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EASTWOOD AND W.E.HOPKIN (WILLIE) 

Leslie Williamson

(With a dash of D.H.Lawrence) 

 

I write from the wilds of deepest Nottinghamshire where the merry men disported themselves in a land that is always summer and the sun shines every day - according to Hollywood. There, lived a grand old man who was well known and very much liked - not always the same thing.

William Edward Hopkin rather lived in the shadow of D.H.Lawrence, he died in 1951, but I knew him quite well. (I suddenly feel quite old). I was a cub reporter at the time, serving three newspapers with a service that almost earned me a living.

William Hopkin - Alderman - J.P. - County Councillor - Mayor and a heart as big as a whale.  

It is a long way to look back, but well worth the effort. Willie said that when he died, the real name of Lady Chatterley would die with him. I beg to differ, but more of that later. Born in 1862, he was in his 90th year when he died. We're talking old men here.

Along with other children of his era he had to pay fourpence a week for lessons at school. Any child who couldn't raise the wind was sent home. He joined the local Wesleyan Chapel and organised meetings with local speakers, but was thrown out for allowing clapping in church. Let's move on, for Pete's sake. He formed the habit of holding meetings in his house - a sort of open forum where all comers could hold forth on religion, politics, education, what-have-you.

When D.H.Lawrence heard that here was a captive audience, he naturally poked in his nose. Here he found the life-long friends, Willie and his wife Sallie. They were to introduce him to many of the well-known labour leaders of the day. This grounding was to colour everything that Lawrence wrote in his battle against the hoity-toity - that being the "landed" few and the pit owners.

On his local walks Lawrence would go out of his way to meet the gamekeepers and the wood-men and argue with them as to who had the right to be there. Willie had introduced him and encouraged him in his own great love for anything which grew or flew, and both were there to fight their corner for anything from the song thrush to the hawk.

Willie's simple attitude was suited particularly to Eastwood. The small town lived on coal - quite literally. They paved their paths with slack, heated their houses, died for it, and the miners sucked it down pit to ease their thirsts, not having a deal of money for anything else.

Willie stamped his honest authority on Eastwood, which gave rise to many stories, some true, some apocryphal, some shamelessly using him to associate themselves with Lawrence.

As a J.P. on the bench during the Great War, a local poacher was brought before Willie for selling hares, acquired from land belonging to the local squire. Evidence was laid before him of the poacher hawking them round the pits. Hares and other wild creatures were not specifically mentioned in the meat rationing rules.

Willie spoke up from the magisterial bench. "I wish he had brought one to me. I'd have bought it. Case dismissed."

He was a great one for speaking at the school prize-giving ceremonies. As a reporter I usually attended these functions.

"You may” He always started with the same words, “not believe this, but I was once a boy myself."

There was a disbelieving roar from the pupils.

He was somehow ageless - small, grey, and seemingly not of this world, speaking with an authority beyond the reach of ordinary mortals.

He wrote a big column for the local newspaper, the EASTWOOD AND KIMBERLEY ADVERTISER - "RAMBLING NOTES". He told me that he had written this column for the last fifty years and never received a penny payment.

His wife Sallie was very proud of him. She confided in me that Willie never swore. "Not even small words." That would be four letter words today, I assume.

But I recall a tale he used very often. He was on a night out with some other councillors and having had a few he was having a pee round the back of the premises. It was raining and a down-pipe was gushing its water round his feet.

"Are you ready?" one of his friends shouted.

"I think I'm pissing myself to” Willie looked up “death," he responded.

No account of Willie can take place without mentioning D.H. Lawrence so I must return to Lady Chatterley who is the subject of a new book on Lawrence written by Professor John Worthen, Emeritus Professor of Lawrence studies at Nottingham University, and probably the greatest living authority on this subject.

Now Lawrence himself was very cagey on the subject, confining his remarks to: "There is a lot of Frieda in Lady C."

A few facts, therefore, wouldn't come amiss.

Willie thought mat Lady C must be Ottoline Morrell, or perhaps Lady Asquith, but the Arkwrights of Sutton Scarsdale Hall must come into the reckoning. Joseph Arkwright fell from a horse and broke his back. He became impotent which gave Lawrence the horrors. He dwelt on this until he used the situation in his work. Lawrence was unable to invent fictional characters and so had to use events from real life - and real people. He said that to be able to invent fictional plots and people, one would need to have a very devious mind, and he would have none of it. This is what got him in trouble with friends and neighbours. He used their names and experiences with shameless honesty, and objections were raised. He was not liked in Eastwood. He thought that whatever Willie could - he could do.

There were no paparazzi in those days to chastise him, so he just ploughed on. To this day, the first thing the media dive into is: "Why didn't Eastwood take to their 'Favourite Son?" and is this still so? It is still so.

