A collaborative project involving University of Gloucestershire, the Dean Heritage Centre and local volunteers and schools to establish a unique literary collection, has been awarded £133,8867 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The literary papers of past Forest of Dean writers will be conserved and made available to researchers, schools and the public.
The new project will bring together a unique collection of material spanning more than 200 years, some written in local dialect, that reflects the landscape, people and places of the Forest of Dean.
The Forest of Dean Writers Collection will complement Dean Heritage Centre’s archive of British television playwright Dennis Potter (1935-1994), which was also the product of previous work with the University.
The two-year-long project will see the original handwritten manuscripts, including poems, novels, play scripts, notebooks, drawings and photographs held by descendants from all over the UK and the US, become part of the Forest community museum’s permanent collection.
Specialists from University of Gloucestershire will work with museum staff and local volunteers to research and catalogue the more than 400 unique items making up the new collection, while a series of events and exhibitions will showcase the fascinating new material.
Schools will have access to the collection’s literary, historical and dramatic content, to give their cross-curriculum work a local flavour and raise literary aspirations.
Among the unique material making up the new collection are previously unknown poems by “Forest Poetess” Catherine Drew (1784-1867); work by poet, biographer and literary editor Leonard Clark OBE (1905-1981); books once belonging to war-poet FW Harvey (1888-1957; a never-before seen novel by Valerie Grosvenor Myer (1935-2007) better known as an academic and biographer; a memoir by former collier and farmer Fred Boughton (1897-1985) written in Forest dialect with parallel “Queen’s English” translation.
Many of the papers were discovered by Dr Jason Griffiths and Dr Roger Deeks during their research for the University’s “Reading the Forest” project that was launched in 2015 to engage the public with the work, life stories and achievements of writers and poets from the Forest.
Dr Jason Griffiths said: “We’re so thrilled to hear we’ve received this support from the Heritage Fund. Thanks to The National Lottery players, more people will learn about the Forest of Dean’s rich and distinctive literary heritage.
“The work of these authors is of intense local interest, but it is also part of a much wider national body of work that captures the rich texture of this country’s fascinating places and people.”
Dr Roger Deeks said: “The literary heritage of the Forest of Dean is an important part of its wider cultural heritage. Many of these writers overcame economic hardship and class prejudice to achieve what they did. The story of their lives and careers will inspire young Foresters.”
Dean Heritage Centre manager, Mark George, said: “This new collection plays an important part in our plans to diversify the museum’s displays and the new stories we tell about the Forest’s history. It will bring new visitors to the Centre too.”
Nicola Wynn, head of collections at Dean Heritage Centre, said: “This is fantastic news. I am so looking forward to working with this new collection. Alongside our existing Dennis Potter archive, this new material demonstrates the incredible depth of creative talent that has come out of the Forest of Dean over the years.
“Engaging young people with this work could create a whole new generation of Forest writers and poets.”