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November 22nd, 2012 • Posted in Manchester

Authors, Poets and Playwrights from Manchester

View from Kersal Moor, Salford. Painted by Sebastian Pether in 1820

There’s more to Manchester than just football. Not only is it a great gateway to the North of England and the Lake District with its many literary connections (William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter for instance), it has quite a literary pedigree in its own right. Here are just some of many famed authors connected to the city:

Elizabeth Gaskell – (1810-1865)
Born in Chelsea, London in 1810. Due to her mother’s death when Elizabeth was an infant, she was moved to Knutsford, Cheshire to live with an aunt. She grew to love the town of Knutsford, and this is evidenced in two of her books which are based on the town – “Cranford” and “Wives and Daughters”. After her marriage to a Unitarian minister, she lived at various places in Manchester including Chorlton-on-Medlock and Plymouth Grove. Charitable, socially aware and politically conscious, much of her material came through her husband. Her novel “Mary Barton” was a best-seller, and was admired by Charles Dickens. She contributed articles to his periodical Household Words. Also wrote “Ruth”, “North and South” and a biography of Charlotte Brontë. By 1865, the year of her death, she was a phenomenal literary success. She is buried in Knutsford Unitarian Chapel. New Manchester Walks conducts Elizabeth Gaskell tours throughout the year. Check here for dates.

Anthony Burgess – (1917-1993)
Probably now remembered best for the Stanley Kubrick film made of his novel The Clockwork Orange , he was born John Anthony Burgess Wilson on 25th February 1917 in Harpurhey, Manchester, the son of a book-keeper and music-dance teacher. Both his mother and sister died of Flu when he was only 3 years old. He was educated at Xavarian College in Moss Side and at Manchester University, spent six years as a soldier and became an education officer in Malaya and Brunei. He was invalided home in 1959, and took to writing. Some 50-odd books later and he had become a leading novelist on the world’s stage. Retired to live in Monaco and died of lung cancer in 1993 at the age of 76. For details on the Anthony Burgess’s Manchester walking tour, click here.

Shelagh Delaney – (b. 1939)
Born in Salford in 1939 of Irish descent, the daughter of a local transport worker, and was to become known as one of a generation of so-called ‘Angry Young Women’ writers of the 1950s. She attended Pendleton High School, where she was actively encouraged to write by an enlightened headmistress. On leaving school she had many brief jobs before becoming a research photographer with the Metropolitan Vickers Company (MetroVicks) in Trafford Park.

Her writing was steeped in her childhood experiences of life in the industrial north-west of England, and her roots were to provide the background to many of her most celebrated plays and novels. Perhaps her most famous, A Taste of Honey, set in 1950s Salford, and later made into a film starring newcomer Rita Tushingham, was classified by critics as a ‘kitchen sink drama’ or else it came from the ‘kitchen sink school of playwriting’. Delaney herself objected to the “glib label” however, and a programme note to this effect was included when A Taste of Honey premiered on 27th May 1958 in London. Opening to strong critical acclaim, when she was barely 20 years old, it angered many Salfordians, for the unflattering glimpse of Salford it showed, with its post-war decay and the industrial grime of Salford Docks and the Ship Canal, around which most of the film was set. Yet the play had warmth and humour, despite its authenticity and seaminess.

Her second play The Lion in Love opened in London, just before A Taste of Honey premiered on Broadway, and helped promote her further as a playwright of international appeal and stature. By 1961 she had already won the New York Drama Critic’s Award for best foreign play, and by then her work was popular in theatres in Britain and America. Her plays continue to be popular period dramas based on her childhood experiences in Salford.

Thomas De Quincey – (1785-1859)
Born in Manchester in 1785 and baptised in St Ann’s Church, De Quincey was the son of a linen merchant in Market Street Lane. Shy and retiring, he was often severely bullied by his brothers. The family moved to a house in the country called “Greenhay”, about a mile from the town centre in 1791 – subsequently it became the urban district of Greenheys. Educated in Bath and The Manchester Grammar School, and later, in 1803 at Oxford. Frequently in ill-health and impoverished, living in London and Scotland, he published Confessions of an Opium Eater as a serialised work in the London Magazine in 1821. Close friend of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, and many other romantic poets of his day. Wrote “Reminiscences of the Lake Poets”. Drug addicted and impoverished, his writings became more obscure and mystic. Almost complete mental collapse, died penniless in 1859.

