The sixth of March is one of those special days in my diary, for happy and sad reasons.
It was Sylvia Sayer’s birthday—she was my campaigning mentor and friend for nearly 30 years.
On 6 March 1974, while I was still at university, I was invited to meet Claude Pike, director of the china clay company Watts Blake and Bearne, as I had been sending him complaints about his company’s abuse of Dartmoor. And so I went to Newton Abbot, with a long, beautifully hand-written brief from Syl. After an hour with Pike, which ended not surprisingly in stalemate, I went round the corner to meet Syl for lunch. It was then that I learnt that it was her seventieth birthday, and I felt honoured that she should have chosen to spend it with me. I hope her husband Guy wasn’t too fed up (but I can hear him now grumbling about it!).
Twenty years later, on Syl’s ninetieth birthday, we met for lunch at the house of her son and daughter-in-law, Oliver (Oz) and Janet. Oz’s twin Geoff was there and both their families—three generations. And it was at that lunch that Oz, who was suffering from a devastating illness, died with his Janet and all his family around him. Oz was one of the sweetest, kindest and most generous people I have ever known. His brother Geoff died in February 2013, see blog. Both boys died far too young.
The night of 6 March is engrained in the history of our movement because in 1866 the Commons Preservation Society organised a trainload of brawny navvies to walk from Tring Station to Berkhamsted Common to fell Lord Brownlow’s unlawful fencing—direct action on behalf of commoner Augustus Smith, which ensured that the common remained open for the people. That was 150 years ago and the National Trust and Open Spaces Society are today celebrating the occasion with a walk on the common.
I owe so much to Syl and to Oz and Geoff, who were such good friends—and who were certainly not averse to direct action when it was needed.