Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Prudence and the Orchard...

Prudence ended our holiday by taking to us to The Orchard somewhere I have wanted to go for a long time - a corner of England where time stands still as the outside world rushes by.

The Orchard, first planted in 1868, became a Tea Garden purely by chance. A group of Cambridge students asked Mrs Stevenson of Orchard House if she would serve them tea beneath the blossoming fruit trees rather than, as was usual, on the front lawn of the House. They were unaware that, on that spring morning in 1897, they had started a great Cambridge tradition. The students enjoyed their rural tea, and word spread around the colleges. The Orchard soon became a popular ‘up-river resort’ which was well known to Varsity men.

With few exceptions, very little has changed in the Orchard since then. In order to supplement their income, the Stevensons took in lodgers at Orchard House, and, in 1909, a young graduate of King’s College took up residence. His name was Rupert Brooke. He had moved out of Cambridge, hoping to escape his hectic social life there, but in vain. The charismatic young Brooke drew a constant stream of visitors, and eventually became the centre of a circle of friends, later dubbed by Virginia Woolf the 'Neo-Pagans'. Brooke had fallen in love with his idyllic life in Grantchester, and, while in a homesick mood on a trip to Berlin, wrote one of his best-known poems, 'The Old Vicarage, Grantchester': the famous final lines immortalising afternoon tea in the Orchard:

Stands the church clock at ten-to-three And is there honey still for tea?

There has since been much debate over whether or not the church clock had actually stopped at that time, but one certainly senses that Time has stood still in the Orchard.On his return to Grantchester, finding his rooms had been let, he moved next door to ‘The Old Vicarage’, where he continued to live his bohemian lifestyle.

On leaving Cambridge, Brooke travelled exten-sively in North America and the South Seas. He returned to England in 1914, and at the outbreak of the First World War joined the military, coming under heavy bombardment during the retreat from Antwerp.

In March 1915, he embarked on a troop-ship bound for Gallipoli. Tragically, he was never to return. He became very ill on board, and on 23rd April 1915, aged 27, he died from blood poisoning. That same evening he was buried in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros, where a monument has since been built over his grave. Just a few months earlier he had written ‘The Soldier’, containing the prescient lines:

If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is forever England

Brooke became posthumously famous. His poetry was widely recognised, and he became a symbol of the innocence of youth - a ‘Young Apollo’. He caught the imagination of the nation, and his cult status has been steadily increasing ever since.

Meanwhile, a long and golden era lay ahead for the Orchard. From the 1920s onwards (apart from a period of closure during the Second World War), The Orchard became increasingly popular. Visitors would walk or cycle along the path (nick-named the Grantchester Grind) that crosses the famous Grantchester Meadows, or punt up-stream,to exchange the formal surroundings of ‘the backs’ for the peace and tranquillity of the meandering River Granta.

During the May Balls, it became customary for bleary-eyed students to ‘punt up’ for an al-fresco breakfast, which often included champagne and strawberries. This tradition still continues.
By 1964, the Orchard had become so popular that the proprietor erected an eight foot board reminding customers to return their cups and saucers to the tray-rack in 35 different languages!
The Orchard had found a place in the hearts of the people of Cambridge and was a popular destination for the thousands of visitors to the city, but, in the 1980s, the Orchard closed so that the land could be developed for residential housing. It was, however, rescued from this fate, and its present owner intends one day to sell it off in small plots to the general public, so that it will never be in danger again.

The Orchard is now over 100 years old, and to paraphrase Rupert Brooke, it will always remain..

Forever England

{taken from the The Orchard website}

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