘Theory of the Derive’, but Geoffrey Hosking’s ‘Making of the English Landscape’, and the topographical writings of Gordon S. Maxwell and S.P.B Mais. This leads us to see our work now as something we term Crypto-Topography. A study of our environment in all its forms physical and ambient. A peeling back of the hidden layers of meaning. It takes in mere musings on how place makes us feel to more esoteric studies of, subverts, ley lines, fairy paths, WiFi hotspots, scenes of martyrdom, prostitutes’ beats. The secret and invisible markers that guide us through space. The crypto-topographer does not necessarily aim to change the built environment, although the work may have a use in urban planning and 65
community action, but reveal the hidden city beneath the architectâ€™s creations and the pulse beating beneath the surface of daily grind. To delve into the evolution of communities and street patterns. People weave their own magic throughout place, an invisible matrix of associations, experiences and stories. Itâ€™s our job as evocateurs of space to reveal and present this underlying existence. Crypto-Topography often exists in the spaces between buildings, towns, cities standardised modes of business and routine; on the fringes, the provincial towns, built over plague pits, suburban streets, arterial curb-sides, satellite communities. The next great battle is not over the built realm, but the mental realm, the street plans and markers we create in our minds, the city we experience rather than the one imposed.
Nodules Part II - West Wycombe to Hughenden
The whole tribe set off through West Wycombe village towards Cookshall Lane: Mum, Dad, Cathy, Diane, Heidi and Ollie. We’ve returned to map out the remainder of the ‘Nodules of Energy’ route. The village is anything but a tranquil idyll, more like Le Mans on race day, the pavement just wide enough for a pram with zooming high performance automobiles inches away. A Texaco garage marks the start of our ascent on the corner of Cookshall Lane and Bradenham Road, a junction known as The Pedestal with Daphne’s Temple over the wall in West Wycombe Park. Yards along the lane and quietness descends. Dad spots a Blackie’s nest from last year in the hedgerow and Ollie points at a bee visiting flowers. Chirping birds drown out the distant cars. Under the railway bridge and the turbo charged Chiltern Line whooshes overhead. A large graffitied policeman toking on a Camberwell Carrot spray-painted on the wall. We emerge into a wide vista of tilled earth, horizon almost broad enough to gladden Heidi’s Australian heart. We find the path up to Branch Wood through a gate where someone has left a set of keys marked ‘spare shed and garage keys’ dangling on the barbed wire fence. From underneath Branch Wood there are clear views back across the grounds of West Wycombe House and its Palladian columns; a scene like the one Catherine The Great had decorating her Wedgwood dinner service. White arrows painted on trees guide the way through the wood. It was our intention to cut across through houses to the bottom of Great Tinker’s Wood but the path is pushing us up towards Downley. We ask directions, people seem to think that Hughenden is too far to walk, a jogger finally puts us straight and gives clear directions to the Monument although it involves going up to Downley Common. The maps mean nothing to them, confirming the suspicion that cartographic representations of planned space bare little relation to our personal topographies.
By now it’s just me and the old chap, the others have returned to West Wycombe for tea. He points to a ‘stand of Beech’, tall dark masts against the backdrop of hills. Again it calls to mind a foreign, epic landscape this time something Russian, Turgenyev’s ‘A Month in the Country’. Past a modern looking school reminiscent of RAF Daws Hill and round a path with electric fencing along one side, and alarmingly over the top of the stile, and we are in Downley High Street. This consists of the Bricklayers Arms, where the voice of John Motson commentating on the England v Northern Ireland match escapes through the drawn curtains, the Starlight Stores, and the village hall where a sign gives a potted history the highlight of which is when a relative of Wild Bill Hickock, Colonel Cody, landed his plane on the Common in 1912.
A homemade sign on a lamp-post says “MOBILE PHONE MAST - SAY NO!” There’s a rusting brazier for burning beacons and heretics on the common and Dad notices Narrow Lane, which we later discover would have taken us straight down to the Disraeli Monument. On Coates Lane we are serenaded by nattering Magpies and Dad is surprised to find a gooseberry bush in a roadside hedge. Turning up towards Hughenden Manor under a noisy rookery we meet an architect and his family. He tells us about the designs he did for a theatre on the Bridge Street site whilst a student at Oxford Poly in the late sixties; and of meeting Colonel Watson who produced a Masterplan for Wycombe back in the 1930’s that included pedestrianisation way ahead of its time. His mother informs us about the medieval bridge that was recently excavated when they were building Morrisons. In our final stretch a woman with two dogs talks about Roald Dahl who lived not far away and we can see the CompAir factory site where they have just filmed ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. We skirt the garden of Hughenden Manor, unable to see whether it is planted out with Disraeli’s emblematic pink and white blooms. The stables have been converted into a café with the uneven flagstones remaining. John Hampden Ale is on sale next to the scones and jam. Apparently Disraeli was acutely aware of the influence the Chilterns landscape had exerted on the politics of the nation. He once wrote that there was “something in the air of Bucks favourable to political knowledge and vigour”. The sun is setting over the Hughenden Valley and the church is closed so I’ll have to wait for a peek at the fake Templar De Montfort effigies. The day feels complete despite not closing the loop by making it back to the Dial House; I’ll do that another day.
