Cultural Capital Gallery | Cultural Contributors: Rupert Brooke [1887-1915], Poet & Cultural Icon

 Poet Rupert Brooke, remembered for such verses as "Stands the Church clock at ten to three? / And is there honey still for tea?" and "If I should die, think only this of me:/ That there's some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England." was a much more complex figure than his boyish image would suggest. His local associations with Bournemouth and area are equally unknown to most people.
 The Grantchester Dene Years
On a house in Dean Park Road in north Bournemouth is a plaque which states “Here Rupert Brooke, 1888-1915, Discovered Poetry.” Rupert spent his summer holidays here, at his grandfather’s and aunts’ house, between 1896 and 1907, when he was attending first Rugby School and then Cambridge U. He also stayed there, with the one surviving aunt, Fanny, as an adult when recovering from an illness, and made ‘duty call’ visits there right up to the final year of his life.
Not much detail is known of his early formative period in Bournemouth staying with his grandfather and two maiden aunts, Lizzie and Fanny. His grandfather, the Rector of Bath, had recently retired and moved to Bournemouth, acquiring the house at what was then 12 Littledown Road, which was named or renamed Grantchester Dene. The suffix Dene, from the Anglo-Saxon for a small vale, is a common one for houses and hotels in the town, but the coincidence of name Grantchester between the house and the Cambridge village where Rupert would live from 1909 on remains unexplained.
Christopher Hassall's 1964 biography says Brooke got interested in poetry in Bournemouth, the year before he began his formal schooling, on finding a book of verse by Robert Browning (who also grew up in an evangelical household). This transformed his earlier view of verse as 'merely the way they used to write hymns'. The earlier view may reflect the fact his two aunts were high-church types. In a letter he wrote his first year staying at Grantchester Dene, he describes them as ‘two faded but religious aunts’. He would have accompanied them to Holy Trinity Church*, the town’s now-demolished Anglican high church where Aunt Fanny, who would be longest-living of the house’s three adults, was honorary secretary of the Church Missionary Society. He described the domestic scene:

My evangelical aunts always talk at meals like people in Ibsen. They make vast Symbolic remarks about Doors and Houses and Food. My one aim is to keep the conversation on Foreign Missions, lest I scream suddenly. . At lunch, no one spoke for ten minutes. Then the first aunt said '. . . The Sea? . . The Sea! And an old lady visitor replied 'Ah?'

(The reference to the Scandinavian playwright Ibsen is unexplained – presumably he meant it was a gloomy household populated by characters so repressed, uncommunicative and hard of hearing that they had lost the art of normal conversation.) It’s possible the Browning volume was his grandfather’s, but by the time Rupert began writing such social commentary in 1905 [age 18], the grandfather seems to have already died, for references are only to the two aunts (and later to only one, who outlived Rupert).

The earliest reference we seem to have to his Bournemouth stays is his sardonic 1906 comment: ‘I have been in this quiet place of invalids and gentlemanly sunsets for about 100 years, ever since yesterday week.’ Towards the end of his stays here, we can detect the budding writer’s self-conscious image in a letter from 1907 (when he was 19 and about to enter Cambridge U.) headed ‘Bournemouth, South of France’. He was one of many who made comparisons with the French Riviera, based on the town’s mix of pine and palm trees and mild weather. ('Here in the south it is hot. In the mornings I bathe, in the afternoons lie out in a hammock among the rose beds, and watch them playing croquet… I linger here and read . . . the weather is very fine.’)

Rupert seems to have originally sent down here to recuperate from one of his regular illnesses. The town’s health-spa identity also suited his own youthful identity posing as the lonely melancholy wanderer in a 19th-century French novel. He wrote to Bloomsbury friend and future economist John Maynard Keynes of 'This strange place, which is full of moaning pines and impressionist but quite ungentlemanly sunsets. With other decrepit and grey-haired invalids, I drift wanly along the cliffs'. The town’s invalid-spa aspect also evoked the youthful Romantic’s fascination with imagining one’s own death. He worried that instead of dying romantically in France, (where he had hoped to holiday) while a friend read Baudelaire to him in his dying moments, “now alas! I shall expire vulgarly at Bournemouth, and they will bury me on the shore, near the bandstand."

