National Poetry Day the Dewhirst Way!

A talk by Ian Dewhirst is always something to look forward to and, given Ian’s keen interest and admiration for Keighley’s Gordon Bottomley, writer, poet, playwright, art collector, I was particularly eager to hear this one. I was not disappointed.

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Ian outlined Gordon Bottomley’s early life in Keighley and how local theatre trips with his gran, access to good libraries and his time at Keighley Boys’ Grammar School had all, Bottomley acknowledged, ultimately influenced his playwriting and poetry. Ian also noted the origins of Keighley Library’s unique archive collection of his original correspondence, deposited by Mrs Philip Lamb, a relative from Harrogate. You might have thought that a talk about a man so troubled by poor health would reflect some slow progress but Bottomley did travel at times and he certainly mingled in intellectually energetic company. Ian apprised us of his literary and artistic connections including Edward Thomas, renowned poet, John Masefield, Poet Laureate and Paul Nash, the famous artist. He also spoke of his influence in the Georgian Poetry Movement during the early 20th century, which included Rupert Brook and Siegfried Sassoon and significantly marks the major change in poetry from the romantic to the harsher realism of modern poetry, following the impact of WW1.

This talk could also have become one of simple name dropping of the artists and literati of the time but Ian Dewhirst MBE was never going to be so dull. The talk was well rounded, peppered with amusing anecdotes and brought to life the cultural times in which Gordon Bottomley lived, as well as Bottomley’s intelligent, witty and lively personality which so successfully managed to overshadow very serious ill health.

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Nevertheless, a talk from Ian would not be complete without a relevant but hilarious personal story at the expense of Ian himself. This came in his very funny account of his attempts to get a clearer view of the much admired The Sheiling. From 1914, this was Bottomley’s home with his wife, Emily, in Silverdale, near Carnforth. Quite a few of the great and good visited the Bottomleys here and so there are some fine descriptions of a beautiful house and woodland surroundings, a “magic wood” even. Inspired by these descriptions, Ian had, on a few rambles, attempted to get a better view of the house over the limestone rise and one wet, windy day, romantically determined to get that view at last. Manfully he scaled the rocks, only to find himself suddenly wet nose to pane with the kitchen window. As he put it, soggy and bedraggled, he knew the washing powder of the latest occupants but still had no better idea of the building.

Everyone enjoyed the talk, from the local lady who wrote poetry herself to a member of Keighley’s Film Club who commented that it was inspiring to hear “the expert” speak on an entirely new topic, never tackled before in depth, and he looked forward, as I do, to repeats in the future. Radio Leeds, who had interviewed Ian before the talk, made plans for not one but two features on this national day of celebration.

Indeed, it was a great pleasure post talk, to once again marvel at this comparatively small town of Keighley which has made such a contribution to the nurturing of national and international cultural and artistic influences, not only Gordon Bottomley but the Brontës, Alexander Smith, pioneer of the pictorial movement in photography, and the late Lord Asa Briggs, renowned historian, to mention a few, and all this whilst standing in one of the earliest of the famous Carnegie public libraries. GRAND!

Gina Birdsall

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