I decided to look at the Square Mile around my childhood home, as it fits both examples of the brief. I lived here for about 22 years before leaving home and eventually getting Married, I recently moved back in with my family as my Mum was ill and a few weeks ago she died and left me the house.
So my Square Mile is the Square mile of my childhood and the Square Mile of my new home, the thing that struck me was the differences and changes that had occurred from my childhood.
The Family Home
The front of our house has not changed much in 50 years other than the plants growing up and more cars inhabiting the drive.
The Old Lane
The old lane runs behind the bungalows opposite my house it is now a narrow track but when I was younger it was much wider. about 30 years ago the residents bought the lane and extended their gardens but since there was a public foot path they had to leave this narrow track.
When I was about 8 years old we built a tree house about halfway down this path in a hawthorn tree that has now been cut down I remember being sad when they cut it down. The current path was a drainage ditch back then that we used to play in. It was filled in when the gardens were extended.
I Fell In The Ditch
When the ditch was still here the concrete fence stopped people getting into the old Buxted chicken Factory, one night some vandals covered the entire wall with graffiti using white gloss paint. This patch now overgrown shows the last remnant of of a statement that used to read “I Fell In The Ditch” I always wondered if the artist did in fact fall in the ditch.
I remember vividly my Dad being furious at the graffiti Artists who made the place look such a mess. I am being kind calling them an artist as it was not a work of art like some graffiti but more an act of vandalism. Though they tried it seemed that the mess was not removable and over 40 years later the white marks on the wall here are still evident.
The River Blackwater
The River Blackwater runs directly across the end of my house, as a young child I was forbidden to go there on my own as we grew up it became a place we played. The current bridge replaced the old bridge about 25 years ago when the built the Blackwater valley route along the river bank giving people a way to walk the entire river all the way to Camberly.
When I was young the river was a filthy thing full of chemical foam and orange sludge pumped out from the factories along its banks, now it is protected by the environment agency, it runs clean and even has fish swimming in it.
When it rains a lot the river swells up over the bridge and runs very fast, at these times it is very dangerous and I think it was the death of a young child who fell into the water and was swept away during such a flood that prompted my Dad to stop me going down to the river when I was young.
Old Smithey and The Hanging Tree
Next to the old bridge is a plot of land, when I was young it was the home of an old eccentric hermit called Mr Smith or Smithey as the kids called him. This tree is at the rivers edge on his property. When he lived there it was clear and bluebells would grow among the trees. He has barbed wire and all sorts of junk like bed heads and iron work tied up to for an impenetrable barrier between him and the hordes of kids who seemed to make his life a misery. They would stand on the bridge and jeer and taunt him. I think some of the older more bothersome boys even got violent with him. I remember one day him shooting an air rifle down the lane at them. I don’t know if he got in trouble for that these days I think you would go to prison for doing that.
There was much controversy around him he used to let some people in his caravan and one day he vanished I heard he was in prison there were many rumors none of which I have ever seen proof of. His little space was a very pretty place and when he left the vandals completely destroyed it the caravan was torn apart so nothing was left of it. some say that was the work of an angry father who wanted to make sure he could not return who can say.
The tree is memorable because a young boy hung himself in it playing with a rope ladder, Yes another death in the same spot, which was responsible for the rope ladder ban in our household, this meant that we had to learn to climb trees when we built the tree house because rope ladders were forbidden.
I have a stark memory of the ambulance parked in the road outside my house as they recovered the body I seem to remember being very young.
The Sand Pit
On the other side of the river opposite the house was a sand pit where HTH the company dug out sand for building, when they had finished it left huge pits that filled with water which are to this day fishing lakes.
This sign was attached to the fence telling the world that Trespassers will be prosecuted, I vividly remember being taught the lords prayer and knowing what trespasses, meant because of this sign. its a strange but rather strong link to my past.
When I was in my teens I finally got to see the land we were not allowed to trespass on as we would go in there and buy a fishing pass for the day while we drowned a few worms. The place became the bane of my Dads life when the A331 was finally built as the fishermen did not have any access fro te other side and all started parking in our cul-de-sac and blocking things up.
The house is not Jonathon’s but the fence is, Jonathon was one of my school friends, he lived just up the road from me, when I was a young teenager Mum made a deal with his Dad that he would take us to school and she would bring us home. The car poking out is the end of their drive where we would assemble each morning and wait for him to get the car out of the garage.
I remember having a huge crush on a girl that would walk to school each morning past this gate, I was determined to ask her out, however every morning she would walk past and I would not have the nerve to even speak to her, the best I ever managed was hello.
I heard a few years ago that Jon’s Dad had sadly passed away he was a nice man and those memories are fond ones.
