Great news for Forest of Dean author Andrew Taylor. His 2019 novel 'The King's Evil' has scooped the prestigious Historical Writers' Association top award, the HWA Gold Crown 2020. In making the award the judges wrote: “The winner, 'The King’s Evil' by Andrew Taylor, is rich in period detail, has great characters and we all unanimously loved it. Andrew Taylor gives you the genuine feeling of being transported back in time to the royal court of King Charles II where murder is afoot. With its rich and exuberant writing and wonderfully realised setting, 'The King’s Evil' is a thrilling, immersive ride.”
Andrew is no stranger to to such accolades for his work. His crime fiction in particular has seen him win the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain’s Historical Dagger Award three times (!), the Cartier Diamond Dagger, and the Golden Crowbar. His novel 'The American Boy' was chosen by The Times newspaper as one of the top ten crime novels of the decade.
Andrew has lived in the Forest of Dean since 1982, and though he has never explicitly located any of his work in the Forest his Lydmotuh Series was set in a fictionalised region clearly inspired by local towns and landscape. Congratulations Andrew from all of us at Reading the Forest on this latest well deserved award!
Sarah Franklin’s much anticipated second novel was released this month. Sarah’s first, ‘Shelter’,was set during World War Two and followed Connie as she escaped the city for the Forest of Dean where she enlisted in the Women’s Timber Core. As Connie settled into her new life as a Lumber Jill we followed her developing relationship with co-worker Seppe, an Italian POW. Drawing on extensive research, and her own family memories, Sarah’s debut was rich in local detail, fascinating history, and complex characters - and was a great success. Her second novel, How To Belong brings us once again to the Forest of Dean, this time the contemporary Forest, and though never over powering the story it is set against the backdrop of some familiar issues: declining high streets, increasingly unaffordable housing, the necessity for some of moving away. We follow two women, from different backgrounds, with different characters, and living very different lives, as they develop an unlikely friendship. We were delighted when Sarah agreed to join us in conversation, with Reading the Forest’s Roger Deeks, to tell us all about her new novel.
The rediscovery of a dusty video cassette in Perth, Western Australia, has seen four Forest friends reunited online. Tracy Batt, Caroline Treherne, Garry Gardiner and Caroline Cinderey recently came together to remember their role in a BBC TV documentary about Forest of Dean author Winifred Foley.
Tracy, who now lives in Perth, Western Australia, had a VHS copy of the programme from 1976 in which she played the young Winifred Foley. She recently decided to dig it out and find a way to share it online. With the help her partner Andrew she hooked up an old VCR to play the tape and, with everyone watching told to keep quiet, she used her mobile phone to film it on the TV screen. Now a digital file, Tracy’s ingenuity meant she was now able to upload it to YouTube (you can watch it at the bottom of this page), sharing what had until then been a largely forgotten little piece of Forest of Dean television history. A follow-up post on Facebook saw the four former child actors linking back up to share their memories of that week over forty years ago when they had, briefly, become part of the exciting world of Television. Shortly after they’d reconnected they were kind enough to join up again for a live video-chat with Reading the Forest to tell us about the filming - and what happened next.
Winifred Foley’s unpublished memoirs were first serialised on BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour programme in 1973. It proved so popular that in 1974 the BBC published them as a book, A Child in the Forest. It was a huge success. At the time there was a growing interest in working-class and women’s histories, and in stories set in the pre-War English countryside. With the support of local publisher Doug McLean, a few years later came Winifred’s second book No Pipe Dreams for Father (1977). Several others were to follow, as well as a stage play, television dramatization, and several reissues of A Child in the Forest (today available under the title Full Hearts and Empty Bellies). In 1976 the BBC screened Abide With Me, a one-off television adaptation by Julian Mitchell of parts of A Child in the Forest. The year before that producer Keith Sheather was tasked with making a television documentary about Foley for BBC Two. The production team were soon in the Forest of Dean looking for locations, and for children to take on the roles of the young Winifred, her siblings and friends.
