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  • Ashley Cochrane

Bossenden Wood Shoot Journal - 2nd January 2019

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

Today did not get off to the best of starts. Although my planning of the weather suggested it would be cloudy all day, by the time I arrived at Bossenden for my second day shooting there was not a cloud in sight. This was disappointing because the previous shoots images looked amazing and any shots I got today would not suit the moody images I already have. Time was not on my side however, so I persevered regardless, undeterred by the conditions. I would continue along my proposed route as normal, and hope it clouded over eventually. I took a few shots of the area at the bottom of Bossenden Woods, there was not any planned shots here, but there were a lot of references to Sir William Courtenay in street signs and place names which I could use in my project. From here I walked along the road towards Boughton where my first location was and my first intended shot in the story of Sir William Courtenay, for it was here that the Knight outlined his intentions and rallied the rural communities to join him in defiance against the laws that restricted them. This was a key shot that I needed to get perfect because it was the first shot in my project, and it needed to set the scene.

The sun was causing me many problems. For one, the shadows on the ground were too long and distracting. I prefer a smooth image, untouched by strong, contrasting shadows. Being the height of winter also, the shadows were unlikely to disappear at any point unless it clouded over. Although I believe blue skies can create some wonderful exposures and landscapes, it is not conditions that I like to work in. Having undertaken several historical themed documentaries with often, tragic or fatal stories attached to them, it feels backwards representing locations of death or misery by juxtaposing them with bright and sunny landscapes. The goal of this type of photography is to represent beauty in nature, whereas my intended meaning is far from this. I want the viewer to feel the mystery of a location, I want them to question what happened at each location and imagine it from the context I provide within the image and through text. The overcast conditions provide a blank canvas if you will, I am not asking the viewer to see the beauty of the trees, or the snow on the ground, the overcast conditions strip all this excess meaning away from the image, so you are left with a location and that forces the viewer to look harder at the image.

I travelled down Boughton Hill and turned right at the foot of the hill. This took me to the road that led to Hernhill. Hernhill wasn’t a major location and was about two miles away from the road that took me to the other locations. But I decided to go there because this is where Sir William Courtenay and the men that followed him were buried after the Battle of Bossenden Wood. Courtenay was not buried in a marked grave, to avoid the public making a martyr of him post-death. The authorities were also fearful that he could be resurrected, after he was claiming to be the second coming of Christ himself. This was an important location in the aftermath of the battle, but I had no intention of telling the story after the battle, but I wanted to visit the graveyard regardless to see if I could get any more information on the battle.

I found the site where William is said to have been buried, I also walked the graveyard and found a few gravestones of his followers and their families. It was a sobering reminder as to why I was shooting this project, and the care I must take providing context in this story. The people involved in this tragic story were real, and they had very real consequences. The families of some remained in the area, I could see this by the family names that dominated parts of the graveyard; Curling, Wills and Hadlow, the latter of which I am directly descended from. Seeing relatives of my own among the dead here, some of which were friends of Courtenay was also striking. My Grandfather has been keenly interested in the battle that took place here because of the family connections, it was him that donated me the book by P.G. Rogers that inspired me to shoot this project in the first place. Both my grandfather and grandmother, on my mother’s side, have direct ancestors that were present at the Battle of Bossenden Wood. I lunched at Hernhill, and as I rested, the clouds began to roll over, this provided a much-needed boost to continue shooting and gather more important shots.

My next location was Fairbrook Farm. Fairbrook was where Courtenay lived after he was released from Maidstone Lunatic Asylum under the guardianship of George Francis who owned the farm. It is also where Courtenay first saw the regiment detachment sent to put down his uprising in the hours preceding the battle. On the way however, I came across many shots that I could use to represent the rural industry that took place here. These shots are important because it will help the narrative of my story by telling the story of the landscape around Hernhill and Boughton. Much of the land is untouched from modern development, and only the technology has changed. This will allow me to put a modern twist on the narrative and make it understandable in a modern context.

