Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Poetry 20 + (1962 - 1993)

Poetry 20 +  held the lamp for Cleveland Writing along with The Middlesbrough Writers Group from the early 60's until the 1980's when more Creative Writing activities began to be organised.

POETRY 20+ (1962 - 1993) was founded on the 23rd of May, 1962 by Magdalene and Archie Donald and Mary Williams and was, as far as i know, the first and one of the most influential groups in the area in its 30 year existence, making it one of longest standing groups in the area.

Mary Williams, a teacher, local historian and poet, led and mentored the group until her death in December 1989, when Bill Hart took over the chair until the group finally folded c1993.

Poetry 20+ first met at Eastbourne Road in Middlesbrough, changing venue as room availability and costs changed. They would meet on the 2nd Wednesday of the month, ten times a year and some of the other venues they used included the Leeds University Centre in Harrow Road, Acklam Library, All Saints Community Centre and sometimes at members' homes.Mary claimed the membership varied over the years but they had a core of 8 to 9 members who attended regularly.

Poetry 20+ was arguably traditional in it's approach to poetry (a homemade booklet of poetry exercises from the group focussed, to an extent on rhyming exercises) and members such as Frank Talling and his wife we're regular members of Andy Croft's poetry classes at Harrow road in the mid 1980's, studying some of the classic poets.).

In fact, the group anthology states that the group meetings looked at and read the classics as well as members' own poetry. They would hold manuscript meetings and engage in poetry exercises to sharpen technique and hold discussions.

From 1963, the group produced Folio, an annual anthology of poetry produced and edited by the group.Some of the anthologies can be found on this page below.

One of their earliest achievements was the participation in a children's poetry competition in
which the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette was involved. Poetry 20+ did the initial judging and their selection was then sent to Philip Larkin in Hull,who did the final judging. The prizes were later presented by David Kossoff at Darlington Arts Centre.There then followed a meeting with Yorkshire poets from the West Riding at Harrow Road.

Members included - Mary Williams, Frank and Miriam Talling (who were active as officers of the Middlesbrough branch of the Workers' Educational Association and Middlesbrough Communist Party), Joan Clark, Vincent Mulholland (both later contributors to Outlet magazine and Vincent was one of the founders of the Thornaby Pavilion Poets in 1968 and involved with the Yarm Writers Group in the early 1990's.), Peggy Jones, Evelyn Henderson, H.W.(Bill) Hart, Freda Davey, Eileen Rattenbury, Ethel Robinson, Mavis Strudwick, Frank Strudwick, Magdalene and Archie Donald. Some of the members, like Ethel Robinson, had their own poetry booklets out.

In 1989, Outlet co-editor Margaret Weir went through to Marske to interview Mary for the magazine (which can be seen below), catching Mary only weeks before she passed away. Margaret also ran the Phoenix Poetry Group in Middlesbrough which had newly started then and after mary's demise, the new chair of Poetry 20+ not only led the group but took some of the remaining members along to the Phoenix group meetings in Middlesbrough,until both groups folded in 1993. By this time,there had been substantial literary development on Teesside as the annual Write around Festival was launched and both groups took part in the early days of the festival.

This is the article Margaret Weir wrote for Outlet in 1990 after her interview with Mary Williams.


A few weeks ago I drove over to Marske to talk Mary Williams, writer, local historian and long term leader of the Poetry 20+ group.

Margaret Weir
Born in 1924, the daughter of S.M. Williams, who wrote children's adventure stories in his spare time, Mary was one of the early members of Poetry 20+, formed in 1962 by Magdalene and Archie Donald. The first meeting was held at Eastbourne Rd. in Middlesbrough and thereafter the poets were for many years based in the Leeds University Adult Education Centre at Harrow Rd. They met ten times a year and published their first Folio in 1963, with one following every year since. Throughout they have had a core of eight or nine regular members.