If there had been no court trial about Lady C, then Lawrence would undoubtedly have been a very back number in Eastwood. They are more: "Wham, Bam, thank you, Mam," - still interested in the subject, but not so 'in your face'.

Let's go back to Willie, and who was Lady Chatterley. I have had the benefit of the later years on this subject so I say to his ghost: "You were wrong, Willie."

Lawrence had a sort of vendetta against the Barber family who were the local mine owners and landlords. Barber and Walker had a strangle-hold on the whole area, and this sort of ate into Lawrence's simple soul. He wasted no opportunity to have a dig at them. In his many works of fiction, or perhaps faction, or indeed perhaps fucktion, he had his sly digs.

The Barbers have died out now, but Lawrence did not live to see it. He dealt with it in his own way. In several of his major works he puts in very thinly disguised members of the Barber family. One has to be local to know the facts behind many of the events he writes about. He stirs them up with places and names that are a frustrated endeavour to name and shame, but stops short of doing actually that.

Strangely enough he never mixes Willie into the cake. I think Lawrence put Willie on a different planet - a different plane of thought that could not be in his brain at the same time as his darker thoughts. Perhaps he thought that he had created enough trouble for his heirs already. He knew the book was trouble. H.G. Wells' wife often did his typing, but would not touch Lady C. He hid it in a drawer for two years and Frieda said she could feel it throb every time she walked by.

Enough of Lady Chatterley. This is about Willie -with his clean and kindly nature. But just one last comment. I had the benefit of talking to several of the managers of outlying farms owned by Major Barber, also to the widows after the farmers' deaths.

The major gave some pretty broad hints that he knew who the book was all about, in one case picking up a copy of it and striking out "Lady Chatterley" and writing in the name of his mother who was the untitled "Lady" of the period. Sorry Willie.

Willie carried on with his good work, helping everybody from the vicar to the "nightsoil" men who emptied the pan lavatories. A euphemism to beat them all.

Sallie died in 1921 and eventually he remarried - Olive - who was just as good for him as Sallie, and carried on with the Sunday evenings, even after Willie's death. It was never quite the same. Young people came and sat at Olive's feet, but Willie's ghost was there, somehow casting his presence over the proceedings. He had fairies, angels, and all sorts of things that you and I could never see. I don't mean to say, like Mark Twain, "whose education had not been interfered with by too much learning", it was just that Willie had an "Eastwood" heart and soul - mining in the blood and in the pay packets. He never really grew up - thank goodness.

He wrote some good poetry but never broke through into the upper echelons, as he would have wished. When he died he donated piles of Lawrence's works to Eastwood library. There rests his poetry along with other precious works that are guarded closely.

Sleep well, Willie.  A lot of secrets died with you, about Lady Chatterley. Not your sort of world, really. 

Note:

Leslie Williamson was born in Eastwood in 1924. His father, who had fought and been injured in the first world war, had to take whatever work he could find in order to feed his wife and three children of two sons and a daughter born profoundly deaf. As an adolescent, Leslie Williamson worked as a laundry boy, collecting and delivering washing, ran errands for a local engineering firm, and also found work on the shop-floor at Aristocat, a hosiery business. With the coming of the second world war he joined the RAF and was eventually posted to Malaya. Peace, however, did not bring the demobilisation he expected. Instead, his squadron was ordered to Indonesia because the Indonesians refused to allow the Dutch back in to recommence the administration of their country. However, in Leslie's own words, "to all those Indonesians wanting their freedom we became the Dutch, it was like being an American soldier in Iraq." A bomb exploding near by cost him the hearing in his right ear and he was invalided back to Lincolnshire before eventual discharge.

Once on civvy street he rejoined Aristocat, in which business he rose to become a manager, and, having taught himself short-hand, also found work as a reporter for local newspapers. He began to write fiction and poetry, and among his published work are three novels, The Crowded Cemetery, Death of a Portrait, and Jobey, which is set in 1926, during the General Strike, and which Methuen paper-backed at the time of the 1984-5 Miners' Strike. It has recently been re-published in a large print edition. (The Ulverscroft Foundation, 2002). Leslie Williamson is, in addition, the author of the verse sequence, D H Lawrence and the Country he Loved, and Bread for All, which he describes as "a dramatic interpretation of the Pentrick Uprising", that forlorn effort by early nineteenth-century Derbyshire miners to overthrow the government, and which led to execution, transportation (the largest prison in Australia is called Pentrick), and prompted among other things Shelley's great essay on Liberty. A dramatic version of Bread for All, adapted for the stage by its author, is to be presented by a local school later this year. In the late autumn of 2004, Leslie Williamson's three short plays on Byron played to packed audiences in Eastwood.

In the next issue of The Penniless Press John Lucas will consider Leslie Williamson's writings and those of the novelist Walter Brierley, whose fictions, written between those of Lawrence and Williamson, are also set in coal-mining areas of the East Midlands.  

John Lucas