Discover Huddersfield kicked off their latest series of guided walks on Sunday the 31st of March 2019, with a new themed excursion timed to coincide with the Huddersfield Literature Festival (which ran from the 21st to the 31st of March). The walk was a new addition to the programme, although led by an experienced guide: Chris Marsden, and was slightly unusual in that we were promised readings at various points by both local writers, and by pre-warned members of the walking party.
Our expedition began outside Huddersfield Library, a building flanked by James Woodford’s twin statues of the youthful spirits of Literature and Art, listening to the whispering voices of Inspiration. Panels on the two statues indicate which is which, including a scroll and quills on the statue of Literature: a design which we also noted above the door of the old Huddersfield Examiner offices a few metres uphill from the library.
Before visiting that building, we took a brief stroll in the other direction to stand on the grass where the Theatre Royal once stood. A young Harold Pinter worked there, and later referenced the town in his play The Dwarfs. We were treated to an excerpt including that mention, before walking back up to the old Examiner Offices, where we were met by our first local author, Denis Kilcommons a.k.a. Jon Grahame, who read to us from Reaper, the setting of which is loosely based on Huddersfield.
Our next port of call was The Albert, a long-time meeting place for Huddersfield poets and other writerly types (other than during periods when the incumbent landlord has taken a dislike to poets). Our plan had been to meet up with some of the current Albert Poets and hear excerpts from FIRST DRAFT – The First Anthology of Poetry at the Albert (other anthologies from the group also available); however not a poet was to be found outside or inside the pub.
Having failed to find the poets, we wended our way down to the university, hearing tales of Charles Dickens’ visits to the town, and other anecdotes. While on the campus we listened to excerpts from two pieces by William Dearden: The star-seer: a poem in five cantos and The vale of Caldene : or, The past and the present: a poem, in six books. We were also told of how he challenged Branwell Brontë to a poetry-writing contest at which Branwell arrived with an early version of Wuthering Heights. While some have pointed to this incident as evidence that Branwell and Emily initially collaborated on the novel, I prefer to assume that Branwell was too busy getting drunk and smoking opium to write anything new for the competition and so grabbed the first manuscript to hand as he rushed out of the door to meet his challenger.
Throughout our walk, our attention was drawn to settings mentioned in the play Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs by David Halliwell, and our final reading of the walk was an enactment of the play’s pivotal scene at the market cross, with audience participation, much to the bemusement of passers-by.
We ended our walk at the Merrie England coffee shop on New Street, where copies of many of the books discussed were available for perusal. I definitely plan to investigate some of them, and their authors, a little further. I also need to look into the Huddersfield Author’s Circle.