Monday, 18 February 2019

Pest house connection to Coleridge

Pest house connection to Coleridge

Sir, — I am responding to your Hidden Henley item about Townlands Memorial Hospital (Standard, November 30).

The building you showed is the refurbished pest house or isolation ward for the Henley Union workhouse.

When I photographed it in 2009 it was covered in foliage both inside and out, as my picture shows.

The following is an extract from an article I wrote about the pest house (full version at assendonmuseum.co.uk).

“In February 1794 two troopers from the King’s Light Dragoons stationed in Reading occupied the Pest House for eight days.

“One had smallpox. The other, who had been charged with caring for him, was Silas Tomkyn Comberbache. This was an alias used by the poet Samuel Taylor Coledridge. Suffering from debt due to an addiction to opium, alcohol and women, Coleridge had left Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was studying, and joined the army.

“But, barely able to ride a horse, he was given the job of nursing his fellow recruit.

“His time spent in the cramped conditions may have been part of the inspiration for his poem The Ancient Mariner.”

I am surprised that the Henley Wrecking Group (HRG) did not pick up on Coleridge’s association and suggest that his name should be acknowledged or remembered in the new housing on site, especially when they spent 15 years getting the town a largely empty hospital with no beds. — Yours faithfully,

Tony Taylor

Knappe Close, Henley

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