Yes. I remember Adlestrop –
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.Edward Thomas
How many of you have had to learn a poem by heart as a child? It’s strange that something that was perhaps a chore at the time can become a fond memory, especially if we grow to love the poem.
One of the most often learned English poems might just be Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop, first published in 1917. The poem describes an uneventful journey Thomas took on 23 June 1914 on an Oxford to Worcester express. Like several other poets, he is closely associated with the First World War period. But unlike them he wrote mostly, not of the war, but of the England for which he believed the soldiers were fighting. His is possibly a rather idealised picture of a pastoral idyll that was already being changed by industrialisation. However, even today pockets of his England remain; and unspoiled Adlestrop is one of them.
The full poem reads:
Yes. I remember Adlestrop - The name, because one afternoon Of heat the express-train drew up there Unwontedly. It was late June. The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat. No one left and no one came On the bare platform. What I saw Was Adlestrop – only the name And willows, willow-herb, and grass, And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry, No whit less still and lonely fair Than the high cloudlets in the sky. And for that minute a blackbird sang Close by, and round him, mistier, Farther and farther, all the birds Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
The station where Thomas’s train stopped is long gone, demolished soon after it was closed in January 1966. Today one of the station seats is in use at a bus shelter near the entrance to the village; above it is a sign from the railway station.
Adlestrop is for me one of the loveliest of Cotswold villages; and it’s all the lovelier because very few people seem to know it or come here, despite the poem. There is perhaps not much of note here, but that is part of its charm. A sleepy village street, lined with chocolate-box-pretty cottages; a thatched village shop still surviving when many in the country have sadly closed; a small green and a cricket pitch.
This is the England that someone who has never been here might conjure up from old movies, thinking that most of us live in just such a place (although in fact only 80 people inhabit this tiny village). If you have an image of a perfect English village in your head and want to bring it to life, Adlestrop could be the place for you.
Another literary connection
The village also has another literary connection, with one of my favourite novelists, Jane Austen. She is known to have visited at least three times between 1794 and 1806 when Rev. Thomas Leigh, her mother’s cousin, was vicar, living at the Old Rectory. Jane Austen is thought to have drawn inspiration from the village and its surroundings for her novel Mansfield Park. The rectory is now known as Adlestrop House and is just by the churchyard.
Although it’s not open to the public it’s possible to peer through the gates and get a sense of the lovely views it commands – views that must be largely unchanged since Austen’s time.
St. Mary Magdalene
St. Mary Magdalene’s church in Adlestrop sits on a knoll at the end of the village street, which here turns into a track. The tower is the first thing to catch the eye. This is 14th century, and consists of three stages, with the lowest serving as the church porch. Much of the rest of church was rebuilt between 1750 and 1764, though so sympathetically that the building retains much of its earlier feel.
The oldest part is the 13th century chancel arch, on either side of which are two 18th century memorials set high into the wall. These are to members of the Leigh family, relatives of Jane Austen’s mother. Other reminders of the same family can be found elsewhere in the church, including gravestones set into the floor of the chancel and memorial windows.
Talking of windows, many of them have lovely stained glass, and were looking especially good on the sunny day when we last visited.
The peaceful churchyard has some 17th century chest tombs, a cast iron entry gate and lantern which commemorates Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and a sundial built to commemorate the golden jubilee of Queen Elizabeth in 2002. A rare Elizabethan memorial (from 1594) is built into the exterior south wall of the chancel.
From this churchyard you can look past Adlestrop House to the beautiful rolling hills beyond – the view in my right-hand photo above. I like to stand here and think that Jane Austen too would have stood and admired this very same view, perhaps after attending a service taken by her mother’s cousin. And you can’t get more quintessentially English than that!
Earlier this year my blogging friend Mari took A Walk for Edward Thomas. This post is for her as well as for him. I’ll finish with another of his poems that I love:
Tall Nettles Tall nettles cover up, as they have done These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough Long worn out, and the roller made of stone: Only the elm butt tops the nettles now. This corner of the farmyard I like most: As well as any bloom upon a flower I like the dust on the nettles, never lost Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.
I have visited Adlestrop a number of times. These are fairly old photos, taken I think in 2008