Clare's Grave

With another Clare Festival approaching it may be timely to remind pilgrims to Clare's grave that the designer of Clare's very distinctive gravestone, memorably described by Charles Causley* as 'an upturned stone boat', was one Michael Drury, a Lincoln architect, who happens to have been a son of Edward Bell Drury, the Stamford bookseller, originally from Lincoln, who alerted his publisher cousin John Taylor to Clare's talents. There is a nice symmetry in the fact that Drury senior first 'discovered' the poet and Drury junior commemorated his last resting place.

I owe this information to a clipping from the Stamford Mercury, 13 August 1864, preserved in a notebook in the Godfrey Collection at Peterborough Museum (PMS G2, p.21).

Edward Drury also had a brother named Michael, a Philadelphia bookseller, mentioned on p.156 of Jonathan Bate's biography. There was also a George Drury, of Barholm, near Market Deeping, on the committee that raised funds for the gravestone by public subscription, and it seems likely that he too belonged to this family. A quick search of the UK Telephone Directory shows that Drury is still quite a common name in Lincolnshire, and chances are the family line continues to this day. Perhaps at some future Festival we may even see Clare descendants and Drury descendants converge at the graveside, which would be a very fitting communion indeed.

Greg Crossan
John Clare Society Newsletter No 92 (June 2006)

* “Helpston”

Hills sank like green fleets on the land's long rim
About the village of toast-coloured stone.
Leaving the car beside the Blue Bell, we
Walked with a clutch of flowers the clear lane
Towards the grave.

It was well combed, and quiet as before.
An upturned stone boat
Beached at God's thick door.
Only the water in the spiked grave-pot
Smelt sourly of death.
Yet no wind seemed to blow
From off the fen or sea
The flowers flickered in the painted pot
Like green antennae,
As though John Clare from a sounding skull
Brim with a hundred years of dirt and stone
Signalled to us;
And light suddenly breathed
Over the plain.

Later, drinking whisky in The Bull at Peterborough,
The face of the poet
Lying out on the rigid plain
Stared at me
As clearly as it once stared through
The glass coffin-lid
In the church-side pub on his burial day:
Head visible, to prove
The bulging brain was not taken away
By surgeons, digging through the bone and hair
As if to find poems still
Beating there;
Then, like an anchor, to be lowered fast
Out of creation's pain, the stropping wind,
Deep out of sight, into the world's mind.

Charles Causley

[Cornishman Charles Causley died on November 4, 2003, at the age of 86.]

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