Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

John Clare - a voice for today

Last week I was contacted by the owner of a small gallery, asking if I could supply my cards for her sell. There was no link to the gallery's web site and a google search drew a blank – how unusual for today! 

I sent her my trade order details and my catalogue and swiftly received an order for cards, the gallery's address was in Helpston . . . only an hour and a half drive from my studio, so I decided to deliver the card order in person.

The Annakinn Gallery is a delight, here is the sign with a beautiful design by Carry Ackroyd.

Helpston was the birth place and for much of his life, the home of John Clare. I'd heard of 'the peasant poet' and I was aware of Carry Ackroyd's fascination with Clare, this week reacquainting myself with John Clare's story has made me realise how relevant he is for us today.

On Friday the John Clare Cottage would normally have been open, but due to volunteer staffs' holidays meant it was closed. It looks interesting so I plan to go back on a day when it's open.

Anna at the gallery had very kindly put together a 'John Clare Starter Pack' – she had correctly guessed from my work and my love of walking and the countryside, that I'd relate to Clare's work.

These are beer mats designed for the John Clare Society and The Bluebell pub which is next door to The Cottage and just around the corner from Anna's gallery. Cliff and I had fish and chips for lunch at The Bluebell and I can thoroughly recommend it!

Following directions from Anna, we walked across to St Botolph's church and easily found John Clare's grave, there is a modern marker post visible from across the graveyard.

Sacred to the Memory of
John Clare
The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet
Born July 13 1793 Died May 20 1864

A poet is born not made.

Also in 'the starter pack' were these cards depicting the 'Midsummer Cushions', a tradition of lifting a sward of flowery meadow as a floral decoration. Aptly this is how Helpston schoolchildren commemorate John Clare on his birthday, carrying their Midsummer Cushions through the village to lay around his grave.

The card on the left is an illustration by wildlife artist John Davis, he also illustrated these charming tiny cards depicting birds' nests. They reminded me of the work of Charles Tunnicliffe and those lovely Ladybird books 'What to look for in Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter – I've recently rediscovered mine in a cupboard at my Mum's house.

Anna popped the cards into my 'John Clare Starter Pack' as a thankyou for braving the torrential rain and delivering my cards in person.

Thanks to Anna at the AnnaKinn Gallery in Helpston for reacquainting me with John Clare who was so much more that a peasant poet. Clare observed the countryside and nature in minute detail as he walked the paths and lanes, he observed how changing agricultural practices meant wild places were being lost forever and he knew those things were priceless. 

Clare wasn't an uneducated peasant, he was a clever young man who by circumstance had to leave formal education at a young age and endeavoured to read and educate himself. Sudden fame at a young age and the conflicts of his rural roots with the literary circles he had been elevated to, resulted in his mental health deteriorating. He was cared for by benevolent wealthy friends who tried their best to find the best care available at the time in an asylum in Essex. But pining for his boyhood life he absconded and walked 90 miles back to Helpston. John Clare's final 20 years were spent in an asylum in Northampton.

The life of John Clare has much to teach us about mental well-being, education and the importance of being grounded and aware of the natural world.

And if you are near Helpston, it's in the corner of NW Cambridgeshire between Stamford and Peterborough, please visit the Annakinn Gallery . . . it's full of beautiful things!



  1. Celia, thank you for the introduction to Helpston, the Annakinn Gallery and John Clare. This is a fascinating post, beginning with the mystery of the gallery, and your deciding to deliver your beautiful cards in person.

    I can see why you'd wish to return to actually be able to visit the John Clare Cottage. Something tells me that your cards will be greatly appreciated by folks visiting the gallery, too.

    I am happy to report that Issue 223 of Gardens Illustrated is now in my hands. Your illustration is a fine accompanyment to Frank Ronan's tribute to Hero. I think that your print is a beauty all on its own, but has extra resonance from the story behind it.

    I'm really enjoying each issue of the magazine, and learning much about all sorts of plants...and yearning more and more for my own garden.


  2. What a fascinating place that will be to visit. I love the flower dressing of the grave, it reminds me a little of the Derbyshire well dressing.

  3. That really looks delightful! I love English villages!

  4. Thank you so much for this inspiring post! I love Carry Ackroyd's work and am ready to read John Clare now. Thanks again for the introduction.

  5. Lovely post Celia - the history of poets and villages always so interesting. Hope you can return to see inside the cottage soon - and that the sales of your beautiful cards go well. The flower 'cushions'
    around the grave are a lovely idea - and getting the village children involved is wonderful.
    Love the birds/nests illustrations of John Davis too.

    Mary - in North Carolina, missing Devon!

  6. What a lovely corner of the world! Lovely to read about it, especially the traditions commemorating Clare. xx

  7. Celia, it is only through Carry's work that I first came to know of John Clare and I cannot these days think of one without thinking of the other! There's a very readable biography by Jonathan Bate of Clare which puts his life into perspective but I can't read any of the poems without seeing Carry's linocut illustrations alongside in my mind's eye. I think he is much neglected and not widely read these days but obviously not on home turf. What a glorious package to receive. Such attention to detail must show that Anna's gallery (if I were nearer) would be exactly my kind of place.


I love reading all the comments (except for spam and advertising which I will delete) and I'll reply here in the comments under each blog post, it may take a few days if I'm busy.
You don't need to have a blog to leave a comment, you can select the name/URL option and fill in just your name instead of a blog link.