Nodules Part III - Market House to Disraeli Monument
Strictly speaking I should start from the site of the Dial House as I did back in December, but we’re basing ourselves at the Little Market House today, experimenting with sending video reports via mobile phone to Cathy with a laptop. She hopes to establish a free wireless internet connection, plugging the Robert Adam designed listed ancient monument into the wireless commons. I’m instantly seduced into a detour off Corporation Street by the parking bays behind some offices and restaurants. There is a large derelict premises, which the To Let sign tells me is for Leisure purposes, no doubt the kind of leisure that takes place away from prying eyes. Two abandoned shopping trolleys. Drawn off the beaten track again on Amersham Hill down a driveway next to the hostel. I find the HQ of the UK Alcohol Forum and the way is finally gated off. I imagine opening up the town by unblocking these negated throughways; a circular saw would do the job. I’m wearing a pedometer, testing my theory of ‘The Disembodiment of the Walker in 10,000 Steps’. Leading on from current campaigns highlighting the health benefits of walking 10,000 steps everyday this study would chart the emotional and experiential transitions that the walker experiences over the same duration. I quickly pass the museum, I’m looking for the house in The Greenway where poet and composer Ivor Gurney spent many a happy weekend either side of the First World War. The street is quite non-descript, the Chapman house being a smart Edwardian Villa but the opposite side of the street is of safe, unenlightened 1970’s semis. A large round plaque marks the house, and I can see through into the lounge and try to imagine Gurney playing early versions of ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’ and ‘Desire in Spring’ on the Chapman’s small upright piano. I listen to his piano 70
preludes on a weekly basis, and summon up the Prelude in D Flat Mayor (the manuscript for which is dated ‘High Wycombe 1919’). Malmer’s Well, otherwise known as Mawtrim’s or Marmuck’s is commemorated by a similar suburban scene, the kind that sent me rushing off to London at the age of eighteen. Not a well but a British-Celtic fortification. I read the description of the site quoted in Parker’s 1878 ‘History and Antiquities of Wycombe’ attributed to Bucks Antiquary Mr Browne Willis; “about three hundred yards from the Castle Hill, lying on the north side; it is round, with entrances on the north and south sides, and is bounded on the east, and partly on the north, by the ancient British road, called Crendon Lane.” Up the steps into Benjamin’s Footpath. I check the pedometer, 1700 steps and I’ve worked up a slight sweat, the grip of the dérive slowing taking hold. This is quite possibly the route taken by Robert Lois Stevenson when he walked from Wycombe to Great Missenden in 1875. He wrote in his ‘Journals of Travel’; “It was well, perhaps, that I had this first enthusiasm to encourage me up the long hill above High Wycombe….Overhead there was a wonderful carolling of larks which seemed to follow me as I went. Indeed, during all the time I was in that country the larks did not desert me. The air was alive with them from High Wycombe to Tring, I could have baptized it ‘The Country of Larks.’” Up behind the Royal Grammar School, one of the great Wycombe institutions, so symbolic of the kind of ‘sink or swim’ society beloved of Conservatives that Tory leader Michael Howard chose it as a venue to make a key speech in the build-up to the General Election campaign. On the other hand famous old boys include musician Ian Drury and MI6 whistleblower David Shayler. The view from here above the cemetery is majestic, the valley with its redundant industrial floor, Manor Farm in the folds of the Hughenden hills and the Disraeli Monument, my destination, nestled under Tinker’s Wood. I shoot a 20 second video clip on my mobile phone and email it to Cathy at the Little Market House. 71
I push on up the path and hit Hamilton Hill at 2500 steps. I’ve yet to experience the dislocation that my theory posited would happen around now, although my focus is very much on the small details of my immediate environment. The footpath as it continues is apparently known as Coffin Way and pre-dates the modern town; another section of this circuit that is a retracing of paths that stretch back to the Bronze Age. The trees bend from either side to meet mid-air creating a canopy of green and a coolness in the air. The only acknowledgement of modernity being the well kept gardens occasionally visible over the banks of the path. I cross Green Hill. Birds chatter. National Trust land of the Hughenden Estate. The gradual closing of the loop. Capture another video clip. At 8 frames per second the woods have an even more ethereal look. I wonder how it appears to Cathy on a laptop in the heart of the town centre bustle only a mile away. If this experiment is successful we’ll install monitors in the Market House and passers-by will be able to watch the dérive on the Summer Solstice and text me directions. For now the walk is the thing and the closing of the loop that began last December on the corner of Crendon Street. The last leg is along the neat Villas of Coates Lane. A cottage that looks designed by Hans Christian Anderson has a blackboard sign propped up outside “GARDEN OPEN 10TH JULY 26”. I try to get a sneak preview over the hedge but can only spy the tops of some elaborate looking garden sculptures. At 4430 steps, dislocation! A large dormant industrial lot, expanse of empty parking spaces, pipes, tubes and vents entwined in elaborate arrangements like a minor version of Paris’ Pompidou Centre. Rising up, a chimney that I spin around and around trying to frame in the foldout screen of my video camera. Silence where once the noise would have been migraine inducing. An old couple inform me that it’s Harrison’s Stamp Factory where my Aunty Carol worked. I used to be fascinated that she worked in a place that printed stamps. The name of the rival company that bought Harrison’s and closed it down still hangs over the smashed windows of the front entrance, De La Rue, and the company symbol of a silhouetted lady leans earthwards. 72
After the purchase of Harrison and Sons, De La Rue wasted no time in “reorganising its manufacturing base”. The company released a statement of intent: “…to address the current overcapacity problem De La Rue is announcing today its intention to cease production at its High Wycombe facility in the UK, subject to appropriate employee consultation. As part of the move to more focused manufacturing De La Rue will also develop its factories in the UK at Peterborough and Dunstable, and its overseas facilities in Dulles, USA and Nairobi, Kenya. The proposed closure of High Wycombe will result in a lower production capacity overall, but the reorganisation of the remaining printing facilities will accommodate existing sales requirements for the foreseeable future”. The forces of ‘time-space compression’ at work again. A traditional manufacturer bites the dust in the name of rationalisation as the ink dries on the plans for a new shopping and leisure facility. 350 long-term skilled jobs replaced by 1,000 McJobs. Although, from an aesthetic point of view deserted industrial sites are much more poetic than fully operational zones of production. The footpath that runs down one side would lead through to Broom and Wade, another of Wycombe’s industrial giants that folded in the same year as Harrison’s, but I refuse to be diverted from my quest to reach the Disraeli monument. There should be another way down to Broomes from Tinkers Wood. It’s a steep ascent through Tinkers Wood carpeted in bluebells to reach the monument. Scouring the internet for information about this nodule I found precious little apart from an entry on the Geo-Caching site. A Cache has been secreted away in the vicinity of the Monument, buried by torchlight containing treasure of some description. Geo-Cachers punch in the co-ordinates given on the site into their GPS devices, hunt down the cache and without being spotted by dogwalkers take an item from the container, leave and item and make a note in the log-book. Despite carrying a pedometer, mobile videophone and a digital video camera, I’m wary of anything that claims to be able to tell you where you are. In my experience location is a highly subjective thing, always open to interpretation, hence the limited value of maps as locative aids. 73
I finally reach the monument after 6653 steps. I send the statistic to Cathy by text and sit at its base looking back across the valley pondering upon what it might mean as a symbol, as a site of significance. I consider Disraeli’s position of eminence as Queen Victoria’s favourite prime minister, his brief Jewishness, and draw a blank. The significance of this monument is that such a man failed three times to be elected as MP for Wycombe. Son of a wealthy, respected citizen of the district, Isaac Disraeli, for whom this obelisk was raised by Dizzie’s wife, full of poetic turns of phrase and high bravura speeches from astride the Red Lion in the High Street, three times the people of Wycombe rejected his advances and he ended up MP for Maidstone. This is a monument to the independence of spirit bred in these hills. Disraeli was said to be aware of how the people of the south Chilterns had shaped the history of the nation. Looking out from Hughenden he once wrote; “all this part of England is history.” I could murder a pint but I pull out a copy of E.S Roscoe’s ‘Between Thames and Chilterns’ and read aloud to my video camera with the large stone plinth standing tall behind me. “Here one may recall Disraeli’s love of the charming landscape of Buckinghamshire, its beechwoods, its cherry-orchards, its old churches, and its secluded villages, always existing - an everinteresting psychological fact - behind the most grandiose political ideas, and not destroyed by nights and days of the sharpest political conflict.” I’m not content that this completes the ‘Nodules of Energy’ route. It needs to reach its conclusion back in the heart of the town, somewhere close to the redevelopment to bring this ritual back to the core of the upheaval. It’s niggling me that so far I haven’t paid due homage to CompAir Broom and Wade. In the fifties it was the biggest in employer in the town. My uncle Stan worked there for years and Dad used to pick up a few months here and there when the weather was too bad for gardening. It was one of Wycombe’s institutions, was the motor of its economy. The closure of the plant in 2002, after being bought by venture capitalists for a pound, was a firm reminder that the days of Wycombe as a manufacturing town were dead. It was IT and Financial Services that had 74
