Lost poems by 19th-century 'Forest Poetess' return to the Forest of Dean

Four long lost poems written by 'Forest Poetess' Catherine Drew in the 1860s have been returned to the Forest of Dean and added to a new collection at the Dean Heritage Centre.

By Chloe Gorman  |  Published
Four handwritten poems, a book and a nightcap all belonging to 1800s 'Forest Poetess' Catherine Drew have been added to a new collection at the Dean Heritage Centre.

A collection of lost poems handwritten by the 'Forest Poetess' in the 1800s have been brought back home to the Forest of Dean. 

The four poems, penned by Catherine Drew in the 1860s, now form part of the new Forest of Dean Writers Collection at the Dean Heritage Centre in Soudley. 

Catherine's handwritten poems were sent from the USA back to the Forest of Dean by one of her descendants, Michael Wright, through a collaborative literary project between the museum, the University of Gloucestershire and local volunteers.

He also sent back an original copy of a book of Catherine's poems which was published in 1841 — one of only 100 printed — and a lace-trimmed cotton nightcap which belonged to the writer, both of which were taken to America by Catherine's son Absalom when he emigrated in 1874.

Michael said: 'My mother and her aunt Alice treasured and cared for these artefacts as an amazing part of our family history. I am delighted to return them to the Forest of Dean where they can help tell the story of Catherine Drew and be an inspiration to future generations.'

The Forest of Dean Writers Collection spans more than 200 years of material, some written in the local dialect, reflecting the people and places of the Forest of Dean as captured by writers from the area. Specialists from the university are working with volunteers to research and catalogue over 400 unique items, with a series of events and exhibitions planned to showcase them, too. 

Dr Jason Griffiths from the University of Gloucestershire, who is managing the project, said: 'There are no known images of Catherine, so these poems written in her own hand, and her cap, give us a tangible and evocative link to Catherine as a person. 

'The poems give us a new insight to the elderly Catherine, focused as they are on contemplating mortality and religion, but also the joys of the natural world of the forest.'

Dr Roger Deeks, co-director of Reading the Forest, who tracked down the poems in the USA, added: 'It was through a letter in the Dean Forest Mercury that in 1927, William Gardiner of Cinderford sent the hand-written poems to Alice. William had known Catherine and had been given the poems by her son-in-law.'

The first outreach exhibition of the project is showcasing some of these newly discovered artefacts at Cinderford Library from Wednesday 1 to Wednesday 15 May 2024.

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