A (dis)enchantment in Cheltenham walking in Pittville park with Cheltenham Tree Officer Chris Chavasse, a Speculative Art School...speculation... Walking slowly and at times without talking (the most difficult bit) considering the multilayered stories folded into this place and our entangled presence there.
Huge trees from the original planting propped up and surviving. Old.
Rattling notions of time and place and queering where is here...the stone itself.
The pumproom built out of stone 175 million years ago, sat on rock similarly formed at the bottom of warm Jurassic seas...where was here, then, what presences unacknowledged?
Ghosts trees and absences. The slaveowners who walked the park, for whom the estate was laid out by speculator Pitt. The architect Stokes, a slaveowner born in Jamaica who sold up in good time to slip through England and on to New Zealand ending up with 30,0000 acres of New Zealand sheep country.
The flow of wealth, its owners unmarked seep from colonised island to colonised island leaving the marked in their wake. Not a word. Don't mention the sugar.
One local resident in 1835 missed out on over £8k in government compensation on the basis of her ownership of 415 people on the Seven Rivers Estate in Jamaica. The enslaved people were mortgaged to a Reverend Henry Mair, man of the church.
Enslaved people received no compensation.
Does the stone capstan on the lake echo those who pushed it round at the tip of the slavemaster's whip crushing the sugar to make the wealth this park manifests?
To the trees, the romance of the holly and the oak no more indigenous than any other invasive coloniser. Its about time and speed, it depends on where here and there is or was.
The swift seeding birch gets in quick from eastern europe as the glaciers retreat and the heavy footed oak lumbers from the warm safety south of the Alps or the Pyrenees. They get across the North Sea before it was there. When the first Brexit was enforced by the rushing meltwater just 33 trees had made it to the safety of Albion' shore.
None of them native, really.
Considering the recent colonial arrivals and the plant hunters who brought them back... how their trophy hunting trips funded perhaps by slave generated wealth in turn colonised knowledges. and occupied the spaces of being. What do we really know about these trees what intelligence could we connect with in them ?
Joseph Pitt MP anti semite and anti catholic speculated on land in Cheltenham. An MP in some of the rotten boroughs of Wiltshire. The Great Reform Act was designed to clean parliament of the likes of him. He opposed electoral reform and was out before the Act came in. In 1812 Lord Suffolk wrote of Pitt to Lord Holland that he was,
a very strong instance why some reform in the representation is necessary. He will from a corrupt influence return 2 Members for Malmesbury, 1 for Cricklade, 1 for Cirencester and 1 for Wootton Bassett all including the votes in the town of Cricklade notoriously corrupt, and all this from his influence as an attorney, a banker, a land jobber and a money lender.4
Now the park is free for everyone to use and the planted dreams of Pitt's landscape architects are realised. Enslaved people have not been compensated. The planet warms faster than oak trees can run. Deep entanglements and responsibilities to consider, especially for white folk.
A walking with the park asking questions taking notes, tweeting..maybe a haiku in the park from someone. The conversation continues, the questioning opens doors, we feel the now brittle dry leaves that dinosaurs ate fresh.