172 years on, poet saves church from phone mast blight with a sonnet

Gazing across the fenlands in 1832, poet John Clare was moved to verse by the beauty of a church spire dominating the surrounding landscape.  He composed a captivating sonnet extolling the magnificent vista of St Benedict's in the village of Glinton.

  Now, 172 (sic) years on, his words have dramatically become the salvation of the rural scene that beguiled him so long ago.  BT was planning to erect a phone mast which would have ruined the view of the church.  But, after campaigners sent the company's bosses a copy of Clare's poem, they have dropped the scheme.  Last night, as residents of Gliinton, near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, celebrated the decision, Peter Moyse of the John Clare Society, said, "The poem was absolutely a Godsend."

  Villagers were appalled when they learned of the planned 48ft (15 metre) mast and collected 400 names on a petition to BT.  But their masterstroke came when campaign leader Val Hetxel wrote to the firms' chief executive Ben Verwaayan.

  She said, "I enclosed a copy of John Clare's poem Glinton Spire with my letter, along with photographs of the church spire.  They must get hundreds of letters objecting to masts, but I think this might have helped our protest to stand out.  It was a different approach and it probably sent the message home to him that the proposed site, on the edge of a conservation area, wasn't the right place to put a 15 metre mast.  The church spire is very noticeable and can be seen for miles across the flatness of the fens."

  Clare, who lived from 1793 to 1864, was born in nearby Helpston, but went to school in St. Benedict's, in what is now the church's Lady Chapel.  In April 1832, he wrote Glinton Spire, describing how the 'taper spire predominates over the landscape and the mind' and made 'common thing around it glow with beauty not their own'.  One possible inspiration for the sonnet was that his great childhood love, Mary Joyce, lived in Glinton.

  BT said, "Since being granted permission to install masts as the telephone exchange in Glinton, BT has been provided with further information from the planning authority and the John Clare Society about nearby important historic buildings which has led it to reconsider its position.  BT is withdrawing from building these masts to ensure that the Grade One listed church dating from the 12th century is not disturbed.  Many buildings surrounding the exchange and church are also listed and the masts would have changed the context and setting of a number of buildings of national importance.  BT recognises the importance of historic environmental protection and is happy to revise its position."

  Clare, born into a poor Northamptonshire labouring family became a celebrity as a 'peasant poet' with his first published works in 1820.  But, after his later verses were poorly received - after being badly edited by others - his life became increasingly troubled.  Ill and in debt, he died in the lunatic asylum in Northampton in 1864.

[Image : "I love the slender spire to see" by Anne Lee.  It figures in Anne and Roger Rowe's new book "In the Shadows" - the story of Clare's relationship with Mary Joyce in his own words]

Glinton Spire

Glinton, thy taper spire predominates
over the landscape and the mind
musing the pleasing picture contemplates
like elegance of beauty much refined
by taste that almost defies and elevates
once admiration making common things
around it glow with beauty not their own.
Thus all around the earth superior things
those struggling trees though lonely seem not lone
but in thy presence wear superior power
and e'en each mossed and melancholy stone,
gleaning cold memories round oblivion's bower
seems types of fair eternity - and hire
a lease from fame by thy enchanting spire.

(Originally published in the Daily Mail - 15th December 2004)

"In the Shadows" : http://arboureditions1.blogspot.co.uk/p/an-illusory-relationship.html

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