Updated: Aug 4, 2022
This is the second text exploring the lives of famous writers who had strong links with Bonchurch. The first celebrated the life of Charles Dickens and this one focuses on Victorian poet Algernon Swinburne (1837- 1909)
This text is in 2 parts
PART 1. The early life of Algernon when he lived at East Dene
PART 2. His later life and controversial burial at Bonchurch New Church Graveyard.
Both texts explore plays by Bonchurch Theatre Company that were written by local writer John Goodwin.
This text is in the form of a play script interspersed with prose information.
The actors are ready. The crowd who have a small but important part in the play are
concentrating. By their feet is a huge circle of blue cloth. The actor playing Father
steps forward and says
CHARLES ‘My son Algernon is sickly and may not live long. We had better baptise
him without delay. There’s only one way to test him, truly test him to see
if he will grow up to be a man.
The crowd lift up the edges of the cloth and shake them about as if they are violent
waves of the sea. Charles places baby Algernon in the centre of the blue cloth and
steps away. Baby Algernon is buffeted about in the waves made by the actors but
survives the ordeal.
CHARLES Praise be to God. He has truly spoken. His mighty word is a lesson to us
all. I will ensure that a new church shall rise in Bonchurch that all men
Time passes. Algernon’s Mother Jane is giving him one of her sessions of home schooling . Algernon is twelve years old.
JANE Algernon...Algernon. Today’s lesson is a play reading by Mr Shakespeare
ALGY What is it called Mother ?
JANE Romeo and Juliet.
ALGY ‘Romeo and Juliet ?’
JANE They are two young people deeply in love. But their families
are sworn enemies so it is an impossible love.
ALGY Why is it impossible ?
JANE Because they’ll never be able to marry . In this scene Romeo has come to
Juliet’s house late at night. This is what he says ‘What light through
yonder window breaks ? It is the east and Juliet is the sun.
ALGY That’s beautiful.
JANE Yes. Romeo is saying that Juliet is the brightest shining thing in the
skies. Even brighter than the sun.
ALGY How can she be so bright ?
JANE Because he loves her so much and in his imagination she is so special.
ALGY I love Mary Gordon more than anything.
JANE Don’t let your Father hear you say that Algernon.
ALGY Why can’t I speak out loud what is true ?
Algernon’s father Charles is an admiral. He is a master of all things maritime but a poor novice when it comes ito problematic Algernon.
CHARLES Thankyou for coming doctor. Algernon is very excitable. It is very
worrying for him and for our family. He draws down his hands and
shakes his arms and is so agitated.
DOCTOR Can you show me what you mean ?
CHARLES Like this
DOCTOR I see. How often does this occur ?
CHARLES Most days and its increasing in severity.
DOCTOR How old did you say he is ?
CHARLES He’ll be twelve in a few weeks time.
Algernon is brought into the room
DOCTOR Hello Algernon
The doctor holds out his hand. Algernon shies away.
Don’t be worried boy. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just going to check
your pulse. Can you hold out your arm for me ?
Algernon freezes. The doctor moves towards him. Algernon cries out in anguish..
If Algernon was alive today doctors would place him on the autistic spectrum
Algy and Mary Gordon his cousin ride out on hobby horses as if on real horseback
ALGY Riding out
MARY Riding out on our own
ALGY No adults to get in the way.
MARY Free as the wind.
ALGY Free as air.
MARY Faster than fairies
ALGY Faster than wizards.
MARY Up on the downs
ALGY Up on the downs.
MARY What will we do when we’re older ?
ALGY Promise me we’ll still ride out together
MARY I promise.
ALGY Cross your heart and hope to die.
MARY I cross my heart
Algernon’s struggle with his Father’s dominance continues particularly when he is swept away by the heroic Charge of The Light Brigade in the Crimea War.
ALGY I tell you Father I mean to join the army.
CHARLES That is quite out of the question. I will hear no more.
ALGY I’ll show you how tough I am. I’m going to climb Culver Cliff.
And you won’t stop me
Sea sounds. Charles speaks Algernon’s self doubts. The crowd block his way with
their bodies to reinforce the doubts.
CHARLES It’s so steep.
ALGY One small step to begin
CHARLES The rock will crumble beneath your weight
ALGY I know I can do it
CHARLES Your body will fall and crash into the sea.
ALGY Reach up to grip the foothold
CHARLES Your head swirls
ALGY I’m off the ground
CHARLES Give up while you can.
ALGY Just keep going
CHARLES You’re stuck. Scared stiff
ALGY I’ve made it to the top. I will be renowned. I will break free
of my Father’s shackles and be my own person.
Charles has booked a place for his son at Oxford University without his knowledge
CHARLES Algernon you’d better prepare yourself for admission into
ALGY No !
Rather than encouraging his fledging poems the University consider them a distraction to serious study.
TEACHER Commoner Swinburne is not able to take any particular line
of thought in his studies. He will achieve little unless he can
be hindered from writing poetry.
Mary Charlotte Julia Gordon
Algernon seeks refuge in the arms of his dearest.
MARY Algernon began to write furiously without rest. He poured
all his heart and mind into it.
ALGY Oh Mary I’ve had such a good time in London with Rossetti
and William Morris
MARY I went to Scotland
ALGY One of my poems is to be published
MARY I met someone there.
ALGY Who did you meet?
MARY Colonel Disney Leith. We are to be married in the spring
ALGY NO! IT CAN NEVER BE.
‘Before our lives divide forever
While time is with us and hands are free
Hand from hand, as we stand by the sea
I will say no word that a man might say
Whose life’s love goes down in a day’
PART 2 His later life and controversial burial at Bonchurch New Church Graveyard
MARY We both left the Island. Algy went to London and lived life
to the full with his Bohemian friends. His poetry and life
style earned him much fame or should I say infamy.
