A CAMPAIGN has begun for greater recognition of an under-appreciated Harrovian writer and artist on the centenary anniversary of the Great War he wrote so much about, reports IAN PROCTOR.
A PAINTER is appealing for support to better publicise the legacy of long time Harrow resident and "poet among poets and visionary" David Jones.
Jonathan Hutchins (pictured), who lecturers part-time at Harrow College, wants to ensure the 100th anniversary of the First World War does not pass without a festival of celebratory events to mark the contribution of a hugely valued but little known writer of Welsh heritage who lived in the borough from 1948 until his death.
Mr Hutchins, of Northwood, said: "It is time for Harrow to recognise and honour its great poet - no, not Lord Byron, as he has enough Laurels - but David Michael Jones who lived from 1895 to 1974.
"I think there is a real opportunity to establish the Harrow connection to David Jones in a timely way.
"David Jones was well respected in his own time as a poet by TS Eliot and today is revered by Seamus Healey and Archbishop Rowan Williams. Jones is clearly a poet amongst poets.
"He was also an artist among artists and his artworks holding their own against the strongest modern artist of the 20th Century.
"His watercolours are among the treasures of the Tate Gallery and the National Museum of Wales.
"So he is a great poet, a great artist and perhaps the greatest artist-poet visionary since William Blake and like William Blake, Jones is one of the few visionaries who is venerated as much for his artworks as his contribution to literature."
Mr Hutchins said the complexity and intellectuality of Mr Jones' work is one of the reason it is not better known and appreciated.
He said Mr Jones' main volumes, 'In Parenthesis' and 'The Anathemata', are difficult reads but richly rewarding. Considerable effort is needed to follow the text and the references in the extensive academic and sometimes distracting footnotes that can clog up the page.
The former is a 187 page poem of seven parts that was published in 1937 and is a thinly-veiled autobiographical story of a private who like Jones served in the 15th (London Welsh) Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in the First World War, and the latter is a 250-page modernist quasi-historical epic poem about man's evolution and is written in English interspersed with Latin, German and Welsh, with nine illustrations.
Mr Hutchins said: "The reason that the time is right for honouring David Jones in Harrow because David Jones is principally celebrated as a war poet for his great epic work ‘In Parenthesis' which follows the experiences of soldiers of the Jones' own London Welsh Regiments and transforms this material into an visionary poem, cramped with references to Welsh and Roman Mythology, Shakespeare’s plays.
"All of this is set in the horror and everyday banalities of trench life of these Cockney–Welsh Tommies."
After Mr Jones left the Army, he studied at Westminster School of Art between 1919 and 1921 and was elected to the Seven and Five Society, a London based society with the responding number respectively of painters and sculptors.
He later exhibited with the society's newer members, the celebrated artists Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and John Piper.
He was made CBE in 1955 and a Companion of Honour in 1974, and won many prizes and awards including, in 1962, the Gold Medal of the Royal National Eisteddfod and was handed an honorary Doctorate of Literature from the University of Wales in 1960.
Mr Hutchins and other members of the Harrow Art Society are starting to try and organize a celebration of the life and work of David Jones, with dramatized poetry readings of 'In Parenthesis', artworks based on this work and exhibitions at the Harrow Arts Centre in Hatch End and West House in Pinner Memorial Park.
There is an existing biographical documentary about the writer and it may be possible to arrange to screen this at the arts centre and an educational project could be started to get schoolchildren involved.
Mr Hutchins said the Heritage Lottery Fund in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum is accepting proposals for project to commemmorate the anniversary of the First World War and wants to begin the application for cash for a festival of events in Harrow.
He has the idea of putting up a blue plaque to commemmorate Mr Jones if a suitable property can be found - and there are several possibilities.
One of the trustees of David Jones' estate, his great nephew Nicholas Elkin, of Sittingborne, Kent, welcomed the idea of greater local exposure for his relative's oeuvre.
He said: "In principle, the trustees are very pleased that the local community of Harrow will have the opportunity to learn more about one of its eminent former residents.
"Part of what the trust has to do is try to make him better known and try to sell more copies of his works.
"Various people have said he's one of the poets of the 20th Century but he is little known.
"There are not too many people who make the effort to read what is very difficult text and some of his paintings you really have to concentrate on it and come back to it several times to understand it."
Mr Elkin said there was a tentative agreement with a publisher to issue a new reprint of an out-of-print book called 'Fusilier At The Front' by the time the 2014 anniversary comes round.
"During World War One, Jones did lots of sketched picture on bits of paper that are a wonderful record of what it was like to be an ordinary Tommy in the trenches and many of them have been reproduced in the book."
What is known about David Jones is that he converted to Catholicism in 1921 at the age of 25 and was briefly engaged in the 1930s but never married or had children.
In 1933/34 while painting, and writing 'In Parenthesis', he suffered what turned out to be the first of recurrent bouts of crippling depression and mental breakdown which he nicknamed Rosy, from the word 'neurosis'.
He endured a second episode in 1947 and the following year spent seven months in recovery and receiving psychoanalytic treatment at Bowden House, a clinic in London Road, Harrow on the Hill, whose staff he thanks in a footnote to the preface of 'The Anathemata' and which later became Cygnet Hospital Harrow.
Once better, he lodged in a top floor studio at Northwick Lodge in Harrow on the Hill between 1947 and 1964 with school teachers as his neighbours.
Interestingly, a watercolour landscape entitled 'A Tree At Harrow' that he painted of a view from that home is in the collection of Harrow School's Old Speech Room Gallery in High Street, Harrow on the Hill, after being bought by the art fundraising charity Art Fund in 1980.
From 1964 to 1970, and having gone deaf in his left ear and apparently developed a form of agoraphobia, he rented a ground floor room in the Monksdene Residential Hotel in Northwick Park Road, Harrow - from in letters that still survived archived we know he wrote to a friend that he missed the view of his previous home.
A serious fall and a mild stroke led him to moving into the Calvary Nursing Home in Sudbury Hill in Harrow on the Hill, where he died on October 28 1974, after years of ill health.
Mr Jones was born in Brockley, south-east London, and is buried with his parents in Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries in Lewisham, south-east London.