Saturday, 25 February 2017

Novelist and folk duo deliver a new audience for forgotten ‘Postman Poet’.

He was a humble postman whose poems, written while walking the rural lanes of North Devon on his daily round in the mid-19th century, won plaudits from the Prime Minister and the support of the biggest literary names of the day. He was to become known nationally as the Postman Poet and was referred to as ‘the Devonian Burns’.

Yet today, two years short of the 200th anniversary of Edward Capern’s birth, many of his fellow Devonians are unlikely to have heard of his remarkable story, let alone people from further afield.
But that could be about to change. Recognition could again come knocking for Capern (1819-1894), thanks to collaboration between Bideford author Liz Shakespeare and folk musicians and songwriters Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll, also from Bideford – the town where Tiverton-born Capern resided for most of his life.

Liz has written The Postman Poet, a novel based on the life of Capern, and at the same time is publishing 34 of his 600 poems in The Poems of Edward Capern. During her research, Liz found that some of his poems were intended to be sung and Nick and Becki have spent the past 12 months choosing which ones to set to music for their CD, The Songs of Edward Capern.

The book and CD launch takes place with an evening of reading and songs at the Royal Hotel in Bideford on 25th March, two days before they officially go on sale.

Capern was from a poor family and as a boy only went to school for four months. He was entirely self-taught but he had a local benefactor, William Frederick Rock from Barnstaple, who saw his early poems in a local newspaper and was behind the publication of Capern’s first volume of poems. Its subscribers included the Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, Lord Tennyson and Charles Dickens. He was also admired by Poet Laureate, Alfred Austen.

“It was a remarkable achievement for a working-class man to become nationally known and I think he deserves a larger audience today,” said Liz. While writing the novel, Liz drew on historical research and details in the poems to tell the extraordinary story through Edward’s eyes as he struggles to support his family, a story that captures the opportunities and inequalities of Victorian North Devon.

Capern would jot down poems while he was walking and he often wrote on the envelopes he was about to deliver: “He had to ask the recipients if he could keep the envelopes because he’d written poems on them,” said Liz, whose own cottage in Littleham just outside Bideford was on Capern’s round.

It was during his daily two-hour break on the Bideford to Buckland Brewer route that most of his poems were written. It seems that one day he was invited into a cottage to sit in the warmth of the kitchen while the women of the house went about their daily chores. It was an invitation he was to accept every day after that.

While carrying out her research, Liz discovered that, quite by coincidence, the cottage is now owned by a good friend, local historian and genealogist Janet Few: “When you’re in the kitchen you can imagine Edward sitting there writing up a poem about the nature he’d seen and the people he’d met that morning,” said Liz.

When it came to Nick and Becki setting Capern’s work to music, they found that the poems had a particular rhythm to them: “You could tell he’d written them while walking,” said Nick, “because there is a walking feel to the rhythm of the lines.”

This “walking feel” was used when they composed the music, as Becki explained: “The feel informed the rhythm and we then created the melody to ‘fit’ what the words were saying. And the melody informed the choice of instruments.”
“The songs are certainly folk-influenced because that’s our background and it’s probably the music Capern would sing. But it’s not traditional folk music. It’s a much more contemporary sound.”
Nick and Becki initially sifted through Capern’s collection of poems that he’d written for music in his volume, The Devonshire Melodist, only to discover his words had been disastrously misinterpreted by composer Thomas Murby. His piano arrangements were clearly intended for the well-to-do and a review in the Illustrated London News decried Murby’s melodies as “artificial, laboured and hard to sing”.

As a result Nick and Becki have recorded just two of the songs as they were written – Christmas Bells and Come List, My Love, and have set a third from the collection, The Robin Is Weeping, to their own music. Nine further Capern poems are set to their folk-influenced interpretation.
 “It’s pretty obvious that folk was his genre,” said Nick. ”We think he’d be happy with what we’ve done.”

Although he was careful not to upset the aristocracy who bought his work, Capern was keen to use his pen to champion the cause of the poor. One poem Nick and Becki have set to music is The Dinner Bell, a tale of the haves and have-nots where Capern laments the plight of families who could hear the sound of distant dinner bells but had no food themselves. In recognition of Capern’s commitment to social justice, £1 from each copy of the poetry collection sold is being donated to the Northern Devon Food Bank.

Capern died in 1894, aged 75, and is buried in the churchyard at Heanton near Braunton, with his trusty postman’s handbell fixed in a niche in the headstone.

So how will 21st century readers view Capern’s poems? Liz admits some are rather sentimental for today’s tastes but added: “The best of them are as fresh and honest now as they were then. The poems I’ve selected are those which best reflect his life and the locality. He loved his job, despite the weather and the long hours and it’s this love that really comes across in his work. His poems are written from the heart.”