taken over from chair-making and engineering. The mayor in 2003 was an IT Consultant from Croydon. Finding the path back down from Hughenden would give me closure of a kind. I head off down through Tinkers Wood and remember the account of a visit paid by Elizabeth I to Bradenham and how her party needed an escort through these woods because they were so full of brigands and thieves. The woods of the Wycombe hills are more normally associated with Bodgers than Bandits. Just off Disraeli Crescent I find Tinkers Shaw, not on any of my maps. Perfect. Successfully finding a way through to Temple End would be a minor coup. The overgrown path indicates that this is a little-used track, little used because soon I hit a chain-link fence. Unable to comprehend that a path could be only twenty yards long and lead nowhere I push on through an opening in the fence and plunge into stinging-nettles up to my armpits that manage to find their way between every seam and button hole in my clothing. At last I have achieved disembodiment, it is the stings that tell me because I plough on deeper through the scrub determined to find a way through and join this path up with the section that I know emerges behind Morrisons and Broom & Wade. A high fence finally blocks my path. I jump over a low wall on my left and find myself next to a rabbit hutch, I’m in what is clearly someone’s back garden and out of sight I can hear a lawn mower. I consider walking up the lawn to the house, introducing myself and exiting via the gate but look down at my walking jacket with maps and notes jutting from the pockets and video camera hanging round my neck and decide against it. The only option is to go back through the nettles to the break in the fence further back. I refuse to see it as a defeat and find my way back onto Hughenden Avenue. There I chat with the security guard at the Broom & Wade site. Gatekeepers often give short shrift to fellas in long green anoraks sporting cameras and notepads; the relationship is not unlike that between gamekeepers and poachers. This chap, although hardly a chatterbox, nods and grunts to my questions. Yes they did film ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ here. Yes the factory has closed 75
but the College have already started occupying some of the buildings. I thank him and move on, I still want to perambulate the last section of footpath. I pass a standing stone on Hughenden Avenue on a grass verge. There are a number of stones littered around the area, one in the High Street, another on the Green in Wooburn. I remember the legend that there were left behind by glaziers during the Ice Age. Similar in appearance, it could also be one of the stones marking the borough boundary that young boys had their heads bounced on when ‘Beating the Bounds’. The stone nearly marks the last section of footpath that takes me along a ridge above Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I’m looking for found objects to take back to Cathy at the Market House but all I can find are beer and soft drink cans. I send the last of my video reports and film the orange plastic netting that forms a barrier along the path’s edge. I emerge at the back of the factory which again confirms my feeling that these places take on a mystery and charm when left to rust and rot. The wind through the cracked windows and dangling chains creates a kind of music. Our study has almost become an inventory of decay, freeze-frame images of the crumbling corners left behind by the death of manufacturing in the area. The masterplan for the district aims to sweep all this away and usher in an era of uniformity. This derelict factory will mutate into a £80 million university campus. Dereliction will become a subject on the syllabus, a dissertation topic.
Nodules of Energy/Significant Sites Map
Tour of the TCR Site February 05
I felt the need to return to the beginning, to the point at which we started in Newlands. We’d been monitoring the progress of the redevelopment and had even met with the architect and the developer in his Mayfair office. They’d both been intrigued by our study and gratefully received some of the maps and reports we’d produced. We’d made a video of Alan’s Lunchtime Dérive that they’d taken too. It was too late for the scheme to be re-designed along psychogeographical lines; but I needed to make another circumnavigation of the site before the construction work got seriously underway. This circuit would call up the peripheral journeys of Iain Sinclair in ‘London Orbital’, Jonathan Raban’s ‘Coasting’, and Andrew Kötting’s ‘Gallivant’. Their journeys had skirted the boundaries of London and Britain respectively; mine would be this small sector on the Western edge of Wycombe Town Centre. I’m drawn straight away down the alley near Scorpion Records, next to Labour Party HQ which is based above The Big Sandwich – “HANDS OFF OUR HOSPITAL” poster in the window. The funeral directors regrets that it is closed, announced with a small fading framed sign leant against the window. Running down one side of the alleyway is a sloping tiled roof of a 78
redbrick outbuilding. It looks as though it may have had an agricultural use in the days that the cattle market was held in this area. A dirty industrial unit offers car-valeting services and looks busy. A predatory Sainsbury’s lurks behind ready to move 20 yards forward and wipe out everything in front in the name of getting that prime A40 location. This carnage will take the legendary Scorpion Records as one of its victims. Twenty-eight years of dusty record trading replaced by rows of cheap Thai chicken ready meals. The gravitational centre of my Wycombe obliterated by a bloody supermarket, like the Vogons destroying Earth in ‘The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy’. I make a mental list of some of the seminal records I bought there; ‘Brewing Up with Billy Bragg’, The Smiths’ ‘Strangeways Here We Come’, ‘Songs to Learn and Sing’ by Echo and the Bunnymen, ‘Just Like Honey’ by the Mary Chain on 7”. Scorpion gave me the musical education that an older brother would have provided. Walking in the shadow of the Dovecote multi-storey in all its Ballardian splendour I emerge back facing the site. 98 Oxford Road is a ghost building complete with weeds in the doorway and peeling poster for Cottles Circus long since left town. They’re digging up the old gas mains and laying new pipes over the road. I lean on the barrier and chat to the workman; “Concrete’s rotten”, he says. “Turned up anything interesting?” I ask. “Just some old bottles”, and he goes back to the business of scratching his head at the quality of the earth he’s turning. On the other side of Bridge Street I catch the eye of a fella sheltering from the drizzle. A black man, late thirties, holding a can of cider. “Fancy a drink?” he asks civilly, a bit like your auntie offering you tea. It causes me to pause, he’s got one of those open engaging faces. I’m honest with him, I’m nurturing a bit of a hangover and I’m also off to view some footage of a Wanderers match from 1958. Nonetheless I stop for a chat. He hasn’t been back in the country long, been in Nigeria. Used to be a reggae musician and he starts telling me how Wycombe was one of the great centres for reggae music. The Jamaican musicians liked it because it was close to Heathrow and in the 1970’s and 80’s it 79
produced some of the finest sound systems in the South. Even big names like Maxi Priest spent some time on the Wycombe scene. We part with a promise to swap some reading on the subject, I’ll lend him Alex Wheatle’s ‘Brixton Rock’, in return for a magazine article on the Wycombe sound systems. The Dole Office on Desborough Road is boarded up, rubbish scattered all around. A dedicated archaeologist of the present would study these deposits in the way that prehistoric middens are dissected for clues about the past. But all I can see is an assortment of super-strength lager cans, fag packets, fried chicken boxes and orangey polystyrene take-away containers. Down one side towards the demolition of the gas works there is a little variation with the addition of a computer monitor, two shopping trolleys and a traffic cone, but the collective significance of this is beyond me at this stage of my development. A demographic survey of the various brands of super-strength lager that are consumed across the area could produce some interesting results. From Iceland to the Rose and Crown has been wiped out. Fried Food Strip has been consigned to a note on our weblog. Scary teenage scavengers haunt the road behind.
