The Sylvia Townsend Warner Society Weekend June 28 - 30 2013

The weekend began on the Friday evening when eleven members (including two welcome new faces) met at 6 North Square in Dorchester for food and conversation, catching up over the year and further enlivened by wine ordered for us by Jay Barksdale, who was unable to attend in person this year.

Saturday’s AGM was a productive one, with members making many constructive and practical suggestions. Then, in tribute to our late member Richard Garnett, Helen Sutherland read from his selection of the Sylvia Townsend Warner/David Garnett Letters.

Lunch was at Panini’s on the fringes of Dorchester’s new Brewery Square development which seems (unlike the ever-expanding Poundbury project) to be growing into a lively centre. After the meal we drove to Dagger’s Gate and went on a literary walk to Lulworth Cove, led by Stephen Mottram. Our group was joined by Roger, an interested non-member, who arrived just in time for a reading of Sylvia’s ‘The Lonely Traveller’ with which the walk began. He later contributed his own reading, of Rupert Brooke’s ‘Pine-Trees and the Sky: Evening’ written in Lulworth on July 8th 1907.

We paused at Newlands Farm, holiday home to Bertrand Russell and to the bevy of aristocratic lovelies with whom he dallied before the War. (Unfortunately the farm is being extensively gentrified at the moment. Any sign of rakishness has long gone.)

We then walked down the meandering hill to Holy Trinity Church, West Lulworth, which was built in 1869-70. The old church, which had stood to the north, was recreated in George Birmingham’s Bindon Parva. In the novel, the vicar gives communion to a row of invisible parishioners in an apparently empty church. (This seems to prefigure some of the stories of Theodore Powys.)

Down on the beach Stephen read Keats’s sonnet ‘Bright Star’ composed as he left England for the last time in 1820, and Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘At Lulworth Cove a Century Back’ which commemorated the event one hundred years later, in September 1920.

Up on the cliff above the Cove, Stephen read from Hardy’s short story ‘A Tradition of Eighteen Hundred and Four’, in which a shepherd boy sees Napoleon Bonaparte and his general, who have landed briefly in the Cove on an exploratory mission, planning for a much-dreaded invasion which was never to be.
(Which leaves me with the reflection that there is obviously something in the air of Lulworth Cove which inspires authors to date precisely everything they write there…)

Tea followed the readings, in the sunny pub garden, after which we walked back along the hillside and through the caravan site above Durdle Dor.

Back in Dorchester, we were soon meeting up again for an evening at the house of our president, Eileen Johnson, where Jenny Wildblood cooked her much-anticipated meal, based on descriptions of recipes in Sylvia’s writings.
(Jenny will soon provide the recipes.) This was a friendly and well-enjoyed event.

It still wasn’t raining on Sunday morning when members gathered outside the Old Vicarage in Chaldon Herring, for a walk around Sin (the Vicarage) and Death (the churchyard). We cautiously circled the Victorian Gothic building, which in the 1930s was the gloomy ‘home’ for girls with learning difficulties. Concerned intervention by Sylvia, Valentine Ackland and Llewelyn Powys resulted in a libel case which cost them dear. The gardens are now unevocatively manicured, and equipped with a tennis court.

In the churchyard we visited the monument to the Reverend Joseph Staines Cope, provider of much copy to Sylvia, and the graves of Sarah Wilcox, Miss Lucy Green, Katie Powys, our late patron Janet Machen and – of course – Sylvia and Valentine.

As always, lunch followed at the Sailor’s Return, and we were able to sit outside in the sun. It had been another successful weekend and a very talkative one!

Judith Stinton