With the annual RNA conference fast approaching—this time just a couple of miles from my home in Newport, Shropshire—it seems like a good idea to write a few posts featuring the literary figures associated with the area to whet your appetites. One day—who knows?—people might describe Newport as the home of Tora Williams, the well-known romance author. There’s a space on the wall of my house just right for a blue plaque… But even without my inclusion on the local literary roll of honour, it includes some illustrious names.
If you drive through Newport on your way to Harper Adams, you'll pass a large house on Chetwynd End. It's now been converted into flats, but back in the nineteenth century it was a grand residence called Chetwynd House. It was occupied by Sarah Parker, a spinster who had been jilted on her wedding day. Local legend has it that on hearing the news, she locked the door to the room set up for her wedding feast, allowing no one to enter it again. Sixty years later the door was broken down to reveal the preserved wedding decorations, all draped with cobwebs.
Does that sound familiar? If so, you won't be surprised to learn that Charles Dickens was a regular visitor to Newport, and stayed at the Bear Hotel—now Barclays Bank. It's almost certain he would have heard the sad tale of Sarah Parker while he was there; according to local tradition, she's the inspiration for Miss Havisham in Dickens’ Great Expectations.
On researching this tale, I've discovered that other places also claim to be the home of the ‘real’ Miss Havisham. It seems you couldn't move in nineteenth-century England without tripping over an ageing jilted spinster slowly rotting in her wedding finery. However, call me biased, but I'm convinced Sarah Parker is the original. Have a look for her house as you drive past. Incidentally, it’s now part of Havisham Court, although I think it received that name after the fact. What do you think? Can you see Miss Havisham mouldering away inside, or do you think Dickens’ inspiration came from elsewhere?
My writing, research and any other randomness that seems like a good idea at the time.