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A Blue Plaque for Beryl

27 October 2016 by Laura

Plaque

Beryl Bainbridge’s Blue Plaque, unveiled on Thursday 20 October 2016 © Tony Bonney

Last week a Blue Plaque was unveiled for writer Dame Beryl Bainbridge at her former home, 47 Ravenmeols Lane, Formby.

Organised by the Formby Civic Society, member Dr Reg Yorke tell us more about it in this guest blog.

“The Bainbridge family came to live in Formby in 1933 and it is clear from Beryl’s biography that her formative years were spent at 47 Ravenmeols Lane. She describes the house, her immediate family, (father, mother and brother) and their relationships with each other, intimately in her novel, ‘An Awfully Big Adventure’. In her earliest works she also gives a lot of information not only about friends but also the Formby coastal woodlands which she loved and escaped to as often as she could.

This becomes most descriptive when remembering her teenage years and her clandestine but quite passionate relationships with two German prisoners of war, shortly after the end of hostilities. These she regularly met secretly in the coastal dune woodlands she called ‘the forest’ prior to the Germans’ sudden repatriation at the end of the war.

Her first school was Miss Gill’s Formby Girl’s College in Freshfield Road. She then attended Merchant Tailors Girl’s School, Crosby but left under a slight cloud after a slightly risqué poem was found in her pocket. It is clear however that she was not actually expelled by the then headmistress Miss Brash but already having thoughts about the stage, went to an acting academy in the South of England.

Returning home her first employment, aged 16, obtained with influence of her father, was as a stage-hand at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1948, then directed by Gerald Cross. Her introduction to the world of the theatre comes across vividly in her work, again most particularly in ‘An Awfully Big Adventure’.

The stage manager had two, then unpaid, assistants and it just so happens that I did this myself for a short period after leaving school in 1949 (a little before Beryl), and can personally verify and recognise her vivid description of the theatre and its personnel then, although she changes their names.

It is also clear that even after moving to London in 1952 she re-visited her parents in Formby quite frequently until her mother’s death. Some time after that she returned at the invitation of the then Formby Arts Association to speak in Holy Trinity Church Hall.

This was unfortunately not a trip she enjoyed, as she wrote in the Guardian the following week. She thought Formby had changed for the worse. I think it was that although then she was highly regarded nationally the audience here treated as ‘just another speaker’. Formby has in fact never properly celebrated one of its brightest (but temperamental) stars – certainly one of Formby’s most celebrated offspring. I feel proud to have met her on that visit, proud that she grew up here and loved our sandy coastal woodlands.

People and house

Members of Formby Civic Society, Formby Parish Council, Robert Longthorne of Everyman and Liverpool Playhouse and the current home owners at the Blue Plaque unveiling © Tony Bonney

Apart from her great writing ability and dedication to writing, it is not always realised that Beryl was also a talented (self-taught) artist. An exhibition of more than a dozen of her paintings was held at Museum of Liverpool in 2012 – 2013, including one of her then small son Jojo in the bath at his mother’s childhood home in Ravenmeols Lane. Apparently he said, when as an adult seeing this painting in the exhibition, “it’s a superb painting and very evocative because it’s Liverpool…. it’s a knock-out”.

Beryl, herself a ‘knock-out’, died in summer 2010. Formby can be proud that she was brought up here and loved our coast.

Hear Beryl reading an excerpt of ‘An Awfully Big Adventure’ here, re-written and performed as a play at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1992.

The Blue Plaque was supported financially by the Formby Parish Council.”

Primary Sources;
Brendan King, ‘Beryl Bainbridge, Love by all sorts of means’, Bloomsbury, 2016.
Ros Merkin, ‘Liverpool Playhouse: a theatre and its city’, Ros Merkin, Liverpool University Press 2011.

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