Former poet laureate concerned about fate of John Clare's poetry stored at Abington Street library

John Clare
John Clare

Andrew Motion and Alan Moore are among 30 authors, writers, poets and academics to sign a letter appealing to Northamptonshire County Council to save the collection of John Clare poems stored in Northampton Central Library.

Other signatories to the letter sent to the Guardian newspaper include Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Material trilogy and president of the Society of Authors; former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion; and former Children's Laureate Michael Rosen.

The Northampton central library in Abington Street is not threatened with closure in any of the options put forward by the council as the authority looks to make £35m in savings for 2018/19.

Nevertheless, the collective fear it will be "hugely affected by reductions in the number, seniority, qualifications and experience of staff that will be retained in that library".

Nineteenth-century poet Northamptonshire John Clare is known for his works celebrating rural life. A collection of his manuscripts, letters and books is housed in the Abington Street library.

The John Clare Collection is used by international scholars, authors, readers and researchers, and the letter's signatories are worried the cuts will have a detrimental effect on the collections' care and curation.

"We write with grave concern at cuts being planned to the library services across Northamptonshire," reads the letter.

"While we believe any retraction of library provision will have a debilitating impact upon those who rely on them (including future generations), we write with particular concern about a library not mentioned in the various 'options' that Northamptonshire county council sets out: the Northampton central library, on Abington Street, Northampton, home to an important collection of the manuscripts and books of the poet John Clare."

"The council’s plans seem to mask the fact that this library will also be hugely affected by reductions in the number, seniority, qualifications and experience of staff that will be retained in that library.

"Many staff in this library – not mentioned in the plans – are threatened with redundancy or an effective downgrading of their post, no matter what option is chosen.

"This library is home to many a unique resource pertaining to Northamptonshire history and culture, but we are specifically concerned about the John Clare collection – arguably the world’s greatest archive of the poet’s manuscripts, of his books, and of a wide collection of unique ephemera and publications by or about Clare.

"The collection is used by international scholars and artists of all kinds, and has been a hub and stimulus of activity in response to this increasingly significant poet for many decades.

"The collection at Northampton has always been maintained by expert, attentive, scholarly librarians, who do their level best with scant resources to make this publicly owned archive available to readers and researchers of all kinds.

"Our central concern here is that – given the size of the cuts planned, and the loss of staff and expertise delivered by all of the council’s options – there will be a permanently detrimental effect upon the care and curation of the Clare collection.

"We worry that this internationally significant collection will no longer be safe in the council’s hands. We would like the council to give public and quantified assurances that this will not be the case."

A spokesperson for Northamptonshire county council stressed that the central library would be kept in all three of the options currently under consultation, and that there were no current proposals that would affect the archive: "Northampton Central library is retained in all three of the options we’re currently consulting on as part of our library service review, and there no current proposals which will impact on the John Clare collection.

“We acknowledge the importance of the John Clare Collection and our responsibility to it. It is not our intention to make any changes that could harm, be detrimental to or reduce accessibility to the collection."

Full list of the signatories:

Simon Kövesi Editor, John Clare Society Journal, and Professor of English Literature, Oxford Brookes University
Simon Armitage Oxford professor of poetry
Sir Jonathan Bate Biographer of John Clare
Dinah Birch President-elect, British Association for Victorian Studies, and professor of English literature, University of Liverpool
Alison Brackenbury Poet and broadcaster
John Burnside Writer and professor, University of St Andrews
Gerard Carruthers Francis Hutcheson Professor of literature, University of Glasgow
Paul Chirico Co-director, Centre for John Clare Studies, University of Cambridge
John Goodridge Emeritus professor of English, Nottingham Trent University
Nick Groom Writer and professor of English, University of Exeter
Ian Haywood President, British Association for Romantic Studies, and professor of English, University of Roehampton
Sarah Houghton-Walker Co-director, Centre for John Clare Studies, University of Cambridge
Toby Jones
Bridget Keegan Professor of English, Creighton University, Omaha, USA
Andrew Kötting Artist and film-maker
Josie Long Comedian
Richard Mabey Author and patron of the John Clare Society
Hilary Mantel
Emma Mason Professor of English and comparative literature, University of Warwick
James McKusick Professor of English, University of Missouri-Kansas City, USA
George Monbiot
Alan Moore Writer and performer
David Morley Poet
Andrew Motion Poet
Philip Pullman President, Society of Authors
Michael Rosen
Iain Sinclair Author
Fiona Stafford Professor of English, University of Oxford