It's 130 years since the notorious 'killing of the bears' - an incident that has reverberated down the years as one of the indicative stories of the Forest of Dean. Reading the Forest is marking this grizzly anniversary by exploring the fictions, histories, poems and films that have drawn on those gruesome events - 130yrs of bear stories. Join us on the exact anniversary, the 26th April, at The Malt Shovel for the Un-bear-able Pub Quiz - an evening of local history and bear themed questions to test your trivia knowledge. On Saturday 27th April we're at Ruardean Memorial Hall for an exhibition, screenings, talk and discussion. Amongst the display will be original documents from the trial, and examples of the poetry and prose inspired by the events. Amongst the film clips being shown will be the BBC feature from 1964, whilst the talk, 1'30 years later: Bear facts, Bear stories and Bearing history’, will be focusing on how the story has been used and abused down the years. The day will be rounded off with a local panel discussion chaired by BBC Gloucestershire's Kate Clark and hopefully lots of lively debate from everyone at the event.
Friday 26th April: The Unbearable Pub Quiz
The Malt Shovel, Ruardean, GL179TW.
£1 per-person to join the quiz, proceeds to animal charity World Animal Protection. Maximum team size 6 people.
Saturday 27th April: Bear Stories
Ruardean Memorial Hall, Ruardean, GL179UP
(donations accepted to animal charityWorld Animal Protection)
Exhibition opens 12noon, screenings from 12.30, talk at 2pm, panel discussion & open forum from 3.15.
Jean Mohr’s photographs for his 1967 book with John Berger, A Fortunate Man, drew nearly three hundred people to the Assembly Rooms at the heart of St Briavels in an exhibition over the 30th and 31st of March. Twenty of Mohr’s original photographic prints for the book were on display for the first time in the UK on loan from the photographic archive at the Musee de l’Elysee in Switzerland. The St Briavels show was the culmination of month-long project that saw a new generation of photographers inspired by to Mohr’s work to take their own photographs reflecting life in the Forest of Dean today.
The first part of the exhibition opened at University of Gloucestershire’s Hardwick Gallery in Cheltenham with an expert panel and invited guests discussing the photographs and asking what subjects might reflect the reality of the Forest today. Students form the University’s Documentary Photography course then spent two days with a range of groups in the Forest taking pictures for display alongside Mohr’s. The whole exhibition then moved to St Briavels were Mohr had worked with Berger, following the work of local GP Dr John Eskell and his patients. Opening the exhibition, Dame Janet Trotter remarked on the power of the Mohr’s pictures, and reflected on her own career journey working in both the health service and academia, and on the changes in the NHS since Eskell’s time. Also at the opening were Ivy Gunter and Brychan Gretton whose portraits featured in the book. Over the next two days people from near and far visited to see Mohr’s photographs and those taken by the students.
Brychan Gretton holding his original portrait, a gift sent from Switzerland by Jean Mohr
Millie Wasley wife of the late Garnet Wasley who features in the photograph
Some of the twenty Mohr prints on show at St Briavels
This March sees a unique photography exhibition come to Gloucestershire, as for the first time in the UK a selection of Jean Mohr's iconic photographs for the book A Fortunate Man (1967) go on show. The pictures are a loan from the Mohr archive at the Musee de l'Elysee in Lausanne, Switzerland to the University of Gloucestershire. The result of several years work by Reading the Forest, twenty of the original black & white prints made by Mohr himself will be shown first at the University's Hardwick Gallery in Cheltenham, then in special weekend-long show at St Briavels in the Forest of Dean. The photographs were taken by Jean Mohr when he spent several weeks following St Briavels GP Dr John Eskell as he made his rounds and held surgery.
