Saturday, June 25, 2016


 My dear friend David Powell died recently, in his 80s, and, seven days ago, his family and friends convened to raise a glass to a much-loved passionate old-school socialist, skilled journalist and author - amongst his works being a fine biography of  Thomas Paine. 

As I recall, David and Rachel moved to Lewes, one of the only places in the UK where there is a house Paine lived in, so that David could write the book.

 I'd just arrived in town in summer 1985, coincident with the book's launch. I discovered Paine through David's work and then I discovered David. We hooked up and, he confided in his desire to restart Tom Paine's Headstrong Club in the town He told me he had been trying for years to get it started. Together, with help from other, we sorted out all the basics in a few weeks and had a very atmospheric launch in January 1987 on the 250th anniversary of Paine's birth. As you can see, we made the front page of the Sussex Express & County Herald. Photo from left: Rachel & David Powell, Prof Bernard Crick  and a goofy-looking John May (then 36). Its a classic.

THE GENERALIST has written more on Paine than on virtually any other individual. Given the latest political developments, he seems the right man to return to. 

This Previous Post  TOM PAINE IN LEWES  [June 21st 2005] is extensive

As I sat last week sorting through my many memories of David and the Headstrong Years - having a Chinese meal with Michael Foot, the excitement of listening to Trevor Griffiths read from his screenplay for what was going to be a Richard Attenborough epic on Paine, planting a Tree of Liberty in the town (its a big  copper beech now) in Paine's memory and then getting hammered with the Highways tree crew who did all the hard work, launching the first major site on the internet for Tom Paine in an event at the Houses of Parliament.

Needless to say I've archived all the correspondence and clippings and it was great to find some new material about earlier events and links to Paine in Lewes.

This clipping from the local paper of the time [Sussex Express] is dated sometime in 1964. The national Thomas Paine Society was founded in 1963 and they came to Lewes to hold their first Annual General Meeting. 

This photo shows the Mayor of Lewes (Councillor A.C. Barber) and three of the prominent TPS officials, two of which are named as Christopher Brunel (Chairman) and Robert Morrell (Hon. Sec). Who is who and who is the Third Man remains to be revealed. 

Interestingly the clipping's extensive article reveals an earlier tribute to Paine in the town: 'Mr Brunel recalled that a banquet was held at the White Hart in June 1904, in honour of Paine's connection with the town and a number of prominent men were present.' 

Further information comes from this March 1969 issue of Sussex Life. It reads: 'Lewes remembered him on the 150th anniversary of his death (1959) when the then Mayor, Dr. Patrick Nicholl, sent greetings cables to the Mayor of New York and the Mayor of Paris.'

At the TPS meting in 1964, it was reportedly stated that ' a statue of Paine in the town might be erected.' That hasn't happened yet. It would be hard to rival the golden figure of Paine in Thetford, which I happened to visit many years ago now. The statue on the right is, according to 'Rouser' in the Sussex Express [22nd Oct 1999) is the only statue to Paine in France, at the Parc Monsouris, near the Sorbonne, in Paris. David was reported to be planning to bring it to Lewes.

llustration: Julian Bell

No comments: