Researching and writing about puritan poet Anne Bradstreet

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How I Drove to England

Somewhere in a quiet corner of England is St. Andrew’s church, standing as it has for a millennium or so. It's all that's left of the village of Sempringham where once upon a time an upper-class girl named Anne Dudley dipped into an Earl's library and began her love affair with books.

There was a manor house here once and it's driven me crazy, trying to find information on it. I just want to know: what did Anne see when she looked out a window? How many people could the Sempringham manor house accommodate? And concerning that cozy image that all of us interested in Anne Bradstreet have conjured up at one time or another -- young Anne curled up with a book in the Earl’s library -- was that library on the first floor or the second floor? Was it magnificent in its proportions, or small and cheerful? And so on.

I think its probable that the manor’s actual layout has slipped out of knowledge, unless a local
Lincolnshire history society comes through for me. So I settled on the easiest of the above questions to answer: what did Anne see when she looked out of a window? This area is described alternatively as flat, fenny, hilly and wooded by various sources. Perhaps I needed to go to England and see. Hmmm. As good an excuse as any. But that money issue . . .

Then I consulted a calendar and discovered it’s the 21st century. I hopped on to Google Map’s street view started driving all over Lincolnshire. Yes, folks, I drove almost to the
North Sea, all from the comfort of the big green chair in my living room. AND I drove on the correct side of the road, notwithstanding any local traffic regulations.

Now ain’t that a pretty town, above? That’s Billingsborough, between Pointon and Boston. I drove there last weekend. Note the dividing line is an annoying white instead of the correct yellow.

It took several tries to find the road that leads to the church (thank you, Google Map People, for driving down there), but I did at last.

And the answer to my question, “What did Anne see when she looked out of the window in 1628?"

She saw Iowa.

Unpave that road and take out the telephone poles -- and you’ve got it. Mostly flat, with some swells of land. Maybe there were some larger stands of trees and a few more sheep four hundred years ago, but it was mostly agricultural then -- and it’s mostly agricultural now. It looks like Iowa. So much for the romance of the past.


  1. Joyce! beautiful first paragraph! keep that for your intro! srsly!

    on another note, whaddya mean saying goodbye to the romance of the past?!!! hello romance of present-day IA!


  2. Traveling from the comfort of home is so much more convenient and tranquil. I love Google.

  3. Hah! I truly laughed out loud at the Iowa comment! I spent about two months in Sioux City around 1998, and yep, you are correct.

    It reminded me of a time I told a friend how much I wanted to visit Ireland. He told me that if I'd been to Wisconsin, I'd gotten the basic gist.

  4. Thanks, you guys. Susie, there is a certain romance about Iowa, but at the end of the day -- cows and flat land, you know? And Jenny, I can't believe Ireland looks like Wisconsin. What a miserable thought. Next thing we'll hear is that if you've been to Woodfield Mall, you might as well skip Paris.