Leslie Paul

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Leslie Allen Paul (1905, Dublin – 1985, Cheltenham) was an Anglo-Irish writer and founder of the Woodcraft Folk. [1]


Born in Dublin on 30 April 1905, Leslie Paul grew up in South East London, the second child of advertising manager Frederick Paul and registered nurse, Lottie Burton. The family was fairly large, consisting of three sons and two daughters including younger siblings Joan and Douglas. During his materially poor, culturally rich childhood in Honor Oak, South East London, Paul's contributions to family/ neighbourhood entertainments included his dramatic recitations of poems such as 'Gunga Din' and 'The Royal George' (see Kitchener Street, 15). In 1984 Paul recalled one of his earliest original dramatic creations and performances as a young teenager was a vignette called 'Two Coons', which despite its title gave a sympathetic if not wholly informed representation of African culture (see Angry Young Man, 15). By the summer of 1922, Paul was a junior ledger clerk employed in the City (near Aldgate)at the International Stores on a weekly salary of 22 s. 6 d. the following year he left to join his father's firm Pantlin and Paul in Fleet Street working in advertising for local papers, as hopefully a way into freelance journalism. By 1923 he became the young editor of a magazine called 'The open Road' which failed after six months. For six months he lived on his earnings attempting to become a freelance writer and writing the unpublished heavily Richard Jefferies influenced 'The Journal of a Sun Worshipper'. During this period Paul came under the influence and mentorship of the retired unionist, bookseller and Swedenborgian, Charles Watson. From his bookshop Watson loaned Paul books such as Mark Rutherford's 'The Revolution in Tanner's Lane', Barbellion's The Journal of a Disappointed Man and Hale White's The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford which were to have a major influence on Paul's political and social thinking. As a canvasser in the 1923 elections in Tottenham Paul met James Ramsay McDonald as well as Harold Laski, whose social history illuminated powers of oratory were to have an influence on Paul's thinking and writing style.

After World War I Paul had become deeply involved with scouting and related youth movements. He left the Scouts to join the Kibbo Kift Kindred but after a dispute with the Kibbo Kift leader, John Hargrave in 1925, some south London co-operative groups challenged Hargrave's authoritarian tendencies. The dispute was over his refusal to recognise a local group called "The Brockley Thing". The result was a split, and in 1925 a group, including Paul, broke away from the Kindred, to form the Woodcraft Folk which is still active. Paul was appointed leader of the Woodcraft Folk and later came to be identified as its founder.[2] Although in fact the organisation was the work of a number of people, Paul was its most eloquent member and was usually called upon to represent it to outside bodies. Paul's political views were inspired by H. G. Wells, William Morris,and Edward Carpenter, while his ideas about children's education were partly drawn from Rousseau's Emile.[2] In addition, Paul was also active in the pacifist No More War Movement.[3] Paul was an outspoken critic of the Axis powers, as well as the Soviet Union following the latter nation's signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.[3] After the outbreak of World War Two and the rise of fascism, Paul abandoned his pacifism and supported the British war effort.[3]

During the 1930s Paul seems to have worked as a freelance journalist. In 1984 he recalled being one of the journalists caught up in the Kitchener coffin hoax. He was also employed in London educational and social work, as well as working on the continent with refugees. He was a tutor with the London County Council as well as the Workers' Educational Association. Paul's first novel 'Fugitive Morning' (1932) was strongly autobiographical in content.

During the Second World War Paul served in the Middle East with the Army Educational Corps. Paul also taught at Mount Carmel College. When Simone Died  (who is Simone? - error in capitalisation?) in Kent in August 1943 Paul paid for a plot for her to be buried in. This event is commemorated in paul's poem 'Lady Whose Grave I Own'. The war provoked a return to his childhood Christian faith as recorded in 'The Annihilation of Man' (1944).For this book he was awarded the Atlantic Award for literature (1946). T S Eliot nominated Paul for this prize.