They all remember the day that the BBC turned up. Tracy and Garry were at Ruardean Primary school, whilst Caroline Treherne and Caroline Cinderey were at Ruardean Woodside school (the very same school that Winifred Foley had attended in the 1920s). They were all lined up at the front of the class whilst Keith Sheather briefly spoke to each of them in turn. Tracy remembers he seemed to speak to her for an especially long time. “I just knew in my heart that I’d got it” she says. Later that morning Tracy was called into the office of the head, Mr Kent, to be told that she had indeed got a part, and it was to play ‘Poll’, Winifred’s nickname growing up. “I was going home for lunch and sprinted down over Duberley’s field, jumping over fences, so I could get in to tell my Mum,” says Tracy, but unfortunately Mr Kent had got their first with a phone call to tell the news. Garry remembers the excitement of that day too: “In class my eyes were out on stalks, I was so keen to get a part”. Once they had all been cast, details of the production began to arrive, and receiving BBC scripts, production schedules (and then pay slips) through the post was quite something for them all. Tracy’s Mum bought her a scrap book. She carefully pasted in every piece of production paperwork and she’s still got the scrapbook to this day.
Ruardean Woodside school was costume and make-up HQ where the four of them, along with their fellow cast members, would meet each morning to prepare for filming. Caroline Treherne remembers the old-fashioned boots being very uncomfortable, but the period dresses were wonderful. Whilst Garry had the odd tooth blackened (to simulate missing teeth) and fake dirt applied to his face, he, Caroline Cinderey and Tracy were to undergo a more significant transformation: they were given period pudding-basin haircuts! The conversation between the four of them is full of very positive memories, but Tracy’s tone momentarily darkens as she remembers how that haircut lead to a period of real torment for her as children relentlessly teased her about it. Apart from that one less than happy memory, what comes across from all four of them is what an exciting time it was being involved in the programme. They remember too how well they were looked after by the crew and Garry remembers producer Keith Sheather in particular as a “really lovely gentleman”.
Much of the filming took place in and around Brierley where Winifred Foley had grown up. Tracy remembers filming the opening scene between Brierley and Piano Corner: “They had a camera mounted on a car, and as it set off they just told me to run – whilst they drove along-side filming”. Tracy’s Dad was a cine film enthusiast so whilst the BBC crew were filming for the documentary he was hidden out of shot making his own film of the filming taking place. Garry played the part of one of ‘Poll’s’ friends, and at one point was told to walk up the hill whilst looking at the camera with a smile. “I was supposed to be coming home after a twelve-hour shift at the pit,” says Garry, “and I remember thinking there’s no way I’d be smiling if I’d just done that!”. After several re-takes walking up and down the hill, the crew relented and finally let him do it his way – a real method actor!
As well as the location shooting the youngsters also got to go to the BBC studios in Bristol. This was where popular children’s television show ‘Animal Magic’ was filmed, and they’re pretty sure that another children’s favourite ‘Why Don’t You’ was actually being filmed in another studio whilst they were there.
Sometime after filming was completed (by which time the four had just started secondary school) the producer got back in touch to say he now had a slightly longer slot for the broadcast, and so wanted to film some extra scenes. Caroline and Tracy remember that this is when the ‘going to tea’ scene was filmed. In A Child in the Forest, with Winifred about to leave school to go into service, her teacher, Miss Hale, decided to take her and her friend to tea. Caroline and Tracy remember being filmed in a vintage car, and then filmed having tea at the old vicarage in Newnham which was standing in as Miss Hale’s home.
As well as the dramatised scenes featuring the children the documentary included several pieces to camera by Winifred Foley herself, with shots of her walking up past her childhood home at Brierley Banks, digging her garden, and seated as she remembers the people and events that informed her book. She comes across as an utterly engaging presence on screen. The four remember being given copies of Foley’s book, each containing an individual, handwritten dedication. Caroline Treherne remembers meeting Winifred Foley too. Even so, all four of them admit they’ve never, yet, actually read A Child in the Forest – though they all promise to rectify that soon!
With almost anyone able to broadcast themselves today via platforms such as YouTube, it’s easy to forget how remote and glamorous the world of television seemed to us in the 1970s. Listening to Tracy, Garry and both Caroline’s, it’s clear that their involvement in the documentary was very exciting for them and has left a lasting impression. “I was ready to head off to Hollywood,” says Tracy. Garry remembers writing to producer Keith Sheather after filming was completed telling him how much he’d enjoyed it “and that my services were available for any future films. He wrote a lovely letter back to me,” says Garry, “saying he’d keep me in mind. I’m still waiting for his call!”
