This is the official website of the Alfred Williams Heritage Society, an organisation founded in September 2009 to spread knowledge of the late 19th/early 20th century poet, author, historian, linguist, naturalist, folk song collector, philosopher and scholar Alfred Williams, who lived at South Marston, near Swindon, between 1877 and 1930.
We hope most of the questions you may have about our organisation will be answered in the following FAQs, but please contact us if you have any other questions, comments or suggestions.
Who are you?
The Society was formed by Dr John Cullimore (now our Chair), Graham Carter (Vice-Chair) and Caroline Ockwell (Secretary). John is a consultant obstetrician at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon, who has written and published a 'rock opera' about Alfred, called The Hammerman. Graham is a freelance journalist who regularly contributes to the Swindon Advertiser and wrote a major history of Swindon for the paper in 2006, called The Chronicle of Swindon. Caroline is well known to many people in Swindon for her work with charities and the voluntary sector - and one of her ancestors happened to be Alfred's friend and neighbour, Charles Ockwell. They all share a fascination in Alfred's works, but until 2009 had never met!
What's your main objective?
We simply want to make more people aware of Alfred Williams, the story of his life and the legacy he has left through his writing. We believe this remarkable man has left us an expert insight into a now lost age - but he is yet to have his finest hour. Our first task is to make more people aware of his existence, and then to provide the means to celebrate it.
So what are your plans?
We are organising a festival, to take place at a major venue in Swindon on November 12 and 13, 2010. In the long term, we want to see a permanent display established in Swindon, which will celebrate his life, and we would love to see bursaries set up, to encourage other scholars to follow in his footsteps. In general, we think it is important that we provide some means by which Alfred's legacy can be passed on to future generations, so a major part of our project will be education.
Sounds ambitious. How are you going to pay for this?
We are in the process of bidding for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Board, and have begun talks with local organisations about how we can work together. A grant would help us provide some opportunities for local people to join the cause, but we appreciate that a lot of work and co-operation will be necessary to achieve all our goals. And we'll need help along the way.
Does Alfred Williams really have that much relevance to the 21st century?
We obviously think so. We think he can teach us a great deal about the time in which he lived, and is therefore an invaluable resource for anybody interested in our heritage. Life in a Railway Factory, for instance, has been described as the most important single record of Swindon's glorious industrial heritage, and his writing about the local area is priceless for the way it records the decline of rural communities in the 50 years either side of the turn of the 20th century. His writing is of a readable and enjoyable style that makes him as accessible to modern readers as he was in his own time - and probably more so. If nothing else, the remarkable (if ultimately tragic) story of his life should be a source of inspiration for everybody who has heard it.
Are you rivals to the Friends of Alfred Williams?
Certainly not. The Friends will soon be celebrating 40 years of existence, during which time they have been a focus for people who have discovered Alfred's work and like to share their admiration for him. Although we also want to bring together Alfred's admirers, we also have specific aims to concentrate on making more people aware of his existence and organise specific vehicles for spreading the word further still. These include a festival, a museum, bursaries and more, starting with this website! We are delighted to have been given the full backing of the Friends - and plan to take full advantage of both the knowledge and the skills of its members. (See our page on the Friends of Alfred Williams).
What's this about transcribing all of Alfred's works and making them accessible on line? Can you do this?
According to British copyright law, ownership of original writing belongs with the author until his death, when it is transferred to his estate for 70 years. After 70 years it passes into the public domain and may be reproduced by anyone. Alfred died in 1930, so the 70 years were up in 2000. Po publication of all his works is not just allowed, but overdue! Alfred was always disappointed that his work failed to reach a wider audience, so the opportunity to fulfil his wish is one that is very important to our society. In other words: watch this space.
How can I help?
We're not asking for any commitment yet, or any money, but we'd love to know who's going to support us, so please start by visiting our Join in page. You can support us financially by buying a copy of John Cullimore's CD, The Hammerman - as all proceeds from sales of the CD go to the Alfred Williams Heritage Society. These can be purchased online, through John's personal site.