Sunday, 15 July 2018

What will happen to our writers?

Writers with the Spirit of Rebellion About to Disappear?
In two years’ time Nottingham Castle will have been returned to the Victorian splendour of its early days.  The thirty-million-pound transformation will include a new display: Nottingham – Creative City, and at the heart of this project will be a Rebellion gallery. You might be expecting our rebel writers to feature in this new endeavour but they appear to have been overlooked. Byron will get a passing mention but that’s it! And that’s not all; sources have revealed that plans are afoot to remove the local literati currently taking pride of place in the colonnade, perhaps splitting the group up with the majority going to Newstead.

For years, visitors walking towards the entrance of the castle have been welcomed by eight of our writers and poets, in the form of bronze memorials. All but one of these were paid for by a former schoolmaster whose last will and testament left funds for the ‘cultural advancement of the city’.

Surely our writers should be included in the new Rebellion exhibition and, rather than removing the busts from the portico, we could make more of them, providing information to visitors so that they can learn about the history behind the figures.

A Freedom of Information request has gone in to the council to find out what they are intending to do with the writers. Meanwhile, let’s meet them. From left to right, they are:

Philip James Bailey (1816-1902)
Nottingham’s Philip James Bailey is best known for his epic poem Festus. Bailey became obsessed by this poem, revising and expanding it until it boasted 40,000 lines. Festus was supposed to be a favourite of Queen Victoria. In 1856, Bailey was awarded a Civil List pension of a hundred pounds a year, which he drew up until his death, 46 years later.

We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts not breaths;

In feelings, not in figures on a dial.

We should count time by heart throbs: he most lives

Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.

Philip James Bailey

Albert Toft created the bust. As with the other sculptors - except Thompson (the Lawrence bust came much later) - Toft received £300.84 for his creation (about £35,000 in today's money).

Thomas Miller (1808-1874)
Given the lack of portraiture of the basket-maker's apprentice, Ernest Gillick decided to sculpture ‘an allegorical subject suggestive of the poet’s sympathies with nature.’ The resulting memorial panel shows two female allegories appearing on both sides of a simple inscription. When Thomas was a toddler his father - an unsuccessful wharf-keeper and ship-owner - left the family unit. Thomas left school at nine and became a voracious reader whilst finding low paid work (he once threw ‘an iron instrument’ at his vicious boss). On moving to Nottingham in 1831 he set up his own basket-making business and a year later published Songs of the Sea Nymphs. Thomas Miller wrote poems, children's books, penny dreadfuls and several novels, including Fair Rosamund. Often monetarily challenged, in 1851 he unsuccessfully appealed to Charles Dickens for financial assistance.

William Howitt (1792-1879) & Mary Howitt (1799-1888)
William and Mary Howitt are brought to life by George Frampton who depicts the writers reading. The married couple were prolific, controversial and radical. Their interest in spiritualism and nature was matched by a determination to provide wholesome and instructive literature for all. They produced the radical People’s Journal together and collaborated throughout their long literary career, the first of their joint productions being The Forest Minstrels and other Poems (1821). Mary considered herself ‘bound to no class’ and her writing was popular with both adults and children. In addition to her own prose and verse she translated the fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson and the novels of the feminist reformer Fredrika Bremer.

Lord Byron (1788-1824)
Alfred Drury’s bust of the scandalous Lord Byron, one of England’s finest poets, faces the castle’s entrance. The notorious nobleman, poet, peer, and politician was a leading figure of the Romantic Movement. Byron’s maiden speech in the House of Lords came in response to plans to make the breaking of weaving machines a capital crime. He later became a hero in Greece after supporting their movement for independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Henry Kirke White (1785-1806)
Oliver Sheppard's bust of Henry Kirke White sits above a pedestal on which a bowed woman is depicted holding a spray of laurel. Born near the Old Market Square, the son of a local butcher was a prodigious knowledge-seeker and by the age of 13 a prolific writer of poetry.  Refusing to follow the career path expected of him, and inspired by Wilford and Clifton, Henry wrote a collection which greatly impressed the Poet laureate Robert Southey.  With wealthy benefactors admiring his talent, our young poet went to study at Cambridge but tuberculosis cut short his life at the age of 21.

D H Lawrence (1885-1930)
The portrait bust of our greatest and most controversial writer D H Lawrence, sculpted by Diana Thomson, was the last to appear in the colonnade. Thompson also created the life-sized bronze statue of Lawrence placed at the University of Nottingham’s University Park campus in 1994. Thirty years after his death Lawrence helped secure greater freedom of expression following the acquittal of Penguin Books in the Lady Chatterley Trail. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was just one of Lawrence’s works to have been banned.

