4 September 2015

Ham: Know Your Place, another fine talk by Sir David Williams

A talk on Ham is always of interest to me and I had another opportunity to go to one thanks to Richmond Council's Know Your Place season of talks.

The Ham: Know Your Place talk was given by Sir David Williams with the subject Open Spaces in Ham and Petersham, Pictures, History and Management. This was the third time that I had heard Sir David talk this year so I knew that I was going to learn some interesting things, especially on the history of some of the places. One of his earlier talks, The History of Ham Riverside Lands, had covered some similar territory and that had been a fabulous talk.

But first I had to get there and I made bit of a Horlicks of the travel. I was working in Leatherhead that day and had made the mistake of buying a return ticket to Kingston. My first plan was to buy a single from Leatherhead to Richmond but the queue at Leatherhead for the one ticket machine there was far too long so I used my return ticket to get me on a train to Clapham Junction.

The second plan was to use one of the check-in Oyster card readers on the platform at Clapham Junction to start a new journey with my Oyster card. Unfortunately Clapham Junction does not have Oyster card readers on the platform, presumably because there is no interchange with the Underground there.

The next plan was to exit at Richmond using my Kingston ticket in the hope that it would let me out thinking that I was just ending my journey a little early. It didn't. Finally I showed my ticket to the person on the barriers and she let me out. A 65 bus from there, and a good walk from Sandpits Road got me to Ham Library at 6:50pm, in good time for the talk starting at 7pm. It all worked out well in the end.

Sir David took us on a logical journey through the major local open spaces from Petersham Park (part of Richmond Park) to Ham Lands via places like Petersham Meadows, Petersham Common, Great South Avenue and Ham Common Woods.

With words and pictures he told us about their history and their current status, particularly how they are managed. He talked about how the deer and cows help to maintain the vegetation in Petersham Park  and Petersham Meadows and how Petersham Common benefits from active management (funded by a Trust) while Petersham Copse suffers most from not being managed.

Management can be a mixed blessing and the recent major clearance works in Ham Common Woods had not been appreciated by a lot of people, myself included. Sir David was able to explain the context of these works which helped me to understand them even if I did not yet agree with them. The Woods had been an open space as recently as the 1920s and had been left to develop as a woodland rather than being managed and so there were some issues with dead and overcrowded trees.

There were many historical photographs to illustrate the talk and the one that made the most impression on me was of young girls dressed in their Sunday best outside of an orphanage on Ham Common, a building that was a hunting lodge and is now a collection of apartments.

Management came up again when talking about Ham Common and St' George's Field both of which suffered to some extent from the proliferation of signs and other urban clutter. I agreed with Sir David on that one.

The final problem area that he mentioned was the Thames Young Mariners site that all but divides Ham Lands, only the tow path connects the two sections. Surrey County Council own the site but make little use of it and had not been a good neighbour, as their major clearance of their land had shown a few years ago. That had caused The Friends of Ham Lands to be formed and me to join them.

It was, as I had expect it to be, a thoroughly entertaining, interesting and informative talk and it helped me to understand a little better the place that I have chosen to make my home.

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