Category Archives: Cambridgeshire

Dorothy L Sayers Childhood Memories, Bluntisham

At the end of 1897, the future great crime novelist and classical scholar Dorothy L Sayers arrived at the railway station of Bluntisham cum Earith in the Fenlands of Huntingdonshire, she was between four and five at the time,  in later life she said that she did not remember the train journey from Oxford to Bluntisham but remembered the walk from the station to the rectory. Her Mother and her Father who had just taken up the living of Bluntisham had arrive a few days earlier.

The rectory where Dorothy spent a lot of her childhood, now called Bluntisham House can still be seen as you travel from St Ives in the west to Ely in the north east. The railway station has now long gone but if if you take a walk along the banks of The Great River Ouse you can still see the pillars that supported the rail tracks across the fenland.

SONY DSC

The Photo shows The Great River Ouse in flood, the pillars that supported the tracks in the foreground and St Marys Church,  Bluntisham in the background.


Web Links of Interest:

The Wry Romance of the Literary Rectory by Deborah Alun-Jones

The Official Site of the renowned English crime writer Dorothy L Sayers

The Last Place God Made

In Search of St Paul’s Church Fenchurch St Paul

Dorothy L Sayers Cambridgeshire Connections

“Villagers de luxe” Swaffham Prior

If you happened to be passing Swaffham Prior Cambridgeshire, lets say from Cambridge on your way to Newmarket in late 1958, you may have noticed a couple, walking sticks in hand supporting one another as they slowly progress up the slight incline from their cottage to the twin churches of St Mary’s and St Cyriac and St Julitta.

The couple are Edwin Muir, Orcadian, Poet, Critic and Translator and his wife Willa, Novelist, Translator and Essayist, they have been living in Priory Cottage, Swaffham Prior since August 1956 and this short occasional walk was all that Edwin could manage in what turned out to be the last few weeks of his life.

Willa describes their time in The Village of Swaffham Prior in Chapter 21 of her book Belonging.

Priory Cottage, Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire from The Church of St Cyriac and St Julitta

“From any outside angle the cottage looked attractive. It had a walled garden behind it, as well as a garage; its front door was on the main street of the Village and we walked straight into a spacious sitting-room, made out of two original small rooms which gave two different heights to the ceiling. Most old English cottages are cursed with very small rooms, and as soon as we walked into this large room we nodded to each other and said: “This is it.”

The front casement windows looked out on two parish churches, one on either side of a hill. The left-hand one had a dilapidated octagonal Norman tower, but its nave had been roofed over in the nineteenth century and except for the tower it was weatherproof. The right-hand one was in Perpendicular style; it had a fine tall belfry, quite whole, and a clock—face, but its nave was a ruined shell.”

From Belonging by Willa Muir

“One unexpected pleasure was added, the excellent peal of eight bells in the tower of the right-hand church opposite our cottage. When the Fens used to be flooded, the little hill was a place of refuge well above the waters, and the bells had sounded over the countryside as a guide.

They were such good bells that the champion bell-ringers of the district, in the neighbouring village of Burwell, used to spend a whole Saturday afternoon every now and then practising on them. We listened with delight to the intricate patterns they played, as the bells wove in and out; this was a new experience to us, for that art of bell-ringing is found only in England and we had never before lived beside a peal of such bells.”

From Belonging by Willa Muir

Now is that not reminiscent of Dorothy L Sayers Nine Taylors!

If you take the time to follow in their footsteps and continue along the path which winds past the Church of St Cyriac and St Julitta, (Willa’s Right Hand One) which is now under the care of The Churches Conservation Church you can exit the old graveyard through the top right hand corner gate and into the modern burial ground where today you will find the last resting place of Edwin and Willa Muir and perhaps “sit on the bench under a great round of sky.”

Edwin and Willa Muir’s Last Resting Place

Edwin and Willa Muir’s grave with the tower of St Cyriac and St Julitta in the background


Useful Links:

Edwin Muir

Willa Muir

The Last Place God Made

The Dun Cow, Christchurch

The Dun Cow, Christchurch, Cambridgeshire, Engalnd

The Dun Cow in Christchurch on the Cambridgeshire Norfolk boundary where the author Dorothy L Sayers Father was rector until his death in 1928. At one time there was a total of three pubs in the area but today the Dun Cow is the only one left to feed and water the hungry.

Dorothy’s description of Christchurch is to the point and says it all;
“Christchurch is the last place God made, and when He’d finished he found He’d Forgotten the staircase!”

I like the idea of Dorothy and her Husband Mac visiting her Mother and Father in Christchurch and on Sunday mornings attending church, as soon as the Reverend Sayers had pronounced the benediction Mac would be seen making his way to the Dun Cow public house.

