Joan Pomfret

A Celebration of the life and work of the late writer Joan Pomfret

by Northern Life

Peter Jones, of Lancashire Authors’ Association, celebrates the life and work of the late Joan Pomfret, who was born over 100 years ago.

Joan Pomfret was born on May 13th 1913 in Darwen. She was to say in later life that she was always being told off at school for daydreaming as her young writer’s imagination took over.

When she was 15 years of age the family moved to Preston and Joan joined Preston Poets’ Society and taught at Preston School for the Deaf. It was while in that town she joined Lancashire Authors’ Association at the age of 17.

That was in 1930 and Joan soon started winning poetry cups, becoming one of the first winners of the association’s Batty Cup, which was awarded for poems in standard English.

Apart from her native Lancashire, Joan had a lifelong affinity with the Isle of Man and this is where she met her first love, a Manx lad named David. He was a sailor and they became engaged. It seemed that Joan had met her soul-mate and they were to meet in a Liverpool boarding house to finalise their wedding arrangements.

David was on weekend leave and Joan arranged to meet him on the Sunday. She soon sensed that something was different and was later to learn that the landlady’s daughter had descended the stairs in a yellow dress the previous evening and stolen David’s heart. Subsequently their last meeting was in Fleetwood where she remembers sharing fish and chips at the Euston Hotel.

This is all documented in her poem: The Girl in the Yellow Dress, which tells the whole story eloquently and gives us a view of Joan’s ability to write wonderful poems.

From Preston, Joan moved to Worsley, Manchester, where she met Douglas Townsend, a young architect, and they went back to Preston and married at the Church of St Jude with St Paul in the late summer of 1937.

Joan was heartbroken when she heard of the death of David, whose ship was torpedoed off the Norwegian coast in the first two weeks of the start of the Second World War. Although Douglas and Joan were to spend over 40 years together in a happy marriage, as all first loves, she never forgot David as was evident in a poem she wrote on a subsequent visit to Norway, in 1990, where she revisited the point at which his ship went down. Norway had been one of Joan’s favourite countries and spawned many poems about its beauty.

It was on one of her visits to Norway, that on a coastal steamer she met a lady who was also an author and wrote historical novels under the name of Rosalind Laker. Barbara (Rosalind’s real name) was married to a Norwegian called Inge Øvstedal and the pair settled in Bognor Regis, but also had a summer home in Norway. Barbara and Joan were both hopeless romantics and forged a life-long friendship.

It was the recent death of Barbara that led to two albums, a tape and a novel that Joan had given Barbara over their years of friendship being donated by Barbara’s daughter, Sue Keane, to Lancashire Authors’ Association where these facts about Joan came to light.

At Lancashire Authors’ Association Joan became better known as a dialect poet and it is probably as such she is best remembered, editing and authoring several books in the 1960s and early 1970s including her own work Poems (1963), Summat From Home (1964) and Nowt So Queer (1969) and as editor: Lancashire Evergreens: 100 Favourite Poems (1969) and Twixt Thee and Me: an anthology of Yorkshire and Lancashire Verse and Prose (1973).

It is indeed as someone who helped to bring back the popularity of Lancashire dialect at a time that it was waning that Joan will go down in Lancashire history and that is a wonderful legacy but by no means the whole story.

Joan was an excellent writer in not only standard and dialect poetry but as a story writer also and in 1974 published a novel called Mermaid’s Moon. It was a historical romance of a bygone era set at Sunderland Point near Lancaster in 1763.

Eventually Douglas was offered a partnership in an Accrington firm – Grimshaw and Townsend – and the pair moved into a flat in Whalley Road until they could find somewhere more permanent. Douglas was also a writer and wrote fishing books.

In 1950 they found a derelict farm in Great Harwood and decided to renovate it, along with another family, into two large cottages. The result was a stunning home with a wonderful view and a fitting place for a writer to live. Stoops Farm is its name and it is situated off Whalley Road next to Great Harwood Golf Club.

Joan soon became active in the Great Harwood Community and was proud to become involved with Great Harwood Male Voice Choir, and eventually their first lady president. She even wrote a song for the choir called The Bells of St Mary’s.

Joan remained a staunch member of Lancashire Authors’ Association and became Vice President, a role which gave her immense pride. In 1981, Douglas sadly died, but Joan refused to give up her Great Harwood home, although as she freely admitted it was far too big for one person.

For a few more years, Joan, who always wrote under her maiden name, kept busy editing and publishing the work of others as well as writing prolifically. Later she was to struggle with mobility but on good days still addressed meetings of women’s organisations.

Eventually when she became too ill to go out any more, she was granted her final wish and died in her idyllic cottage on September 29th 1993 at the age of 80.

At the time of her death, not only were obituaries written in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph and Accrington Observer, but also a wonderful and glowing one in the Isle of Man Examiner. In her time there she wrote a booklet of poems about the island, including a very poignant one about the railway line to Peel that was closed, to her dismay. The Old Peel Line has some wonderful images and finishes with these lines:

“And how I wish Time could turn back Along that narrow weed-grown track – That once more I could catch a train To Peel, and my youth again”.

As this year is her centenary, Lancashire Authors’ Association held a tribute to her at their meeting on October 26th. I am sure this would have pleased Joan who was a member for more than 60 years. We are always looking for new members who share our interest in Lancashire literature and history, be they writers or not and welcome anyone to come.

All in all Joan Townsend was a remarkable woman who left a legacy that Lancashire can be proud of.