If you love words, you’ll love Warwick Words! The first Festival of Literature and Spoken Word to be held in Warwick was the Warwick Literary Weekend in 2002 and the title soon became the more memorable Warwick Words.
The Festival was initiated by Warwick Events Group, an organisation which represents a collection of business people and promoters of various events in a town, which for its size, boasts a remarkable level of cultural activity, in a range of stunning historic and modern venues, and is accessible to visitors from all over the country, thanks to motorway connections and its position on the railway line from London Marylebone to Birmingham Snow Hill.
The town has two wonderful new theatres, the Bridge House Theatre at Warwick School and the Dream Factory, home of Playbox Theatre Company. Add to these a collection of historic buildings such as St Mary’s Church with the marvellous Beauchamp Chapel, the Lord Leycester Hospital which has been used by so many film and TV companies as a location suggesting the very essence of Tudor England, the Unitarian Chapel and the Friends Meeting House, plus of course Warwick Castle, and it is clear that Warwick has much to offer in terms of venues for a wide variety of cultural events. It is also a pleasure just to walk around the town and admire its gracious streets. The majority of buildings date from the time of Queen Anne and the Georgian period, as a major fire occurred in 1694, after which the town was rebuilt in brick and stone to replace the previous timber and thatch. However, there are some old timber framed buildings remaining in areas beyond the reach of the fire.
Warwick has literary connections with figures such as Tolkien, who was married in the Catholic church in West Street; Philip Larkin, whose parents moved from Coventry to a house in Coten End during the Second World War, just as Philip left Oxford University and was working in the council offices in town prior to becoming a librarian and embarking on a literary career; and Walter Savage Landor, poet and prose writer, who was born in a house in Smith Street, Warwick in 1775 and whose friends included Dickens, Carlyle, Browning and Emerson.
There are flourishing societies dedicated to studying and promoting the lives and works of all these authors. Highlights of previous Festivals have included several Larkin Walks and jazz sessions with readings from Larkin’s poetry; The Man Who Had a Dog on his Head: the life and work of Walter Savage Landor, presented by the actors Gabriel Woolf and Rosalind Shanks; and Kortirion Among the Trees, a talk about Tolkien’s connections with Warwick and the town’s significance to his work.
Many well-known figures have contributed to the Festivals over the years. These include Beryl Bainbridge, Tony Benn and Roy Bailey (2002); Jenny Pitman and Sir John Mortimer (2003); Christopher Booker and Clare Morrall (2004); Ned Sherrin, Alan Sillitoe and Andrew Davies (2005). In the field of children’s literature and illustration, visitors have included Jacqueline Wilson, Celia Rees, Philippa Pearce, Justin Richards and Tony Ross.
Storytelling sessions and writing workshops for both children and adults have featured strongly in Festival programmes. The dates of Warwick Words include National Poetry Day, and poetry events are always popular. As well as poetry slams, open mic events and poetry pub trails, we have heard from poets such as Philip Wells (the Fire Poet), Pauline Prior-Pitt, Julie Boden, Richard Grant (Dreadlockalien), Polly Clark and Jane Griffiths. The first Warwick Poet Laureate was crowned at the 2004 Festival.
Add this mix of varied and lively Festival events to Warwick’s other attractions, the surrounding countryside with its heritage and the complementary cultural scene including Birmingham, Stratford and Coventry, all less than an hour away, and you have a recipe for a perfect few days in the Heart of England.