After the Second World War Paul became an active member of the Church of England, leading to his moving away from the radically orientated Woodcraft Folk, and later a professional clergyman. He was employed as tutor at the Ashridge college of Citizenship (1947-8), and later as Director of Studies at Brasted Place Theological College (1953-7). His most significant act within the Church was the production of the Paul Report (1964) into the payment of the clergy, which led to extensive modernisation of the Church's organisational structure. Paul served as lecturer in ethics and social studies at Queen's College, Birmingham (1965-70), and on the General Synod (1970-5).

During the first half of the 1980s Paul was writer in residence at the College of St Paul and St Mary, Cheltenham, occupying a basement flat (accompanied by a black and white cat) in Shurdington Road. As well as mentoring young college and local Writers, not least through organized group readings and co-editing of the college poetry magazine, Cresset, to which he generously contributed his poetry including 'Meditations on the Four Quartets', Paul gave a series of talks on his life and the books that had affected him most profoundly. These included:

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, a novel Paul read annually. He claimed to have read every Dickens novel by the age of ten.

Rilke, The Notebook of Malte Laurides Brigge. Rilke's Duino Elegies were to have a profound effect on Paul's own poetry and thinking. For an earlier reference to Rilke's novel, see "Angry Young Man", 13.

Boris Pasternak, Dr Zhivago - which Paul considered a if not the major novel of the twentieth century, resonating with his own visit to Moscow in 1931.

The writings of nineteenth century nature essayist and mystic Richard Jefferies whom Paul greatly admires, and who almost certainly inspired his initial imaginings of the Woodcraft Folk. For earlier references to Jefferies writings, see "Angry Young Man", 12-13.

Novels of Henry Williamson. Williamson writing a series of experimental, far from successful, but extremely interesting and unfairly neglected novels.

In talks Paul recalled burning a large collection of his poetry as a young man, to his later regret. He also noted at almost eighty being able to recall minute details from the first twenty years of his life, but almost nothing from between the years 20-40 (c 1925-45). Paul also recalled his friendship and support derived from T S Eliot, fiercely disputing suggestions of Eliot's sympathies with fascism made in a lecture by tutor David Miall. Paul was proud to consider himself a surviving contemporary of Thomas Hardy.

In 1984 Leslie bequeathed or sold his personal Shurdington Road library. Students Kim Lidstone and Angus Whitehead were asked to catalogue the library before it was moved. In appreciation, he gave Whitehead his copy of a 1930s illustrated edition of Francis Thompson's 'The Hound of Heaven'. One then memorable discovery in Paul's library was a paperback edition of Richard von Krafft-Ebing's "Psychopathia Sexualis".

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Paul spent his later years living in Madley, Shropshire, dying there in 1985. However, this conflicts with student and contemporaries' memories of the period. Leslie Paul almost certainly died in Cheltenham General Hospital on 8 July 1985, after a heart attack. Undergraduates Mark Baker and Angus Whitehead were among numerous hospital visitors. Leslie expressed horror at Whitehead's enthusiasm for the poetry of Allen Ginsberg. In a letter written shortly after Leslie's death, theologian Kenneth Surin, a friend and colleague of Leslie's, recorded that Leslie told him that hospital visits from undergraduates were one of the things that made it all worthwhile.

About 2010 Whitehead, by then an assistant Professor at the National Institute of Education, Singapore, met in Singapore a Mr Michael Renshaw, who claimed to be the natural son of Leslie Paul's sister Marjorie Holden. Renshaw had been placed in care and never met or even knew of his uncle during childhood.


