Poetry trail celebrates ex-nurse's passion for words and love of life
DERBYSHIRE'S beauty combines with words thanks to a poetry trail in Belper which honours a woman with a poetic passion.
When it came to penning perfect prose, Beth Fender was always keen to make her mark and share her love of the written word with others, which led to her founding two poetry groups in the town and another in Ripley.
Hilary Fender, right, Beth's daughter, with, from left, Patricia Bohn, Glen Mulliner and Gwilym Roberts next to a plaque outside the old convent in Field Lane, Belper, part of the poetry trail.
Poet Beth Fender with her book at Belper's River Gardens.
The poem at the old convent was written by Beth Fender.
Beth died of cancer in 2002, at 77, but her "voice" remains strong thanks to a poetry trail which has become her legacy in her adopted town.
Her daughter, Hilary Fender, explains: "In her early-60s my mother joined Shortlands Poetry Circle, near Bromley in Kent, where she was living at the time. She discovered what was to be a love affair with poetry which lasted for the rest of her life."
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Belper became the main beneficiary of that passion after Beth, a former nurse, moved there in 1992. "She came to help me and be closer to her grandchildren," said Hilary, who lives in the town.
Beth was keen to join a poetry group, only to find Belper did not have one. Undaunted, she started her own. Belper Poetry Circle, met at Beth's cottage. Soon there was a demand for an evening group for working people, which led to the creation of Poetry People. Both of Beth's poetry groups are still running strong today.
Hilary said: "My mother made such an impact on the groups, members wanted to create a memorial to remember her by, and the poetry trail was born."
It was not just Beth's passion for words that sparked the trail. A website tribute to her says: "As well as sharing her enthusiasm for poetry, Beth exuded a zest for living that astounded people half her age. Involved in St Peter's Church, the historical society, as a volunteer at Strutt's North Mill and visitor centre, and much more, Beth came to love her adopted home and its people."
In fact it was Beth who first mentioned the possibility of a poetry trail, having come across them in America.
Five members of the poetry groups, including Hilary, met every two weeks to plan the project, which was completed in three stages. "It took a huge amount of organising, and relied on funding from many different sources," Hilary said. "The poems are in 20 locations around Belper, many within easy reach of the River Gardens. They are appropriate for the setting and completed in a fitting medium, such as granite, slate or glass.
"The Spike Milligan poem for children, Rain, appears on Chucklebutties Play and Party Centre, a very suitable place."
Sites were also chosen because Beth often visited them and they held special meaning for her. Belper Library is part of the trail, showcasing Philip Larkin poem New Eyes Each Year.
"Beth was a great believer in public libraries," said Glen Mulliner, a member of Poetry People and the trail organiser.
Choosing the poems was a simple job as Beth had many favourites. The trail includes two of her own poems, View From My Bedroom Window and Love Warms; some of her favourites and one specially-commissioned poem, Words On A Wall by Jean Sealey, a member of the poetry group.
Hilary said: "We couldn't find a suitable poem on the theme of stone or walls, so Jean wrote one for us." Jean has also written a book documenting the trail, Beth and Belper, Tale of a Trail, which has recently been launched.
Wanting to incorporate a mixture of male and female poets, a poem by Emily Dickinson has pride of place on the Queen's Head pub in Chesterfield Road.
The poem, I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed, holds a special meaning for its owners, Val and Richard Watson, and Beth was a great admirer of Emily Dickinson's work. The final instalment on the trail was the picture poem Three Swallows in the River Meadows by Stuart Mills, also a Belper resident before his death in 2006. It is in Belper River Gardens.
Much of the trail is within the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and members have worked hard to keep the poems and their materials in keeping with Belper. The Stuart Mills poem is the most modern poem on the trail.
Barrie Price, of James Beresford & Sons, Monumental Masons and Memorial Specialists, involved in creating many of the plaques of poetry, added his own words to the trail.
Glen said: "Barrie wanted to be part of the trail and paid for his own poem."
The poetry lovers hope people will come to enjoy the walk and words. Guided walks around the trail are being offered in September as part of the Autumn Footprints walking festival and in October as part of the Discovery Days programme.
Hilary said: "We wanted all the sites to be accessible at all times, but we didn't want them to stand out. We wanted people to come across the poems while going about their everyday business."
It is fitting Beth's passion for prose continues, not only thanks to the trail but within her family. Her granddaughter, Hannah Headden, 24, has composes poetry.
The trail was funded by many sponsors including: Amber Valley Borough Council, Amber Valley Housing, Awards for All (Lottery Funding), Belper Historical Society, Belper Town Council, the Countryside Agency, Derbyshire County Council and The Herbert Strutt Charity.
For more details on about Beth's Poetry Trail, visit www.bethspoetrytrail.co.uk or pick up a leaflet from Belper Library or Strutt's North Mill and visitor centre.