Uncover the Northwich gems in Robert Westall's work at Weaver Hall Museum's new major exhibition

Tom Hughes, from Weaver Hall Museum, with all of Robert Westall's books.

Tom Hughes, from Weaver Hall Museum, with all of Robert Westall's books.

First published in News
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Northwich Guardian: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Reporter

A WRITER whose rich body of work spans generations and genres is being celebrated with an exhibition in the landmark building that he saved.

Visitors can explore the life and work of award-winning author Robert Westall with a major exhibition that opens at Weaver Hall Museum and Workhouse, in London Road, on Saturday.

Although Westall, best known for his 1975 children’s book The Machine Gunners, grew up in the north east, he lived and worked in Northwich for more than 25 years, and the town is immortalised in many of his stories.

He lived at 20 Winnington Lane when he began his writing career, while he was also a teacher, head of art and later head of careers at Sir John Deane’s College.

Tom Hughes, community and education officer at the museum, started his research for the exhibition a year ago, which included tracking down all 48 of Westall’s books and reading them – at least twice.

“It’s been really good fun,” he said.

“There are probably only 12 or so books still in print so I had to get hold of the other ones then read them all – and I enjoyed them all.

“When you do start reading them all you realise how many local links there are, quite a few of his short stories are set around Northwich and are Cheshire based.

“When you find the Northwich ones it’s a real treat.

“He used real life as a good source and he had an eye for the stories within the everyday.”

Westall was the first writer to win the Carnegie Medal twice, once for The Machine Gunners and then, six years later, for The Scarecrows.

He wrote for children, young adults and adults, with science fiction and ghost stories among the genres he used.

He was a founder member of the Northwich branch of the Samaritans and campaigned to save the former workhouse, now the museum, from demolition.

“I think he’s one of the most important writers for children and young adults for the 20th century and he’s got so many links to Northwich,” Tom said.

“I think it’s something that should be recognised.”

Stories featuring Northwich:

  • One of the books, ‘Ghost Abbey’ is based at Vale Royal Abbey and the characters visit the Regal Cinema and have fish and chips from Seafarer.
  • Short story ‘The Big Rock Candy Mountain’ is set in 1920s subsiding Northwich and features a family staying at a hotel called The Angel, which was in the Bull Ring, and exploring a subterranean version of the town.
  • Joe Allman’s shop, which was at the bottom of Winnington Street, inspires the book ‘Antique Dust’, a collection of seven chilling stories for adults.
  • The short story ‘The Christmas Ghost’ is inspired by the industrial works of ICI and Brunner Mond. It is set in the Empire Chemicals Company factory where a ghost, based on a mix between John Brunner and Ludwig Mond appears to warn factory employees of calamity.

The exhibition:

The ‘Robert Westall: a Writer and his World’ exhibition includes a number of artefacts, including Westall’s favourite clock, his childhood teddy bear that inspired Chas McGill’s teddy in The Machine Gunners, manuscripts and interviews.

There is also a piece of writing based on a ‘sponsored write’ he organised at Sir John Deane’s College in the 1980s when he asked students to imagine what the college would be like in the far future of 2010.

Original artwork and manuscripts are loaned from Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books.

The exhibition will run until September 14.

  • For more information ring 01606 271640.

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