Once away from the busy main road, a village emerges through the scent of wisteria and roses, a few streets that have matured gracefully with age. Somewhere that has the quality of light associated with water.
Henley is a village still, and once off of the main drag, the red tiled streets of houses would have been familiar to Elizabeth, making the perfect setting for her novel ” The White Witch”. Many of the houses have underground tunnels linking them together and running down to the river, easy to place Yoben in an Under croft as Priest. The low sun stage lit the houses, making shadows of every uneven surface and softening the colour of the roof tiles, which slipped over windows latticed against the light. There were few people about, and it was soon apparent that the few people that were , were caterers getting ready for their evening shifts, having a quiet smoke and chat in the cool of the shadowed streets before the heat of the kitchen and the bustle of the dining room. They spoke in foreign tongues, Greek, Indian, Polish, bringing a flavour of the cosmopolitan to the back streets.
The Thames, river from Elizabeth’s beloved Wind in the Willows, complete with earnest rowers, small cruisers and water fowl. Fleets of swans, zig-zagged by coots, as loudly insistent as the children playing in the waterside park. As dusk deepens, lights come on. illuminating the buildings as in a stage set. How many people must have passed over this bridge in it’s long history?
The Red Lion, a venerable location for the Elizabeth Goudge Convention. Complete with its shawl of wisteria, settling down for the night. Across the river the steel structures for the Henley Regatta were taking shape, and the smooth green lawns were carrying the last of the rowers towards the club house.
Morning, the business of the day begun. Greetings and a getting to know you session with the first coffee of the day was held in The Orangerie. Seated at the tables are; in the foreground, Sally Bullock and Dr Rosemary Mills, behind them on the right hand table are Paul Gray, Maggie Donnelly, Marion & Brian Sheath, Joan Portsmouth and Rosalind Robinson. Seated in front of the window Alan & Audrey Piddington.
The Talk and group discussion was on the use of poetry in Elizabeth’s work and was led by Deborah Gaudin. We talked about the influence poetry had had on Elizabeth’s characters, the places and homes she wrote about. We touched on the use of poetry as she used it as an introduction to her novels, the anthologies she had edited and the poetry Elizabeth wrote herself. By this time the wet morning weather had dramatically improved for our afternoon visits. First stop was the Dog Inn and a short walk down to Rose Cottage. Karen & Ken, the cottage’s present owners, showed us round the garden in the sunshine, nothing like it had been when Jessie gardened there, but pleasant and secluded. Then we drove across the common to the Church of All Saints where Elizabeth had worshipped and we were met by a lady called Sylvia Seymour who was there to answer questions and show us round the building.
Everyone enjoyed the freedom and quiet of the churchyard, the shadowed church as peaceful and un-remarkable as last time I had visited. But it was good to talk to Sylvia who remembered taking the Parish magazine to Elizabeth & Jessie, when they became to frail to make it to church regularly. “She always asked after the family, particularly the children, “ she said, “ she was very fond of children.”
Elizabeth’s memorial service was held here on April 6th 1984.
Blessed are the Peace Makers. Sunlight through stained glass. An oasis of quiet in a busy world. Time to pause and reflect.
Audrey and Alan lead the way up Dog Lane, accompanied by Donna Hartwell and Rachael Mackenzie. Joan Portsmouth behind them and Dr Rosemary Mills in the background. The weather was still glorious.
The lovely and courageous Marion Sheath and her husband Brian. Thank you for all your kind words and support for the web site.
Paul Gray an old friend and supporter with Maggie Donnelly outside Rose Cottage.
The day was spent very pleasantly and enjoyed by everyone. Thank you to those who have written or emailed to say how much you enjoyed the event and a big thank you too to Audrey, Sally and Jessica whose input and help on the day contributed to the success. The whole day was spent with like minded people, celebrating the life & work of Elizabeth Goudge.