One of the great boons of the much-heralded forthcoming restoration of Pitshanger Manor is the much-heralded and just-completed demolition of Pitshanger Manor. Of course I am messing with your mind to quote my teenage nephew, I do not mean the entire Manor, just the modern Public Library extension. This structure was cruelly and with malice aforethought grafted on to the Manor in 1902 and had all the charm and majesty of a public urinal. Remarkably it was the Tuesday evening home of The Pitshanger Poets Workshop for most of the 20th Century. Many may feel that I am stretching a point when I say that this depressing edifice was wholly responsible for the demise of the flower of British Poetry. However I insist in pressing my case since so many talented individuals found the prospect of action in Wars One, Spanish Civil and Two preferable to a Workshop among the gloomy portals and fierce draughts of the Library chambers. Certainly Ealing Council’s swift prohibition on the consumption of alcohol on the premises discouraged the attendance of our more well-lubricated poets, some of whom were eventually persuaded to yell their works through the windows from outside the building, pint freshly delivered from the Red Lion in hand. Does this make Dylan Thomas a Pitshanger? It’s a technicality.
Somewhat of a technicality was the fact that this week’s workshop was the most popular for some years (and where were you?), the room was packed. We do appear to be attracting a number of husband and wife poetry tag-teams which is welcome and shows poetry at last shaking off its Bohemian Bloomsbury image at last. Louise Nicholas returned on her annual sojourn from the land of Oz to the land of Uk with a poem about a dog with a conscience. Owen Gallagher has the Clyde running through him, though his clothes are mercifully dry. Angela Arratoon made a most welcome return to the group with a cat poem that was anything but a cat poem. John Hurley has been thinking about finding love in his latter years, maintaining a wry smile, or is that simile? Michael Harris has been mis-hearing his mother from the big city in a wonderful binary poem. Alan Chambers has been watching foxes. Pat Francis has been thinking about love and Dame Julian of Norwich. Peter Francis picked the theme of poetry and ran with it. Nick Barth has been trying to escape from or with his own inertia. Anne Furneaux brought back a revised piece in her modern art series. Daphne Gloag has been wondering whether the birds go on for ever. Finally, Martin Choules brought three short poems which may be read at our Poetry night on Monday the 3rd at this very theatre. There, I told you it was a popular evening.
Which pandemonium put me in mind of a Workshop past I discovered in the Archive recently. As you may recall from these pages, the Workshop predates Sir John Soane’s own ‘Restoration’ of Pitshanger Manor in the early nineteenth century. The Poets were accustomed to meeting in Sir John’s beautiful Eating Room, however Sir John never saw the Manor as a finished project and from time to time all would be step-ladders, dust-sheets and ‘Egg-Shell White with a Hint of Laudanum’ , forcing the poets to find another room. On this occasion they had decamped to the cozy Breakfast room, which had a only one small circular table and four chairs. There were ten poets present, including a fatherly William Wordsworth and a young Percy Shelley in London eager to air Queen Mab to his peers. The Workshop started as announced on the chimes of eight o’clock and Percy was given the floor. No sooner had he reached the end of the first stanza than the door burst open and a certain Samuel Taylor Coleridge sidled in, dragging a large arm chair. After the usual bows and greetings the reading was resumed, only to be interrupted again by a coughing John Keats carrying a stool. Again, after some gratuitous enquiries after his health the reading resumed. Which brave effort was again impeded by the entry of an apologetic John Clare with Mrs Clare, a crate of chickens and a settle of some nature. Finally, the camel’s back was broken by a swaying, discombobulated Lord Byron outside the breakfast room, carrying a tankard of ale, rapping loudly on the window with his cane and demanding to be let in. It is believed that after some negotiation the meeting was reconvened in the private saloon of the Red Lion. Whether Shelley got to the end of Queen Mab is not recorded.
If you have been, thank you for reading.