Joe Betts and Bruno
Up to the age of 6 or 7 my best friend in the world was Joe Betts, He lived in the house on the left, his parents were University lectures and on reflection real hippies. I did everything with him and remember being devastated when his family moved to Bristol.
The house next door was the home of a younger boy named Bruno I was terrified of his Dad who told me off for throwing a brick into the boat he had in the river at the bottom of the garden I lived in fear of him telling my Dad.
The Brook Trading Estate AKA the Buxted Chicken Factory
The site that is now the Brook Trading estate runs parallel to Fieldway, Used to be a Buxted Chicken Factory, I remember my Dad being a tireless campaigner to have it shut down, It was smelly they kept having ammonia leaks from the cooling plant, they had a boiler with a huge chimney that would belch black smoke. In remember Dad photographing the chimney with black smoke coming out of it because the management claimed it was smokeless.
The factory had machines running that would vibrate the very bedrock in our house you could see things vibrating on the shelves and sometimes things would fall off from the vibration.
Worn down by the estates constant complaining one day they shut the factory and built the trading estate
Timothy Whites / Boots
This used to be a huge warehouse belonging originally to Timothy Whites then later to Boots it was there for many years, then eventually they closed it and an enormous and extremely dense housing estate was built on the site.
My strongest memory is right where the 4 story building is now situated, I was walking home from school probably at around 12 years old, when another lad accosted me, he had a long length of elastic and started to whip me with it. I can tell you it hurt I remember shouting at him and using some rather choice language including the F word. There was a woman opposite talking to someone in the factory her only response was to berate me and tell me off for swearing. I remember being very upset as she totally ignored the beating th other boy was giving me I went straight home and told mum everything as I was afraid this Mad woman would come round and tell my Mum how naughty I was. The cheek she even threatened to was my mouth with soap. Funny how we only see the wrongs that others do and never see our own faults.
Pegasus Avenue / Denmark Square
Its something of the end of an era as they demolish the flats, this row is the last standing row of flats, the rest are being re built. These houses were the council houses in the area and for some reason the council kept putting all the problem families in there, don’t get me wrong there were nice people living there too but its the few rotten apples that spoil an area and the infamous Denmark Square became something of a problem for the council there were stories of prostitution and drugs and all kinds of things.
Interestingly the ones here still standing were privately bought with the right to buy scheme and the residents made them all look really nice its not clear if these are to be demolished as well as the builders seem to be working in phases.
The Development of Denmark Square
The bulk of the flats are gone now and the new houses are emerging I suspect this will be a really dense estate like the old boots site opposite, building on this phase has not long started but the structures are emerging already.
I was amused by a sign on the boards saying would you like to live here, not long ago that would have been a joke but now maybe there is a brighter future as the council solved its ghetto problem by selling it to developers who have flattened and re built it. Time alone will tell.
The square mile exercise came for me at a difficult time, having just lost my mum. I took my camera and went for a walk, now I have to admit my Square Mile is nowhere near a full mile I was limited by my knees and the distance I can walk. I did however push myself and walk further than usual.
I decided to take pictures of memories so each image is of a place that strikes a memory for me which I have described in the captions of each image. I have to admit that this was a terribly emotional exercise as the memories bought tears to my eyes as I remembered my childhood and the reaction of my parents.
Having lost my Dad in 2011 and my Mum a couple of weeks ago this process was quite a raw wound. As image the individual pictures are quite mundane I deliberately did not mess with them or try to be very arty they are raw images showing what is there now only the words can draw a picture of what was there and the only place that the old reality can still be seen is in my head. The sad fact is that when I die so will those images.
I took a very simple stance one lens hand held taken from eye level as I see it. The idea being that the images are a true reflection of what my eyes see now.
It was interesting how much change there has been over the years to a point where much of it would not be identifiable at all unless you knew it was the spot. I found myself flooding with thoughts and memories of my childhood and of the events and situations that happened in the places I photographed. There were so many more things that could have been said.
When I started this exercise the engineer in me took a section of an OS map one square mile around my house. It was surprising how much of the map was irrelevant as I either never went to that place as a child or it was not accessible for some reason. It struck me that the original statement talks about us really knowing a square mile but in fact I think that area is much smaller in reality. I think this also changes with time as you get older and have better methods of transport, however owning a car by default stops you learning the landscape in detail. For instance, I can remember a place in the old lane where the tree roots poked out of the path, we used to bump over them on our bikes. I can remember a place where there was a holly bush over the ditch which formed a little cave we used to hid in. you get none of these memories when you drive past a place, and I think this is why the premise of the square mile works for your childhood you spend an awful lot of your time in one place.
All in all this was a fun exercise that was excruciatingly painful!