Recently, we went walking from Rowland’s Castle to Staunton country park (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staunton_Country_Park). What a lovely landscape, beautiful in places. It has contributions from many times and many groups of people. No wonder we couldn’t move through it quickly. We nibbled into landscapes that have been controlled by at least three different powerful groups, all gone now. The power structures are different. I don’t even really know what they are now. Rowland’s Castle is so wealthy while Havant especially near Staunton Park is not. I like the contributions of the powerful to that landscape (Parkland, bits of houses, even the motte at Rowland’s Castle) and I like the fact that they are in decay, both because the decay is pleasant and because its a reminder that those power structures are in decay as well.
We met a man on a bicycle who told Alex he should be in wellies. He clearly was out and about with the purpose of talking about the heritage of the place and his part in it. He had worked on the estate while it was still owned by the Fitzwygrams but he didn’t really talk about his own experience much, a little to say that he had a been excluded from the place though he lived there. ‘Her Ladyship wouldn’t let us come within 60 ft of the house though we lived there’
There was something uncomfortable about him and we were out for our own exploration so while we were polite and listened we didn’t really sit and chat which is what he wanted. And he wanted to teach, to tell us things we didn’t know, to pass on his understanding, to make sure Alex wore wellies next time.
He also told us ‘the story of the legless man’ A man who (by the cyclists account) had “had his legs blown off in WWI but still they found a job for him, weeding this drive, It was immaculate then, it was the drive from the House to the Church and her ladyship wanted it immaculate. They dropped him off in the morning on a plank and left him for the day weeding, its true they did that. Today they are too tired to even go and collect their benefits, they want them posted to them, but they did that to him. So if you meet someone who doesn’t want to work tell him the story of the legless man”
Its a complicated story, though its short. I don’t know whether we would have got more if we had stood to talk longer, whether he would have expanded or whether it was a set piece. Its clear that he thinks that ‘people have it too easy now’ but he also seems to think that they had it too hard then. He’s clearly shocked by the treatment of the legless man (who, if he ever existed, has lost his name as well as his legs though he’s only about a hundred years old). But somehow the contrast with what people could survive to maintain the landscape as it was is also somehow inspirational, you don’t *have* to sit at home waiting for your benefit check. The legless man could stay alive despite much greater hardship. But the story wasn’t only a stick to beat ‘benefit scroungers’ (or wounded heroes in another story). Combined with the way he spoke of ‘Her Ladyship’ he wanted to tell us that this landscape wasn’t gentle, despite its appearance.
So, I’m left with some questions (of course). How could I have spoken with him to get more of his understanding and experience from him? What kinds of questions would have deepened this conversation (and which ones would shut it down)? What do we do in working with Heritage when we come across views very different from our own? And indeed what do we do with these layers of anger which are as complex as the landscape?