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Arthur Morrison Society proposed

April 2007 -- The first ever Loughton Festival, held on the first weekend of April, proved a delightful success for the organisers, contributors and volunteer helpers - and, of course, for its many visitors! Many more tickets were sold than expected, and some events were almost completely sold out.

The weekend kicked off at Loughton Methodist Church with the presentation of awards for the Children's Art Exhibition, followed by a lecture given by Dr. Chris Pond, on Loughton's Literary Heritage, introducing us to the many literary figures that have Loughton connections with great insight. No meal of many courses ever began with a more appetising starter!

Following this was a delightful exposition of John Clare's life and times whilst he was resident in Epping Forest. Peter Cox of The John Clare Society painted a simply charming picture of what the Forest meant and was to Clare, with extracts from his poetry and references to the friends he made whilst walking its verdant glades.

Meanwhile, at The National Jazz Archive in Loughton Library, workshops were laid on for Loughton's future literary geniuses and for various book-reading groups, and especially for those who enjoyed Julia Golding's The Diamond of Drury Lane, winner of both the Nestlé Children's Prize and the Ottakar's Children's Book Prize in 2006, as the author herself spoke about her work.

Other talks that day included Loughton's War Poet - Edward Thomas in Essex (given by Anne Harvey of the Edward Thomas Fellowship and Prof. David Stevenson of the London School of Economics), and a very colourful and wittily delivered introduction to the forthcoming new edition of the Essex volume of Pevsner's Buildings of England, given by its editor Dr James Bettley.

Forest walk to High Beech Church

On Sunday 1st April only true fools stayed away from the Literary Walk in Epping Forest, led by John Juchau of the West Essex Rambers and David Stevenson, as it proved so popular that at one point it was feared that late bookers would have to be turned away. During the morning's walk, everyone was first given a tour of Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, then later enjoyed two short talks on John Clare and his time at Dr. Allen's Asylum, then famed for its advanced ideas on therapeutic treatment, given at the Suntrap Forest Education Centre (housed in one of the Asylum's old homes).

After an excellent lunch at The Church of the Holy Innocents, High Beech, Professor Leonee Ormond of King's College and the Tennyson Society gave a very revealing lecture on Alfred Lord Tennyson's sojourn at Beech Hill House, detailing his family history, his friendships (including the ill-fated one with Dr. Allen), and his rise as the Poet Laureate. Not a stone remained unturned, yet every single one was returned with care to its rightful place by this accomplished speaker.

Then followed a reading from Arthur Morrison's Tales of Mean Streets, given at the author's graveside by Stan Newens MEP, a prominent Labour politician, who then treated us all to an eye-opening account of the author's career. Stan explained how the author had been so careful to disguise his own origins that debates had raged over whether he was writing from his own experiences of abject poverty or whether he really came from a genteel family and made it all up! But his writing, in the realist style, was undeniably so masterful that no-one could settle the truth of the matter!

Stan went on to explain that later attempts by various biographers to settle the question of Morrison's origins proved only partially successful yet still inconclusive. However, Stan's own research has been rewarded with the discovery of new source material which prove beyond doubt that Arthur Morrison did indeed grow up in the kind of streets he wrote about. Stan showed that even his literary Old Jago Street was a surprisingly thinly-disguised Old Nichol Street in real life, and with the aid of maps and census entries revealed how that East-End neighbourhood was indeed Morrison's own as a child.

An Arthur Morrison Society?

At the conclusion of Stan's revealing lecture, Sue Taylor, Director of the Loughton Festival, revealed that in direct response to the festival's publicising, she had received numerous enquiries about Arthur Morrison and had even received a number of appeals to found an Arthur Morrison Society, suggesting that its worthy aim might be to have the author's churchyard memorial renovated. Stan Newens praised the idea, saying that studying the author's life and works was of the utmost value to our literary, social and political heritage and that the memorial deserved to be looked after, and a little later Sue announced that she had just been given the first contribution towards such a venture.

The weekend's events were concluded with a fine lecture on Hesba Stretton by Dr. Chris Pond, in which he revealed just how much of the author's literary locations were based on local streets and places, and a wonderful compilation of poetic, prosaic and melodic excerpts all related in one way or another to Epping Forest, performed by The Poetry Collective in collaboration with Maggie Goble and Madeline Seviour of The Roding Concert.

Perhaps the only disappointment of the weekend was the last-minute cancellation of a play which was to have been performed as a Schools Collaborative Project by students from Davenant Foundation, Debden Park and Roding Valley Schools, after Davenant School pulled out at the eleventh hour, leaving the other two in the lurch. But this failed to diminish the great success of what will no doubt become a favourite fixture on the local annual events calendar. We look forward to see how next year's Loughton Festival takes shape, but a lot depends on how many people from the Epping Forest area come forward to help the Committee organise the event.


Sue Taylor is a Committee member of the Loughton and District Historical Society. She is happy to receive any enquiries about the proposed Arthur Morrison Society. Sue is particularly looking for people to help her organise the new society, perhaps with a bit of fundraising or with a bit of occasional administrative help.  Sue can be contacted at or on 020 8508 2512.


For More Information please Contact WAHS




Copyright Waltham Abbey Historical Society, 2007.