The documentary seems to have been screened in the West TV region in the January of 1976 but due to a power cut in the Forest few local people were able to watch it. The good news was that the documentary was repeated, this time on BBC Two on 18th December 1976 at 6.55pm. Here’s the text from its Radio Times listing:
“I've mourned for my childhood all my life. I think probably because of the sudden death of it.” At 14, Winifred Foley, a miner's daughter, was forced to leave her beloved Forest of Dean and go into service. It was the depression years of the 20s when the miners were fighting for their lives. In this dramatised documentary Winifred Foley recalls her deep love for the forest, and the poverty and hunger that its beauty could hide.
Foley would continue to write for many years diversifying into novels in her later life. She would appear many more times on television and radio too. But Hollywood didn’t come calling for any of the four friends in the end. After leaving school Tracy worked in banking before getting the travel bug. She spent time living on a kibbutz and exploring the Middle East, and it was in Israel that she met her first husband, an Australian, which led to her moving to Australia. Tracy still works in finance and lives with her new partner and her two children in Perth. She regularly speaks online with her family who still all live in the Forest. Caroline Cinderey worked in local government, lives at Ruardean and is now practice manager at Drybrook Surgery. Her grandmother was married to Winifred Foley’s brother. Caroline Treherne lives in the Forest too, though after retiring (she worked for many years as a careers adviser) she’s also got the travel bug and spends most of her Winters in Spain. After various jobs and a stint in the Army, Garry went into business with his brother, at one-point renovating and running The Inn On the Wye (formerly The Castle View). After further success with property development he sold up and got on a plane for… Australia! Though there are hundreds of miles between them by odd coincidence two of the four friends have ended up half way around the world on the same continent. Winifred Foley would surely have been very pleased that, through their brief involvement in her story, these four children of the Forest have re-connected across thousands of miles and multiple time zones all these years later.
Keith Sheather went on to produce long running series such as The Kitchen Garden, and several series of the television chef Keith Floyd. Keith published his own first novel in 2019.
As a boy, Leonard Clark was encouraged and mentored in his writing by the poet Will Harvey, who had fought in the First World War. F. W. Harvey had joined the 5th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for Gallantry. After being captured in 1916 he spent the remainder of the War as a POW, spending much of his time writing. In 1925 when the young Leonard Clark published his first small collection of poetry, 'Between the Hills', the impact of the War on families in the Forest and those who fought (such as Harvey) was still very keenly felt. Clark's collection was "Dedicated to the memory of William Thomson George who died for England, October 1918". The book's preface is written by Harvey. It is significant then, and poignant today on Remembrance Sunday, that the first poem in the little book by Leonard Clark is reminder of the then recent War:
THE STATUE SPEAKS
Thanks to David Price for sharing 'Between the Hills'.
Picture Credit: Michelle Young, Great War Forum
John Morgan was born in Bream in 1935, but it was well into the 21st century before he first put pen to paper and started writing poems. ‘I didn’t write poetry at school,’ says John, ‘no one around me wrote poetry when I was growing up either, and I don’t really read poetry’. None of that has held John back though since he first started writing poems just a few years ago, and now, with the support of his sons Paul and Dean he’s regularly uploading videos of himself reading his poems to YouTube.
He’s found a wide and appreciative audience for his poetry too. “It’s not so much my friends and neighbours – I don’t think they go on Youtube,” says John. Instead people from all over the world have been watching, and one poem in particular, ‘And I Kissed You’, has prompted dozens of people to leave comments of support and appreciation: “So beautiful”, “had me in tears”, and “Right that’s enough can’t take any more, had a lump in my throat”. John admits it was a real challenge recording himself reading that particular poem, and he pauses several times to collect himself as he explains how it came about. John wrote it shortly after he lost his wife Marion in 2017. “It was a very difficult time,” John says, “We were married for 60yrs. When you think of all the wonderful times…there’s not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and shed a tear, she was the love of my life.” Writing the poem helped John to some extent in dealing with his loss, that and a local bereavement support group led by GP Dr Martin Gibbs and his wife Sandy. It was there that he first shared the poem, and John is full of praise for the work they do.
In happier times John was a long-standing member of Forest of Dean Male Voice Choir and it was the arrival of a new uniform that prompted him to write his very first poem, ‘The Pullover’. “We were grateful for the new sweaters, but they were truly awful,” says John, and so he wrote a poem about it. Asked where ideas for his poems come from John says that they just seem to pop into his head. “It’s no good asking me to write a poem on particular thing,” he says, “it just doesn’t work that way for me. It’s hard to explain really.”
