A society dedicated to celebrating the life and works of a ‘forgotten’ local author has been given a Lottery boost.
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) have awarded £35,000 to the Alfred Williams Heritage Society, which was only founded last September. They will now employ a part-time project co-ordinator to organise a free two-day festival, to take place in Swindon on November 12 and 13, along with other projects.
In 2008, Society Chairman Dr John Cullimore recorded a ‘rock opera’ CD about Williams, called The Hammerman, who was born in South Marston in 1877. And last year, along with Caroline Ockwell and Graham Carter, he formed the society to make more local people aware of Williams’s life and works.
John, a consultant surgeon at the Great Western Hospital, said: “All three of us feel that Alfred is a true local hero. His work was often reviewed in The Times and was known to three prime ministers, yet today he’s largely forgotten in Swindon.
“We want to show people that sometimes you don’t need to look as far afield as you might expect in order to find inspiration.”
Williams published six books of poetry, along with vivid descriptive books about the area, including Life in a Railway Factory, which has been called the most important document in Swindon’s history.
But his research and writing was done in his spare time – most of it during the 23 years he was employed by the GWR in Swindon Railway Works, which earned him the nickname of ‘The Hammerman Poet’.
Alfred Williams image copyright: Bob Townsend and Paul Williams
Around half of the HLF grant will finance a part-time project co-ordinator for a full year, and some of the money will go towards a permanent exhibit about Williams, which will go on display locally. The Society also plan to set up a link between schools in South Marston and northern India, where Williams served during the First World War, and they have a long-term project to make all of Williams’s works available online, including previously unpublished books.
Nerys Watts, the HLF’s Head of Region, said: “In addition to its literary merit, the work of Alfred Williams provides an important record of the social history of the Swindon area of the early 20th Century and of the labour movement in Great Britain. Through a range of original and exciting activities, this project will provide the opportunity for local people, including young people, to better understand and appreciate an inspiring figure from a key period in their past.
“We are delighted to be able to support this project and hope that it will encourage other people in the Swindon area to explore their heritage and to approach us for funding support and advice.”
The Society’s first event will be a Folksong Evening at the King and Queen, Longcot, on Tuesday, 20 April. This will be an entertaining and educational event about another Williams legacy –lyrics to traditional folk songs he collected on his travels around the area, which has assumed national importance in the 80 years since his death.
John Cullimore said the Society was grateful to have been supported by various local individuals and organisations, including Swindon Borough Council, and Mike Pringle of the Swindon Cultural Partnership, whose help had been “invaluable”. Now we can get the message across to everybody else in Swindon about the local hero they didn’t know they had.”
For more information about the Society, the Folksong Evening and the vacancy for a project co-ordinator, see www.alfredwilliams.org.uk.