EASTWOOD AND W.E.HOPKIN (WILLIE)
(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
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
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
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.
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
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.