Tom Twisleton 100 - A Year in Review

The ancient Greeks advocated, although were not always practiced in, the idea of moderation in all affairs. But they understood that banner-waving nationalism, tub-thumping rhetoric and excess in love, were neither sustainable or desirable in the long run. It was a useful corrective; a restraint on what the Tragedians called 'hybris', or foolish overconfidence.

More recently, the Victorians - though also prone to imperial self-estimation and lapses into hypocrisy - honed a principle of moderation founded at least as much on biblical teaching as on philosophical common sense. The hugely significant Temperance Movement could lay claim to common sense on both moral and practical grounds: the negative social and domestic effects of intoxication were, indeed still are, legion. An unfortunate fact of Victorian existence was that those who were most likely to imbibe to excess - the working classes - were the ones least likely to withstand the financial burden of doing so. Whether they drank to 'escape' the drudgery of poverty and the grind of abuse at the hands of the ruling elite is a whole other question, but the enduring of life must have been less onerous for the newly sober and financially emboldened signer of the 'Pledge'.

Our own Dales farmer poet, Tom Twisleton - whose life and centenary Settle Stories have celebrated throughout 2017 - saw the ravages, the 'collateral damage', of drinking at first hand during his most fertile writing period of the mid nineteenth century. And if alcohol abuse, amongst related social ills including profligacy and improvidence, did not determine the direction of his poetry, it did define the philosophical tone in which those poems were presented. The exuberance of Tom's words - the simple celebrant of life lived at a time now remote from us, but strangely recognisable - is rendered in a language and dialect which his audience would understand: he is writing about the common man for the common man in technicolour and in perceptive local detail. If Tom's tone had been more polemically acerbic or more condescending, then the philosophical codas to his poems would have been less persuasive, seemed more time-locked and embittered. But he infuses his cautionary tales with warmth, with a sincere love for local people, and a desire to help them better themselves. We are neither offended or distanced by his agenda. After an exhausting day spent viewing life at the fair, his observer offers us a perfectly palatable piece of common sense:

"An' now, I say, ye lads sa gay,

   An' lasses neat and tidy,

Where'er ye be, whate'er ye see,

   Let prudence alus guide ye."

Such lines are characteristic conclusions to Tom's poems: emollient injunctions to respect the perils of imprudence, or, to paraphrase the penultimate verse in the same poem, to repent at leisure. Native warmth, effervescence, kindness and good humour:  all keynotes of a character the reader can easily construct from the poems and the sometimes odd, sometimes oddly familiar, language in which they are rendered.

And if, occasionally, we hear Tom's own voice when we declaim his words to the sofa or the cat, then we have succeeded in transcending time, in making stories from the past material in our modern lives. Beyond the reinvigoration of a disappearing Dales dialect, Settle Stories year-long celebration of the poet's life set out to bring the past into the present by foregrounding narrative histories which might themselves otherwise disappear. We believe that we have achieved our aim, and that we have enabled Tom Twisleton's story, along with those of many others of his generation, to endure.

And to complement a year of frenetic activity, there's much more to come as 2017 draws to a close. Settle Stories' own Hazel Richardson, who has overseen, co-ordinated, curated and expended huge amounts of effort and time towards the fulfilment of these activities, is all too aware that the project could not have succeeded without the help of many others. She has worked tirelessly with local schools and youth groups to encourage young people to participate in a celebration of their own heritage, to learn more about their collective histories, and to experience life as their forbears did through an engagement with the language, customs and context of the Dales of Victorian times.

In a recent conversation, Hazel the project officer for the Tom Twisleton 100 project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund told us what has unfolded throughout 2017:

'Following the Launch Party, Settle Stories' new premises at the Joinery hosted regular weekly meetings and workshops throughout February, March and April. Young people learned how to interview, found out more about Craven dialect by interviewing older members of the community and researched the meaning of dialect words. Thanks to John Reid, Jonny and Phil Rushton for sharing their stories.

