Friday, November 4, 2011

A Memorable Weekend in Wareham

Westerman Yarns have had a busy few weeks in supporting Wareham Library, The Purbeck Information and Heritage Centre, The Redclyffe Yacht Club and Wareham Town Council in the delivery of the first celebration of Percy F. Westerman in the town where he spent the last 40 years of his life.

Westerman Yarns - inspiring another event
Following the success of the First Westerman Seminar my wife and I visited Wareham on the anniversary of the death of Percy F. Westerman back in February this year. Whilst we were there we approached Wareham Library and the Purbeck Information and Heritage Centre and suggested that it would be good to include Percy F. Westerman in their promotional material alongside T E Lawrence and Thomas Hardy. I was delighted when they called me a few weeks later to say that they wanted to arrange a special weekend in honour of Percy F. Westerman.

The event entitled ‘The Call of the Sea’ was held over Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th October.

The Westerman Yarns Exhibition
Westerman Yarns supported the event by producing a series of information panels for an exhibition currently on display in the Purbeck Information and Heritage Centre. The panels offer a brief outline of his life, following his journey from Portsmouth to Wareham.

The Westerman Yarns Reminiscence Project
On Saturday we launched a reminiscence project Thankfully, there are still people living in the area that had met or knew Percy and his wife Florence. The good news is that the project has got off to a flying start and we already have a number of interesting and useful stories, adding colour and detail to the Westerman research.
We had already met with a few Wareham residents with great memories including Michael Spilman whose father was a shipwright and who had carried out work on The Barge and Eric Axford whose mother worked for the Westerman’s and whose claim to fame was, that it was she and Florence wheeled Percy from The Barge into Wareham on a borrowed builders handcart after he fell and broke his leg. Their help has been invaluable in gathering and recording real memories that build on our knowledge of Percy F. Westerman.

If you would like to get involved in the project or know someone that may be able to help with information or memories or memorabilia, please email me at or pick-up a form from Wareham Library or the Purbeck Information and Heritage Centre.

The Launch
Everyone attending the launch was welcomed into Wareham Library by music from Hugh Elms and his wind-up gramophone. The opening ceremony was well attended and after the speeches and the official opening by the Mayor of Wareham and the Commodore of the Redclyffe Yacht Club, we were treated to a polished and entertaining performance by Wareham’s own shanty group The Wareham Whalers (right).

Raft Race
The Wareham Library ran a model raft building competition open to children and adults culminating with a race on the River Frome. Competition
was fierce, but the pirates, made up from Redclyffe membership (see picture at the top of the page) ensured fair play and the safe return of all the rafts.

An Illustrated talk ‘The Forgotten Author’
During the afternoon I gave an illustrated to talk on Percy F. Westerman. The talk was launched with a musical introduction by Dr Rachel Johnson from the University of Worcester who played The Westerman Hornpipe on her recorder. The University of Worcester kindly loaned some of the Percy F. Westerman Collection for the weekend and Dr Johnson was actively promoting the research collection. After the talk, the audience were invited to stay for refreshments provide by the Wareham WI. One memorable moment was when Michael Spilman from the reminiscence project told us that he had just recognised his father working on the roof of The Barge in one of the slides shown in the talk.

Literary Guided Walk and Redclyffe Yacht Club
Sunday began with a literary guided walk led by David Kemp. A tough collection of Wareham’s finest braved the rain for the walk finishing at The Redclyffe Yacht Club who opened their doors to provided welcome refreshments and an opportunity to see their own display of photographs showing the development of the club founded by Percy F Westerman, their first Commodore.

Captain Blundell’s Treasure – Play Reading

If I was to have a favourite event from the weekend, it has to be the play reading by a band of Wareham volunteers who bravely agreed to take on this project. My wife and I travelled up to Worcester in early September and copied the script sending it off to Wareham Library, giving them just a few weeks to rehearse. The play was produced and directed by David Kemp and narrated by John Barclay (writer and poet). Considering that the group only had a few weeks to study the script, their performance was excellent and included a special guest, Dr Rachel Johnson (Research Librarian, University of Worcester) in the role of Marjorie.


I really enjoyed the weekend and would like to thank the following people who worked so hard to make it all happen with apologies for anyone that I have inadvertently omitted, Jude Leyman and the staff of Wareham Library, Liz Roberts and David Kemp, and the staff of the Purbeck Information and Heritage Centre, Rod Curtis, Town Clerk, Pam Boddy and Allen Wilkinson, Commodore, and the members of the Redclyffe Yacht Club and Eric Axford, Michael Spilman and Nigel Barnes, the friends of Westerman Yarns whose generosity, time, reminiscences and loan of material to progress research has been so valuable. Very special thanks to the University of Worcester and Dr Rachel Johnson for generously supporting the event with the loan of items from the Percy F. Westerman Collection. Finally, my wife Wendy, who is my rock in watching that I don’t run aground!
Viewing the Westerman Yarns display and Percy Westerman Collection from The University of Worcester.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


What does www. stand for? In this case it is Wareham Westerman Weekend.

