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Cowper's Summerhouse Retreats
William Cowper's Olney Summer House
Verse on a plaque in the Alcove
Weston Underwood, the Alcove

William Cowper
I need a woman. Not for any dubious intent, but because they can apparently ‘multi-task’ - although it might seem that blokes prefer to do one job properly, rather than bodge six. ONLY JOKING! But the fact remains that in my little writing ‘den,’ at the bottom of the garden, several jobs have acquired an increasing urgency, and not least the need to fix a leaking roof. Oh well, true to gender, perhaps for now I’ll just make a list. In fact blokes and ‘dens’ seem to be synonymous, and this would certainly be so for the poet William Cowper, whose home from 1767 until 1786 would be Orchard Side, at Olney. A gentle, if rather depressed soul, William would seek inspiration for many of his famous works in a summer house in the garden, but when on April 26th 1900 Orchard Side was presented to the town by Mr. W. Collingridge, to become the Cowper and Newton Museum, the garden, in which the summer house was situated, was separately owned. Thus when the Museum trustees were offered first option to purchase the freehold, following a meeting in November 1918 they decided to try and raise the necessary £325, and, with this being successful, the opening ceremony for the garden and summer house was performed on Friday, September 19th 1919 by the Marquis of Lincoln, the Lord Lieutenant. Many notables were present, and in the afternoon a procession of 300 schoolchildren from Olney and the local villages marched along the High Street to Orchard Side, lead by the Town Band. William Cowper’s acquaintance with Orchard Side came to an end in June 1786, when his cousin, the Lady Hesketh by marriage, arrived to live in the town. Appalled by the ‘tottering’ condition of the house, and the thieving disposition of the servants, she swiftly arranged for more suitable accommodation in the nearby village of Weston Underwood, and here William, and his companion, Mrs. Unwin, would begin a new life on November 15th 1786. Yet William seemed far from saddened by this move, for he would now be near his friends the Throckmortons - or ‘Mr. and Mrs. Frog,’ as he affectionately called them - of Weston Hall. Finding inspiration in the surrounding countryside, William would often indulge in rural walks, and sometimes it would be during these that within the tranquil embrace of the ‘Alcove’ he would retire to write. Of hexagonal shape, with three sides open, this had been built by John Higgins in 1753 as a woodland summerhouse for Sir Robert Throckmorton, and, enhanced by views across an extensive sweep of ground, laid out by the renowned ‘Capability Brown,’ it was of little surprise that his poetic abilities were greatly heightened by this situation. However, recently a bank of wind turbines has been plonked right in the middle distance of these inspirational views, and although William had an interest in many innovations (from hot air balloons to medical ‘electrical machines’) it remains conjecture as to whether he would have found the present sight of the flailing arms revolutionary, or whether it would just have given him another depressive turn.