"Did dinosaurs walk through Prettygate?" and other important questions were answered at "Fred Slattern's Celebration of the Suburbs" Jane's Walk on Friday 4 May 2012.
So, who wants to come for a walk through a pancake flat 1950s housing estate, at the end of a windswept and rainy week, after work on a Friday, to talk about urbanism? Have I gone deaf? Or is it "no one"! Fred's walk was one of a series of Jane's Walk events in Colchester, set up by "Walk Colchester", the UK leaders in the international movement celebrating the life of Jane Jacobs, encouraging local people to enjoy their own patch.
Eager to pull in the punters, Fred enticed them in with a rich mix of cod-history, faux-planning, psycho-geography and poetry. Yes, a couple of readings from his never-in-print book "Love, Hate and Prettygate".
Starting from The Prettygate pub, an audience of eighteen quickly got through the "Why is it called Prettygate?" question. (Answer: the estate is named after Prettygate Farm, which had a pretty gate incorporating various farm implements.) The leader and audience had a grumble about the highway authority's ugly and people-unfriendly solution to the speeding-car problem at the local shops: fence-in the people on foot, rather than slow down the cars. Maybe next time round a more enlightened solution will be applied, as "20's Plenty" takes hold?
Stopping at the site of Prettygate Farm, and moving on to Baden Powell open space the audience heard Fred's piece "Fear and Loathing in Prettygate", a story recording how people's attitudes to their homes and community have changed in the 50 years since the houses were built. Fred then got into full swing history-buff mode, compressing over two thousand years of local history into a few five-minute vignettes in muddy glades on the fringes of the estate.
The planned three-mile ninety minute walk was going slowly as the individuals on the walk got to know each other, in true Jane's Walk style. Meanwhile Fred was telling tales of the armies that had passed through our suburb, from the 30,000 strong Roman invasion, through the 6,000 Royalists taking Colchester in the Civil war, and the regiments of the New Model Army's Siege of Colchester.
And the final answer was to the dinosaur question. The gravels six inches below the surface of Prettygate were laid down about 500,000 years ago, by an earlier version of the River Thames. So no dinosaurs passed over our fair estate, as they disappeared 65,000,000 years ago. The odd mammoth has probably walked our way though. As a final thought Fred proposed that we honour our heritage by renaming Prettygate as "Prettygate-on-Thames", but by then the Jane's Walkers had other forms of liquid on their mind, as they sloped into the pub.
And so, what on paper looked "worthy, but unpromising", turned out to be a celebration of localism (in a non-political sense), with everyone saying "more next year". Thanks to everyone who supported this Jane's Walk, see you again.