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Edward Thomas and Gloucestershire: Heather Cobby MA reports on the May Hill celebrations

The School of Humanities has been celebrating its long-standing connections with the Dymock Poets. The University  Special Collections and Archives houses the Gloucestershire Poets, Writers and Artists Collection, and in June the School joined forces with the Edward Thomas Fellowship and Friends of Dymock Poets for a weekend conference, reported in the local press. Dr Debby Thacker (Senior Lecturer emerita, English Literature) gave a paper on how the Dymock poets allowed expression of the child’s voice in their work.

Heather Cobby wrote her Master’s thesis on Edward Thomas’s prose work and other unpublished writings, and is also a member of the Edward Thomas Fellowship. She reports on the recent  festivities held at May Hill in Thomas’s honour, exclusively for the English Literature blog. Heather’s report captures the sense of place and community that inspired Thomas. The beautiful  illustration was contributed by pupils at Huntley Junior School.
May Hill village hall was the bustling centre for a day of celebration on Saturday June 13th . People from several counties joined the locals to enjoy all things `arty`,  `crafty` and poetic, which had been inspired by or produced on May Hill and its immediate surroundings.

The idea for the day was conceived by The National Trust as one of their `spirit of place` events, and sprang from the fact that Edward Thomas started to write his important poem `Words` while sitting on the slopes of the hill. Thomas was on a cycling tour from Gloucester to Coventry and had cycled to May Hill with his friend, local solicitor and botanist, John (`Jack`) Haines.   

The day`s events included two guided walks led by National Trust rangers and, at appropriate stops, poems and readings inspired by the hill were read. Some of these were written in the early twentieth century by the local group of `Dymock Poets`, but there were also more modern ones by the walkers themselves. The rangers were on hand to explain their management of the hill and to point out birds and flowers of interest as well as to answer any questions. Unfortunately nearly all the poems and readings referred to the normally wide-ranging views from the hill, which were completely obliterated by fog and drizzle. Nevertheless, the walkers were undeterred and professed to enjoy the `spiritual` atmosphere as we climbed the hill. There had also been a poetry competition for poems inspired by the hill for which first, second and third winners of National Trust vouchers were announced in the hall at lunch time.

For those not walking, there was plenty to occupy them in the village hall. Local schools were showing their pupils` amazing colourful and very professional artwork that had been inspired by the hill. Tall pines displayed themselves next to bushy hawthorns and there were imaginative views of the whole hill, even including a road at the bottom. At the entrance to the hall the side of a large awning had been used for anyone coming or going to add their artistic ideas to a huge wall painting depicting animals, birds and flowers associated with the village and the hill. Refreshments were available in the form of Fairtrade tea and coffee, a May Hill Ploughman`s lunch and a wonderful assortment of cakes made by a local catering company.

Stalls in the hall included jewellery, curtain pulls and key rings made out of local wood and snoods, hats, jumpers and other clothing made from wool from sheep farmed on May Hill. Beautiful cards and pictures of May Hill in a variety of materials abounded and one local artist was selling self-illustrated books of her own poetry inspired by the landscape and nature of the hill. Another local artist`s own illustrations decorated a book of some of Edward Thomas`s poems. To add to the celebratory atmosphere, a local folk couple were playing their own suitably rustic music.  The whole day reflected the wide variety of excellent local talent produced by our wonderful May Hill.

Edward Thomas, undated photo.

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