31 August 2015

‘But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There’s peace and holy quiet there …’

‘Stands the Church clock at ten to three?’ … the clock on the tower of Saint Andrew’s and Saint Mary’s Church, Grantchester, on Saturday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

I’m not yet sure whether the summer sunshine is gone for this week, but the rains began to come down yesterday afternoon [30 August 2015] as I strolled through Cambridge, and are still pouring down this morning [31 August 2015].

But it was a glorious summer afternoon on Saturday [29 August 2015], and two of us strolled from Trumpington through the countryside to the neighbouring village of Grantchester, made famous or popular by both Lord Byron and Rupert Brooke, later by Pink Floyd and the novelists Tom Sharpe and Jeffrey Archer, and more recently by James Runcie’s television drama series Grantchester.

But Grantchester long predates poets, popular culture, paperback novelists and television drama.

The area was long settled in prehistoric and Roman times and later by the Saxons, according to artefacts that show provide archaeological evidence of settlement in this area.

The Domesday Book offers evidence of life in 1086, and the parish church in Grantchester has some Norman stonework, although it dates mainly from the 14th and 15th century.

Grantchester village has been part of the life of Cambridge for centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The village of Grantchester has been part of the life of Cambridge for centuries. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, became the patron of the Parish Church of Saint Andrew and Saint Mary in 1352, and a century later, King’s College acquired the Lordship of the Manor. An underground passage is said to run from the Old Manor house to King’s College Chapel two miles away.

Both King’s College and Corpus Christ College, Cambridge, have maintained their influence on village life ever since, along with Merton College, Oxford, which also owned property in Grantchester until the 1960s.

Grantchester is said to have the world’s highest concentration of Nobel Prize winners, most of whom were or are academics at the University of Cambridge.

The parish church in Grantchester provided many of the locations for the ITV drama series (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The village and many of its inhabitants form the backdrop to the ITV drama series Grantchester, based on the novels by James Runcie, son of the Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury.

In the series, the Vicar of Grantchester is the Revd Sidney Chambers (James Norton), a former Scots Guards officer who is an amateur sleuth and who solves a series of mysteries from the 1950s until 1978.

Grantchester was the location for extensive filming for the series, and the interior of the Parish Church of Saint Andrew and Saint Mary and the churchyard were used for many of the scenes.

The apples are coming to full fruit in the Orchard in Grantchester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The apples are coming to full fruit in the Orchard, and as we queued for lunch there a few voices obviously thought they were among the first to ask: “And is there honey still for tea?”

The line from Rupert Brooke’s poem celebrates the place that first became popular in 1897, when a group of Cambridge students persuaded the owner of Orchard House to serve them tea in its apple orchard.

Those who stayed at Orchard House included the poet Rupert Brooke, who later moved next door to the Old Vicarage. While he was in Berlin in 1912, Rupert Brooke wrote of his homesickness in his poem The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. The house is now the home of the Cambridge scientist Mary Archer and her husband, the paperback novelist Jeffrey Archer.

Rupert Brooke is less than kind in his poem about the neighbouring villages and villagers, including Trumpington. But yes, I made my way back from the Orchard to the Church of Saint Andrew and Saint Mary on Saturday afternoon in that summer sunshine, and I found the answer to the poet’s questions: “yet Stands the Church clock at ten to three?”

An afternoon by the banks of the River Cam at Grantchester Meadows (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester

(Cafe des Westens, Berlin, May 1912)

Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room;
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow …
Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
– Oh, damn! I know it! and I know
How the May fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet,
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bathe …
‘Du lieber Gott!’

Here am I, sweating, sick, and hot,
And there the shadowed waters fresh
Lean up to embrace the naked flesh.
Temperamentvoll German Jews
Drink beer around; – and THERE the dews
Are soft beneath a morn of gold.
Here tulips bloom as they are told;
Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose;
And there the unregulated sun
Slopes down to rest when day is done,
And wakes a vague unpunctual star,
A slippered Hesper; and there are
Meads towards Haslingfield and Coton
Where das Betreten’s not verboten.

ειθε γενοιμην … would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! –
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad’s reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low: …
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool,
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespont, or Styx.
Dan Chaucer hears his river still
Chatter beneath a phantom mill.
Tennyson notes, with studious eye,
How Cambridge waters hurry by ...
And in that garden, black and white,
Creep whispers through the grass all night;
And spectral dance, before the dawn,
A hundred Vicars down the lawn;
Curates, long dust, will come and go
On lissom, clerical, printless toe;
And oft between the boughs is seen
The sly shade of a Rural Dean ...
Till, at a shiver in the skies,
Vanishing with Satanic cries,
The prim ecclesiastic rout
Leaves but a startled sleeper-out,
Grey heavens, the first bird’s drowsy calls,
The falling house that never falls.

God! I will pack, and take a train,
And get me to England once again!
For England’s the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of THAT district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
And Royston men in the far South
Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;
At Over they fling oaths at one,
And worse than oaths at Trumpington,
And Ditton girls are mean and dirty,
And there’s none in Harston under thirty,
And folks in Shelford and those parts
Have twisted lips and twisted hearts,
And Barton men make Cockney rhymes,
And Coton’s full of nameless crimes,
And things are done you’d not believe
At Madingley on Christmas Eve.
Strong men have run for miles and miles,
When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;
Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St. Ives;
Strong men have cried like babes, bydam,
To hear what happened at Babraham.
But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There’s peace and holy quiet there,
Great clouds along pacific skies,
And men and women with straight eyes,
Lithe children lovelier than a dream,
A bosky wood, a slumbrous stream,
And little kindly winds that creep
Round twilight corners, half asleep.
In Grantchester their skins are white;
They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
The women there do all they ought;
The men observe the Rules of Thought.
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I’m told) …

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
Anadyomene, silver-gold?
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? … oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, once the home of Rupert Brooke and now the home of Jeffrey Archer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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