Life of Peterborough’s Peasant Poet celebrated at festival

The life and work of one of Peterborough’s most famous sons was celebrated at a colourful festival.

Wednesday, 17th July 2019, 4:52 pm
John Clare Festival at Helpston. Jo Snow, Carolyn French and Jan James from the Beauvale Ensemble EMN-190714-093205009

The annual John Clare Festival took place last weekend in Helpston, where the ‘peasant poet’ lived. John was born on July 13, 1793, and is now recognised as one of the greatest poets of his time. The festival started with the traditional midsummer cushion ceremony, where children laid flowers planted in trays, which are known as midsummer cushions, at his graveside. The children from the John Clare Primary School in Helpston also wrote poems themed around birds in the area. Ann Marshall, from the John Clare Society, said the poet was more relevant than ever, She said: “He was very mindful of the environment and not destroying things that are precious. I think he would be sitting and weeping now about what is happening.

“He was very observant, and wrote with such joy - it was like he was drawing pictures. He was a very special poet.” This year saw a range of folk and Morris dancing demonstrations in the town, with dancers dressing in period costumes to take part. The Bluebell hosted a ‘Pint of Poetry’ evening on Friday, before a range of stalls and activities were held on the poet’s birthday itself. There were also a variety of talks and lectures and poetry readings held over the weekend, with Ann saying a highlight was the talk by Richard Astle of the Langdyke Trust, who linked the birdlife of the area to the work of the poet. Clare was the son of a labourer, whose work celebrated the English countryside. This weekend also saw another celebration, as the RAF Wittering Funday was held at the military base. Mayor of Peterborough cllr Gul Nawaz was on hand to get a close look at some of the modern vehicles used by the staff on the base - while vintage tractors were also on display. The event raised money for the RAF Benevolent Fund.

John Clare Festival at Helpston. Peterborough Morris dancers EMN-190714-093154009

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John Clare Festival at Helpston. Hurluberlu 17th century Dancers EMN-190714-093216009
John Clare Festival at Helpston. Peterborough Folk Dance Club members EMN-190714-093227009
John Clare Festival at Helpston. Audience of one of the John Clare talks EMN-190714-093238009
John Clare Festival at Helpston. John Clare's grave with flowers laid by children from the John Clare primary school. EMN-190714-093249009
John Clare Festival at Helpston. Sculptress Joel Walker with her work on show at the festival EMN-190714-093300009
RAF Wittering Wittfest fun day. Mayor of Peterborough Coun. Gul Nawaz with SAC Carwyn Probert in one of the No2 Mechanical Transport Squadron vehicles EMN-190714-093110009
RAF Wittering Wittfest fun day. Mayor of Peterborough Coun. Staff of the No2 Mechanical Transport Squadron with Mayoress Amreen Khauser and Millie Ferguson (6) EMN-190714-093121009
RAF Wittering Wittfest fun day. Some of the vintage tractors on show EMN-190714-093132009
RAF Wittering Wittfest fun day. Matt Rowe, Laura Kemp and Stuart Shaw ( Station Chaplain) raising funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund EMN-190714-093143009