Ernest Betts has curiously reversed the prize money for this one – a guina or half a guinea for A, and two guineas or half a guinea for B. The A competition asks for a poem marking the destruction of Bloomsbury by an earthquake. In all the entries, not a single note of grief is sounded, which is interesting, given that Bloomsbury (although a place as well as a clique) provides some of the competition judges. Nobody, notes Betts, mourns the passing of the Slade, and far too many rhyme British Museum with Te Deum (not that this stops the winner from winning!).
The winners are Olric and N.B. (who would have won the B competition as well, were it not for the one-competition-win-only rule). Here are their entries (they had 20 lines to play with but have resisted, wisely, the temptation):
N.B.’s poem needs a few notes. ‘The Foundling site’ refers to an orphanage that had been situatd in Bloomsbury between 1739 and 1926, but had moved to the suburbs. There is still a museum about it (dating from 1937), with details here, The Carreras reference is to a cigarette factory built in the 1920s on the gardens of Mornington Crescent. A Royal Commission was set up in 1927 to consider the protection of buildings as a result, and led to the London Squares Preservation Act of 1931. There’s a good site here. Mr. Drage foxes me. A Commander Drage (whose daughter later became a ballerina, Mary Drage, and also the Duchess of Fife) worked for MI5 in Bloomsbury from 1933 onwards, but lived there earlier. I’m a bit dubious about this one. The Passing Of The Third Floor Back is a play (first staged in 1910) written by Jerome K. Jerome, once much performed, and quite an earner for Jerome in his lifetime.
The B competition asks the competitors to imagine that the Budget was presented not by Phlip Snowden, but by W.H.Davies, Noel Coward and Augustus John, with six taxes apiece. Snowden had, just a week or two before this cmpetition was set, under the auspices of the new National Government, presented an ’emergency budget’ which cut emplyment benefit, civil servants’ pay, and was, as one might guess, extremely unpopular (although, having said that, the government won a huge majority in the October 1931 election, if the figures can be said to mean anything – what happened was that the Labour Party lost over 200 seats). Snowden – who had by that time been booted out of the Labour Party, along with Macdonald – had described Labour’s policies as ‘Bolshevism run mad’. He was given a peerage in 1931, but was always considered a traitor, as was Macdonald (with whom Snowden later fell out).
W.H. (William Henry) Davies (1872-1940) was a popular Georgian poet (although with a plainer, even more accessible style). Notoriously, he had spent some of his earlier years in the USA as a tramp, and wrote a successful account of it (The Autobiography of a Supertramp), which includes a description of how he came to have his leg amputated after jumping from a freight train. His best known poem begins ‘What is this life, if, full of care/ We have no time to stand and stare’. He had appeared in the anthologis edited by Marsh. Noel Coiward (1899 – 1973) had been writing and acting with great success since just before The First World War, and at this point in 1931, his earnings a staggering £50,000 a year, his new show Cavalcade was about to open. Augustus John (1878-1961) was also at the height of his career as a portrait painter (his sitters had included Elizabeth Bibesco, the WR judge, as well as Shaw, Yeats and many others).
After which, the winning entries by M.M.R.Higgins, whom Betts considers to be a man, but who is perhaps more likely to have been female, and by the entrant with familiar handwriting who forgets to sign the entry, ergo Anon, may seem a bit of a let-down …
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