Frances Hodgson Burnett – (1849-1924)
Born in 1849 at 385 Cheetham Hill Road in Manchester, the daughter of a small shopkeeper. Decline in the cotton industry led to diminishing fortunes after her father had died, at which time her mother sold up and moved them to Tennessee to live with her brother. Frances began to write short stories based on those in popular English magazines, with immediate success and recognition. After her marriage to a local doctor, her literary success conflicted with his work and they divorced in 1898. Her most famous novels were “That Lass o’ Lowries” (1877), “Little Lord Fauntleroy” (1886) and “The Secret Garden” (1909). A controversial figure in later life, due to her strong-mindedness and her devotion to mystic cults, she died in 1924.

Richmal Crompton – (1890-1969)
Born on the 15th of November 1890 in Bury, the second of three children to the Reverend Edward John Sewell Lamburn and his wife Clara Crompton. Richmal inherited the double surname (Crompton-Lamburn) from both parents, though professionally she only used the Crompton part. Her unusual Christian name had been a tradition in her mother’s family since the early 1700s. Her father was a teacher at Bury Grammar School, and the family lived in the borough for many years, though Richmal attended schools in Derbyshire and Warrington, before winning a scholarship to the Royal Holloway College in London in 1911. She graduated from London in 1914, and was by then an ardent Women’s Suffrage supported and communicated regularly with the Pankhursts in Manchester.

She went to teach at Bromley in Kent from 1915-1917, and it was while here that she began to write short stories. Several stories were accepted for publication in Home Magazine, and by 1919 she had invented her most famous character, William. Her first “Just William” and “More William” stories were published in the same year, and were an immediate success with children. The robust, comic, anarchic schoolboy stories became best sellers. By the time of her death in 1969 there were 38 ‘William’ titles and by 1977 over 9 million copies had been sold world-wide, in English and in translations to several foreign languages. In the early 1990s the BBC produced many of her ‘William’ stories as a Sunday afternoon children’s television series. She died on the 11th January 1969 at her home in Farnborough in Kent.

Robert Bolt – (1924-95)
Robert Oxton Bolt, the famous playwright, author and screenwriter, was born in 1924 at 13 Northenden Road, Sale, and lived there, above his father’s furnisher’s shop until around 1928, when the family moved to live at 68 School Road. A commemorative plaque was placed on these premises in June 2000.

An English dramatist and screenwriter. He wrote several historical plays, including “A Man for All Seasons” in 1960, widely considered to be his most important play, which was made into a film in 1966. He also did many screenplays including for David Lean’s film of “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1962, and “Dr Zhivago” in 1965, both of which won Academy Awards. In 1970 he wrote the screenplay for “Ryan’s Daughter ” and for “Lady Caroline Lamb” in 1972, which starred his wife, Sarah Miles, in the title role – he also directed this film.

Later, in 1984 he wrote screenplays for the remake of “The Bounty” which starred Mel Gibson, and in 1986, “The Mission” starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons.  Bolt demonstrated outstanding skill in the dramatisation of political and moral issues, and was an expert in the use of dramatic structure, strong characterisation, and expressive dialogue. This was demonstrated further in “Vivat Vivat Regina” in 1970, which well illustrated his ability to bring history to life. His “Revolution” in 1977, though not a popular success, showed his ability to tackle intellectually ambitious topics and to deal with them authoritatively.

Alan Garner – (Born 1934)
Alan Garner was born in Congleton in Cheshire on 17 October 1934, and spent most of his childhood days in Alderley Edge. During childhood he suffered from both pneumonia and meningitis. He went to school at Alderley Edge Primary School and later studied at Manchester Grammar School before going on to Magdalen College, Oxford where he gained a degree in classics and met the authors Tolkien and C S Lewis.

Later under National Service conscription, he spent two years in the Royal Artillery as a Second Lieutenant, and by the age of 22 he had begun to write his first novel, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. He worked for a time as a researcher at Granada Television. His children’s books are much influenced by local Cheshire dialect, legend and and myth. In 1968 he won both the Guardian Award and the Carnegie Medal (1968), for “The Owl Service” (published 1967) – the first author to win both awards for a book. His novel “Elidor” had already been a 1965 runner-up for the Carnegie medal. He also won the Phoenix Award in 1996 for “The Stone Book Quartet” which had been published in 1977. Other awards include the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and First Prize at the Chicago International Film Festival for his film “Images”. Garner was awarded an OBE in 2001 for his services to literature. Alan Garner continues to live in Cheshire and is married with five children from his two marriages.

