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The ALS AGM and Weekend Event

Thinking of attending an ALS event but not sure whether you will enjoy it?  Why not look at some previous events, below?

Haworth with Bronte in 2016

Haworth has long been a second home to me, since I made my first visit back in 1974. It was therefore doubly exciting that we would be celebrating  the bi-centennial of Charlotte's birth there.

The Parsonage was opened early for us, and the Baptist Church was the venue for most of the Saturday. Our first speaker was Juliet Barker, historian and biographer, on 'Re-writing Writers' Lives - Mrs Gaskell and The Life of Charlotte Bronte'. Question time was very lively - particularly as we had a large contingent from the Gaskell Society!

The second speaker was Ian Dewhirst, retired librarian and well known historian on West Yorkshire and Keighley in particular. His talk was entitled 'The Druggist and the Relieving Officer, and Other Writers in Haworth'. His natural sense of humour soon had everyone rolling in the aisles, as he described what a haven of cultural activity Haworth was during the time of the Brontes, not at all like the 'bleak moors' the area is often portrayed as.

The traditional Saturday evening meal took place at the White Lion, where diners gave their favourite readings. It had been an immensely full day, but very enjoyable.

On Sunday, some went to the Bronte birthplace at Thornton; some on a guided tour of Ponden Hall; and some on a guided walk to the waterfall.

I think everyone would agree that it had been a very rewarding weekend for all lovers of books and literature. I really encourage those who have not done so, to try an ALS weekend!


Oxford with Barbara Pym in 2013

On a brilliant June day, the riverside lawns and architecturally diverse buildings of St Hilda's College, Oxford, were looking their best as the ALS delegates arrived.  The Barbara Pym Society was hosting the ALS AGM at the author's old college to celebrate the centenary of her birth.  In those days, it was women-only, but is now fully co-educational.  Elizabeth Llewellyn-Smith, the former Principal, welcomed us; she noted that Dorothy L Sayers' Gaudy Night and Pym's Jane and Prudence portrayed Oxford women's colleges similar to St Hilda's.  She then handed over to Jenny Uglow, President of the ALS, to open the AGM which was conducted in a brisk and friendly manner.

Next, Eileen Roberts explained how the BPS grew out of the centenary celebrations for St Hilda's in 1993, when a group of fans decided to set up a society for Pym.  Clemence Schultze then spoke on Barbara Pym, an Unashamed Reader.  Always an avid reader, Pym had precocious literary tastes: at the age of sixteen she composed a novel in the style of Aldous Huxley. 

The Oxonian note was maintained by some light hearted readings from Crampton Hodnett.  After lunch, we returned to hear James Booth, Emeritus Professor at Hull, and a leading Larkin scholar, deliver the keynote address on Larkin and Pym: an Elective Affinity.

After a reception on the lawns, we finished with dinner, followed by the customary readings offered by members of the various societies represented.  And, on Sunday morning, themed walks around a gloriously sunlit Oxford (including the Botanic Gardens and the Bodleian) made a memorable close to the weekend.

Nottingham, with the Dickens Fellowship, in 2012

The weekend began on the Friday afternoon with the opportunity to visit the Bromley House Subscription Library in Angel Row.  One member was heard to say 'I think I've died and gone to heaven!'.  The Library is housed in an 18th c town house, full of books, over different levels.  It really is a gem. And in the evening a group of us met up for a meal.

The AGM itself, and the events on Saturday, centred on the Mechanics Institute, with talks on Dickens and on Lawrence.  We also stayed there for the evening meal - with entertainment provided by the diners, with no shortage of volunteers to read from their favourite writers.

On the Sunday, there were optional walking tours of Nottingham, and visits to D H Lawrence's birthplace and to Lord Byron's home at Newstead Abbey.  It was a great way to round off a very interesting weekend.

The ALS weekend in Lichfield 2011

This year, the event was hosted by the Johnson Society and began on the Saturday morning in the spectacular Guild Hall in the centre of Lichfield.   We were able to welcome our new President, Jenny Uglow, to her first ALS AGM,  the Mayor officially opened proceedings, and the Chairman of the Johnson Society gave a very interesting talk on the history of the Guild Hall.  Lunch was followed by more talks and then free time in the city (or a guided walk to look at Larkin connections with Lichfield.    The Saturday evening dinner was well attended, with people bringing lots of readings - and Jenny giving a talk on the importance of bringing societies together.  

On Sunday, there was a guided tour of the Birthplace museum, followed by a talk on Anna Seward at the Bishop's Palace.  The weekend was wound up with cream teas in Chapters.   

Knutford 2010, hosted by the Gaskell Society

The 'advance guard' arrived on the Friday afternoon and were treated to a guided visit to Tabley House, followed by tea and cake in the tea rooms.