Fairbrook was a goldmine for photography. Not only was the cottage there still in the same state as it was in 1838, but there were lots of interesting subjects available for me to shoot. A lot happened here in the events preceding the battle, so I was able to spend an hour there picking up as many shots as I could. I made my way to the osier beds at the bottom of the farm. This is where Courtenay was confronted by the regiment sent to put him down, Courtenay arranged his men for battle in the field, making sure he was flanked on three sides by a network of streams giving him a defensive advantage. Courtenay was approached by the vicar of Hernhill, who begged him to end his rabble before harm would come. Courtenay fired his pistol at the vicar but missed. In this moment the Knight realised the streams could lead to entrapment so he fled Fairbrook and made his way to Bossenden Wood where the battle eventually took place, but it’s interesting to note that without the vicar’s interruption, the Battle of Bossenden Wood could have been the Battle of Fairbrook Farm.

Although the subject matter was strong at Fairbrook, the skies were making photography difficult. I was short on time however so I could not stay long. If I wanted to get all my shots in two days and have a day spare for reshooting, then I needed to get to Graveney before it got dark. I decided to leave Fairbrook knowing that if I got a chance to reshoot then I would head back to Fairbrook as my priority. Graveney wasn’t a key location in the story, but I’d be happier knowing I had got the shots there as it was the furthest point on my map, thus every day after this would be considerably shorter. There was a key location en route to Graveney, however. At the crossroads between Faversham and Graveney was where Courtenay failed to set fire to a bean stack. His unusual behaviour here on the first day of his crusade alarmed his men and three of them took the opportunity to run away. This was a pivotal point in the story as it is where Courtenay had begun to appear clueless in his tirade, and his followers got the sense that he was up to no good.

As I travelled the long road towards Graveney, I noticed something peculiar happening in this area. There were signs everywhere protesting a solar farm that was planned to be built to the north of Graveney. This was a startling piece of luck that I had to jump on immediately. One of Courtenay’s biggest grievances was that technology was replacing workers which led to many redundancies and lower wages for farm workers. Two centuries later and the same grievances are being felt in the same area. Although the reasons for protest are likely more aimed at nature and preservation rather than job redundancies, but it is still protesting new technology. This parallel did not go unnoticed so I photographed as many boards and signs as I could. It would be difficult to weave this into my narrative as none of these locations were part of Courtenay’s story, but I collected them anyway, just in case I could.

I made my way to Graveney Church to the north of the village. At this location, Courtenay met with his horse and one of his followers who were told to meet here after the confusion at the bean stack. This wasn’t a pivotal shot within the documentary, but I felt it was worth coming here to get something, it would be better to have the shot and not use it rather than want the shot and not have it. I took a few shots of the church and the surrounding landscape but there wasn’t a lot here to work with, and by this point it was starting to get dark. So, I made my way back towards Bossenden via the route I had walked all day. I picked up a few shots on the way back, just shots I could use to fill out the story such as shots of horses, hop farms and agricultural land, an hour had passed before I arrived back at the bus stop, where I waited to return home.

Today was both incredibly productive and disappointing. There were so many interesting places to shoot but a lot of them were spoiled by the weather. Luckily, I achieved a lot today and I now had over fifty percent of the shots. If I continued with the same tenacity for the next shoot, then I could easily finish shooting and have a day spare for reshooting. If the weather holds up that is. The forecast for the next week is cloud so I should be able to improve on today’s shooting. There is a few shots I will use but I was let down by the conditions at important locations such as Fairbrook Farm. But overall, I am happy with the outcomes of today, I now have most the shots I need and have visited important research locations such as Hernhill Church, where I found a useful map of the area which says I can gain access to Bossenden Farm via a bridleway at the north of the wood. It is a little out the way, but I can get access to the most important location in the documentary, the place where Courtenay murdered Nicholas Mears and the site of the Battle of Bossenden Wood.

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