MOST people will have heard of Pope although relatively few would be able to name one of his poems.

It’s ironic, therefore, that nearly everyone will recognise and may even know by heart, the lines: - “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread” and “To err is human; to forgive, divine”.

Pope had early success with his witty and satirical verse and by the age of twenty-three already had aristocratic supporters.

It’s not clear whether he first encountered Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough through these or among his circle of literary friends, for the earl would have been equally at home with either. What is certain is that it was a most unlikely friendship.

Pope had suffered a teenage illness that had left him twisted in body, of much below average height and a martyr to ill health. Peterborough, much the elder of the pair, was a headstrong man of action who had led British forces in the War of the Spanish Succession.

Their early meetings took place in London but once the earl had moved to Southampton and begun the creation of the Bevois Mount Estate, Pope became a frequent visitor, warmly welcomed by both Peterborough and his second wife, Anastasia Robinson.

The two men shared an interest in horticulture and spent a lot of time absorbed in planning the grounds of the estate.

Pope had personally designed the gardens and created at a grotto at his villa in Twickenham and so he had a lot of experience to offer.

At other times Pope preferred his own company and his hosts were happy to accommodate him.

His favourite activity seems to have been to stroll across the estate and climb the mount to the summer house. The path that he habitually followed became known as Pope’s Walk.

In a letter to his fellow writer, Dr Arbuthnot, he says, “I write this from the most beautiful Top of a Hill I ever saw, a little house that overlooks the Sea, Southampton & the Isle of Wight; where I study, write, and have what Leisure I please”.

In a letter to the Earl of Oxford, he celebrated, “the best Sea fish and River fish in the world, much tranquillity, some Reading, no Politiques, admirable Melons, an excellent Bowling-green and Ninepin alley”.

On another occasion he wrote, “This place is beautiful beyond imagination” – a sentiment that even the most loyal resident of present day Bevois Mount might have difficulty in agreeing with!

Pope and Peterborough enjoyed expeditions from Bevois Mount, and we know about some of them from the poet’s letters.

One outing was to Beaulieu Palace House to visit the Duchess of Montagu.

Another was a visit to Winchester College to present prizes to the boys.

A more ambitious expedition was when they sailed from Southampton on a yacht manned by three seamen and cruised along the coast until they reached a wooded promontory and weighed anchor. They went ashore to explore and chanced upon the ruins of Netley Abbey, the beauty of which enchanted them both.

Pope’s visit to Bevois Mount in 1735 was a sad one. Peterborough was already suffering what was to be his final illness.

The poet wrote in great detail to his friend, Martha Blount, about the scene which greeted him when he arrived in Southampton.

“He has with him, day after day, not only all his relations, but every creature of the town of Southampton that please. He lies on his couch and receives them: tho’ he says little.”

Knowing he had little time left, the earl extracted a promise from Pope that he would return to the Bevois Mount and help the countess to complete the landscaping of the estate.

We know that the poet kept his promise because there are records of him returning to Southampton, at least twice, to visit Anastasia.

Article by Ally Hayes - tour guide with