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The inspiration behind “Signs of the Times” – Malcolm Summers on his new book about the plaques and memorials around Reading

I had thought that I was familiar with Reading’s town centre. However, one day as I was passing Harris Arcade on Friar Street I was surprised by a plaque that I had never seen before. It wasn’t new; it had been in the same place for over a hundred years! I read: This house was the birthplace of Professor Goldwin Smith DCL, born August 13, 1823, died at Toronto June 7, 1910. A second surprise… not just a plaque I had never seen but a person I had never heard of.

This Reading-born man must have been well known for a plaque to be erected in his memory. This unexpected encounter with an unknown person piqued my interest. I had to find out who Professor Goldwin Smith was and what had made him famous enough that when he died in Toronto, his contemporaries in Reading wanted to honour him. My first discovery was that I had read a brief account of his life a long time ago in Some Worthies of Reading by J.J. Cooper and had forgotten. I then discovered a biography by Elisabeth Wallace, written in 1957, which was an engrossing read. I tracked occurrences in his life through the newspapers, including the striking assessment in his obituary in the Reading Observer that he was ‘one of the most famous men that Reading has ever produced’. By this time, I had begun to understand why and to agree with that sentiment.

Having learned so much about Goldwin Smith, I inevitably brought him into my conversations, usually with the opening ‘have you ever heard of…’ No one I spoke to had heard of him, but many were interested to know more because of his local connection. That led me to the thought of writing about Goldwin Smith, the plaque and why Reading people had wanted to commemorate him. Thus my book, Signs of the Times, was born, with twenty of Reading’s memorials as starting points to look at why that memorial is there, what or who it commemorates, and what was the story behind the setting up of the memorial itself – stories that our forebears thought important enough to fix into local memory.

Find out more about Signs of the Times – available to buy now!

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The Arborealists: The Art of Trees

The Arborealists and Guests: The Art of Trees
14-24 June, daily 10am-6pm
The Turbine House Gallery, Gas Works Road (just by the Prudential Building).

We are delighted to contribute to this exhibition with a poetry reading on Sunday 23rd June at 2pm. Hear Susan Utting, Jean Watkins, Ian House and Gill Learner read poems – some of their own, some written by others – inspired by their love of trees. Wine and nibbles will be provided and our books available for sale. Open to all but places MUST be booked as the venue is small. Please book by emailing rtwn2011@gmail.com.

We are privileged to collaborate with The Arborealists, a group of professional artists whose special topic is the tree and whose inaugural exhibition at The Royal Academy, Bristol, was nationally acclaimed.

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Whiteknights Studio Trail

COME & MEET OUR AUTHORS!

Visit us at the Whiteknights Studio Trail, venue 9 and take the opportunity to tap their brains for historical facts and figures.

Malcolm Summers, author of Signs of the Times at 3pm on Sat 15th June.

Peter Durrant, co-author of Reading Abbey and the Abbey Quarter at 3pm on Sunday 16th June.

And please stay on at the end of the first day to celebrate the publication of The Constitutionals with Peter Robinson at 6.30pm on Saturday 15th June at 24 New Road, with wine, nibbles and readings.

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‘An art-house film in book form’, Peter Robinson’s ‘The Constitutionals’

A Robinsonade in which our narrator, weakened and marooned by illness, walks his local streets, pondering on recovery and rescue, for himself and for the diseased society in which he finds us confined.

Another lovely cover and a fascinating and unusual portrayal of Reading through the eyes of a figure haunted by being called Crusoe in childhood. What does he discover about the place in which he’s settled with his wife, whom he will call Friday, and their ocean-haunted daughter as he ‘sets out to avert global catastrophe, hoping to trigger the end of neoliberalism by going for a walk’?

The original artwork for the cover, designed by Sally Castle, will be on display at Whiteknights Studio Trail (venue 9) on 15/16 June where you can meet both artist and author. And there will be a launch party at 24 New Road on Saturday 15th June, 6.30pm, with readings and a chance to ask Peter about the therapeutic links between reading, writing, walking and thinking.

More about The Constitutionals