Archive for Peppard’s Common

Goudge’s Ghosts

 

June 2009’s website article

 

On our recent visit to Rose Cottage, we took the opportunity to visit places in the vicinity that Elizabeth had been to and written about. I love to think of her tramping the lanes with her dogs, getting to know the aspects of her new home as she approached it from different angles and routes. Then later maybe, being driven by Jessie through the changing seasons of this gentle landscape.

The land here becomes much more intimate; a long thin ribbon of hills stretching away towards Bedfordshire, which are covered in little woods and spinneys with open farmed land in-between. The soil looks almost white because of the large quantity of stones, chalk and flint, which litter the surface of the fields. Scratch a slope and find the chalk, white ribbons ascending hills. Tethered above almost every field was a Red Kite, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one county, banking and billowing just like the fields they flew over, same colour as the winter woods falling away behind us. The air was raw, and a grey mist concealed all distances, enhancing the remoteness of this place, set apart from the corridor of man’s development ,which trails into London and out to the ever growing towns in the country.

Avenue of Limes

We came upon Turville, Elizabeth’s template for Appleshaw, by surprise, and drove to park under the avenue of Limes. They had grown into small spinneys either side of the lane and were not in leaf. But their supple tops still swayed and gossiped to each other, while their feet were pooled in the azure of blue bells. We walked the lane under them towards the village hearing the wind in the branches and little else except the call of birds.

The village is lovely, all red brick warmth and steep tiled red roofs grouped around a green, with footpaths leading up to the Chiltern way and the wonderful black and white windmill which was filmed as Truly Scrumptious’s home in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The church of St Mary the Virgin, used in the television series The Vicar of Dibley, sits to one side of the green and has the loveliest of the flint and stone cottages in its demise, an old fashioned briar rose rambling over its front. One enters the church by descending three steep stone steps and inside it has a pure simplicity that delights. Wooden barrel roof, dark painting of the Madonna and Child in one chancel, and heraldic glass from the former Vicarage in its windows. Outside the graves slope peacefully, like pillows propped up in a bed, and the trees dip and sway on the edges.

The house which could be the model for The Laurels was close to the church, if not opposite. It had a walled garden with a door in the thickness of its stone, but it was called uninspiring Orchard Cottage, and I couldn’t see the tunnel of wisteria which led to the front door, just a gate and a gravelled drive. Probably another instance of Elizabeth transposing a childhood memory to some where else.

The cottages where Paul lived with his bitter wife Valerie are opposite the pub he used and are as compact and charming as Elizabeth describes them, with colourful front gardens and sparkling windows, they are named Wisteria, Windmill and Chiltern their back gardens tucked under the steep green bluff. They are tiny indeed, and you can’t help remembering Valerie’s friends being nonplussed at her complaints about housework, they would be considered small apartments today.

 

Walking back through the village, we heard the sound of an approaching pony and trap and stopped to watch it pass. Shades were conjured of the two Mary’s coming to the village, one to seek peace and respite from a hostile world and another, a small child come to visit an Aunt, both of them drove with the unaware horse’s handlers. They passed us driving away through the Limes as little Mary would have done, tearfully hoping to return some day to see her Aunt, in her strange house, set apart as if in a painting.

Pony & Trap Turville

Job chapter 14
verses 7 to 9

  1. for there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.
  2. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground;
  3. Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.

This sense of renewal is something Elizabeth experienced again and again through out her life, and it is one of the precious gifts she won, struggling with her own personal demons.

The scent of water was in the air today, misting through the trees and slicking the horizon with the promise of proper rain. It gave to this pretty little village glamour, a soft beauty the harsher light of summer with its compliment of tourists would have destroyed.

We too drove off the same way, and were soon climbing a steep coombe through a magnificent beech hanger wood, whose roots resembling elephant’s trunks held the banks apart so that the road could pass. We stopped at the top of the rise to watch the still sleeping woods slip into the valley and a Golden Pheasant stroll around a field, the Chinese lantern of yet another kite cruising overhead. We passed through Nettlebed, a place of old boundaries and brick kilns which produced clay bricks for local use. This is the village in The White Witch to which Froniga takes Will to be cured of the “King’s Evil” ,the skin disease scurvy. Charles I was staying at The White Hart. Today it is more recognisable as the setting for The Midsomer Murder’s series.

We headed towards Peppard Common and the church of All Saints that Elizabeth had attended during her life in the village. She like Mary wanted the chance to experience the last dregs of country life before they vanished. The village is spread out, more a series of hamlets than a village with a centre, a throw back to ancient times when it was surrounded by extensive common land. Its name is derived from an old word for cattle lands and the Pipard or Pypard family who once held the local manor at Blount’s Court, The Court famous for a tulip tree which was planted by Charles I.

