John Clare was born on 13 July 1793 in the thatched cottage next to the Bluebell Inn on Woodgate, Helpston and died in the Northampton county asylum on 20 May 1864.
From a humble background working as a labourer, pot boy in the Bluebell Inn and lime burner at Pickworth quarry, he became a celebrated poet in his own life time, fell into obscurity and died in a lunatic asylum.
Recently his reputation has been restored and he is recognised as one of the key poetic voices of the English countryside, capturing the essence of village life and the wonder of nature.
Clare described his fascination with nature – and its religious overtones – in one of his own poems
He loved the brook’s soft sound
The swallow swimming by:
He loved the daisy-covered ground,
The clould-bedappled sky.
To him the dismal storm appeared
The very voice of God,
And where the evening rock was reared
Stood Moses with his rod.
And everything his eyes surveyed,
The insects i’ the brake
Were creatures God almighty made:
He loved them for his sake
A silent man in life’s affairs
A thinker from a boy,
A peasant in his daily cares –
The poet in his joy
Clare is intimately associated with the village of Helpston. Many of Clare’s poems capture the sights and sounds of village life and of the surrounding countryside, depicting specific places, animals, flowers and birds.
Hail humble Helpstone! Where thy valleys spread
And thy mean village life lifts its lowly head
Unknown to grandeur and unknown to fame
No minstrel boasting to advance they name
Unletter’d sport! Unheard in poets song
Where bustling Labour drives the hours along
Where dawning Genius never met the day
Where useless Ignorance slumbers life away
Today’s village bears testimony to the strength of those links. The cottage in which he was born is now run by an educational and environmental trust. A monument to the poet sits on the village green and every year the John Clare Society celebrates an annual festival in the village whilst the children of John Clare School lay floral tributes on his grave in St Botolph’s churchyard. Outside the village the Langdyke Countryside Trust has recently restored Clare’s Swordy Well, creating a community nature reserve at the present day Swaddywell pit.