The Lyme Maze Game

Daedalus escapes the maze


Universal Workshop



Hacker's Mead (I haven't yet discovered the origin of the name) is a "green lung" in the middle of Uplyme. The very middle: it lies in the hollow between the cluster around the church and the cluster on the village street. There is indeed a green corridor through Uplyme, consisting of the Yawl valley, then the flat area where several valleys meet (now used for playing fields), then Hacker's Mead, then the wooded Glen down along the river; in this green sequence Hacker's Mead is the central and most vulnerable link.

It doesn't have the legal status of a village green, yet once it functioned that way. It used to be glebe land—belonging presumably to the parish rector—and in the early twentieth century it was the scene of village fairs and other communal activities. But it had come under the ownership of the brewery (Bass) that owned the nearby Talbot Arms pub, and became disused and overgrown. In 1988, a few of the people living nearby started a "meadow group" of villagers, and with much hard work cleared and cultivated the mead, took advice from Heritage Seeds of Osmington, and bought for 600 a mix of wildflower and grass seeds, which were sown in one April day by a team including the children from the school. A wildflower meadow isn't created in one day; over the next six years it was gradually nurtured, with a mixture of cutting and raking and grazing by sheep. The sheep, much loved by the villagers, came to be twelve in number. Because of them fences had to be built at either end of the mead and kissing gates on the path.

(I've also been told that geese were kept there, and a donkey, and "We used to grow taters there"; I don't know at what periods those would have been.)

I had better quote the next bit from the local newspaper:

"After it was put on the market [in 1993], parish council chairman Bill Halden talked to the brewers, with a view to the council buying the land and restoring it as a village green. But he was told that it has already been snapped up by a secret buyer. At the parish council meeting last week, it was claimed that the purchaser was Vincent Blackshaw, a prominent businessman and the owner of the neighbouring Devon Hotel, which already has permission for an executive style development in its grounds. But, when approached after the meeting by the council clerk, Mr. Blackshaw denied any knowledge of the purchase."

And from testimony given when Mr. Blackshaw applied for permission to build three houses on Hacker's Mead:

"Following this sale, it was, I believe, cut once but not raked and removed as it should have been. The cut grass was left to rot down. In December 1994 it was heavily grazed by five young bullocks which caused considerable poaching of the ground and footpath. ["Poaching" means churning into muddy hollows.] The cattle ran out of grass and had to be fed with hay. Riverside trees were felled and a new fence erected closer to the river. To my knowledge no further management was carried out during the following 18 months until 26 July 1996 when the County Council had to cut back the tall and thick growth encroaching onto the footpath."

Mr. Blackshaw's application for development was denied, as was his appeal. But it is the way of developers to bide their time.

When I first saw the field it was mostly nettles; it was cut about once a year, by the authority that had to keep the East Devon Way open. In 2005 it was mown more intensively and then a stout wire fence was erected, separating the footpath from the rest. This, it turned out, had been done by the new owner of the pub just across the river, who had rented Hacker's Mead from its owner with the intention of having a beer garden on it. He then put in a planning application for "change of use from agriculture to picnic/refreshment area". ("Picnic area" seemed a dubious term: hikers from the footpath would hardly be welcome to vault the fence and sit on the grass with their own sandwiches.) Some villagers thought the beer garden would be rather jolly. Others, that it would be rowdy, doom the re-sale price of adjoining houses, and, most serious, might be a sneaky start to a process of getting the field's character changed until permanent structures and full development become acceptable. Eventually the application was granted.

The happy end would be for Hacker's Mead to be acquirable at a reasonable rate by the village, which would then make of it the true village green that it as yet lacks. Then all concerned could consider themselves benefactors.

Back out of Hacker's Mead into Church Street.