Jean so close to becoming first female poet laureate

JEAN Ingelow was born on March 17, 1820, in a house opposite the building which is now the Co-operative Funeral Directors. The house was demolished when the bridge was built.

She was the first child of William and Jean Ingelow, and was baptised at just six days old at St Botolph’s Church. During the next 11 years her parents had three more daughters, Susanna, Sophie and Eliza and three sons, William, George and Henry.

Her grandfather had been a coal merchant and owned several small trading ships, ultimately moving into banking. By the time Jean was born, her father was in charge of the bank, but the export trade had diminished and Boston was still suffering the effects of the Napoleonic Wars.

There had been a local disaster in 1810, when the sea had broken through the sea banks at Leverton and Friskney. All these factors contributed to the family banking business collapsing in 1825. For the next nine years the children were educated by their mother, then, in 1834, the family moved to Ipswich, where they were taught by a local clergyman.

Jean began writing verse and, with one of her brothers, contributed to ‘Youth’s Magazine’. She was never married, but some of her early verse refers to an unhappy love affair and the courtship of a young girl by a sailor who was lost at sea. Her most famous poem, High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire, was referring to the high tide of 1571, but the effect of the 1810 disaster on her family must have stayed in her mind.

History shows how close a Bostonian came to being the first female poet-laureate. When Alfred, Lord Tennyson died in 1892, a petition was sent to Queen Victoria on behalf of Jean Ingelow’s appointment, but the queen would not consider appointing a female poet. Tennyson admired her writing and liked her as a person and she also enjoyed the friendship of John Ruskin and Christina Rossetti.

She died on July 20, 1897, and there was a glowing obituary in The Times the following day,

There is a letter in the Guildhall museum, which reads: Miss Ingelow presents her compliments to the Mayor of Boston and thanks him for giving her the opportunity of contributing to proposed chimes for the church. She has much pleasure in forwarding a donation of five pounds.

by Paul Mould