Solihull celebrates its ties to WH Auden with first ever festival


Solihull will be celebrating its connection to world famous poet WH Auden with the first ever Auden Festival, taking place next weekend from 18 to 21 February.

Auden, much-loved for his poems such as ‘Funeral Blues’, spent the formative years of his life in Solihull. He lived in Lode Lane and Homer Road in the town centre and was a regular visitor at St Alphege Church.

This new festival is a collaboration between Solihull Council and Solihull Business Improvement District, and is programmed by Parrabbola, an international community arts organisation.

 The festival will explore Auden’s artistic output through interpretations of his work, as well as celebrating that of his collaborators and contemporaries. It focuses on the ‘Art For All’ ethos, bringing the arts to audiences of all ages in a myriad of different ways.

This will include immersive street theatre performances across the town centre, live readings of poetry, film screenings at The Core Theatre, music performances, a vintage market and a museum-style Auden installation in Touchwood.

Even after moving away from the area, Auden’s strong connection to Solihull continued. He wrote a poem called “By The Gasworks, Solihull” in 1924, and returned in 1935 to help organise a marriage of convenience between German-Jewish actress Therese Giehse and John Hampson, a gay writer from Dorridge.

Councillor Karen Grinsell, Deputy Leader of Solihull Council and Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport, and Tourism, said:

“We have such a rich cultural history here in Solihull and the West Midlands – a history that can often be overlooked!

“I’m so glad that we now have the chance to spotlight one of the many talented and influential figures that grew up right here in Solihull.

“From his iconic works of poetry (‘Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone’ will be a familiar opening line to most!), to the fascinating story of his life and his progressive social views, this festival will offer something every resident can enjoy and learn from.

“It’s certainly not one to be missed!”

Melanie Palmer, Chief Executive of Solihull BID, added:

“Knowing that Auden spent many years here in Solihull, with Solihull referenced in selected works, it seemed only fitting to celebrate our connection and commemorate his birthday, which falls on 21February.

“The backstories of Auden’s life are complex tales of travel, love and chaos. The festival showcases the history unique to Solihull, with tales of sham marriages to save an actress from the Nazis to Auden breathing in the fumes at the gas works on Moat Lane for its perceived health benefits!

“Experience poetry and history as never before in your town centre: Saturday 19 is certainly a date not to be missed!”

Philip Parr, Artistic Director at Parrabbola, said:

“When I became aware of the connection that Auden had to Solihull, a celebration was called for.

“This first festival explores the younger Auden, the traveller, commentator, lyricist and above all the crafter of timeless words that speak for us all. Concerts, theatre, film, painting and poetry - you're sure to find something that excites you and perhaps something that's new.

“We're delighted to be part of establishing this new international festival, which intends to shine a spotlight on Solihull as a creative and cultural centre.”