The book was a collaboration between Mohr as photographer, and the renowned art critic, author and broadcaster John Berger as writer. A Fortunate Man would become one of the definitive studies of what it means to be a GP, the doctor'-patient relationship, and the role of the GP in the community, and even today remains recommended reading for trainee general practitioners. Whilst the majority of the pictures on loan are the ones that appear in the book, also in the exhibition will be pictures showing Berger & Mohr themselves at work on the book, observing Dr Eskell and making notes. The exhibition focuses on the photographic aspect of the book, and is all the more poignant with Swiss photographer Mohr having passed away in November. This show follows on from last summer’s Reading the Forest weekend of exhibition, discussions and film screenings at St Briavels that marked fifty years of A Fortunate Man, with much of the focus being on Berger and Dr Eskell himself. Whilst this new exhibition seeks to address the balance, visitors will get another chance to see some of the material from last year's show, explaining the background to the book, its authors, Dr Eskell, and the Forest of Dean in the 1960s.
And bringing the relevance of Mohr's work right up to date, a group of University of Gloucestershire photography degree students will be following in his footsteps as they go on assignment in the Forest of Dean. Inspired by Mohr they will be spending two days in the Forest, hosted by a number of local organisations, photographing people at work and play to create a portrait of the Forest community today. This new work will then go on show alongside Mohr's in a fitting dialogue between a master of documentary photography and the next generation of photographers.
The Cheltenham show runs from Tuesday March 12th until Thursday 28th (10am- 4pm, weekdays only) at The Hardwick Gallery. On Saturday 30th (11am-4pm) and Sunday 31st (10am-4pm) the show will be at St Briavels Assembly Rooms. Entry at both venues is free of charge. The exhibition is a partnership between Reading the Forest and University of Gloucestershire, Musee de l'Elysee, St Briavels Parish Council, the Janet Trotter Trust.
Doug McLean opened The Forest Bookshop in the 1970s and it quickly became one of the cultural hubs of the Forest. Even more importantly Doug was soon publishing local authors - many of whom became close friends. In what is sure to be a fascinating and entertaining illustrated talk at Newnham Community Library, Doug will be recalling over 40 years in Forest publishing. From books to recordings and readings Doug worked with some of the best loved Forest authors, such as Winifred Folwey, F.W. Harvey, Joyce Latham and Harry Beddington. Join Doug to hear all about them, on Thursday 17th January at the Armoury Hall Newnham, 7.30pm start - free admission.
The Forest of Dean now boasts two breathtaking pieces of public art celebrating its rich literary heritage. The second of two giant murals was officially launched on Saturday (3rd November 2018) with a breakfast celebration at Coleford's community cafe, Sixteen, with friends and relatives of the late writers, fans and local dignitaries in attendance. The Coleford mural, on the side of the former Help Me Through the World pub shows three Forest of Dean writers. Dennis Potter and Joyce Latham both grew up in near-by Berry Hill (a stone's throw from the town), whilst Gloucestershire poet F W Harvey lived the latter part of his life at Yorkley, a few miles down the road. All three wrote work about the Forest. Will Harvey tapped into the dialect and stories of the area in many of his poems, and in his war-time broadcasts for BBC Radio, reflecting the character and humour of the Forest. Joyce Latham wrote about her time growing up, detailing some of the challenges faced by working class women at the time. Her poems too touch on many aspects of life and landscape in the Forest of Dean with great warmth and often humour. Dennis Potter became a major figure in television and film. Some of his very earliest work for television, in the form of documentary, were about the Forest, and as he turned to writing television drama several of his most significant splays and serials involved the Forest. Filming on location in the Forest of Dean would often involve local people as extras, and on more than one occasion featured the music of his beloved Berry Hill Band.
Whilst the Coleford mural reflects Forest authors with strong West Dean connections, its sister-mural in Cinderford - opposite community art venue Artspace - depicts three writers with strong associations with East Dean. Leonard Clark grew up in Cindeford and wrote extensively about the Forest in his memoirs and in his poetry. Humourist, poet and playwright Harry Beddington was similarly born in Cinderford and later lived only a few doors up from Clark's former childhood home. Winifred Foley knew the town well as a child growing up in near-by Brierley. Again, for these three writers too, the people and places of the Forest were a vital source of stories, settings, and characters, and they are part of a writing tradition in the Forest dating back to the first years of the nineteenth century - and continues to this day.