John has always lived in the Forest of Dean and he uses Forest dialect in some of his work, though you certainly wouldn’t describe him as a Forest dialect poet as such. Listening to him read his poems the warmth of a Forest accent is definitely there, with dialect dropped in just occasionally and very naturally. John explains how his use of dialect has changed over the years. He had converted an old ambulance into a camper for him and his wife to take on holidays, especially around Devon and Cornwall. He remembers how they would go into a pub and, “It was no good going in there ‘thick’in’ and thou’in’ an ‘ow bis gwine on weet old un’ and all that, they didn’t understand one word we were saying nor, come to think of it, us them. We had to, you know, refine how we spoke.”
John’s father was a miner in the Forest of Dean and in later life suffered ill health as a result. He is full of admiration for his father, something he writes about in his poem ‘My Hero’. Like many who knew the harsh reality of work underground John’s father discouraged him from joining him in the pit, instead helping him find his first job, on a farm in St Briavels, work that he remembers fondly to this day. Even so, eventually John ended up training at Cannop Drift before starting work at Princess Royal Colliery as a ‘drammer’ (managing the coal carts – ‘drams’ - underground). One fateful day, experiencing a problem connecting some of the carts John became trapped and, in the crush, received a serious injury to his chest. It was this, he was later told, that led to him being infected with TB, the reason too he was rejected from the Army. It meant a long period in hospital and a long convalesce, something he refers to in his poem ‘I was Born in 1935 – and Yun I Glad I’m Still Alive’.
Though John often writes about his own life, and his family, he does so in such a way that is thoroughly relatable, as evidenced by his growing audience on YouTube. He writes with an openness and directness that clearly communicates his thoughts, feelings and ideas, and with a candour, and often whit, that is utterly engaging. His work sometimes refers to his own past and that of the Forest of Dean but he and his ideas are never stranded there. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is his poem ‘Looking Forward’, dealing with the contemporary Covid pandemic and looking forward to resuming the simple sociable pleasures of life. It is such a joy to hear the poems of an 85yr old relatively ‘new’ Forest of Dean poet, that embrace such a wide range of themes and with such optimism, insight, and an eye to the future. John continues to upload new poems online.
To enjoy more of ‘Big John’s’ poems, performed by the man himself, go to his son Paul, and daughter-in-law Carole’s YouTube channel ‘Paul and Carole Love to Travel’ or simply search for ‘Big John Forest of Dean Poems’.
Just as lockdown kicked in back in March, Roger set about asking people to list their five favourite books - recommendations for a good read to keep us all occupied. The responses came in from people of all ages across the Forest, with their top fives posted on Reading the Forest's social media channels. Anna Grimmett has been looking at the lists, analysing the choices - and reflecting on the books that appeared more frequently than any others....
Hello again, Anna here. After twenty seven of you gave your five favourite book choices, Roger asked me to compile a book list in order of popularity and it’s been fascinating to see the books you chose and the reasons why you chose them. I was so pleased to be able to report back that a Forest book, Dennis Potter’s “The Changing Forest”, had taken joint top position along with C. S. Lewis’s “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, each having been chosen three times (although alphabetically I’ve popped Potter in at the number one spot). Six books emerged as the most popular, the remaining four each having been chosen twice. The rest of the books are listed in no particular order and I’ve highlighted Forest books for you in green.
Most Popular Book Choices
1. The Changing Forest, Dennis Potter
2. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
3. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
4. The Lost Words, Robert MacFarlane & Jackie Morris
5. Macbeth, William Shakespeare
6. One Day, David Nicholls
With no prior knowledge of Dennis Potter’s work other than from the Reading the Forest website, I borrowed a copy to read to help me reflect on why the most popular books might have been chosen. I struggled with the first few chapters and so a friend suggested I watch his Melvin Bragg interview from 1994, aired just a few months before he passed away. Although a very sad period in terms of Potter’s diagnosis, it came across as an honest portrayal of his life and work and I found further reading of his book much easier. Those who chose it described it as providing “a rare and unique insight into a significant period of change in the Forest’s history” and being “a profound book on social change in the Forest in the late 1950s and 1960s”. The style of writing and Potter’s frank and intimate descriptions gave me a real sense of this notable period of transition and how the resulting changes impacted so profoundly on Foresters. I can see why it is regarded as being so influential.