The ‘Baudelaire’ he was reading in Bournemouth, the ambitious succes-de-scandale verse cycle Les Fleurs du Mal, inspired his first known writing, evidently a surrealist prose novel, title unknown. It does not survive, is not referred to later and was likely never finished, but in his letter he describes it as ‘an enormous romance of which I have written five chapters’. Given the Baudelaire poem inspiration and a few details cited in his letter, the label romance is not used in its modern sense. It opens, he says: "The moon was like an enormous yellow scab on the livid flesh of some leper. One of the characters is a ‘dropsical’ leper whose features are subsumed into ‘one vast soft paunch’ like ‘a great human slug’ and who ‘croaks infamous little songs’. The other characters, he adds, "are less respectable." It’s obviously designed, in the phrase used by the French Decadent poets like Baudelaire and Rimbaud, pour épater la bourgeoisie, to shock respectable bourgeois types (maiden aunts, perhaps?) with shocking surreal imagery. (See inset note opposite on the Decadent movement.)
Edward Marsh adds that Brooke had begun many of the poems that went into his one volume of poetry published in his own lifetime, his 1911 Poems. One that Brooke wrote here that 1907 summer seems to have been his “Pine-Trees And The Sky: Evening”, (Bournemouth being known for its pines), which outlines the narrator’s being cured of suicidal depression when an affair has ended, after seeing the pine trees against the evening sky.

New Forest Freedom
The next local link that drew Brooke to the area was the presence of the Russell-Smith family at Brockenhurst, which was on the rail line through the New Forest from Bournemouth. The family had two boys, Hugh and Denham, at Rugby School with Rupert, and they invited him to stay with them during several successive summers from 1905 or 1906 on. He wrote in 1907 “Now I am staying with this foolish family again till about next Saturday. They are delightful, and exactly as they were last year.” The boys would play tennis, walk in the Forest, swim etc.
The younger brother, Denham, later came to visit him at Cambridge, and the pair after spending time cuddling in hammocks in the garden of the Brockenhurst estate, eventually both lost their virginity at Grantchester in 1909, when Brooke was 22 and Denham 20. Hugh also went on cross-country trips with Rupert when the latter was introduced to the ‘walking tour’ idea (which was apparently new to Rupert). During one of his Brockenhurst sojourns, he wrote the first of the poems included in the only collection published in his lifetime, Poems (1911), the aptly titled “The Beginning.” It imagines an older narrator looking back on an affair or lover and recalling the days before their youth and beauty faded as old age set in. Neither brother would in fact become old; Denham died of an infected tooth in 1912 and Hugh was killed in action in 1916.
It’s sometimes said Brooke himself was something of a Peter Pan (it was one of his favourite stage plays). Evidence of this dislike of growing up surfaced at his 20th birthday in August 1907. He sulked when the ‘foolish’ Russell-Smith family at Brockenhurst discovered it was his birthday and made him a cake. He said he felt “filled with a hysterical despair to think of fifty dull years more. I hate myself and everyone. I have written almost no verse for ages; I shall never write any more.” This seems to have been the end of his Brockenhurst stays (there is a suggestion he was asked to leave), but that same summer he would find a new holiday venue where he could write more verse: Lulworth.

Bournemouth To Lulworth
As one biographer puts it,“Bournemouth brought Brooke within striking distance of a part of Dorset that was to loom large in his future: Lulworth Cove.”
In Bournemouth in the summer of 1907, Brooke decided, just after getting his Cambridge degree exam results (“a disappointing Second”), he needed a weekend getaway. Perusing a map he came across the exotic name Mupe Rocks, which he thought a splendid fancy. As West Lulworth was the closest village, he booked accommodation there, and set off with old school chum Hugh Russell-Smith and new pal Dudley Ward (not a poet but an economist like Keynes). He wrote "Tomorrow I'm going to the most beautiful place in England to work. It is called West Lulworth.” Unlike Bournemouth, it had “no promenades, nor lifts, nor piers, nor a band”. They stayed at a B&B run by the postmistress (and got food poisoning), read poetry, and explored the exotically-named Mupe Rocks. Brooke also wrote verse at Lulworth, though noting, 'I do a fair amount of work here: less than at Bournemouth.'
Brooke would return to Lulworth in company with his new, more literary-minded associates from the Bloomsbury set, a splinter group Virginia Woolf nicknamed The Neo-Pagans.