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From the outside the church is sturdy, built of local flint and brick with a distinctive red tiled steeple. It’s surrounded by a large church yard bordered by mature trees. Inside is surprisingly spacious, white walled, early arches and good wood. The stained glass is varied, of a high quality and depicts unusual themes; such as the west window showing the Northumbrian saints St Bede and St Aidan, all stormy seas and misted islands against which the saints are resting. The central window in the north aisle shows a memorial to Nicholas John Cottle licensed Reader of this Church, incorporating the figure of the intellectually brilliant 5th century Bishop St Augustine of Hippo, last seen on our visit to Ely cathedral. I’m sure as an avid reader Elizabeth would have enjoyed this particular window. But my favourite is a small slim window situated in the south side of the chancel which has the words “Blessed are the peace makers” on its jewelled colours. A kneeling knight offers the hilt of his sword to make a cross, and his hand is being shaken by another who stands to one side. The figure of Christ dominates the background. The alter is one of the loveliest pieces of marketry I’ve seen, and is a representation of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, with the faces of the disciplines vivid under a well placed spot light. I can see why Elizabeth came to love and venerate this church; it contains enough beauty to satisfy the soul without being pretentious or distracting.

I sat for a while towards the back of the church where I thought Elizabeth might have sat and remembered poor Mary in her Christmas church feeling dark and separate until the walls cracked and the fire came out, and Lucilla lighting up the morning for Hilary when she attended the morning service, and John Wentworth, Parson Hawthorn, and even Adam Aylescough in Ely, all stumbling their way towards God, all reaching for the bliss of perfect communion, and just for a moment, I felt close to them too and therefore to Elizabeth, a moment of connection.

Her memorial service was held here on Friday 6th April 1984 and attended by her family and friends, a thanks giving for the life and work of a great lady. Traherne’s prayer that she quotes in Scent of Water was recited as part of the service.

Interior of Elizabeth's Church

Lord have Mercy
Thee I adore
Into Thy Hands.

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A Rose Cottage Afternoon

 

An Account of the Blue Plaque Ceremony

The afternoon was grey and overcast with mean spits of rain in the keen wind, not the kind of day one would have wished for an event so long anticipated. We arrived outside the whitewashed bulk of the Dog Inn which that same day was re-inventing itself as an Italian Restaurant, and found the verges and car park overflowing with vehicles. Some had come for the restaurant opening but a surprising number were going to the Blue Plaque ceremony.

Dog lane tottered off to the left and disappeared between sodden trees, it looked much as it probably had before tar macadam roads made travelling a pleasure rather than an adventure. Rose cottage is set right on the lane, but invisible from the highway, making it seem set apart.

On first appearances it bears little resemblance to the home portrayed in Elizabeth’s auto-biography, until you notice the thick strength of the chimneys and the rippled red roof line, with windows peeking out from under the eaves. You realize then what a long time it’s sat there, watching and absorbing all the changes that have occurred to it and its surroundings. It would have been very rural when Elizabeth and Jessie moved there in the early fifties. The Blue Plaque was high up under the eaves to the left of the front door, and had been hidden by drapes.

About fifty people had come to share in the event, a good turn out for a gloomy afternoon. It was so good to begin to meet people who had so far just been names and a friendly email or two, that the first ten minutes or were like a family reunion, everyone appearing vaguely familiar. Mark and Liz Dutton, Elizabeth’s heirs, had arrived with their son and a box of books which he was generously giving to any who wanted them; they had also brought a painting of a young Henry Goudge which in the past had hung in the cottage.

Goudge Gathering

Sylvia Gower and her husband George arrived at the same time we did after a long and tiring drive, it was to an extent as much her day as Elizabeth’s, the culmination of all her hard work was finally taking place. Sonia Harwood’s son Andrew and his wife Hilary were present, his mother had been a close friend of Elizabeth. A regal elderly lady called Betty in a wheel chair had already arrived; she had known both the cottage before Elizabeth lived there, and Elizabeth and Jessie after they moved in. Others had known her too, such as Shirley who had looked after them both in their old age.

The deputy head of the Oxfordshire Civic Society gave a short speech on the Blue Plaque organisation, and how many and varied had been the plaques that had gone up in the county and how now Rose Cottage too was on the map. Then the Sub-Dean of Oxford spoke to us about his knowledge of Elizabeth’s writing, and how he remembered Green Dolphin Country and the quote from Ruth in the book .”for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” which had stayed with him all his life, a trait which readers of her work will empathise with, Elizabeth was good at finding an appropriate quote to emphasise her work. He managed to unveil the plaque with a flourish of episcopal purple just before the rain really started to come down and the umbrellas to go up and we were all ushered into the arms of the cottage.

