Category Archives: Uncategorized

Remembering Charles Causley

Following his participation in the digital signing on 17 September 2020 of the Causley Trust/Exeter University Memorandum of Understanding as a Trustee, Mike Cooper reflects on a lifetime influenced by Charles Causley’s writing and by the man himself…

Once upon a time, I was a young English student at Exeter in Charles Causley’s days there. Nowadays, I’m both a Causley Trustee and an Exeter English postgraduate.

I didn’t know Charles Causley. I only encountered him, perhaps a dozen times over 25 years, always anonymously. He’d have no clue at all about me. Half those occasions were at Exeter in the 70s: he was a Visiting Fellow in Poetry in the Department of English; I was an undergraduate.

They were tutorials and seminars, plus a public reading or two of his recent poems. In packed lecture theatres, the effect of poems like ‘A Wedding Portrait’, ‘Ten Types of Hospital Visitor’ or ‘My Friend Maloney’ was remarkable.

English staff, and other visitors like Ted Hughes, gave different public readings. Yet Causley – low-key, diffident, almost entirely self-educated – always gripped the room with his poems’ worlds and ideas, their craftsmanship and striking inventiveness.

That all remains vivid, after nearly 50 years. I recall far less about those smaller-scale ‘close’ encounters, with ten or 20 students jammed into smaller rooms in Queen’s Building. A recording of one such session involving both him and Hughes would have been gold-dust – not least for their patience, and the quiet comedy of typical artsy Exeter students of the period utterly failing to appear cool or impressive. Yet Causley’s generosity and sensitivity towards students went rather wider. He dissuaded one from leaving the course (or worse), and eventually saw him become a schoolteacher. He even offered to read and comment on poems written by the teenage son of the Professor of Extra-Mural Studies.

I left Exeter to train and work in education: deeply fond of, and interested in, Causley’s poetry. I used it regularly with adults and young people. It always ‘worked’ – for me as the teacher or lecturer, but more importantly for the students. And I’m still astonished by how his poetry speaks to me, personally, despite my having virtually nothing in common with him or his life experiences.

Our paths crossed just a few more times after my Exeter days – again, mainly ‘anonymously’, at public readings. The final occasion was trivial and momentary. A week’s family break in North Cornwall finished the day before Causley’s 75th birthday. As we headed home, we diverted off the A30 to his house in Launceston: Cyprus Well. My five-year-old son, having had ‘The Tale of the Trinosaur’ read aloud to him over the preceding nights, took a card to the door. The elderly man who answered, breaking off from some small gathering, gravely accepted the envelope. He then opened it, read the printed cliches and saw the scribbled signature. “Are you Alex? I don’t think I know you, but thank you very much, Alex. This is a splendid card, and a real surprise, too. I shall keep it.” That was Alex’s first and only time: an episode he’s now long forgotten. It was my last encounter, and I won’t forget it.

A while before that, I began itching to try the kind of postgraduate study I’d never managed. When I moved back down south for new jobs and later began approaching retirement, that idea returned. Connecting first with the Causley Society and the Charles Causley Festival in Launceston – both now merged with the Trust – was a further spur to that thinking. So: I got involved in both those organisations. These days, as a recently appointed Trustee, I try to support its vital, successful work still more.

And as of September 18th, that work is at last rightly and properly going to be in full collaboration with Exeter University. I think Causley would be very pleased about that.

Discovering that Causley had left his archive to Exeter University clinched things for me, about the mature-student idea. So, I arrived back on campus almost exactly a year ago, and began work in the Old Library’s Special Collections Reading Room. Just recently, I’ve returned after the University’s coronavirus hiatus to studying those drafts, notes, clippings and correspondence.

I’m looking at how a lifelong, shattering thread of Causley’s life – war – emerges throughout his writing: his subjects and concerns, settings, stories and characters, his language and images. I hope this too will add to all the growing work and influence of the University and the Trust, helping maintain and promote the legacy and impact of Charles Causley and his poetry.

I’ll end by saying that back in early March, finishing my final pre-Covid spell in the Reading Room, I came across a box of cards amongst his personal mementoes. I was hoping to find some from Causley’s old naval comrades. I didn’t. But amongst it all, I did find one birthday card which had been hand-delivered by Alex.

Heritage Internship #2: a student’s perspective

In the second blog about the Heritage Internships we hosted over the summer, student Kate Debling reflects on her experience…

During the summer, I undertook an internship with the University of Exeter Culture and Heritage Innovation Team as part of the Pathways internship programme. As a digital content creator for the Exeter Heritage website, I created news and blog content pertaining to heritage-based academic research and projects led in the South West.

The University of Exeter Culture Team seeks to protect heritage through continuous academic research and projects, led by both the University of Exeter and Heritage Exeter’s partners. Throughout my internship experience, there was a strong focus on building connections between the university and external heritage bodies, as well as the collaboration between university campuses. The projects and research that I covered were broad, operating on a campus-based level, through collaboration with the Penryn campus, a national level, with heritage bodies such as South West Heritage Trust, and also an international level, with the European Commission.

The variety of content that I was creating emphasised the extent of the Culture Team’s Heritage network and, as an English undergraduate, experimenting with both news articles and blog posts meant that I had the freedom to find creative ways to convey the work. The experience not only enlightened me to new written mediums, a break away from the academic essay, but also exposed me to current research endeavours pertaining to my own undergraduate degree.

Being able to work effectively from home, creating my own timetable and collaborating with my internship supervisors digitally, were all new skills that I gained as part of my internship with the Culture Team. In order to create quality content, and cover as many new projects as possible, it was integral to be able to gather information, follow up stories and write efficiently. Through this I was able to improve upon my time management skills. Having a flexible work approach, as well as open communication channels between myself and my supervisors, meant that collaboration was smooth, and we were able to meet targets.

