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.
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?