DCS1006JohnClare

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DCS: Local Heritage Event:
John Clare, The Peasant Poet

Saturday 26th June 2010


John Clare is accepted today as one of the great English poets but his life was as dramatic and upsetting as his poetry is famous. He was born the son of a farm labourer in Helpston, North of Peterborough, on the 13th July 1864. He was a lover of rural life and nature, wandering through the fields in his early life. When he started to write poetry much of his output was written on this theme plus his hate of the later 'enclosures' of the land. His first employment was as a pot-boy in the Blue Bell Public House next to his parents house. His first book of published poems rocketed him to fashionable London stardom but slowly fashions changed and he relied on an annuity from the marquess of Exeter and sponsorship from Earl FitzWilliam to live and write. He married Patty Turner and had 9 children of which 7 survived, living in the same cottage that he had been brought up for most of this time. Mental illness struck him gradually changing his personality to the irrational and violent and he spent the end of his life in a mental assylum where he was given the freedom to continue writing his poetry.


 


John Clare's Cottage (left)
and the Blue Bell Inn (right)
(photos courtesy of Laurie Jones).


Click on a picture for a larger version)

 


The renewed cottage where John Clare lived, a new shop/cafe and a remade garden was opened in 2009 by the John Clare Trust (http://www.clarecottage.org) having been bought and fitted with the help of a Heritage Lottery Grant and it was to these buildings that the Darwin alumni arrived on a hot, sunny day in June. After refreshments, Kay Marsden of the Trust gave us a fascinating talk on both the life of John Clare and of the beginnings of the centre. Thus armed with enthusiasm and information, everyone was given a hand-held audio tour to go around the cottage, the rooms of which had been furnished with fittings e.t.c. appropriate to the period and to the poverty in which John Clare had lived. It was very well done with no rush to get from one room to another so one could wander at will, reading the panels or his poetry, observing and listening.


 


Kay Marsden giving the introduction ..(left)
to an audience with rapt attention. (right).


Click on a picture for a larger version)

 


Lunch was taken at the Blue Bell Inn next door, another link to John Clare, before returning to the John Clare shop area, this time to be provided with a village audio tour. (In the heat, all had voted for the village tour rather than the John Clare favourite walk of 6 miles). The village of Helpston contains a number of historic buildings that were in use during Clare's time, it is also the centre of the surrounding countryside where John Clare walked as a youth. These days there is John Clare's grave and the village memorial in addition to the buildings he knew, many of which have changed little since his time.

 

Lunch was taken at the Blue Bell Inn next door, another link to John Clare, before returning to the John Clare shop area, this time to be provided with a village audio tour. (In the heat, all had voted for the village tour rather than the John Clare favourite walk of 6 miles). The village of Helpston contains a number of historic buildings that were in use during Clare's time, it is also the centre of the surrounding countryside where John Clare walked as a youth. These days there is John Clare's grave and the village memorial in addition to the buildings he knew, many of which have changed little since his time.

 


Not DCS on their mobile phones but using their audio tour equipment. (left)
The John Clare Memorial. (right)

 

Click on a picture for a larger version)

 


None of the party would have any hesitation in recommending a visit to the John Clare Cottage and several expressed the intention to return. Many thanks go to the John Clare Trust and to it's voluntary staff. A special thanks go to Kay Marsden.

For those still with time to spare in the late afternoon a visit was arranged to Barnack Hills and Holes, an English Nature reserve, where we saw common spotted orchid, common fragrant orchid, man orchid, pasque flower and knapweed broomrape, a rare treat to finish the day if you are a botany fan! However this report will leave you with one of John Clare's poems very appropriately entitled Summer Moods.

 


Summer Moods


I love at eventide to walk alone,
Down narrow lanes o'erhung with dewy thorn
Where from the long grass underneath – the snail
Jet-black creeps out and sprouts his timid horn.
I love to muse o'er meadows newly mown
Where withering grass perfumes the sultry air,
Where bees search round with sad and weary drone
In vain for flowers that bloomed but newly there;
While in the juicy corn the hidden quail
Cries 'wet my foot' and hid as thoughts unborn
The fairylike and seldom seen landrail
Utters 'craik craik' like voices underground,
Right glad to meet the evening's dewy veil
And to see the light fade into glooms around.

 

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