Rural Bliss

The home of Thomas Moore, friend and biographer of Lord Byron

“The rich gentle valley of the Dove guides us through three idyllic villages, each with its own charm and character. This leisured walk through the verdant countryside shows us the richness of our rural and literary heritage”

The places we visit: Ellastone to Mayfield through Calwich & Snelston : Circular Walk - Map and Directions : Google Earth Tour

The writers on the Rural Bliss route:

George Eliot – Mary Delany – George Frideric Handel - John Gisborne - Jean Jacques Rousseau – Lord Byron - Gilbert Sheldon - Michael Sadler – Erasmus Darwin – Thomas Moore – Lord Byron - Alfred Butler

With short abridged extracts from The Literary Way, written by Terry Goble and published by The Creative Peak


Can you imagine today being offered £165,000 pounds for an advance fee on a poem that you have yet to write. Well, the equivalent happened to one of the poets on this walk who, in 1815, was given £3000. This poet moved in the highest social circles of the country. One of his closet friends was one of England's most evocative Romantic poets, who we will meet at several places on our journey. The beneficiary of this large advance payment lived in a country cottage on the edge of a small village. Many years later a mysterious novelist, also lived in the same house, and wrote three books within as many years. A seventeenth century poem introduces a football match where the goalposts are three miles apart. The man, who helped to build one of the goalposts, was remembered in a poem by a polymath, who will journey with us across his favourite countryside. A future Archbishop of Canterbury resided quietly in one village for many years, before moving on to the national stage and securing his place in history. At one time he was lucky to escape with his life, but returned for a role in the church close to the King, and an important task at the University of Oxford. Improving the working conditions of children in nineteenth century was the driving force for one man, who came from the same village. His endeavours for children were celebrated by the young girls in one of the most celebrated literary families. Unfortunately his health failed and others had to take up the reforms he inspired. We will also turn our attention to a man from Germany, who settled in this country and became the King's musician. His friend, the owner of a large country house, placed an organ as the central feature of the main hall as a tribute to him. Another person in that household was a personal friend of the King and Queen and a copious letter writer. Her artistic endeavours are still displayed in the British Museum. One man, who wandered the fields and lanes around Ellastone, was a famous Swiss writer, whose works are still read today. He produced some iconic milestones in the history of writing, but he never learned to speak English, however, he soon found a French speaking Englishman who he visited regularly. A true agricultural village, in the heart of England, is where reality and fiction are blended together by one of the granddaughters of the village. She had an unconventional lifestyle, but it did not stop her many novels becoming some of the most celebrated in the 1800s. In recent times, most of them have been made into films and television series.

The richly grassed valley of the meandering River Dove will be our guide for the first part of our wayfaring. It provides a picturesque backdrop to the three villages on our journey. We start in a linear settlement, built on the acclivity of the river valley. Then the meanderings of the Dove gather our attention as we stroll along the rich grassy paths. A small footbridge takes us up to a 19th century Flemish style model village, built in conjunction with the new Gothic inspired country house, for the lord of the manor. Our final village as several distinct nuclei with the one focused on the church being the most appealing.


The Literary Way starts in the village of Ellastone, which is also the fictional Hayslope. In St Peter's churchyard there is the grave of George Evans. One of George's sons was born at the family home. He followed the family craft and become a carpenter. However, Ellastone would not be his home for life. He moved to Warwickshire, where he married for a second time following the death of his first wife. In 1819, a daughter was born and she was named Mary Anne, although she, in later life, often used the name Marian. She would go on to become of the most foremost authors of her time. In the nineteenth century, many aspiring women writers either used pen-names or published their work anonymously. Marian Evans used the pseudonym of George Eliot. Although she had become famous, and her real name was widely known, she still published under her pen name. Marian was born in the same year as Queen Victoria and when the long serving British Prime Minister, the Earl of Liverpool, was in office. Her childhood was spent on a farm in Warwickshire. She would take this background to aid her writing with many of her novels being described as ‘provincial realism.’ She chose her grandfather’s village as the setting for her first novel Adam Bede. It is no coincidence that the central character in the book, Adam, is a carpenter.


