One of the things I love most is the connection between places and writing, so it was a treat yesterday to visit The Manor at Hemingford Grey, near Huntingdon, which is the setting for Lucy M. Boston’s Green Knowe series of children’s books.
The weather was awful – it rained and rained – and it was a 162-mile drive each way, but it was worth it. The occasion was a family party held at occasional, irregular intervals every few years: my grandfather was the brother of Lucy Boston’s mother (to put it another way, my mother’s Aunt Polly was Lucy Boston’s mother), which I think makes us second cousins, though I’m not sure. So there we were with a crowd of other relatives, close and distant, to explore the house, and talk, and just be in a magical place.The Manor was Lucy Boston’s home, and it figures in her beautiful series of books beginning with The Children of Green Knowe. All of the stories have magical ingredients, in particular the group of children who used to live in the house centuries ago and still make their presence felt (it seems too heavy-handed to call them ghosts); but they also involve time travel, animals, patchwork, music and above all the magic of place. The central point about the books is the sense they give of people living in a place over the centuries, layering it deeper and deeper with the richness of their experience. Certainly standing in the Knight’s Room at Hemingford Grey, in the part of the house which is almost a thousand years old, you can feel the vibration of time and life resonating like music from the warm, metre-thick stone walls. The Manor is said to be perhaps the oldest continuously inhabited house in Britain.
The rain stopped long enough for us to explore the beautiful gardens with their old scented roses, mock-orange and wonderful topiary, and to wander by the river that flows past with its swans floating calmly on the green current.
The rooms are just as depicted in the books, with the toys, the rocking horse, the witch-ball, the quilts and a galaxy of drawings and paintings and other art works, including the beautiful original illustrations and cover-paintings for the books, which were done by the late Peter Boston, son of Lucy Boston and husband of Diana Boston who lives there now.
The house and gardens are open to the public quite often: for details and other information about the house, the books and their story, you can go to www.greenknowe.co.uk