Of all those who have lived in Shefford only Robert Bloomfield has been famous nationally.
Although born in 1766 to a poor family in the village of Honington in Suffolk Robert was fortunate in his mother who was the village school mistress and able to give him some formal education. At the age of eleven he was sent to work on a farm a few miles away and later this experience was to be crystallised into his most successful poem 'The Farmer’s Boy'.
'The sporting Whitethroat on some twig’s end borne,
Pour’d hymns to freedom and the rising morn;
Stopt in her song perchance the starting Thrush
Shook a white shower from the blackthorn bush,
Where dew-drops thick as early blossoms hung,
And trembled as the minstrel sweetly sung.
Across his path, in either grove to hide,
The timid Rabbit scouted by his side;
Or Pheasant boldly stalked along the road,
Whose gold and purple tints alternate glowed.'
The Farmer’s Boy by Robert Bloomfield - Selected poems - Trent Editions - 1998
At fourteen he left the farm and went to London as an apprentice to his brother George, a ladies shoemaker. As well as shoemaking he 'acquired .. much knowledge of the use of words in .. little time' and discovered a love of poetry and a natural ability to write verse.
He continued to work as a shoemaker and in 1790 married Mary Ann Church and set up house in lodgings in London. Perhaps it was the experience of living under these cramped conditions which made him remember affectionately his life in the country and he began to compose 'The Farmer’s Boy' which was published in 1800. It was an immediate sensation selling 23,000 copies in three years.
The wealth and fame which followed allowed him to move his young family to a new home in a better part of London. However his publishers failed and he had perhaps been over generous to his relatives for he found himself in severe financial difficulties. In his trouble he was glad to accept the offer by his friend Joseph Weston of a rented cottage in what is now North Bridge Street and in 1812 he moved, with his wife and five children, to Shefford.
He wrote 'we have a good house, a middling garden and a rich country on all sides - every charm of spring surrounds us.' This house, alas, has lost one of its elegant windows but can still be seen opposite the Brewery Tap - the Green Man when Bloomfield knew it. There he probably met his friend Weston who ran a grocery shop and another Shefford friend Thomas Inskip the watchmaker. For a while the improvement in his finances allowed him to enjoy life - but misfortune not was not far away.
One of his daughters died in 1814 and his wife, whose troubled behaviour had been giving concern, relapsed slowly into insanity. He had never been a robust man but under this double shock his health declined markedly with poor eyesight and depression clouding his last years. His last major poem was published in 1822 and in 1823 he died.
He is buried in Campton's churchyard where later his friend Thomas Inskip was laid to rest beside him.
Robert Bloomfield's Grave Robert Bloomfield's Grave
Please click on the pictures to view them full size.
The following contribution is from Bill Whitworth, a former resident of Shefford, now living in Mid Glamorgan. This was originally sourced from the Shefford Town Website.
"I was resident of Shefford until the age of eleven, that was when father sold the family business and retired to Sussex. Ever since that day it has been my belief that the happiest of people remain in their own patch making life long friends and interests.
Father’s shop comprised ultimately 24, 16 and 28 High Street. I enclose a picture of same taken just prior to World War One. It was owned then by the Pike family, seen in the window, and my father, Harold Whitworth, married the girl on the left, Dorrie Pike. Father had come to England from Australia and served in France."
"Secondly I send to you a picture of the Silver Jubilee taken in what was then the station yard, and wonder if any of the Shefford elders can name any in the picture?
In my childhood I remember only one old lady, who always dressed in black, wore long skirts and high black button up boots. She lived in one of the cottages close to the river bridge towards the Bedford Road. Could it be Sally Lightfoot?"
"Lastly a picture of the war memorial before the cottage was demolished.
It was with pleasure I found your website but tinged with disappointment not to find your local community contributing. I had hoped some of my contemporaries would be in print (Ken Bland - Jose Weedon – Rex Boyer – Stephen Dilley – to name just a few). You know the saying, if you don’t use it you lose it. Come on some of you make an exile happy.
I have so many memories of my childhood, the three horse chestnut trees that grew on the green sward on the Ampthill Road on the way to junior school. Going into Uzzles or Moss’s grocery shops and watching the bacon machines at work, or even going into Leytons bakery and Billy Leyton when offered the ration book with ‘Bread Units’ inside (known as ‘BU’s’) would laugh and say you mean ‘Bugger Ups’.
How many of you remember Hyde’s shop that never opened, but was always spic and span and appeared ready to open at any time. As a child the Hydes always seemed so old, and so white, as if covered in flour, and always had a washed sack tied with a string around their waists. Although they were a bit offputting to youngster they not only had hearts of gold, but also a sweet to thank me for delivering either a radio battery or accumulator.
A little further up the road on the corner of New Street was Freddy Clark’s Dairy. Freddy delivered with a horse and trap and measured out the milk from huge gleaming churns, the measures hung on the inside, and of course the old horse knew when to walk on, and the next stop without being told whilst Freddy would replace the filled jug on the doorstep with the squares of material, often embroidered, but always with a bead on each corner to hold them in place on top of the jug.
Although we had the Second World War, I honestly believe we youngsters had the most happy of childhoods and I look back on Shefford with great affection."