The murals are the work of local artist Tom Cousins who worked withReading the Forest on the initial design, then consulted widely with local residents and businesses, taking particular note of people who overlook the murals. "The support for the murals has been really good'" said Tom, "with lots of positive comments even whilst I was still working on them".
With Halloween approaching, the nights getting darker, what more atmospheric place could there be to get a spooky chill than the Forest of Dean? A slight quickening of your step walking down the lane - a slight start at the cough of sheep or the high pitched scream of a fox? There's some great Forest ghost stories too, Harry Beddington's poem The Mon in White for one. And with spooky connections to real historical events there's the haunted houses described by Sue Law in her Ghosts of the Forest of Dean (1982). But many of the best ghost stories turn out to be not quite what they first seem - though scary all the same! The ghost in The Landlord's Story, in Charles Grindrod's Tales In the Speech House, turns out to be....well that would be spoiling it! So, in William S Wickenden's A Rum Story from his A Queer Book (1850), is it really the Devil himself that popped up in Awre church? Here's a clue and a question - is this the earliest English literary mention of a Jack O'Lantern?? Enjoy...
The fabulous Mitcheldean Poetry Recital event is rapidly approaching. Part of the wider Mitcheldean Festival 2018, the community library in the village is hosting a day of poetry on Saturday 21st July. The day will include Costa prize winning poet Jonathan Edwards, poet Ben Ray, and founder of Cheltenham Poetry Festival Anna Saunders. The work of young local writers will feature on the day too, including schools work, as well as the winners of the young writers, and young poets competitions. And in this 100th anniversary year of the 1918 armistice, there will be a celebration by the F W Harvey Society of that most well-loved local poet. For more information visit the event website here.
It's just over 50years since the book, A Fortunate Man, was published and during 23rd - 25th June Reading the Forest staged a series of events to mark it, and explore its relevance today. People from across the Forest of Dean and beyond came to see exhibitions, films, and talks, and to take part in discussions about the book. Although the focus was on the book itself, written by John Berger with photography by Jean Mohr, its subject, "Dr Sassall" - a pseudonym for the real St Briavels GP Dr John Eskell - was inevitably of interest to many of his former patients in the village. Some of their memories of him were captured before the event (you can hear one below, the rest here), with many more emerging over the weekend. In much of the discussion about him as a doctor, and the wider role of the GP, the immense value of continuity of care, (your doctor knowing you as a whole person over your life time), seems to have neatly trailed and backed up a report published today indicating that having the same doctor can actually prolong your life. With much new information coming to light about Eskell, and the book's author John Berger (who at one time lived in the Forest of Dean), the Reading the Forest team will be busy for some time finding out even more about this fascinating book and its origins - watch this space...!
Friday in Soudley
The weekend kicked off with a screening of the 1972 film docu-drama based closely on the book. Filmed in and around Soudley and Blakeney, with a cast made up of local people, nearly 200 came to Soudley Village hall to watch the film, introduced by its director-producer and co-writer Jeff Perks. The audience included some of the (then child) cast, and Jeff even brought with him some of the pictures they had drawn as children showing him and the crew making the film back in 1972. After struggling with less than ideal conditions (sunshine light pollution!) the second screening (after sunset) was much appreciated. There were calls for the film to be released online by the British Film Institute (who can be contacted here email@example.com)
Saturday in St Briavels
There was interest throughout the day at St Briavels Assembly Rooms. As well as the exhibition looking into the origins and context of the book, there was work by the School, inspired by the book, showing Foxglove Class's writing about and drawings of people in the village today. Local visitors were keen to share the names of villagers who were depicted in the 1967 book's photographs, and there was a great deal of reminiscence prompted by watching copies of Dr Eskell's cine films uncovered during research for the event. As well as the 1972 film, a 1967 BBC TV feature about the book was shown that included an interview with John Berger, and lots of local footage in and around the village, and footage of Dr Eskell himself. A lively discussion followed chaired by BBC Gloucestershire's Jo Durrant, with academic James Derounian, and photographer Dr Julia Peck both from the University of Gloucestershire, and local resident Dave Kent, and retired GP Dr Chris Nancollas.