There are only a few remains, including the stable block and a small summer-house near the river, but along a track, and near the side of the River Dove, once stood a magnificent house. The land had formerly been a priory, but was closed during the reign of Henry VIII. In 1734, Bernard Granville bought the site, demolished the old priory, and built his new house, Calwich Abbey. Before we introduce our musician we need to say a little about Bernard's sister Mary. She was married when still in her teens to a much older man. After he died, she took another husband for many years, and his name was Patrick Delany. She came to fame with her married name and is generally referred to as Mary Delany. In the later part of her life, no doubt inspired by her friend, the Duchess of Portland's love of plants, she took up an interesting hobby. It is probably best described a delicate collage. She dyed paper and then built pictures of plants. In all she produced ten volumes of one hundred collages each. They are now in the British Museum and represent a unique talent. George Frideric Handel was to become lifelong friends with both Mary and Bernard. He frequently stayed at Calwich Abbey. It is claimed that he wrote both Messiah and Water Music there. He possibly used the Summer House near the River Dove for inspiration. Bernard never married and so his successor, at Calwich, was his nephew the Reverend John Granville who had a friend called John Gisborne, who lived in the next village. We will come to John Gisborne later on The Literary Way. Calwich Abbey is mentioned in one of his poems, which was entitled The Vales of Wever. In it, he described the local topography of the area, with the events and places within it. John Gisborne dedicated The Vales of Wever to John Granville.

A Fearful Man

Before we leave Calwich, we will introduce a man who lived locally for a short period and became a friend of Bernard Granville. Because of Bernard's connection with the exiled King, and as many of his family lived in France, he became a fluent French speaker. About a mile away is Wootton Hall, it can be seen from the higher ground near Ellastone church, and in that large house stayed a Swiss man, who could not speak English. He was used to large houses and the upper echelons of society and therefore Bernard's friendship, a few years after the death of George Handel, was very welcome. His name was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He was a leading social and political analyst of his day and was by then, famous throughout Europe.

Welcome to the King

On the opposite side of the river from Snelston, amongst the rolling hills, there is a small village, in the parish of Ellastone, called Stanton. In 1598 a baby, Gilbert Sheldon, was born to a father, who worked for the Earl of Shrewsbury, who owned Alton Towers, a few miles away. He would rise to the highest ecclesiastical post in the land at a time of great turmoil,which was just after the English Civil War. Gilbert Sheldon gradually rose through both the church and the University of Oxford. He became chaplain to King Charles I in the early 1640s and was imminently expected to rise even further. This could not take place because of the outbreak of war, but Gilbert remained loyal to the King. After the monarch's death, he transferred that same loyalty to his son, who became Charles II. During the Civil War Gilbert was removed from his role of Warden of All Souls College at Oxford University, and was put in jail. However, he was released later and spent large part of the next ten years living quietly in Snelston. On the restoration of the King, he was made Bishop of London, and also the Dean of the Royal Chapel. He preached a sermon in the presence of the King as part of a solemn thanksgiving for the restoration of the monarchy. He died in 1677, as the incumbent Archbishop of Canterbury, at the age of 79.

Protecting the Children

As we have already learned George Eliot based Adam Bede in the nearby village of Ellastone. The story is set in 1799, which is very close to the date, when a son of Snelston, Michael Sadler, wrote his first work. He was born on a farm on the edges of the parish, not far from the family home of George Eliot. Before Michael was twenty, he had taken to Methodism and preached locally in the open air, in the same theme as is present in Adam Bede. Later he became an MP and tried to introduce a bill to restrict the use of children in factories. He wanted to ban work for children below nine years of age and restrict older children to ten hour days. His bill was rejected, but he did become chairman of a commission into the factory working of children, which produced the Sadler Report.

