Friday, 20 April 2012

High Beech, Essex

Twice this week I have traipsed down to High Beech with the intent of finishing off the M11 corridor at the south west corner of my catchment area (including Loughton, the Chigwells, Buckhurst Hill and others) and possibly going back to Old Harlow to attempt ingress.

The first time I arrived to find that I had left my camera battery at home on the charger and today I discovered that I had a flat battery in the camera!

I'll try again next week - at least I now know that High Beech is normally open between 11 and 1 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

UPDATE: Aug 2012. Of course I came back to Holy Innocents after 1pm and found it once again locked but having gained entrance on my last visit there's little of interest inside.

Personally I prefer Pevsner's entry finding Mee somewhat overflowery even if this is a beautiful site.

HIGH BEECH. 1873 by Sir Arthur Blomfield. Right in Epping Forest, surrounded by old trees everywhere. Grey stone with a NW spire, transepts, and an apse.

UPDATE: 05/03/13. Passed by, unexpectedly, on the way to Waltham Cross and found it open (unfortunately preparing for a funeral)   and took the opportunity to take interiors - I was right last time this is an astonishingly dull church.

The Holy Innocents (2)


HIGH BEECH. It is the jewelled crown of Epping Forest; it was the beauty of it that attracted the greatest English poet of the Victorian Era to come here to live. It has little that man gave it save a few cottages and isolated houses and a modern church, but has the solitude of a noble beech wood Nature gave it, and we walk in it as in some great cathedral. In the tranquillity of these green shrines and grey altars our ancestors have walked for many generations, and here Tennyson loved to walk. He lived here through the first three years of the Victorian Era in which he was to be a shining figure.

It had been a painful farewell to Somersby, where the Tennysons had been living at the rectory, but things were financially difficult and they decided to come nearer London, and lived here till 1840, when they went into Kent. The poet had lost one pleasant brook at Somersby and was to find another at Boxley, but here in Essex it was Epping Forest that was his delight. He took a practical interest in furnishing the house, and we are told that he did not forget the kitchen things, and that he bought pretty and inexpensive furniture.

There was a pond in the park on which he would skate in his long blue cloak. He loved to go to his friends in town; and, coming back in the evening, would often notice "the light of London flaring like a dreary dawn."

It was in these days that he was engaged to Emily Sellwood, but they were too poor to marry; he was even too poor to travel, and one of the letters he wrote from here regretted that he would never be able to see the Eternal City and the dome of St Peter’s. There was a night when a great thunderstorm broke over High Beech, and the poet always remembered two experiences of this storm. One was that a friend saw a great fire ball come up the valley and burst over Tennyson’s pond "like 50 batteries of cannon"; the other was that when Tennyson went up to his mother’s room he found her on the floor, crying, "Oh, I will leave this house - the storms are very bad here."

These were his very early days, before fame and fortune found him. He longed in vain to see the Lincolnshire coast, but "the journey is so expensive and I am so poor." Yet he enjoyed life here, and here he lived in his imagination in the past and in the future. It may have been the thought of the submerged forest under the Thames Marshes that led him to write:

There rolls the deep where grew the tree,
O, Earth, what changes thou hast seen;

at any rate he wrote it here in Essex when working on In Memoriam, and here he wrote The Talking Oak and Locksley Hall; here he

Dipped into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rained a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;
Far along the worldwide whisper of the south wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples plunging through the thunderstorm;
Till the war-drum throbbed no longer, and the battleflags were furled In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.

Here also he heard the bells of Waltham Abbey which inspired him to write perhaps the best known of all his verses, Ring Out, Wild Bells.

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