pear tree log: I started this blog to keep my younger son, Jonny, in touch with life in Lincolnshire, while he spent a year working in China. That year turned into five! Now he is home and training to become a physics teacher. This is simply a patchwork quilt of some of the things I enjoy - life in rural Lincolnshire, our animals, friends, architecture, books, the gardens, and things of passing interest.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Son of a Preacher Man

A short while ago I visited Bag Enderby Church, just a ten minute drive away from where we live.  You can find that post here.   At the same time we visited Somersby which is about half a mile further on, as this is where  Alfred Lord Tennyson was born.   I was interested to learn a few more details about the early life of the poet, Tennyson.

Alfred's grandfather was a highly ambitious and social-climbing solicitor.  He owned two houses - one of these was Tealby Lodge (later called Bayons Manor)  in Tealby.  The house is now in ruins, having been blown up in 1964 - deliberately blown up as it was in a state of decay - but I found this print online ...
Delusions of grandeur
The grandfather had two sons, the elder was Alfred Tennyson's father, George.   In the normal scheme of things George would have been made heir, but both parents favoured the younger son, Charles.    This had a terrible affect on him for the rest of his life and as an adult George was prone to depression, alcoholism,  forgetfulness, foul language, and violence;  not an easy person to be around.

Front of the Rectory
George was more or less forced by his father to take Holy Orders, even though he felt no calling.  He was ordained deacon in 1801 and priest 18 months later.  He married Elizabeth Fytche, the very beautiful daughter of the vicar of St James' Church in Louth  - she was reputed to have already turned down 25 proposals of marriage!

His parishes were Great Grimsby, Benniworth, Bag Enderby, and Somersby, where they lived in the Rectory.

Alfred was born on August 6th, 1809,  the fourth of twelve children. All but the first child, a boy, survived.    The boys all grew tall and good looking and the girls were renowned for their beauty.
Alfred Lord Tennyson, The back of the Rectory at Somersby,
The Church at Somersby (I couldn't get it all in one photo because of a yew tree!)

Borrowed image of Schoolhouse Lane, Louth
Young Alfred went to Louth Grammar School when he was seven.  He was bullied by the older boys and also by the Masters.  The Headmaster was notorious for his frequent and heavy use of the birch.  Alfred hated  the school but endured four years there. Eventually his education was continued at home by his father.   Years later when he visited Louth he would never walk down Schoolhouse Lane!

Alfred had a reputation for being very strong and is reputed to have amused guests of the household by carrying a Shetland pony around the rectory lawn.   Once, he was sitting next to an open window in his bedroom and answered the hoot of an owl so realistically that the bird flew in.  It became very tame and would sit by him while he wrote, rubbing its beak against his face.

I can imagine that it must have been a very lively and noisy household, presided over by his mother, Elizabeth.  She produced a baby almost every year - which must have been exhausting in itself!  Factor in the moods and depression of her sometimes hostile and violent husband and her life was not an easy one.  During the 1820's George suffered breakdowns and life became very difficult for them all.  One of Alfred's brothers became an alcoholic and an opium addict, another was put into an asylum.  During one violent quarrel George threatened to kill his oldest son.  He took to keeping a knife and a loaded gun at the rectory openly threatening to use them on him.

This is the interior of Somersby church, including the font where Tennyson was baptised.  It is a small attractive church, which still has its 15 foot high, 15th century churchyard cross.  Amazingly the Roundheads gave it a miss during their tour of destruction.  I much preferred the little church at Bag Enderby, just half a mile away across a couple of fields.  Young Alfred would definitely have spent much time in and around both of them.

Alfred's father died in 1831, his health and his mental well-being had deteriorated over the years and he succumbed to typhus.   Neither his father, nor his brother Charles, attended his funeral in Somersby.  The grandfather provided a reasonable allowance for the family to enable them to continue living in the Rectory.  Alfred and two of his brothers had to leave Cambridge University as their grandfather refused to fund them.  He tried to push Alfred into being ordained, but he was having none of it.

He was born for other things!

Alfred Lord Tennyson was the most popular poet of the Victorian era and was made Poet Laureate at the insistence of Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert.  It is recorded that one year he earned £10,000 from his poetry - a fortune in those days.

He died in 1892 and is buried in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey.


  1. How difficult to be forced into a profession. I wonder if the senior Alfred's personality was apparent to his parents as he grew up? Unrecorded history? At least the grandfather took on some financial responsibility. Money went round so much differently two centuries ago.

    1. Hi Joanne, Poor George, he was completely unsuited to a life in the church. However, he had a deep and abiding love of the classics, which is what he educated his sons in. I have been doing some research into Alfred's father and it seems that he may have suffered from epilepsy from childhood and of course that was regarded very differently two hundred years ago. It still doesn't explain why his parents were so cold towards him though. I don't suppose we shall ever know - but if I do ever find anything out I'll be sure to let you know.

  2. When you hear of the terrible childhood of famous people, it makes you wonder how much it contributed to their personality and ability.
    I visited Poet's corner at Westminster Abbey some years ago. It seemed so strange that they would inter people in the floor of the church, especially those who weren't clergy. It shows how beloved Alfred was that he received that honor.
    I'm wondering if all the churches you have in your area are Anglican or are there other religions too? Here in Minnesota, we have churches of dozens of different denominations, sometimes across the street from each other.

    1. Hi Ms Sparrow, Before the Reformation the churches were Roman Catholic. The beautiful, ancient (former Catholic) churches were taken by the Anglicans. We have Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, New Life/Born Again, etc. etc. etc. I just happen to love the ancient church buildings and the atmosphere within them!
      As far as burying people in the churches...some churches were positively stuffed full of bodies under the floor. If you could afford to pay, you were in!! Money talks.

  3. I often wonder where these poets got their ideas from .....not homelife I imagine.
    Jane x

    1. Hi Jane, I hope you are feeling a lot better. Alfred spent many days roaming the quiet fields and lanes around Somersby often with his head in a book. His mother was passionate about poetry and made sure her children enjoyed it too, that along with his classical education all helped, I should think.

  4. And he probably didn't have a TV and 'games console' in his bedroom either!

    1. Hi Cro, How much more fun to have a real live owl come and visit your bedroom! I'd take that over a TV/games consul any day.


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