Saturday, 25 February 2017

From Essex to Edward Thomas's Field

I spent yesterday walking in eastern Essex, around Rochford - not quite Essex badlands but with some of the salient features: straggling bungaloid growth, big brash houses behind pseudeo-baronial gates and railings, overextended roadhouse pubs with huge car parks, the odd breaker's yard, a brackish creek with boats rotting away at the moorings... However, the area also has a curious charm - a bleak kind of charm perhaps, but charm nonetheless. Wide views and tall skies, vast fields of turned clay, beds of wind-blown rushes, flocks of swans grazing, buzzards mewing, a scattering of pleasant old buildings - Georgian brick houses, clapboard cottages - surviving among the later excrescences. And there were several good-looking, homely churches of stone and brick on our route - the grandest and most handsome of them St Andrew, Rochford, pictured above.
  En route to the start of the walk, we breakfasted at an improbably located cafe in a small off-road industrial estate. The place was called Childerditch - a name that must resonate with any Edward Thomas fan.
 In April 1916, while convalescing from an illness, Thomas wrote a set of four 'Household Poems', of which the first is addressed to his elder daughter, Bronwen.

If I should ever by chance grow rich 
I'll buy Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch, 
Roses, Pyrgo, and Lapwater, 
And let them all to my elder daughter. 
The rent I shall ask of her will be only 
Each year's first violets, white and lonely, 
The first primroses and orchises-- 
She must find them before I do, that is. 
But if she finds a blossom on furze 
Without rent they shall all forever be hers, 
Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch, 
Roses, Pyrgo, and Lapwater,-- 
I shall give them all to my elder daughter. 

The original of this sweet, musical poem, in Thomas's hand, survived among his documents - you can see it here. The Childerditch he was thinking of was a field, of course, and far from Essex.