Wessex Worthies: Thomas Chatterton

Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770) was Bristol's very own rock'n'roll suicide, 200 years before rock'n'roll was born. A precocious child, he was, by the age of 12, able to pass off his poetry as the work of a 15th century monk named Thomas Rowley. The forgery was convincing enough to take in the antiquarian William Barrett (1733-1789).

Chatterton's father died before he was born, and it is thought that this motivated him to create the character of Rowley as a father figure-cum-imaginary friend. He saw his poetry as a way of rescuing his mother from poverty, and pursued a literary career from childhood, writing for the Bristol Journal at 11 years old. He sought a patron in Bristol, but was unable to find one who paid enough, so he left for London aged 16 in the hope of convincing Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Oxford (1717-1797) to publish the works of the mythical Rowley. Walpole initially agreed, but on discovering Chatterton's age, he became suspicious, and soon figured out that Rowley's work was a forgery.

Snubbed by Walpole for his poetry, Chatterton concentrated on political writings, penning polemics for Town and Country and the Middlesex Journal, the latter under the pseudonym of Decimus.

In April 1770, he penned a satirical Last Will & Testament, in which he left "all my vigour and fire of youth to Mr. George Catcott, being sensible he is most want of it...unto the Reverent Mr. Camplin senior, all my humility. To Mr. Burgum all my prosody and grammar, --likewise one moiety of my modesty; the other moiety to any young lady who can prove without blushing that she wants that valuable commodity. To Bristol, all my spirit and disinterestedness, parcels of goods, unknown on her quay since Canning and Rowley!" He predicted that his death would happen on the following day, Easter Sunday.

This proved to be sadly prophetic. In August of that year, when walking in St Pancras churchyard with a friend, he fell into an open grave, On being helped out, he remarked that he had been at war with the grave for some time. Three days later, three months shy of his 18th birthday, he retired to his room and drank a fatal dose of arsenic.

His suicide went largely unremarked at the time, and he was buried in the graveyard of Shoe Lane Workhouse in Holborn. But his reputation grew after his death, both in England and France, where in 1835, the playwright Alfred de Vigny (1797-1863) wrote a drama based on his life; while much later, Serge Gainsbourg (1928-1991) wrote a song entitled Chatterton. Recognition in his native Bristol was less forthcoming, however. In 1886, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and the architect Herbert Horne (1864-1916) campaigned unsuccessfully to have a plaque erected in his memory at his old school, Colston's School. A statue was erected at St Mary Redcliffe church, but was later removed when it became unsafe. A later bronze statue now stands in Millennium Square on Harbourside., while the house where he was born is now a cafe in Redcliffe Way, while one of the walls of the school where his father taught (now otherwise demolished) can still be seen next door.

Burley

In the late 1920's the Grant family decided to live in Burley. In 1930,
Lettice Grant (nee Rooke) bought a property in Bisterne Close, moving from
Westbourne in Bournemouth. Prior to that they were in Kashmir and further
back the Grant side were from Scotland. The Rooke's, however were from the
New Forest. Indeed part of the family tree show them as being in Burley,
Lymington and other areas of the New Forest.

2020 will represent 90 years at the Burley address, the property is still
occupied by Richard F. Grant. Although, his sister left as a teenager in
1960.

Jennifer has been married 3 times and now lives in Plymouth. She has two
middle aged sons, neither are married nor have children.
Richard was married briefly in the 1980's, has sons, and a granddaughter.
Lettice had 4 children, with her husband Gregor Hugh Grant  who died in his
early 30's when leaving Kashmir. The Grant's had Indigo plantations.
Established, by former generations, of the  Grant family.
The Rookes were also married into the Burrards of Lymington, who were local
MP's.

The reason for this post is to ask, how many people still live
in the home where they were born?

Richard is a retired estate agent, although was for 20 years carer to his late Father.  His Mother, Sheila (nee Reilly) died in 1988.