Westerman Yarns is working with a very enthusuastic team of Wareham based organisations who are planning the towns first celebration of the life and works of their famous past resident, Percy F. Westerman. Time for a Westerman party!

Below is the first press release outling the early plans.

Wareham is busy making plans to celebrate the life and works of an, until now, overlooked famous, past resident. Children’s adventure book writer, and arguably, the originator of the ‘Ripping Yarns’ genre, Percy F Westerman, spent many years living the idyllic life on his houseboat ‘The Barge,’ moored by the towpath at Redclyffe, close to Wareham. It was from this converted Thames Barge that he penned more than 120 of his 174 published books.

The Wareham Westerman Weekend on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th October, 2011, is being organised through a collaboration between Wareham Library, Purbeck Information & Heritage Centre, Wareham Town Council, and a host of other organisations and individuals, all keen to raise awareness of this remarkable author whose lasting gift to Wareham was the founding of the Redclyffe Yacht Club in 1933, with both Percy and his author son John having been past Commodores of the club.

A detailed programme will be available soon, but will include children’s pirate parade, make and race a model raft, a treasure hunt, a colouring competition and a live music event. An exhibition exploring Percy F. Westerman’s links with Wareham and a display of books from the Wareham Library reference collection, donated by the Redclyffe Yacht Club will be a key feature of the weekend along with an illustrated talk and a reminiscence project. Jude Leyman, Library Manager said “We are very excited about the weekend and an opportunity to raise awareness of this prominent children’s writer whose contribution to the literary heritage of Wareham should be celebrated by the town that he loved so much. The special collection of his books is an important feature of our reference collection here at Wareham Library”. Liz Roberts, Centre Manager said “We are delighted to be involved in the project and will be jointly organising a series of events of the weekend with our colleagues in Wareham Library”.

His stories covered tales of the sea, scouting, flying machines, deeds of derring-do, mysteries, two world wars, tales from history and much, much, more. Titles included The Scouts of Seal Island, The Bulldog Breed, Fighting for Freedom and The Flying Submarine. These gripping stories fired the imagination of generations of young readers encouraging a love of books and reading to remain with them for the rest of their lives.

Percy’s first book A Lad of Grit was published in 1908. During the 1930’s Percy was voted the ‘Most Popular Boys Author’ in a poll sponsored by a national newspaper and organised through public libraries. By his death on February 22 1959 his books had been published in many languages and had sold in excess of 1.5 million books worldwide.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Who is Pennington Cross?

At the recent Westerman Seminar I explained how my research led me to discover that Percy F Westerman has written under the pseudonym Pennington Cross for stories published in The Scout. The name Pennington Cross is the name of the place near Lymington in Hampshire that became his home after leaving Portsmouth and where he lived between 1911 and 1918.

The information below has been released earlier than I wanted, because, although I did ask at the Westerman Seminar to withhold the information until I had verified the details as much as possible, the word has got out.

My wife and I discovered the link last year, but still needed more proof.
Thanks largely to Gregg Worwood who has trawled through many of the books, it does appear that the research has been proved correct. I have much more information on the Pennington Cross home and what PFW did whilst he was there, but I am saving that for a publication that will be available later this year.

There were 49 volumes of The Scout Annual published between 1908 and 1954.
For a copy of the latest Pennington Cross titles list, please email your request to me at

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Westerman Yarns Seminar 2012

Following the success of the first Westerman Seminar in February, I am pleased to announce that work has started on the next for 2012.

The date of the next seminar to be held at Portsmouth Grammar School is Saturday 11th February, 2012. Ideas and themes for the programme are being explored, but as 2012 is the 100th anniversary of one of Percy’s most popular books ‘The Flying Submarine’, I am considering an airship/submarine theme to the programme.

Tickets for the next seminar will not go on sale until the autumn. If you would like to receive advance programme details and booking notification, please email me at

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Derek Brown - Journalist

I was saddened to hear that one of Percy Westerman's most avid enthusiasts Derek Brown passed away last week. It was an article by Derek in 1982, titled 'Percy Pulls it Off' that inspired my early interest. He is survived by his wife Eileen and by his mother Renée, now 94, sister Sylvia and brother David. My thoughts are with them.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Portsmouth Evening News - Obituary

It is 52 years ago today that Percy F Westerman passed away. Spare a thought today, for Percy and the joy that his books brought to so many children during his fifty year writing career.
This is the Portsmouth local paper obituary. You can also view The Times obituary by clicking on the February '09 Blog Archive.

Books for Boys
Writer of 170 books for boys – mostly about adventure at sea. Mr Percy F Westerman who has died at the age of 82, was a native of Portsmouth.

He was educated at Portsmouth Grammar School and in his youth was a clerk in the Dockyard. He married in 1900 and his wife was a former Miss Florence Wager of Portsmouth.

While still working in the Dockyard, he began writing about nautical topics, but his first book for boys “A Lad O’ Grit” was not published until 1908. It was inspired by the Boy Scout movement which was founded by Lord Baden-Powell in that year.

Mr Westerman became interested in Sea Scouting, and many of his books had Sea Scouts has their heroes.

