Letter: What did Philip Larkin ever do for Wellington?

Letter: I met the miserable (Philip) Larkin in 1943 in the library. I have read his poetry and letters and met his fan club. I was one of the few who started Wellington Literary Festival. I am not a total ignoramus on the subject.

Letter: I met the miserable (Philip) Larkin in 1943 in the library. I have read his poetry and letters and met his fan club. I was one of the few who started Wellington Literary Festival, I organised a celebration of his poetry soon after he died and presented his picture to the library. I am not a total ignoramus on the subject.

Some of his poetry is good but he's not exactly one of the greats and it's mostly unhappy, pessimistic stuff about unhappy people like himself.

His description of Wellington as a "Hole of toad's turds", his suggestion that it should be bombed and that his job was to "Hand out tripey novels to morons" does not endear him to me or, surely to others who are happy to live in Wellington.

By all means honour his poetry if you like it but surely not him, in the town he so grossly insulted.

How many fans come and spend money in Wellington because of the connection? There are better people to name the new footpath after, including cheerful optimists who have done good things for our town.

It is unfortunate that a small group has persuaded the town councillors (most of whom, I suspect, have little idea who Larkin was) that he would be good for the tourist trade.

Let's hope the borough council will be wiser and not name the walkway after the most unhappy, miserable, unsociable fellow ever to pour scorn and insults on Wellington.

Let's leave the poor chap and pick a better name. Heather Duckett if you like or Geoff Marmion; I wouldn't oppose either.

George Evans


Subscribe to our Newsletter

Comments for: "Letter: What did Philip Larkin ever do for Wellington?"


Maybe the fact that Wellington can be so forgiving of Larkin tells us something about Wellington?


George is absolutely right - somehow, somewhere a small group of people who are fans of Larkin's later work have hi-jacked 'public opinion'. Somehow they think the name gives a status to Wellington.

How deluded they are!

These unhappy few need to face up to reality and accept that the new street should be named something else - it points straight at the Wrekin so why not something that relates to the hill, perhaps one of its more ancient names?

Or given the most historic thing in Welington is the Market - Charter Square?

Or that King Charles I made an important proclamation her during the Civil War - King Charles Street?


Charles 11 probably hid nearby as he seems to have hid just about everywhere..

bob dobbs

Bill, tell us why the 'new' (or moved' street should be named something else?

I'm pretty sure Charles I is recognised by the name CROWN Street. Does he need any more?


Oh, come on George, surely every town deserves a memorial to someone who didn't like it. Keeps the population from getting big-headed, parochial and complacent.

twisting my melon

The people of Shrewsbury cetainly got their own back on Charles Darwin for leaving town at the earliest possible moment never to return, by building a giant toast rack and a shopping centre in his honour.

Rob, Telford

At least Darwin lived in Shrewsbury until he left for university - Matthew Webb (Dawley's most widely-known son) was only 14 months old when his family moved to Madeley!

twisting my melon

Never had a bad word to say about either town mind.

Rob, Telford

I heard he was always moaning about the lack of public swimming baths - that's why they moved down to Ironbridge so he could swim in the river....


Darwin was not even in his teens when he left.

Rob, Telford

errrr, yes he was, he attended Shrewsbury School until he was at least 16.


27, Just checking to make sure these Darwin fans are still with us.)


"27, Just checking to make sure these Darwin fans are still with us.)"

Earth to Andrew?????


Ohhh come on George, I have read some of your moaning diatribe letters, just like the one above, in the S.S. and I think the phrase with the words Pot and Kettle come to mind.


I think the phrase with Pot and Kettle in comes to mind here George.

Ben Evans

68 years on and his description of Wellington, still seems pretty spot on.


'Some of his poetry is good but he’s not exactly one of the greats.'

That's a perfectly reasonable judgement but, like it or not, Larkin would find his way into any anthology of 20th Century English (or British) poetry. Personally, I believe that his poem 'Going, Going', with it's combination of patriotism and sadness and anger at the way he saw the country going, is one of the great 20th Century poems about England.

As to what Larkin supposedly said about working in Wellington library, have you ever read George Orwell's essay, Bookshop Memories I think it's called, where he describes the kinds of people who visit bookshops? It's AT LEAST as unsympathetic as Larkin's characterisation. Doesn't alter the general perception of Orwell as a 20th Century great, though, and rightly so.

'....the most unhappy, miserable, unsociable fellow ever to pour scorn and insults on Wellington.'

That's just silly. Plenty of people who've lived in the town a lot longer than Larkin did pour scorn and insults on it. I sense that your real problem with Larkin is that he isn't (wasn't) a 'true' local.


'Some of his poetry is good but he’s not exactly one of the greats..'

That's a fair judgement but you can't deny that Larkin would find his way into any anthology of 20th Century English (or British) poetry. I personally believe that his poem 'Going, Going', which combines great patriotism with anger and sadness at the way the country was going, is one of the great poems about England.

