A brief history
- an article on the early history of the group by Marjorie Stiling, one of its founder members
The Exeter & District Writers' Circle (later renamed Exeter & District Writers' Club) was founded in June 1950 by Mr Eric George of Sydney Road, Exeter. His letter, asking for anyone interested in forming a Writers' Circle to contact him, had appeared in the previous month's issue of The Writer. The seven replies he received were from: Mrs Ham (Exeter), Helen Howden-Simpson (Cullompton), Marjorie Stiling (Sidmouth), Aileen Wing (Budleigh Salterton), Mr Reg Arkle (Torquay), Mr K Fell (Ottery St Mary), and Mr Roberts (Sidmouth).
The eight founder members met in June 1950 at Hill, Palmer and Edward's teashop in High Street, Exeter (corner of Martins Lane).
Further informal meetings took place. A round robin was agreed for the exchange of ideas. Later, to attract new members, each founder member wrote to his or her local paper. These letters brought considerable response. In September 1950 a larger venue for meetings was needed and found in the Victoria Hotel, Queen Street, Exeter.
At first, meetings were held once a month on Sunday evenings, with Mr Fell as Chairman, Mrs Ham, Hon. Treasurer, and Mr George Hon. Secretary. Annual membership was 10/6 [£0.52.5].
Later, it was thought that Sunday afternoons might be more convenient for meetings. But in 1953, when attendances had been flagging, further changes were made. It was agreed that meetings should be on Saturday afternoons, every third week instead of four, and no meetings should be held during the summer months when attendances consistently fell very low due to holidays and members wanting to be outside in the better weather.
This arrangement worked well. There was also a change of venue. From 1954 to 1964 the Club met at the YMCA St David's Hill. Then, because that building was scheduled for extensive alterations, the Club was transferred to the Toc H premises, immediately opposite at 42 St David's Hill. It met there for nearly 16 years. When that property in the late 1970s was put on the market, the Club acquired a room at the Exeter Community Centre.
Mr George, at the time of founding the Club, was writing a weekly column 'Radio Resume' in the Express & Echo under his pen name of Noel Watcombe. His freelance writings are widely published and broadcast, and for several years around 1971 he was the editor of Devon Life.
Mr George introduced the idea of a cuttings book of members' work. His original intention was that the book be lent to speakers before they came to us - so that they would know our standard and at what level to talk. It is not recorded how often, if ever, that original idea has ever been implemented.
In those early years, speakers included such names as R.F. Delderfield (Worm's Eye View, God is an Englishman, The Dreaming Suburb, Life of Napoleon, etc.); his brother Eric Delderfield (travel books, and Kings & Queens of England, etc.); Thelma Nicklaus, author of novel (later filmed) Tamahine, and Harlequin (a history of Punch); Lester Powell the playwright; and Flotsam of Flotsam and Jetsam fame.
Many others, perhaps less famous, have given the Club invaluable help and benefit of their writing experience.
Throughout the past thirty-seven years, the objects of the Club have remained constant: to stimulate interest in writing by means of manuscript reading, constructive criticism, competition, market study, and discussion
There have also been occasions for members to meet socially. In 1952 a dinner was held at the Silver Grill, Exeter. In 1975 a member, Sheila Lasok, generously let the Club celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary at her home. And in 1980, another member, Mrs Gray, very kindly offered the use of her home to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary.
Until the late 1960s every member received a newsletter each month from the Hon. Secretary but, owing to the ever-increasing cost of postage, this had to be discontinued.
Writers' Circles come, and Writers' Circles go. And it was certainly not foreseen by any of those first eight members as they chatted over cups of tea about their writings, and spawned the Exeter & District Writers' Club in 1950, that their child would still be kicking as keenly in 1987 as it was then.
Marjorie Stiling 1987