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The unveiling of Formby's Second Blue Plaque for Dame Beryl Bainbridge

Only the second Blue Plaque in Formby was ‘unveiled’ at a small ceremony on Thursday 20th at 47 Ravenmeols Lane. This was the home of the famous novelist Beryl Bainbridge (1932 – 2010) for most of her childhood and youth, after her parents had moved to Formby from Liverpool.

Formby Civic Society has worked on this mainly through Dr. Reg Yorke and the project has been developed jointly with Sefton Parish Council. At the Opening Ceremony, the property owners Mr. and Mrs. Steiger welcomed everyone and recalled how a number of years ago they were inside the house with their children when Beryl Bainbridge actually came past the house with a film crew: she looked inside the house but did not knock on the door. She missed out on a cup of tea inside and the Steiger family missed the opportunity to say hello to her!

Reg Yorke gave a short address to provide an outline of what we know about the novelist’s youth here before Robert Longthorne, Building Development Manager of the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse Theatres, gave a lively talk and declare the Plaque to be officially installed.

Beryl had spent some time working as a student actor at the Playhouse. The group present at the ceremony included Bob Platt and Mavis Hearn from the Parish Council and members of the Civic Society. Anyone wishing to find out more about this very highly regarded English novelist can both research her on the Internet or read a biography on her that was published only a few months ago, “Love by All Sorts of Means” by Brendan Coyle. This describes in some detail the time she spent living at 47 Ravenmeols Lane.

In “An Awfully Big Adventure” (1989 and shortlisted for the Booker Prize) she described some of her experiences growing up in Formby. It was later made into a film starring Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant. In “Every Man for Himself” (1996), she wrote about the sinking of the Titanic: this was also on the Booker shortlist but indeed won the Whitbread Prize. In 2000, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE)

Dame Beryl Bainbridge

47 Ravenmeols Lane in Formby

Beryl Bainbridge By Dr. Reg Yorke

Formby Civic Society Blue Plaque ‘unveiled’ on Thursday 20th October 2016 following a project organised by the Formby Civic Society and supported financially by the Formby Parish Council.

The Bainbridge family came to live in Formby in 1933 and it is clear from Beryl’s biography* that her formative years were spent here at 47 Ravenmeols Lane. She describes the house, her immediate family, (father, mother and brother) and their relationships with each other, intimately in one of her earliest novels, ‘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 teen-age 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 German’s 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 then comes across strongly in her first novel, “An Awfully Big Adventure”. 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.

At 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 her 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 off-spring. I feel proud to have met her on that visit, proud that she grew up here and loved our sandy coastal woodlands. 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 several dozen of her paintings was held in the National Museums, Liverpool, late 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’s a knock-out”. Beryl was herself a “knock-out” but died in summer 2010.

Formby can be proud that she was brought up here and loved our coast. You can hear her voice if you go onto the Liverpool Museum website and click onto her reading “An Awfully Big Adventure” 1959, re-written and performed as a play at the Playhouse in 1992.

*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.

By Dr. Reg Yorke

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