Since High School I have been a fan of the moody, soul searching novels of David Herbert Lawrence. I so much wanted to visit the town where he grew up with the grime of the coal mine alongside the splendour of the countryside. I now hand over to my husband who wrote this piece because he too must have felt affected by our visit.
Eastwood, England, unlike Eastwood, Sydney, is little more than an arrow’s flight from Sherwood Forest, on the outskirts of Nottingham, UK. But its most famous ex resident, apart from the mythological Robin Hood and the poet Lord Byron, is the author, poet and artist DH Lawrence, world renowned for his books which included Sons and Lovers, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Women in Love, many of which have been made into memorable movies.
In his 45 years of life, Bert Lawrence wrote poetry, novels, short stories, plays and essays. Many of his early works were based on his life growing up in Eastwood as the son of a coal miner father and a schoolteacher mother.
When Lawrence was born in 1885, life in the coalfields of England was every bit as harsh as life in the coal mines of Australia and it is not surprising that when Lawrence left England in 1919 with his German born wife Frieda Weekley (formerly Richthofen and a cousin of the Red Baron) his world travels brought him to the Australian coalfields. It was at Thirroul, in the Illawarra, that Bert and Frieda settled for ten months while he wrote Kangaroo, set in this coal mining village. As many Illawarra residents know, their house “Wywurk” still stands beautifully located on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Many times I have ridden my bicycle past his house on the way from Wollongong to Thirroul, only to stop a little further on for a cappuccino at the beach front café. I wondered what Lawrence thought of his life in the sun, compared to that of his early years in the dreary, cold climate of Eastwood where the acrid smell and smoke of coal fires once filled the air all year round.
Lawrence’s income from writing and his wife’s limited resources enabled them to continue travelling and although his mother, father and brother Ernest are buried in the Eastwood cemetery, Lawrence’s poor health, which had plagued him since birth, led to his death in Italy and the burial of his remains in New Mexico where he had lived with Frieda for a number of years.
Do you detect a distinct sense of homesickness in John’s writing? Reading this I can see he is ready to go home and exchange riding his bike along the Staffordshire towpaths for the coastal bike tracks of Wollongong.
Back to Eastwood. We began by visiting a museum set up in Lawrence’s honour but have since read it has moved to the house in which he was born. He lived in quite a few houses in the town, each one part of a blue line walking trail, some used in as private residences and some open for visitors. In the museum we learnt about the similarities between the book Sons and Lovers and his real life. The Miriam in his book was a real person who never spoke to him again after reading her portrayal in his novel.
The first house we visited contained a guide who was clearly an enthusiast telling us many stories about the young Lawrence. In fact he was so talkative we thought we would never progress along the blue line, but meeting the locals is what counts and I’m sure he was pleased to see us as we didn’t see another visitor all day.
I remember standing on a slight rise looking towards the distant trees of remnants of Sherwood Forest and recalling Lawrence’s love of nature. My English teacher told us by reading the great novels of Lawrence, Hardy and others we would learn about the complexity of human relationships. Their books are still relevant today because basically people don’t change even if their environment does.
Apparently Lady Chatterley’s Lover is based loosely on Lawrence’s relationship with the wife of his university lecturer. When Frieda left her husband she also lost access to her three children.
As for Women in Love it is the novel that follows on from The Rainbow and depicts characters thought to be based partly on Frieda and Lawrence, author Katherine Mansfield and her husband. It depicts relationships between women and men and also between men. Who can forget that scene in the movie where Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestle nude in front of a roaring log fire?
Back to John, who has written about our experiences from his point of view in an email to friends in Australia.
We’re having fun exploring England, especially with trips last weekend to Shugborough Hall (National Trust), where the Queen’s cousin lives (the Earl of Lichfield – photographer). One of his ancestors was Admiral Anson, second Englishman to sail around the world after Sir Francis Drake (around 1740, 30 years before James Cook). The maritime tour continues with a trip to Bristol to board Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain built around 1846, the first steel and propeller driven ship. Although she had engines she had six masts and sailed to Australia 42 times carrying some of our ancestors. Our boating trips have consisted of cruises on the Rhine, the Seine, the Amsterdam canals, Bristol, a launch to the island of St Michael’s Mount near Penzance and of course the ferry crossing of the English Channel. Apart from that we have done two short canal trips so far in England as they are such an amazing part of European history – the aqueducts, the tunnels and the locks. The extent of them criss-crossing the country, still being maintained and restored is fascinating.
We’re enjoying the occasional historic pub although they are closing at the rate of 15 per week across the UK. Having said that there are 6 pubs in a radius of 200 metres from where we live. The only problem is the smoking in pubs and in restaurants. It’s appalling and only a struggling movement for change. At least Ireland has banned smoking in pubs – brilliant move and the Americans love it. We enjoyed Belfast, except for the smoke but the Civic Reception at the Town Hall and various events at the Queen’s University were all part of an incredible welcome for the exchange teachers (and spouses!) I enjoyed exploring the Titanic connection including a visit to the Harland and Wolfe yard where she was constructed. Northern Ireland has improved out of sight since the Good Friday agreement in 1998 so there is some hope for the world.
I have just been given a mountain bike by one of Linda’s staff so I’ve been busy riding and exploring the local waterways, canals, Roman ruins, Bronze age forts, transport museums, steam trains, bridges etc. Had a morning tea the other day in a Lichfield Tea Shop built in 1510 near the square where they burned three martyrs at the stake in 1555. They were the wrong religion and refused to be flexible. Dr Samuel Johnson (when you’re tired of London you’re tired of life) was born in the house overlooking the market square where markets have been held every week since King Stephen granted them the rights in 1152. Oh I love the history!!!