11 June 2012

John Bunyan in Bedfordshire

––––– ONLY –––––
Please do not damage the [crops?]'

This signpost is in Harrowden, Bedfordshire, which is where John Bunyan (1628–88) was born. We reached it by taking the only road through the hamlet until it peters out near a farm. From there, I parked the car and took a bridlepath to a brook, where I found this notice, which I think is slightly misleading: I knew there's no birthplace, but does everyone else who might take this path know it? Bunyan's place of birth has long been demolished, but in 1951 – the year of the Festival of Britain – an inscribed stone was put up in a field approximately where the cottage was. We began to wade through the knee-high grass to cross the field, but as it had been raining heavily for some time before and our clothing was becoming increasingly wet, we both realized that to continue would amount to an act of insanity.

Harrowden is in the parish of Elstow, a village very close as the crow flies but about two miles away by road. At a young age Bunyan began working life as a tinker, but left Harrowden to serve in the army. A few years later he resumed his life as a tinker. He moved to the village itself in about 1649, and it was probably very shortly after this that he married. Here the juxtaposition of the festivities and the Moot Hall seems to suggest Vanity Fair.

Bunyan was fond of playing tip-cat (a variety of rounders) on the village green on Sundays, but following a sermon by Christopher Hall on the evils of breaking the Sabbath he experienced a religious wake-up call in the form of a voice denouncing him for his sins.

Moot Hall dates from the 15h century and now contains various exhibits mainly relating to the time of Bunyan in the 17th century.

The impressively restored upper floor.

The pulpit from which Christopher Hall preached the sermon that led to Bunyan's conversion.

One of the doors from Bedford County Gaol, where Bunyan was imprisoned for illegal preaching. He probably wrote The Pilgrim's Progress during his imprisonment.

In Bedford, on the corner of Silver Street and Main Street, is a plaque on the ground:


Bust of Bunyan by Edward William Wyon (1811–85).

John Bunyan's father Thomas's will of 1675, leaving his son one shilling (or five new pence).

Sir Samuel Luke of Cople, the Governor of the Newport Pagnell garrison, where Bunyan was probably based. Cople is said to be the model for Samuel Butler's satirical Hudibras.

And Samuel Butler himself, by (?)Gerald Soest.

And back in Bedford:

'This backwater
of the river Great Ouse
is where
was baptised
circa 1650'

St Cuthberts Street.


The Bunyan Meeting Church.

The church doors, copper on bronze, depict ten different scenes from The Pilgrim's Progress.

This, I believe, is the correct order of the panels:

1. 'As he read he wept and trembled'.

Christian prepares to leave his wife and children.

2. 'Christian enters by the wicket gate'.
Goodwill welcomes him.

3. 'Thy sin be forgiven thee'.
With the Shining Ones at the cross.

4. 'Simple said "I see no danger"'.
With Simple, Sloth and Presumption.

5. 'Go to the ant, thou sluggard'.
Time for Christian to consider the ant's ways, and to be wise.

6. 'Is thy strength so small'.
Christian passing the lions.

7. 'They harnessed him from head to foot'.

Being prepared with armour for his journey from the House Beautiful.

8. 'For tho they killed thee thou art still alive'.
The death of Faithful, and the chariot taking him away.

9. 'Let us keep our way'.
Christian refuses Demas's silver mine snare.

10. 'Be of good cheer my brother'.

Christian and Hopeful crossing the River of Death on their way to the Celestial City.

Inside the Bunyan Meeting Church.

'Christian approaches the House Beautiful'.

'Evangelist points the way'.

An extremely sanitized and romanitized representation of Bunyan in prison. Not a bad view from his cell.

'And all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side'.

'Christian vanquishes the fiend Apollyon'.

'He hath given me rest by His sorrow and life by His death'.

'Faithful helping Christian'.

'Christian climbs the Hill Difficulty'.

The statue of John Bunyan, significantly, is at a crossroads, and by St Peter's Green in Bedford.

It was sculpted Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, and bears the date 1873, although it wasn't unveiled until the following June. Of note is the unfettered chain by Bunyan's left foot.

There are three scenes from The Pilgrim's Progress around the plinth.

Christian at the wicket gate.

His fight with Apollyon.

And his losing of his burden at the cross.

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