In July 2018, the multi-disciplinary artist Peter Driver set out on a three day pilgrimage from the Stanley Spencer Gallery in the village of Cookham to the Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere. A Walk for Stanley is a travel diary that captures the journey in photos, sketches, woodcuts, sonnets and prose.
Peter started out with a plan and five disciplines to follow: he carried a canteen of water from the Thames at Cookham to Sandham Memorial Chapel to improvise a ceremony when he arrived; he stopped and made a drawing every two miles; he recorded bird species (71 in total) when he first heard or saw them; he took photographs (although rather more than he set out to) and shared each stage of the walk on Instagram #aWalkforStanley.
The Whitley Pump met Peter Driver at Picnic in Reading town centre to talk about the book. He talked about how important solo walking was to his artistic practice and to find “his way of being in the world”.
Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959) was an important influence in Peter’s early artistic career. Peter described how, following a visit to the Stanley Spencer Gallery in 2001, he had become fascinated by the Cookham artist’s preparatory drawings and how people were made to fit within the composition. This is exemplified in the murals on the walls of Sandham Memorial Chapel which depict Spencer’s experiences in the First World War.
It was not until his arrival at Burghclere at the end of his pilgrimage that Peter decided on a suitable ceremony for the Thames water he had carried all the way. In the Kiss from Cookham he watered an apple tree in the garden of Sandham Memorial Chapel with the contents of the canteen.
Against the Flow, one of the poems in the book, presents the potential of a watery link from the Burghclere Brook to the Thames and concludes with a touch of pessimism.
… All talk of justice flowing like rivers
seems as impotent as my quest to lug
upstream a few cherished drops from Cookham
to what I fancifully deem their source.
Day one of the walk was from Cookham to Charvil, day two from Charvil to Aldermaston Wharf and day three continued to the finish at Sandham.
The second day was spent almost entirely alongside the Thames and then the Kennet as it passed through the centre of Reading and into Katesgrove, with a small diversion to visit Fobney Meadows. At the 18 mile mark he stopped to make a drawing of a plant by the side of the Kennet near Waterloo Meadows.
In Fobney Meadows, the record of bird species he catalogued along the bottom of pages in the book includes the first occurrence of lapwing, reed warbler and sedge warbler.
The grid references for each photograph are given so the reader can experience and reproduce the route for themselves.
The book has been beautifully produced and designed by Jane Glennie. It can be purchased, price £20, direct from the publishers Peculiarity Press or from the Stanley Spencer Gallery at Cookham, from Sandham Memorial Chapel and by arrangement with the artist from OHOS at Brock Keep on Oxford Road.
A limited edition of woodcuts of the Kennet south of Reading, inspired by the walk, will be available later in the year, £100 framed and £180 unframed.
Peter has planned his next walk, which will be much longer, from his home in Mortimer to his mother’s house in the Fens, where he grew up.
In November 2019 he will be one of the participating artists in The Laboratory of Dissent II, an intervention by Chapel Arts Studios (CAS) Associate artists at Winchester School of Art.