Category Archives: John Clare

The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet.

Helpston

Once Upon A Time In Northamptonshire

Looking for Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard or more to the point the spirt of Robert Burns, you would have thought that searching the byways of Dumfries, Alloway or Mossgiel would be more appropriate than the English village of Helpston in Cambridgeshire once upon a time Northamptonshire, but “though this be madness, yet there is method in’t“.

The poet John Clare was born in Helpston on the 13 July 1793, some of the critics of the time complained that his work often imitated that of Rabbie and was often labelled the English Burns, but as he declares himself,

now the fact is that when my first poems was written I knew nothing of Burns not even by name for the fens are not a literary part of england

Like Burns he used to collect songs and in later life one of his many alter egos was that of Burns, perhaps it could also be argued that he had some Scottish blood running through his veins as his father’s father was an itinerant Scottish fiddler.

Clare Cottage Helpston,Clare Cottage

Clare Cottage Tablet, Helpston,

John Clare’s Birthplace in Helpstone his home for forty years.

He described it in the following way

“Our cottage was as roomy & comfortable as any of our neighbours & we had it for forty shillings while an old apple tree in the garden generally made the rent, the garden was large for a poor man & my father managed to dig it night & morning before the hours of labour.

Or described by one of his biographers

“their little cottage was among the narrowest and most wretched of the hundred mud hovels.”

MY EARLY HOME
Here sparrows build upon the trees,
And stockdove hides her nest;
The leaves are winnowed by the breeze
Into a calmer rest;
The black-cap’s song was very sweet,
That used the rose to kiss;
It made the Paradise complete:
My early home was this.
The red-breast from the sweetbriar bush
Drop’t down to pick the worm;
On the horse-chestnut sang the thrush,
O’er the house where I was born;
The moonlight, like a shower of pearls,
Fell o’er this “bower of bliss,”
And on the bench sat boys and girls:
My early home was this.
The old house stooped just like a cave,
Thatched o’er with mosses green;
Winter around the walls would rave,
But all was calm within;
The trees are here all green agen,
Here bees the flowers still kiss,
But flowers and trees seemed sweeter then:
My early home was this.

Bell Inn, Helpston,

The Bluebell Inn

“Francis Gregory our neighbour at the Blue Bell wanted a servant & hired me for a year I was glad & readily agreed it was a good place and they treated me more like a son than a servant”

The Exeter Arms, Helpston

Exeter Arms Inn

John Clare refers to the Exeter Arms in The Will O Whisp or Jack A Lanthorn

“I heard of the old alewife at the Exeter Arms behind the church often say that she has seen from her chamber window as many as fifteen together (vapours or what ever philosophy may call them) dancing in and out of company as if dancing reels and dances on eastwell moor”

Four days after his death John was brought home to Helpston, he was taken to the Exeter Arms where he remained overnight and was laid to rest the following day on the south side of St Botolph’s Church.

St Botolph Church, Helpston,St Botolph’s Church, Helpstone

I started for Wisbeach with a timid sort of pleasure & when I got to Glinton turnpike I turnd back to look on the old church as if I was going into another country. Wisbeach was a foreign land to me for I had never been above eight miles from home in my life

John Clare's Last Resting Place, Helpston, Cambridgeshire, EnglandJohn Clare’s Grave

A WISH
BE where I may when Death brings in his bill,
Demanding payment for life’s ling’ring debt,
Or in my native village nestling still,
Or tracing scenes I’ve never known as yet,
O let one wish, go where I will, be mine, —
To turn me back and wander home to die,
‘Mong nearest friends my latest breath resign,
And in the church-yard with my kindred lie,
‘Neath the thick-shaded sycamore’s decay,
Its broad leaves trembling to the breeze of day:
To see its shadow o’er my ashes wave,
How soothing will it be, while, hovering near,
My unseen spirit haunts its daisied grave,
Pausing on scenes in life once lov’d so dear.

John Clare Memorial, Helpston,


Web Links:

Clare Cottage

John Clare Society

Maxey Mill Cambridgeshire

John Clare the Northampton Peasant Poet would walk the two miles from Helpston to Maxey at least once a week while he was working for Francis Gergory a bachelor who lived with his Mother, they were the Clare’s next door neighbour running the Blue Bell public house in Helpston.

John writes in, Sketches in The Life of John Clare, “that he would go once every week to Maxey a village 2 miles distant for a bag of flour as it was sold cheaper than at home and as his mistress was an economist she never lost sight of a cheap pennyworths”.

He also maintains in his Autobiographical Fragments that one of his worsts labours was the journey in winter afternoons to fetch flour as he had to pass places on his return when it was often getting dark, where it was said to be haunted by ghosts and hobgoblins.

Maxey Mill


 

Marholm Cambridgeshire

St Marys The Virgin Church Marholm is set on the outskirts of the village on the road to Milton Hall and Castor. It is the last resting place of the Fitzwilliam Family.

St Mary the Virgin - Marholm Cambridgeshire
St Marys The Virgin Church Marholm

To reach Marholm Church you first have to pass The Fitzwilliam Arms with its welcoming presence, taking the road which leads to Milton Hall the home of the Earls Fitzwilliam.

Village Sign - Marholm Cambridgeshire
Fitzwilliam Arms - Marholm Cambridgeshire

Village Sign and The Fitzwilliam Arms

Just outside the village boundary you will find an entrance into a field where St. Mary’s The Virgin Church sits in all its isolation.

The church is the last resting place of The Fitzwilliam family, the 5th Earl Charles William Wentworth (1868-1857) who was a patron of JOHN CLARE, who’s mother and father were married in this church .

John Clare‛s mother Ann Stimson was Parker Clare’s senior by eight years, Ann was aged 35 when she married Parker, her parents where John (Town Shepherd) and Elizabeth who were from nearby Castor.

St Mary the Virgin - Marholm Cambridgeshire -1
Fitzwilliam Resting Place

The headstone with the crest under the tree belongs to William Thomas George Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, the 10th Earl Fitzwilliam (1904—1979) he was last to hold the title.


Tickencote Rutland

Just off the busy Great North Road the turning into Tickencote can easily be missed but to say that it is well worth the effort of decreasing the speed and bearing left is under estimating the impression the church of St Peter’s makes on the edge of this little village on the edge of Rutland.

John Clare would walk from Great Castlerton along the river to Tickencore while working as a Lime Burner in the area, he believed he had written some of his best early poetry here and spent a few of his Sundays frequenting The Flower Pot Inn in the village.

Martha (Patty) Turner the future Mrs Clare was born on the 3rd March 1799 in Tickencote, he meet her while on his way to The Flower Pot Inn. The Flower Pot Inn today is a private house and the only evidence of it previous existence is the name on the fence of The Flower Pot Cottage.