Round The Square And Up The Tower. Teresa Howard.

 

Clifford Chambers, Warwickshire by the Hosking Houses Trust.

http://www.hoskinghouses.co.uk/

An Arial view of Clifford Chambers, by John Miller, 1998

An Arial view of Clifford Chambers, by John Miller, 1998.

‘Dear Clifford’s seat (the place of health and sport)

Which many a time hath been the Muse’s quiet port’

Michael Drayton, from the Poli-Olbion, book ivx, 1612-22

The Hosking Houses Trust is a charity created by Sarah Hosking, to offer writing residencies for ‘women writers over the age of forty, of established merit who need a period of financially protected domestic peace in which to start, continue or complete innovative work about any subject.’  The Trust provides writers with a beautiful cottage for 2-3 months in The Square, Clifford Chambers – an exquisite village, over the fields from Shakespeare’s Stratford-Upon-Avon.

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Sarah Hosking sitting in her boat on the river Stour with her cockerel Sebastian Flyte in her arms. Photo by Hugo Glendinning.

The post holds no imposed duties, other than working on your commission, and as well as the run of the cottage, writers are given a stipend of £750 per month to live on, use of a bicycle and a rowing boat and logs for the fire.

The Trust’s inspiration is taken from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own:  ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’  The Hosking Houses Trust have given many women this gift of precious time away from their all so demanding lives.

Last spring I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of these writers.  I used my three months in the cottage to do some of my best work on a new musical, based on Dodie Smith’s classic novel I Capture the Castle, for a production planned to open at Watford Palace Theatre in 2015.

During the residency I wrote about my experience on a blog called From the Room http://thowardsite.wordpress.com/

The Hosking Houses Trust have now published a remarkable book about the village of Clifford Chambers, called Round the Square and Up the Tower, in support of their work.  This book is written from the heart of all that is England. It has echoes of Ronald Blythe’s Akenfield and Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie. It is no accident then that they have chosen Vanessa Whitburn, who edited the Archers for twenty one years, to write the Foreword.  The Archers, which began as a pilot in 1950, is the longest running soap opera in the world, in any format, and set in a fictional English farming village called Ambridge, not so very different from Clifford Chambers.

The eminent writers contributing to the book are: Sarah Hosking – designer and arts administrator (founder of the Hosking Houses Trust); Paul Edmondson – Head of Research and Knowledge at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (Chairman of the HHT); Sally Abell – village resident and journalist; Nat Alcock – Emeritus Reader at Warwick University and member of the Society of Antiquaries; Stefan Buczacki – author of over fifty books on natural history and biography; John Cheal – Church Warden and Verger of Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-Upon-Avon who contributed to photographs; Val Horsler – worked for thirty years in archaeological publishing for the Council of British Archaeology and English Heritage; Roger Pringle – former director of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and author of many books about Shakespeare and his world.

This erudite band of writers have produced a perfect treasure chest of interesting facts and observations about this 21st century village, which began its life in Anglo-Saxon times, nestled beside the River Stour. They discuss the history, geography, the river, the church of St Helen, the people who lived there and how they lived, the poet Michael Drayton who spent a lot of time there visiting his muse in the Manor as well as Mr Shakespeare up the road, the Hungarian born designer and printer Tibor Reich who lived in the Lower Mill and whose dramatic hangings still adorn the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, intricate investigations of the village buildings as well as the socio-economic context of the village.

NPG 776; Michael Drayton by Unknown artist

Michael Drayton by Unknown Artist 1599.

The writers are scholarly and have worked like history detectives to gather as much information as possible about Clifford Chambers. They even made Dendrochronological tests of the beams of the oldest looking houses.  This led to some surprising information, showing that their own Hosking Houses Trust cottage at number 35, was one of the oldest houses in the Square.  It also revealed that the Old Rectory, beside the Church, was probably built in 1434, because tests showed that its timbers had been felled in 1433-4!

The book is also chock full of poignant poetry and salient quotations from writers inspired by the countryside including Wendy Cope (who also had a HHT residency at The Cottage), Andrew Motion, Larkrise to Candleford’s Flora Thompson, Virginia Woolf, Michael Drayton, Marie Corelli, Owen Meredith, Philip Larkin, Stevie Smith and L.P. Hartley.

‘What is the use of a book without pictures?’ cried Alice in Alice in Wonderland.

The illustrations and photographs of the village both past and present, help to make this a particularly special document. In fact the whole production of this A4 sized paperback is exceptional, but how could it not be with Sarah Hosking’s painterly eye overseeing it.  The colour, feel and layout are so pleasing, and the attention to every detail so engaging.

The Square, Clifford Chambers from the Peppitt collection.

The Square, Clifford Chambers from the Peppitt collection.

This is a book to treasure, whether you know the village or not.

The idea of a village to nurture and protect people has not been lost in our subconscious, even if they were places of hardship and poverty in the past. We continue to build and build and extend our towns but somewhere we hold this idea of the village safe in our breasts and have started building retirement villages for our elderly. Even during my short stay in Clifford Chambers I felt its closeness and support – when I found a dead pheasant, I didn’t need to phone someone, there was John round the corner, happy and willing to collect the dead bird and take it off to the ‘lads’ (who were all of 40) who would hang it and pluck it and put it to good use on someone’s table.

As idyllic and picturesque as the village is we discover in the book that many of the old local trades like the coffin maker and the cobbler have disappeared, along with the school and the shop.  Local duties, like delivering babies and digging ditches are no longer done with good will and for free.  It is no longer the self-supporting village it was created to be, but at least it is preserved by the present owners and we can see a glimpse of its old beauty.  This at least is something.  And the Hosking Houses Trust themselves have enriched the cultural life of the village by bringing in writers, and offering it as muse yet again, as it was to Drayton all those many years ago.

The English countryside still fights to have its voice heard in the Capital.  Urban life has become increasingly cut off from the countryside, its needs and its gifts.  These days we also look with horror at miles and miles of fields lying under water and wonder what is to become of this green and pleasant land. For the future of this village I will leave you with the final sentence from the book:

‘Call it Gaia or call it Arcadia or call it strong brown river god, to ‘worship’ means to respect the worth of, and whether we respect the worth of this particular bit of land with enough intelligence and altruism, is the question we leave for the future to answer.’

No 31 & 32 The Square before 1905.

No 31 & 32 The Square before 1905.

The Hosking Houses Trust has been supported by some wonderful people like: Emma Thompson, Valerie Grove, Joan Bakewell, Margaret Drabble, Harriet Walter, Michael Holroyd, Christopher Hampton and Harold Pinter.  To add your name to the list of donors for this very special charity follow this link:

http://www.hoskinghouses.co.uk/Giving.htm

ROUND THE SQUARE AND UP THE TOWER

Clifford Chambers, Warwickshire

ISBN: 978-0-9573142-2-1

Commissioned, conducted and published by the Hosking Houses Trust will soon be available on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Round-Square-Up-Tower-Warwickshire/dp/0957314221/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392215750&sr=8-1&keywords=round+the+square+and+up+the+tower

It can also be obtained from Sarah Hosking herself:

sarahhosking@btinternet.com

Price £9.00.

Teresa Howard © 2014.

Blog: http://thowardsite.wordpress.com/