Rose Cottage

The entrance hall was narrow and the stairs to the upper floor rose steeply on the right. On the left was a step down into the main living area, and ahead the new extension and kitchen/diner. Everywhere was clean and bright and the sound of voices emanated outwards to greet us. The main living room was long with a low ceiling and windows in two of its thick walls, an enormous fireplace took up the end wall. Sofas and chairs had been set out around the perimeter, and people were talking animatedly to each other. Elizabeth’s quote about the hospitality of the house sprang instantly to mind. “The great and Christian virtue of hospitality is a rather weakly plant in myself and Jessie; it needs a lot of nurturing; but in the cottage itself it is so strong that the moment the front door is opened to a guest I can feel the delight that rises up from its hospitable old heart. I once entertained thirty writers in our sitting room and even above the noise of the thirty all talking at once I imagined I was aware of the contented cat-like purring of the cottage. It liked it. This cottage knows in its wisdom how much human beings need each other.” (Goudge 1974 p 255). Karen our hostess had laminated the quote and placed it in the dinning room where an army of her friends and herself had prepared a gorgeous buffet.

 

After a short speech from Sylvia in which she introduced us all to each other the company went in search of hot drinks and the talk of Elizabeth and her life in this amazing place flowed between us. There is never enough time to speak in depth at parties to all the people that you wish to speak to, and that was the only slight disappointment of the day, I wanted to talk to everyone at once and more importantly, to hear what they had to say. I tried to picture Elizabeth sitting by the fire listening to all that was going on but I could not find her in the crowd.

I circulated through the house, listening to conversations about people that Elizabeth had known in the village. Mr & Mrs Baker, not their real names, she took and used in Scent of Water, and how kind and generous an employer she had been, how the garden had benefited from Jessie hard work, and I was shown the small downstairs room in which she had died, not being able to get up the stairs in her final illness. How sad I thought that was for someone who had grown to deeply love the atmosphere and changing views from the room they came to call the captains cabin, due to its size and shape.I spoke at length to the lovely Liz Dutton who had brought a photograph of the Little Things to show us. The glass cabinet contained all the miniatures. A wise lady called Lois who accompanied me upstairs said, “imagine the power of imagination, thought and prayer that must have seeped into the walls of this place, it must have soaked it up like blotting paper.” Suddenly I realized she was right, Elizabeth’s ghost had long been laid to rest, but the power of her mind and thoughts were evergreen and always accessible to those who wanted them. I had so wanted to feel her presence, but of cause Elizabeth would have laughed knowing that it was just a room. Suddenly I was glad that it wasn’t a museum piece, a sad replica of how it had been, it had changed, been transformed as she had.

Front Room Rose Cottage

We wandered back down to find that people were beginning to leave; it was already over. The cottage glowed and I realized that the gloom of the day didn’t matter either, the warmth and light had been contained inside, it came from the people who had gathered to celebrate the life and achievements of a great lady.

The friend who had introduced her to Jessie had found this poem in a Devonshire cottage and copied it out. She sent it to her, as she thought it appropriate to her new home. It shows what the village and cottage were like when she moved here. Then she would have been only a few years older than I am. Like me one of the great joys of Elizabeth’s life was poetry, it seems a good way of ending the account of the visit to her home.

 

My room’s a square and candle-lighted boat
In the surrounding depths of night afloat.
My windows are the port holes, and the seas
The sound of rain on the dark apple trees.
Sea-monster-like beneath, an old horse blows
A snort of darkness from his sleeping nose,
Below, among drowned daisies,
Far off hark,
Far off, an owl, amid the waves of dark.

Elizabeth had been unable to discover who wrote this haunting and appropriate verse but with a little research I’ve found her.

Rose Cottage from Dog Lane

Frances Cornford (1886-1960) was born and lived for most of her life in Cambridge. She was the granddaughter of Charles Darwin, and on her mother’s side was related to William Wordsworth. In 1909 she married the classicist Francis Cornford, who was to become Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Cambridge, and they had five children. Frances Cornford published eight books of poetry and two of translations. Her Collected Poems (1954), the year Elizabeth moved to Rose Cottage, was the Choice of the Poetry Book Society, and in 1959 she was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

Elizabeth Goudge Joy Of The Snow 1974 Hodder & Stoughton.