Poet, playwright, amateur theatrical performer
Miss K.M. Garner wrote and published a number of volumes of verse and playscripts during her life (see Bibliography below), many of the latter being produced locally in Newark at the Palace Theatre, the Beaumond Hall, the Picturedrome, Newark Town Hall, Newark Technical College, the Theatre Royal Lincoln, and the Robin Hood Theatre in the nearby village of Averham. Also at various village halls in the vicinity.
Biography Katherine Minta Garner was the daughter of Thomas Willcox and Lizzie Garner of 34 Chatham Street, Newark. Thomas worked as a cashier with one of the town’s large malting concerns (1891 Census). The household comprised 4 children – Thomas (eldest son), Katherine (eldest daughter), Stanley and Phyllis – and one general domestic servant. By 1897 (Trade Directory) Mr Garner had struck out on his own as he is lasted as a ‘sack contractor’, with premises at 49 Castlegate, no doubt providing sacks to the town’s malting and agricultural concerns.
In the 1901 Census, the family – with Katherine aged 19 – had moved to 83 Millgate , with the sack business now being based at 44 Albert Street and at Beaumond Cross (the latter being in offices which became part of the Robin Hood Hotel). Thomas, the eldest son, had now joined his father in the business. The 1911 Census sees the family (with Katherine, unmarried, aged 29 still at home – perhaps the lot of an eldest daughter) living in the Old Hall on Millgate – an 11 room house, no doubt indicating that Thomas’ sack business was proving successful. Evidenced also by the census now listing him as a sack contractor and ‘hauling contractor’ with a steam traction engine.
Following the end of the First World war the Newark Advertiser (15th January 1919) reported that Mrs T. W. Garner of Millgate had been awarded the OBE in recognition of her work as Commandant of the VAD hospital on Lombard Street, Newark.
Katherine assisted her father in the business ‘doing the books’. She also worked at the Newark tax office and, for some years between the wars, was Secretary of the Newark Advertiser Co. Ltd. In the 1920s she began publishing poems under the pen-name “Touchwood” in the ‘Newark Advertiser’ (See Bibliography below). Katherine’s father died in 1930 (aged 84), perhaps coinciding with her departure from the Advertiser to devote all her time to the sack hiring business. The Newark firm eventually became part of the important sack-hiring firm of Chisholm, Fox and Garner.
Following retirement from active business, Miss Garner spent some months each year abroad or at her cottage in St.Ives, Cornwall. It was whilst at the latter that she became seriously ill. She died on 1st December 1962 at St.Michael’s hospital, Hayle, Cornwall, aged 80 yrs. At the time her obituary in the Newark Advertiser (15th Dec 1962 p.13) gave her permanent residential address was given as 43 Victoria Street, Newark.
Local Theatricals Miss Garner is best remembered for her link with the local amateur stage, both as a writer and performer. She was one of the founders of the Newark Amateur Dramatic Society. She made her debut as a playwright during the First World War with a fantasy entitled “The Intervention of Santa Claus” which was first staged in the Red Cross Hospital in Newark at Christmas 1915. Sir Donald Wolfit, the great actor-manager (who was born in Balderton) pays tribute to Miss Garner’s influence on his theatrical career. In his autobiography “First Interval” (London: Odhams, 1954, p.50) he recalls, aged 15, that:-
“Coils” was a rambling olay of the Regency period and the scene was set in the Saracen’s Head Hotel of the town. Among the characters there were a great Lord and Lady travelling ingognito, a chambermaid, a singing pedlar, a highwayman, a laundress and the town idiot, who was supposed to be able to read the future in a bucket of soap bubbles. At one point in the play he disguised himself as a sailor and made love to the maids in the house and even to his own mother! A somewhat odd story indeed….. “The part of the idiot had obviously been written especially for me – and the burning question was whether my father would give his consent to my appearing in the play…..” The prodcer of this play was the famous former Savoyard, Miss Jessie Bond – Mrs Lewis Ransome of Farndon.
“England’s welcome to the American soldiers” (single poem in a pamphlet) 1918
“Touchwood” compilations of poems from the Newark Advertiser (loose-leaf) for 1920, 1921 & 1922
Anthology: “Poems of three Shires and of the Sea” (1953)
Anthology: “Escape to Childhood” (1954)
Anthology: “Calling All shipping” (1955)
A fourth anthology of verse, “A Nip in the Air at Night” was advertised as in preparation in 1955, but, as far as is known, was not published.
A list of plays and performances of Miss Garner’s plays is contained in a typescript document “Twenty Years; Amateur Play Productions, 1915 – 1935” and a typewritten letter dated 8th January 1942, held at Newark Library. In summary these two documents list the following plays:- The Intervention of Santa Claus (musical) – performed 1915, 1916, 1917 Pearl of the Desert – performed 1918 Them Drops Carrots Comes ‘Ome – performed 1918, 1922 Red Devon – performed 1918, 1928 Coils (musical) – performed 1916, 1917, 1920, 1921, 1926, 1932 Lenin Trotoffski – performed 1920, 1921 A Flutter in Petticoats – performed 1920, 1924 Clipped Wings – performed 1921, 1922 Roast Potatoes – 1922 Arm of Law – performed 1923, 1924, 1927 Mrs Pryce’s Garden Plot Capn’n Cuttle (adaptation from Dickens) Mrs Jarley’s Wax Woks (adaptation from Dickens) Pageant of Empire Making Love at Kalatta (not produced) When Great Grandpapa was a Gay dog Compromising Sandy – performed 1924 Making it Up – 1925 The Strolling Players (musical) – performed 1923, 1924, 1925 Sea Foam (musical) – performed 1933, 1934, 1935 (Playscript held at Newark Library) In her letter, Miss Garner also mentions a play called ‘The Early Bird’ which she states was not completed.