9 April 2012

Edmund Spenser in Alton, Hampshire

POET – 1590'
I chanced upon this building in Amery Street after visiting the exhibition at the Allen Gallery on Church Street, Alton, which at the moment contains a number of exhibits based on Flora Thompson's literature, mainly on Sue Scullard's wood engravings inspired by Thompson, of which more in another post.

Addendum: Jane Hurst of Alton has kindly sent me an attachment containing her research on the above plaque and Edmund Spenser's supposed relation to 1 Amery Street, which I précis below with my comment.

What the 'evidence' of Spenser's living here amounts to is that John Aubrey (1626–97) mentions in Brief Lives that the poet Samuel Woodford told him that Spenser once lived in the Alton area. That's all: no place is specified, and no date given. To find the next reference to Spenser here, we have to fast forward to the mid-19th century, when the Rev. George Gilfillan (1813–78) becomes a little more specific and writes that Spenser once spent some time in Alton. It's around the turn of the 19th century that William Curtis, writing in a book on the history of Alton, says that 'it appears' that Spenser lived in Alton, and he 'suppos[es]' that it was at 1 Amery Street.

In the 1930s the house was going to be demolished but its 'literary association' saved it. I'm pleased that it did as this is quite an attractive building. Spenserian scholar Douglas Hamer (1897-1981) of Sheffield University once said that the plaque's removal would be 'to the credit of Alton'. I disagree: whilst it seems clear that the plaque's existence is due to a series of historical distortions, it's nevertheless a fact that this myth is a part of Alton's history.

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