ALGY I will write what I wish and what I need to express. I will
not be censored. It is a question of artistic freedom that will
not be confined like an animal in a cage not daring to speak
MARY I lived a quiet life with my husband in Scotland. Years
passed until one day I took the long journey south to see
a dear old friend. I found the street and the house and was
Mary Disney Leith nee Gordon. Swinburne in later years.
ALGY Do I know you ?
MARY Hello Algy
ALGY Mary !
MARY Yes its me.
ALGY Dear Mary
MARY I wanted to come and see you after all these years
ALGY And here you are.
MARY I heard you’ve not been well.
ALGY I am quite recovered.
MARY So you’re happy at last
ALGY I’m not sure any of us can always be happy.
MARY You have become famous. I live such a quiet life. Tedious really
ALGY I am sorry to hear that Mary.
MARY It is the truth.
ALGY Do you still remember our riding out together on the downs ?
MARY I’ll never forget them
ALGY That was when I was most happy.
MARY Me too.
ALGY Do you remember the vow we made ?
MARY I cross my heart…
ALGY ...and hope to die..
MARY That I Mary Gordon…
ALGY That I Algernon Swinburne…
MARY ...will always ride out together…
ALGY ...what ever happens…
MARY We were so young
It is silent in the room.
ALGY Mary...I always…
MARY I know
ALGY I mean…
MARY Somethings are best left unsaid….Shall we walk out into town ?
ALGY Now ?
MARY Just a little stroll...dear old friends together...what could be more natural ?
Mary leaves. Algy speaks directly to the audience.
ALGY My mind or late takes me back to the Isle of Wight. I’m
standing in a Bonchurch garden watching the
waves lap on the shore
In a coign of the cliff between lowland and highland
At the sea-down’s edge between windward and lee
Walled round with rocks as in inland island
The ghost of a garden fronts the sea
The steep square slope of the blossomless bed
Where the weeds that grew green from the graves of its roses
Now lie dead.
MARY Algernon died peacefully on 9th April 1909.
Lie still dear love and rest in a better place. The trials and
torments of life cannot touch you now. I know it was your
desire to be buried in Bonchurch but in no circumstances
did you want a Christian burial. I am determined to honour
your wish. In your own words
‘My friends will gather round the grave in silence and
scatter the flowers over the coffin.’
REV ANDREWS Almighty God in heaven give me your guidance. I have
pondered long and hard without an answer. The eyes of the
whole nation are on me to see which side I take. Either I s
side with Algernon or his family and their wishes for a
Christian burial. Christian or Heathen ?
MARY Non Christian
ANDREWS The beliefs of God.
MARY Algernon’s dying wish.
ANDREWS Prayers and Psalms
MARY Flowers and silence.
The audience are taken up to the churchyard and gather round the site of the grave.
VILLAGER 1 So many people.
VILLAGE 2 Never seen it so busy.
VILLAGER 1 Usually deserted
VILLAGER 2 Nosy holiday makers
VILLAGERS 1 His London friends
VILLAGERS 2 Locals.
VILLAGERS 1 National Press.
REPORTER Exhausted tourists sit on tombstones. Yellow spring primroses are
trampled underfoot. Professional photographers train their cameras
on the grave. Everyone waits in anticipation. The arrival of the
cortege is delayed. Some gather by the station expecting the
London train to arrive carrying the coffin.
The cortege arrives at the graveyard led by Rev Andrews.
REV ANDREWS We brought nothing into this world and it is certain that we carry
nothing out. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed
be the name of the Lord.
VILLAGER 1 Thought there wasn’t going to be no burial service
VILLAGER 2 Sounds like there’s one going to happen anyway
REPORTER Amazement and anger was on the face of his London friends
FRIEND This is a disgrace. What about the dead man’s wishes ? Why don’t
you respect those? Just give us silence and flowers.
That’s all we ask for.
JOHN GOODWIN’S BOOKS
SOLO Monologues for Drama Hodder and Stoughton
Co Written with Bill Taylor 1985 2nd Edition 1996
SOLO 2 Further Monologues for Drama Hodder and Stoughton
Co Written with Bill Taylor 1990 2nd Edition 1996
SOLO 3 Monologues for Drama and English Hodder and Stoughton
Co Written with Bill Taylor 1996
TELLING TALES Starting Points for Social Education Edward Arnold
Co Written with Bill Taylor 1988
MEMORIES OF NORWELL Newark District Council 1985
SENT AWAY Nelson English Readers Library 1991
CHILDHOOD FRIENDS Nelson English Readers Library 1993
ROBIN HOOD Nelson English Readers Library 1995
Various youth fiction for Hodder Live Wire for struggling readers
SPEEDWAY RIDER 2
BACK OF THE NET
THE BIG MATCH
PLACE YOUR BETS
2 Short Stories for GARY LINEKER’S FOOTBALL STORIES Macmillan 1997
PETER PAN (retold) WH SMITH 2001
NICE ONE SAM Oxford University Press 20O2
Reprinted as FOOTBALL MAD 2014 OUP
Isle of Wight walking and cycling books for Offcliffe Publications Co written with Ian Williams and Linda Goodwin
CYCLE WIGHT 1996
TIME FOR TEA 2000
CYCLE WIGHT 2 2001
COASTAL WALKS 2005
BONCHURCH FROM A TO Z , 1992 Bonchurch Trading Company
Hardback Illustrated Children’s Fiction for Lion Hudson all with overseas editions
AN ARKFUL OF ANIMAL STORIES 2006
THE LION BOOK OF FIVE MINUTE CHRISTMAS STORIES 2007
THE LION BOOK OF FIVE MINUTE ANIMAL STORIES 2008
THE LION BOOK OF FIVE MINUTE BEDTIME STORIES 2009