The writers of Market Drayton

PUBLISHED: 00:16 16 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:16 20 February 2013

The writers of Market Drayton

The writers of Market Drayton

Mary Williams tells the story of the writers' group whose first book gives a voice to the people of Market Drayton

Mary Willaims tells the story of the writers' group whose first book gives a voice to the people of Market Drayton.

Eight years ago, work commitments dictated that we relocate from Lancashire to Shropshire, so we sold up and moved south to Market Drayton. I had recently completed an MA in writing at Edgehill and been commissioned to write two self-help books, and having taken early retirement, I was eager to begin writing again after our move, but there was a problem: there was no writing group in the town. I had no contacts, no friends.

Undaunted, I put an advert in the local paper and was joined by Liz Bartlett, a fellow scribbler, then Norma OKeefe, Cathy Simpson, Mirka Duxbury and Andrew Harrison, and as time went on the membership fluctuated but stayed at around 12 members, all of whom have added their own special talents to what has became known as the Drayton Writers Group. We have held open mike events, organised workshops, published some of our work and egged each other on to write and send pieces off to possible publishing outlets and competitions. Mostly, weve brought work in to read out and for others to comment on.

Last year one of our members, Dr Lynn Ashburner, a retired academic, had the bright idea of applying for a county council grant, so that we could involve more people in the community and publish some of their, and our, work.

A skilled bid writer of some renown, Lynns efforts meant that we were awarded a decent grant to enable us to proceed. Stating our wish to involve older and housebound people in the town, and to include people from villages around Market Drayton meant that we were viewed favorably.

The Chinese adage be careful what you wish for proved appropriate, as on receiving the news of our grant, we then had to climb a small mountain of soliciting contributions, editing, and arranging the contents of our anthology, which we called Drayton Voices.

We had feared that we would struggle to get contributions (we had asked for pieces related to the town and its history) but were pleasantly surprised by the amount of contributions we eventually received.

Editing fell to delegated group members, who honed their skills at punctuation and spelling while they studied pieces on the history of the gasworks, the canal and the comings and goings of different retailers in the town. It was all most interesting, and it painted a vivid picture of the hardships faced by country people in the not-so distant past.

PENNY ABBOTT, whose husbands family had been lock-keepers at Tyrley Lock, discovered the history of her mother-in-law:All of Annies nine children were delivered at home with the help of a very skilled midwife, who became a valued friend. Two of these, Jimmy and Charlie, died in childhood, one of meningitis; the other who sadly fell in the canal, because there was no-one at hand to rescue him as all the men were in the fields.

Penny wrote about the daily lives of the family:Many families kept a pig which was fed on left-overs and boiled up peelings and when one was killed it was shared with neighbours. Fresh joints were eaten immediately, black and white puddings made and bacon cured hanging from the living room ceiling. A treat for Tom was to cut a slice to have with some bread, and in the winter when the children came home from school, when it was lobby night, Annie made extra stock so they could have a cup to warm them up.

Our oldest contributor was MARY HOUSEMAN, 95, whose memories of coming to Drayton as a youngwoman were very touching. Mary also recalled an event that other contributors missed:

In 1982 there was a freak accident when a whirlwind hit a small part of Market Drayton, right where our church stood. It managed to lift the roof off the church, which as it fell back down, cracked all the walls. It had to be demolished.

Another contributor, BRENDA FELTON, sent us page after page of detailed memories of the town, starting with the pub, the Lord Hill, where she was born:

It had four rooms: a smoke room (for men only - mainly business people); a lounge where customers came to a hatch to be served; then the main bar which held over 130 people, playing darts, dominoes and skittles, and then the tap room of which I learnt the trade from the age of 10 years...

Lack of space made it impossible to print all of it, so we had to pick out the nuggets.Some contributors concentrated on the ancient history of the town, taking Blore Heath as a starting point:

Here I lie, slumbering in the earth long laid to rest, heart sore and battle weary, wrote CATHERINE WESTWOOD, in an imaginative poem about fallen knights in armour.

CHRIS ELDON LEE contributed a song about another more recent battle, the fight to save Fordhall Farm.

Also in our postbag were recollections of a honeymoon spent here as the bride of a trainee pilot:

The problem of where I was to stay presented itself. I was not allowed to stay in the officers mess. Even as a married woman, it was thought that my presence might corrupt the students. As a student, my husband was not allowed to live out. So we went in our red Mini Clubman with the plastic wood trim to Calverhall, wrote CATHY SIMPSON.

There was a sombre note too, in the contributions of CANON PHILP LEONARD-JOHNSON and ANDREW HARRISON, who both wrote about Remembrance Day in the town. The Canon wrote about researching the families of the fallen:

Because we wanted to know how old they all were, where they were buried or commemorated, and where Stanley Snow disappeared to (in fact, into the Australian Imperial Force), we had lots of questions. This is where the staff of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission were superb. They scoured the records and came up with everything we needed.

Andrew Harrison had watched the Remembrance Day service for years, with a different perspective:

Their peace is won, so let them go. Our freedoms earned, so let them be. Chidlow, Upton, Gough and Lee, let them be just who they were: a rag-tag bunch of good and bad who never had much chance to choose, whose fate was always in anothers gift...

People sent in their poetry, items of historical interest, pieces about the memorial stone, dances enjoyed, bands belonged to, battles fought; in short a whole variety of work reflecting the town. Even the gasworks and the sewage treatment plant got a mention. I wrote a piece about Bostock and Wombwells Travelling Menagerie, which came to the town in 1889, complete with elephant, lions and a wild man. The research for this was so interesting that Im currently writing a novel based around the menagerie.

At last a final draft of the anthology was produced and it was sent to the printers. It was most exciting when the books came back. We had a launch in the Festival Drayton Centre and invited all the contributors to come along and receive their free copy of the anthology, and to bring their friends and relations too.

Were now selling the anthology in the town like hotcakes, or in the case of Market Drayton, the legendary gingerbread.

Lynn Ashburner, who prepared the manuscript for the printer, can congratulate herself on a job well done, and the group has benefited from having a focus. The question is, what next?

Copies of the anthology can be obtained from Mary Williams, 46 Smithfield Road, Market Drayton, TF9 1EN, tel: 01630 657055 and cost 6 each, which includes postage, or from Market Drayton Library. The Drayton Writers Group meets on the second Saturday of every month at the Museum, Market Drayton. We welcome new members, who should phone the secretary, Gerald Hughes, on 01630 673674 for details. The group has its own website, currently under construction, which is and which will shortly have details ofall forthcoming events.

If you would like to tell the story of your Shropshire society contact
the editor, email: joanne.goodwin or tel: 01782 850539.

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