The Botanic Garden

James Brindley came from a Derbyshire farming family. In his middle teens, he went to the nearby town of Leek to become an apprentice millwright. His talents soon came through, although he could barely read and write. He set up his own business and this is when he came to Clifton to help in the building of the mill. It is difficult to ascertain his exact involvement, because of his illegible notebooks. But it wouldn't be his mills for which he became known. He was one of the most foremost canal engineers of his day. He worked with Josiah Wedgwood. who wanted to join his works at Etruria, to the Trent and Mersey. Throughout James' life, he constructed 365 miles of canals, many with complex lock structures and tunnels. Unfortunately James didn't leave us any literary work3s as he was purely a practical engineer, but those that knew him, left their own tributes to him. One such person was Erasmus Darwin, who was the doctor who treated him in his last year of life. Erasmus was a highly skilled doctor in his day and turned down the role of becoming the King's Physician. He had a great thirst for knowledge, both written and practical. Also he was always conducting experiments. For example, he built a method for steering coaches to help stop them from turning over when cornering. He was an avid letter writer and built a mechanical device that allowed him to keep copies of his letters. The tribute to James Brindley, comes from a long poem called the Botanic Garden which was written in two parts, The Economy of Vegetation and The Love of Plants. Most of Darwin's poems stray away from the main subject and include information about events and people as well as technology. As an example of this, the obituary for James Brindley appears in The Economy of Vegetation.

Anyone for Football!

Ashbourne plays host each year, on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, to a traditional football match that probably started in medieval times, but its origins are lost in the mists of time. It is known as the Royal Shrovetide Football. It has had its Royal title since 1928 when the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, started the game. Prince Charles started the game in 2003. The game is between the Up'Ards and Down'Ards, the teams for which are traditionally drawn from either side of the river. But there is no limit and often hundreds of people play, including many visitors. One of the goals is at Clifton and was originally the mill built by Brindley.

Olivia Byron Moore

In 1817, a poet,who lived in Mayfield, received the very large sum of £3000 as an advance for a commissioned poem. At the time, this Irishman was ranked alongside Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scot in literary merit. But such are the vagaries of literary esteem that currently he is far less known than his nineteenth century comparators. His name is Thomas Moore. The poem that generated the huge advance was the Oriental Romance, Lalla Rookh. The main character, with the title name, is a Princess on her way to be married. She is entertained by a poet, who tells traditional romantic stories. She falls in love with the poet, during the journey. It has a happy ending as it turns out to be the King, who she was travelling to marry, in disguise. Thomas wrote in a number of different forms stretching from satire to ballads. He felt strongly about the links between the written word and music. His lasting legacy is two songs that still have resonance in the modern era. He was an Irish nationalist and wrote The Minstrel Boy which has been widely accepted in both Ireland and the Irish Community abroad. The Last Rose of Summer has been popular ever since it was penned, with twenty-first century interpretations of the song by Sarah Brightman and Charlotte Church. Thomas Moore’s daughter, who sadly died young, had been given the middle name of Byron. Tom Moore and Lord Byron had a sincere friendship between them, which would last until the untimely death of Byron in Greece. Olivia is buried in the churchyard at Mayfield. Thomas Moore wrote the biography of Lord Byron with the help of Mary Shelley, who was a friend of the poet.

Mysterious Writer

Before we leave Tom Moore's cottage we want to introduce another writer who, to say the least, is a little mysterious. A couple of old books, that normally have reliable information, refer to an author called Alfred Butler living in the same cottage as Thomas Moore, but at some time later. Now it is quite easy to find the books that Alfred wrote, but finding anything about him has been much more tricky. He wrote three books, each of three volumes, with each volume being close on three hundred pages. The books were produced at the rate of one a year, between 1841 to 1843. The first of the books, entitled Elphinstone, is the only one that bears his name. The Herberts has no author name, and so in the space on the title page it says, 'by the author of Elphinstone'. The final book, Midsummer Eve, replaces the author with the words, 'A Tale'.

Let us rest awhile at Upper Mayfield

The gentle meandering of the River Dove has brought us to Upper Mayfield and the end of the first walk on The Literary Way. In some of the older references we had Gilbert Sheldon and Charles Cotton as contemporaries at the Civil War period. It is perhaps speculation to say whether they ever met, but there is clear link between them as we shall find out when we visit Dovedale. Bernard Granville from Calwich Abbey is not a name that history put to the fore, but his household must have been fascinating with such visitors as George Handel and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Thomas Moore and Lord Byron were good friends, and in the literary maelstrom of the day, they were treated equally, but in modern times it is Lord Byron who is by far the best known. It is appropriate to finish where we started with Mary Ann Evans, or George Eliot. Although Adam Bede was her first novel, it is not the one for she is best known, which must either be Mill on the Floss or Middlemarch. However, Adam Bede has been in print ever since it was first published in 1859. It was made into a silent film in 1918 and a BBC television production in 1991.