The Neo-Pagan Camp-Outs
Between 1908 and 1912, this splinter group of the Fabians, Cambridge Apostles debating society and the Bloomsbury set tried to bring the Bohemian world into the Arcadian with a series of “reading party” outings. Rupert became a prominent figure, and it may be no coincidence that most of these outings (usually week-long) would be to his familiar stamping-grounds at Lulworth or the New Forest, which he had visited from his Bournemouth base.
The first Neo-Pagan “reading party” outings were to Salisbury Plain or the West Country. On one of these, at Easter 1909, Rupert heard that a 15-year old he had fallen in love with on sight, Noel Olivier, was staying with her older sisters at a cottage in the hamlet of Bank-Gritnam in the New Forest. He returned there to visit them, planning to catch Noel alone. But he had pretended to be interested in older Olivier sister Brynhyld as Noel was still a schoolgirl, and could only snatch a moment alone with Noel in which he was unable to declare his feelings. Having planned a long poetic speech about the god Pan being risen and the like, he said all he could manage was ‘Hullo! isn’t it rippin’ weather.’
Brooke stayed at "Beech Shade" cottage in Gritnam. Afterwards, he wrote to Bryn Olivier: "Then there was Bank, Bryn. For three whole months I'd been infinitely wretched & ill, wretcheder than I'd thought possible. And then for a few days it all dropped completely away, and — oh! how lovely Bank was! — I suppose I should never be able to make you see what beauty is to me, — physical beauty — , just even the seeing it in spite of all the hungers that come."

At Easter 1910, Brooke stayed with two other Neo-Pagans, brothers James and Lytton Strachey, at West Lulworth’s Cove Cottage, writing: “At length I am escaped from the world’s great snare. This is heaven. Downs, hens, cottages and the sun. All morning I souse myself in Elizabethan plays; and every afternoon I walk up perpendicular places alone for hours.”
In the summer of 1910 the New Forest site chosen was the then-dilapidated hamlet of Buckler’s Hard on the Beaulieu River, where the Neo-Pagans could camp out and swim. Brooke was on a Fabian campaign tour with Dudley Ward, in a horse-drawn “gypsy” caravan, from around Winchester down through the New Forest to Corfe and Poole, speaking of Fabian proposals to reform the Poor Law. Brooke’s friend and first biographer Edward Marsh says they set up their soapbox everywhere in the region, “except Bournemouth, through which they drove, bare-headed and barefoot, at full speed, in fear or hope of being seen by a Conservative aunt who lived there.” Or, as another biographer put it, he 'rattled through Bournemouth in disguise for fear of being recognised, on revolution bent, by Aunt Fanny'.
After their cat was run over in Wareham and it began to rain, the tour was abandoned, and arriving at Buckler’s Hard, Rupert pursued Noel Olivier, proposing marriage to her (she was now of legal age) as they gathered firewood, and they became unofficially engaged, though she had the wit to resist Rupert’s attempted seduction-by-poetic-browbeating.
The Xmas 1910 trip was again to Lulworth, Brooke and his three companions staying at Churchfield House b&b, as usual reading Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound to each other in the evening. This would his last happy visit to Lulworth.
A joint Neo-Pagan/Bloomsbury summer 1911 outing to Dartmoor was enough of a success for there to be another such rendezvous planned for New Year's, at Lulworth Cove, from where Lytton Strachey and others could visit Augustus John, who since 1911 had a considerable commune of artists and models on Lady Wimborne's Alderney estate outside Poole.

