Beautiful England on a warm, sunny April afternoon. Bliss.
That was our good fortune last week when we visited three small villages: Glinton, Helpston (formerly Helpstone), and Northborough.
These villages are the main areas of interest found within the pages of 'The Poet's Wife' by Judith Allnatt, and we wanted to see the places where the novel was set.
Where exactly are they? All three are found in the county of Cambridgeshire, England.
We travelled up the A1 and took a right turn towards the villages.
Surrounded by the picturesque market town of Market Deeping, the town of Stamford, (technically in the neighbouring county of Lincolnshire), and the larger cathedral city of Peterborough, these simple villages hark back to a simpler way of life.
You could be back in the early 1800s if it wasn't for the cars, signposts, and other trappings of our modern times.
In fact, 'The Poet's Wife' was set in 1841. Not much seems to have changed.
Glinton is a pretty little village of just over three thousand people.
As mentioned in the novel, John Clare was educated in the vestry in the church at Glinton and later wrote a poem called 'Glinton Spire' in reference to St Benedict's church spire.
The story is centered around the true story of the English peasant poet John Clare (13 July 1793 – 20 May 1864) but takes a - fictional - look at what life may have been like for his wife, Martha 'Patty' whom he married in 1820.
John was born in Helpston, his 'home of homes'. He was educated nearby in the small village of Glinton, along with his childhood sweetheart Mary Joyce. (John was forbidden to marry Mary by Mary's father.)
He married Patty instead. Born in Tickencote in 1799, Patty lived with John after their marriage in Helpston and then some years later the family moved to Northborough.
Let's take a look at Glinton first.
GLINTON! thy taper spire predominates
Over the level landscape; and the mind,
Musing the pleasing picture, contemplates
What elegance of beauty, much refined
By taste, effects. It almost elevates
One’s admiration; making common things
Around it glow with beauties not their own.
Thus in this landscape, earth superior springs;
Those straggling trees, though lonely, seem not lone,
But in thy presence wear a conscious power;
Even these tombs of melancholy stone,
Gleaning cold memories round Oblivion’s bower,
Types of eternity appear, and hire
A lease from Fame by thy enchanting spire.
John Clare, Glinton Spire
Allnatt, in the novel, mentions the spire as 'needle-sharp and white gold in the bright sunshine'. Although weathered over the years, the spire is a sight to see. It has been considered 'one of Eastern England's finest spires'.
The setting was serene. A pretty church in a well-kept village.
We went through the gate into the churchyard.
Allnatt writes of the fictional visit of Patty to Glinton churchyard and to the grave of Mary Joyce, the woman who, even though she had been dead for three years, was her rival in her husband's affections. For John, in his delusions, had supposed he was married to both women, but with Mary being his primary love. Patty, feeling understandable jealousy, stood at her grave.
The stone, though 'new and white' (p22) in the novel, has aged with time. The inscription is now illegible and now only a marker indicates whose grave it is.
It was by chance we saw the grave marker almost immediately as we walked into the churchyard because it is small and unobtrusive.
As did Patty, we then entered the church porch, passing these faceless figures on the way.
This is inside St. Benedict's where Patty sat to pray. Within the church is a local display about the celebrated poet but not much about his wife. There's also a beautiful stained glass window behind the altar.
Glinton parishioners seem justifiably proud of one of their own and seem anxious to show this.
You may have noticed that there's a photo of The Blue Bell public house. The name was quite popular in the locality and there are a few pubs with the same name. John Clare worked in The Blue Bell, but it wasn't this particular one - he worked in The Blue Bell in Helpston which we will see in the next part.
Let's follow John and Patty there in part two.