Twenty seventeen was the Year Of Literary Heroes and Visit England has been encouraging communities to promote their local authors. Enfield has rich associations with writers, poets and essayists so here’s where to discover our literary heritage. By Joe Studman
All Saints Church in Edmonton has been celebrating Charles Lamb in June at “The Lamb Festival” with a week long series of events. Famous for his “Essays of Elia” and “Tales of Shakespeare” (written with his sister Mary) Lamb is buried in All Saints Churchyard.
Although Londoners Charles & Mary Lamb had holidayed at Clarendon Cottage, in Gentleman’s Row in 1825 and were so taken with the parish they took a lease on The Poplars in Chase Side two years later. Unfortunately Lamb soon tired of his rural idyll not helped by his sister’s lapses into derangement. They relocated to the adjacent cottage to live as guests of the Westwood family (still known as Westwood Cottage) but fell out with them and spent the last eighteen months of his life living in Church Street, Edmonton in what is now known as Lamb’s Cottage. All these buildings are still standing.
Although 20 years younger John Keats would have known Charles Lamb through their publisher but this tragic poet died before Lamb came to Enfield, so they would not have been neighbours. Keats was born in Moorgate but was educated at a school where Enfield Town Station now stands. The building was replaced in 1872 but the facade was rescued and survives in The V&A museum. It was during his stay at Cowden Clarke’s school that Keats father died falling from a horse after visiting the eight year old. At the age of 14, Keats lost his mother to consumption and had to end his education.
His grandparents had retired to Church Street, Edmonton and secured their grandson an apprenticeship with a local apothecary Thomas Hammond. A blue plaque, appropriately above a pharmacy, in Church Street acknowledges the Keats connection. Although the impetuous Keats fell out with Hammond and finished his apprenticeship at Guy’s Hospital he remained in touch with Charles Cowden Clarke, the School teacher’s son, who is credited with inspiring Keats to write poetry.
Now considered one our finest Romantic poets, Keats suffered from mixed reviews and poor sales in his lifetime. He watched his younger brother die from consumption and recognised the symptoms in his own body. He decamped to Rome hoping warmer climes would heal his condition but he died in a flat
on the Spanish Steps in 1821. He was 25 years old.
Apart from inspiring Keats, Charles Cowden Clarke was an author and Shakespeare scholar. Born at his father’s school before the trains rumbled in he married Mary Novello (another author and scholar) and amusingly honeymooned at the old Greyhound Inn which stood where Barclays Bank now stands in Enfield Town.
Enfield Grammar School boasts Walter Pater, who lived on Chase Green, Norman Lewis, whose mischievous memories of Forty Hill are recorded in Jackdaw Cake and more recently Jim Crace among its former pupils.
Charles Lamb encouraged Thomas Hood to move to Vicars Moor Lane and often walked over to Winchmore Hill to visit him. Unfortunately, the house was bombed in 1941 but a blue plaque recognises Hood’s stay there and his poem “Our Village” is considered to be inspired by Winchmore Hill Green.
Contemporary and familiar with all the above was James Leigh Hunt. Born in Southgate he is most famous for serving a prison sentence for libelling the then Prince Regent (later George 1V). This made him a hero in the eyes of John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley but Hunt never became a literary giant. He edited The Examiner and had minor success as a poet and author. In later life he suffered the indignity of being lampooned by the Dickens character Harold Skimpole in Bleak House. A blue plaque erected by Southgate District Civic Trust marks his birthplace in High Street, Southgate.
Are there are any budding writers in Enfield, just waiting to be discovered, that future generations will honour with a plaque?
by Joe Studman JayWalks