This post-Xmas 1911 outing was to be Brooke’s undoing, “a week or so in the most horrible kind of Hell,” the start of a downward spiral, and virtually the end of his Neo-Pagan involvement. In December, Brooke had published his Poems, which were divided into two parts, indicating he had renounced homosexuality and – since he met Noel - adopted a Romantic-heterosexual identity.
But Noel had not been invited to Lulworth, and Brooke decided in her absence to pursue the wealthy young Cambridge Fabian who had organised the event, Ka(therine) Cox, who had shown him some kindness as a friend but whom he had previously dismissed as homely. Instead she became enamoured of Henry Lamb, who she invited to join the party. After the war, Lamb would become an established Poole-based painter, but was then a struggling artist being kept by Lady Ottoline Morrell. Brooke's nasty side now came out, saying “Perhaps he thought there’d be a cheaper and pleasanter way of combining fucking with an income than Ottoline.” (She is thought to be the inspiration for the wealthy Hermione, who sees herself as an artistic patroness in Lawrence’s Women In Love.) This jealousy and rage was the beginning of Brooke's downward spiral. He began to accuse his companions, one by one, starting with Lytton Strachey, of helping Lamb seduce Ka.
Brooke became ill, claiming he was suffering either from “Influenza or poison in the house.” He left on foot, walking over the Purbeck Hills to some other Bloomsbury friends staying at Studland, where he collapsed. His friends took him to London, where a Harley Street specialist diagnosed "severe mental breakdown". He spent six months being looked after by his mother in a rest home, in a manic depressive state punctuated by rants about Lamb, Lytton Strachey, women, Jews and homosexuals.
At Easter 1912 another Lulworth reading party was organised, but Rupert not surprisingly did not attend. He went instead to another event in the spring of 1912, organised by Britain’s future master economist John Maynard Keynes, at the Crown Hotel at Everleigh in Wiltshire, with riding horses available for outings to the surrounding countryside. Brynhyld Olivier, still an object of Rupert’s attentions, came but went off with another man she wanted to marry (and would), on a 5-day walking trip to Poole Harbour.
Also at Easter 1912, Rupert and James Strachey returned to Bank in the New Forest, this time staying at a guesthouse. By now, not only his former fiancée Noel had given up on him but his long-time admirer James had begun courting her, and while there Brooke tried to get hold of a gun to shoot himself. Luckily Noel’s sister Brynhyld arrived, though she soon had to disentangle herself from Brooke, when he switched his attentions to her. He turned back to Ka, who finally agreed to help him to end his virginal misery; he only ended up turning on her, too, denouncing her as disgusting and evil after she became pregnant (she miscarried after one final row). A recent biography, based on correspondence previously suppressed by the family, documents how the same year he was having a relationship with artist Phyllis Gardner.
Brooke did return again to Dorset, in November 1912, posing as man and wife with Elisabeth van Rysselberghe, daughter of a distinguished artistic family (her father was a famous Belgian painter and her mother was Andre Gide’s biographer). He had met her earlier as a student in Munich and was now supposedly intent on marrying her. (Instead, he would soon fall in love with actress Catherine Nesbitt, while Elizabeth would marry Gide’s film-director nephew Marc Allegret.) The exact location of their Dorset rendezvous is unknown: Lulworth is unlikely, as he was determined to keep Elizabeth away from his old social circle of friends. When he ended the affair against her wishes, that was the end of Rupert's experimentation with the bohemian lifestyle. It was clear he lacked the maturity, and was too insecure and jealous, to deal with its implications.


A sample of Rupert's handwriting, from January 1911, shows how erratic he was.

Rupert As Dramatist: Greed And Murder In The Forest
Rupert sometimes confesses to wanting to commit murder on his acquaintances and it may be such thoughts, combined with his walks in the New Forest, that prompted the most surprising of his works, written the year of his breakdown, his 1913 one-act play Lithuania. The country was then remote (the last pagan outpost in Europe) and here appears as a grim social-realist version of the then-popular Ruritanian setting (no happy singing peasants here).
A wealthy walker takes shelter at a remote woodcutter’s cabin, setting in motion an impromptu Macbeth-style robbery-murder plot. Evidently inspired by Gogol's savage satire on human greed, The Government Inspector, it starts with a similar mystery-guest setup, then its case-of-mistaken-identity plot turn becomes a horrific take on the ‘Jack’s return home’ English Victorian melodrama where the prodigal son returns in disguise to save the family from evil debtors... All in all, quite a cluster of developments for a one-set, one-act play. [download link]

His 1913 one-act play Lithuania would be his first and last drama, and this and his 5 war sonnets would be his last completed works published in his lifetime, his verse collections and travel essays being published posthumously.

Escape And Return
Apparently as therapy, Brooke went off travelling in 1913-14 across North America, to the South Pacific, financed by writing a set of travel pieces collected as his Letters From America. In the South Seas, he was following in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, who had left Bournemouth the year Brooke was born, and had travelled across America before finding his final resting place on a South Pacific island. Brooke met people who had known Stevenson, and from some of his comments about how many men simply vanish into the arms of dusky brown Polynesian maidens, he may have been toying with a similar one-way trip. (It only emerged much later that he had a child with such a woman, described by friend Dudley Ward as ‘the only woman that Rupert Brooke really cared about’.)

He had earlier spoken of reinventing himself - “go to a new place and a new individuality”. However he returned to England, keeping quiet however about the affair, and the war overtook any plans he might have had for a return trip. He came back to a Europe heading for a disastrous war into which he was soon drawn, leading ironically to his best-known poem [illustrated right] and officially-promoted public image as a self-sacrificing public-school sort typical of his generation.