I’m filming the demolition of the old gas works and two workmen shout at me from across the road. I stand my ground but they stomp across to confront me. They’re fed up they say with being photographed. I manage to reassure them by saying that the developer is aware of my study and they calm down. “As long as it’s official I don’t care,” one says and they go back to their work. Later I speak to someone who grew up in Newlands in the thirties, Myrtle Church. Her grandparents were the caretakers of the Zion Baptist Chapel on the corner of Bridge Street where a multiplex cinema is to be built. She never went to the cinema as a child, “It was the devil’s work, you see,” her husband David tells me. She says all of the old Newlands is gone except for the gas works. “They knocked it down today,” I tell her. There is a slight air of paranoia and suspicion around the bus station and the Octagon. A man in a white shirt speaks into a walky-talky, two coppers in padded fluro jackets stand outside the opticians. I regroup in The Baker’s Oven in the High Street with tea and doughnut. The tables are inhabited by solitary smoking women. There’s an atmosphere of tranquil despair. The hum of the fridge is comforting. Its feels like a different town to what is happening over at Newlands. Maybe the last stand of the old Wycombe will be here at the Baker’s Oven.
Statement of Artistic Intent Inspired by the Situationist practice of dĂŠrive, we set out to chart the layers of place that make up High Wycombe as it undergoes a period of transition and redevelopment. After conducting an initial period of investigation through a series of dĂŠrives and interventions we intend to stage a grand psychogeographical event during the Summer Solstice. A Walker will embark on a ritualistic perambulation to link up the significant sites, or Nodules of Energy that surround the town. He will use the town's matrix of ancient footpaths to achieve this circuit. Using a videophone he will send moving images to a base station in a prominent position in the town centre where they will be projected onto a screen where spectators will be able to watch the walk as it happens. The relayed image of the walker is presented alongside a montage of archive film and present day photographs of the town together with a simulated image of the town. In addition to the video clips the walker will send reports from his location via voice and text messages. Spectators will be able to interact with the walker giving him directions to places they consider to be significant sites and furnish him with information and folklore about the areas he walks through. People will be encouraged to set out on their own dĂŠrives and send back images and text to the base station for projection and relay to the audience. John Rogers/Cathy Rogers email@example.com V3 25/4/05
Significant Sites: a summer solstice dérive 18 June 05
Standing in the Little Market House with Dad and Nick Papadimitriou, Cathy setting up the installation, I decide to change the start point and miss out the Dial House. It feels more natural to head up past the church and along Castle Place. Nick strikes up conversation with a woman who is feeding squirrels in a copper beech in the churchyard. He has managed to combine the study of urban infrastructure with a deep interest in ecology, an area he terms ‘Deep Topography’. We climb Castle Place in the warm sun and I tell the fellas that we are scaling Castle Hill Mount, supposedly the burial mound of a Saxon or Danish commander whose remains were discovered near the bottom of the mount. The find was reported by C18th Bucks antiquary Dr Willis who also mentioned that “several subterranean rooms and passages” led down from Castle Hill into the town. We rendezvous with Jerry and Mike in the museum grounds. They’ve come down on the 10.10 from Paddington and have been round the museum checking out the Windsor chairs. Jerry’s an old mate from days when we volunteered on the Harold Pinter funded ‘Socialist’ paper that quickly became the glossy ‘Red, Green and Radical’ before settling into its current guise as ‘Red Pepper’. I mostly made the tea and worked my way through the stacks of papers and mags that sat 83
in the office, managing to contribute one article and a CD review in six months. Jerry actually managed to make regular meaningful contributions on subjects of cultural politics. I send back my first report on the mobile phone standing on the lawn looking at the grassed over castle ramparts. There is a discussion about the avenue of yews down the drive, apparently lime trees were more commonly used, but I say, “This is Wycombe”. Up the Greenway and we listen to Gurney’s Prelude No.2 in D Flat Major outside the Strawberry Patch. I file another video report. At the end of the street we look back at the view and I read the stanzas about “What must High Wycombe hills look like now…” from one of Gurney’s letters to the Chapman family. Somebody asks me whether Wycombe has any rock connections and I mention Howard Jones, king of synth pop, who lived in Green Street. Despite owning all his early albums and singles on preciously bought vinyl, I’ve neglected to bring any of his music on the walk. On Benjamin’s Footpath the walkers get their first good look at Wycombe. Apart from Dad they know next to nothing about the town but this vista sparks a few ideas with the rusting industrial strip along the Hughenden Road being overlooked by the manor, the hills, the 80’s lego houses of Bellefield. Jerry points out the grave of Polly Rogers. Through the cemetery and along Benjamin Road past a school fete, along the Hughenden Road missing the Green Man above the door of no.148 that Johnny Langley had told us about. We stand outside the derelict Comp Air and Mike tells me how already he can see Wycombe is quite apart from other commuter towns of the region with its own industrial tradition. Down the alley by the Hughenden Stream, tall swaying grass, corrugated iron, Nick identifies Water Crowsfoot. The factories are still, crumbling, Wycombe’s decaying industrial heart. Out onto Coates Lane and there is a roadside floral tribute to a young girl, her photo hung on a tree, petals still fresh, the 4th anniversary of her death just past. 84
