The Stansted & Fairseat Society
The current society was reformed in 2019 as a History Society. The following information has been provided by members of the original Stansted & Fairseat Society to provide a brief history of its origins.
A group of people founded the Stansted and Fairseat Society in 1971 with the aim of stopping the deterioration of the countryside in general, and the special character of the parish in particular. Stansted and Fairseat lie in the Green Belt and the presumption had long been (as it still is) that only development connected with agriculture would be allowed here. During the previous two or three years, however, it had become apparent that Ministers of both the major parties were prepared to overrule their Inspectors and give the go-ahead for large scale housing developments nearby. New Ash Green had been built on a beautiful tract of country to the northwest; Vigo Village threatened to eat up all of the woods along the ridge of the Downs; motorways were being planned on the south and the east. Inside the parish, copses and hedges were being grubbed up and Hall Wood had been razed to the ground. Other parishes were forming societies. We hoped that if we followed their example we would be able to resist further outrages more effectively.
One thing we set out to do was to involve as many local people as possible in everything the Society did. The subscription was set at 25p and 5p for children, so that everyone could afford to join (and almost all our activities are open to non-members in any event). Numbers have been around 150 for some years now which also gives us a firm base for activities – there were over sixty people at last year’s cheese and wine party and over sixty turned out for the walk on New Year’s Day, 1992.
We never imagined, of course, that the Society would be able to save the environment on its own. Small groups like ours can never hope to influence the major decisions like the Channel Tunnel and the High Speed Link or the new industrial estate at West Malling, except through the larger organizations to which we are affiliated. We have had some successes on local issues. One of the first was to get the proposed position of the gasometer-style water tower on top of Windmill Hill – which, incidentally, was made necessary by New Ash Green – slightly altered so that it could be more effectively screened.
The Society took a leading part in persuading the Minister to refuse permission for the developers to extend Vigo Village across Waterlow Road into what is now the Country Park and on to the crest of the Downs, where it would have been visible for miles. We helped to weight the balance against the Exedown route for the M20. We also helped prevent the re-routing of the A227 when the M20 was built: the proposal was to take the road slant-wise across the face of the downs along the line of Hognor Lane (the single track road which ends at the roundabout at the bottom of Wrotham Hill), and on to Borough Green by a bridge over the motorway, leaving the present road as a residential “close” or cul de sac.
More recently, in alliance with our County, District and Parish councillors, we have held off the proposal to turn the beautiful valley beside Wise’s Lane into a dump for contractors’ spoil (and who knows what else). There may be more battles to fight over that, but the worst dangers seem to have been averted. Of course we have had reverses and we have probably made mistakes. We spent a lot of energy and time, for instance, trying to persuade the Post Office and the electricity companies to put their wires underground and replace their rusty metal poles; they have only begun to do it now that the poles have reached the end of their useful lives.
We have done some practical things ourselves to improve the environment. All the footpaths in the parish were efficiently way marked in the seventies and many stiles have been replaced. We took part in a national campaign to rescue village ponds, and spent many happy hours in the mud at Hatham Green and in Hall Wood.
Our most successful contribution was the clearance of the Windmill Hill pond that had almost disappeared. Volunteers from Wildernesse School dragged out a disintegrating motor car; the County Council lent a JCB to dig out the accumulated sludge, and George Helsdon spent uncounted hours and days “landscaping” the bottom of the pond, re-establishing its banks and cutting back the trees and bushes.
One of our objectives has been to get to know more about the parish and its history, and about the wider area round us. From the outset, walks have been arranged every year, to see wildlife, orchids (getting scarcer now), flowers or fungi; to hear the nightingales (which were regular visitors in the early years but seem to have vanished); or just to clear heads and get some fresh air on New Year’s Day. We have arranged tours of the historic centres of Faversham, Rochester and Maidstone as well as visits to historic buildings in our own parish; and to places of interest like the Thames Barrier, the Channel Tunnel Museum and the fruit research station at East Malling. We have also had some superb talks by authoritative speakers on local buildings, trees, flowers and wildlife, and on changes in farming and land use, now a major concern. Farm walks have been a regular activity, and local farmers have been some of our most active and faithful members.
Perhaps the Society’s outstanding achievement has been to build up a parish archive of photographs and documents. However long or short a time a family have lived in the parish, to know that the roads, footpaths, school, church and pub they use, and often their own home, have been in use for a century or more must add something to life; still more so for those who find themselves and their relatives in old photographs and press cuttings. Started in the seventies and nourished devotedly by our president, Mrs. Pasteur, the archive is growing steadily and will be a valuable legacy to later generations. With the generous cooperation of the Fairseat Village Hall Committee we have almost completed a permanent store for the collection. The store is quite small and it is not an exhibition hall, but the collection will be on view as part of the 21st anniversary celebrations. Apart from the archive, we cannot claim that there is much in the way of concrete improvement to show for our twenty-one years of talks and walks and committee meetings. If the degradation of the environment has been a bit slower here than it has been in the Medway valley, for example, that is probably due to our relative inaccessibility rather than our wisdom or our resistance to threats. But one can be too modest. Some threats have been turned aside. We do know more now about the country round us – and the towns too. We also know each other better. Each year we meet some of our neighbours on the New Year walk and at the cheese and wine party in February or March. We may see them again on an expedition of some kind in the summer or at the annual general meeting in the autumn, or identify a house or a barn we know in an old photograph. Easy contacts and shared experiences like these help build up communities and strengthen them against intrusion and exploitation. That was what we set out to do, and it is not altogether surprising that we have found our way back to it, by a less direct route than we originally intended. One often does that in the country.
OFFICERS OF THE SOCIETY.
Mrs. K.G.Pasteur 1972
Mrs. V.J.Hewitt 1979
S.J.Marchant (1971 – 74)
Mrs. V. Hewitt (1974 – 77)
V. H. Walton (1980-83)
R. J. White (1986-9)
Dr P.H.G.Draper (1989-)
S.L.Maughan (1971 -77)
S.J.Marchant (1977 -)
Mrs. V. Hewitt. (1971 – 74)
Mrs. Grace Baker (1974 -84)
Mrs. Cynthia Lewis (1984-6)
J.W.Stacpoole (1986 -)
- The Council for the Protection of Rural England (Kent Branch)
- The Kent Trust for Nature Conservation.
- The Kent Federation of Amenity Societies.