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James Reynolds Withers

James Reynolds Withers was born in the village of Weston Colville in Cambridgeshire in 1812. In his 20s he moved to Fordham, a few miles to the north, and lived there until he died in 1892. Despite growing up in poverty and spending time in the workhouse, he published his first volume of poetry in 1854, after which he achieved great success as a poet.

Personal life: Withers was the youngest child of Robert Withers and Mary Reynolds (Hannah, the youngest of his three sisters was nine years older than him). He married Sarah Barton in 1838 and had four children, two daughters, one of whom died as an infant, and two sons.

Poetry: The publication of his first volume, Poems Upon Various Subjects was made possible through the patronage and help of Mrs Robert Dillamore Fyson whose husband managed Trinity Hall Farm in Fordham where he worked as a labourer. Several publications followed including A Granny's Tale and Rustic Songs and Wayside Musings (link below). 



In 1860, he received a grant of £50 from Queen Victoria and undertook a grand tour which included visits to Windsor Castle, Eton College and Bath, also visiting Paris and the Lake District. His patrons included Charles Dickens. Many of James Withers' manuscripts and letters were kept by his family and, following the work of historian Mike Petty and the generosity of Withers' great grandson, Ren Bowen, these now form an archive held by the University of Cambridge (link below).

The Poetry

Readings of James Reynolds Withers' poetry by the project team and the residents of Weston Colville and Fordham can be viewed by clicking here


This project has benefitted greatly from the encouragement, support and kindness of many people. In particular, I would like to thank Mike Petty, whose research on James Reynolds Withers made this project possible, and Jill Worth from Fordham and Jacqueline Douglas from Weston Colville who helped greatly with our filming there. John Wells from Cambridge University Library helped me view the Withers archive and provided his insights into the poets life.  I also wish to thank the Arts Council of England for funding this project.

The Films

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The five films below are based on James Reynolds Withers' poetry, letters and memoirs. Their creation was funded by the Arts Council England's Developing Your Creative Practice programme that seeks to help creatives develop their skills in new areas and experiment with their work. 

Each of these five films is based on a poem by Withers', as well as his memoir. The shortest lasts five minute and the longest twenty. They, broadly, progress through his life and reveal his story, so please watch them in sequence. James Reynolds Withers is played by Brian Higgins.

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The Memoir

Prompted by his patrons and friends, James Reynolds Withers wrote this short memoir, read by Brian Higgins.

Memoir Part 1
Memoir Part 2
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