Poets’ Houses: Tonks, Longville, Mew


Rosemary Tonks, 46 Downshire Hill

My mother almost certainly misdelivered Rosemary Tonks’ newspaper when she was eight. Her brother’s large paper-round extended from Gospel Oak deep into Hampstead, and one morning when he was ill, my mother and her sister were sent out, having never done a paper-round before and with inadequate instructions; they didn’t realise the order in which the newspapers had been given to them matched the order of the address list, and so simplified the route, choosing which house got which paper at random. Downshire Hill was definitely one of the streets affected; and it seems likely that Rosemary Tonks’ banker husband, Mickie, took the Financial Times.

It was chucking it down in Hampstead when I visited (Emily was happily asleep, under the raincover in the pushchair; I could have done with a raincover myself). The house unnerved me more than the other poets’ houses I’ve seen; perhaps because the neighbourhood has changed so little since Tonks lived here, perhaps because when I lived in Golders Green the house was almost on my route into work, and I must have walked past it fifty times without noticing it, perhaps because the smallness of Tonks’ oeuvre means we can be confident that any particular poem of hers was written in one of those rooms. Across the road – you’d be able to see it from any of the front windows – is the elegant white church of St. John; round the corner is Keats’ House, which she must have walked past every time she wanted a bus or a tube.


Tim Longville, 30a Mill Road

In 1966, Tim Longville, Gordon Jackson and John Riley set up the Grosseteste Press in this Mill Road flat. Among their publications were the Collected Works of John Riley; the miraculous first pamphlet of Séan Rafferty, by then in his mid-Sixties; John James’ Berlin Return; and J.H. Prynne’s The White Stones.

Longville no longer writes poetry; there is some news of him in this very interesting talk by Ian Brinton, about the acquisition of the Grosseteste Archives for the Cambridge University Library (search on page for ’19th February’ to find the beginning).

UPDATE: Ian Brinton got in touch; in fact, the Press almost certainly wasn’t set up in this flat. Gordon Jackson was living in Lincoln at the time, and commisioned John Riley as editor, who then recruited Longville as co-editor. Longville was definitely living here at this address in 1966, but the rest of the first sentence seems erroneous.


Charlotte Mew, 30 Doughty Street

One of the books I’m most looking forward to this year is Julia Copus’ new biography of Charlotte Mew. Here’s the talk she gave at the unveiling of Mew’s blue plaque; I was pleased that, when I went to visit for myself, someone had left the nursery window open (top left in the attic, with that odd-looking ventilation pipe next to it). The pipe suggests there might still be a bathroom up there: here’s Mew’s remembrances of baths at 30 Doughty Street, in the memoir she wrote of her family’s servant Elizabeth Goodman:

To us children she was as fixed a part of the universe as the bath (cruelly cold in winter) into which she plunged us every morning, and the stars to which she pointed through the high window, naming some of them, in  the evening sky.

‘As fixed a part of the universe as the bath and the stars’; every time I go back to Mew I’m reminded again of how contemporary she sounds.


Abridged versions of original posts by John Clegg at Poets’ Houses