Granite to Limestone to Chalk: Richard Graves’ Mickleton and William Morris at Broadway Tower

Sunday‘s industrial remains are left behind. Monday morning takes me from Dartmoor to Gloucestershire: from granite to limestone. Hidcote is a very attractive Arts & Crafts style garden, with honey-coloured Cotswold stone buildings as a backdrop. It was designed in lots of individual rooms, but with views through openings into other rooms, and into the larger landscape. I spent a couple of hours wandering round, and here are a few photos to give an impression of the garden, but no image can give a true idea of the garden’s beauty.







The real reason for my coming to Gloucestershire is to visit Mickleton, a small village at the foot of the Cotswold escarpment below Hidcote (several of the villages around here have the suffix ‘sub-Edge’). Mickleton Manor is the birthplace of Richard Graves, author of The Spiritual Quixote (SQ), among many other works. Morgan Graves, his elder brother, inherited the manor house, and developed the garden: his ha-ha is still evident at the rear of the Manor House, and his memorial is in the church.

Mickleton, Manor House

Mickleton, ha-ha

Mickleton, Morgan Graves memorial


Mickleton, St Lawrence Church

Richard left Mickleton and spent most of his life near Bath, at Claverton, where, among other things, he ran a school where two Thomases were his pupils: Bowdler and Malthus.

Walking from the main street round across the front of the Manor towards the church, I noticed several square holes in the wall – there are five (or six – there may be one behind a phonebox) of them. The main road curves here, and they cover the approach to the village. I think they must be World War II Home Guard loopholes, although I couldn’t find mention of them in South Goucestershire Historic Environment Record.

Mickleton loopholes

Richard Graves had a childhood friend, Utrecia Smith, who was the daughter of William Smith, curate and Richard’s tutor, and something of a bluestocking. Richard thought of marrying her, but decided not to for ‘prudential reasons’. While he was at Tissington in Derbyshire shortly thereafter, she died, possibly of smallpox. The following year, when Graves was back in Oxford, he had an urn carved with an inscription and placed in the north aisle of the church. I found it there still, but rather obscured, as it was being used as a rest for trestle tables, and is almost behind the Requiem Altar. The inscription reads ‘Utreciæ Smith | Puellæ simplici. innocuæ, eleganti. | R. G. | Una àctæ memor pueritiæ | Lugens posuit. | MDCXLIV’ [Richard Graves has dedicated this urn in sorrow to Utrecia Smith, an unaffected, kindly, and gracious young woman, in memory of a childhood spent together. 1744].

Utrecia's Urn

Graves’ friend, William Shenstone, who had also known Utrecia, and nicknamed her Ophelia, wrote a poem addressed to Graves, Ophelia’s Urn. To Mr. G-. And in SQ, ‘Mr Graham’s Story’ (Book IV, Chaps.XIII-XIV) tells of an intelligent young woman called Ophelia, well-versed in literature and the classics, who Mr Graham falls in love with, engages himself to her, but jilts her; she dies of a broken heart and he retires into sad seclusion. Much of SQ is based on Graves’ own life or that of his family or friends, and one does wonder how guilty or regretful he felt that he did not marry Utrecia.

The North Aisle also has several memorials and hatchments to the Graves family, the lectern also being a Graves memorial.

I next drove southwest out of Mickleton on the Broadway Road towards Aston Subedge, and park at the roadside.

In SQ Book X, Chaps XXVI-XXVII (Narrative of a licentious Amour) & Chap XXVIII (Its fatal Event) Wildgoose tells the story of a Sir William K-te, a Baronet of a considerable fortune, whose wife takes an inn-keeper’s daughter, Molly, as her maid; Molly became ‘too highly in her Master’s favour’, Sir W left his wife ‘and the two younger children in possession of the mansion-house in W-shire; and retired himself, with his Mistress (and his two eldest sons), to a large farm-house on the side of the Cotswold-hills’; to abbreviate the story, Sir W spends too much, drinks too much, and ‘conceives an amorous regard’ for a Dairy-maid scarce twenty. The catastrophe of the story is that Sir W perishes by suicide in a fire which destroys the principal part of his ‘sumptuous pile’.

Burnt Norton

In September 1741 the London Magazine reported Sir William Keyte had committed suicide by burning himself to death in his house, Norton Hall, which was only a mile or so southwest of Mickleton. The house that was rebuilt on the site is called Burnt Norton, and in 1934 a wandering poet and his lady friend, T S Eliot and Emily Hale, trespassed in the garden. So, having started my long weekend by visiting East Coker, I close the circle by visiting the first of the Four Quartets. Or not quite visiting, I kept to the public footpath. I don’t think the current owners would look upon me trespassing as kindly as they might T S Eliot. On the map it looked as though it should be possible to walk across some fields to the southeast and catch a glimpse of the gables of the house between the trees, and indeed it is.

Returning to my car I next drove back up to the top of the Cotswolds from Aston Subedge and park in a National Trust carpark at Dover’s Hill.

Dover's Hill

Early in SQ Wildgoose and Jerry make their way to Dover’s Hill, arriving (in Book II Chapter X) in time for the Revel, sometimes known as the Cotswold Olympicks, so that Wildgoose can commence his preaching. The hill makes a natural amphitheatre overlooking the Vale of Evesham and the Olympicks are still held annually.

Carrying on in a southwesterly direction, I join a Roman Road going south for a short stretch, Icknield or Ryknild Street, locally known as Buckle Street. If I’d turned north it would have taken me to Lichfield, birthplace of Samuel Johnson.

Broadway Tower

I hadn’t expected Broadway Tower to be open on an October Monday, but it is, as is the nearby café in a converted barn. The tower was built in 1800 for the Earl of Coventry, purely as a Gothic folly, designed  by James Wyatt as a ‘Saxon Tower’. Wyatt also designed the vast medieval-style Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire; it was built for William Beckford (of Vathek fame) and it was Beckford’s execution of the plans rather than Wyatt’s plans themselves that caused the central tower to collapse in 1807 (and on two other occasions). There’s an interesting story there, but not enough time to tell it here.

The views from the top are magnificent: across the Vale of Evesham and the Worcestershire Plain are the Malverns, old, hard granite; it’s too murky to be able to see the Shropshire hills, the Clee Hills or the Wrekin.

William Morris, who was living at Kelmscott Manor at the time, used to visit his friend Crom Price, staying at Broadway Tower. Morris’s daughter, May, wrote ‘The most inconvenient and the most delightful place ever seen – to simple folks like ourselves, who culd do without almost everything with great cheerfulness. The Tower was certainly absurd – the men had to bathe on the roof, when the wind didn’t blow the soap away and there was water enough. But how the clean aromatic wind blew the aches out of our tired bodies, and how good it all was.’

In 1876 Morris was on his way to the tower, when stopping at Burford Church he had been enraged by seeing the work of ‘restoration’ being undertaken. G E Street was replacing the medieval fabric of the church with what the Victorians thought should be there, as was the fashion of the time. Morris was so incensed that he started a campaign and founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

I travelled home not using motorways, stopping briefly at Stow on the Wold, then going via Burford, crossing the Thames at Lechlade and passing nearby to Kelmscott (where Morris’s house now belongs to the Society of Antiquaries), to Faringdon, and then across the Vale of the White Horse  between the limestone escarpment in the north to the Berkshire Downs in the south; Wantage has King Alfred’s statue standing in the marketplace, over Lambourn Downs then down the valley of the River Lambourn to Newbury, past Greenham Common, still on chalk to Basingstoke, then Farnham, the Hog’s Back, and home.

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