A Google search of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” confirmed its popularity and it was no surprise that it generally ranked in the same position nationally as it did in the Forest. There’s a timeless quality to the story, not just in terms of different generations who have enjoyed it, but also that as adults we are still pulled back to those visceral childhood memories of stepping into our own fantasy world, through our very own wardrobe and creating heroic adventures in our own imaginary wonderland (or is that just me?).
I have concentrated on the top two books for this piece, although I had hoped to be able to find a common theme running through the most popular choices. As with the rest of the books on the list, the six most popular are also very diverse and personal and I’ve not yet been able to spot any connections. I’d be interested to hear from you if you find any. It’s been a pleasure to learn which books have influenced people and to see so many Forest books chosen as favourites.
Most Popular Book Choices:
1. The Changing Forest, Dennis Potter
2. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
3. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
4. The Lost Words, Robert MacFarlane & Jackie Morris
5. Macbeth, William Shakespeare
6. One Day, David Nicholls
7. 1984, George Orwell
8. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
9. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer
10. A Night to Remember, Walter Lord
11. Severn Tide, Brian Walters
12. A Gloucesterhire Lad, at Home and Abroad, F. W. Harvey
13. The Stolen Years, Hugh Falkus
14. Forest Humour, Harry Beddington
15. These Silent Mansions, A Life In Graveyards, Jean Sprakland
16. Dancing the Charleston, Jacqueline Wilson
17. The World's Worst Children, David Walliams
18. A Place Called Perfect, Helena Duggan
19. My Friend Walter, Michael Morpurgo
20. Hetty Feather, Jacqueline Wilson
21. The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
22. La Belle Sauvage, Philip Pullman
23. The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
24. Ruin and Rising, Leigh Bardugo
25. The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson
26. We're Going on a Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen
27. Stick Man, Julia Donaldson
28. Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne
29. The Witcher: The Last Wish, Andrzej Sapkowski
30. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
31. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
32. Eragon, Christopher Paolini
33. Confessions of a Sociopath, M.E. Thomas
34. Thomas the Tank Engine, Wilbert Adrey
35. A Squash and a Squeeze, Julia Donaldson
36. Usborne Illustrated Classics for Boys, Robin Hood, Various
37. A Children’s Treasury of Milligan, Classic Stories & Poems, Spike Milligan
38. Goosebumps, The Movie Novel, R. L. Stine
39. Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder
40. Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
41. Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
42. Treasures of the Snow, Patricia St John
43. Black Beauty, The Autobiography Of A Horse, Anna Sewell
44. When Blackbirds Sing, Martin Boyd
45. Clean Straw for Nothing, George Johnston
46. The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, Louis de Bernières
47. The Music Shop, Rachel Joyce
48. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
49. Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare
50. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
51. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
52. My Family and Other Superheroes, Jonathan Edwards
53. The Great Gatsby, Scott Fitzgerald
54. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
55. Our Country’s Good, Timberlake Wertenbaker
56. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
57. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
58. The Complete Beatles Songs, by Steve Turner
59. A Week’s Holiday in the Forest of Dean, John Bellows
60. The Spitfire Story, Alfred Price
61. Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula Le Guin
62. Shardlake Series, by C.J. Sansom
63. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
64. Pride and PrejudiceJane Austen
65. The Shropshire Lad, A.E. Housman
66. Head Injury, A Practical Guide, Trevor Powell
67. Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett
68. The Nine Tailors, Dorothy L. Sayers
69. The Concise British Flora in Colour, W Keble Martin
70. The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh
71. Head of State, Andrew Marr
72. The Children Act, Ian McEwan
73. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce
74. Catlin’s Cove, Kim Simmonds
75. Germinal, Emile Zola
76. On Photography, Susan Sontag
77. Geology of the Forest of Dean Coal and Iron Ore Field, F.M. Trotter
78. The Freeminers, Cyril Hart
79. A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
80. Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman
81. The Verderers and Forest Laws of Dean, Cyril Hart
82. The Forest of Dean: an Historical and Descriptive Account, H.G.Nicholls
83. Forest of Dean: Iron Making in the Olden Times, H.G. Nicholls
84. Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder
85. Harry Potter Series, J K Rowling
86. Lydmouth Crime Series, Andrew Taylor