St Berin, Apostle of Wessex

This article is the first in a new series, Essential Wessex, outlining key moments in Wessex history

St Berin, more commonly known by the Latinised form of his name, Birinus, was a Frankish bishop sent by Pope Honorius I to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons. He was originally destined for Mercia, but upon arriving in the kingdom of the Gewissae, located in the upper Thames Valley, felt that his calling was here. He landed at Hamwic (Southampton) in 634, and was given permission to preach by King Cynegils the following year. Cynegils' motives were not purely based in religious conviction. His daughter was to marry the Christian King Oswald of Northumbria, and a conversion to Christianity made for a politically savvy move.

According to a legend depicted in stained glass at Dorchester Abbey, Birinus gave mass before boarding a ship and left behind a corporal (altar cloth) that had been gifted to him by Pope Honorius. He jumped overboard, retrieved the corporal and rejoined the ship, which had been miraculously becalmed despite an offshore wind, walking upon the water without getting wet.

Back in the real world, Berin was known to have baptised at a pond known as Bapsey Pool (a corruption of the word "baptism") at Taplow, though the baptism of Cynegils probably took place at Dorchester-on-Thames, an important settlement that subsequently became Berin's see. The see of Dorchester lapsed some time around 685, as Mercian expansion gobbled up Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, forcing the bishopric of the West Saxons southward to Winchester. The last bishop of Dorchester before its absorption into the see of Lichfield was a Mercian, Ætla, with his West Saxon predecessor Agilbert being reassigned to Paris. The see was re-established in 886 by King Alfred, covering much of the Danelaw.

Berin was very active in establishing churches in what is now the northern part of Wessex, including the parish church of St Mary's in Reading. Berin's Hill near Ipsden and the town of Berinsfield, both in Oxfordshire, are named after him. He died on 3rd December 650 (649 according to some sources), and buried at Dorchester Abbey, though his relics were later transferred to Winchester Cathedral. His feast day is observed on 3rd December in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, but 5th December in the Church of England.

Until recently, the Anglican feast day was the date of a pilgrimage that departed from Churn Knob near Blewbury, a neolithic burial mound that may have been chosen for Berin's preaching due to already being recognised as a sacred site. Wessex Society members joined the pilgrimage in one the early years of the Society's founding (I believe it was 2000, but I have no record, so I cannot be absolutely sure), braving torrential rain and swamp-like mud for a walk of approximately eleven miles. The pilgrimage route is available to members of the Walking World website, or non-members can buy the route for a small fee of £1.95. Perhaps one year, the Society might revive the walk.

Wessex Attractions: Farnborough Hall

Apologies in advance to anyone who uses this blog as a guide to days out (I'm sure there must be thousands of you). My magic blog post randomiser, which tells me what I'm going to blog about in any given week, has this week given me an attraction that is currently closed for the winter. But fear not, it will open again in April next year.

Farnborough Hall is a stately home near Banbury, home of the Holbech family for nearly 300 years, until it was sold to the National Trust in 1960. Built from honey-coloured stone by William Holbech in 1684, and extensively remodelled in the 1740s by his son, the imaginitively-named William Holbech the Younger. It remains a well-preserved example of a Georgian house, with a magnificent rococo drawing room, even if the paintings now on display are replicas of the originals, which had to be sold off in 1929.

The gardens were designed by Sanderson Miller (1716-1780), and based on the Ferme Ornée (ornamental farm) principle. Devised by Stephen Switzer (1682–1745), this simply meant farmland designed for aesthetic pleasure as well as practicality. The parkland contains several follies, including a game larder, a faux-classical Ionic temple, and a 60-foot Egyptianate obelisk.

The farm buildings were once home to a museum commemorating the Battle of Edge Hill, the first major battle of the English Civil War, which took place several miles to the north, over the Mercian border in Warwickshire. However, I was unable to find any recent references to it, so it may have been closed down.

The postcode for Farnborough Hall is OX17 1DU. Check the National Trust website for opening dates and times.

Wessex in Fiction: The Ghost Sonata

The Ghost Sonata is the third in the Gilda Joyce series of young adult mystery novels by Jennifer Allison. Gilda Joyce is a teenager who solves mysteries using a ouija board and her psychic abiities. The Ghost Sonata sees her accompanying her best friend Wendy Choy to a piano recital in Oxford, where she discovers that the recital is haunted.