On Saturday we did the first stage of our John Betjeman trail – tracing the life of the much loved 20th century poet from London, through Oxford and Marlborough to Cornwall, using his autobiographical ‘Summoned by Bells’ as our guide.
As has been the way of things recently, it was raining when we set off for London and it continued showery for most of the day. We started our sojourn, as you would expect, at the ‘feet of the master’ himself – visiting the modest but lively bronze statue of him on the upper level of St Pancras station.
Next stop was to see his London residence, where he lived and worked as a writer, journalist and poet – a small apartment in Cloth Fair, above what is now a rather trendy Vegetarian restaurant. Then on to his fathers ‘Works’ a collection of workshops straddling Pentonville Road and White Lion Street, just around the corner from the Angel.
After an early lunch and a chance to dry off at the popular Pizza East, Kentish Town “where London began‘ in Betjeman’s youth, we did the sites in Highgate. First stop was 52, Parliament Hill Mansions, where he spent his early years. Then on up Highgate West Hill, past St Anne’s church where he was baptised ( and where, coincidentally, we where summoned by bells!) and on to No. 31, overlooking the Holly Lodge estate, built on the site of the former Burdett-Coutts estate and where John spent his early youth, before being sent to the Dragon school in Oxford. Final stop was Highgate cemetery where we made fruitless enquiries as to the location of the family grave. (If anyone has a location/plot number I’d be very grateful if you could post it on this blog!)
JB on St Pancras station
The ‘blue plaque’ on the wall of the apartment in Cloth Fair
Betjeman’s London residence
The ‘Works’ on Pentonville Road, where his father hoped John would follow in his footsteps
Entrance to the block of flats on Lissenden Gardens where John Betjeman spent his early infancy
Details of the tiles in the entrance way of 52, Parliament Hill Mansions
No 31, the family home on West Hill, Highgate
Part of the Holly Lodge estate, built on the site of the former Burdett-Coutts estate – home of Angela Burdett, the ‘richest heiress in England’ and the subject of Dickens’ dedication in Martin Chuzzlewit, viewable by the young Betjeman, from his ‘eyrie’ in No 31, West Hill
Entrance to the older Holly Village, off Swains Lane
Difficult to believe that this rural idyl is only a few miles from the City
So concluded the first leg of our John Betjeman trail. Off now to read again his autobiography and plan the next and longer trip to Oxford, Marlborough and beyond…