After lunch at the George in Wath, we made our way a few hundred yards down the road to Norton Conyers and spent an hour or so taking in the tranquil atmosphere of its glorious walled garden.
Sir James, the 11th baronet, and Lady Graham were waiting in the hall shown above and gave us a very comprehensive account of the repair and restoration programme begun in 2005, even handing round examples of their large collection of death watch beetles. Despite their own hard work and very ‘hands on’ approach, they freely admitted that none of this would have been possible without generous grants. In 2014, Norton Conyers won the Historic Houses Association/Sotheby’s Restoration Award.
This ‘gentleman’s manor-house’, owned by the Graham family for almost four hundred years, is thought to have inspired much of Charlotte Brontë’s description of Thornfield Hall. What is certain is that she visited it before she wrote Jane Eyre and must have heard the 18th century legend of a mad woman confined in one of its attics. Some time later, the staircase was blocked off and only rediscovered in 2004. The floor up there being too fragile for visitors, we had to content ourselves with a glimpse up the stairs from the door on the landing. There was, however, a photograph on display of a sparsely furnished and cheerless garret.
Fortunately, there was plenty more to see, including fine furniture, pictures, porcelain, 16th century painted boards and even a sample of mid 18th century wallpaper, now copied and commercially available as ‘Norton Conyers Diamonds’. Some rooms are light and airy but others, including the landing, decidedly gloomy. One of these is the dark panelled bedroom in which the future James II and his wife Mary of Modena may have slept during their visit to Norton Conyers in November 1679.
Each generation of the Graham family has made changes at Norton Conyers and the current owners are no exception to this. Their website is http://www.nortonconyers.org.uk/
The winner was Phil Cook, seen above with adjudicator Ruth Elwin Harris, who described herself as a ‘lapsed’ writer’. In the past, she had penned Sisters of the Quantocks, a quartet of novels for teenagers, and published Billie:The Nevill Letters 1914-16 from a collection of correspondence she came across in the Imperial War Museum.
Turning to the eleven competition entries Ruth said that she had paid more attention to the subject than to the writing. Inevitably her choices were subjective but she said she had looked at four particular things:
• The piece needs to be well written
• The piece needs to be well constructed with a beginning, a middle and an end
• She liked to be made to think
• She felt that presentation was important
Having expanded on her methods Ruth gave her individual comments on the entries before announcing the winners.
First – Phil Cook with ‘Truth and Memory’, inspired by the WW1 exhibition currently on at York Art Gallery.
Second – Peter Page with ‘Atmosphere and Story’, a plea to artists to transcend mere technique and stir the viewer’s imagination.
Third – Cathy Grimmer with ‘Devaluing Creativity’. In Cathy’s absence her article was held over to be read at a later date.
Jonathan Trenholme and Pam Grimsditch of The Masham Players delighted a packed room with anecdotes about the ups and downs of amateur dramatics. Pam opened proceedings by reciting Joyce Grenfell’s Nursery School monologue and A Wayne in a Manger by Gervais Phinn.
The Masham Players celebrate their 70th anniversary this year and Jonathan, who joined in 1972, is very proud of the fact that his family has been involved since the mid-1950s. The main part of the talk, illustrated with slides, props and costumes, followed the process of a production from choosing the play to performance. It was accompanied by references to the Players’ successes in drama festivals as well as rueful asides about things that had gone wrong on the night.
Jonathan concluded by saying that the Players’ next programme would be two one act plays put on jointly with their sister group from North Stainley, where performances would be on 1st and 2nd July. Performances in Masham would follow on 7th and 8th July.
After a break for refreshments, Jan was recruited to help Jonathan and Pam perform a short piece about an old couple. Jan then handed over a token of RWG’s appreciation for the talk before opening the meeting to questions.
Exceptionally, this meeting was held in the St Wilfrid’s Community Centre. With adjudicator Ann Powell unable to join us, Jan passed on her general comments and invited entrants in no particular order to read out their own mini-sagas. The results were as follows:
• 3rd – Maggie with ‘Pique’ – how a rejected marriage proposal might have sealed the fate of Dresden during WW2
• 2nd – Cathy with ‘The Death of Earth’ – an evacuee from our dying planet thinks of those left behind
• 1st – Phil with ‘Oops!’ – a very literary response to a loving email message sent to the wrong Jason
Jan presented Phil with the trophy.
The other entries were:
• Peter H – ‘Kick Back’ – a couple split up
• Peter P – ‘The Witch’ – a community finds a novel way to solve the problem of a bored witch causing havoc
• Sheila – ‘Death, Where is Thy Sting’ – don’t use a frying pan to kill a wasp if it is on your partner’s head
• Kate (read by Cathy) – ‘Adrift’ – a hospital visit
• Joe – ‘A Family’s Secret’ – memories of visits to the writer’s family in Lincolnshire
• Janet – ‘The Stuff of Fairy Tales’ – the true feelings of a couple at an engagement announcement press call
• Claire – ‘The Catastrophic Collapse of Colchester in 1648’ – factual – the origins of the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ story in the fall of Royalist Colchester to the
Roundheads in 1648
• Carol – ‘Innocence and Experience’ – a reflection on the lure of the apple
• Julie – ‘Journey’s End, New Beginning’ – a woman finally admits that she is in labour at the end of pregnancy
• Caroline – ‘Today’ – ‘Will he come? Yes, the wheelie bin will get emptied this week.’
• Anna – ‘One Lie or Two, Darling?’ – a tale of double duplicity
• Susan – ‘How Being Full of Your Own Self-importance Can Make You Overlook the Obvious and be Unaware of What’s Under Your Nose’ – a neighbour saga
This evening marked the 800th meeting of Ripon Writers’Group.
By a happy coincidence, we had three founder members present to cut the celebration cake. Daphne and Joe are regular attenders and it was good to see Linda returning after many years away from the Group.
Everyone was in a very cheerful mood to hear a wide variety of five minute plays read out by their authors with assistance from other members.
At the first meeting of the New Year, Jan welcomed Andy Croft who was present to give his adjudication of the Group’s 2015 Poetry Competition. After a brief summary of his own career as a published author and poet, Andy gave his reaction to each of the competition entries before announcing the winners. The trophy went to Elizabeth Spearman (who was unable to be at the meeting) for a poem entitled ‘Messenger’. Susan Perkins took second place with ‘An Avid Reader’s Advisory Villanelle’ with third place going to David McAndrew for ‘Lost’. After the refreshment break the entries were read, with time at the end of the meeting for Andy Croft to read two of his own published pieces.
A very pleasant evening at The Old Deanery drew to a close with the presentation by Joe Peters of the President’s Cup, won by Susan Perkins for the second year running.
Members and guests had enjoyed a two or three course meal interspersed with a rather less than ‘easy peasy’ quiz provided by Claire Cox and some seasonal readings. Chair Jan Maltby and Treasurer Cathy Grimmer made sure that no one went away empty handed.
The intimate lighting at the venue proved challenging once again for Admin’s modest camera equipment, but at least the gallery below will let you see most of those present. Apologies to anyone not featured. Unfortunately some images were too dark or indistinct to be worth including.
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