We stop at the Disraeli monument to munch some sandwiches and drink in the view. Cathy sends a text asking for more video. Town feels a long way away. Dad picks some cherries in Tinkers Wood. Paths go off in all directions. This is the one small section I hadn’t mapped out. We’re guessing. We emerge amongst some unfamiliar 80’s box houses where some boys are playing football and two others buzz past on motor scooters. It’s the full heat of midday. I capture the tall mobile phone mast rising amongst the houses. We soon realise that we are actually heading back towards town. I consult my Red Book for the first time of the day. We go past the Disraeli school and along the backs of houses, past a grassy hollow that Jerry identifies as a bomb crater, and soon onto the path that I had originally intended to take on this leg back in March – a narrow green track between back gardens, through the bottom of Branch Wood and onto Cookshall Lane. West Wycombe House has its gates open, Polo today, “enter at own risk”. Hoorays playing by the lake watched by blond birds with healthy bones. Dragonflies skim over the water to the Temple of Music. Jerry says it stinks of money, the air is full of the stench of horse-shit. Dad fixes his foot next to the lake. The fellas buy Lemon Sherbets and Sugared Almonds in the village sweet shop. We’ve missed the food in the George and Dragon again and settle for pints and crisps and get pasties from the butcher’s. Jerry and Mike go into the caves. At the top of the hill outside the Church of St. Lawrence Nick says “We all live in Dread.” There is no mobile phone signal here. Cathy is disturbed by the video silence. Things have gone quiet back at the Market House. The climb up Toweridge Lane is tough. It’s 4pm but the heat seems to have intensified. We are passed by a musician in a suit on a motorbike heading to a house with a marquee on the lawn near the Druid’s Hut. 85
On the other side of Sands Wood Jerry photos the sign for Oaksey Dene. There is a beautiful scent in the air which Nick thinks is pine resin. On Baronsmead Road there are fantastic views of the town between the houses, the church spire appears as a marker for our base camp. The phone now feels like a natural extension of my visual sense which I swing across my gaze fluently, the 8 frames per second seems to reflect what appears on the back of my retina. By Tom Burtâ€™s Hill Mike and Jerry are done in, seriously querying my measuring of the walk at 10 miles. Dad points out the difference between hill and street walking. We watch the 11 second clip of the Wycombe Wanderers versus Kingstonian match from 1958 next to where the gates to Loakes Park were, craning our heads round to view the tiny image on the phone, beguiled by this bulletin from the past.
Mobile phone still
Driven by the quest, I continue up Marlow Hill with Nick. Itâ€™s cool now and we feel the pressure is off. The guard at RAF Daws Hill gives us a suspicious look; the phone probably looks 86
dodgier than a camera in a way. A police car tracks us round on a road inside the base beyond the razor wire for a short section. Nick spots Doolittle Village and makes the link with the US air commander of that name who planned the bombing of Tokyo. We emerge through the evening sun on Warren Wood Drive. Nick stands in the road identifying sewer tracks and a bulldog-like bloke in shorts gives him a dirty look. We briefly debate going in search of the springs on Bowden Lane that Johnny Langley told us about and we’d also be able to take in the home of the Mitford’s that he mentioned too. But the extra mile there and back is a bit too far at this stage. Kids feed the ducks and swans on the Dyke along the Rye, people splash around in boats. We’re hot and tired. A bride and groom swish past us in the underpass. PUNK NOT DEAD. We nod towards the Dial House paying Dr Lluelyn due homage. Back in the market house we see the relayed images plotted on the screen. Each small cube captures a stage of the walk, distilled there on the monitor and a click of the mouse brings it back to life. I feel a different person once I’ve recovered, the whole world let alone the town looks different. The Brazilian prayer group is in the next room celebrating their god, our little gathering that includes Dave’s family and Johnny Langley and his son feels like a religious gathering of another sort.
stills from the mobile phone video clips
Report from the Little Market House â€“ Cathy Rogers
While they were out romping in the chiltern hills in 27 degrees of heat, I was pulling leavers, cranking wheels and peddling machinery in order to display the incoming reports to a greedy audience. â€œWhere are they now?â€? eager viewers were asking, as a crowd gathered around the computer monitor, flickering with small 128x96 pixel images which wavered and came alive on the screen. The clips were coming in thick and fast and tracking their progress became exciting and anxious as our dad who was nearing his 70th birthday was out there too, walking in the Mediterranean heat. It was like we were a million miles away and they were walking on the moon, the little market house became timeless, we were like a satellite waiting expectantly for news of an unseen land and at the same time the images that came back were familiar if not a little more romantically remembered in our minds. Ana was fiercely archiving and cataloguing our research on the project so far, so that people could rummage around. Photos and films were displayed and played, layering an image of Wycombe not normally seen, an image not based on tourist information or statistics or come see this, or did you know that, but an image that is buried deep in the minds of its people and landscape. 89
Head East - along the Wyke February 06
There was unfinished business. Writing up the derive reports, looking at them as a textural map there was a gaping great hole. We hadn’t gone east. Early on, subconsciously, we’d drawn a line at the eastern edge of the Rye and never ventured beyond it, almost like vampires repelled from a gauntlet of garlic. During the Significant Sites event John Langley had told us of fresh water springs in Bowden Lane. By the parameters we’d set down we were obliged to check it out, report back to the hub by videophone. But the descent from Keep Hill Wood was our 13th mile that day of Mediterranean heat and even Nick with his passion for water courses couldn’t be tempted away from the finish line. The opportunity finally presented itself. We were invited to speak to the Fine Art and Spatial Design students at BCUC about the project. Afterwards I’d do the walk I realised was missing, along the river, down the Wyke, the Wye the Wycombe Stream, east as far as home in Wooburn, the source of the project, our reason for being here, aside from our roles state subsidised artists of the public realm. We had a good turn out at the college, the buzz in the studios overlooking the Newlands carve up was positive as we covered our steps from Debord and Keiller through to the mobile
phone authored perambulation of the town’s nodules of energy. The only question we were asked was about the caves at West Wycombe and whether the tales of witchcraft were true. I’d recently received an email from a local man telling me about some stones on Tom Burt’s Hill, they seemed to be on the Ley Line I’d written about on our blog. I’d tentatively mooted a study of these stones along with the one that had been on Frogmoor and another on Hughenden Avenue (see David’s emails in the appendix which also mention some secret tunnels running under the town). After the talk I headed out to the High Street and quickly photographed the Dog Stone outside the Guild Hall. “You’re taking a picture of that? You’re sick man.” Two spikey-haired Asian lads give me their views on importance of neolithic monuments. I then found its sister stone on the north wall of the parish church, the last remnants of what was most likely a stone circle built at the confluence of two sacred tracts of water.
