Alan Jenkins joined the Royal Forest of Dean College when it opened in 1985. Well-liked by students Alan taught Geography and adult education classes. He took early retirement in 1996 and now lives in Denmark. Alan recently got in touch with us to recall the day one of the Forest's most popular poets came into to talk to his class....
After moving to live in Denmark, I was invited to join a group of retired Danes who meet (met!) regularly and informally, to practise their reading, writing and conversation skills in English. They call themselves 'The English Group'. Initially they were expertly organised and led by a former exchange colleague of mine. Since her sad demise, most of them elected to continue meeting once a week through Autumn and Spring, with a break over the summer. Between themselves, they have been quite capable of choosing themes to discuss and books to read in English, without much input from me.
Way back, when living in Coleford, I came to know Joyce and her husband Bob, and it is a tribute to Doug McClean of The Forest Bookshop, who published the work of local authors, that her poems and two volumes of autobiography came out in print. It was around that time, when the Royal Forest of Dean College at Five Acres was still thriving, that I invited Joyce to come in and meet the adult students on our Access to Higher Education course. She was a little reluctant at first, but after explaining that the idea was to give them a brief respite, both from the purely academic side of things, and no doubt from the sound of my voice, she consented. Besides, I thought, they would be sure to learn something interesting about The Forest of Dean in the process.
Joyce comemorated celebrated in the West-Dean authors mural by artist Tom Cousins for Reading the Forest. Painted on the former pub Help Me Through The World (once also the Masons Arms) in Coleford where Joyce once worked.
What's the connection between Edwardian author Tom Bevan, a Spanish plot to burn down the Forest of Dean, magus Dr John Dee and, 'fake news'?
Join us as we explore the 1907 novel Sea Dogs All! We find out about its author Tom Bevan and his connections to the region, and about the audience he was writing for. How much of his story was pure fiction, and how much historical fact? What was the Forest like at the time of the Spanish Armada, and why would anyone want to destroy the woods of the Forest? And, what on earth is the meaning of our title for episode 1 , 007's Angel and the Plot to Burn the Forest?
Presented by Dr Jason Griffiths and Dr Roger Deeks. Featuring interviews with specialist in children's literature Dr Debby Thacker and, historian and HM Verderer Dr Ian Standing. Also featuring the voices of 'El Draco', Martha Beard, Barney Rowe, and Rachel Griffiths.
Ever wondered how much truth there is in the story that the Spanish Armada had orders to destroy the Forest of Dean? Or, why exactly did the killing of two bears in the 1880s became such a huge news story about the Forest, later making its way into poems, novels and even a television play? These and many more questions are being explored in our brand new podcast series The Stories Behind the Stories. Each episode explores one of the many persistent and well-loved (mostly!) stories about the Forest of Dean that have made their way into print. Structured as an investigation we attempt to trace each tale back in time to its original source. Along the twists and turns of each journey we dig deep into Forest history and look into the way it, as a place and community, has been written about over the years. You'll hear guest expert interviews, readings from the books, and some short dramatised scenes brought to life by local actors.
Episode 1 deals with the story of the Spanish Armada's connection to the Forest by starting with its appearance in the 1907 novel Sea Dogs All! We find out about its author Tom Bevan and his connections to the region, and about the audience he was writing for at the time. How much of the story was pure fiction, and how much historical fact? What was the Forest like at the time of the Armada, and why might the story have become so popular and so often repeated? And, what on earth is the meaning of our title for episode 1 , 007's Angel and the Plot to Burn the Forest?
The first episode is being released on January 14th, with the following episodes on the 14th of each month. You can sign up to receive each episode via your favourite podcast service - we're on Anchor, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify - or listen here on this website (just check back with us on the 14th).
Here's our promo for the new series...
An inspiring new book, Resilience, sees local writers respond to the challenges of lockdown. Resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. It’s a word we can all associate with the history and people of the Forest of Dean. At the beginning of this new era of Covid lockdowns, Dean Writers Circle invited local writers to submit work for a prose and poetry anthology on the theme of Resilience. This new book, with an introduction by Forest-based bestselling author Andrew Taylor, is their response. Many of the writers and poets published here are Dean Writers Circle members and all contributors either live in or have a close connection with the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley. They know first-hand the long history of resilience of the people, the flora and fauna, and the landscape. The contributions are from writers with all levels of experience, and what brings them together is their passion for this unique corner of the world, and their belief in its continuing resilience in these extraordinary times. Proceeds from the sale of this anthology are being donated to Forest Read Easy Deal (FRED), a charity which facilitates adult literacy.
Reading the Forest’s Anna Grimmett had sight of an advance copy and reviews it here:
The Resilience Anthology is a beautiful collection of almost fifty pieces of prose and poetry sent by local writers in response to a call out from the Dean Writers Circle toward the beginning of lockdown. With the prompt of “resilience”, writers of all ages and with various levels of experience, submitted imaginative and varied interpretations on this theme, some based on real events and others completely fictional.
I had the pleasure of a sneak preview and initially read through it over the course of a few days, finding that I needed time to digest and reflect, particularly on the personal pieces. I learnt more about the Forest of Dean’s history and enjoyed the opportunity of sharing in people’s heartfelt descriptions of the resilience inspired through the unique local landscape, flora and fauna (which wound their way into so many of the submissions). I also found it an easy collection to dip back into and although I’d hoped to find a few pieces to share here, in the end I had far too many markers for those which took hold of my curiosity.
It felt like looking through a box of treasures, with the order working smoothly and the mix of poetry and prose not seeming muddled at all. The pieces are so varied that it’s very likely you will find something which resonates with your own experience or challenges in life, for whatever mood you find yourself in - if you need deeper reflection and perspective on something, or if you need a bit of courage or your spirits lifted. Certainly for me, what has built resilience through the toughest times, is being reminded that I am not alone and reading through this anthology did just that. I know it will be a valuable addition to my resilience tool box, along with so many of the wise Forest trees.
‘Resilience’is priced at £7.50 + £1.75 P&P and is available to order direct from the publisher, Holborn House
A lavishly illustrated new book has brought together forestry experts, ecologists, writers, poets and artists to explore our complex relationship with forests, woods and trees. Published by the charity art.earth the concept for the book came from a three-day long event held in 2019 - in-part marking 100years of the Forestry Commission - held at Dartington Hall in Devon. The event brought contributors together from across the globe for talks, discussions, artworks and performance all focused on the theme of our ever-evolving relationship with trees and forests. With such a huge variety of responses the book is organised loosely under the sections 'Ecology & Forest Management'; 'Philosophy & Polemic'; and 'Artistic Responses'. Included in its 442 pages is an essay from Reading the Forest's Jason Griffiths. Illustrated with photographs by Forest photographer John F. French, Jason takes as his starting point the 2011 HOOF protests and argues this was a continuation of the long tradition of robust defence of the Forest, and a love of its trees, evidence for which can be found in much of Forest of Dean literature.
The book is edited by Simon Lloyd, Richard Povall and Jeremy Ralph. You can order a copy (out on the 15th December at £27.95) at artdotearth.org/bookshop.
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’.