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Llewelyn Powys' Montacute 1884-1939

Further reading: The Powys Journal; the article 'Montacute Observed' by A. R. Powys Vol. 6 (1996), pp. 165-174 (10 pages) includes pictures of Bishopston and Kings Arms from about 1905 (https://www.jstor.org/stable/26106322)


Llewelyn Powys was born in Dorchester but spent his childhood years in Montacute, where his father was Vicar of St Catherine's Church from 1885 until about 1918. The family (see below) lived at the 'new' Vicarage at the top of Station Road, and Llewelyn's tales of his childhood there are a recurring theme in his collections of essays. (His brother, John Cowper Powys, wrote a book called Wood and Stone which morphs Montacute into his fictionalised village of Nevilton.)

In many of his essays he describes his boyhood adventures in the local countryside that I grew up in, and I recognise his references to Montacute Park, St Michael's Hill, Hedgecock Hill, Witcombe Valley (his 'Battlefield'), Five Ashes, the Dew Ponds, Pitt Pond, Montacute Mill, and there are occasional intriguing references; for example in 'Impassioned Clay' (1931) he mentions attending Bible meetings in a room at the upper end of a blind passage, at the top of the Borough. Would this be the same place where Trades Unionist George Mitchell grew up and where, before him, the psalmist Thomas Shoel lived? 

Most of Llewelyn Powys's essays were originally published in newspapers and magazines, and many were then re-worked for inclusion into his compilations such as Somerset Essays.

His descriptions of Montacute paint an idyllic setting, for example in describing his return to Montacute in 'A Sheepman's Diary' (Ebony and Ivory, 1923; first published in the American Magazine 'The Dial') he says "I left my bed and walked about. I stood by the broad ivied wall which separates the terrace from the abbey fields—the tall tower of St. Katherine's Church, the mullioned moonlit walls of the Abbey, the fish pond, the monk's dove cot, the cattle moving slowly across the dew-drenched meadows—the trees known from childhood with shapes hardly altered—all were there, all were the same, unchanged, unspoilt. It almost seemed as though I had been permitted by some fairy intervention to look far back upon that older world of one's imagination, when Christianity was really true, when peace year after year was upon these country places, and when the simple manner of life, its true aim and purport, had not as yet been put aside."

In Montacute Mills, first published in Country Life (24th May 1941) as 'Delights of Somerset Mills' and reworked for inclusion in the 2003 Powys Society publication 'Wessex Memories',  he remembers his childhood walks to the Mill (now in 'Montacute' Park but originally called Odcombe Mill) in its 'charmed spinney', in springtime 'floored white and gold with garlic and marybuds', and mentions following the brook through the meadows below Montacute station (my own childhood playground wonderland), across Marsh Lane (where passing the gypsy camp terrified my sister and I on our adventures in the late 60s/early 70s) , all the way to Welham's Mill.

As well as describing the countryside he often refers to local luminaries and characters past and present. For example he wrote an essay on the 'delicate genius' Thomas Shoel (1759-1823, Montacute-bred weaver, agricultural worker, poet and composer, in 'Llewelyn Powys: a selection of his writings; ed Kenneth Hopkins, 1963) (see also my page on Shoel for references to his research), and one on the infamous Odcombe traveller and Court buffoon Thomas Coryat (1577-1617, author of ‘‘Coryat’s crudities gobbled up in five months’ travels: newly digested in the hungry air of Odcombe, in the county of Somerset", in Powys' book of essays 'Thirteen Worthies', 1923). In his essay ‘A Somerset Christmas’ (in 'A Baker's Dozen') he mentions the greetings sent on Christmas Day by the Montacute Baptist Minister, the Rev. Henry Hardin. And on Christmas Day he describes the sun shining through the beech trees surrounding John Scott’s house in Dunster’s Orchard "now destroyed" (the orchard between the Vicarage and the north garden of Montacute House?) and -possibly incorrectly?- records the epitaph on Scott's tomb in St Catherine's Churchyard:

Here lies John Scott

It was his lot

A huntsman bold to be

He loved his can

Like any man

And drank like a fish in the sea

Powys says that the poem was added to, at the order of one of the Bishops of Bath and Wells, with the lines:

And now, God wot,

He has got his lot.

Powys' books (some published posthumously) include 'Thirteen Worthies' (1923), 'Black Laughter' (1924), 'Skin for Skin' (1925), 'The Verdict of Bridlegoose' (1926), 'Henry Hudson' (1927), 'The Cradle of God' (1929), 'The Pathetic Fallacy' (1930), 'Apples Be Ripe' (1930), 'A Pagan's Pilgrimage' (1931), 'Impassioned Clay' (1931), 'Glory of Life' (1934), 'Earth Memories' (1934), 'Damnable Opinions' (1935), 'Dorset Essays' (1935), 'The Twelve Months' (1936), 'Rats in the Sacristy' (1937), 'Somerset Essays' (1937), 'Love and Death' (1939) and 'Swiss Essays' (1947). Additional complilations have been published more recently.

Below I have indicated in bold the essays of particular interest to me because they give additional information about the Montacute area; Powys' recollections of Thomas Hardy are particularly meaningful to me, as his Wessex-based novels of unrelenting misery resonate with my research on the Montacute-born Victorian Trades Unionist George Mitchell; and also bring to mind some of the homes I encountered as a child.