The route would take in other points thus far uncharted in the project. The first was the house where Ivor Gurney had lodged whilst organist at Christ Church. We’d paid due homage to 91
the home of the Chapman family in the Greenway that has a plaque to commemorate Gurney’s presence there at the family piano, but what about the house where’d he’d actually boarded in the town in the years 1919-20. I turn into Queens Road from London Road, past the Shrublands Community Mental Heath Hospital; too late for Gurney who was committed to an asylum in his native Gloucestershire in 1922 and died in the City of London Mental Hospital in 1937. No.51 Queens Road is far less distinguished than the Chapman house. A bog standard turn of the century semi, newly painted white, double-glazed and long garden running down to the railway lines. The street is largely taken up with car workshops and the Gurney lodgings abut a busy tyre and exhaust centre. The street in general is a place in need of a lift, some of the gardens haven’t been touched since Gurney’s day, but when he set out for his frequent walks in the hills cottages such as Nettle Villas 1901 would have been house-proud new. Through the houses opposite no.51 I catch the view that Gurney must have been thinking of when he wrote of the “Macbeth-like wood” beyond Keep Hill that he would use as his inspiration for a piece of music. The manuscript for his Preludes in D Flat is dated “High Wycombe 1919”, the music of Keep Hill. My next reference point is just around the corner in distance and about 25 years in the histography of the town. Writer and poet BS Johnson spent some of his formative years in Wycombe as an evacuee, something he wrote extensively about in his novel ‘Trawl’. I relate to Johnson on a number of levels. He was also a working class lad who took a long time to recover from the knock of failing the 12-Plus. He ended up in a flat on Claremont Square Islington, about 200 yards from where I lived till recently, wandered the same night-time north London streets as me when I’m not in Wycombe, which he recorded in ‘Albert Angelo’. The symmetries were too great for me not to pop in on his spirit in Gordon Road. I didn’t know the number of the house where he stayed with Mrs Davies in the war years, just that it was the end furthest from the station. It still looks as it would have done to Johnson aside from the cars lining the street. Neat rows of terraced houses, small but homely, you can 92
imagine kids playing in the street and on the banks of the railway bridge that dominates the end of the road. The Gordon Arms looks as though it would have a few regulars tucked away in the corner who might remember Mrs Davies and her precocious evacuee. But it’s a murky freezing afternoon and I want to hit Wooburn before it’s pitch black. Crossing the London Road at the cricket ground is a heart-in-the-mouth experience, the traffic constant, the noise deafening and mind-scrambling. Once into Bassetsbury Lane tranquillity descends. It has a charm and gentility at odds with the proletarian cottages of the other side of the London Road. At the end is the Old Mill Cottage, the country seat of the Mitfords. This is another of John Langley’s tips, it hadn’t cropped up in any of the conventional histories. This is where the family retreated to bring up the famous sisters when they fell on hard times. It was from here that Diana went off to marry Oswald Mosely, and from where Unity joined the British Union of Fascists and flirted with Hitler. Diana and Unity were such dedicated Nazis that they used to sneak up to the Black Shirt Camp at Winchbottom Farm and try to recruit the townsfolk to the Fascist cause. The stream runs through the cottage grounds oblivious, peaceful, and it’s here that I pick up its course, resolved to follow it back to Wooburn.
John Langley’s other tip was a spring somewhere near the sewage works, which I’d vaguely, marked in my Red Book. I turn into Bowden Lane and three geese in the field on the corner honk wildly. There, at the end is the spring near a disused railway bridge bubbling up from the riverbed, spreading ripples out across the pond. It’s a minor oasis, a firm rebuttal to the image of Wycombe as a “depressing shit-hole”, as some people have tagged it. The footpath leads under the ivy-covered railway bridge and directly under the sewage pipe that emerges from a mud bank and continues supported through the air. It’s a scene that would make the heart of Deep Topographer Nick Papadimitriou miss a beat, a man dedicated to the art of tracing underground watercourses, the overland revelation would be a Tutankhamen of discovery. During the ‘significant sites’ walk Nick pondered upon a manhole cover and delivered 93
his theory on the importance of studying sewage systems. “I believe that sewers are like the civic correspondence to the unconscious. It’s that which we deny which runs under the everyday surface. We shop in places like Top Shop but in fact we’re terribly dependent on systems that deal with that which comes out of our body after we consume, which we deny, which we don’t want to engage with”. The foliage clears and the London Road comes into view. A huge new Currys superstore is dumped on the roadside like a garrison fort; the eastern outpost of the mixed-use retail driven scheme taking shape in the town centre. The cleared land takes on an ominous look of future development. Mallards splash in the water. For how long?
The chainlink fence is decorated with variations on DANGER, KEEP OUT, NO UNAUTHORISED PERSONNEL. It’s a deluge of negativity. The signage comes in different sizes, fonts, colours, layouts. It’s as if there is a mysterious workshop somewhere staffed by semiologists dreaming up new ways of expressing the idea of prohibition.
Mistletoe grows in great dark clumps in the treetops. Mistletoe was revered by pagans for its healing and aphrodisiac qualities. A scared plant growing on the banks of what Druid Chris C Parks calls the ‘Sacred Wye.’ Dead trees, overgrown gardens, rusting corrugated iron workshops with smashed windows. This section is apocalyptic. I’m pushed away from the river as the fencing closes in around me. I find myself channelled through a portacabin encampment, enemy barracks. I eventually emerge into a dusty road, fortress-like newbuild flats and retail. Blue and silver neon lights of Fitness First and Comet. Workers in fluro jackets on hydraulic platforms, plant machinery buzzing past. The flags of St James Homes fly like a victorious conquering army. Thames Water are diversifying from the sewage business into the world of the “retail warehouse development.” In league with St James Homes they’re cashing in on the Project Phoenix/ Eden scheme, a wave of redevelopment carried downstream as once the effluent flowed down from the privies of the Newlands slums. A statement by St. James claims that “Project Phoenix will put High Wycombe on the map as one of the leading M40 corridor towns.” These are guys that think the status of “dormitory suburb” is something to aspire to. Wycombe was once heralded as the centre of the world’s chair industry, “Chairopolis”, they called it. It’s the town that helped give the world the English translation of the bible; suckled the English Civil War; started the first Sunday School; Baron Wycombe, as Prime Minister, made peace with the newly independent American colonies; it produced the Windsor chair and the first flatpacks; sent puritans off on the Mayflower; and let us not forget the delicious synth-pop of Howard Jones. But the new Barons of the town boast that once they’ve finished with it, it’ll be one of the best places this side of Reading to buy a Laptop and go out for a pizza. The sewage works will be reborn as a “village oasis” located in “a town on the rise with huge retail and leisure advancements commencing in the near future”. It’s a further denial of 95
Nick’s hypothesis, the sewers moved to create more space to consume. The bleak weather is perfect for this glimpse of the End. I escape across a patch of wasteland where an electricity sub-station buzzes and there are more warnings of impending death. I end up lost in some allotments, disorientated by angled rows of runner-bean canes. Somebody has used a road sign for the A404 to Amersham to prop up the side of their compost heap. Our neighbour in Wye Road used to cycle up to these allotments to tend his patch, as did my Nan’s last husband Sid. He’d ended up in Wycombe when he was looking for work, cycled up in the morning from Gloucester, got himself a job in one of the numerous factories, and was back home in Gloucester in time for tea. This was when he’d just returned from buzzing above the hills around Basra in the fledgling RAF. Watching the live footage beamed back from Operation Desert Storm 70 years later he could pronounce the names of Iraqi villages better than the TV reporters. Sid would have been a contemporary of Gurney, but Gurney used to make the journey from Gloucester to Wycombe on foot. It’s through a block of old people’s flats that I come out onto Kingsmead and from where I’ll be able to follow the river pretty much all the way on the homeward stretch. The Mead is a vast bleak muddy patch of football and rugger pitches. The view along the river bank is backs of houses and gardens. Crumbling sheds, new conservatories, half-built extensions, lawn mowers, brightly-lit lounges. A slideshow of a kind of Englishness. It’s freezing. There’s just me and the dog walkers. Stud marks in the mud. The sound of the turbo trains on the Marylebone line. Sirens. I pass the football pitch of Loudwater School where I scored a classic goal playing for the Meadows 23 years ago in an after school match on a day like today. Mum used to clean houses along here. I’d go with her and fall asleep on the sofa.
