If, like me, you went to an English boarding school, singing hymns like “Amazing Grace” at top volume was one of the highlights of church services. It did not matter if you could sing or not. Because everyone else was making such a racket, no-one could hear you anyway. It was not a particularly spiritual experience but it was a bit of fun.
Today I discovered where “Amazing Grace” was written.
In the little town of Olney in the 1770s and 80s, two great mates lived a few doors apart. William Cowper was a famous poet and John Newton was the local curate.
It was John, who, among other hymns, wrote “Amazing Grace”. In fact he would have had no idea how his hymn would have contributed to my education because hymns were not actually sung in his day. They were chanted! The music came much later.
William, on the other hand, wrote the famous poem “The Task”. He was challenged by a lady friend to write a poem about a sofa. He got rather carried away because, in the end, the poem was 6 books long!
The Verse Manufactory
Like many men today, one of his favourite places to retreat and write, was his shed at the end of the garden. Being a poet, just having a shed was never going to be good enough. So his shed was called “The verse manufactory”.
The Cowper & Newton Museum is where you can find out about these two fascinating men. Abolishing the slave trade and local lace making stories are also part of the interweaving story lines as you go through the museum and the gardens.
But my favourite Cowper quote was written above the bar at the Cowper Oak (the local pub down the road in Western Underwood).
“Knowledge is proud that it knows so much. Wisdom is humble that it knows no more.”
After a morning of learning and maybe even gaining some wisdom, the homemade beef and Guinness pie and pint of local bitter also went down rather well.