George Eliot Country Tour
Successful tour enjoyed by all
Six hours spent in visiting the local sites associated with George Eliot.
A party of 25, from as far away as America, Austria and various parts of the UK assembled at midday on Bank Holiday Sunday, 29th May 2016. They had light refreshments before hearing an introduction to Mary Ann Evans, sitting in a building she would have known, opposite the church where she was christened and then attended for many years.
The party then crossed the road to look at the Gwyther vault and to hear readings from Amos Barton - the opening paragraph followed by the account of Milly's funeral, shown here being read by Vivienne Wood.
The group then went to see the family vault of Robert and Christiana Evans and the gravestone of Mary Ann's brother Isaac and his wife.
On to the coach and off to Griff House, the home of Mary Ann Evans and her family until her father retired and they moved to Coventry in March 1841. So much of the later George Eliot is to be found in Griff and its surroundings. The Mill on the Floss draws most on the building and the childhood memories of Mary Ann. So we had several readings at Griff, as well as looking inside at the snug and outside at the proposed Visitor Centre. We heard readings about the attic (Ruth Livesey is shown below reading that passage from a spot in the grounds where our visitors could look up at the attic)
We also heard about the aunts and Mary Ann cutting off her hair in her anger, and we then went to see The Round Pool, reconstructed when Whitbread took over the building, and in the picture below Joy Redfern is reading the passage where Maggie has neglected Tom's rabbits and they have died. One rabbit was spotted the other side of the Pool!
From Griff we went on the coach to Arbury Hall for a tour at 3.15. It is always interesting to see the rooms associated with scenes in Mr Gilfil's Love Story and Anthea Turner, our guide, is very knowledgeable about the Hall and George Eliot. After the tour there was time for a walk in the lovely gardens or a cup of tea and a cake in the Stables Tea Rooms. Our next stop was at South Farm, George Eliot's birthplace. This idyllic spot, so quite and secluded, can only be visited on a George Eliot Country Tour, and the agent, Adam Weaver (doing the same job essentially as Mary Ann's father was doing two hundred years ago from the same building) allows us to go into his garden and look at the building close to.
The bedroom in which Mary Ann was born on 22nd November 1819. There is something special about being able to visit the building where Robert Evans had already been living for some 13 years before Mary Ann was born, and where her elder siblings Chrissie and Isaac were born to Robert's second wife Christiana. It was a lovely spot and the group enjoyed the garden and the views.
However, we still had a surprise in store for them as the next stop was Astley, where we go into the church and sit in the pews where the villagers of Knebley sat and Viv reads the wonderful passage describing the human foibles of Rev Gilfil. The castle is only a hundred yards from the church and is now an amazing Landmark Trust holiday accommodation but we were able to admire from the church side of the moat. Here it is:
Astley is a magical place and it will be the base for the Writers in Warwickshire Festival at the end of June. Full details on their website www.writersinwarwickshire.com
The group had had a long afternoon but there is always a wonderful tranquility about Astley and the church is so welcoming to us, providing a key so that we can let ourselves and admire the ancient paintings on the old choir stalls (GE calls them apostles but really they are prophets) and look at the numerous memorials to members of the Newdigate family, as well as the mention on one of them of Robert Evans's first wife Harriet.
The picture shows Linda, Viv and Soph going back from the castle and through the churchyard to the coach.
All too soon we had to leave to ensure the party was back at Coton by 6.30 where, for those who could stay, there was tea, coffee, biscuits and a chance to chat and reflect on the afternoon.
Published on 30 May 2016