One of their early achievements was participation in a children's poetry competition in which the Evening Gazette was also involved. Poetry 20+ did the initial judging. Their selection was then sent to Philip Larkin in Hull, who did the final judging and the prizes were later presented by David Kossoff at Darlington Arts Centre. There then followed a meeting with Yorkshire poets (from the West Riding), at Harrow Rd. When the affiliation fees became too high they started to meet in each other's houses, thereafter at All Saints Community Centre, Middlesbrough, and when the fees again became prohibitive, at Acklam Library, their most recent venue. The group has existed for 27 years, and, as Mary said "I think the group have done their bit for Poetry"


Cleveland's History - (1984 Seaside Books)

A collection of local history articles edited by Chris Scott Wilson. Mary contributed two articles.

The Pottery that Began Middlesbrough - A book by Mary about Middlesbrough Old Pottery, as it was known, not to be confused with Linthorpe Potteries. This was published in 1985 by C. Books.

Witches in Old North Yorkshire - Published in 1987 by Hutton Press, which operates in Beverley, Yorks. Having completed her manuscript, Mary spoke to Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton-Le-Hole, knowing that they have a special interest in the folklore of Yorkshire witches. They said they could sell it and recommended that she try Hutton Press, who much to her delight, said ‘Yes' to publication.

The same year C. Books released a publication, Who Was Who in Nineteenth Century Cleveland? - by Mary and David M. Tomlin, who is a leading light of the Cleveland Archaeological Society. C. Books are available from P.O. Box 11, Redcar TS10 1YS (Note: Can't vouch for the address being the same now - Ed.)


Mary had her first piece of writing accepted by the Evening Gazette in 1981. She then learned from David Phillipson who had written a history of Redcar Lifeboats, that the then, Cleveland Courier was looking for local history articles. One by one Mary sent them eighteen articles which they published fortnightly until the Courier ceased publication in March 1984. At the end of May 1984, the Cleveland Clarion arrived through her letterbox and she sent her last article to the editor who was very enthusiastic, and so she writes weekly. Articles have included "William Stanes" - The Iron Cooper of Marske

"The History of Warrenby" (This was a special request for an account of a community no longer in existence, as it has been re-housed in Redcar.


One useful contact created through the auspices of the Clarion was one Mr Papprill - licensee of the Victoria in Saltburn. Converting the premises to a pub, he stumbled across a blocked off section of the cellar, behind which was a mass of old papers. Miraculously he didn't just dump them. Investigating he discovered that they told a story of a firm of printers that had existed there years before. This, as Mary described it, was ‘A Real Pot of Gold'., as the information contained in these old papers inspired many other articles too.


Once, going through newspaper archives in search of something completely different, Mary found an article written in 1904 by a reporter who at the time had to interview an old lady who lived was living next door to ‘The ship Inn' at Saltburn. Her images of Saltburn dated back to before 1861 when Saltburn was merely a few fishing cottages near The Ship.


People who ask for articles - a piece for St. Peter's Church, Redcar, to celebrate their anniversary. Marske charities her their archives and asked for an article, as did the British Legion's Women's Board. Only once has she returned into fiction, when she was asked for a a series of articles on Christmas and invented a family, Martin and Martha Cleveland of Marske. This was the springboard for comparing their past Christmases of Yule Logs and Fromenty Wheat with the seasonal festivities of today.


A retired school teacher, Mary is presently continuing with articles for the Clarion, and is a member of the Cleveland Family History Society and Teesside Local History Society. Whilst staying loyal to Poetry 20+ , Mary seems pleased that many more forums for poets and other writers are opening up in the area. As regards future publications she has a ‘few irons in the fire', and books will, as she says ‘appear when and if'. Remembering her cosy living room-cum-office with its ‘Piles of Files' and rows of books, it seems a forgone conclusion that Mary will continue to find expression for her perceptive and enquiring mind and talent with words, whatever form these take.

Margaret Weir (1989) - First published in OUTLET 1989

POETRY 20+ put out an annual group anthology.  I have 5 of these from 1985 to 1990 and have uploaded them to Issuu as Flip books. You can download them free if you create an Issuu account or else read them in the flip bokk window. You can expand the pages in various wasy to read them.

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