Parking in Fletching

1

‘Would you mind not parking on our land?’
She said, as we walked back to the car —
The land in question being the grassy verge
Of a lane marked ‘private’ and leading to
A country pile called ‘Wilmshurst Cottage’.

In an estate agents’ evaluation
(I researched online later that evening)
Now the most expensive property
In the civil parish of Fletching,
In the constituency of Wealden,
In the Norman rape of Pevensey,
In this gilded garden of East Sussex;
Being valued today at three-million,
One-hundred-and-seventy-nine-thousand-pounds,
Having appreciated, since 2010,
By nine-hundred-and-thirty-nine-thousand pounds,
When the freehold on the land was sold
To Wayne Matthew Channon, ‘entrepreneur’
In the pharmaceutical industry,
And Director of eight companies
Tallied in the house of accountancy.

Of C4L Laboratory Services,
A private company, limited by shares,
With three-and-a-quarter million in assets
In the business of ‘umbilical stem cell storage’;
And of IosBIO Ltd,
Developer (with two-million-pounds
Of public money) ‘of the world’s first
Orally-administered COVID-19 vaccine’;
And of Wayne Channon Ltd,
A vanity project a million in debt
From ‘raising buffaloes and other cattle’ —
And making him look like a country gent.

Who is also named, at sixty-three,
As a ‘Person with Significant Control’
Of Channon Consultants, a partnership
(Of limited liability) in the
‘Professional services sector’,
Incorporated in August 2010,
The month after he purchased Wilmshurst Cottage
And registered to the same address;
The other ‘Designated Member’ of which,
Mrs. Debra Gail Channon — I presume
His non-executive, salary-drawing,
Profit-sharing, tax-avoiding wife —
Was, presumably, addressing me now.

2

‘Mind?’ I said. ‘No, I don’t mind at all.’
But, to avoid future charges of trespass,
I asked her to point out to me —
With proof of purchase — the borders of their land,
Which was marked, on the Ordnance Survey Map
I unfolded across our car bonnet,
With bold letters saying ‘Stephens Farm’.

Surveyed in the Buckhurst Terrier
Of 1597 to 98
(Between enclosure of the common land
And ‘working houses’ for the evicted)
At twenty acres, and held by title deeds
By Charles Howard of Sheffield, Esq.,
‘In the right of Charitie his wife’
(The same scam as Channon Consultants’),
The bounds of the farm were recorded as:
‘Lord Buckhurst’s Ridgwood to the South’,
‘Rich. Michelbourne and Thomas Awcock to the West’,
‘Henry Snott and John Atheroll to the North’, and
‘The lane from Sheffield to Nutley to the East’ —
On which, four-hundred-and-twenty-years later,
We had parked our car three hours earlier.

And to tell me how Channon family Ltd,
Could pay the price of the previous owner,
Gerald William Ashfield, another
Director of assorted companies
(Finance, investment and trust management);
Whether they owned the freehold outright
Or leased it from the landowner
(The former estate of the baronetcy
Of the Maryon-Wilson family)
On a mortgage underwritten by a bank,
And her ‘our’ was wishful thinking.

Or whether, in deed, it really was theirs,
According to the rights of ownership
To whose agreement I was never privy,
Not having been consulted in advance,
Or having received a share in retrospect
Of my inheritance of this country
On which I, in consequence, was born landless,
Having never owned a residence,
Neither a house nor the land it stood on,
But always having rented in passing,
As I was now, in this moment of exchange,
On the land on which we’d parked.

3

In the Census of 1841 —
The first to list not only the names
But the age, the sex, the place of birth
And the occupation of residents —
Stephens Farm was registered as the home
Of a farm labourer named James Avis,
His wife, Martha, and three infant daughters —
Eliza, Maryanne and Frances —
Whose great-great-great-great-great-grandparents,
John Avis and his unnamed wife, were born
In 1610, seven miles to the north,
In the ancient parish of Withyham.

Two-hundred-and-forty-one-years later,
In the Census of 1851,
James Avis, at the age of thirty-nine,
Was now listed as the head of the household
(The tenant farmer having moved away)
With his wife, infant son William,
And four more daughters, Sarah-Jane,
Harriet, Lucy and Elizabeth —
And his widowed father, at seventy
Years old, still recorded as ‘farm labourer’.

And in the notebooks of William Raper,
Solicitor, Stephens Farm is mentioned
In the testimony of Edward Newnham,
Farmer, in the Ashdown Forest Dispute
Of 1876 to 82,
Between Reginald Windsor Sackville,
The Seventh Earl De La Warr, descendant
Of an Anglo-Norman robber baron
And Lord of the Manor of Duddlewell,
And Bernard Hale, Barrister-at-Law,
Justice of the Peace, Deputy Lieutenant
Of Sussex and an Ashdown commoner,
Over the right of his tenant, John Miles,
To cut heather, fern, gorse and bracken
From common land in the freehold of the Earl —
And who, when ordered by William Pilbeam,
One of the forest keepers, to ‘stop’,
Testified: ‘I went on cutting’.

