Right Henry Kirke White from the book ”History of Winterton and the
Below right, an engraving of Henry Kirke White from the book “Remains of Henry Kirke White” (1816)
Henry Kirke White was born to John and Polly White in 1785, in Nottingham.
He attended schools there until he was 13 years old, and then in 1798 became apprenticed to a hosier - one of the crafts for which Nottingham
was famed at the time. By this time he had already begun to write poetry and read widely in the classics and modern literature.
Henry had decided though that hosiery was not for him, and so he persuaded his parents to apprentice him to Coldham and Enfield, a legal firm on Middle Pavement Nottingham.
Whilst still only 15, his poems were being published in the 'Monthly Mirror' and the 'Monthly Preceptor', and in 1803 he published a volume of poetry called
Unfortunately, by this time, his hearing was beginning to diminish, which would preclude him from becoming a successful lawyer, and he also suffered from tuberculosis for the first time.
It was shortly after this that his ambition to enter an academic life brought him to Winteringham. Lorenzo Grainger was the Curate at All Saints Church, living in the 'Tudor Rectory' (pictured left, in the mid
-sixties). Reverend Grainger was a learned man and ran a small 'school' for young gentlemen in the 'Parsonage-house'. This was limited to six boarders 'each
accommodated with a separate bed.'
It is generally agreed that these were the happiest days of Henry's short life, and he wrote glowingly of the family with which he stayed, and of the village and its
surrounding countryside. In a letter he wrote:
"Winteringham is indeed now a beautiful place: the trees are in full verdure, the crops are browning the fields, and my
former walks are become dry underfoot, which I have never known them before. The opening vista, from the churchyard,
over the Humber, to the hills and receding vales of Yorkshire assumes a thousand new aspects. I watch it every evening
when the sun is just gilding the summits of the hills, and the lowlands are beginning to take a browner hue. The showers
falling in the distance, while all is serene above me, the swelling sail rapidly falling down the river; and not least of all, the
villages, woods and villas on the opposite bank, sometimes render this scene quite enchanting to me."
The detail (right) from an early-nineteenth century print shows the
Rectory as Henry would have known it, in all its resplendent glory.
The black and white picture taken in August 1965 from the top of the Church Tower looking north-east, shows a view little changed
from that in Henry's day - though the telegraph poles, and the bed of the old railway track are definitely not early 19th century!
It is understood that it was at about this time Henry wrote that best-loved hymn "Oft in danger, oft in woe," but his original words
were a little different from those that are used today.
Much in sorrow, oft in woe,
Onward Christians, onward go;
Fight the fight, and worn with strife,
Steep with tears the Bread of Life.
After being tutored by Lorenzo Grainger, Henry Kirke White went to St
John's College in Cambridge, and distinguished himself with his zest for learning as well as his natural ability, winning, in 1806, the University prize
in classical composition. His illness was quickly catching up with him, and his intense efforts at Cambridge were having a toll on his health. His
biographer, Southey, said, 'the seeds of death were in him. He died in his rooms there on 19th October 1806, aged just 21.
Byron lamented the loss of White with these lines:
Unhappy White, while life was in its spring,
And thy young muse just waved her joyous wing,
The spoiler swept that soaring lyre away
Which else had sounded an immortal lay.
A window in the Church celebrates White's short life, and his happy days in Winteringham ... see below.
Henry Kirke White loved walking the area, and he quite literally ‘made his mark’ on this tree between Winteringham and Whitton - carving his initials onto the trunk.
This engraving was up for sale in Spring 2005 for £20 from KBooks, who kindly supplied the scan. On the reverse of the engraving is the following:
“Henry Kirke White’s Tree
Years have now passed away since Henry Kirke White cut the initials of his name into the tree represented in the Engraving; near its root he loved
frequently to contemplate, during the short interval of repose he enjoyed from severe study, in the year 1805.
The tree so favoured by the young poet, grows on a dark, shelving bank, a stone’s throw from Whitton, a village near Winteringham, where White sojourned
for some time. It was a twisting root, on which he used to rest himself.