So successful were his early books that he resigned his Admiralty appointment in 1911 to become a full-time writer. For many years he lived on a houseboat on the River Frome at Wareham, Dorset. He never gave up writing and his latest book is due to be published in May. His output, up to the last three years, was between three and five books a year and sales of his books total 1,599,000.

In World War I, he was for a time employed on coast duties with the Royal Navy, but later held a commission in the Royal Flying Corps. In World War II he did valuable work for the Home Guard in Dorset.

The Portsmouth Evening News, Friday 27 February 1959.

The First 'Westerman' Seminar

Although the weather in Portsmouth was wet, overcast and gloomy on Saturday 19 February, 2011 the atmosphere inside Portsmouth Grammar School was warm, bright and lively because this was the very first Westerman Seminar. This was a truly memorable day for me and I would like to thank everyone who attended for their enthusiasm , interest and passion in support of this event.

From a very personal point of view, I must say, how pleased I was to be able to put faces to all of the people that I have been in touch with through The Westerman Yarns weblog for the past few years. I was also touched by the kind thoughts and best wishes from those who were unable to attend for variety of reasons including a few that could not attend because it was a bit too far to travel for just one day - Australia, New Zealand, Los Angeles.

On behalf of all the delegates I would like to thank Portsmouth Grammar School for their kindness and generosity in allowing The Westerman Seminar the use of the school and facilities– special thanks to David, the Caretaker. Thanks to all of the guest speakers, James Priory - PGS Headmaster, John Sadden - PGS Archivist, Dennis Butts – Author and, in her absence Dr Rachel Johnson – Research Librarian at Worcester University (sadly Rachel was unwell, but with the aid of modern technology delivered a very interesting paper). Apologies to everyone for the techno failure (well done Microsoft) at the start of my presentation, but thanks to James Priory and Steve Rudge for the diversion – I don’t think anyone noticed.

I am very grateful to Dennis for bringing the very special copy of ‘A Lad of Grit’ to the seminar and to Steve Rudge for such an impressive display of beautiful Westerman books. A special thanks also to Dr Rachel Johnson and the University of Worcester Special Collections for the loan of some items from The Westerman Collection.

The programme was carefully fitted around numerous refreshment breaks to allow people to meet, network and consume plenty of tea and cakes. So, thank you to my small army of volunteers; Jennie, Lyn and John, plus, my very patient wife, Wendy.

Thanks to everyone who helped in the promotion of the event. A full list of organisations who assisted in the promotion of the event will appear in the ‘links’ when I get a moment..

All that remains to say is “book early for the next year”.

The Picture: Nigel Gossop (left) and Dennis Butts (right)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A very special Flying Submarine

This really spectacular book cover illustration is sadly, anonymous. The book is published by The Musson Book Company Limited of Toronto under the strap line ‘Venture’ Books for Boys and priced at $1.25, which may give an indication of a publication date (at a guess – 1950’s). Other authors in the series include C. M. Bennett and Captain W. E. Johns.

Percy is now on Facebook

Percy F Westerman

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Friday, February 4, 2011

The Westerman Seminar Programme

The Westerman Seminar
Saturday 19 February, 2011
10.00am - 4.00pm

The Portsmouth Grammar School
High Street

For tickets call 023 92 37 55 94


1000hrs – 1020hrs: Registration, meet and greet (tea and coffee).

1020hrs – 1030hrs: Welcome message from the Headmaster of Portsmouth
Grammar School, James Priory and Introduction to the seminar
from Nigel Gossop.

1030hrs – 1115hrs: Nigel Gossop – ‘The story so far’ – What we know about
Percy F. Westerman.

1115hrs – 1130hrs: Break (tea and coffee).

1130hrs – 1230hrs: John Sadden – PGS Archive and Collection –
This talk will finish with a tour of the ‘Upper Junior School’ which once contained the whole Grammar School.

1245hrs – 1345hrs: Lunch (Buffet).
*an opportunity to view the collection of Westerman
books and related material on loan to the seminar.

1345hrs – 1430hrs: Dennis Butts – Meeting the Major – Recollections of
conversations with John F.C. Westerman.

1430hrs – 1445hrs: Break (more tea and coffee).

1445hrs – 1530hrs: Dr Rachel Johnson – ‘Life’s all a risk’: an introduction to
three unpublished manuscripts by Percy F. Westerman.

1530hrs – 1600hrs: Nigel Gossop - A review of the day.

You are welcome to stay for a while after the close. Tea and Coffee will be available.

*For the ‘Westerman’ books and related material on display at the seminar, I would like to thank:-
• Portsmouth Grammar School and John Sadden, PGS Archivist
• Worcester University Research Collections and Dr Rachel Johnson, Research Librarian
• Dennis Butts
• Steve Rudge
• my wife Wendy for being so understanding with my ‘Westerman’ obsession

Copies of ‘Children’s Literature and Social Change’ by Dennis Butts.
The Lutterworth Press will be available during the afternoon break, priced at £25.00

Disclaimer Programme details are correct at the time of printing. All details of programme and times may be subject to change without notice.