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Twickenham Poetry Walk with Friends of Geffrye Museum

June 14, 2012

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The Geffrye Museum, Museum of the Home, is based in Hackney and my friend Annie has been a Friend and involved in the museum’s activities for many years. When the Friends set up a walk in Twickenham, following a route to take in some of its most famous poet inhabitants, she thought I’d like to go along too.

Despite the inclement weather yesterday a good number of us turned up at St Margarets station at lunchtime to begin the two-hour walk through Twickenham and finishing in Teddington. As regular readers of this blog will realise, The Single Gourmet Traveller wasn’t doing much travelling yesterday – this is where I live. But I added the new category ‘My Local Area’ to the blog a little while ago as it’s rich in fascinating history, glorious architecture and beautiful open spaces and I felt it deserved a whole section to itself. When Annie invited me on the walk, it seemed the ideal opportunity to write another post.

From St Margarets station we made our way down Crown Road to the edge of Marble Hill Park and walked down Montpelier Row. Marble Hill House, a lovely Palladian villa, was built in the 18th century by King George II for his mistress, Henrietta Howard, and intended as an Arcadian retreat from London. Montpelier Row is a stunningly beautiful row of genuine Georgian houses that were built for the Court. Alfred Lord Tennyson was a resident at No.15 between 1851 and 1853, just after he’d been appointed Poet Laureate.

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The walk was led by actor Lance Pierson and poet and former journalist, Barrie Armstrong – a resident on nearby Eel Pie Island. After giving us a bit of background to Tennyson and his time in Twickenham, they read three of his poems. It was a wonderful experience to have their voices bringing the poems to life in this setting. (As an addition to the poetry link here, it’s also worth mentioning that the house has more recently been owned by Pete Townshend of The Who fame.)

We then walked down Orleans Road and through a side gate into Marble Hill Park where we looked back towards Montpelier Row and the end house – South End House – where Walter de la Mare lived from 1940 until his death in 1956, in an apartment on the top two storeys. Lance told us a story about the poet being told off in the war years for leaving a light brightly shining from his window during the blackout.

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De la Mare is reputed to have said that Twickenham was London’s loveliest suburb. He certainly had one of the best views in it, stretching across the gardens of Marble Hill House towards the Thames with Ham and Petersham beyond. As we stood and looked towards the house, Lance, in his wonderful strong actor’s voice gave us a magnificent recital of ‘The Listeners’: ‘”Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller, Knocking on the moonlit door’. Lance said no one had ever answered him in the time he’d been doing this walk, but as his voice rung in the air, I did wonder if someone might!

For our next stop and poet, we made our way down to the river at the edge of Marble Hill Park, close to Orleans House, where Lance read John Donne’s poem, ‘Twicknam Garden’ (Twicknam being an old spelling and not my bad typing!).

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Donne (1572-1631) wasn’t ever a resident of Twickenham but visited often to see the Countess of Bedford. Twickenham Gardens as such no longer exists but it was an appropriate place to pause for the poem.

The walk from here, along Riverside, occasionally coming close to the edge of the river, is full of magnificent architecture. We passed The White Swan pub on the right and saw Eel Pie Island to the left, famous back in the sixties for being where pop groups such as the Rolling Stones and The Who first played. Now there are many artists and crafts people with studios living and working there. We made our way into St Mary’s Church, stopping first in the graveyard where we were shown a plaque that Alexander Pope had made in memory of his wet nurse, Mary Beach.

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It is thought that Pope, who was crippled by spinal tuberculosis and only reached an adult height of 4 feet 6 inches, contracted the disease from Mary through her milk. However, he remained devoted to her and she to him, till the end of her life.

Moving inside the church, we learned that Pope, a Roman Catholic, moved to Twickenham in 1719 as Catholics couldn’t reside within a ten-mile radius of the City of London. He is buried in the church. Barrie read one of Pope’s poems and told us he was the voice of conscience and morality in his time and much respected.

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It was fascinating for me to find out more about my local area as it’s hard to live in Twickenham and not be aware of Pope, with many roads named after him, but I didn’t know much behind the name. Moving on, and now cheating slightly for a ‘walk’ by taking the R68 bus down Cross Deep to Teddington, we passed the Alexander Pope pub and hotel to the right, roads such as Pope’s Grove and on the left, Radnor Gardens reaching down to the river and where Pope’s Grotto is situated. His villa, which was on the opposite side of the road, no longer exists.

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Our final destination was St Mary with St Alban Church, Teddington.

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This church has links with the 17th century poet and mystic Thomas Traherne, and it is where he is buried. Four stained-glass windows celebrate his connection to the church and Barrie, reading one of his poems, told us of Traherne’s wonder at the simplicity of childhood; how this metaphysical poet celebrated the innocence of childhood and nature in his works.

It was a brilliant walk. I really enjoyed it; a lovely group of people but the whole thing brought to life by Lance and Barrie. After we’d said our goodbyes, Annie and I headed back on foot through Teddington towards Twickenham Green and my home, passing – almost inevitably – a few more Alexander Pope references along the way. I’ve lived in this area for well over twenty years now but it was great to learn a little bit more about it.

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