My internship experience with the Culture Team taught me some invaluable collaborative, management and creative skills and I would, therefore, strongly encourage students to participate in the Pathways internship scheme.

Heritage Internship: a student’s perspective

Over the summer – in lockdown – student Frank Allen worked with the Heritage team in IIB as part of the Pathways to Arts, Culture & Heritage internship programme…

At the tender age of eight, I fondly remembered visiting Lichfield Cathedral. I was awe-struck by it. The Cathedral’s imposing spires, majestic arches, and grand scale captured my imagination. Lichfield Cathedral and the towns around it have always held a lot of sentimental value for me, being a place where my grandparents call home.  However, it was only recently that I started thinking about the significance of the Cathedral, and Lichfield’s heritage, to the wider community. From thereon, heritage took on a whole different dimension for me.

Therefore, when I saw the opportunity to work for the University of Exeter’s heritage team as a website content developer, I immediately applied. I was asked to produce articles and blog pieces for the University’s Heritage website with my colleague, Kate, whilst also suggesting upgrades for the website and tweets to write. With only a brief knowledge of Devon and Cornwall’s heritage, and of the work that the University was doing to study it, I was excited to begin the role and learn more.

The research assistants, Gilda and Eloise, guided me towards some captivating projects. Their research ranged counties and specialities, considering both natural and man-made heritage and its effects on communities, policies, and even animals! My task was to synthesise these insights into four enthralling pieces of writing for a wider audience, which would then have to be publicised.

I started with the news articles. Consisting of only a few hundred words, I scoured my research reports for recent events that took my interest. Using a few examples on the Heritage website as my guide, I was excited to discuss Professor DeSilvey’s project, which would investigate strategies into heritage loss and conservation. I was also eager to talk about Dr Naomi Sykes’ new research into why we love to feed animals, using heritage sites as a testing ground. This followed on nicely from Dr Brazier and Puttock’s research into Eurasian beavers on Holnicote estate.

Moving onto the blog articles, two themes across the heritage sector caught my attention: climate change and the debate around the loss of heritage. Touching upon artistic projects and a bid involving University of Exeter professors, I highlighted how important the consideration of Climate Change was in heritage conservation in the future. However, does this heritage even need to be conserved in the first place? In her book ‘Curated Decay’, Professor DeSilvey suggests that we should allow nature to take its course. This discussion around heritage conservation informed my second blog post. A common thread through these themes, though, was an ethical discussion of what heritage meant to a community. This captivated me the most, reminding me of how I became interested in my own heritage to begin with.

I found the work with the Culture Team’s heritage sector challenging, but at the same time incredibly thought-provoking and rewarding. Time-management was key. Kate and I managed to produce a schedule for the week, dividing each day into achievable objectives. This skill was very useful in creating the Heritage website’s twitter timeline as well. However, this would not have been possible without strong teamwork and communication. Meetings and emails with both my team and the professors I wrote about were integral to producing high-quality pieces of writing. In the end, I built some strong connections whilst also deepening my love of the heritage sector through my writing.

The role of website content developer equipped me with some invaluable skills whilst I pursued a field that I would love to work in again in the future. I could not recommend the role enough to anyone keen on finding out more about heritage and what it means for them and their community.

Student-led archaeological survey seeks to uncover the history of Old Forde House in Newton Abbot

A new archaeological study by a team of University of Exeter students could reveal more about one of the county’s oldest buildings – Old Forde House in Newton Abbot.

Old Forde House is grade 1 listed and currently home to Teignbridge District Council. The original house was built in the mid-16th century and added to later. King Charles I stayed at the house overnight in 1625 on his way to Plymouth. In 1646 during the Civil War, Forde House gave shelter to Oliver Cromwell and Colonel Fairfax. William of Orange stayed at the house in 1688 on the way to his coronation in London having landed in Brixham a few days earlier.

In January, the team used state-of-the-art equipment to try to discover previously unknown buildings or structures buried underground beneath the house and in the grounds. It was also an opportunity for members of the public to get involved with the research process. The team was led by third-year student Dan Brock, who gives us an update…

Following a successful week of data collection at the beginning of January, we are in the process of analysing and writing up the results of the survey of the grounds of Old Forde House. This process is expected to be completed in late April, with the full findings to be made publicly available through Teignbridge District Council in May. The fieldwork succeeded in providing a group of students and members of the public with the opportunity to learn and develop geophysical survey skills.

An open day on Friday 11th January attracted over 50 members of the public, amongst them local historians, aspiring archaeologists and prospective students. During the day, people were able to chat with members on the team about all things archaeology and even got the opportunity to try out some of the techniques that the team was using. Further, the survey attracted the attention of several local media outlets, including BBC Radio Devon and Devon Live.

Though the data has yet to be analysed in detail, initial observations indicate that there are extensive archaeological features within the grounds, but that these have been severely impacted by modern landscaping over many years. As a result, many of the original features of the grounds have been obscured, destroyed, or buried to the point of being undetectable with the techniques employed during this survey.

Despite this, a number of structural remains were detected in the immediate vicinity of the house. The most notable of these features appears to be an elaborate knot garden which is likely to date to the early 17th century. The dating and phasing of the various features around the house are not yet clear, however research and further analysis of the data should clarify the various phases of development that the house and grounds went through.

This survey would not have been possible without the fantastic group of students and volunteers who gave their time to collect the data or the staff of Teignbridge District Council who were incredibly accommodating and should be recognised for their contribution to this survey.