Clare Cottage

By Sumner, Hero | NATE Classroom, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Clare Cottage


Sumner, Hero, NATE Classroom


One of the most renowned poets of the English countryside, John Clare was born in 1793, in the village of Helpston a few miles outside the culturally expanding city of Peterborough in Cambridgeshire. He was the son of illiterate parents who raised him as an agricultural labourer. A lean and meagre existence was all too common in the 18th and 19th century and Clare's genius is all the more remarkable for fitting what scant education he could manage in between working the fields alongside his father. His synergy with nature and the environment alongside the simplicity and accessibility of his poetry make him an ideal starting point for those hoping to inspire pupils with a love of the written word.

Clare's family home was recently acquired by the John Clare Trust and, with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund, has been transformed into a visitor's centre with great emphasis on learning outside the classroom. During the 18 months since opening, the cottage has welcomed school groups of all ages and learning abilities. In between running the workshops on site, the two education officers Nicola Day-Dempsey and Lynn Parker are available for outreach during term time and arrange children's creative activities during half term and holidays.

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Kay Marsden is the events manager at the centre and feels privileged to be part of the John Clare experience. Having taught English at a nearby adult education centre, she says, 'I've always had a great passion for the works of Clare and I wanted to be part of a movement that portrays the fact that his works are as relevant to today's environmental and social issues as they were in the 18th and 19th centuries.'

Clare's ability to paint a picture in words by focusing on the tiniest detail is what made him the great poet he is. For the youngest to the oldest visitor to the centre there is a text which will always appeal. Clare's poems such as 'Little Trotty Wagtail' and 'The Hedgehog' delight the younger pupils and those who have chosen to study Clare at A' level often find solace and movement in his later works such as 'I am'.

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'Last year,' said Kay, 'we hosted a number of schools of differing age categories and curriculum requirements. …

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