Words workshop and Dickens in Westgate

A poetry workshop for me and a few others in the historic Folk building in Westgate, Gloucester. Our leader for the evening: Jon Seagrave, a performance poet from Stroud. A quick stroll around the Street outside to get a feel of the place.

For those not familiar with the place it runs down from the very centre of this small city at the Cross, and they make it simple, four streets run off from the cross, Westgate being one, the other 3 parts of the compass bring the others. All have a character of their very own. Westgate runs closest to the Cathedral and also houses the County Hall, and the Folk, formerly the Folk Museum near the end of the street. It is said that one of the oldest buildings, and there are many very old building on the street, is the newsagents, also at the bottom of the street. How it has survived is anyones guess.

The mixed group of writers and perhaps ‘would be’ poets then gathered to go through some interesting little workshop warm ups, trying to write 6 lines of a poem in five minutes, or was it six poems in five minutes. Some were remarkable. I kept quiet about mine, because they weren’t.

Our leader talked about the sprit of Westgate, and many spoke about the ghosts that are said to be settled in various buildings on the street.

In the scheme of things Westgate is a relatively short street, with more history under its feet than many a long and wealthy avenue elsewhere. Apart from the odd shop like the newsagent, its shops and cafes change hands at an alarming rate. The rate of attrition for businesses seems to put no one off trying again. Banks have evaporated from the area, cafes and pizza places change hands, even the pound shop closed, perhaps it will become a 50p shop someday. Efforts to regenerate the area or ‘gentrify’ it seem to fail. Vaping shops and tattoo places have become the staple or stable outlets, and hairdressers. Hairdressers seem to be able to survive anywhere.

Charles Dickens, who in his prime, was a travelling performer, came to Gloucester regularly and no doubt gleaned his characters from this very street. The theatre where he performed was on the site of the pound store. It is said he acted out his plays and writings with great gusto and energy in front of a specially designed lectern that he took with him. He was fond of Gloucester and found he had a responsive and enthusiastic audience there.

Mac Donald’s thrives on the street just a couple of doors away from where Dickens performed. Perhaps they should do some Dickens Specials? An ‘Oliver Twist’ could be a wrap with a twisted end and not very much filling. “ It leaves you wanting more! “ could be the advertising strapline. ‘Scroogeburger’ a very small bun with nothing in it?

Beatrix Potter found inspiration just off this street in College Court, one of her most famous drawings of a cat in front of a doorway takes the end of this small lane as it’s subject, the gateway that is still there featuring in the drawing of the cat in the snow. I was told on our walkabout by a Scottish stranger who had recently been no stranger to a bevy, that the Tailor of Gloucestershire shop was located on the south side of the street.

And how’s my poetry? Not great. I fear I’m not that way inclined. I’ll leave that to others. But the workshop was brilliant, hearing others with their instant seemingly effortless efforts was a joy. Imagining the spirit of Westgate and hearing the various tales that others told so well was great. I’ll be doing it again but will remain the silent witness.

This is Charles Dickens signature, photo taken by me some in 2017 at the Dickens House Museum in London.
…and this a lock of Dickens’s hair from the same Museum.

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