87. Warren James and the Dean Forest Riots, Ralph Anstis
88. Exploring Historic Dean, John Sheraton & Rod Goodman
89. Student Diver Tool Box, Sub-Aqua Association
90. Goodnight Mr Tom, Michelle Magorian
91. Danny, The Champion of the World, Roald Dahl
92. Barbarian Days, William Finnegan
93. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
94. The Life Project, Helen Pearson
95. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
96. The Small Hand, Susan Hill
97. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
98. Now All Roads Lead to France, Matthew Hollis
99. The Worst Journey in the World, Apsley Cherry Gerrard
100. A Story Like the Wind, Laurens van de Post
101. Green Wood, Leonard Clark
102. English Journey, J. B. Priestly
103. The Box of Delights, John Masefield
104. Old Peter’s Russian Tales, Arthur Ransome
105. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
106. Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
107. The Ginger Man, J. P. Donlevy
108. Sepulchre, Kate Mosse
109. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
110. The Lord of the Flies, William Golding
111. Four Kings, George Kimball
112. Pet Sematary, Stephen King
113. Captain Scott, Ranulph Fiennes
114. Affluenza, Oliver James
115. Tony Benn: A Biography, Jad Adams
116. Revolution, Russell Brand
117. Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, Owen Jones
118. My Story, Steven Gerrard
119. The Edge of the Sword, Anthony Farrer-Hockley
120. A Fool in the Forest, Leonard Clark
121. F. W. Harvey, Soldier Poet, Anthony Boden
122. Archaeology in Dean, by Cyril Hart
123. Landscapes, Robert Macfarlane
124. I Am the Seed that Grew a Tree: a Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year, Fiona Waters
125. Hill Shepherd, a Photographic Essay, John & Elizabeth Forder
126. Chasing the Monsoon, Alexander Frater
127. The Leopard, Guiseppe di Lampedusa
128. Akenfield, Ronald Blythe
129. The Diary, Samuel Pepys
130. The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
Heritage Open Days have been running in the UK since 1994 and today boast over 5,000 events across the country. Included are heritage sites of interest normally closed to the public, museums that normally charge an entry fee throwing their doors open for free, and buildings normally open to the community whose heritage has often been overlooked. Reading the Forest has partnered with several local groups in the Forest on Heritage Open Days in recent years. In 2017 the extraordinary story of Gypsy Petulengro and his links to Viney Hill were explored with an exhibition at the village's All Saints Church, the location of his remarkable funeral and burial.
Last year saw brass bands and poets come together at St Stephen's Church in Cinderford for a celebration of the Forest's rich heritage of band music and poetry, also marking 130years of the church building. The event included a competition prize-giving for some of Cinderford's best young poets, a sure sign that the town is incubating the next generation of literary talent.
This year sees a return to St Stephen's - though 'in spirit' only - with a virtual online event that marks this important Cinderford building's link with the poet Leonard Clark. A series of specially recorded readings of some of Clark's poems will be launched online on Saturday 12th September - simultaneously via Reading the Forest's Events Page and the Cinderford Churches Benefice website. Amongst the videos are several poems chosen and read by members of Clark's family. Also included is a reading of Clark's remarkable final poem An Intimate Landscape in which he revisits the places and people of his youth in the Forest for one last time. The poem is read by popular Forest poet Keith Morgan.
Leonard Clark was a nationally important poet, literary editor, and educationalist whose life and work were grounded in Cinderford and the Forest of Dean. He was fostered to a family on Belle Vue Road in Cinderford and raised in the town until he left to train as a teacher in the late 1920s. He became an influential figure in the world of poetry principally through his anthologies and his role in promoting poetry education for which he was awarded an OBE. He was admired and praised by luminaries such as Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney before he died in 1981.
His early life and subsequent work were strongly influenced by his experiences in St Stephen’s Church which stood a few yards down the road from where he lived. His mother was a member of the congregation and he became a chorister in the Church. Written late in his life, his memoirs A Fool in the Forest and Green Wood are replete with stories and characters that centred around the Church which was at the heart of the community.
He wrote about the choir and devoted one chapter to the story of Philip Charles Walding (1871-1949), also known as ‘Charlie’ Walding, the blind organist of St Stephen’s Church who played the church organ for forty-four years (seen in the photograph above holding the book). The profound influence of the church was such that he requested that his ashes be buried there and following his death a special service was held to inter them close to where he stood as a chorister seventy years previously.