Robert Millhouse (1788-1839)
This sculptured panel by Ernest Gillick depicts Robert Millhouse with his quill pen.  Nottingham’s weaver-poet, Millhouse was a factory boy who lived in poverty all his life. With an education gained by reading he produced poems such as The Destinies of Man, Sherwood Forest and Blossoms. In 1828 he took part in a strike by the frame-work-knitters.  According to Sir Richard Phillips, Millhouse suffered ‘for his fidelity to his brethren, every kind of privation. He justified this strike, and displayed, with great energy and eloquence, the wretched situation of himself and others’. 

Millhouse was named ‘The Artisan Poet’ and ‘The Burns of Sherwood Forest’.

Hail, Fair Nottingham, albeit thy name

Is not poetical, yet from thee rise

Names mounting up to virtue and to fame.

Robert Millhouse.

Our convention-breaking writers represent Nottingham’s spirit of rebellion and deserve a place at the castle. Of course, the names featured above are only eight that warrant inclusion, there are many, many more rebel writers that should not be overlooked. How can we have a rebellion gallery that does not feature Sillitoe’s Arthur Seaton?

I appreciate that Nottingham has a strong history of rebellion, such as the 1831 Reform Riots in which the Castle was burned down, but our reputation is also built on our writing and stories. It is Lucy Hutchinson’s diary (currently in the castle) that informs much of our knowledge about the castle during the time of King Charles and Nottingham’s role in the English civil war. And where would our most famous hooded rebel be without the tales that made his legend?

20th Century Notts, 1940-1949

1900-02, 1903-05, 1906-08, 1909-11, 1912-14, 1915-17, 1918-20, 1921-23, 1924-26, 1927-29, 1930-32, 1933-35, 1936-38, 1939-41, 1942-44, 1945-47, 1948-50, 1951-53, 1954-56, 1957-59, 1960, 1961-63, 1964-66, 1967-69, 1970-72, 1973-75, 1976-78, 1979-81, 1982-84, 1985-87, 1988-1990, 1991-93, 1994-96, 1997-99

Notts through a literary lens. Next in the series is the 1940s:


To Church on Sunday by Geoffrey Palmer (1940)

Edwinstowe born Geoffrey Palmer (1912–2005) was a member of Edwinstowe’s well-known Rabbitt family. Educated in Notts he became a teacher here until becoming a Conscientious Objector in the war. Forming his own small theatre group, he soon met his partner, the actor Noel Lloyd. Palmer’s only adult novel, To Church on Sunday, was published by Chapman and Hall in 1940. He went on to have a prolific writing career with Lloyd. Their books consisted of adventure and ghost stories as well as many works of non-fiction. In the early 60s they wrote three children’s books set in the Sherwood Forest area (Edwinstowe becomes Edwinston). Palmer later returned to teaching before retiring to become a bookseller.

Immediately after Nottingham entered World War II cinemas across the country were forced to close their doors and become dark. That suspension was lifted after the importance of keeping the cinemas open was realised. At this time two more screens were being built in Nottingham, taking our number of separate cinemas up to 52, a record high (to this day). It was in 1940 that Sunday openings were permitted for the first time despite concerns that Sabbath screenings would harm the moral fibre of the population and reduce the number of churchgoers.


The Long Walk by SÅ‚avomir Rawicz (1956)

Slavomir Rawicz escaped from a Russian gulag camp in 1941. He was one of seven escapees that made their way from Siberia to British India, by way of China, the Gobi Desert, Tibet and the Himalayas. This incredible journey was told in the 2010 film The Way Back and, earlier, in Rawicz’s ghost-written book The Long Walk. The memoir is an epic tale of physical and mental resilience; a 4,000-mile walk, living off the land in a harsh environment. By the time he was rescued Rawicz weighed just 5 stone. After the war he settled in Nottingham, one of thousands of Polish people to make a life here. He worked as a school handicraft and woodwork instructor, and a cabinet maker, later to be employed by the Nottingham building and design centre, before becoming a technician at Trent Poly (Nottingham Trent University). His wife Marjorie, a librarian who had helped with the book, assisted ‘Slav’ in answering the many letters he continued to receive from admirers. The Long Walk, never out of print, has sold half a million copies.  
It was about nine o’clock one bleak November day that they key rattled in the heavy lock of my cell in the Lubyanka Prison and the two broad-shouldered guards marched purposefully in. (from The Long Walk

The Nottingham Poetry Society was founded originally as the Nottingham Branch of the Poetry Society of London. It was in 1941 that Margery Smith wrote to the society in London requesting the names of members living in the Nottingham area. She then met with three other women to form the Nottingham branch. The Society met on Friar Lane once a month. Annual Subscription was one guinea, a fee that included issues of Poetry Review. The Nottingham Poetry Society continues to thrive, holding a variety of events throughout the year, including slam competitions, workshops, readings and lectures. In 2011, the society published an anthology marking their 70th anniversary.


