A couple of weeks ago we completed part two of our ‘self made’ John Betjeman tour, taking in locations of his schooling, summer holidays, university, marital homes and his final years. We stayed at the Race Horse Inn, North Hill and the Parklands hotel, Osbourne St. George, both excellent establishments – the latter being well situated for anyone doing the Ridgeway long distance footpath.
To begin with, the Dragon School in north Oxford, where John was a boarder.
He then moved on to Marlborough College, where he enjoyed less happy times
The chapel at Marlborough which was ‘centre of school life’ and provided JB with some respite from the bullying regime
From Marlborough we travel to Trebetherick on the north Cornish coast, the place of childhood holidays and his later years. Treen Cottage, in the same vicinity as his childhood holiday cottage, overlooks the golf course and St Enodocs church – John’s final resting place
Views of Pentire Point from Greenaway – the strip of coast connecting Trebetherick with Polzeath and location of many of JB’s happy holiday exploits
Greenaway from Pentire, looking towards Rock and Padstow, with Stepper Point off to the right
The modern pedestrian ferry which runs between Rock and Padstow
In nearby Wadebridge, in the former railway station buildings, is the John Betjeman Centre, with a room dedicated to his life and filled with artefacts and memorabilia from his house in Trebetherick. It’s a ‘must see’ on a tour of this nature though the actual place has more of a feel of a day care centre than a focal point for Betjeman fans!
A collection of artefacts from Treen, his cottage in Trebetherick, at the time of his death in 1984
John spent much of his later school holidays on his bike, armed with a one inch map, exploring the churches of this part of North Cornwall… ‘One of them that year so worked on me that, if my life was changed, I owe it to St Ervan and his priest’
Extract from ‘Summoned by Bells’, in the ‘hidden’ church of St Ervan
The former Rectory of St Ervan
From Marlborough John went to Magdalen College, Oxford, to read English
JB failed his degree and took up various appointments as journalist/correspondent and during the war, working for The Ministry of Information, as an attache in Dublin. He married Penelope, daughter of Field Marshall Lord Chetwode, in 1933. They lived at Garrard’s Farm in Uffington, Berkshire
Tom Brown’s School museum has an interesting display about the Betjemans lives during their time at Uffington, as well as an extensive archive of private correspondence and papers. Candida, his daughter, still lives in the village.
At the end of the war the owner of Garrard’s farmhouse required it back and the Betjemans moved to the nearby Old Rectory, Farnborough – bought by John’s father-in-law.
As an interesting footnote, Country Life ran a competition in 2008 to find the finest English parsonage – Farnborough won, and our current house was selected as regional runner-up!
After his time in London, living in Cloth Fair and Chelsea, with Lady Elizabeth Cavendish- his ‘beloved second wife’, JB returned to Cornwall and saw out his days at Treen.
He died on 19th May, 1984, and was buried in the church of St Enodoc.
John Betjeman, 1906 – 1984. A life filled with women, poetry, architecture, trains, and doubt……