- Bourne in past times -
PLAQUES TO REMEMBER THE FAMOUS
by Rex Needle
A PLAQUE ON THE WALL of a house or building has become the favoured method of
remembering famous people who lived or worked there and another has been added
to those which can be seen around Bourne.
It has just been erected on the front of the Burghley Arms in the town centre to commemorate Frederic Manning, the Australian poet and author who lived there for a time while writing his famous novel about life in the trenches during the Great War.
His book is one of the finest to emerge from the conflict of 1914-18 and the Burghley Arms has been chosen as the location because the writer stayed there for many months in those days when it was known as the Bull Inn. Although in failing health and latterly surrounded by oxygen cylinders to aid his breathing, Manning penned the draft of his novel The Middle Parts of Fortune which was published first anonymously and then to high acclaim as Her Privates We which is still in print today. The circular plaque has cost £400 and has been financed by the Bourne Town Council, a tasteful work in blue with gilt lettering, as a reminder to those who pass by of the man who laboured within to produce such a notable literary work.
Manning (1882-1935) served during the war and his novel is a harrowing account of the horrors of trench life seen through the eyes of Private Bourne, the hero he named after this town, and is reckoned to be among the most important literary works to emanate from the conflict of 1914-18 which claimed ten million lives. He lived here in 1929, first at the Bull but later moved in as a lodger with a couple in Burghley Street and during this period, he developed such a fondness for the town that he stayed here until shortly before he died in a London nursing home.
The writer is not universally known and he has sometimes been confused locally with Robert Manning (1264-1340), the mediaeval monk who worked at Bourne Abbey producing religious texts, thus setting a standard of Middle England speech and dialect, and is also well remembered with the Robert Manning College as well as having a road named after him. But Bourne is not blessed with too many connections with the famous and so a plaque for this particular literary association is a welcome addition to the tourist trail that many visitors take when exploring the town.
The plaque has been a long time in coming and bears the date 2007 when it was first discussed by the town council and it was hoped that there would be an official unveiling ceremony, perhaps with someone from the Australian High Commission in London present, but this has not been possible. Manning was from all accounts a shy and retiring person and so the appearance of his memorial quietly and without fuss and undue ceremony may have met with his approval.
There is already another plaque on the Burghley Arms, erected by Bourne Urban District Council soon after the name of the inn was changed in 1955, informing us that this was the birthplace of the illustrious Elizabethan statesman, William Cecil, trusted adviser to Queen Elizabeth I and the first Lord Burghley, on 13th September 1520 when it was a private house owned by his parents, Richard and Jane Cecil. The building became a coaching inn around 1717 when it was called the Bull and Swan although by the 19th century it was known simply as the Bull.
About the same time, a sign of similar design was also erected by the council on the front of Wake House in North Street to commemorate Charles Worth, the solicitorís son who was born there on 13th October 1825 and went on to achieve fame in Paris as an international fashion designer and founder of haute couture. But this sign was removed during restoration work on the building and never replaced until December 2002 when the vacant space was filled by a prestigious blue plaque presented by English Heritage.
These distinctive plaques are designed to draw attention to buildings of interest because of their associations with famous people, provided they have been dead for at least 20 years and (1) are regarded as eminent in their profession, (2) have made some important contribution to human welfare or happiness, (3) had such an outstanding personality that the well-informed passer-by immediately recognises the name, or (4) simply that they deserve recognition. Charles Worth was adjudged as falling into one or more of these categories and has been so honoured.
There have been suggestions that Raymond Mays (1899-1980), the inspiration
behind the BRM, should be similarly recognised for his contribution to
international motor racing but this has not yet happened although he is
remembered by an oval iron plaque that was erected on the outside wall of his
lifetime home at Eastgate House soon after his death. Unfortunately, it became a
target for vandals in 2007 when it was daubed with spray paint but has been
restored to its original condition by the Civic Society.
NOTE: This article was also published by The Local newspaper on Friday 3rd July 2009.
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