Wiles’ Walk

posted 15 Apr 2017, 10:04 by Uta Frith   [ updated 20 Apr 2017, 09:31 by Chris Frith ]

In the summer of 1869, the sculptor Henry Wiles and his brothers, John & Joseph, spent several days walking from Bedford to Olney and then back to Cambridge. Henry kept a detailed account of where he went, what he saw, and who he met, which he illustrated with watercolours.

Henry was my great grandfather. I inherited his notebook and have retraced his steps. The pages of the notebook are reproduced here alongside my comments.

The purpose of the walk was to visit the haunts of three heroes of the evangelical movement - Cowper, Newton and Bunyan. William Cowper, the poet, and John Newton, the reformed slave trader, lived in Olney. There they had written the Olney Hymns, including ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘God moves in a mysterious way’. John Bunyan lived in Elstow. Because of his refusal to stop preaching Bunyan spent 12 years in Bedford prison where he wrote most of The Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the most widely read books in the English language.

Henry and his brothers appreciate the beauties of nature, enjoy the occasional glass of ale, and are fascinated by recent technological developments. Henry tells the story of the Throckmorton coat and marvels at the Gamlingay Moon. But he and his brothers were Strict & Particular Baptists. They carefully tested the people they met and spurned those who had no appreciation of ‘eternal things’. In later years this religious sensitivity would lead to a split between Henry and Joseph.

But for the moment nature is glorious, food is cheap, and everyone is hospitable. 

The brothers walk together ‘like giants refreshed’.

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