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2nd Jul, 2022

Paying tribute to a famous export

Malvern Editorial 30th Dec, 2013 Updated: 20th Oct, 2016

<b>Special report from Ledbury

Jan Long</b>

SPENDING Christmas with family in Firenze (Florence, Italy), I made a point of visiting the home and grave of our local poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

We are all familiar with the story of how Elizabeth Moulton Barrett was born in County Durham and moved to Hope End, (Wellington Heath) near Ledbury where she lived from 1809 to 1832, before moving to the West Country and then London.

It was in Wimpole Street where as an invalid she was visited by Robert Browning and married him in secret before eloping to Italy, escaping her tyrannical father Edward.

Elizabeth and Robert lived in Pisa and then moved to Florence where arguably she composed some of her finest literary works. The Casa Guidi is now available to visit from April to November and sadly was closed when I went there, although I was able to take a photograph of the exterior, including the plaque erected in her memory by the grateful people of Florence.

The English Cemetery however was open and I paid homage to EBB (the inscription on her tomb) leaving a small posy of flowers at the graveside.

The white marble six-pillared tomb is set amongst cypress trees and shrubs on a huge roundabout, encircled by a constant stream of traffic on a busy road.

‘Nun in exile’, British born Julia Bolton Holloway, is the erudite archivist and keeper of the graveyard.

Julia has edited Elizabeth’s poems for Penguin books and is extraordinarily knowledgeable about Elizabeth Barrett Browning and subscribes to the theory that Elizabeth’s death was not entirely of natural causes.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning died aged 55 years. Her funeral took place on July 1 1861, gathered about her coffin were Robert and Pennini (her only son whom she called Pen), widower and orphan, Isa Blagden, Robert Bulwer-Lytton, Kate Field, Thomas Adolphus Trollope, the Powers, the Storys.

The funeral over (and before the tomb had been erected), Robert and Pen left for London and Robert never returned to Italy, even after this splendid tomb had been installed as a memorial to his dead wife.

Pen, however did return and set about restoring the house at number eight, Piazza Santa Felice, Casa Guidi.

The story of EBB is a mysterious and complex one, not least from her time near Ledbury through to her untimely death in Florence, we are fortunate that her legacy of brilliant writings lives on.

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