The River Chess

Nominated by: Matt Writtle
Image from ‘The River Meadow at the Pile of Stones’ by Matt Writtle, copyright 2020

I moved to Chesham in the summer of 2016 and, whilst house hunting with my wife, was repeatedly drawn to the little chalk stream that ran through the town. It looked sad, forgotten, lost, almost neglected. As a documentary photographer I am fascinating by the fabric of social cohesion; the pulse and rhythm of human habitation and like to understand the components that come together to create a functioning community.

The River Chess appears to me to be the heartbeat of this town, albeit one in need of care and compassion. Humans generally gravitate to a dwelling with flowing water and Chesham’s history and Old English name certainly confirm that. Caestaeleshamm means The River Meadow at the Pile of Stones, so no coincidence the first settlers date back to the Mesolithic Age of around 8000BC.

With this knowledge I have spent the past year working on a personal photographic project of the same name. ‘The River Meadow at the Pile of Stones’ explores the relationship between humanity and the environment in the English hinterland. As I follow the natural course of the river from its’ three source springs in the town, I’ve noticed it prospers to the south where houses and enterprise finally give way to a more natural landscape.

At a bend in the river to the south of Chesham Moor, lovers of the Chess have laid stepping-stones to ford the river along the Chess Valley Walk. As early spring blossomed, the winter rainfall had replenished a river, dry for most of 2019, and allowed me to capture the image you see here. Only a week later, Storm Dennis disrupted this balance and flooded the Chess beyond capacity. When I returned most of the stepping-stones had been washed away. I wandered further downstream, and, to my joy, found the stones stuck in a variety of locations. I hid my camera and tripod in the undergrowth and one by one replaced the stones back to their rightful place.

The River Chess was nominated by Matt Writtle, photographer. Matt is a proud resident of Buckinghamshire.