Belated Honour to Helpston's Genius

From the 'Peterborough and Huntingdon Standard' from the 4th June 1921

     On Thursday (May 26th) the members of the Peterborough Museum Society had an outing to Peakirk, Northborough, Helpston and Swaddiwell, and although the weather turned out very wet, the spirits of the company were not damped.  Tea was partaken of at the Blue Bell Inn, Helpston, after which the party, accompanied by a large gathering of villagers, assembled outside the cottage where the Peasant Poet, John Clare, was born, for the purpose of unveiling a commemoration tablet, erected over the cottage by the Peterborough Museum Society. The tablet, which is of Ketton stone, was carved by Mr. Dickens, of Peterborough, and placed in position by Mr. J.E. Crowson, of Helpston.  The lettering on it reads as follows:-

     The proud owner of this cottage is Miss Vera Crowson, of Helpston, having had it presented to her by her father.  The ceremony of unveiling the tablet was performed by Mr. H.B. Hartley, President of the Museum Society, and a short address was given by Mr. Edmund Blunden (Editor of the "Life" of the Poet).  Mr. W.H. Broome (chairman of the Parish Council), and Mr. J.E. Crowson (District Surveyor) were invited to join in the proceedings.

     Mr. Hartley said it gave him great pleasure, as President for the year of the Peterborough Archaelogical Society, to unveil this tablet to the memory of one whom he supposed was without a doubt, the most distinguished inhabitant of that village.  (Hear, hear).  They were indebted to Miss Vera Crowson, the owner of the celebrated house, for allowing the tablet to be placed there.  Mr. Dickens, of Peterborough, had been good enough to present them with the stone, and Mr. Crowson erected it for them, and their best thanks were due to them all.  (Hear, hear).

     They had the honour of having with them Mr. Blunden.  (Applause).  Amongst all the people living in England at the present time he had taken the most interest in following up the life of Helpston's distinguished son.  (Hear, hear).  Mr. Blunden served in the war, and whilst in France studied papers which he carried with him connected with John Clare.  He had now published a book of the life of the poet.  (Applause),  His work had been received with great favour by people all over the world, and he hoped to publish a much bigger collection of the poet's world.  (Applause).

     Mr. Blunden said this memorial, though simple, had touched him more than any other memorial -- with the exception of the unveiling of war memorials -- There could, to his mind, be nothing more pathetic in some ways than to think of the struggles of John Clare, as a little boy, to obtain education. Mr. Blunden pictured the poet coming out of the very door at which they stood, making his way to school every day, and knowing at the end he would not be able to use his eduction. In spit of these difficulties, he was able to make this cottage famous throughout England. (Applause)  He married, and brought his wife there, and his family partly grew up there.  He published his books, and they were received in England with enthusiasm.  At about the age of 36 years, it occurred to hi that that little cottage was too small for him -- which was the great mistake of his life -- and he went to Northborough.

     John Clare ended his days in an asylum, not because (Mr. Blunden believed) he was mad, but through misunderstanding.  No one could understand his certain whims and fancies, and so he was shut up.  John Clare could make a tree or a street seem like a person, or an old friend -- indeed they were so to him : he had always known them.  Referring to his book on the life of John Clare, Mr. Blunden said during the war he told Clare's works with him to France, and he found that the poet was, as it were, to his own nature, and he seemed to understand him better than anything else.  (Applause).  This made him determined, if he came out of the war, to put the poet's life before the public.  Thanks to the Peterborough Museum, where Clare's papers were stored, he was able to write this book.  (Hear, hear).  The book was in great demand, and they had even had orders from Belgium, Holland, and other places.  (Hear, hear).  In conclusion the speaker said Helpston should be very pround of having produced such a son.  (Applause).

     Mr. A.G. Barley proposed a vote of thanks to Mr. Blunden for his presence, also for the recent work he had done in connection with reviving interest in John Clare.  They wished to express their indebtedness to him.  (Hear, hear).  He was sure they were all very proud that they had that cottage still in their midst, and now they had something to remind them and the coming generation of what John Clare was.  To those who had read and studied his poems, the interest was very great indeed.  (Applause).  Those who read his poems released most Clare's love of this village.  He gloried in a mole hill!  It had been said that it took a mountain to inspire a poet, but John Clare never saw a mountain in his life.  Mr. Barley had the greatest pleasure in moving this vote of thanks to Mr. Blunden.  (Applause).

     Mr. W.H. Broome (chairman of the Parish Council) seconded, remarking that he was sure they all felt very proud to belong to a village in which this poet lived, also to have still in the village the cottage in which he was born.  (Applause).

     Mr. J.W. Bodger said so many people had been kind in helping them to erect this stone, and he was grateful to them all.  (Hear, hear).  There were still some of Clare's descendants in the village, and he believed some were present somewhere, although he could not spot them.  He was only too pleased to add his testimony for what had been done by Mr. Blunden  in connection with that great work.  (Applause).

Mr. Hartley said Mr. Blunden would be a celebrated man through his connection with John Clare, if nothing else, but he believed, if he might say so, that he would be a celebrated poet.  It would be like a very good poet after another good poet.  (Applause).

Mr. Blunden, in responding, said there was still something to be said for Clare -- he was the only peasant poet that England had produced and Helpston produced him.  (Applause).

Cheers were given for Mr. Blunden at the conclusion of the proceedings.

[The party at the Butter Cross during the day]


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