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John Clare, Poet



John Clare, the poet, was born in Helpston on 13th July 1793 and became one of our leading environmental poets. Despite having had little education he went on to write over 3500 poems. His poems are very descriptive of the wildlife, the people and the way the people lived in the rural 19th century villages. The works were created by a man who lived and worked in that environment and was able to relate to his surroundings. His first book of poems, 'Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery' was published to great acclaim in 1820, he went on to have three more books printed. He left Helpston in 1832 to go to Northborough, from where he went into High Beech mental asylum in Epping in 1837. He walked home, back to Northborough in 1841, taking 4 days. Later in 1841 he was sent to Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, now St Andrews, in Northampton. This is where he died in 1864. His body was brought back to Helpston, where he is buried in the churchyard.


Honey Hill in Use

c. 1300


The name Honey Hill is still in use in Paston today, but its origins come from a post mill. The mill was situated on a large mound between Dogsthorpe and Paston, under what is now Bluebell Avenue and Heather Avenue. Often assumed to be a moated house, an archaeological dig in 1960 proved the mound was in fact a late 13th century millstead. Artefacts discovered included pottery, millstone remains and clay pipes, which showed that it was in use until the 14th century, after which it was abandoned. Two coins were found on the site, a farthing from the reign of Edward I (1302-1307) and a sixpence from 1568.

The Siege of Woodcroft Castle



Woodcroft Castle near Helpston was built in the 13th century as a fortified manor house with a tower and moat. During the English Civil was it was occupied by Dr Michael Hudson. He was a priest who had been the chaplain to King Charles I and was a staunch Royalist. In 1648 Hudson garrisoned Woodcroft Castle with Cavalier soldiers and attempted to get Stamford to rise up against Parliament but he failed. He was chased back to Woodcroft Castle by a troop of Roundheads. They attempted to storm the castle but they were driven off with the loss of several men. The besiegers were then reinforced by a full regiment of Roundheads who were determined to win the castle. Hudson and his men resisted bravely but it was stormed after the gates were blown in using gunpowder. The defenders retreated to the tower and Dr Hudson ended up dangling from the ramparts. When the Roundheads found him dangling they cut off his hands sending him plunging into the moat below. He was then dragged from the moat and disembowelled and his tongue cut out. His body was buried at Denton, Northamptonshire. As a grisly postscript his tongue was paraded around local towns as a trophy and a warning not to oppose Parliament!

The New Lead-Free Cathedral Font Christened



According to the Cathedral registers, the font in the church was pulled down by Cromwellian troops. The registers state that it was 'puld downe, and the lead taken out of it by Cromwell's Souldyers.' A new font was ready for its first christening by November 1660. The first child to use the font was a girl named Hellen Austin on 7th November 1660. An elaborately carved font dating from the 13th century was rediscovered in 1820 in a canon's garden. It was unclear how long it had been in the garden and could possibly have been the one pulled down by Cromwell's soldiers. The lead in reference might have been an inner lining to the font. Knowing what we now do about lead, Hellen was lucky to to be the first child not to have a lead-lined christening.
W.D. Sweeting, Historical and Architectural Notes on the Parish Churches in and around Peterborough, (Whittaker and Co, 1868)
Photo credit:
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © J.Hannan-Briggs -

Transept Ceiling Painted



The north and south transept ceilings of Peterborough Cathedral are made of wood. The wooden boards have been placed together to form a pleasing diamond pattern, but these were never designed to be seen. The original medieval transept ceiling was completed between 1155 and 1175 on the request of Abbot William de Waterville. We know very little about the first ceiling other than the evidence of previous wooden beams. But it is thought the ceilings were divided into 12 panels and were likely to have been painted. The second transept ceiling was created in the early 13th century and crucially before the nave ceiling. It is possible the painters honed their skills on the transepts before attempting the nave ceiling. Some of the wooden boards that remain are from the 13th century, but the paint has been since removed. The paintwork appears to have followed the diamond pattern created by the boards and contained a stylised cross in the centre of the diamond. Restoration work to the ceiling revealed ghost or shadow outlines of some original shapes, from which this design was created. The ceiling was repaired and redecorated several times, which was left the residue of later painting. Several colours including black, white and brown were easily identified during restoration, but many others would have been used. A black and white image exists of the north transept ceiling prior to the rebuilding of the central tower. The image clearly shows a diamond pattern and suggests at a bold and bright design. Reference: Harrison, H, Peterborough Cathedral: The Transept Ceilings, Record of Treatment and Additional Investigations following a fire in the Cathedral on 22 November 2001, (The Perry Lithgow Partnership, 2002)