On the Saturday, we all met up in the Methodist Church Hall - with 28 member societies being represented.  Second hand books were on sale and the AGM was followed by an informal buffet lunch, before the talks and walks began.  Elizabeth Williams gave a fascinating talk on Elizabeth Gaskell, leading us through the time line of her writings.  This was followed by pre-walk talk by the late Joan Leach who led the walk through Knutsford, pointing out the Gaskell connections at various points of interest.  The tour ended at Brook Street Chapel, where Mrs Gaskell is buried.  The formal dinner on the Saturday evening took place at Cottons Hotel, with the after dinner readings which have now become somewhat of a tradition at ALS dinners!  There was certainly no shortage of readers.

On Sunday, we had an informal and light hearted by Joan on Mrs Gaskell's Cheshire, after which we split into two groups (one attending morning service at Brook Street Chapel, and the other taking a coach to Plymouth Grove in Manchester, the former home of the Gaskells).  At Plymouth Grove, we were told about the Gaskell's life there, and the enormous restoration project which is being undertaken - followed by more refreshments and books for sale.

It really was a good weekend.

Review of the ALS weekend in Dublin 2009

Back in January, I’d never even heard of the ALS. Six months on I’m sat in a Dublin bar laughing my head off at a story about Joyce surrounded by more literary societies than I can ever begin to remember at the ALS AGM. How, I hear you ask? 

Well, it all started when my brother, who lives in America and is fond of finding gifts of an unusual nature, was searching the web when he found a present for my sister, Kathy. Aware that Kathy and I both have a penchant for Elizabethan literature, he enrolled Kathy as a member of the Marlowe Society.

I’m not sure what Frieda, the Marlowe Membership Secretary, made of it all but before too long Kathy and I attended and were welcomed at the Marlowe AGM at a wonderful London pub and as a result I also became a member.

At the Marlowe Society AGM, Frieda spoke of the ALS and the planned weekend in Dublin and made it clear that all members were welcome to attend. At the time, I don’t really believe that we had any intention of going ourselves, but somehow over the following months it seemed like a really good idea and so all of a sudden we were off. And once we were there, with the help of the Dubliners Literary Circle we were made exceptionally welcome from the start, met people from all over the place and had a really fantastic time. 

With the AGM planned for the Saturday morning, we headed to Dublin on the Friday night to make the most of the weekend. We knew there was an informal evening planned but on arrival, realised that we were to be wined and dined in Temple Bar at Gogarty’s restaurant (a friend, and then not such a friend of Joyce, you know) complemented by an impromptu sightseeing tour along the route. The food was superb (a strong recommendation from Kathy for the Seafood Anna Livia) and not only were we in a marvellous setting, we also happened to be dining at the same time as a sensational Swedish choir who entertained the whole restaurant for the evening.

A stroll back to the Hotel and a nightcap with the Tolkien Society (thanks to Pat and Trevor!) it was time to retire.

Saturday morning brought the AGM and such a range of societies I can’t begin to list them. All I will say is that everyone was welcoming and I’ve learnt far more than I ever thought I would about people I’ve never heard of before.
 There’s not many AGM’s you would describe as fun but when one includes a re-enactment of a scene from one of Joyce’s works in all its Irish glory then I think you’d agree that it would be different. Hard to follow, but the Committee managed it with talk of the year’s events and next year’s plans. Once all the points were covered, it was on to a fantastic Yeats exhibition at the library (Breda, you’ve been ten times, it’s time to stop.)

After that, Kathy and I made our escape to the local jail and did a little sightseeing, with lots of ground to cover until it was time for the annual dinner. The food was excellent and along with great company and innovative entertainment it was a really good night. Even if a late night for those who chose to stay in the bar!
And it wasn’t over then!

Sunday morning we had the pleasure of Des, Paul and Breda taking us for a literary walk around Dublin ending up at the Dublin Writers museum where we learnt that during a particular period of censorship Kavanagh (having had wording removed from his book in print) went to the bookshop and wrote his line about “dangly bits” back into every single one!
 With still time to see more sights and maybe even partake in a refreshing pint of the black stuff there was plenty more to do before it was time to come home.  

Already next year is being planned, this time the turn of the Gaskell society and we’d love to be there. I just need to work out how to explain to my husband that I’ve somehow booked us in at a Gaskell weekend for our wedding anniversary…

Thanks to everyone who made the weekend what it was – all of the DLC including Des (we haven’t read your book yet – we haven’t had time!), Michael (how do you remember all those words?!), Paul (we still like your t-shirt!) and to everyone that I haven’t mentioned I do apologise. 

The message from this year’s AGM – endorsed by Janet from the Gaskell Society as  next year’s host – is that you don’t need to be a representative to attend the ALS AGM, and it’s not only one person that has to go from each society. If you joined a society, you want to learn about others, you want to get involved and you want to be entertained then in my limited experience I would say this is definitely worth a try. For all the other societies out there - get your members involved!

Thanks to Frieda for encouraging us to go and for Janet who’s trying to get everyone to do the same and good luck to the Gaskell Society for next year!

PS Do they drink Guinness in Knutsford?!



For more information, contact l.j.curry@bham.ac.uk.