I had read all of this [about Field Place] before winging to the U.K., and I’d hoped I could photograph it from Byfleets Lane (the closest local road). But I couldn’t. Hidden by foliage and distance. If I wanted to see the home where Bysshe Shelley was born and grew up, I would have to enter that driveway. That long, private driveway.
And so I did. But at least half the courage came from the cab driver, Brian, who said he’d always wanted to see the house, too. He made the turn without the slightest hesitation, drove right up that entryway as if we belonged there. Which, of course, we didn’t.
Here’s a lightly edited account from my journal entry that I wrote later that day—April 15, 1999:
We drove right in the private drive that says “Field Place Estate”—the house is not easily visible because of outbuildings and vegetation. We got near the garages, and I popped out, hoping to take a quick photo—and then run. (There were a half-dozen designer cars parked there.) I saw behind me a man on a tractor—he looked official, so I asked if I could take a few photos outside. He hesitated (he’d dealt with this before, I could tell), but I guess I looked sufficiently sheepish (I did see some sheep!) and harmless (and I told him I’d crossed the Atlantic, etc.), so he said I could take a few (he pointed out the upstairs right room where PBS was born)—but “Don’t abuse the privilege,” he warned direly. He was a middle-aged man, lean and rugged, wearing muddy boots and green work clothes. He said if anyone bothered me to say that I’d talked to Mr. P, who’d approved the taking of a few photographs. I was so excited, I had the camera set wrong—noticed it walking back to the cab—and had to trot back and re-shoot. Mr. P. laughed, and I commented that he must have to deal with this all the time. “Yes,” he agreed, “it can get awfully tiresome. It is a private residence. People are living here.” But he didn’t say this unkindly, and I believe he was grateful that I did not get him in trouble with his employers. On the way out of the drive, I got out and photographed the entrance.
Brian was as excited as I was—he also got out of the taxi and took a good look at the house, which, although he’s lived here all his life (he’s in his 40’s), he has never seen up close. It is scarcely visible from a couple of vantage points, but many trees intervene, and I could not have gotten much of a photograph on my own.
This was not the first time I’d gone where I wasn’t supposed to in my various literary excursions. I’ve already mentioned the gut-churning experience at Sing Sing Prison (John Cheever-related), but here are a few more that have accelerated my heart rate for various reasons.
I'll add that there are now websites that feature some great photos of Field Place--in and out. Here's one of them: LINK.