'his job was to “Hand out tripey novels to morons”...'

Not very complimentary, admittedly, but it's kind compared to George Orwell's description of people who visit second-hand bookshops in an essay called (I think) Bookshop Memories. As someone who loves second-hand bookshops myself, I can laugh off Orwell's little rant (it doesn't change my perception of him as a 20th Century great), just as those who visit Wellington library should laugh off Larkin's.

'the most unhappy, miserable, unsociable fellow ever to pour scorn and insults on Wellington.'

A melodramatic but fundamentally silly sentence. I have friends and relatives from Wellington, some of whom still live there, and they pour scorn and insults on it. A town with a confident sense of itself can deal with such judgements. Isn't your real problem that Larkin wasn't a 'true' local?


Wellington should be proud of its association with one of England's finest poets. On a practical level it could be used for 'tourism' - what about a Larkin trail around Wellington? I suggest that some people ought to have a look at the wonderful statue to Larkin which has recently been put up at Hull railway station!!! That's a way to attract tourists.


I guess his association with Hull is clearer than the one with Wellington, though. He was from Hull and his greatest poem, 'Whitsun Weddings', was inspired by a train journey that started there.

Instead I suggest a staue of Peter Porter at Wellington Station. Porter, a contemporary of Larkin, wrote a poem called 'On the Train from Wellington to Shrewsbury' in (I think) the 70s. The image in it that most sticks with me is of the narrator's meeting with a farmer who, he imagines, has spent his morning slaughtering sheep. On second thoughts, then, Wellington would probably prefer to forget Porter too.


Philip Larkin was born in Coventry and only worked in Hull but they have celebrated his time there (and used his name to attract tourists etc).

Also Wellington is slowly starting to improve as a town and using Larkin's name is a pragmatic way forward.


You're right. The anthology I have(pretty old) has him working in Hull at the time it was published. I'd remembered that but not his birthplace.

Do you happen to know if Slough have anything to commemorate Betjeman? That would be the ultimate acceptance of a negative verdict on a town!

I also like Woking's idea of metal Martian sculptures to remember Wells's War of the Worlds.


We've got a Betjemen Place office complex in Slough !

The town seems keener on bigging up William Herschel though, perhaps understandably. His cottage stood on the Windsor Rd until the local council demolished it to build an office block.

ade the shades

Philip Larkin is right Wellington is a dump always has been, like so many towns in England if you take out the charity shops what is left? It even gets worse in the summer when the streets become full of idiots with no entertainment licenses playing musical instruments and the council does nothing about it its pure bedlam! people need a reality check and stop looking at Wellington through rose tinted glasses and see it for what it really is.


just for the record, Ade - a lot of music you can see in the middle of Wellington this year WILL be licensed, and will also very good: brass bands, jazz bands, choirs, folk duos etc., as part of Sounds in The Square, organised by volunteers with the backing of local shops (the vast majority of which are not charity shops, by the way!)

Yes, some people need to stop looking at Wellington through rose tinted spectacles - but others would do well to stop running it down quite so happily and put a bit of effort into improving it. Maybe you could lead the way, Ade?


Philip Larkin's description 'hole of toad's turds' is probably the most fitting description of Wellington I have ever heard. With an abundance of fast food and charity shops I can see no reason to shop, eat or drink there!!


Be fair, Egg - two good butchers and an excellent delicatessen stall, all sourcing locally; four grocers, a second hand book shop, a fishing tackle shop, a gents outfitters, four jewellers, four florists, a stationers, a sportswear shop, a tea rooms, a musical instrument shop, an CAMRA regional-champion real ale pub, a picture framer, a tourism board 4 star coach house hotel, and a few other things besides. It's not brilliant, but it's not THAT bad.

Paul Eaton-Jones

I met Philip Larkin when I worked at the university here in Hull in the early 1980's and found him to be a thoroughly charming chap though he was rather shy. His gruff, curmudgeonly exterior was in many cases a defence for his shyness. A small parochial town like Wellington should be glad to be associatated with such a celebrity. As a boy growing up in Market Drayton in the 1960's Wellington was considered to be rather a dump even then.

Rob, Telford

"As a boy growing up in Market Drayton in the 1960′s Wellington was considered to be rather a dump even then"


Andrew Owen

I agree. My parents were born and raised in Wellington and, from what I've heard, it was a fine place to live in the 1960s. Some relatives say it started going downhill when the planners, in their infinite wisdom, approved the inner ring road.

Paul Eaton-Jones

Yes, I know, Drayton was a dump back in the 60's and it certainly hasn't improved one iota since I left in 1974! I go back twice a year and am appalled by the continuing downward spiral it's on. Great for a few days but that's it.