Tickets for the 7.30pm launch event tonight are available from the websites. Signed copies of the books and CD can also be pre-ordered now from the websites,

Liz Shakespeare, Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll
  Photo: Liz Shakespeare, Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll
Edward Capern, The Postman Poet
The Rural Postman (an extract):

O, the postman’s is as happy a life
As any one’s, I trow;
Wand’ring away where dragon-flies play,
And brooks sing soft and slow;
And watching the lark as he soars on high,
To carol in yonder cloud,
"He sings in his labour, and why not I?"
The postman sings aloud.
And many a brace of humble rhymes
His pleasant soul hath made,
Of birds, and flowers, and happy times,
In sunshine and in shade.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Funds for learning, exploring and celebrating

Eleven different groups and organisations have received a small grant from the North Devon Coast AONB from this year’s Sustainable Development Fund. Some of the projects focussed on young people, such as Seize the Moment’s ‘Heaven and Hell’ which received £3,880 to support young people to explore the social and cultural history of local churches. Combe Martin Museum’s grant of £3,650 was to purchase an easy to use microscope, screen and binoculars for family beach safaris focussed on geology and wildlife.

Getting different communities engaged with the AONB was superbly achieved by North Devon Moving Image with £3,240 grant for their ‘Wild Shorts’ film competition about wildlife and the environment in the AONB, and Hartland Abbey’s grant of £3,500 for new displays about farming and use of the estate for TV and film productions to inform and thrill their visitors. Two grants were for projects linked to one of our rarest species, the Greater Horseshoe Bats in and around Braunton, with £500 for Braunton Parish Council to create a bat viewing platform and £950 for Braunton Countryside Centre to create an ‘audio bat trail’.

Looking after and understanding our local environment was the focus of a £2,000 grant to Tarka Country Trust to help local communities to manage their verges for wildlife and flowers, a grant of £281 to buy beach cleaning equipment for Croyde Community beach clean group and an £890 grant to Coastwise North Devon for a digital camera and microscope to increase understanding and awareness of the micro-life around our coasts.

The grant scheme is open now to applications for projects to start from April 2017 onwards and is available to individuals, groups, organisations or businesses. “Projects should help to look after the North Devon Coast AONB’s special landscape, special features, wild plants or animals,” said SDF Panel chair Caroline Leaver. “This may be through direct activities or through learning, increasing understanding and awareness. A particular focus of the scheme for 2017 is the historic environment of the AONB and projects related to health and wellbeing using the AONB landscape.”

Full guidance and applications forms are available on the AONB website or contact the scheme administrator Gigha Klinkenborg on 01271 388647 or

North Devon Coast AONB - Funds for learning, exploring and celebrating
Wild Shorts Film Making Competition,Wild Shorts Secondary School Category Winners, Hartland Abbey Exhibition,Combe Martin Museum Equpment Photos Copyright North Devon AONB (All rights reserved)
Contact Scheme administrator Gigha Klinkenborg 
on 01271 388647 or Email:
  • The Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) supports projects that bring environmental, social and economic benefits to the North Devon Coast Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The fund aims to support projects which demonstrate new methods of achieving a more sustainable way of life in this area of great beauty and diversity. North Devon Coast AONB receives this money from Defra because the area is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  • The work of the North Devon Coast AONB staff unit is guided by the AONB Partnership, which includes representatives from: Natural England, Devon County Council, Torridge District Council, North Devon Council, Environment Agency, National Farmers Union, Tarka Country Trust, North Devon Biosphere Foundation, Country Landowners and Business Association, National Trust, Taw Torridge Estuary Forum, Forestry Commission, South West Forest, North Devon+ and North Devon Biosphere Reserve Partnership.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

“WHAAM JR” - Westward Ho! & Appledore Music Showcase 24th March

Get ready for “WHAAM JR” - Westward Ho! & Appledore Music Showcase on Friday 24th March at the Pier House, Westward Ho! The event will be representing North Devon’s youth bands, singers and choirs performing in aid of the Royal National Life Institution's Appledore Lifeboat Station.

Following the enormous success of “WHAAM” Westward Ho! & Appledore Music Showcase on 28th September 2016 there was a popular demand to showcase the talents of North Devon’s Youth Bands, Singers and Choirs featuring a broad spectrum of music from rock ’n roll bands to folksy bands and individual singers, from youth theatre groups, senior schools and colleges, pantomimes and interspersed with a few seniors so that young people may gain knowledge and experience from them.

This event is a great opportunity for young people to showcase their musical talents in front of a live audience, to gain experience, enhance their confidence in performing and confirm that “North Devon’s Got Talent!”  There will also be a Grand Raffle in aid of the RNLI.

Doors open at 6.00pm and the entertainment will run continuously from 7.00pm to 11.45pm with a short break at 9.00pm for the Grand Raffle.

SPECIAL FEATURES 6.15pm – 7.00pm
YOUTH SESSION 7.00pm – 10.00pm
SENIOR SESSION 10.00pm – 11.45pm
Contact:  John Barton Tel: 01237 476 068 - Email: - Facebook
“WHAAM JR” - Westward Ho! & Appledore Music Showcase  24th March
“WHAAM JR” - Westward Ho! & Appledore Music Showcase 
Friday 24th March 2017 from 6.00 to 12.00pm
at the Pier House, Westward Ho!
Representing North Devon’s youth bands, singers and choirs performing in aid of the Royal National Life Institution's Appledore Lifeboat Station.