Nestled in the Lincolnshire Wolds, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, lies Somersby, a small hamlet of around 15 dwellings. The scenery has not changed much since Tennyson’s day.
Somersby is mentioned in the Domesday book as Sumerdebi. There are varying accounts on whether the origins of the name are Danish or Norman. The -by suffix originally meant a farmstead but many of these places grew into villages, towns or even cities, taking the -by suffix with them in their names.
Going further back in time, evidence has been found of late Neolithic/early Bronze Age cremations being held at Somersby.
In various antiquated documents there are mentions of a (wind)mill, a bathhouse in the woods which was actually a medieval well-head and possible bathing place. There is mention of a school were the Tennyson children were educated for a while but which was actually a cottage that later burned down, and there is mention of a skittle alley and a barbers shop. All are long gone.
At present, the nearest village shop is in Tetford, the nearest pubs are in Salmonby, Tetford, Hagworthingham and South Ormsby. The village does however have a self-catering cottage ‘The Cowshed,’ located opposite the church and next door to the impressive looking Grange.
In the census of 1821 there were 95 people living in Somersby, roughly a quarter of whom were probably made up of the Tennyson household; in 2013 numbers have dwindled to around 30 inhabitants.
The Grange is a Grade I manor house built in 1722 for the local landowners the Burton family. It is often mistaken for Tennyson’s birthplace. With its embattlements it is said to be designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, though this has not been proven. Drawings in the Banks Collection, Lincoln, say designed by ‘Robert Alfray.’
One Langhorn Burton was born in Somersby on the 25th of December 1872 and went on to become a film actor, appearing in several films between 1917 and 1930. He died in 1949 in London.
The Rectory – now a private home and called Somersby House – was home to the Tennyson’s from 1808 until 1837. The cream coloured Georgian pantiled house was rebuilt and improved before the Tennyson’s moved in but Dr George Clayton Tennyson, Alfred’s father, enlarged the house and in 1819 built the ‘Gothic Hall’ at the back to house his extensive library.
George – a scholarly and talented man – did some of the woodcarving and moulding of the fireplace himself. In 1824, George Tennyson complained that there were 23 people sleeping in the house suggesting there must have been besides the family about ten servants, a large household for a country rector and a relatively small house.
In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Somersby like this: “SOMERSBY, a parish in Horncastle district, Lincoln; 6½ miles ENE of Horncastle r. station. Post town, Horncastle. Acres, 600. Real property, £945. Pop., 72. Houses, 11. The manor belongs to the Rev. L. B. Burton. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Lincoln. Value, £220. (now £16,500) Patron, the Rev. L. B. Burton. The church was repaired in 1833. The poet Tennyson is a native.”
There are three roads into Somersby that meet in front of the charming and welcoming St. Margaret’s Church where Tennyson’s father was rector until his death in 1831.
You can follow Bridge Road downhill to the west where you come to the bridge built during Alfred’s youth in the 1820’s and that crosses the River Lymn, Tennysons famous babbling brook. The Lymn, whose source is close to nearby Fulletby meanders on to Stockwith Mill, and then onwards, becoming the River Steeping at Halton Holegate and flowing into the sea at Gibraltar Point, south of Skegness, where it is known as Wainfleet Haven.
Carry on following the lane out of the village towards Salmonby and see the disused quarry with is khaki coloured Spilsby sandstone on your right. Some of this stone was used to repair the church in Victorian times. Further along and just past the New England plantation with its tall pine trees you cross the Meridian line at Grid reference 335731.
Follow the Tetford Road and pass Holywell Wood on your left as you leave the village, now on private land but in Tennyson’s day one of his favourite haunts.
The news of Lord Byron’s death (19th April 1824) made a deep impression on Alfred: “It was a day”, he said, “when the whole world seemed to be darkened for me”.
He went into these woods and carved “Byron is dead” on a rock.
The River Lymn carves its way through the steeply banked wood. In Tennyson’s day there would have been footpaths and glades running through it. A medieval bathhouse once stood there. It was turned into a school for several years but was abandoned when the landowner complained of the children disturbing his game. A small pile of bricks remain.
Holywell is where Alfred brought his Cambridge friend Arthur Hallam who consequently met and fell in love with Alfred’s sister Emily there. And so too are these woods the place where Alfred met his future wife Emily Sellwood of Horncastle.
To the north of the village is Warden Hill at 113 meters / 371 feet above sea level at TF347737. Though off the public footpaths, on a clear day the North Norfolk coastline can be seen to the south-east and the Humber Estuary to the north-east from this point.
To the east of Somersby on the road from Harrington lies Bag Enderby the site of the ‘other’ Tennyson church. There is also a footpath that starts at the White House Farm in Somersby and passes one of the few mud and stud thatched cottages left in Lincolnshire as you come into Bag Enderby.
Tennyson began writing his poetry at a very young age, most of it inspired by his pastoral surroundings and the people around him. He would wander the lanes, often at night reciting his prose.
Though he moved several times in his lifetime Tennyson remained true to his Lincolnshire roots which feature in much of his later poetry.