4

‘It’s just we have a 20-tonne truck
Which will crush your little car’, she said,
Smiling the cud-chewing grin of her class —
Of straw-thatched roofs and square-cut hedges
As impenetrable as her vowels;
Of gatehouses guarding hidden manors
On driveways longer than the road I live on;
Of bull-barred Land Rovers and sporty numbers;
Of sheep-cropped lawns and Barbour jackets;
Of heated pools and pebble-dash patios;
Of electronic gates surveilled by cameras;
Of hedgerows over barbed-wire fences;
Of signs announcing ‘Alsatian dogs
Roam freely here’ over public rights of way;
Of lion statues cast from painted concrete;
Of old school ties and extinct coats-of-arms;
Of private woods and stabled horses
Smelling of dung and the women on them;
Of families you never see on the street,
But only glimpse, huddled together,
Hastily unloading their SUVs;
Of chauffeured children and delivered shopping
From exclusive shops and public schools;
Of ‘private property’ and ‘keep out’ signs
Promising ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’
On the land on which we’d parked.

5

In Sussex Apprentices & Masters
Of 1710 to 52
(Between crop failures after the Great Frost
And the Scottish Highland Clearances)
‘Wilmshurst’ (from Old English for ‘wooded hill’)
Is the surnoun — introduced by the Normans
To identify the labour of the bearer
Or the land to which he was born in bondage —
Of Jeremiah Wilmshurst, resident
Of Fletching, occupation ‘weaver’;
And of George Wilmshurst, resident
Of Nutley, occupation ‘blacksmith’;
And of Thomas Wilmshurst, resident
Of Mayfield, occupation also ‘blacksmith’.

In the Post Office Directory of Sussex,
Published in 1874 —
With the vicar, surgeon and physician,
The Rt Hon. Member of Parliament
The Earl, the Viscount and Lieutenant —
‘Wilmshurst’ is listed as the country address
Of Dr. St. George Mivart, Professor
Of Biology, Fellow of the Royal
Society, and excommunicated
Catholic author of Happiness in Hell
With a second residence in London.

Beneath which, among the names marked ‘commercial’,
Appears George Virgo, occupation ‘farmer’,
And resident of ‘Wilmshurst farm’;
With the Professor’s other household staff —
John Lacey, occupation ‘gardener’,
And his wife, Sarah, ‘domestic servant’ —
In the Census of 1881
Both listed as residents of ‘Wilmshurst’.

6

‘Is that a threat?’ — I didn’t have to ask
But did so anyway. And calculated
That thirty per cent of the residents
Of Wealden are over sixty years of age;
That forty per cent are ‘highly skilled’
(Managerial, professional,
Administrative or technical);
That seventy-four per cent own their own home
(Half outright and half with a mortgage);
That ninety per cent were born in Britain
And seventy per cent are ‘Christian’.

In addition, over the past five years,
There have been one-hundred-and-seventy-eight
Planning applications submitted
Within two miles of their property;
Three secondary and four primary schools
Are graded by Ofsted as ‘good’,
But one ‘requires improvement’;
And, in February 2021,
Twelve crimes had been committed
(Five of ‘anti-social behaviour’)
Within 1.9 miles of their property.

But at the Fletching Parish Council meeting,
Held at seven-thirty in the evening
Of the 3rd of March, 2020,
In Fletching Parish Church, it was agreed
(Among items for their next never-convened meeting)
‘To resolve to apply for a concealed
Entrance sign for the entrance to Stephens Farm.’

7

She made no reply — because, of course,
I said none of these things to her.
But two months later we returned to Fletching,
And there, in the yew-lined graveyard
Of St. Andrew and St. Mary the Virgin,
William Avis — first son of his father,
Born in November 1846,
Married in 1873 to Sarah Ann,
With whom, the following year,
He had a son, like him named William,
And in 1880 a daughter, Annie,
And died in October 1927 —
Was buried (the only land they
Ever owned) in the same plot as his wife.
And although, at the age of 35,
When a resident of Down Street Farm,
His occupation was recorded as
‘Farm labourer’, on his granite gravestone
The lead writing reads: ‘His end was peace . . .’
(The last syllable perhaps missing).

Beside them, the grave of their son, who died
In the final year of the Second World War,
Quoted Revelation, 14:13:
‘Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, 
Yea, that they may rest from their labours.’

We paid our respects, took a photograph
Of the graves, and on our way home,
By the lane leading to Wilmshurst Cottage,
Where cattle owned by Wayne Channon Ltd
Depreciated in the barbed-wired field,
Parked our car on the grassy verge.

— Simon Elmer

More political poems by the same author:

The Battle of Hyde Park

The Nuremberg Defence

Open for Business

The Red Lady of Paviland

Explaining a Few Things

Definitely London Town

Holy Island

The Unlawful Killing of Ian Tomlinson

 The Aylesbury Wall

When We Marched For Homes

Thatcherwocky

New Left Revue (Being for the Benefit of Mr. Assange)

The Nation’s Favourite Poem

12 thoughts on “Parking in Fletching

  1. Loved it Simon, beautifully written, and researched. The countryside needs piercing, especially its myth making about stewardship. We should rename farming to industrial exploitation of land for profit.

  2. Sadly, the cyclical nature of the sneering classes and the browbeaten continues. Thoroughly enjoyed your words.

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