Rupert Brooke, pictured here in his Bohemian phase with his floppy Hugh Grant hair, was named "the handsomest man in England" by the poet Yeats. This would become the title of a 1967 photo-album book, by Michael Hastings, about the poet and his circle. He would become a pin-up or poster boy for the generation of fair youth swept away in the 1914-18 war.
It was a label biographers say used to anger his mother. (She had wanted another girl to replace one that had just died.) He called her the Ranee, apparently a reference to the colonial Brooke dynasty known as The White Rajahs, Ranee being the Hindi equivalent term for a female ruler. Widowed in 1910, his mother controlled his allowance which supplemented his sporadic earnings as a poet and tutor. He had to keep his attempts at a bisexual bohemian private life secret from her as well as his religious maiden aunts in Bournemouth.

The stone plaque on the house called Grantchester Dene in north Bournemouth, erected privately in 1965, has his birth-year wrong, and press reports of the unveiling say the original dedication also got his military unit wrong. Little was known about the poet's life until recently; trustees kept back most of his correspondence to stop 'sensitive' info about his private life becoming public.

Bournemouth's High Church
One of the writers we previously covered in our Cultural Capital series, Grantley Berkeley, complained Victorian Bournemouth was a nest of High-church Anglicans. The town had a large, now-demolished, Victorian High Church which stood on Old Christchurch Road, towards Lansdowne, with an enormous tower over looking what is the town’s high street. It was closed in 1973 and then demolished, but was a major presence in the town’s Anglican high-church identity. Brooke did not write of it, perhaps due to his aunts’ involvement, but one of his contemporaries did, in an influential novel of the pre-WW1 period. Sinister Street (US title Youth's Encounter) by Sir Compton Mackenzie (best-known for Whisky Galore) based on his 3-month stay in 1899-1900 at a Westcliff ‘spa’ hotel after being diagnosed as suffering from nervous strain.
In Ch. V, "Incense," the bored 14-year old Michael Fane, on family holidays at a Bournemouth boarding-house circa 1898, is impressed by a visit to Christchurch Priory, and seeks out a High Church in Bournemouth (which would in reality be Holy Trinity Church, which Rupert attended). In Ch. XIII "Sentiment," Michael returns circa 1901, when he finds the local High Church has lost its magic. The novel also describes the resort around the time Brooke was staying at his aunts’ house.
Brooke himself lists his boyhood favourite authors as "Kipling, Boothby, Sherlock Holmes." Boothby would be the prolific thriller writer Guy Boothby (1867-1905), best-known for his Fu Manchu style 'Dr Nikola' series. Like Brooke, he visited Bournemouth from 1895. He moved here in 1904, to Red Lodge in Parsonage Rd, where he bred dogs, horses and cattle, then Winsley Lodge in Boscombe, where he died of flu age 38.

Bournemouth And The Decadents
One of the original Decadents, the youthful poet Rimbaud’s mentor and lover Paul Verlaine, in one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction turns of fate, had been a schoolmaster in Bournemouth. Verlaine had come here in the 1870s after being imprisoned for shooting Rimbaud in the wrist in a fit of jealousy. Rimbaud then abandoned poetry and became a soldier of fortune in the Mediterranean, dying age 37.
Brooke’s correspondent to whom he mentioned Baudelaire was a poet who would later become editor of The Oxford Book Of French Verse, but whether Brooke was aware of Verlaine’s local connection is unclear. Ronald Firbank’s 1915 literary-satire novel Vainglory has him in it as “Winsome Brooks” and another character in it has just written “a poem of fifty sheets, on Verlaine at Bournemouth,” so his 1870s stay here was certainly known about in Brooke’s lifetime. (Verlaine himself had published two poems about the town.)
Biographies also say Brooke liked Aubrey Beardsley as he "caricatured Humanity" and he owned a pair of his prints, and hence may also have known of the doomed youthful artist’s 1890s stay here in Bournemouth, the year before his death of TB age 25. (It's sometimes speculated Beardsley like Verlaine may have "got religion" here - wanting to escape his own career and reputation as a Decadent associate of Oscar Wilde another Bournemouth visitor of the time, who would end up in prison like Verlaine, as punishment for his ‘sordid’ Decadent lifestyle.)

The bandstand off "Invalids' Walk" where Rupert worried he might be buried. The 'rustic' bandstand pictured here has been replaced by a concrete one on the same site. The ‘friendly lilt of the band’ on the bandstand appears as a background in Brooke’s early poem ‘Seaside’, evidently written after an evening promenade along the seafront, presumably near the bandstand, as he can hear the band playing.

