Romantic runaways

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Last year I published a series of articles in some local magazines about the Wey Navigation, a historic waterway that runs for 20 miles from the Thames at Weybridge to Godalming, in Surrey, England. I thought I might occasionally feature excerpts from the series in this blog. Today’s excerpt is about one of the many interesting historical landmarks that can be seen from the towpath. This small brick tower can be found on the stretch between Pyrford Lock and Walsham Gates near the village of Ripley. It is an attractive and unusual structure, fourteen feet square, two storeys high with a first floor entrance and a distinctive ogee-pitched roof. Known as the ‘Summer House’, it bears a blue plaque declaring that: ‘John Donne, Poet and Dean of St.Pauls, lived here 1600-1604’. The story of the romantic runaways is about Donne and his passion for Ann More.

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Donne had fallen in love with Ann, the daughter of Sir George More of Loseley Park near Guildford. Ann’s family was too important for her to be permitted to marry Donne so the lovers eloped, when Ann was only 17. This caused a scandal and Sir George organised a search for the runaways. Once they were found, Sir George had Donne thrown into London’s Fleet Prison. On his release, he and Ann were given shelter at Pyrford Place, the home of Sir Francis Wolley, a friend of Donne’s. Sir Francis eventually managed to engineer a reconciliation with Sir George. John and Ann Donne lived at Pyrford Place for a further two years and had the first of their twelve children there. Ann and children lived there for another year while Donne travelled, before the whole family moved to their own home in 1606. It is said that, such was his love for Ann, Donne never got over his grief when she died (having 12 children took its toll!).

It seems unlikely that Donne ever actually lived in the Summer House, which some historians think may not even have been built until later in the century, but the Summer House is in the grounds of Pyrford Place and it is certainly picturesque enough to stand in the imagination as the retreat of a lovelorn poet!

All other things, to their destruction draw,
Only our love hath no decay;
This, no tomorrow hath, nor yesterday,
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

Songs and Sonnets (1611) ‘The Anniversary’

The full text of my article and some more of the images can be viewed here.

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