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Brentwood Writers' Circle - the early days

By Sylvia Kent

 

Founder: Miss Elizabeth Baxter

 In 1941, when Miss Elizabeth Baxter created the Brentwood Writers' Circle, she could never have envisaged that her latest bright idea of starting a writers' group could possibly have endured the war years. Miraculously it did - and we have recently (2011) celebrated our first seventy years.

Wartime London

 Elizabeth was known to be a lady bursting with ideas, a real innovator and very well known, too. Her family had lived in the town for many years and she was already the proprietor of the Brentwood Secretarial Academy in New Road.

Brentwood Writers' Circle early days

Although there was a war raging at the time, she had no shortage of students eager to learn the intricacies of Pitman's shorthand and book- keeping. Typewriting was also taught and she encouraged her pupils to practise their typewriting exercises on her enormous black sit-up-and-beg Underwood machines.

 But that day in May 1941 was rather a disappointing time for Elizabeth. Her monthly visit to her beloved London Writers' Circle had been cancelled, due to heavy bombing that had taken place that week. The building where she met her fellow writers had been badly damaged. Determined not to sit moping, she decided to start her own writers' group in the front parlour of her Park Road home. Possessed of a single mindedness, Elizabeth was known to be a very determined lady; she completed an advertisement form and paid the sixpence to the local newspaper. She sat back and waited. Within a short time, six people replied. It was a beginning - and the Brentwood Writers' Circle was born!

Personal Life

 Few knew of Elizabeth's private life and the fact that her fiancé had died in the Great War, but many knew of her writing skill and her success in seeing her articles, short stories, poetry and later novels published under her pseudonym, Elizabeth Holland.

 Our good friend the late Frank Dineen who was at one time the only boy pupil in her Secretarial Academy, remarked: "Elizabeth was so energetic and creative. Not only did she run the typing school, but she also helped distribute ration books from the old Library Headquarters in Coptfold Road. When she discovered that I enjoyed writing, she encouraged me to edit our little newsletter called the Brentwood Secretarial Agency News. She often contributed a witty article and I was quite proud of seeing my name in print. We charged one penny a copy, but it was a start. Although I didn't join the Circle until much later, I knew that many local soldiers on leave and those from Warley Barracks would come along and read out their work."

Post War

 After the war the Writers' Circle flourished. Lunches were held at the Lion and Lamb, The White Hart and Norrishes in the High Street. Members wore their best hats for the occasion, and the events were reported in the Brentwood Gazette. As Elizabeth was a member of the prestigious Society of Women Journalists, many distinguished writers were invited to lecture. They seemed to enjoy the lunches and BWC members met Margery Allingham, Evelyn Anthony, Ruby Ayres Ursula Bloom, Jean Bowden, and many other luminaries of the time. In later years they entertained Douglas Adams, Michael Holroyd, Lena Kennedy, Martina Cole, and of course the famous Ronald Blythe.

 It was the latter who became our President during the 1970s. In later years, we have enjoyed meeting writers of the calibre of Colin Dexter, Simon Brett, Jurgen Wolff, among other well-known authors.

Bed-bound, But Still Writing

 Sadly, in 1963, Elizabeth developed a debilitating illness. She became a patient in Highwood Hospital on a long time basis. Undaunted, she continued writing her romantic novels and, from her bed, achieved publishing acclaim. One visitor to Highwood during the summer of 1972 was a young journalist, Gyles Brandreth, who wrote an article about Elizabeth for the Woman magazine entitled: 'The Most Romantic Person I know'. He later became an author, Member of Parliament and latterly a Television personality. When last contacted, he remembered Elizabeth very well, saying, 'Miss Baxter was a delightful character with a truly romantic spirit - in many ways, she was my kind of heroine'.

 Elizabeth died in 1974, but she is not forgotten. The story of her life, combined with the origins of Brentwood Writer§' Circle were entered for the prestigious Community Writing Competition, sponsored by the Writers' News and Yorkshire Post. We won! Presentation of the trophy was made at the ceremony held in Harrogate in May 2000.

Brentwood Writers' Circle - Present Day

 In May 2011, on the 70th anniversary of the Circle, our sixty members, VIPs and guests raised their glasses to the continuing success of this remarkable society which, although created in the dark days of war, today continues Elizabeth's legacy of helping writers to realise their dream of seeing their work in print. Elizabeth's friends still remember her and one reckoned she would have delighted in today's preoccupation with networking and collaboration via email and weblog.

Imagine how proud she would have been to learn of the longevity and success of her original bright idea!

History of Brentwood Writers’ Circle

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