The ‘Life and Work of Leonard Clark’ exhibition at St Stephens Church, Cinderford on Saturday 10 the September 2016, attracted over 50 visitors. Staged as part of the Heritage Open Day programme, the event featured information about Leonard Clark’s life, recordings of him reading his work and a huge collection of his published work. The sheer diversity and breadth of his writing from 1924 until after his death in 1981, surprised and delighted many of those who attended. Most visitors had heard of or read his biographical accounts of growing up in the Forest and there was discussion about many of the characters and places in his books including the organist at St Stephens and teachers at Double View School.
People from Cinderford remembered the George family, and several remembered Leonard Clark himself from his visits to the Forest and in one instance, an overnight stay at their home. One visitor recalled Leonard attending a harvest festival service at the church in 1980 when he told a story about a young chorister at the church that turned out to be the author himself. The service of remembrance attended by Leonard Clark’s wife and son was recalled, and also the challenges in making arrangements for the interment of his ashes within the church that took three and a half years, until 1985.
The Reading the Forest team were particularly delighted to see press cuttings, and letters received from local people from Leonard Clark. These were easily recognisable by his small and precise script; he used a type writer in the 1940’s but preferred handwritten letters. One batch of letters contained correspondence between Leonard Clark and one of his pupils that began in 1944 and continued throughout his life. In the letters he encouraged his ex-pupil (from Double View school) to continue their reading and provided recommendations. Sylvia Mills recalled taking her daughter, Mairi, to receive a poetry prize from him at Stroud Subscription rooms. Several, mostly retired teachers remarked on his influence on how they taught poetry. Ninety-three-year-old, Joan Reed (pictured left), remembered using his anthology Common Ground to teach poetry in High school after she qualified as a teacher in 1947.
The overall impression gained from people who remembered him and the correspondence was of a man who, despite celebrity and national recognition, was still grounded in the Forest and felt firmly anchored to his roots in Cinderford. He appears to have struggled to find the security and comfort he had experienced in his formative years. His frequent returns in later life brought him back into contact with the Forest and other emerging authors over whom his work had a significant influence. The Reading the Forest team were extremely grateful to the people who came along and Cinderford Churches for hosting the event and providing refreshments.