Foot & Mouth Memorial
One of the first-ever posts I ever did on this blog was about the extraordinary, mysterious Foot & Mouth Memorial at what we know as Ballast Quay, but has not always, even in the last few years, been known as such.
It’s in a fabulous little garden, right at the edge of the Thames, about which I also knew nothing, housing the best shed in Greenwich, which I also didn’t know the story of. What puzzled me most was what a memorial to what was, for the most part, a rural tragedy, was doing in an urban setting like Greenwich.
Well, I have been enlightened and I’m looking forward to revealing all in the new occasional series of memories from Hilary Peters, who is responsible for the lot. Her story is incredible, but to tell it in chronological order seems so - well, prosaic, so I’m going to start with one of the later incidents in the garden she built from scratch in the 1960s – the Foot & Mouth Memorial itself.
Hilary’s gardening experiences in Greenwich, she tells me, led her to help pioneer the city farming movement (I’ll come to that in another post – it’s a brilliant story…) This in its turn, saw her travelling round Britain visiting all the other city farms that had sprung from her own. “I stayed on farms too, and sometimes looked after them while their owners were away.”
“I learned that farmers lived embattled lives. Paperwork, red tape, regulations, pressures to intensify, computerise, and diversify were destroying traditional farming. Seen by a complete outsider, this did not look accidental. Farmers could only see the next form to fill in, the next hoop to jump through, but it looked very much like part of a plan to replace mixed farms with monoculture, replacing incidentally, kindness with profit. Britain is a small island and on the world map it was coloured in as ‘leisure’. The serious business of producing food happened far away where no one could hear the screams.”
When in February 2001 Foot & Mouth disease struck Britian, Hilary was looking after a farm in Suffolk. Its owners came rushing back and Hilary drove across England as the country was closing down. I remember driving through the countryside myself in those dark days, passing piles of burning carcasses, the acrid, black smoke carrying an almost apocalyptic feel, and I felt pretty distressed at the sight. But being a City Phantom, my horror was nothing to that of people like Hilary. It’s clear that the anger she felt then is as strong today as ever. I leave the rest of today’s post to her:
“Suddenly, in what we had believed was a reasonably free country, you couldn’t walk in the country, you couldn’t move your animals to graze, you couldn’t intervene, or even talk to the press. If some official in Whitehall thought your animals should be killed, they were killed.
The epidemiological policy was based on computer modelling and computers can’t model without facts. There were no facts. In fact it was martial law. There were road blocks and behind them, the army were sent in to kill as many animals as they could. I was one of very few protesters.
We were protesting against the whole policy of stamping out infection rather than treating the cause.
We didn’t win.
We had a few minor victories, notably in the Forest of Dean. But Wales was a death camp. Yorkshire was a war zone. The Borders (Cumbria and the Scottish lowlands) were the worst of all. No one cared about animal suffering.
It was this feeling of horror and powerlessness that led to the Foot & Mouth memorial.
The sculpture is by Kevin Herlihy, who has an extraordinary talent for picking up bits of grot on the beach and making them into something so alive it hits you in the eye (there are some more pictures of his work here – TGP). He had made sculpture with the kids at Surrey Docks Farm. It is a goat because goats were my way into farming and a symbol of the wild. The goats at Surrey Docks have been giving local children a connection with the natural world for 40 years now.
The words are by me. I wish they were redundant. I’m all for forgetting as rule, but nothing has changed. If Foot & Mouth broke out again, the policy would be the same. The only difference is they’ve changed the law so we could not protest. That is why the memorial is still there.
IN MEMORY OF
THE UNCOUNTED MILLIONS OF ANIMALS
WHO DIED NOT OF FOOT AND MOUTH
BUT OF THE CURE FOR IT
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