Brooke, Burton, Binyon and the Bare Blue Hill

Dorothy Hemsworth

Many people today would profess not to enjoy poetry, and, indeed, not to know any, but there surely can be few who are unfamiliar with at least two quotations which readily spring to mind. The first of these is;

Stands the church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?

and the second is;

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The first poem is by Rupert Brooke (1887-1915), and these are the last two lines of 'The Old Vicarage, Grantchester'. Brooke went up to Cambridge in 1909 and lodged at Orchard House, Grantchester, after graduating from King's College. Whilst on holiday in Berlin in 1912 he was suffering from a bout of homesickness, and in nostalgic mood he described the idyllic surroundings of his life in the village in the above named poem. On his return to England he took rooms in the Vicarage itself until his enlistment as a soldier in the Great War, which was to claim his life in 1915. So, although Brooke's name is irrevocably linked with Grantchester Old Vicarage, the link was in fact fairly tenuous.

My second quotation is the fourth verse of the six-verse poem 'For the Fallen', which was written in September 1914, by Laurence Binyon (1869-1943).


Plaque to Binyon in the porch of the Old Vicarage drawing by Diana Kaneps


There are many similarities in the lives of Brooke and Binyon: they were contemporaries (although Binyon was born eighteen years before Brooke, and out-lived him by twenty-eight years); They were both Oxbridge-educated; both served in the Great War and wrote poetry during and about it; both had a 'vicarage connection. In the case of Binyon, however, this was much more local to us in North Craven, the vicarage concerned being that at Burton in Lonsdale.

In the second half of the nineteenth century Burton in Lonsdale was quite a prosperous village, mostly due to the manufacture of pottery at several kilns, using the particularly dark local clay. There are two schools of thought as to why the village was often known as 'Black Burton', one being the colour of the clay in use, the other because of the colour of the smoke which poured from the kiln chimneys. At that time there were no fewer than nine local inns to serve the thirsty pottery workers, but only a Chapel-of-Ease to tend to their spiritual needs. The Reverend Frederick Binyon was appointed vicar of the village in 1867, when the proposed church and vicarage were only in the planning stages. Thus it was that Frederick and his wife, Mary, moved into lodgings in nearby Lancaster, where their second son, Laurence, was born in 1869. The baby was christened at the Chapel-of-Ease in Burton, and the family moved into the newly completed vicarage in 1870. This house, like the vicarage in Grantchester, is one of the most impressive buildings in the village. It stands behind the school on a rise, with spectacular views over the surrounding countryside of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Westmorland. Designed by the respected ecclesiastical architects Paley and Austin, it was built of stone from a nearby quarry. A first-floor room, one of the original seven bedrooms, was chosen as Laurence's nursery and evidence still remains of iron bars across the outside of the low sash window.

The house served its original purpose as a vicarage for just over 100 years until 1974, when it was converted into an elevcn-bedroomed nursing-home. I have spoken to the Rev. Charles Trevor, who lived in the house from 1966-1974, the last vicar so to do. Charles and his wife, Liz., raised six children there and confirmed what a superb place it was for family life. They have very fond memories of their time there and particularly enjoyed the views from the windows on all sides of the property, overlooking Ingleborough, the Bowland Fells and the Lune Valley.

At the time of writing the nursing-home is up for sale and it is hoped that it may be converted back to a family house. One of the last of the village's potters designed and made a plaque commemorating Binyon and this has been placed at one end of the house in the main entrance.

Laurence Binyon only lived at Burton in Lonsdale for the first five years of his childhood, but a deep impression was made on him which lasted his whole life through. In a letter to the (then) Town Clerk of Lancaster he wrote; 'My first memories are of Ingleborough, which we could see from our house...' and it was this fell which inspired his poem 'Inheritance' which begins;

To a bare, blue hill
Wings an old thought roaming
At a random touch
Of memory homing...

The final verse is,

Beautiful, dark and solitary,
The first of England
That spoke to me.

Binyon was educated at St. Paul's School, London, and Trinity College, Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Prize for his poem 'Persephone' in 1890. On leaving Oxford he took a post in the British Museum Printed Books Dept. and there followed a distinguished career. From 1913-1933 he was in charge of Oriental Prints and Paintings, and he published many books on art, chiefly English and Oriental. His 'Painting in the Far East' (1908) was the first European treatise on this subject and it is still a classic. He followed this with 'Japanese Art' (1909), 'Botticelli' (1913), 'Drawings and Engravings of William Blake' (1922), 'Landscape in English Art and Poetry' (1931), 'The Spirit of Man in Asian Art' (1935) and writings on English watercolours. Binyon also wrote plays, including 'Attila' (1907), 'Flight of the Dragon' (1911) and 'Arthur' (1923), but it is as a poet that he will mainly be remembered.

At 45 years of age Binyon was too old for conscription into the First World War, but reacting to the horrific carnage at the battle of Mons (23/8/1914) he wrote 'For the Fallen', which was first published in The Times on 21st September, 1914. He became a nursing orderly in France and from 1915 onwards worked alongside his friend, John Masefield (who later was to be made Poet Laureate). Working with the wounded and dying was a devastating experience which affected him deeply and led to the writing of many war poems (e.g., 'The Healers', 'Fetching the Wounded), so although not a 'soldier poet' as was Rupert Brooke, he will always be remembered as a 'war poet'. His 'For the Fallen' won immediate recognition as the expression of the feelings of a disillusioned generation, and is much anthologised. It was set to music by Edward Elgar as part of 'Spirit of England', a group of three choral settings which were first performed in Leeds on May 4th, 1916 and in London on May 7th. The manuscript of 'For the Fallen' was signed and given to his home town library, and when the fourth verse was chosen to be quoted at every service of remembrance it ensured that the memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice for their country would be kept strong. The verse is also quoted in stone at the doors of his work-place, the British Museum, and on War Memorials, in full or in part, in cities, towns, villages and hamlets throughout the land.


A rare photograph of Laurence Binyon, aged 17

Binyon continued to write books on art, drama and poetry, publishing a verse translation of Dante's Divine Comedy in three parts, in 1933, 1938 and 1943, the year of his death. In 1940, he wrote 'Airmen from Overseas', a poignant poem written as a tribute to all the Allied fliers during the Battle of Britain.

The work of this multi-talented man did not go un-noticed and the honours bestowed on him included: Companion of Honour (1932), Hon. Doctor of Literature at Oxford (1933), Hon. Fellow of Trinity College (1933), Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and President of the English Association (1933-1934). In recognition of his work in the First World War he was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour.

Laurence Binyon died in Reading on March 10th, 1943, aged seventy-three, having lived a full and fruitful life in many parts of this country and in France, America, China and Japan. It is a heart-warming thought that to his end he still had fond memories of a Yorkshire vicarage with its view of his 'bare, blue hill', -the Ingleborough which we in the North Craven Heritage Trust all know and love.


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Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature.

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