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Lawrence Comes Closer to Home

On a bright August day a small group of Haggs Farm/ DH Lawrence society members visited the DH Lawrence bust by Diana Thomson which has recently been moved from Nottingham Castle to Newstead Abbey. Warmed by the afternoon sun, as we strolled the abbey grounds we considered what Bryon and Lawrence had in common. Both Nottinghamshire lads of course, born only a few miles apart, but into opposite ends of the social scale; a miner’s son and an aristocrat. And yet… both poets and travellers, taboo breakers, rejecting the limitations of England, physically and mentally, following their principles, on a quest for a more fulfilling way of life. So perhaps they’re not such bad company for each other after all.

Seeing the sculptures close together though, it was the differences rather than similarities that came through. Byron in his open shirt and exotic drape, his full lips, elegant nose and carefully disarrayed curls seemed to hold an Instagram ready pose, gazing away across the park with the air of one surveying all he owned. Lawrence, on the other hand, in his rather frugal suit and knitted tie, his thin face and angular cheek bones reminding us he was ill on and off from childhood, his carefully parted hair and short back and sides, had much more of the working class about him, and his rather concerned expression seemed to be questioning the extravagance of his position and wondering what on earth he was doing there.

As we admired the sculpture: the strength of its shaping; Lawrence’s intense eyes and furrowed brow, as though midspeech and considering what to say next, we wondered; why the dishevelled tie? We emailed Diana to ask and she explained:

‘In the days of DHL, ordinary men had working clothes and Sunday Best usually. Casual and sports clothes were a bit of a luxury (i.e. smoking jackets, special sports and hunting clothes etc.) Track suits and casual fashion did not exist as we know them today. DHL, as a student, then a teacher, would have one or two working suits with waistcoats worn with shirt and tie and probably one Best Suit. I think he got a bit more of a snappy dresser, later on. The only photos of him in casual clothes, I ever saw, was when he was horse riding in Mexico. I pondered over lots and lots of photos of boring suits and conservative ties. I did not want to portray him as a Member of the Board, or a businessman, or anybody conventional at all, because he was certainly none of those. I thought and thought. I realised he liked craft and handmade objects. He was a bit of a dab hand himself at homemaking, and often frequented markets and was interested in artisan made pieces, so I hit on the idea of a hand knitted tie. I thought that if DHL was in the same predicament as myself, and didn’t have a tie when he needed one, then he would make one. I didn’t have a hand knitted tie, so I made one. I knitted a tie and used it as my model. And I was very glad I did. I was able to tie it in all sorts of ways until I got what I wanted. Also the hand knitted rows made good texture, they also indicated direction and interest. What you want is life and movement, especially for DHL.

I had learnt from Mrs. Needham, that he was an intense, and vigorous talker. I have portrayed him in mid-speech looking intently right at you, his tie worked loose by the movement of his beard and jaw, hence the dishevelled look, but it also adds movement, texture, a counter direction to the tilt of the head. The piece is also handmade (in the case of the tie) twice. i.e. First I made the tie for him, then I modelled it, then it was cast into bronze by many other people in the foundry. Maybe that is three times!! That should fulfil the handmade prescription of the piece. I have never told anyone else this story before, but I can’t help thinking he would be pleased. He did like people to make an effort!’

As we wandered further in the grounds, one of our party Ruth Templeton told us the story of how as a trainee nurse she lodged in the grounds of Newstead Abbey. Her story is below:

Living in the grounds of Newstead Abbey (around the time of the DHL Centenary)

I like to go for a walk in the evening, at twilight. The air is sweeter then. I live in a hospital flat, it is close to Sherwood Forest. At the end of the long drive, and across the road, is Thieves Wood. The flat is in the grounds of Newstead Abbey.

A small hospital for the elderly is close by. I am in the fortunate position of having lovely landscape around me. One can see for miles and miles, trees and fields and skies. The fields belong to the local farmer.

I love to see the flowers almost disappear at twilight, as they go to sleep, folding their petals around themselves.

In May the trees burst with leaves. There is a little wood nearby that does not catch the sunlight, and even the evergreens look tired and tatty all clustered together. Even so I like to walk through it. It has a quiet grace.

The fields grow rape in the Spring. Such a dazzling yellow. It is indescribably pretty against the glorious skies and clouds that reflect a variety of moods and colours, changing from green to golden. Then splashes of colour from poppies and daisies.

The landscape undulates. All the hues of green. Autumn comes, as if overnight. Acorns fall, leaves fill the curbs. The breeze shakes the branches and winter takes over.

There are many birds, lots of magpies. A peacock lives in the grounds.

He likes to sit on the high branches of a nearby oak tree and call out to his lady friend. She lives less than a mile away at Newstead Abbey, which is only a short walk through the wood. The cry of the peacock is surprisingly loud and raucous. Late one night there was a thunderstorm. It was raining heavily. I heard the peacock calling and got out of bed and went to the window. I could see him in the moonlight, he was sitting on the highest branch. In the lightening that flashed, I could see him silhouetted against the moon, the dark conifers tall and still in the background. There was no other sound but the rain upon the windowpanes and the strange, strangled cry of the peacock.

I returned this August with Ruth and Kate to have a look at the sculpture of Lawrence by Diana Thomson. He was somewhat disheveled, his eyes fixed on some internal thought, in deep concentration. He was probably wondering what he was doing in Newstead Abbey grounds.

I cannot find any reference to him being there, or of having any special connection with Lord Byron.

In the Abbey shop there are no references to Lawrence, no books, no images.

But then he was an exile, always on the move. Hard to pin down. I think that sculpture is a form of remembrance. Newstead is firmly situated in Nottinghamshire, his place of origin.

Yes, it was good to see Lawrence there. It was a lovely day.

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Sep 23, 2019

A hugely enjoyable and informative piece...

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