Itâ€™s dusk as I pass Loudwater Church, where my parents got married, and where just a few months ago we bade farewell to Aunty Carol and I saw her smiling from the alter as the priest tried to summarise her life without alluding to her sexuality.
The river cuts under the road and through a Council estate. Dad tells me that at this point the river divided the pitches of Loudwater football and cricket clubs. Soon it disappears again and so I’m forced out onto Boundary Road. The smell of Bakelite is still here emanating from Railko plastic works. A smell I’ll always associate with walking this way with Mum to the doctor’s surgery. Ford’s blotting paper Mill is gone. Mum worked nights in the lab at one point. The old mill house is all that remains, now occupied by a firm of accountants and a communications company. I nose around the grounds looking for the path of the river, aware of a vague sense of transgression which triggers a memory of rafting the small weir here on rubber tyres with Whiffy Smith and the gang and being chased away by security. Now I’m enveloped by the majesty of the M40 viaduct. A giant cathedral to the automobile. The river runs beneath. I hop a metal fence to walk the bank. Cars clatter on the motorway overhead. We climbed inside the structure one summer, the noise was immense. We gave up on the adventure when we became convinced that the tunnels were populated by ghosts of the sad souls who’d thrown themselves to their deaths from the road. The river unravels your personal narrative, a walk along its banks inevitably tells your story. My next step will take into the Knaves Beech Industrial Estate where I worked in the Texas Homestore. Then it runs behind Uncle Stan’s house; me and my cousins Rob and Dave would jump their back fence to gain access to the water. Then it’ll go through the garden of one of my very first school friends, around the park where I spent glorious summers watching and playing cricket, and on. Memories triggered off at every turn along its course from all points in my life. My destination this evening. The house where I grew up, in WYE Road.
I can’t resist a visit to the old Texas Store, now taken over by Homebase. The carpark is huge. Police warnings. Secure zone. You are on CCTV. The warmth and muzak of Homebase are instantly soothing. I’ve been walking for three hours in the freezing cold, immersed in January air and roadside noise. This is like a warm bath. Like Huxley’s SOMA. “We’ve great deals to help you transform your home”, drifts over the PA in an enthusiastic tone. It seems so exotic to me now. They don’t have places like this in London. If I lived here now this is where I’d come for relaxation. You can get wood cut to size, buy a digital camera, an espresso machine, toilet seats, storage boxes, hammers, sofas, paint. I feel like an ethnographer studying an alien tribe. Like Dominic Hide in one of my favourite BBC TV plays, ‘The Flip-side of Dominic Hide’ who is sent back from the future to study life in 1980. I turn into Clapton Approach with the river running behind its gardens, my childhood route back to Wye Road rather than along the main road. Past the house where Aunt Mag and Uncle Pete lived. Pete was flayed from the waste up by one of the machines at Glory Mill a little further along the river. They pulled him out, wrapped him in a sheet and sent him home to his Mum to die. It was the Woodbines that actually finished him off, about 50 years later, although I remember noticing that his chest and throat were a deep shade of purple. 99
I dash round past the garages, down the overgrown alley that we raced up on our bikes. Iâ€™m excited and emotional. The lights are on in No.14. White pick-up in the drive. Movement inside the house. A light on in my old bedroom, the walls are blue now.
