Poets Corner in Bath – historical research

Excerpts below from our regular newsletters, focussing on naming traditions for local roads.

Given the 7 local roads named after poets, it would be easy to assume how Poets Corner in Bear Flat (Bath) got its name. However, the estate was built by a family of devoutly religious builders and it may well be an homage to Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey – all of the poets named in the Bath estate are either buried there or have a memorial in place.

Geoffrey Chaucer

Born 1343 into a family of London vintners, died in 1400 and most famous locally for the Wife of Bath’s Tale within his unfinished narrative The Canterbury Tales. Captured in 1360 by the French at the siege of Rheims during the Hundred Years War, Edward III paid Chaucer’s ransom to be released. After years of travelling to Spain and Italy, Chaucer became MP for Kent in 1386, Comptroller of the Customs for the port of London in 1374 and Clerk of the King’s Works in 1389. His last recorded royal employment came as deputy forester of the Royal Forest of North Petherton in Somerset from 1391. For the last year of his life, Chaucer took on a lease for a residence within the close of Westminster Abbey, hence his burial within the Abbey a year later. In 1556, his remains were transferred to a more ornate tomb within the Abbey, making Chaucer the first writer interred in the area now known as Poets’ Corner. Chaucer’s eldest son Tom became Speaker of the House of Commons.

John Milton

Born in Bread St, London in 1608 to a Protestant composer of the same name and educated at St Pauls School, Milton Jnr obtained a M.A from Christs College, Cambridge whilst preparing to be an Anglican priest. After a grand tour of Europe, Milton served as an official to Oliver Cromwell and was appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues by the Council of State in 1649. Completely blind from glaucoma by 1654, Milton dictated Paradise Lost to a series of aides from 1658 – 1664. John Milton died, impoverished, of kidney failure in 1674. Although he is not buried in Poets Corner (Westminster Abbey), he has a memorial there.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Born in 1807 in Portland (Maine, although a district of Massachusetts at the time) as the second of eight children, Longfellow was a prolific poet and translator who studied ten European languages during two voyages from 1826 – 1835. His grandfather was a general in the American Revolutionary War and Member of Congress. Longfellow was appointed to the Smith Professorship of Modern Languages at Harvard College in 1836 and remained in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the remainder of his life. The last few years were taken up with translating the poems of Michelangelo. He is buried at the Mount Auburn Cemetery with both his wives and has a memorial in Westminster Abbey.

Rudyard Kipling

Named after a Staffordshire lake where his parents first met, Kipling was born in Bombay, India in 1865 where his father was Professor of Architectural Sculpture, at the School of Art and Industry. Sent to back to England (Southsea) when five years old, he and his sister spent the next six years separated from their parents in the care of a Captain & Mrs Holloway, with Christmases at his grandparents in Fulham. After a spell of schooling in Devon, Kipling went back to India in 1882 firstly as assistant editor of a small gazette in Lahore and then the Pioneer newspaper in Allahabad. Plain Tales from the Hills, Kipling’s first prose collection, was published in Calcutta in January 1888, a month after his 22nd birthday. After marrying Carrie Balestier in 1892, Kipling took his Vermont born bride back to her home state where they lived for four years and where Kipling wrote the Jungle Books. Spells in Torquay and South Africa preceded settling in Burwash, East Sussex. In 1907 Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His only son, John, was killed at the Battle of Loos in the First World War.  Kipling Snr lived to the age of 70, dying two days before George V and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

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