Quantock Hills Blog

Happy 240th Birthday, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

- Introducing our guest blogger Prof. Peter Coates from Bristol University who writes on the poetic fruits of nature

Prof. Peter Coates

Posted by Prof. Peter Coates on 15 October 2012

Happy 240th Birthday, Samuel Taylor Coleridge The 21st of October is not just STC’s birthday. The 21st of October also happens to be National Apple Day - an annual celebration of apples, orchards, local communities and local distinctiveness that was launched at Covent Garden, London in 1990 by Common Ground - an organization based in Dorset that campaigns to protect old orchards and encourage the planting of new ones.

‘This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison’ is the title of what has become one of STC’s best known poems. He never wrote a poem called ‘Joy Under the Apple Tree’. But there were plenty of apple trees in the back garden of the ploughman’s cottage that he rented between 1797 and 1800 in Nether Stowey, on the northern edge of the AONB area. And one of the final touches prior to the re-opening of the National Trust’s refurbished Coleridge Cottage in 2011, appropriately, was the planting of saplings representing some of the local varieties whose fruit Coleridge would have eaten, including Bridgwater Pippin, Tom Putt and Hoary Morning.
This is the first time that the garden has been open since the National Trust acquired the property in 1909. Wandering around the garden and seeing the young apple trees was the highlight of my visit in June - my first time since the re-opening. And I’ll be spending the afternoon of STC’s 240th birthday/the 22nd Apple Day at a community orchard within walking distance of where I live in Bristol: the Horfield Organic Community Orchard, a collection of about a hundred fruiting trees that Avon Organic Group established in 1998. This had been a bad year for apples: the cold and wet Spring and Summer interfered with pollination. But I’ve been reassured that, because the Horfield Orchard houses a range of trees with staggered fruiting times - from July to November - there should still be plenty of fruit.
Coleridge loved the idea of self-sufficiency and had grandiose plans to feed his family from the produce he grew in his Nether Stowey garden. But he didn’t really have the temperament for tending an allotment. After all, he’d rather be off wandering the hills than hoeing, weeding or watering. Coleridge wrote ‘This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison’ in a state of frustration. He was effectively grounded because his wife, Sarah, had accidentally spilled a skillet of scalding milk onto one of his feet; so he couldn’t join his chums - Dorothy and William Wordsworth, and the visiting poet Charles Lamb - on any of the jaunts across the hills and combes during their stay.

Still, we don’t always have to go for a strenuous hike to immerse ourselves in the great outdoors and to be inspired by the nature that lies outside our human selves: sometimes, we can refresh our spirits and reconnect with the world that is not entirely of our own making in fairly modest spaces that lie just beyond our backdoors. To the best of my knowledge, STC never penned any apple poetry. Yet in an essay called ‘Logic’, as part of a debate with David Hume about the laws of mathematics, he wrote:

Go to an Orchard
in which there are three gates
thro’ all of which you must pass.
Take a certain number of apples
to the first [gatekeeper] I give half of that number and half an apple
to the second [gatekeeper I give] half of what remains and half an apple
to the third [gatekeeper I give] half of what remains and half an apple

Confused? Don’t try to figure that out. But do go to an orchard on 21 October to get unconfused (at least for a while)

- - -
Peter Coates is Professor of American and Environmental History at the University of Bristol. He has been working with the AONB Service over the past few years on various projects funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), including, most recently, the mapping of the disappearing orchard landscape of the Quantock Hills and their environs.

The National Trust are running a Coleridge Cottage Apple Day, on 27th in Coleridge’s own garden and is a free event (with normal admission/NT membership). There will be apple pressing and freshly pressed apple juices from a variety of apple types, a range of traditional apple-based games and competitions and the Charlton Orchard team will be there selling rare apples and answering your apple-related queries. The Cottage, tearoom and shop will be fully open too, with the tearoom featuring special apple-based treats!

To find out more about this event follow the link


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