We picked up a flyer for the John Clare Festival, held in Helpston each year on the date nearest the date of birth of the "Peasant Poet". We only went over for one of the festival events. Was the Chris Harrison performing at the concert in the church someone we used to know? No, he wasn't, but the concert was well worth attending.
Chris Harrison was singing his settings of poems written by his great-great-grandfather, the self-educated and once well-known "Pitman Poet" from the Northumbrian coalfields, Joseph Skipsey.
A generation younger than John Clare, Skipsey's family had moved from work on the land to work in the pits, and his life and work reflected and continued some of Clare's concerns.
When I see the picture below, I wonder how I managed to miss this as I wandered round the churchyard before the concert! This is John Clare's grave, complete with its new headstone. The inscriptions are illegible on the tombstone.
Sacred to the memory of
The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet
born July 13 1793 died May 20 1864
Here rest the Hopes and Ashes of John Clare
A poet is born not made.
The baskets of flowers are "Midsummer Cushions" made by local schoolchildren each year, reviving an old custom John Clare mentioned:
“It is a very old custom among villagers in summer time to stick a piece of greensward full of field flowers and place it as an ornament in their cottages which ornaments are called Midsummer cushions.”
Afterwards, we strolled up to the John Clare Cottage, now a museum and cafe.