Poetry may have gone out of fashion in the last few years, but in the first half of the twentieth century poets were celebrities. W.H. Auden, Ted Hughes, and Philip Larkin were all household names.
In populist terms however, John Betjeman towered above them all. In spite of his public school and Oxford background, he was unpretentious and of universal appeal. He was the first real mainstream poet, appearing on countless TV programmes as a social commentator and general raconteur. He was also Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death in 1984.
You may know Betjeman from the statue of him in St Pancras Station (he campaigned tirelessly and successfully against it being pulled down). Or, you may know him from his poem “Slough”, famously printed on the inlay card of the “The Office” DVD box set and fiercely proclaiming “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough”.
Whilst clearly not having much time for the urban Berkshire landscape, Betjeman was a Lincolnshire lover. Although he lived in Cornwall, he spent much of his time here, travelling through the county to see Larkin, a good friend, in Hull and often staying with friends in Louth, parts of which he compared to Venice.
The Museum of Lincolnshire Life is holding a retrospective of the poet’s Lincolnshire links until 20th February. This fascinating exhibition has original letters from the poet to his friends and finely illustrates the vast range of writing he created. Alongside the countless poems, he wrote books on architecture, interior design, and guide books (he was a writer for Shell Guides).
Of course, the exhibition mainly details Betjeman’s love of the Lincolnshire landscape, with a selection of photographs from the many churches and country houses he visited in the area. There is also a wide selection of all his poetry books for those who wish to sample his writing.
Betjeman was an early vice president of the Lincolnshire Association and even campaigned for Lincolnshire to have its own county flag. It is therefore fitting that Lincoln should hold this exhibition.
Horace Liberty, of the Betjeman Society said: “Betjeman was a champion of the unregarded and much of what he did was to draw our attention to the unregarded, be it churches, landscapes, or Victorian architecture.”
“Betjeman’s Lincolnshire” is at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life on Burton Road until 20 February. Admission is free and the museum is open Monday–Saturday, 10am–4pm.Tweet