The New Forest was Brooke's favourite corner of England for nature rambles, originally while staying with his school pals, whose family had a house at Brockenhurst. After those stays ended, he returned on walking tours and camp-outs. It was his ‘Arcady’. He noted, “I went dancing and leaping through the New Forest, with £3 and a satchel full of books, sleeping and eating anywhere”. It also proved ideal for Neo-Pagan purposes, offering many sites with privacy for their camp-outs, which sometimes included nude swims.


James Strachey, brother of the biographer Lytton Strachey (one of the Bloomsbury set) was perhaps Rupert's most long-lasting companion, so his correspondence offers insight into his life. Strachey survived the war as a conscientious objector and became a psychiatrist, working with Freud as a translator.

According to Edward Marsh’s Memoir, Rupert’s pastoral holidays inspired him to write “floods of doggerel, some of which is amusing.”
One example of this was inspired when Brooke and companion Dudley Ward, on one of their walking tours, tried and failed to find the Fleur-de-Lys inn at Cranborne (which figures in Hardy’s Tess and was in their guidebook). Arriving after dark, they failed to find it off the main square. Booking instead into the village’s more spartan other inn, he wrote a poem about the Fleur-de-Lys and its imagined comforts.
In Cranborne town two inns there are,
And one the Fleur-de-Lys is hight.
And one, the inn Victoria,-
Where, for it was alone in sight,
We turned in tired and tearful plight
Seeking for warmth, and company.
And food, and beds so soft and white —
These things are at the Fleur-de-Lys.
…We somewhere missed the faces bright

His surviving early work, some of it no doubt written during his time in Bournemouth, is collected in Peter Miller's 1997 The Irregular Verses Of Rupert Brooke, which includes such poems as 'The Sea', 'Lulworth', 'A Fabian?', 'Will Ka and Rupert Marry?' and 'The Fleur-de-Lys'.

The Neo-Pagans: Friendship And Love In The Rupert Brooke Circle
(1987), by Canadian university professor Paul Delany, who has just published a centenary biography of Brooke, Fatal Glamour, was first to document these pre-war literary camp-outs.
Despite appearances, there was little or no premarital sex involved. As RB wrote to Ka Cox in 1911: ‘The group of people we’re part of … don’t copulate without marriage, but we do meet in cafes, talk on buses, go [on] unchaperoned walks, stay with each other, give each other books, without marriage.’
Below: A Neo-Pagan campout, with Rupert on the right, next to Virginia Woolf, and Noel Olivier at far left. These usually week-long outings were officially called "reading parties" and the favourite work for reading aloud, significantly, was Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. There were also picnics, walks, games and “nude bathing and similar pastimes” which the group supposedly indulged “as tributes to the ancient Greeks.”


Left: a closeup from the group's 1911 Forest camp-out near Bucklers Hard, showing Rupert in Peter-Pan mode, tousle-headed and barefooted (he disliked socks).

 Bournemouth And The Fabians
Rupert’s own involvement with the Neo-Pagans and the Bloomsbury set was originally via another Cambridge group, the Fabians, which also had local links of its own.
Fabian Society and political weekly The New Statesman [1913-] founders Sidney and Beatrice Webb had longstanding connections with Bournemouth. There was a Bournemouth Fabian Society from 1892 (re-established twice since, lastly in the Fabians’ centenary year, 1984), which brought in speakers like TH Huxley and the Empiricist philosopher Herbert Spencer, who was an influence on Beatrice.
As Beatrice Potter (1858-1943), BW stayed here as a teen in 1875, when a spell at an Anglican boarding school on Bath Road precipitated her ‘crisis of faith.’ In 1886-8, she spent three winters here with her convalescent father, in a clifftop lodging house below the Royal Bath Hotel, doing her first published writing here. She also recommended the town to her convalescing future husband Sidney Webb (1859-1947), a London council worker whose Fabian essays impressed her. (His stay at ‘The Osborne,’ a boarding house opposite the Royal Exeter Hotel prompted his observation of the low ‘moral and intellectual atmosphere’ of the idle well-off.)
Together, the Webbs wrote a score of social-research textbooks which established the Fabians as an early think-tank outlining reformist policies that helped establish the Liberal and Labour Parties in Westminster, where Sidney became an MP, a Minister, and then a peer. Their books and other work would be recognised as helping inspire Labour’s postwar welfare state, and both were buried in Westminster Abbey. In later life, when they were established in London (where in 1895 they founded the LSE), the Webbs would return to stay at the clifftop Marriott Highcliff Hotel. (Though the Webbs organised events, they were not impressed with Brooke, after he attended one of their Fabian farm holidays and tried to lecture Beatrice about the working class needing moral backbone.)

