Crowborough Conservation – The Lost World

During my MA, as part of my Communities Project, I approached Crowborough Conservation Group to offer my assistance with the Crowborough Festival. The theme in 2017 was Lost World. As a big fan of Arthur Conan Doyle, it was right up my street.

Those of us living in Crowborough appreciate its position high on the Weald, and delight in the beauty of the Ashdown Forest as well as the wonderful green spaces around the town. Crowborough’s unique appeal has attracted not only those who enjoy the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, but also writers and artists inspired by the surrounding countryside.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle moved to Crowborough in 1909 and lived here for over 23 years. Whilst at Windlesham Manor, he wrote his most famous adventure story ‘The Lost World’, an exciting tale of exploration, danger, dinosaurs and survival.

“You are in a land which offers such an inducement to the ambitious naturalist as none ever has since the world began, and you suggest leaving it before we have acquired more than the most superficial knowledge of it or of its contents. I expected better things of you.”

(Extract from The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle)

I’m fascinated that a scientist and rational thinker like Conan Doyle could also engage with spiritualism and seances, as well as trying to prove the existence of the Cottingley Fairies and allegedly being involved in the Piltdown Man hoax.

It is said that a fossilised footprint of an Iguanodon, found in a quarry near his home fired Conan Doyle’s imagination and ‘The Lost World’ was the result.  True or not, the book became a worldwide success and generations continue to be enthralled by dinosaurs.

“An enormous three-toed track was imprinted in the soft mud before us. The creature, whatever it was, had crossed the swamp and had passed on into the forest. We all stopped to examine that monstrous spoor. If it were indeed a bird – and what animal could leave such a mark? – its foot was so much larger than an ostrich’s that its height upon the same scale must be enormous.”

(Extract from The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle)

Link to Crowborough Conservation

During my research for the festival events, I also found out more about local naturalist, Richard Jefferies.

“The voice of the cuckoo in his season travels on the zephyr, and the note comes to the most distant hill, and deep into the deepest wood.”

(Extract from Field and Hedgerow – last essays by Richard Jefferies)

Richard Jefferies (1848 – 1887) is best known for his writings about nature and the countryside. In 1885, he moved to Crowborough because of its reputation as a health resort. In failing health at this time, he stayed first at Jarvis Brook and later at The Downs, London Road. Some of his most beautiful essays were written during his stay.

Jefferies lived in a stone cottage in London Road and often lingered by the ancient oak tree at Cooks Corner to admire the view of the hills of Kent. I have always considered that oak tree to be mine. It stood outside my own house in London Road and as a child I would play in its hollow trunk.  When I took a walk recently, I found it had been put behind bars.

My oak tree today.

I was inspired to write this poem:

Rackhamesque Oak

Stickman limbs reach fingers skyward,
Autumn leaves cross furrowed brow.
Gargoyles gape through rough-edged rib cage,
Knot and twist the tangled gnarl.

Hollow flows with sickly stenches,
Lovers notes and trysts decay.
Habitat for beetle species,
Portal where gnomes and goblins play.

Elfin Puck guides feeble mortals,
Fairy hill to Chanctonbury Ring.
Moonless night, seven times to circle,
Sibling freed from changeling.

Threats to oak ash thorn survival,
Villagers worried, filled with woe.
Blind and dumb sons of the widow,
Head for France, the sprites to row.

Behind steel bars, Colossus rages,
Soul imprisoned, heart entombed.
Locked beyond the reach of children,
Interned beneath a Harvest moon.


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