Like the tree of Pope, in Berkshire, numerous vistors have cut their names surrounding that of White’s; and this probably,
or the too frequent dashing of the briny sea upon its base, has withered its upper branches”
In the book “A history of Winterton and the Surrounding Villages, W Andrew says of Kirke White and his tree:
During the few hours that Kirke White allowed himself for relaxation, one of his favourite pursuits was to stray along the banks of the
Humber, and there contemplate the beauties of nature, of which he way so ardent an admirer. He frequently directed his footsteps to the village of Whitton, distant from Winteringham about two miles. This
place seems to have been generally resorted to by him; and on the sands there, until very lately, stood his favourite tree, whereon be
had cut “H. K. W., 1805." An engraving of this tree was given in "The Mirror" for the month of March, 1836; and since that
publication, the tree, which might have withstood a little longer the storms of the elements, has been cut down by the
woodman's axe. But in veneration for the respected memory of our Nottinghamshire poet, the initials have been carefully taken from the tree, and are now placed as a curiosity in an elegant gilt frame !*
* Near the tree just alluded to, was another which grew higher up the bank, on which White engraved the following words-
"Don't you see the silvery wave;-
Don't you hear the voice of God!"
The following is an extract from "The Rusling Family" by James Fowler Rusling. The author of the piece however, appears
to have his dates completely wrong where he refers to both Lorenzo Grainger and Henry Kirke White, but that apart, it gives an interesting insight to an episode in Kirke White’s time in Winteringham ....
In 1747 Mr. George Stovin, the antiquary, of Crowle and Winterton, wrote to Dr. Stukeley to tell him about the discovery of
the larger Winterton pavement. Stukeley mentions in his diary the receipt of this letter, and also of a drawing, with an
account of what they found in clearing the pavement. My great-grandfather, Joseph Fowler, was about thirteen years old
at the time Mr. Stovin died in 1780, and may possibly have inspired with a taste for antiquities my grandfather, William
Fowler, the antiquary and engraver, who was born in 1761. His first engraving, however, was not issued till 1798, from a
drawing which he made in 1796, sixteen years after Mr. Stovin's death. The engraving was made by J. Hill, in London.
My grandfather went to see the process, and, having seen it, thought he could do that himself, and from that time he
etched all his own copperplates here at Winterton, about 114 in number, except that of the Horkstow pavement, which
was engraved by Hill. The smaller pavement at Winterton, that representing Ceres with the Cornucopia, was discovered
in rather a curious way in 1797. While my grandfather was examining the larger pavement, probably comparing his
drawing with the original, some pupils of Mr. Grainger, of Winteringham, Henry Kirke White the poet being one of the
party, amused themselves during a passing shower, while standing under the hedge in the dry ditch at the side of the
field, by poking earth at one another with the ends of their sticks. This led to their coming on the edge of the previously
unknown pavement, and it was at once uncovered. The engraving is not dated, but was one of the first that my
grandfather both drew and etched himself. From 1798 to 1829 he was indefatigable in bringing out his splendid hand
-coloured engravings of Roman pavements, painted glass, monumental slabs, and architectural subjects. He was a
regular communicant, and never known to be absent from church service when at home; at the same time he was a class
leader among the early Methodists, and it used to be said it was hard to tell "whether he was more of a Methodist or a
Catholic." He died in 1832, and was succeeded by my father, who inherited antiquarian tastes, and lived to see two of his
sons Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries. My father was never one who cared to bring himself into public notice, or he
would have been more known as an antiquary then he was. We are indebted to him for some interesting drawings
illustrating Winterton church, which are exhibited today. He died in 1882, in his ninety-first year, retaining his old tastes to the last."
The 'must read' 'ebook': "The Poetical Works of Henry Kirke White" at http://www.ibiblio.org/gutenberg/etext04/8pwhw10.txt
There are several other points of contact, including:
University of Nottingham Library Services (manuscripts) - see on-line at: http://mss.library.nottingham.ac.uk/isad/kw.html
Nottinghamshire History and Archaeology website, section on Allen's Guide to Nottingham by J Potter Briscoe (1888) at http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/allen1888/guidep2.htm
You might also like to read:
Arthur Mee’s Lincolnshire, by Arthur Mee, Published by Hodderr & Stoughton
, by the Winteringham WEA Group, 1999, ISBN: 0951680927
The Poetical and Prose Works of Henry Kirke White, from Bardon Enterprises, www.bardon-enterprises.co.uk/books,
This is the Henry Kirke White Memorial window in Winteringham Church, provided by his friend Edward Westoby