Leighton Bromswold Huntingdonshire

The House That George Built

St Mary’s Church, Leighton Bromswold, Huntingdonshire.

St Mary’s Church in Leighton Bromswold Huntingdonshire, in 1626 it was in a deplorable state of decay when the poet George Herbert was inducted as Prebend.

He made it his mission to raise the funds and restore the church along with the help of his friend Nicholas Ferrar and his brother John of Little Gidding.

THE CROSS.
By George Herbert

What is this strange and uncouth thing?
To make me sigh, and seek, and faint, and die,
Until I had some place, where I might sing,
And serve thee; and not only I,
But all my wealth, and family might combine
To set thy honour up, as our design.

And then when after much delay,
Much wrestling, many a combat, this dear end,
So much desir’d, is giv’n, to take away
My power to serve thee; to unbend
All my abilities, my designs confound,
And lay my threat’nings bleeding on the ground.

One ague dwelleth in my bones,
Another in my soul (the memory
What I would do for thee, if once my groans
Could be allow’d for harmony):
I am in all a weak disabled thing,
Save in the sight thereof, where strength doth sting.

Besides, things sort not to my will,
Ev’n when my will doth study thy renown:
Thou turnest th’ edge of all things on me still,
Taking me up to throw me down:
So that, ev’n when my hopes seem to be sped,
I am to grief alive, to them as dead.

To have my aim, and yet to be
Farther from it than when I bent my bow;
To make my hopes my torture, and the fee
Of all my woes another woe,
Is in the midst of delicates to need,
And ev’n in Paradise to be a weed.

Ah my dear Father, ease my smart!
These contrarieties crush me: these cross actions
Do wind a rope about, and cut my heart:
And yet since these thy contradictions
Are properly a cross felt by thy Son,
With but four words, my words, Thy will be done.

We have visited Leighton Bromswold in Huntingdonshire on many occasions stopping to look around the outside of The Church of St Mary’s as we have never found it open.

Well today was different, as we went to drive past on our way to who knows where, to our pleasant surprise there was a notice announcing that the church was open, hastily parking the car we were able to fulfil a long time ambition and were not in the least disappointed.

St Mary's Church, Leighton Bromswold, Huntingdonshire.

The Inside of St Mary’s Church, Leighton Bromswold, Huntingdonshire.

With its Pulpit and Reading Desk of the same size

St Mary's Church, Leighton Bromswold, Huntingdonshire.

St Mary the Virgin Church, Leighton Bromswold, Huntingdonshire.

 Its tower dominating the countryside.

St Mary's Church, Leighton Bromswold, Huntingdonshire

St Mary’s Church, Leighton Bromswold, Huntingdonshire

 


 

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, Helpston, nr Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

Clare Cottage Tablet, Helpston,

Tablet on The Wall of Clare Cottage

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 Bell Inn, Helpston, nr Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

“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, Helpston, nr Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

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, Helpston, nr Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

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, England

John Clare’s Grave, St Botolph’s Church, Helpston, nr Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

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

Little Gidding Revisited

It is always a pleasure visiting Little Gidding and the temptation is to head the car from Great Gidding straight to the village, turning right at the red post box down the lane parking in the car park opposite Farrah House and the church of St John the Evangelist.

But on this visit inspiration called and we decided to carry on to Steeple Gidding .

St Andrews Church, Steeple GIdding

St Andrews Church, Stepple Gidding, Cambridgeshire

There is a lovely walk from Steeple Gidding that leads you to Little Gidding, it takes you past the Church of St Andrews, Steeple Gidding which is under the care of The Churches Conservation Trust, across the rolling hills of Cambridgeshire.

No I have not lost the plot for in this part of the county there are some hills of note, but then again some may argue it is because you are so near the border of Northamptonshire which accounts for undulations, but I digress, if you continue to put one foot in front of another you will finally arrive at a stile once climbed, it leads you through a field which I believe is called the King’s Field after Charles I and into the grassy lane passing Farrah House and onto the church of Little Gidding.

St John the Evangelist Church, Little Gidding, Cambridgeshire

St Andrews Church, Stepple Gidding, Cambridgeshire

 

 

Five Miles From Anywhere To Burwell Lode

Upware, Cambridgeshire, EnglandUpware8If you have the will power to avoid the allure of the Five Miles From Anywhere Pub and Restaurant and turn left, you can stroll beside the Burwell Lode where you will find boats as various as the real ales served at the afore mentioned watering hole.

Cambs

Depending on the condition of your footwear and the suppleness of your calf muscles you will arrive at a footbridge which has all the presence of a stairway up and over a lesser known Munro.

Cambs

Once you have negotiated this obstacle you will have a decision to make, will you carry on along the Burwell Lode to Burwell or enjoy the view of Wicken Fen through the back gate.

Cambs