Intrigued tourists mobbed Frankenstein this weekend at the opening of the Airshow, but the children thought they were seeing the Hulk or Shrek. It’s a poignant sign of the times that Bournemouth has forgotten its rich literary heritage. At a time when govt is calling to promote tourism and the arts industry in the uk.
A group of prominent local performing and visual artists, local historians and business owners joined together to celebrate Mary Shelley’s 215th birthday with a costumed march of poetry and prose. Their tour started in the centre of Boscombe, a formerly splendid Victorian Spa Town where wealthy Victorians used to come to take the waters and breathe the fresh air, but is now the most deprived place in the South West of England. The group were also highlighting the fate of the BCCA, the former Boscombe School donated to the poor and deprived children of Bournemouth by Percy Florence Shelley for the purposes of education. This Shelley legacy is earmarked for demolition by The Bournemouth 2026 Trust as part of their housing strategy.
Annie Christopher who helped organise the event said, “I had previously been involved with Saving the Shelley Theatre. The Manor had been acquired by Percy Florence Shelley for his mother Mary Shelley, who was a woman before her time. We chose her Birthday as a focal point to celebrate her part in the rich legacy of the Writers Circle left to Bournemouth, which seems to have been neglected in recent times.”
The Shelley celebration March started outside the Grand Theatre (now the O2 Academy) and took them through the Royal Arcade, built in 1892, the first place in Bournemouth to feature electric lighting. They then paused outside the BCCA building for a poignant poem from award winning local poet, and founder of the event, Steve Biddle called “Mary Shelley’s New Dr Frankenstein Construction Ltd”
Steve Biddle said, “The reason that I decided to organise this march was to defend the poet Percy Bysse Shelley from the threat of loss of heritage through development, particularly the Boscombe School (BCCA). I wanted to stand up as a modern poet for a legendary poet, and to encourage interest in the writers’ circle with the hope of preserving and promoting the writer’s history and making this an annual event. “
The march then walked down Chessel Avenue, formerly the driveway to the Old Shelley Manor, that Percy Florence Shelley built for his mother, Mary Shelley, to recuperate her health. Unfortunately , although she had visited the site, she died before it was completed in 1851. The group gathered beneath the mulberry tree, part of the Shelley estate, and the children painted their faces with the blood red juice from the fruit adding to the gothic feel. The group resumed their walk through beautiful Boscombe Cliff Gardens, commissioned by Lady Shelley and donated to Bournemouth town in 1900.
Much to the surprise of travellers and the driver, the group then boarded a bus to the town centre. Matt Black, well known pianist who played at Elton John’s wedding and the face behind the monster, commented, “This was the highlight of the trip for me, I still chuckle now thinking of the expressions on the faces of the people, they loved it.”
After taking in the “Very Victorian Fantasy”, Hampton court silver gilt winning show bed designed by Chris Evans celebrating Bournemouth’s writer’s circle, the group then crammed into Hope FM’s tiny studio for Brian Harries afternoon show, breaking a studio record. Suzy Wheeler, local promoter, said, “I never thought they’d fit in, it was hilarious.”
The group’s penultimate stop was the Town Hall, where Steve Biddle read the poem which he wrote for the major’s gala ball, “Welcome to Bournemouth The Unfinished Irony “, to the sounds of “Power to the People” by John Lennon . He received a round of applause from a few council workers leaving work for the day. Making their way through town they stopped for a photo opportunity outside our very own Echo buildings, before finishing their tour at St Peter’s Church. Gathering solemnly beside Mary Shelley’s grave, local poet Carrie Wilde performed a freestyle poem described by Matt Black as “an improvised rhythmic dream in its own class.”
A rose was found next to the grave the next day along with an anonymous note which read,“ I placed my red rose on Mary Shelley’s grave as the church bells chimed the 9th hour on the date of her birth. Although I was the only one there I was not alone”, which carries on a local legend that a rose is left here every year on the 30th August.
The organisers plan to make this an annual event and anyone interested in joining or wish to find out more about the day, should look at the facebook page “Mary Shelley Celebration March”.
Mary Shelley Celebration March