Thursday, 7 June 2012

Clapham Omnibus and the mystery of Aeronwy Thomas

We are pleased to reprint an article from the Clapham Omnibus newsletter about the recent Pamela Hansford Johnson exhibition. The exhibition is now closed - though available for elsewhere if anyone has any ideas. For more information on Clapham Omnibus, see Thanks to Clapham Omnibus for hosting the exhibition, the nice photo and permission to reprint the article.
The last hurrah for Omnibus before the fate of the Old Clapham Library is known was the launch of an exhibition about local writer Pamela Hansford Johnson. The exhibition, timed to mark the centenary of her birth on 29 May 1912, was opened by her daughter Lindsay, Lady Avebury, on Thursday 10 May.

Born in London, Pamela lived with her mother’s theatrical family at 53 Battersea Rise until she was 22, the year that she wrote her first novel, This Bed Thy Centre. (Her father, who worked for the Baro Kano railway on the Gold Coast, now Ghana, died when she was 12.) She attended Clapham County Girls’ Grammar School, and had her first poems published while still a pupil, continuing to write while later working as a stenographer for a bank. As a teenager, she was briefly the girlfriend of the poet Dylan Thomas but went on to marry first Neil Stewart in 1936 and then the novelist C P Snow in 1950.
A prolific writer, her lifetime output included 27 novels, seven short plays for the theatre and radio, short stories, critical works, sociological studies and a memoir. The exhibition includes family photographs, documents, hand-written manuscripts, original copies of some of her books, posters advertising them, and even her own typewriter, a vintage Imperial Good Companion.
Some 60 people attended the opening, many taking advantage of the discounted price on copies of This Bed Thy Centre, which has just been reissued by Five Leaves Publications. A story about adolescent love and sex (which Lady Avebury explained her mother had imagined, being a virgin still when she wrote it), the novel caused a stir when it first appeared – for its content, its title (endowed by Dylan Thomas) and the author’s young age – and was banned from Battersea Rise Library.
Curiously, the visitors’ book for the exhibition includes the entry: “Aeronwy Thomas, May, North London. Thanks for the pleasure of seeing my father’s photo, circa 1934”. As Dylan Thomas’s daughter Aeronwy died in 2009, Omnibus is intrigued to know who signed the book in her name.
Omnibus has submitted its bid to run the Old Library as a community-led arts centre. Lambeth Council is now considering all the shortlisted bids for both community and commercial proposals, and expects to announce the successful bidder in early to mid-June.

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