I Found The Poems In The Fields And Only Wrote Them Down : A Visit To John Clare’s Cottage

This week I’ve been staying at lovely Lynch Lodge in the sleepy village of Alwalton, right on the edge of the city of Peterborough.

Lynch Lodge was re-erected around 1807 as a rather grand entrance to the three mile long drive to Milton Park, which was then owned by the Fitzwilliam family. It had been moved from the Drydens’ house at Chesterton when their house was demolished. So, the taller part of the Lodge predates the rest of the building by some 200 years when it stood as a Jacobean porch further away. Families who inhabited the Lodge would have done so to primarily serve the owners of the estate by opening and closing the gates.”

It’s just a few minutes from the A1 and near to several places that I’ve wanted to visit or re-visit. The delightful towns of Stamford and Uppingham; some interesting churches; and the former home and birthplace of the ‘peasant’ poet John Clare. And, a little further afield, The Higgins in Bedford.

JC Plaque

Tucked away between Stamford and Peterborough lies the village of Helpston, the home of John Clare (1793-1864). Widely regarded as one of the greatest of the English poets, John Clare lived in the village for his first forty years from 1793 until 1832.

John Clare, our most remarkable poet of the English countryside, was born in the village of Helpston, Northamptonshire and raised as an agricultural labourer.
Clare’s genius was his ability to observe and record the minutiae of English nature and every aspect rural life, at a time when enclosures were transforming the landscape and sweeping away centuries of traditional custom and labour.”

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.

‘my early home was this’

JC Kitchen

Although the Clare family were poor they paid for John to attend school in Glinton at age 7. His exercise books show a precocious and spirited mind, that was mostly self-taught. His love of nature and people around him were the spur to his creative output. He loved to write even as a small boy. Hs mother knew he would come to something.

During the tour, via audio, we could hear extracts from his poems – these were constant themes that inspired him :

Home – Love – Childhood – Community – Landscape – Nature – The Seasons

Mind of a great poet

John Clare’s poems and themes remind me of the work of Emily Dickinson. And, as you would expect, there’s a large garden behind the house.


“Enclosure came and trampled on the grave of labours rights and left the poor a slave”
I found the poems … (“Sighing for retirement”)

In the early 19th century, the Northamptonshire poet John Clare took a good look at the countryside and didn’t like what he saw. He wrote:

“Fence meeting fence in owners little bounds
Of field and meadow, large as garden-grounds,
In little parcels little minds to please,
With men and flocks imprisoned, ill at ease.”

Enclosure means literally enclosing a field with a fence or a hedge to prevent others using it. This seemingly innocuous act triggered a revolution in land holding that dispossessed many, enriched a few but helped make the agricultural and industrial revolutions possible. It saw the dominance of private property as the model of ownership, as against the collective rights of previous generations. For some Enclosure underpinned the economic and agricultural development of Modern Britain.Source : Radio 4 “In Our Time” discussion The Enclosures in the Eighteenth Century.

Some of the rooms at John Clare Cottage are devoted to a study of mental health and giving us ideas and thoughts as to what we can do to look out for others who may be suffering from bi-polar disorder. Today this what it’s thought that John Clare was suffering.

Clare suffered from bouts of depression and after suffering delusions, in 1837, Clare was committed to an asylum where he spent the last 26 years of his life. He left the asylum in High Beach Asylum in Epping Forest in July of 1841 and walked 80 miles back home later described in his book Journey Out of Essex. This didn’t stop his writing, however, and he continued to write poetry, becoming increasingly influenced by the work of Byron, until his death in 1864.” [source]

J C Letter

Dear Sir
I am in a Madhouse and quite forget your Name or who you are – you must excuse me for I have nothing to communicate or tell of & why I am shut up I don’t know – I have nothing to say so I conclude
Yours respectfully, John Clare

Enclosure affected the peasants and John Clare; enclosure can affect us today. The website : www.time-to-change.org.uk is a growing movement of people changing how we all think and act about mental health problems.

At the Cottage I discovered that John Clare was a poet ; an environmentalist ; a musician ; a social chronicler ; an artist ; a countryman who suffered greatly from the destruction of the countryside he so loved.

Also there was a map information board showing that Clare :

was a gardener at Burghley House (8 miles away)
went to school at Glinton (3 miles away)
bought and borrowed books and enjoyed meeting literary associates at Stamford (12 miles away)
visited London 4 times (93 miles away)
was incarcerated at Beech House Epping Forest (80 miles away) from where he walked back to his home at Northborough (4 miles away)
died in an asylum at Northampton (45 miles away) – spent his last 23 years in the lunatics asylum
‘s papers/collection of mss are deposited in the Peterborough Museum (7 miles away)
is buried here in the graveyard of St Botolph’s church, Helpston

Helpston Cross and church

St Botolph’s church and the market cross

There are several other memorials to John Clare around the village.

In the church

JC Memorial





3 comments on “I Found The Poems In The Fields And Only Wrote Them Down : A Visit To John Clare’s Cottage

  1. sherry02738 says:

    What a sad ending for a gifted man.

  2. Frances Howard-Brown says:

    Came late in life to John Clare, so despite many visits to Stamford and Burghley House year’s ago missed Helpston. Need to plan a return trip.

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