THE HEATHS’ OF GRATTON
(from The Leek Post & Times, 12 August, 1939)
ON May 5th, 70 years ago, George Heath, of Gratton, known as The Moorland Poet, exchanged Mortality for Life. May, 1939, saw the passing of his youngest brother, Joseph, at Wellington, New Zealand.
The writer of this tribute never met the Poet but counted it an honour to have had the friendship of his worthy father and his three younger sons—James, William and Joseph.
It is probable that the little village of Gratton, in the parish of Horton, has never produced a son more worthy of fame than George Heath. Lovers of poetry will not readily let die the memory of this gifted young man who died at the age of 26 ere his literary powers had time to fully develop. His poem on Rudyard gives a taste of what we might have expected had not the fell disease of consumption laid its cruel hand on him as he worked in his early twenties on the repair of the roof of Horton Church.
In the quiet thatched cottage where he was born and where dwelt his noble parents, he sought to improve his scanty education, helped and encouraged by his good friend, the Rev. J. Badnell, M.A., Vicar of Endon. To him and to the Poet’s brother, James, we are chiefly indebted for the volume of verse published after the Poet’s death.
One would like to suggest to our local education authorities the desirability of encouraging the more frequent use of George Heath’s verse in our day schools, so making it possible for the present generation to become acquainted with the work of one who lived and died in North Staffs. Now and then a teacher might with profit take a group of senior scholars to visit the home of the Poet and the dimly lighted bedroom where many of his compositions were written. This is a little cottage near to Gratton Hall farm, now occupied by Miss Wood, grand daughter of the eldest sister of the poet; and here about the time when Queen Victoria came to the throne — Heath and his good wife set up housekeeping.
A family of eight children, four sons and four daughters, came into this godly cottage home. The daughters died in early womanhood, but the sons, apart from George, lived to a good age.
James became a joiner and builder, and one of his most important works was the building of All Saints’ Church, Compton, and in his home in Spencer Avenue his worthy father ended his days, and was buried in Horton churchyard near to the grave of the Poet.
The first time the writer met the old gentleman was as he sat amid a class of boys at the entrance to the Methodist Chapel at Gratton.
Another son, William, was for many years a greatly esteemed local preacher in the Leek Wesleyan Circuit until he followed some of his family to New Zealand, where he died a short time later.
Joseph, the youngest son, went to New Zealand in or about 1902. Like his father and brothers, he was of a quiet nature, and, like them, a man of simple faith in God and of sterling worth, and now, the last of his family, he has “gone where all the ship’s company meet who sailed with the Saviour beneath.” — J. W. W.