James Hilton – (1900 – 1954)
Also known as Glen Trevor, author James Hilton was born in 26 Twist Lane, off Wilkinson Street in Leigh, now in the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan, in 1900, the son of a local schoolmaster. The family moved to live in London while James was still a young boy and he attended various schools before finishing at The Leys School in Cambridge. He edited and contributed to the school magazine and later, while a seventeen year old undergraduate at Christ’s College Cambridge, had one of his essays published by the Manchester Guardian. He left university in 1921 and secured a job with The Irish Independent, a Dublin newspaper which helped finance his writing. His first novel ‘Catherine’ was published in 1920. Hilton was to become the author of two very famous classic novels, in a prolific and distinguished writing career, later adapted as films: “Goodbye Mr Chips” (which starred Robert Donat) and “Lost Horizons“, both of which were to become successful films in their own right, the latter directed by Frank Capra in 1937. ‘Lost Horizons’ had been written as a result of his visit in 1931 to a remote valley in North Pakistan, on its border with China, Afghanistan and Kashmir. He found a place so beautiful, so wild and so remote he christened it “Shangri-La”, (meaning “an earthly paradise”). The book was awarded the Hawthornden Prize in 1934.

Hilton went on to win an Academy Award for his screenplay for “Mrs Miniver“, which starred Greer Garson. Other award winning films based on his novels included ‘Half a Sixpence’ (later made into a musical starring Tommy Steele) and ‘Random Harvest’. By this time a successful author, script and screen writer, he had moved to live in Hollywood in California. Sadly, his first marriage ended in divorce in 1937 and only seven days later he married Galina Kopineck, a young starlet. This marriage proved volatile and Hilton again divorced eight years later. On 20th December 1954 Hilton died in hospital in Long Beach, California of liver cancer. By this time his first wife, Alice, had been reconciled with him and nursed him till the end. In 2000 a plaque commemorating the centenary of his birth was installed in Leigh Town Hall.

Francis Thompson – (1859-1907)
Francis Thompson was born in Preston in 1864 but moved to live with his family in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1864. Raised as a Roman Catholic and educated at home, in 1870 he went into Ushaw College to train for the priesthood. However, his tutors found him to be temperamentally unsuited and he left to study for a degree in Medicine in Manchester’s Owens College (later to become the University of Manchester). In the event, he did not complete the course and was thrown out by his father. He then moved to live in London where he would probably have ended his short life as a drug addict were it not for the intervention of Wilfred and Alice Meynall, publishers of the Merrie England magazine, who, recognising the quality of his writings, took him in, nursed him back to health and became his major promoters and benefactors throughout the remainder of his life.

Thompson went on to write many poems and was at his most prolific between 1888 and 1897, including his best known “The Hound of Heaven“. Other works include “Poems” in 1893, “Sister Songs” in 1895, as well as his “Essay on Shelley” and “Life of Saint Ignatius Loyola”, both published after his death in 1909. Thompson also contributed to magazines like the Athenaeum and the Academy.

Terry Eagleton – (Born 1943)
Writer, academic and novellist, Terry Eagleton was born into a working class family in Salford in 1943 and reputedly began writing short stories by the age of six. He went to school at De La Salle College and became interested in drama. After reading English at Trinity College, Cambridge, he achieved a First Class Degree with special distinction in 1964, and was awarded a PhD in 1967. Later, he became a research fellow at Jesus College. In 1969 he moved as a lecturer to Wadham College, Oxford where he was eventually to become Thomas Warton Professor of English Literature.

His several books on literary criticism include “Literary Theory – an Introduction” in 1983, “Heathcliffe and the Great Hunger” (1995), “After Theory” (2005). Other work includes “The English Novel: an Introduction”, “The Significance of Theory” (1990), the novels “Saints & Scholars” (1987) and “The Gatekeeper” (2001), as well as several plays. Regarded as a leading intellectual and British Marxist literary critic, he lives with his wife and their son in Londonderry and is currently Professor of Cultural Theory and John Rylands Fellow at the University of Manchester.

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In total there are now seven cities in North America with non-stop flights to Manchester: New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Orlando and Las Vegas. So what are you waiting for?