The two centenary biographies just out prompted press stories about the golden youth's feet of clay.


Off To War
He came back bursting with energy and ideas in June 1914 and made the rounds of his friends over the summer, but the outbreak of war in August forestalled further travel plans. His friend (and biographer-to-be) Edward Marsh, now Churchill’s secretary, in September got him in as an RNVR Sub-Lieutenant to a Naval Division in which some of his friends had already obtained commissions. His unit went to Belgium for the siege of Antwerp in October 1914, but this was abandoned after a day and he returned home to Dorset, to Blandford Camp, for a final visit to the area, which included two stays outside Poole as a guest at Canford Manor, whose owners Lord and Lady Wimborne were related to Winston Churchill (who had nearly broken his neck in 1892 age 18 playing in the chine at the seaward end of their estate). Originally, he was brought there by the PM's daughter Violet Asquith to recuperate from one of his regular flu-like illnesses. There he wrote the first line of his most famous poem, the sonnet 'The Soldier'.
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

As far as his theorised death wish goes, or even a presumed presentiment of coming death suggested by his war sonnets, his correspondence does not support this interpretation. (At Canford, he did have a disturbing dream his [pregnant] Polynesian lover had committed suicide right after he sailed away, but soon afterwards he got a delayed letter from her, salvaged from the sunken RMS Empress Of Ireland. He then commented "I think Life's FAR more romantic than any books.") He had evidently put his youthful preoccupation with a bohemian pose behind him and adopted a more Kiplingesque identity. He evidently was impressed by Kipling’s heritage storybook Puck Of Pook’s Hill and some references suggest he might have taken up this angle in his poems, and perhaps in prose.
His stays at Canford Manor seem to have helped awaken an interest in local heritage, cf a letter quoted by Marsh:

I sit over a great fire of wood in the hall of a house built by Vanbrugh …. I've been peacefully reading up the countryside all the morning. Where our huts are was an Iberian fort against the Celts — and Celtish against Romans — and Roman against Saxons. . . . Just over the hills is that tower where a young Astronomer watched the stars, and a Lady watched the Astronomer [a reference to Hardy's Two On ATower]. By Tarrant Hinton, two miles north, George Bubb Dodington [an 18C millionaire dandy] lived and reigned and had his salon. In Tarrant Crawford, two miles South, a Queen lies buried [Joan of Scotland, daughter of King John]. Last week we attacked some of the New Army in Badbury Rings - an ancient fort where Arthur defeated the Saxons in — what year? [Badbury Rings is sometimes a candidate for Arthur’s Badon Hill victory] Where …. Guinevere sat, and wondered if she'd see Arthur and Lancelot return from the fight, or both, or neither, and pictured how they'd look; and then fell a-wondering which, if it came to the point, she'd prefer to see.

The last sentence suggests an interest in the Arthurian mythos, but there is no way of knowing if he would have developed this into poetry or prose. He got the proofs of his final book, '1914' with the 5 war sonnets at Canford Manor in January, and the next month the Division set sail for Gallipoli, before there was time to complete any ‘English-heritage’ poems.
He was working on at least one such, a long 'ode-threnody' on England. “My long poem is to be about the existence — and non-locality — of England. And it contains the line — 'In Avons of the heart her rivers run.' Lovely, isn't it?"
(“Avon” being from the Celtic word for river-waters, there are various Rivers Avon around southern England, including the one that Brooke would certainly have seen, running from Salisbury Plain down the western edge of the New Forest to Christchurch, and which was the subject of an earlier poem by Southey.) Fragments survive in a notebook found with his effects and are reproduced by Marsh, ending:
The trees and hills and waters that we love.
And she for whom we die, she the undying
Mother of men
England !
… This was evidently the ‘forever England’ referred to in the most remembered line of his final valedictory poem.



The last image of Rupert, now shorn of his floppy Hugh Grant style locks


But he lives on as a cultural icon, with two new biographies just out [above], to add to the ten or so already published since 1964.

The River Avon - part of Brooke's 'forever England' vision?
Below: The sun rises out of the east over the mountains of a Greek isle. Brooke died en route to Gallipolli and found his "corner of a foreign field" in the Mediterranean.