Oh come on! We've got a Transport Hub! (No, I don't know what it is either). And soon we'll have a New Civic Quarter! Never mind that buildings like the Registry Office and others will be boarded up (or turned into charity shops) and there will be even less parking - the Transport Hub gobbled up about 40 spaces - people will come for miles to admire the shiny new offices!

People are so negative :(


You need to get your facts straight, Kath - the registry office and all the other older council buildings around the edge of town that the council will be moving out of are going to get turned back into residential property - the best and most lucrative thing to do with them considering where they are.

And what is it with car parking spaces all the time? People in Wellington are obsessed with this, yet it has more per head of the population than just about any town in the West Midlands - TRUE! We're just so used to being able to park practically anywhere and roll into the shops that we balk at the idea of actually having to walk a few extra yards.


You need to get your facts straight Rob. The picture framers closed down about a year ago - no trade - and one of the butchers is going or has gone the same way. And is the musical instrument shop still there?

Do you know what a transport hub is, and how it's different from what we had before? My local T&W councillor couldn't define it when I asked him.


Apologies Kath, I should have been clearer - I was talking about the picture framer in the Market, who I've used several times since Art Etc sadly closed. The musical instrument shop certainly is still there - I went in last week - and there are still two butchers shops, even if one may close at some point in the future (the other, I know, is doing perfectly well).

As for the transport hub - I agree, it's all jargon, and switching the car park and bus station round looks like a lot of effort for nothing, but the point was that those sort of schemes can lever in more money (eg for a lift and new bridge)... that was all fine, and may yet happen, it's just a shame that everyone's money has ran out for the time being!


Oh, and don't forget our lovely new paving slabs in the centre, surely they are worth a visit?


What's going on? I didn't say anything half as offensive as 'toad's turds'. I object!


Its like all the local market towns - killed off initially by Telford Town Centre and latterly Wellington Retail Park and underinvested in chronically for years. Its now dominated by charity shops, low cost shops and far too many fast food outlets with few major retail stores. A shame as it used to be vibrant and a place to go particularly on a Saturday morning when the Square was packed. Maybe if Wetherspoons move in as muted it might pick up in the evening, it needs something to attract people. Don't get me wrong, I love the town but it is a shadow of what it could be.


I remember when the Inland Revenue Offices and the DHSS were based there. Hardly a fun day out, but it did mean people had to come into the town. Centralise everything in the Town Centre and the consequences are inevitable.


"most unhappy, miserable, unsociable fellow ever"

yes and that is why many people loved him, there was no pretense, his work was about the mundane everyday that we all experience,he touched something real like no one else could and made it interesting. He WAS one of the greats, I am no literary/poetry buff, I would struggle to name many poets but I do know Larkin!!

bob dobbs

Leaving aside the obviously pot/kettle attack here it must be said what George has written here is typical of his 'Mr Wellington' act which he has routinely churned out to impress (and who knows, perhaps leave a legacy of his own) us lifelong Wellingtonians over the years, and again it doesn't wash.

This letter, like his first on the subject, brings nothing at all to be debate other than Mr Evans once met Larkin and because he found him miserable we're to eradicate his name from our history?

Allan Frost's thoughts on this issue were thoughtful, insightful and well reasoned and while I disagree with him, George could learn a thing or two about how to write a letter.

I hope the Shropshire Star will save the passage where he seemingly vindicates the Borough Council for going against public opinion, I'm sure that might come back to haunt him at some point.


I remember the day a Dalek came to Wellington on the back of a flat back lorry.

Dalek way

Rob, Telford

"Dalek way"

....perhaps if the Dalek had been driving the lorry......


Darleks dont have hands just a sink plunger and no feet to press the peddles.

Rob, Telford

That would have made it even more worth commemorating!!

Mrs T

Philip Larkin`s passage,



Larkin IS one of the greats of 20th C English poetry along with Betjemen and Hughes, but I feel he 'belongs' to Hull as that's where he spent most of his productive life.


thats probably why there is only an alley dedicated to him and not something grander.

I think its a small nod from a town that the man was here, it is only a path not even a grand thoroughfare that carries passing traffic so not a real tourist attraction.

shall we all put it into perspective here.


I'll allow him an alley then....

He's already got the Larkin Building at Hull Uni and a statue at the station


Well I called in on wellington 12 years ago when passing and thought "oh my god" sorry guys but it was an awful place .Walking up the main high street I saw a load of charity shops , a few down market shops , and legal extortionate money lending type places , sorry a very depressing place.

Jerel w

Well the most famous son of Wellington , the only one of international importance, is William Withering whose discovery , digitalis not only was perhaps the earliest modern drug saving and improving many lives but is still of relevance today - and he had other scientific achievements of note.

Having missed out on the obvious chance to name our local hospital after him duh because of a) fawning 'now please can have a KBE?' royalism to that great medical achiever Princess Anne B) some weird worry about a pun on his surname, perhaps we can make partial amends. A walk is good for your heart after all.