Five Minutes Peace: a garden to sit in, a poem to read, and a prompt to write to … No 2. (Find out more about what this is all about here.)
You may have passed this garden several times already. And perhaps like me, you’ve never noticed it, let alone ventured inside … but St Anne’s Churchyard in Wardour Street is a gem of a green public space, right in the middle of the city.
Perhaps given the location, it’s not surprising it has a rich literary heritage as the burial ground of the essayist William Hazlitt…
And I was also excited to see the memorial plaque for David Williams, founder of the Royal Literary Fund (my lovely employers as an RLF Fellow at the LSE for three years).
Dorothy L Sayers was even Churchwarden at St Anne’s Church from 1952 to 1987. I like to imagine her writing in the churchyard sometimes.
The churchyard however has been a public garden since 1892, and to get to St Anne’s Church you have to go round the corner to Dean Street. Please do, though, if only to see the passersby wonder where you’re off to as you head off down the little passage to get there!
The original Wren Church was destroyed in the war, but there’s a separate Church garden you can see from the Churchyard. I loved these stones in particular.
They are embedded in the walls of a secluded circular amphitheatre as if the people themselves are still present:
BUT… back to the Churchyard. I sat there and thumbed through some of Hazlitt’s essays I’d taken with me. He is a beautiful writer, so I was finding myself underlining sentences and then mumbling them out loud just for the joy of hearing the words in my mouth:
If from the top of a long cold barren hill I hear the distant whistle of a thrush which seems to come up from some warm woody shelter beyond the edge of the hill, this sound coming faint over the rocks with a mingled feeling of strangeness and joy, the idea of the place about me, and the imaginary one beyond will all be combined together in such a manner in my mind as to become inseparable.
And here’s an extract from On Poetry:
Let the naturalist, if he will, catch the glow-worm, carry it home with him in a box, and find it next morning nothing but a little grey worm; let the poet or the lover of poetry visit it at evening, when beneath the scented hawthorn and the crescent moon it has built itself a palace of emerald light.
One of the nicest things about the Churchyard, in my opinion, is that as well as the individual benches, there are seats waiting to be filled with friends, hospitality and you imagine, lots of laughter.
And how about a writing group here?
So… if you would like to write in St Anne’s Churchyard, or anywhere else for that matter, and Hazlitt’s invitation to visit the glow-worm’s emerald palace in the evening isn’t enough, I offer this prompt today. To write about an ideal picnic. Maybe it’s one you’ve been on already, or have planned, or maybe – given the rain – you’ll take your inspiration from one of my favourite watery picnics, from Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows, of course:
The two animals made friends at once. Ratty was very surprised to hear that Mole had never been in a boat before.
“There is nothing half so much worth doing,” he told Mole, “as simply messing about in boats.”
Then he had an idea. “Look here, if you’ve really nothing else to do this morning, why don’t we go down the river together and make a long day of it?”
“Let’s start at once!” said Mole, settling back happily into the soft cushions.
The rat fetched a wicker picnic basket. “Shove that under your feet!”
“There’s cold chicken inside,” said Rat, “cold-tongue-cold-ham-cold-beef-pickled-onions-salad-french-bread-cress-and-widge-spotted-meat-ginger-beer-lemonade — ”
“Oh stop!” cried Mole in ecstasy. “This is too much!”
“Do you think so?” said Rat, seriously. “It’s only what I always take on these little outings.”
- Chelsea Fringe – London Garden No. 0.5 (writerinthegarden.com)
- Reading and Writing … at the Chelsea Fringe (writerinthegarden.com)
- Chelsea Flower Show 2013: 100 years of plant fever (telegraph.co.uk)