Forever Rupert
Brooke’s final Bournemouth visit was in December 1914, to see Aunt Fanny, who had organised a consignment of winter woollies for his company. Not that they would need them where they were actually going: the Dardanelles.

Though he was never to see action, his youthful concerns about not dying a Romantic death (either growing old or dying ‘vulgarly’ somewhere like Bournemouth) proved unjustified. Like Byron, he would die in Greece of sepsis. This was the result of an infected mosquito bite, on his way to his Constantinople crusade, and he was buried on an island en route, Skyros. As Edward Marsh’s account memorialises it: "the island where Theseus was buried, and whence the young Achilles and the young Pyrrhus were called to Troy, Rupert Brooke died and was buried on Friday, the 23rd of April, the day of Shakespeare and of St. George."

His death date was as romantic as the Greek island setting where his friends buried him under a stone cairn, before sailing off to be slaughtered at Gallipolli. He was elevated to national hero and cultural icon as soon as news reached England of the death of England’s "golden young Apollo." His poem “The Soldier”, written at Canford and Blandford Camp, was read out at Easter 1915 from the pulpit of St Paul's Cathedral.
In the many eulogies that followed, we can see today how wartime political needs reduce a complex character to a stock hero, as would happen to TE Lawrence, who would retreat back into the ranks and a Dorset cottage, saying his lionization as a war hero made him feel a fraud. On the other hand, there is some suggestion he found his reputation a useful cover to maintain his psychological privacy, and had he lived, Brooke too might have preferred to shelter behind a public image that hid his bohemian past, which had brought him and others so much misery.
Certainly the public image was maintained until all the principals were safely dead, and it is only now, a hundred years on, that we can begin to put together the whole story of the formative period of a talented poet, travel writer and English cultural icon whose career was cut short by a war that blighted an entire generation.

Sites Of Interest

Bournemouth: Grantchester Dene, at 48 Dean Park Road, the house belonging to Brooke’s grandfather and aunts stood on what was then Littledown Rd but is now renamed Dean Park Road. Now overlooked by the busy Wessex Way motorway, and too far to walk from downtown, this is a site only for the dedicated fan, and is a private house; there is nothing to see except the unremarkable house exterior and the plaque (not an official English Heritage Blue Plaque) with the wrong birth-year, both of which can be viewed online. The only relevant nearby site is the cricket ground - as a schoolboy, Brooke liked to watch cricket, if not play it. There is also a plaque in The Moon In The Square pub, part of a writers' gallery in the upstairs bar.

However still there and accessible are the Lower Central Gardens, with their pine (and palm) trees and Invalids’ Walk, by the bandstand (where he once feared he might be buried, unromantically), below Westover Road. Last year, at the outset of the Great War centenary programme, Greek flowers were planted in two flower beds to honour Brooke’s burial in Greece, but this was a temporary feature.

The last place he stayed in the present conurbation was as Lady Wimborne’s guest at Canford Manor on the outskirts of Poole in early 1915. This is now a school and hence out of bounds to the public, but as the map opposite shows, a scenic pub-walk is possible along the banks of the Stour adjacent, from the Fox & Hounds inn by the A31 roundabout.
Farther abroad in terms of day trips out the conurbation are places Rupert and friends visited in the New Forest, Cranborne, Lulworth Cove, etc.

There is no particular site in the New Forest with any trace of the visits of Rupert and friends, though the village of Bank remains (look for The Oak Inn). Buckler’s Hard has since been restored as a heritage village with entrance fee. Camping a la the Neo Pagans is still possible at designated sites and the landscape is unchanged, this being now a National Park.

At Cranborne in NE Dorset, the original Fleur-de-Lys inn mentioned by Hardy and the subject of Brooke’s poem survived as a popular dining spot until 2012; after it closed down, another inn was opened on the same site, and as in Rupert’s day, there is another smaller inn on the main street or village square.

Lulworth Cove, which Brooke called “the most beautiful place in England to work” is a central scenic attraction of the Dorset Jurassic coast and crowded in tourist season. The village of West Lulworth where he and fellow Neo-Pagans stayed in various b&bs and hotels is just above the cove, to the left.


 His final home in the area, pre-embarkation, was at Blandford Camp, which is still an army camp and not publicly accessible, but the sites he mentioned reading about in a local heritage book [see quote above] while at Canford Manor are, principally Badbury Rings hill-fort nearby.

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