Sunday in St Briavels
As well as many more visitors coming to see the exhibition, some former residents of the village found themselves meeting up with old acquaintances. Word had clearly spread, with interest again in the old films showing the village and its characters, including Dr Eskell hard at work leading the team clearing the castle's old moat. The weekend was rounded off with a guided walk of the village lead by Forest of Dean Local History Society's Di Standing and local resident Robin Harris. Amongst the visitors Sunday were a pair of young doctors interested in the real doctor and community behind the book - testament to the continued relevance and interest in this book 50 years on from its publication.
A forgotten film made in the Forest of Dean will kick off our weekend of events marking 50 years since the publication of the book A Fortunate Man, with a screening in Soudley. Made in 1972 by then young producer-director Jeff Perks, the film was based closely on the book by John Berger and Jean Mohr about a Forest GP and his patients. Though not named, the book was actually about St Briavels doctor John Eskell and featured photographs of him and his patients.
The film was actually shot on location around Blakeney and Soudley. It features local people in all but the lead role of the doctor (played by actor Michael Bryant), and includes scenes with children and staff at Soudley School, and the children of Blakeney Hill Sunday School. Shortly after being made it was shown at a special Littledean House Hotel screening, then to the book’s author John Berger in London, but since then has lain largely forgotten in the vaults of the British Film Institute.
Following a tip off from a local expert, Reading the Forest travelled to London to view the film, and lo and behold, there on the screen was the Forest of Dean. As well as local footage providing a backdrop to the drama, the film includes interviews with a local Freeminer underground, and rare footage of the former chemical works at Beechnehurst as two of the men that work there speak about their jobs.
The film’s maker Jeff Perks (who now works as a sculptor and painter) will be at the screening. ‘I’m really looking forward to coming back to the Forest,’ says Jeff, ‘and especially hoping that maybe some of the people who appeared in the film will be at the screening’.
The film will be shown at Soudley Village Hall at 7.30pm on Friday 22nd June, and again at St Briavels on Saturday 23rd June . Both events are free, and you're all welcome with anyone who remembers the film being made, or who was in it, especially welcome to the Soudley screening to meet Jeff and share your memories of the film.
A Fortunate Man Revisited - 50 years on
In 1967, A Fortunate Man, written by the art-critic John Berger with photographs by Swiss documentary photographer Jean Mohr, was published to international acclaim. It explored the relationship between a rural doctor and his patients in the Forest of Dean and would go on to become recommended reading for trainee GPs. It was an intense, probing analysis of the doctor – Dr John Sassal – but also provoked questions about the role of the GP more widely in society. The setting of the book – St Briavels – and the doctor and his patients were all anonymised in the interests of confidentiality and securing participation, although the pictures and the dramatic death of the GP years later made the location and participants apparent.
In 2015 the book featured at a Royal College of Art conference celebrating Berger’s diverse and prodigious career. As the panel of doctors discussed the book, one aspect was starkly absent: the people and landscape of the Forest of Dean. Last year saw the fiftieth anniversary of the still in print publication and the death of the author. In a weekend of events this June the University of Gloucestershire’s Reading the Forest project, in partnership with FODLHS, seeks to address precisely that: A Fortunate Man Revisited, 50 years On, will examine the book firmly from the perspective of the real community (St Briavels) at the centre of the book. Was it a fair depiction of the village, community and wider Forest of Dean, of the 1960s? What picture does it paint of the real-life St Briavels doctor, John Eskell, at the centre of the book? How accurate is Berger’s depiction and analysis?
The weekend will begin on 22nd June with the presentation of a 1972 docu-drama that featured performances from local people and filmed in Blakeney and Soudley, and then move to St Briavels for a weekend exhibition, tour, talks and discussions, as well as a screening of the 1967 BBC TV feature on the book filmed locally, and cine films from the late 1950s of village life made by Dr Eskell.
More details soon...