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Secret Chalk Codes By Vagrants Inspires Local Poets At The Spike

Published on: 13 Dec, 2019
Updated on: 13 Dec, 2019

Susie Campbell’s poetry book I Return To You.

The Spike Heritage Centre in Warren Road, Guildford, hosted a charity poetry evening with readings by four local poets on Friday, December 6.

Susie Campbell, poet; Lucy Furlong, a local writer and ‘walking artist’; Julia Rose Lewis, a scientist and poet currently living in Guildford; and Astra Papachristodoulou, a PhD student at the University of Surrey, all read from their work to an audience of about 30.

Susie Campbell, told The Guildford Dragon NEWS that on a guided tour of The Spike the previous year, she had been fascinated by the secret chalk sign codes used by ‘casual’ workers or vagrants.

The listed building, known as a casual ward, was formerly a part of the Guildford Union Workhouse. It provided tramps, low-paid workers, and homeless families a bed for the night – in locked cells.

Even after the workhouse regime ended in 1930 and the site later became St Luke’s hospital, the casual ward was used as a night shelter until as late as 1962.

Many of its original features survived until St Luke’s Hospital closed and the building was saved from demolition while the rest of the hospital site was developed for housing.

Susie said: “My book, I Return to You, was inspired by the chalk marks used by casual labourers and the homeless to let each other know which houses were worth a visit. It seemed only right that all the proceeds from selling it at this launch event should go to help local homeless people.”

The coded chalk marks were put on boundary walls and gates of houses as a warning to others. Typically they included such signs as circles meaning a tramp might get a little cash from the householder, or upright lines drawn as prison cell bars meaning the occupant was likely to fetch the police!

Just over £100 was raised and this will go to Real Change Guildford, a charity supporting the homeless to rebuild their lives.

Astra Papachristodoulou’s book of poetry Almost A Dream.

Poetry by the four writers is published by the local firm, Sampson Low, in a ‘chapbook’ format.

Susie said that chapbooks were traditionally pocket-sized pamphlets sold by travelling chapmen or pedlars for a few pennies to ordinary people hungry for stories, poems, radical ideas and gossip.

Susie said: “The chapbook tradition has continued into contemporary poetry publishing as a way of making poetry accessible to all.”

The poetry reading was introduced The Spike’s general manager, John Redpath, with a reminder that The Spike Christmas Day Morning Tour will be running again this year.

The poetry books can be bought online on the Samson Low website.

Other books by the poets and by the same publisher are Villiers Path and Sward by Lucy Furlong, Miscellaneous by Julia Rose Lewis, and Almost a Dream and Almost a Nightmare by Astra Papachristodoulou.

Alban Low demonstrates the art of folding a chapbook with Susie Campbell, Julia Lewis and Lucy Furlong looking on.

Astra Papachristodoulou reads her poetry at the charity event at The Spike Heritage Centre.

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