As his novel The Box of Delights takes to our Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage, we look at the life of the Midlands-born prolific writer and poet.
With more than a hundred poems, plays and novels to his name, John Masefield is one of the Midlands' most successful writers. He was born in the reign of Queen Victoria and was named Poet Laureate in 1930, a role he held until his death 37 years later.
Born in Ledbury, Herefordshire in 1878, John Masefield's early schooling, including time at Warwick School, was cut short after he was sent to train in the merchant navy at age 13.
His lack of formal education was made up by his experiences of travelling the world and a huge appetite for literature. Before the age of 20 he'd been to Chile, given up his seafaring career, and found his way to New York, where he spent his time working in a New York bar, a carpet factory and reading; it was said he bought 20 books every week.
Still only aged 19, Masefield took the steamship home to England where he began to write in earnest, getting his first poems, based on his experiences at sea, published. Alongside poetry he started writing novels; tales from sea, adventures from far away lands and children's fantasy. He was appointed Poet Laureate from 1930 and produced numerous verses for state occasions.
Masefield published The Box of Delights or When The Wolves Were Running in 1935. The book has been adapted for radio multiple times, both before and after his death in 1967. The £1m BBC TV adaptation was broadcast in November and December 1984, then the most expensive children's series the BBC had made to that date, and was widely acclaimed.
Masefield was invited by Oxford University to deliver the Romanes Lecture, their annual public lecture, in the Sheldonian Theatre, in June 1924. He chose to speak about Shakespeare and Spiritual life.
In 1955 he published a pamphlet entitled An Elizabethan Theatre in London, which called to rebuild an Elizabethan theatre in London, giving details of which plays should be performed as well as projected building and running costs.
The Box of Delights by Piers Torday, based on the book by John Masefield, plays in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from 31 October 2023 to 7 January 2024.
Thanks to Dr Philip W Errington, Senior Specialist at Peter Harrington, and archivist of The John Masefield Society.