Appendix Emails about secret tunnels and Tom Burt’s Hill Hi, My name is David Payne and I have just read one of your blogs about a walk around High Wycombe you did. I am very interested in the fact you mentioned ley lines, as I would like to know where they run through the town. I am also interested in the fact you mentioned Tom Burt’s Hill. My parents live in Carver Hill Road and Tom Burt’s was a favourite playing ground. I have heard stories of what happened to Tom Burt and a story which is different to yours, it is also said his headless ghost is suppose to ride a white horse once a year. There is also two stones on Tom Burt’s, one standing above the ground and one on the surface, I wonder if these are linked to the ley lines? You spoke about backbone, something of which I have never heard of, but I am aware of the underground network that runs beneath High Wycombe, build during the war and runs at least from Daws Hill to Nap Hill. I was told that during the war, the tunnels were wide enough for two american jeeps to pass each other, in recent years, a friend of mine did some air conditioning work at Daws Hill and described what he say as being as big as an underground layer like the ones in James Bond, with tunnels going off in lots of directions. I’d like to know your feedback if your interested and hope to discover more... Regards, Dave Payne 101
Hi John, Thanks for the reply, I never knew of the stones where you mentioned and I want to now map them and draw the lines in. As for Tom Burt’s Hill, I’m pretty sure there are two, one on the hill and one at the bottom. I am happy to meet you one day and show these to you. The story I heard is as follows... Tom Burt was a wealthy man who lived in Loakes House (also supposed to be haunted by a white lady). This goes back to the English civil war, so it will be interesting to see if the house did exist then and if there is a record of who lived in it. He was also a supporter of the Royalists. Apparently, a battle was fought on the rye and the hill adjacent to it (now the land where the private girls school is). When Tom Burt realised his side was losing the battle, he tried to bury his gold on the hill. It is here where the Roundheads was suppose to have caught him in the act and he was hung from a tree on the hill. His headless ghost is now suppose to wonder, riding a white horse and several feet off the ground, lookin for his gold on the aniversary of his death. This was told to me when I was around five so it was around 1976. Since then I have spent many drunken nites on the hill or walkin home and never seen the ghost! It will be interesting if there are any records of Tom Burt and of the battle which was suppose to have taken place. I also remember other stories that on the bridge of the hill used to be gallows, again not sure if this is true. I have always been puzzled by the shape of the hill and this is probable my imagination, but the ground always sounded “hollow” (maybe due to rabbit tunnels). As for the tunnels, my father is into ham radio and had elderly friends who were around in the war. One such friend would tell me stories about german bombers droppin unwanted bombs over 102
wycombe and also the story that he caught a german pilot in downley pastures, who had been shot down and was radioing back to germany, but his message was heard over the ham radio. He told me about the fact that long tunnels ran from Daws Hill (US Airbase) to Bomber Command (RAF) and was wide enough for two jeeps to pass each other. Now understanding that there are at least three large nuclear bunkers here (naphill, daws hill and beaconsfield) I would love to know just how extensive these tunnels run. I walked along wesy wycombe road once and got a glimpse down a man hole and was amazed to see a room with sofa, desk and tea tray, all of which was under the road and was either BT or British Gas suppose to be working there ??? I have read about a vast underground network in the UK, but it still sounds crazy. I will take a look at backbone now. If you want to go to Tom Burts just say. Kind regards, Dave Payne
Letter to the Octagon Centre
We never received a reply to this letter. 104
Myrtleâ€™s Map of Newlands
Advice for Derivers by S.P.B Mais (circa 1930)
When S.P.B Mais wrote “It Isn’t Far From London” in 1930 the concepts of psychogeography and the derive were still to be formulated by Guy Debord and his fellow Situationists some twenty-odd years later. But his introduction to this book on walks around London reads like a call to arms to rediscover our humanity through walking and as a means to triumph over the forces of consumerism, much in the spirit of Debord et al. He writes: “If we are surrounded by ugliness long enough, we are inclined to accept it as the natural and inevitable concomitant of industrial progress instead of a deterrent to it.” And when he wrote: “The cry of the age is for distraction. Now distraction is precisely what we do not want...” He could have been making the case against gleaming shopping malls, multiplex cinemas and bowling alleys.
Go sufficiently well equipped for all contingencies. Take: heavy overcoat, pair of field glasses, camera, inch to the mile Ordnance map, Highways and Byways guide, notebook, several oranges, whisky-flask, and a volume of Cobbett or some other author who fits in with the open-air mood.
Stop at every inviting inn and mingle with the labourers in the ingle-nook of the tap room.
The countryman is friendly, communicative, witty and independent.
Stop and talk with every tramp.
Continually trespass and allow yourself to be diverted from the main path by every crosstrack that lures you out of the way.
Never pass a church. Enjoy the beauty of the architecture and learn more about our national history.
There is a technique of walking - but I have never learnt it. 107
Be out of the house by 9am to avoid having to walk at a higher average rate than 3mph.
A walking day seems half the length of other days. It is rare for half the route to be covered before sundown.
There are 3 different types of walks: i) along the ridges in order to be alone, commune with the spirits of the air, and look down on humanity ii) along the river bank to trace the history of the (human/english) race iii) take to the green tracks through woods and over hills. Road walking is dead, except for stockbrokers to Brighton on 1st May.
The object of walking is to regain contact with the spirit of beauty; to commune with our souls and be still; to exorcise our demons.
Write up the day’s walk as soon as it is over - for our own sake and that of other walkers.
Abridged from ‘It Isn’t far from London’ by S.P.B Mais p.15-18 pub 1930
Select Bibliography Bucks Biographies, Margaret M. Verney, Oxford 1912 Strange Wycombe, Alan Cleaver, Thame House 1991 It Isn’t Far From London, S.P.B. Mais, London 1930 Chiltern Footpaths, Annan Dickson, London 1947 High Wycombe Past, James Rattue, Phillimore 2002 Discovering High Wycombe, Lorna Cassidy, Shire Press, 1970 The Knowhere Guide, www.knowguide.co.uk The Rye – a priceless possession, The Wycombe Society, 1999 Records of Bucks Vol. 3, 8, 9, Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society The Sacred Wye, Chris C. Parks, Grassy Hill 2002 Bucks Free Press, various Goodearl Furniture Factory Deeds, www.petergoodearl.co.uk The Fringe of London, Gordon S. Maxwell, London 1925 London Orbital, Iain Sinclair, Penguin 2003 The Situationist City, Simon Sadler, MIT Press 1999 The Theory of the Derive, Guy Debord, Paris 1958 Cognitive Mapping and Social Change, University of Surrey course outline Algorithmic Noise as Free Culture, Social Fiction 2002 Secret City: Psychogeography and the End of London, Phil Baker, Sound Events 2004 110
Portrait of Wycombe (video), Wycombe Museum A Shortened History of England, G.M Trevelyan, Penguin 1970 The History and Antiquities of Wycombe, Parker, 1878 The History of Wycombe, Henry Kingston 1848 Between Thames and Chilterns, E.S. Roscoe, Faber & Gwyer 1926 Space, Place and Gender, Doreen Massey, Polity Press 2003 Essays of Travel, Robert Lois Stevenson Urban Design Statement in Support of Revised Application by Stannifer Developments Ltd., Wycombe District Council 2004 England is Rich, Harry Hopkins, Harrap 1957 ChavTowns, www.chavtowns.co.uk The city of the future, Patrick Keiller, City Vol.7, No.3 2003 Ivor Gurney in Buckinghamshire, Roderic Dunnett, UK 2001 Stars in a Dark Night, Anthony Boden, Sutton 2001 Cover design, illustrations and assistant production by Cathy Rogers. Photos by John Rogers, Cathy Rogers, David Brooks, Mark, Daniel, Bex and Alan Petherbridge
Thanks to: Dérivers Alan Petheridge, Daniel O’Carroll, Bex, David Brooks, JJ and David, Alan Rogers (who was also a constant source of local knowledge and wisdom), Jerry White, and Mike. Social Fiction for the algorithms. John Smithson of Wycombe Film Society and Jackie Hunt at Wycombe Museum for access to archive film and photos. Myrtle and David Church, Jeff at Scorpion, David Ellis at Bennoy and Alan Peach at Stannifer for making time to chat about Wycombe. All the people I met along the way who provided me with snippets of information. Nick Papadimitriou for discussion about topographical writers and feedback on the dérive reports. Peter Hatton for public art advice and mentoring. Arts Council South East and SEEDA, Art Plus Award for supporting the Remapping High Wycombe project. Finally, collaborator and sister Cathy Rogers.
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