Sunday, 6 September 2015

The Upware Republic

A fenland domain with literary connections

In November, 1851, a group of Cambridge University undergraduates founded an independent republic at an old thatched waterside inn near the Fenland village of Upware, with the picturesque name of "Five Miles from Anywhere - No Hurry". Officials - including Consuls and sundry clerics - were appointed, a minute book opened, and inscriptions made upon the walls and windows of the pub.

The members of the Republic included several who were to become eminent in various spheres in later life, including a Master of the Rolls, a Solicitor-General, two co-authors of an authoritative work on the natural history of Central America, a President of the Alpine Club (the mountaineering society), the man who sold Lords cricket ground to the MCC, and many others.

But perhaps the most intriguing name in the Republic's records is that of Samuel Butler, the author of the imaginary-world satire, Erewhon. The student involvement in the Republic seems to have waned after 5 or 6 years, but in the 1860s and later it became a Kingdom under the sway of the eccentric poet Richard Ramsay Fielder MA, of Jesus College, Cambridge, who in "red waistcoat and corduroy breeches", would swig from an earthenware jug of enormous capacity, which he called "His Majesty's pint". Alas, the original pub seems to have long vanished, although there is a modern replacement of the same name.

The Upware Republic was relaunched as an unusual literary society on its 150th anniversary, in November 2001, aiming to research and preserve references to the original Republic and its members, explore its terrain, celebrate Samuel Butler and Erewhon, and revive the traditions of tavern talk, good fellowship and independence of mind associated with the Upwey spirit.

This one farthing commemorative stamp, depicting Samuel Butler, was issued in August 2003 to commemorate the refounding.

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