Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

John Clare and Midsummer Cushions

Posted on by royvickery |

On the weekend nearest the 13 July the John Clare Society holds a festival at Helpston, formerly in Northamptonshire but now in Cambridgeshire, where the poet was born on 13 July 1793.  On the Friday afternoon, children from the local primary school process to St Botolph’s churchyard, where they place ‘midsummer cushions’ around Clare’s grave.

According to a display board in John Clare Cottage, the house in which he was born, now a museum: ‘Flowers were worked into small squares of turf known as “midsummer cushions” and placed prominently on window ledges, as a celebration of nature.’

The cushions as currently prepared by the schoolchildren consist of pieces of turf with flowers stuck into them, placed in uniform, dark green, plastic containers.  It is said that in 2019, when the event was held on 12 July, a record 131 cushions were prepared.  According to the villagetribune, a magazine produced for villages in the area: ‘the pretty and colourful Midsummer Cushions, which the children lay on John Clare’s grave providing a beautiful centrepiece for the weekend’s activities’.

The children then enter the church where the results of a poetry competition are announced, poems written by the children having been previously judged by members of the John Clare Society.  In 2019 the theme was birds.  Prizes  are awarded in various age categories, and the winning poems read aloud.

Other events planned in 2019 for the weekend included an evening of folk music in The Bluebell, a local pub on Friday, ‘a lovely concert’ in St Botoph’s church on Saturday evening, and a talk ‘A Beginner’s Guide to John Clare’ on Sunday morning.

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