One Small Candle by Cecil Roberts (1942)

During the war Cecil Roberts worked for Lord Halifax, the British Ambassador in Washington, and he gave speeches on behalf of the British Government, whilst still managing to have several books published. His 1942 novel, One Small Candle, is about a gifted and lucky young playwright with a strong desire to travel. The protagonist leaves an idyllic Henley-on Thames to live, love and see the world after a generous offer arrives from Hollywood. It was described by The New York Times as ‘a book that keeps you entertained and never throws you out of balance’.

At the age of twenty-seven Roberts had been England’s youngest daily newspaper editor. This was at the Nottingham Journal on Parliament Street. 

John Gielgud appeared as Macbeth at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal as part of a 1942 tour of the play. Gielgud had volunteered for active service at the start of the war but was told that, at thirty-five, he was not required at that time. The government then decided that professional actors would be better used performing for the troops and general public than on active duty. Critics said that Gielgud was not up to playing the Scottish general whilst the actor himself conceded that he could not achieve the “ruthless energetic quality” required of the role.

During this tour of Macbeth the costume and set designer committed suicide, and a further three actors died - and they say the play’s cursed.


They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple (1943)

This the story of three sisters, the different marital choices they make and how those choices impact on them; all set in an era when women stuck in a bad marriage had little or no option of reprieve. Whipple’s writing has aged well; her characters well-drawn and recognisable. They Were Sisters is an authentic account of domestic middle-class life with a menacing undertone that holds attention.

Moral failure or spiritual failure or whatever you call it, makes such a vicious circle... It seems as if when we love people and they fall short, we retaliate by falling shorter ourselves. (from They Were Sisters)

Alma Reville co-wrote the 1943 psychological thriller Shadow of a Doubt, a screenplay described by the New York Times as ‘a graphic and affectionate outline of a small-town American family’. Reville was born in Nottingham in 1899, a few hours after her future husband and collaborator Alfred Hitchcock was born in Leytonstone. It was in 1925, on a stormy boat journey back from Munich, that lovesick Hitchcock proposed to seasick Reville. She later said, ‘It was the first time I had ever seen him in a state of disorder, and the last time too. His hair had been blown about by the wind and his clothes had been soaked with ocean spray.’


SAS Operation Galia by Rob Hann (2009)

In SAS Operation Galia Nottingham author Rob Hann describes his father’s experiences as a paratrooper dropped behind the lines in Italy, two days after the Christmas of 1944 during the harshest of winters. Drawing on post-op reports and memoirs, this Impress Prize winning book is a fictionalised account of the operation, one of the hardest fought and most successful operations of the Second World War. Well researched and richly illustrated, Hann's personal narrative brings to life the co-ordinated attempts of the SAS and local partisans to engage and evade the enemy.

A sixteen-year-old Edmund Ward left home in 1944. Ward’s mother had died when he was six leading to an unhappy domestic life which he was glad to escape. A talented and prize-winning schoolboy, Ward was denied the chance of a job at the Nottingham Post because they only paid 15 shillings a week. Instead he was obliged to take a book-keepers role at Boots – his father’s employers – for double the wage. He hated the work and took time off to read every book in his local library, a feat achieved by his twentieth birthday. Nottingham born Ward later moved to Sweden. He wrote seven novels including Summer in Retreat, The Gravy Train and The Private Tightrope, and his screenplays created some of the most popular television dramas of the ‘60s and ‘70s.



The Escape by Clare Harvey (2018)

In a winter morning of 1945 a translator for a Nazi-run labour camp for French workers passes a group of exhausted prisoners of war marching westward. The following day she receives an urgent message to contact the local priest who is harbouring a group of escapees. Can she help? Published later this year (2018), The Escape is another mix of secrets, drama and relationships, as Clare Harvey continues to meld thrilling historical fiction with real-life characters and events. The author lives in Nottingham and completed a MA course in creative writing at the University of Nottingham.