The Forest of Dean’s dialect poets are the subject of BBC Radio 4’s series Tongue and Talk: The DialectPoets, on Sunday 30th August. The series travels the country highlighting the rich diversity of local dialects and the poets who write and perform in them. Turning its attention to the Forest of Dean this edition of the programme features Keith Morgan and Maggie Clutterbuck reading their work and talking about the importance of Forest dialect in their poetry. Dick Brice reads from one of the earliest published works to include Forest dialect, and former Forest Bookshop owner Doug McLean remembers the Forest poets and performers he got to know during his 40 years in local publishing.
The programme came about when producer Catherine Harvey got in touch with the Reading the Forest project. The programme is presented by Reading the Forest's Dr Jason Griffiths. Project co-director Dr Roger Deeks explains the importance and influence of F. W. Harvey’s dialect poems that he wrote after moving to Yorkley, and his broadcasts about the Forest in the early years of the BBC.
The programme also features archive recordings of F. W. Harvey, Harry Beddington, Dennis Potter and Winifred Foley. Finding out more about the history of Forest dialect Jason talks to linguist Dr Michelle Straw at the University of Gloucestershire, whilst a visit to Monument Freemine shows that Forest dialect is alive and well there. We also hear from local schools who today, thanks to enthusiastic local teachers, teach their pupils to take pride in their local identity by learning of Forest dialect poems.
The programme is being broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 4.30pm on Sunday 30th August and will be available online afterwards through BBC Sounds.
One of the great Forest assets is the Bathurst Pool in Lydney. Created in the era when outdoor swimming pools became popular in the 1920s, the pool was a terrific boost to local morale after the devastation of the First World War. Charles Bathurst, 1st Viscount Bledisloe, who founded the pool, had been an important figure in agriculture during the War and extolled the virtues of allotments and saw the benefits of a municipal pool. It was only in the 1930s that the term 'Lido' was first used to describe such pools. It is to the credit of a wonderful team of volunteers that the pool is in fabulous condition and used by so many people. The pool has been in existence for 100 years in October and to celebrate the volunteers enjoyed a visit from HRH Princess Royal. In conjunction with the anniversary, Ali Humphries has edited a brief history and magnificent collection of swimmers and visitors stories. There are some lovely stories from past decades including one man who lost his teeth. Be assured that was a long time ago and they don't present a risk to current users!
Hi there - I’m a new volunteer with Reading the Forest. I got in touch with the project leaders recently, as I was looking for somewhere to focus my creative energy as well as offering my time. The project particularly interested me as an opportunity to learn more about the area I live in, it’s unique history and the people it has inspired to put their experiences in writing.
When I was asked what interests me during my introductory phone call, I mentioned that I felt drawn to write, but that I needed a push from someone to tell me what to write about. So when I was asked to contribute a reflective piece on “discovering that the Forest has a rich literary heritage” to be used in this blog, I immediately realised be careful what you wish for, particularly if your last attempt at creative writing was over thirty years ago in your early teens and entitled “the Turnip Man”!
So, time for a closer look at the website. I was really impressed at the diverse range of published books and also delighted and encouraged to see so many accomplished female contributors, past and present. Having lived in the Forest as an “incomer” for just over eight years I’m quite ashamed it’s taken me so long to find this out. As an area of such breathtaking beauty and cultural and historical heritage, it should have come as no surprise that people have found themselves moved to share their experiences, by way of factual accounts of Forest history, autobiography or poetic verse and so much more besides. It’s all here on the website for you to look at and to stimulate further enquiry. Most of all, I realise this really must be something that Foresters are proud of and I’m so glad I found it.
Having explored the website a little, I’m left with a sense of keen curiosity to learn more about the writers and how the Forest has shaped their lives. I look forward to reading some historical pieces and maybe find a novel that makes me wonder which part of the Forest has inspired it. I have an initial highlight I’d like to share, a couple of verses from “Secret Places”, which is a poem by Joyce Latham. I will hold these words close as I walk in the Forest, in the hope of stumbling on such secret places of my own:
I know of secret places where the willows bend,
And little whispering streams play hide-and-seek;
Where minnows dart
And dragonflies swoop from the sky,
But no-one else knows, only I.
I know of secret places where the bluebells sway,
And timid deer hide deep within the shade;
Where thrushes sing
And honeysuckle climbs up high,
But no-one else knows, only I.
'Secret Places' from Poems of a Forester (1991) by Joyce Latham