"Pipes of Pan; Poems" (1927)

"The Ashen Stare, Songs etc" (1928)

"The Folk Trail; An Outline of the Philosophy and Activities of Woodcraft Fellowships" Woodcraft Folk leaders manual (Noel Douglas, 1929) On the title page Leslie is described as "Little Otter; Headman of the Woodcraft Folk"

"The Green Company" (The C. W. Daniel Co., 1931)

"A Green Love, and Other Poems" (1931)

"Fugitive Morning" (early novel) (Dennis Archer, 1932)

"Two One Act Plays: 'Augustus Intervenes'; 'The Picnic Party'" (1933)

"Periwale: His Odyssey" (early novel) (Dennis Archer, 1934)

"Co-operation with the USSR; A Study of the Consumers' Movement" (1934)

"Story Without End; The Junior Book of Co-operation" (1935)

"The Training of Pioneers: The Educational Programme of the Woodcraft Folk" (1936)

"Men in May" (early novel based on the events of the 1926 General Strike)(1936)

"The Republic of Children; A Handbook for Teachers of Working Class Children" (Allen & Unwin, 1938)

"The Annihilation of Man" (1945)

"The Living Hedge" (1946)

"Heron Lake" (1948) - diary of a year spent in the Norfolk countryside.

"The Soviet Union" (1948)

"The Meaning of Human Existence" (1949)

"Portrait of an Angry Saint; The Poet Peguy" (1949)

In 1951 Paul wrote an autobiography called Angry Young Man. The title subsequently became the catchphrase "angry young men" used to describe a generation of British writers, including Kingsley Amis, Colin Wilson and (over-broadly) applied to authors of the "kitchen sink dramas".

"The Age of Terror" (1951) Based on a visit to Stalinist Russia in the early 1930s?

"Exile and Other Poems" (1951)

"Sir Thomas More" (1953)

"The English Philosophers" (1953)

"The Adventure of Man, Geographies" (1954)

"The Jealous God; Three Meditations on Christian Discipline" (1955)

"The Boy Down Kitchener Street" (Faber & Faber, 1957) a novel based on Leslie's childhood in London. Jacket design by Edward Ardizzone.

"Nature into History" (1957)

"Persons and Perception" (1961)

"Son of Man; The Life of Christ" (1961)

"Hot House" (1961)

"Values in Modern Society" (1962)

"The Transition from School to Work; a Report Made to King George's Jubilee Trust and Industrial Welfare Society" (1962)

"Traveler on Sacred Ground" (1963) Journal of his field trip to the Middle East to research 'Son of Man'.

"The Deployment and Payment of Clergy" (1964)

"Alternatives to Christian Belief" (1967)

"The Death and Resurrection of the Church" (1968)

"Coming to Terms with Sex" (1969)

"Eros Rediscovered; Restoring Sex to Humanity" (1970)

"Man's Understanding of Himself" (Hale Memorial Sermon) (1971)

"Journey to Connemara and Other Poems" (1972)

"A Church by Daylight; A Reappraisement of the Church of England and its Future" (1973)

"The Waters and the Wild" (1975). A novel set during the Second World War about two young boys in an East Anglian village. The story revolves around their use of a lake and island near their home, their attempts to capture a large pike and their relationships with each other and their families.

"First Love; A Journey" (1977)

[with Anthony Russell, Laurence Reading, eds.] "Rural Society and the Church; the Herford Consultation" (1977)

"O Pioneers" (1978), poetry inspired by time spent in America

"Bulgarian Horse" (1978), a Cold War thriller.

"Springs of Good and Evil; Biblical Themes in Literature" (1979)

"The Early Days of the Woodcraft Folk", a historical pamphlet (undated, believed written between 1975 and 1980)

"The Secret War Against Hitler" (1984)


  1. ^ Labour and the Countryside: the Politics of Rural Britain, 1918–1939 by Clare V. J. Griffiths. Oxford University Press, 2007 (pgs. 98-9)
  2. ^ a b Derek Wall, Green History : A Reader in Environmental Literature, Philosophy and Politics Routledge, 1993. ISBN 041507925X (pp. 228–229 232–34)
  3. ^ a b c Martin Ceadel, Pacifism in Britain, 1914-1945 : the defining of a faith. Oxford : Clarendon Press ; 1980.ISBN 0198218826 (p. 294, 303)
  • W. H. Saumarez Smith, ‘Paul, Leslie Allen (1905–1985)’, rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004

Angus Whitehead, Personal recollections of Leslie Paul, Cheltenham, 1983-5.