EBONY AND IVORY (published 1923)

Powys' first book, a memoir of his time at his brother's farm in Kenya

THE TWELVE MONTHS (published 1936)

Opening with Thomas Shoel's poem 'On the Twelve Months', each chapter of the book treats us to history, recollections and impressions relevant to that month.

A BAKER'S DOZEN  (published 1939)

13 essays about his childhood memories of Somerset with an introduction by John Cowper Powys
CONTENTS: The New Year - The Village Shop - The Memory of One Day - Childhood Memories - Weymouth Harbour - The Haymaking Months - Herring Gulls - Tintinhull Memories - A Montacute Field - The Harvest - Buffalo Intruders - Montacute Hill - A Somerset Christmas

SOMERSET AND DORSET ESSAYS - published 1957

Somerset Essays; Montacute House -Exmoor- White Horse - Death by Violence - Nancy Cooper - Witcombe Bottoms - Albert Reginald Powys - River Yeo - St. Ealdhelm - An Old Clock Weight - Wookey Hole - Ilchester Gaol - Pitt Pond - Durdle Door -A famous wreck - Duke of Monmouth - Ham Hill - Rosamund Clifford - Book of Common Prayer 

Dorset Essays; White Nose  - Fossil Forest  - Bats Head  - Grave of William Barnes  - Gipsies  - Tolpuddle Martyrs  - Cerne Abbas  - Joseph Arch  - Poxwell Stone Circle  - Stalbridge rectory - Portland  - Dorest Cliff foxes  - Easter in Dorset  - Heroes out of past  - A rector of Durweston  - Studland  - Gay Leopards  - Stinsford Churchyard  - Lyme Regis  - Armistice Day, 1934  - Weymouth in Three Eights

SCENES FROM A SOMERSET CHILDHOOD - published 1986

A selection of essays from A Baker's Dozen, Somerset Essays and Dorset Essays: Memory stirred - The Village Shop - A Montacute Field - The Memory of One Day - Montacute House - Nancy Cooper - Exmoor - Ham Hill - Pitt Pond - Tintinhull - Childhood Memories - Montacute Hill - Weymouth in the Three Eights - A Somerset Christmas


WESSEX MEMORIES - published 2003

Green Corners of Dorset - The Parson of Broadwindsor - Gypsies at Weymouth Market - Betsy Cooper (one of many published tales about the luckless Betsy and her mother Nancy, this one written up in the 50's by Powys'  American wife, Alyse Gregory) - The Swannery Bell at Abbotsbury - Dorset Ovens - Lodmoor - The Wordsworths in Dorset - Birds of a Winter Garden - The Chesil Beach - One in a Thousand - A Downland Burden - Recollections of Thomas Hardy  (first published in The Virginia Quarterley Review, July 1939)- Hedgehogs - Chainey Bottom - Worked Flints - Guests of Grace - Robert Herrick - South Somerset Names (first published as South Somerset Memories in the Western Gazette, 4th August 1939)  - Hedgecock Memories (first published posthumously as Hedgecock in the West Country Magazine, August 1946) - Montacute Mills (first published posthumously as Delights of Somerset Mills in Country Life, May 1941) - Two Country Writers - Christmas in Dorset - True Happiness

STILL BLUE BEAUTY- 2008 compilation of the Wessex Essays of Llewelyn Powys

(Essays from the 1930s, originally published in such diverse places as The Manchester Guardian, Dorset Daily Echo, Western Gazette, Country Life, Atlantic Monthly, The Adelphi, Virginia Quarterly Review, and even the Weymouth and District Hospital Carnival Programme.)

CONTENTS: The Sea! The Sea! The Sea! - Lodmoor - The Memory of One Day - A Stonehenge in Miniature - The Father of Dorset - A Pond - High Chaldon - A Royal Rebel - Somerset Names - Montacute Hill - The Village Shop - The Wordsworths in Dorset - The World Is New! - A Visit by Moonlight - Shaftesbury: Champion of the Poor - A Wish for Freedom - Athelney: In the Steps of King Alfred - Wookey Hole - Green Corners of Dorset - Recollections of Thomas Hardy - A Foolish Razorbill - A Richer Treasure - Weymouth Memories - The Shambles Fog-Horn - Dorchester Lives.


The Powys Family

Llewelyn was the 8th son of Rev. Charles Francis Powys (1843-1923) and Mary Cowper Johnson (1849-1914); Llewelyn seems to have spent much of his childhood playing with 'May' and 'Bertie',  who were 2 and 3 years older than him. The children were:
1. John Cowper Powys (1872-1963)
2. Littleton Charles Powys (1874-1955)
3. Theodore Francis Powys (1875-1953)
4. Gertrude Mary Powys (1877-1952)
5. Eleanor 'Nellie' Powys (1879-1893)
6. Albert Reginald 'Bertie' Powys (1881-1936)
7. Emily Marian 'May' Powys (1882-1972)
8. Llewelyn 'Lulu' Powys (1884-1939)
9. Catharine Edith Philippa 'Katie' Powys (1886-1963)
10. William Ernest 'Will' Powys (1888-1978)
11. Lucy Amelia Powys (1890-1986)

Next you might like to read about Montacute's Railway Station?

In my page 'The village while I was growing up' I say a bit about how the village changed going from the 60's to the 80's. Otherwise check out Montacute snippets for my notes on different topics.

If you scroll to the bottom of the homepage you will find the gallery containing some pictures of the village.