Rattenbury Arnold

Arnold Rattenbury

Arnold Rattenbury was born on born October 5 1921, in China, where his father was a Methodist missionary whose many children were sent to England for their education. In Arnold’s case, this was Kingswood, the Methodist public school, in Bath, where amongst his classmates were G M Matthews, the Shelley scholar, and the radical historian and campaigner E P Thompson (see separate entry). As sixth-formers, all three, who were to remain lifelong friends, were noted for trying to sell the Daily Worker to fellow pupils.

His arrival at St John’s College, Cambridge, coincided with the outbreak of the Second World War. Following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union he volunteered for the army, from which he was invalided out after "becoming involved in a little-known encounter between a tank and a bicycle in Trowbridge high street".

Work for the Communist arts monthly, `Our Time’, where some of his early poems appeared, brought him into contact with such figures as Randall Swingler, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Jack Lindsay (see separate entries for all three), Montague Slater, the artist James Boswell, and, most significantly, the novelist Patrick Hamilton, to whose rooms in The Albany, Piccadilly, he was regularly dispatched for funds when money at `Our Time’ ran out.

For a period after this he and his actor wife, Sim, tried to run a Communist bookshop and keep pigs in Bristol. Back in London, he began to develop his skills as an exhibition designer. But his poetry continued and, in 1971, Chatto & Windus published his first collection of poetry, `Second Causes’. Nottingham University English Department’s Byron Press published `Man Thinking’ in 1972. His work as an exhibition designer for the Nottingham Festival saw exhibitions on Bicycles (especially relevant due to the city’s Raleigh factory), Wedgwood and Clowning.

In later years, he and Sim lived in a medieval stone home in north Wales. A 1996 illustrated collection, `Morris Papers’, reflected his passion for the arts and crafts tradition. In a similar vein, the 1994 `The Frigger Makers’ were poems about unusual farming and maritime artefacts that had found their way into his exhibitions in north Wales. There were also exhibitions on Wilfred Owen and marine paintings. His `Mozart Pieces’ were a series of sonnets that he began in the early 1970s, which he added to for the rest of his life. His last collection was `Mr Dick’s Kite’ (2005).

Although a political poet, Rattenbury did not make propaganda with his work. An obituarist wrote of him: ‘Arnold directed his deepest contempt at one-time Communist party members who, having reneged on their beliefs, chose to turn their backs on former friends.’ Rattenbury died on April 26 2007, at the age of 85.

Source: Guardian 30th July 2007

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