Grantchester is a small village of 600 residents, only two miles from the colleges of Cambridge, reached by walking across beautiful meadows or by punt on the River Cam and River Granta. The name would be ideal for a T.V. soap opera, but this village is an oasis of calm. It really does seem that time has stood still here. It has everything that is expected from an English village – the village church, four pubs and a world famous tea garden.
Apart from the beauty of the village, it has an atmosphere of gentility. To a large extent, this must be attributable to the famous poem by the First World War poet, Rupert Brooke, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, in which the village is immortalised. On leaving King’s College, Cambridge in 1909, Rupert Brooke stayed in lodgings at Orchard House and later, moved next door to the Old Vicarage. He fell in love with his lifestyle in Grantchester. On a trip to Berlin in 1912, he wrote the poem, which contains the famous lines:-
‘…… Oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?’
It is no wonder that The Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester attracts visitors from all over the world to share in the British tradition of afternoon tea. The Orchard has been a part of Cambridge life for over 100 years and it is said that more famous people have enjoyed tea at The Orchard than anywhere else in the world. These include academics, film stars, heads of state, scientists, kings and princes. Pandit Nehru, Stephen Hawking, Sir Frank Whittle, Sir John Betjeman, Prince Charles, King George VI, Jeffrey and Mary Archer, who now own The Old Vicarage next door, John Cleese and Eric Idle of Monty Python fame and Sir David Attenborough, have all taken afternoon tea beneath the branches of the fruit trees.
It began in 1897, when the owner of Orchard House, Mrs. Stevenson, was asked by a group of Cambridge students to serve them tea under the blossoming fruit trees. This extended to the tradition of serving breakfast of champagne and strawberries to couples who had been at the all night end of term May Balls and made their way there by punt, to be later served scones and honey from The Old Vicarage beehives. The original wooden tea pavilion still survives and there is a small Rupert Brooke Museum. This is still ‘forever England’, which is an evocative phrase taken from Rupert Brooke’s First World War poem, ‘The Soldier’, which he wrote a few months before his death in 1915, at the age of 27. He died on a troop ship bound for Gallipoli and was buried on the Greek island of Skyros. The first line of this poem suggests that Rupert Brooke had a premonition of his death:-
‘If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.’
The Old Vicarage, so beloved by Rupert Brooke, was built about 1685. He was only here for a few years, but Brooke loved his idyllic bohemian life. His rooms were the ground floor room under the verandah at the front on the right and the bedroom above. Here he was ‘as happy as the day’s long’, bathing in the Byron Pool (named after Lord Byron) by day and by moonlight and living off fruit and honey. He was the centre of the Grantchester Group, a group of distinguished friends – E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell and Augustus John, who shared this happy existence before World War I ensued.
The Church of St. Andrew and St. Mary, immortalised in Rupert Brooke’s poem, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, stands high above Mill Way. Parts date from the 12th century, but the notable chancel is from the 14th century and the tower bearing the clock, is from the early 15th century. In the churchyard is the War Memorial, recording the names of the men from Grantchester who died in the World Wars 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. Rupert Brooke’s name is included.
The Red Lion, a thatched pub, dates from 1936, but the oldest building belongs to the Green Man. The Rupert Brooke pub for the previous 100 years, was known as the Rose and Crown, but changed to the present name in the 1970s.