During the Christmas holidays I had the pleasure of collecting a major donation of Wilfrid Wilson Gibson material from Mr John Chirgwin. Gibson is one of the Dymock Poets and hails from Hexham in Northumberland, where fate had it I was on my way to, with both myself and Mr Chirgwin originally from the area.
The donation of all but four of Gibson’s published works includes his personal copy of Highland Dawn, some rare first and inscribed editions, and some American copies we did not previously house in the collection here. There is also some insightful ephemera including contemporary articles on Gibson and features from the local newspaper the Hexham Courant. This donation makes our Gibson collection one of the most comprehensive in the country.
Last week I visited the John Masefield Society Archive in Ledbury. It is always nice to get out from behind the desk, and having been a fan of Masefield’s The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights since childhood I found myself driving to Ledbury with some excitement.
The John Masefield Society Archive is based at the wonderful Master’s House. The building was originally a fifteenth century mansion, and has been lovingly converted into Ledbury’s public library (and incidentally is the nicest public library I’ve ever visited). I was warmly greeted by Bob Vaughan, who spent the next two hours showing me the collection and giving me a fantastic overview of Masefield’s life and works.
Masefield was born in Ledbury in 1878 to a middle-class family. After being orphaned at a young age he attended King’s School in Warwick before being sent to join HMS Conway as a young mariner. The influence of the sea can be found throughout his work, in poems such as his Salt-Water Ballads (1902)to pirate rats in The Box of Delights (1935). His maritime career ended abruptly after he discovered he suffered from seasickness, and Masefield abandoned his occupation on arrival in New York in 1895. He then lived as a vagrant in New York State, working in bars and even a carpet factory, which he describes in detail in his autobiography In The Mill (1941). Masefield returned to England in 1897, after deciding to become a writer. He initially found employment as a bank clerk in London, but went on to form an enduring friendship with W. B. Yeats and published his first volume of poetry (Salt-Water Ballads) in 1902. Masefield continued to publish both poetry and prose alongside writing for the Manchester Guardian. His publication of The Everlasting Mercy (1911) became an instant hit.
Masefield went on to complete war work in a British Red Cross hospital on the Western Front during the First World War, then took charge of a motorboat ambulance service (despite the seasickness). He completed a lecture tour of the United States, and in 1930 became the 16th Poet Laureate after a nomination from Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. He continued to write, including subjects from children’s novels to social issues. Masefield died in 1967, aged 88.
The Archive is a fantastic resource, incorporating just about all of Masefield’s published works along with original letters, photographs and objects. As archives have a way of doing, I’m inspired to find out more about the man, his works and life, and I can think of no better place to start than this collection. We also hold a selection of Masefield’s publications in our Gloucestershire Poets, Writers and Artists Collection at the University of Gloucestershire (being a contemporary of the Dymock Poets and from just over the border in Herefordshire), and a set of John Masefield Society Journals. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more.
We recently purchased some new John Drinkwater material to add to our extensive holdings on the Dymock Poets. These plays and speeches were once part of John Drinkwater’s own personal library, and includes a cancelled edition of the play ‘Puss in Boots’. All items are signed and accompanied by handmade slip-cases.
The new titles are:
Puss in Boots (1911). Cancelled version. Includes colour illustration “for John”
The Only Legend: A Masque of The Scarlet Pierrot (1913)
Rebellion: A Play in Three Acts (1914)
Robin Hood and The Pedlar (1914)
The Storm (1916)
The British Academy Warton Lecture on English Poetry XIII: Some Contributions to the English Anthology (With special reference to the Seventeenth Century) (1922)
“The Other Point of View”: The Oration Delivered by Mr John Drinkwater” (1928)
John Drinkwater (1882 – 1937) was a playwright and poet who went on to become manager of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. His first major success came in the form of the play ‘Abraham Lincoln’, first performed in 1918. He was a member of the Dymock Poets, and published in their journal ‘New Numbers’. He was an associate and friend of many actors and writers during the early half of the twentieth century.
The Dymock Poets were Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke, John Drinkwater, Robert Frost, Wilfrid Gibson and Edward Thomas. They lived in and visited Dymock in the months leading up to the outbreak of the First World War, gaining inspiration from each other and the surrounding Gloucestershire/ Herefordshire landscape.
Cataloguing of the Dymock Poets Special Collection is reaching the final stages with only the material from Myfanwy Thomas (Edward Thomas’s youngest daughter) left to sort. The rest of the catalogue is now complete and available to search online.
The cataloguing project has uncovered a wealth of interesting and unique material charting the poets’ lives (Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke, John Drinkwater, Robert Frost, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson and Edward Thomas), their time in Dymock and the wider academic and popular interest they have generated over the last century. Original letters by Edward Thomas sit alongside a vast array of articles, essays, event information and photographs.
Highlights from the collection include:
Annual Christmas greetings cards from Robert Frost
Original letters from Eleanor Farjeon to Rowland Watson
Original manuscript of the poem “Walking Tom” by Clifford Bax and Herbert Farjeon
Eleanor Farjeon’s notes on meeting Robert Frost for the final time in 1957
Handwritten lecture notes by Lascelles Abercrombie
Audio interviews with Abercrombie’s wife, Catherine
Original letters from Helen Thomas to Jo Dawson
Many photocopies letters from Edward Thomas [to Robert Frost and others]; Lascelles Abercrombie, John Drinkwater, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson [to Rupert Brooke and Edward Marsh]; John Freeman and Wilfrid Wilson Gibson [to John Wilton Haines] where the originals are held in other repositories
Personal First World War papers belonging to Wilfrid Wilson Gibson
Rupert Brooke’s assignment of copyright signed by his mother Mary Ruth Brooke
Original letters from various sources and manuscript “Memories of Edward Thomas” compiled by Rowland Watson using these original accounts
Handwritten poetry by John Drinkwater
Handwritten poetry and original letters of Edward Thomas, some unpublished
Framed pencil drawing of W H Davies [1871 – 1940] by John Wheatley [1892 – 1955], ARA
The last series of documents to catalogue was received from Myfanwy Thomas via The Edward Thomas Fellowship. The material continues the trend of offering a vast source of information, this time on Edward Thomas, lovingly curated by Myfanwy during the later years of her life. The material was received over a period of time and as there was no original order it falls to archive staff to sort the documents prior to writing the catalogue descriptions.
One of the boxes the material arrived in unknowingly paid tribute to Thomas:
It is sad to think work on cataloguing this collection is drawing to an end as it has been a fascinating experience but great to know that everyone can now access the delights it holds.
The cataloguing of the archival and ephemeral material in our Dymock Poets Special Collection has begun. The collection is unique, telling the story of the commune of poets who settled in Dymock just before the outbreak of the First World War and the proceeding century of interest they have created. We have original documents by literary giants such as Edward Thomas, and those who were well-known and respected figures of their time like the Northumbrian poet Wilfrid Gibson.
Published material such as volumes of poetry and critical studies are already catalogued and available to view on the University’s library catalogue. The remaining 13 linear meters of documents, correspondence, photographs and ephemera will be catalogued onto the Special Collections and Archives catalogue, meaning the whole collection will be accessible online for the first time.
We are very lucky to have benefited from 20 years of links with the Edward Thomas Fellowship and Friends of the Dymock Poets, and through them have received material for the collection from various sources, not least the descendants of the poets themselves. Our students have also worked with the material in the past, most recently our MA Creative and Critical Writing students who used the collection to create new pieces of dramatic writing inspired by the poets, which premiered at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham in June 2015.
The catalogue is scheduled to be completed by May next year, and progress updates will be available on this site.