Dismay as trust is forced to sell John Clare's local in Helpston
The pub where John Clare drank and played the fiddle is to be sold by a trust that had intended to turn it into a folksinging centre.
The Exeter Arms in Helpston, Cambridgeshire, was bought by the John Clare Cottage Trust a few years ago with the aim of converting it. But the trust’s chairman and MP for Huddersfield, Barry Sheerman, was quoted by the Peterborough Telegraph as saying that the trust had to sell the pub after failing to raise money to achieve its aims.
Mr Sheerman said he had hoped to transform the pub into a centre for folksinging, but problems in raising money had forced the trust to sell it. He added: “We can’t sell the pub for less than the best price, otherwise the Charity Commission would not be happy at all. If at this late stage anybody matched the offer we have we would sell it to them.
“I understand the person most likely to purchase it told us it was to be a private residence. Any profit we get from selling the Exeter Arms will be ploughed back into the charity.” The trust also owns John Clare’s cottage in the village.
The Friends of the Exeter Arms community group had wanted to purchase the Exeter Arms as a community asset, and to reopen it as a family-orientated pub which would also serve as a village hall and a place for young people to meet.
Jay Gearing said: “We’re incredibly disappointed with the way the trust has treated this situation and the effect it has on the community. They purchased this historic building in order to protect and preserve it, but instead it is now a mismanaged wreck and a shell of the great building that John Clare would have loved. Returning it to the community would be the decent thing to do.”
John Clare was the son of a farm labourer and is now celebrated as an accomplished and knowledgeable nature poet, who was distressed by the widespread enclosure of formerly common land during the agricultural revolution. He died in Northampton General Lunatic Asylum in 1864. His body was returned to Helpston and was taken to the Exeter Arms before his burial at the church.