The year sees a film version of Mapperley Park resident Dorothy Whipple’s novel They Were Sisters. With its all-star British cast, the film was voted one of the four best films of the year. The sisters are played by Phyllis Calvert (as Lucy), Dulcie Gray (as Charlotte) and Anne Crawford (as Vera). Of the different men pursuing them it is James Mason who lands the role of Geoffrey, the ambitious and cruel businessman wanting a stay-at-home trophy wife. The film is noted for its harrowing depiction of marital abuse.


The Day is Ours by Hilda Lewis

Former teacher Hilda Lewis began writing after she arrived in Nottingham in the 1920s. Her 1946 novel The Day is Ours concerns the life of a young deaf girl and the affects her condition has on her family as they struggle to give her a better life. The book was inspired by the work of her husband Professor M. Michael Lewis who was a specialist in the education of the deaf at the University of Nottingham. The Day is Ours was adapted as the film Mandy, described as ‘the greatest emotional drama yet brought to the screen’.

The Nottingham Co-op bought a chapel on George Street where it founded the Co-operative Arts Theatre in 1946. The need for the theatre had come after the Choral, Operatic and Drama groups had outgrown their previous venue at Co-op House. When the Co-operative Wholesale Society intended to close the theatre - in 1999 - a theatre group started a campaign to buy the building. With help from Nottingham City Council and the Broadway Media Centre the asking price was met. The small theatre in the Lace Market remains active. Now called Nottingham Arts Theatre, this pink building is home to an educational charity which still provides opportunities for all within performing arts.


Eight for Eternity by Cecil Roberts

Published in 1947, Eight for Eternity is one of Cecil Roberts’ more accessible reads. A Freeman of Nottingham, Roberts spent his later years living in Italy, and Monte Cassino is the setting for this story of war. The world wars have ripped apart cities and families, and peace cannot repair the destruction. Roberts reflects on the meaning of life and the nature of death. Told with flashbacks Eight for Eternity explores guilt and spirituality at a time when the world is processing great loss.

It was in 1947 that Stephen Lowe was born in Sneinton. The son of a labourer and a machinist, Stephen grew up in a neighbourhood of back-to-back housing before his family moved up in the world, to the high-rise flats of Manvers Court. A love of the theatre grew from his joining the youth group at the new Co-operative Arts Theatre, a place he enjoyed so much he was known to sleep there at weekends. The actor, director and artistic director but is perhaps best-known as a playwright (Touched, The Spirit of the Man, Glamour), but he has also written extensively for film and TV, including a hundred episodes of Coronation Street. Stephen Lowe is the President of Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature.


1948 by Andy Croft (2012)

Echoing George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Croft’s comic verse-novel is set during the 1948 London Olympics. It’s a radical alternate history of the Cold War, in which Britain rebuilds under a Labour-Communist coalition government. In Croft’s vision the Royal Family has fled to Rhodesia and the US threatens to impose an economic blockade on Britain. Featuring illustrations by Martin Rowson, 1948 combines the hard-boiled detective novels with Pushkin sonnetry, film-noir and Ealing comedy.

It was a bright cold day in April. Oh no it wasn’t – for a start I cannot find a rhyme for April… (from 1948 by Andy Croft)

In 1948 University College Nottingham was awarded the Royal Charter becoming The University of Nottingham, Britain's first post-war university, and now able to award degrees in its own name. Today, University of Nottingham is consistently ranked amongst the world's top 100 universities and has over 43,000 students from 150 countries.


Miranda Seymour, novelist, biographer and critic, was born in 1948. Seymour began writing as a historical novelist, moving from fiction into biography during the 1980s with her remarkable group portrait of Henry James and his literary circle: A Ring of Conspirators.

Also born in this year was Max Blagg. The Retford born poet, writer and performer is an established and respected figure on the New York literary scene, the city in which he’s lived since 1971. In the last two years Blagg has raised the dead in a series of interviews with famous deceased celebrities.



No Boats on Bannermere (1949) by Geoffrey Trease

No Boats on Bannermere the first of Trease’s five Bannerdale novels set in Cumberland, in the Lake District. The author’s daughter and her friends requested he write a ‘modern’ story about boys and girls who went to day schools rather than the usual boarding school stories they were given to read. In the book, Bill (the narrator), his practical sister Sue, and their mother move to the Lake District. Finances are tight and the children must start their new school which means making friends with the locals. The title is in reference to the character Sir Alfred Askew, owner of Bannermere Hall, who allows no boats on the lake. The kids investigate why? 

The iconic Nottingham entertainer Su Pollard was born in 1949. Our Su is a patron of the Nottingham based group New Writers UK.