You will be aware how passionately we English love our public footpaths.
A network of public rights of way criss-cross England, the prerogative of public boots to tramp them enshrined in law. It is one of the few pieces of legislation which has proved truly democratic.
Because landowners can’t deny that right. Even if they are rich and powerful. As Sir William Rose found out to his considerable cost.
Farnham and its environs are packed chock-full of ancient history. Conventional: Jonathan Swift was secretary to one of its encumbents, and there’s a dissolved monastery on the banks of the River Wey. But also bonkers history. Like Mother Ludlam’s cave, said to be the haunt of a local white witch. Her cauldron – allegedly- still sits in the local church where a peasant permanently borrowed it and was forced to seek sanctuary from her ire.
So the footpath which leads up the drive of Jonathan Swift’s old abode – Moor Park -towards the monastery and the cave has always been popular with the local punters.
And in 1897, after ne’er a change in dynasty, Sir William Rose announced to Farnham Urban District Council that he was going to close the gates to walkers, and not let anyone in without written authotity.
The council told Sir William’s solicitors that “they had no doubt as to the rights of way over Moor Park and were resolved at whatever cost to use all proper means to preserve such rights”.
Oh, dear. A stand-off.
It got ugly. On a Sunday, too. Sir William emoloyed ex-metropolitan policemen to secure the gate, and the council took measures to keep it open. A mob turned up obligingly: there is nothing like licensed posh-person-bashing, now, is there?
Vive la Revolution.
So the ex-police were no match for the mob which consisted of mostly men but a few outraged women. Sir William was forced to back down, and to this day one can take that momentous footpath straight past the windows of Moor Park.
Sir William must have spent the rest of his life snarling whilst glaring out of his front windows.