The Festival of Happiness took place in May, where four young people - Catherine, Samantha, Millie and Caitlin - gave a presentation on the topic of Settle during the lifetime of Tom Twisleton. Using material provided by Conor Timmins, a research student, they gave a very entertaining talk and answered questions afterwards. They showed a great deal of enthusiasm and engagement despite initial nerves!  Conor used several of Bill Mitchell's books as well as articles from the Settle Chronicle for his research. The Chronicle itself was digitised as part of the Tom Twisleton project.

A draft book, now almost ready for the publisher, was produced using material from Conor, Lexi Carrington, David Calvert and Georgia Hetherington - all placement students from Leeds Trinity University. Material and photos came from our partners, the Museum of North Craven, thanks to their curator Anne Read and other volunteers. David and Georgia interviewed members of the Twisleton family, (Betty Turver in New Zealand, James and John Twisleton in this country) to build up a picture of Tom Twisleton. John Twisleton wrote some pieces and helped with fact-checking relating to the family history. Georgia added games and activities for children. The book will be a wonderful asset to the project and Sir Gary Verity, the Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, has kindly written the foreword. The book will include a CD of Tom Twisleton's poems being read in Craven Dialect.

After several visits to Lower Winskill and support from Tom Lord, a group of young people designed a heritage walking trail, taking people from Stainforth up to the old family home of Tom Twisleton at Upper Winskill. The trail has been reproduced by Mhairi Lockett and will be available later in the project, combined with a skate trail designed by Jimmy. Dylan is developing a bike trail around Settle.

A group of young people planned the exhibition boards, and the material for these has been written by them, along with some additions of my own. Back in Settle Facebook page has helped by contributing photos, whilst other pictures have been provided by the archive in the Folly. We're at the exciting point at the moment where the material for the boards are with our designer, following which they will be printed and exhibited at the Folly from 26 September to 29 October. Visitors to the Folly will learn more about Tom's life whilst reading extracts from his poems, and be able to see photos of Settle from 100 years ago and more. There will be a variety of activities for families at the exhibition including a chance to play with Victorian toys and see what life was like in a Victorian classroom. Dressing-up in clothes and games should keep younger members of the families happy!

A poetry competition for years 7 and 8 prompted 30 poems from Settle College pupils, with some outstanding winners. Jean Harrison, the published poet, author and trustee of Settle Sessions was our judge. The winners will have the opportunity to read their poems at Settle Sessions meeting in November. The winning poems will be reproduced in the Tom Twisleton book, with the original poems on display at the exhibition. Veronica Caperon, also a trustee of Settle Sessions, led a fun poetry workshop in Settle Library where a small group of young people produced poems which will be on display. Chris Singleton led some inspiring poetry workshops for teenagers at Settle Youth Club.

I gave a talk on Tom Twisleton to the Lunch Club at Age UK where some older member reminisced about their lives growing up in the area. One person had a link with the Twisleton family which we will attempt to hunt down! Several members remembered Twisleton family descendants who lived in Settle until recently. Further talks are planned.

Some events during the Summer School in August, for those aged 8-12, had a Tom Twisleton theme, where artists delivered workshops on poetry, weaving and den-building amongst much else'.

.....and our year doesn't end here !  Hazel continues:

'The book will be launched at the Tom Twisleton Centenary Weekend Celebration on Nov 25 & 26th. Members of the Twisleton  family will be arriving in Settle and will join many others to enjoy the events of the weekend - these will include a service at Settle Parish Church, a tour of the area, workshops on poetry and researching your own family history, readings of Tom Twisleton's poems and much more. Some of the exhibition panels will then tour the local area.

A fascinating project so far, with many learning opportunities for young people, opportunities for them to work with older people and learn new skills. Also, it has allowed time for the young to find out about their local heritage and in particular this great local poet, Tom Twisleton.'