The poet Sir John Betjeman lived in The Old Rectory (1945 - 1951), a lovely 18th century country house in the small village Farnborough (with only 70 inhabitants today), "which was chosen by experts at Country Life magazine for its "quite exceptional" architecture, beautifully-kept gardens and spectacular views over the Berkshire Downs. The Old Rectory's 4 acre garden is divided into rooms and there are herbaceous borders, woodland and a pool. The garden is open to the public under the National Garden scheme."
I was really impressed with these wonderful garden rooms and the hospitality of the lady who welcomed us with some refresahments (the best fruit cake I ever enjoyed). I especially loved walking the path through the highly fragrant wild garlic wood with view down on a valley and a pond - and I loved the white doves sitting on the roof, symbols of peace and hope (see also the horse shoes). Yes, this place might be a kind of paradise on earth as I said to the owner lady, and she noded her head.
But when the couple, John Betjeman and his wife, arrived there, this country house, owned by the church until 1945, "had no electricity or running water and the poet described it as "dirty; but classy looking inside". He later boasted that the top floor of the house was the highest inhabited place in Berkshire.
Betjeman, who later became Poet Laureate, also believed he and his wife were single-handedly keeping the village together. He wrote to fellow writer Evelyn Waugh in 1947: "In villages people still follow a lead and we are the only people here who will give a lead. I know that to desert this wounded and neglected church would be to betray Our Lord."
One of John Betjeman's best poems:
The bear who sits above my bed
A doleful bear he is to see;
From out his drooping pear-shaped head
His woollen eyes look into me.
He has no mouth, but seems to say:
‘They’ll burn you on the Judgement Day.’
Those woollen eyes, the things they’ve seen;
Those flannel ears, the things they’ve heard—
Among horse-chestnut fans of green
The fluting on an April bird,
And quarrelling downstairs until
Doors slammed at Thirty One West Hill.
The dreaded evening keyhole scratch
Announcing some return below,
The nursery landing’s lifted latch,
The punishment to undergo:
Still I could smooth those half-moon ears
And wet that forehead with my tears.
Whatever rush to catch a train,
Whatever joy there was to share
Of sounding sea-board, rainbowed rain,
Or seaweed-scented Cornish air,
Sharing the laughs, you still were there,
You ugly, unrepentant bear.
When nine, I hid you in a loft
And dared not let you share my bed;
My father would have thought me soft,
Or so, at least, my mother said.
She only then our secret knew,
And thus my guilty passion grew.
The bear who sits above my bed
More agèd now is he to see:
His woollen eyes have thinner thread,
But still he seems to say to me,
In double-doom notes, like a knell:
‘You’re half a century nearer Hell.’
Self-pity shrouds me in a mist,
And drowns me in my self-esteem.
The freckled faces I have kissed
Float by me in a guilty dream.
The only constant, sitting there,
Patient and hairless, is a bear.
And if an analyst one day
Of school of Adler, Jung, or Freud
Should take this agèd bear away,
Then, oh my God, the dreadful void!
Its draughty darkness could but be
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