21 July 2009

Literary Nottingham: Writers Associated with the Town

At the back entrance of Nottingham Castle museum are four busts and three plaques of writers with Nottingham associations.

The poet Lord Byron, who inherited Newstead Abbey and lived in the county for several years, is an obvious choice of subject.

D. H. Lawrence, born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, is an even more obvious choice of subject. In light of the working class writers mentioned towards the bottom of this post, Lawrence is in some ways approprate because of his working-class origins, although his subject matter, of course, very often did not include the working class.

But then the representations of writers begin to get a little more obscure, as in the case of Henry Kirke White (1785-1806), who was born in Nottingham and was one of the 'Sherwood poets'. This link should be of obvoius interest ot Notingham local historians, including as it does 'Clifton Grove', but the link below, via Project Gutenberg, is immensely impressive: The Poetical Works of Henry Kirke White.

William and Mary Howitt lived in Nottingham for some years.

Philip James Bailey (1816-1902) was born in Nottingham, and has been mentioned more extensively before on this blog.

The poet and novelist Thomas Miller (1807-1874) was born in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, where he lived in the same yard as the Chartist poet Thomas Cooper (1805-1892), who is best known for The Purgatory of Suicides. Miller spent a few years as a basket-maker in Nottingham, before moving to London and receiving the patronage of Lady Blessington. In my PhD thesis some distance below  this post (and in a chapter which I still have to format more coherently for this software), I make the following point about his novel Gideon Giles (1841): 'Ian Haywood calls Thomas Martin Wheeler’s highly significant Sunshine and Shadow (1849–50) ‘the first truly working-class novel’, and understandably dismisses Godfrey Malvern (1843) by Thomas Miller [...] because it is ‘not about the working class’; however, he does not mention Miller’s earlier Gideon Giles: The Roper (1841), which not only has working-class protagonists, but also contains some criticism of the inconsistent labour laws of the time. Essentially, Gideon Giles [part of which takes place in Newark and north Nottinghamshire, but mostly around Gainsborough, Lincolnshire] is not directly oppositional and contains some sentimentality which Louis James mentions, although James has a certain enthusiasm for a book which without doubt represents a significant beginning in the history of the internal working-class novel.'

The most obscure of the group of writers represented outside Nottingham Castle is certainly the poet Robert Millhouse (1788-1839), who was born in Sneinton, Nottingham, and who lived in Walker Street in a house that has been demolished. Like Henry Kirke White, Millhouse was a 'Sherwood poet', and like the more famous Spencer T. Hall, he was of working-class origin. This link gives some pages of Millhouse's The Song of the Patriot, and the Preface is particularly interesting as it contains some biographical detail written by Robert's brother John. Many of the following pages of this link are unavailable, but there is enough of it to make interesting reading about Robin Hood and the Sherwood poets.

And now four plaques in the centre of Nottingham dedicated to literary figures. This is one of the older Holbrook Bequest plaques and stands on the corner of High Pavement and Weekday Cross. It reads: 'On this site stood the house in which Philip James Bailey, author of "Festus", was born: April 22nd. 1816.'

The Lawrence plaque is towards the bottom of Castle Gate, near its junction with Lister Gate: 'Site of Haywood's factory where D. H. Lawrence worked in 1901.' In D. H. Lawrence: The Early Years: 1885–1912 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 94–102, John Worthen writes about Lawrence working for surgical garments manufacturers J. H. Haywood of 9 Castle Gate, where he was briefly a junior clerk after leaving school in 1901. Lawrence hated Haywoods and the young women who worked there teased him and even on one occasion attempted to debag him. A bout of pneumonia very shortly before Christmas of the same year saved him from returning to the factory, which is represented as Jordans in Sons and Lovers (1913) and in 'Paul Morel', an earlier version of the novel. But in the book the young women are far less vulgar, and Paul is far less gauche than Lawrence: Worthen describes this as 'part of [Lawrence's] own self-therapy' (p. 101).

An earlier plaque in the same place.

The Byron plaque stands above a bar at the intersection of Pelham Street and Victoria Street: 'This site was formerly known as Swine Green[.] Lord Byron wrote his first piece of poetry in 1798...'

Well, it's at least the first known one, and the ten-year-old wrote it about his great-aunt Frances, the full verse of which goes:

'In Nottingham County there lives at Swine Green
As curst an old lady as ever was seen;
And when she does die, which I hope will be soon
She firmly believes she will go to the moon.'

It is unknown why he appears to show such animosity toward her.

This plaque in Pelham Street is the only acknowledgement of James Barrie's stay in the city: 'In honour of James Matthew Barrie Bart. O.M. 1860–1937 who in 1883 and 1884 worked in this building on the staff of the Nottingham Journal.'

It seems a pity to let a decent photo go to waste, though, so here's a representation of Barrie's most famous creation, Peter Pan, which I took several years ago when doing a tour of Britton (yes, spelling intended). Peter Pan is a character Barrie resembled in so many ways: see Andrew Birkin's J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: The Real Story Behind Peter Pan (London: Constable, 1979). The statue, of course, is not in Nottingham but in Kensington Park Gardens, London.

Thanks Kevin (comment below) – this is one of the many links I've forgotten to make, so here it is now, plus for good measure a link to a more extensive post I made on the Peter Pan statue:

J. M. Barrie in Birkland Avenue, Nottingham
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens: London #27

1 comment:

Kevin said...

There is another plaque to JM Barrie in the Arborteum on Birkland Avenue. He lived in the middle of the street and it was strange to see it when doing work there. It is on a house on the left going out if town.