Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Literary Tour: Day 16

Day 16: Northamptonshire (Flora Thompson)

A long drive south today, so only a short literary visit. We are headed for the county of Northamptonshire, where it borders Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire - middle England, almost but not quite into the Cotswolds. Our destination is the tiny hamlet of Juniper Hill, immortalised by Flora Thompson as "Lark Rise" in her autobiographical trilogy of country life over a hundred years ago, Lark Rise to Candleford. In the nineteenth century the men in my father's family were almost without exception agricultural labourers (the women were strawplaiters) and both my father and grandfather were farmers, so books on rural life are an interest of mine.Lark Rise is a classic, describing the life and personalities of a small English village in great detail - the seasons of village life, the poverty of many of the families, the games played by the children, the ups and downs of schooldays, and much more besides.

After looking at Flora's old house in Juniper Hill, we can walk across the fields to Cottisford, the parish to which Juniper Hill belonged. Here is Flora's description of the church:

... the congregation averaged about thirty. Even with this small number, the church was fairly well filled, for it was a tiny place, about the size of a barn, with nave and chancel only, no side aisles. The interior was almost as bare as a barn, with its grey, roughcast, walls, plain-glass windows, and flagstone floor. The cold, damp, earthy odour common to old and unheated churches pervaded the atmosphere, with occasional whiffs of a more unpleasant nature said to proceed from the stacks of mouldering bones in the vault beneath. ... The Church, like the village, was old and forgotten, and those buried in the vault, who must have once been people of importance, had not left even a name. Only the stained glass window over the altar, glowing jewel-like amidst the cold greyness, the broken piscina within the altar rails, and a tall broken shaft of what had been a cross in the churchyard, remained to witness mutely to what once had been.
Looking again at Lark Rise I was intrigued to discover that like my own great-grandfather, Flora Thompson's grandfather:
... followed the old country calling of an eggler, travelling the countryside with a little horse and trap, buying up eggs from farms and cottages and selling them at markets and to shopkeepers.