Griffiths, Bill, 1948-2007

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Bill Griffiths was a poet, small press publisher, local historian, academic, archivist and scholar of English dialect. Born in Kingsbury, Middlesex in 1948, where he grew up and went to the local grammar school, he later graduated from University College London in 1969 with a degree in Medieval and Modern History. Drawn to the world of poetry he began performing during the 1970s with the sound poets Bob Cobbing and Paula Claire as part of the group Konkrete Canticle. His day job, at the print shop in the Poetry Society in London, also introduced him to the production of poetry pamphlets and Griffiths set up his own small press, The Pirate Press. This allowed him to write and produce handmade mimeographed poetry booklets that he distributed through subscription and stalls.

He was also attracted to the life of bikers, particularly Hells Angels, at this time and was a sometime member of the Harrow chapter. However, after being remanded at Brixton Prison for carrying a pocket knife he changed focus and proceeded to complete a Masters and PhD in Old English at Kings College London in 1987. Anglo-Saxon and Old English language, literature and legends continued to be an inspiration and passion throughout his career and many of his publications, particularly in the 90s, were modern illustrated translations of old texts.

Griffith’s original press, The Pirate Press, was superseded by Amra Imprint in the 80s. Between both initiatives he wrote and published hundreds of small pamphlets, booklets and small press editions of poetry, often hand produced, designed and coloured. In addition, Griffiths was also anthologised and published by Etruscan Press, Tern Press, Woodcraft Press and Paladin, amongst others. He is the author of Split Cities with Bob Cobbing, as well as Durham & Other Sequences, Future Exiles, Nomad Sense and The Mud Fort, amid many other essays, poems and stories.

Due to a houseboat fire in the late 80s Griffiths relocated to Seaham, County Durham. He became part of the Northern poetry scene and picked up work at the Centre for Northern Studies at Northumbria University. He became increasingly interested in local history and dialect, writing and publishing guides to the area and dictionaries of slang and dialect, such as A Dictionary of North East Dialect, a subject which interested him until his death.

In 1997 Griffith became an archivist at Kings College London, where he catalogued the collection of his mentor, the poet and scholar, Eric Mottram.

He was a prolific letter writer and active friend. A number of the letters in the collection concern his publications and research, and show a questing mind always hungry for new information. Due to an early encounter with the prison system, he became involved in campaigning for better conditions in prisons, as well as being in written touch with some prisoners, the most notable being a correspondence over a few decades between Bill Griffiths and Ray Gilbert, who was serving time in a series of English prisons. He was also an energetic member of his local community and participated in neighbourhood activism to improve Seaham’s coastline and harbour.

Bill Griffiths died in 2007, just before the publication of The Salt Companion to Bill Griffiths .

From the guide to the Bill Griffiths Collection, 1972-2007, (Special Collections, Brunel University Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Bill Griffiths Collection, 1972-2007 Special Collections, Brunel University Library
referencedIn Sherman, William David. William David Sherman papers, 1966-2002 (bulk 1990-1999). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alfred, King of England, 849-899 person
associatedWith Anning, Mary., 1799-1847 person
associatedWith Beowulf person
associatedWith Boethius person
associatedWith Bunting, Basil person
associatedWith Caedmon person
associatedWith Clark, Robert person
associatedWith Cobbing, Bob., 1920-2002 person
associatedWith James, M. R. (Montague Rhodes)., 1862-1936 person
associatedWith Mottram, Eric person
associatedWith Pirate Press corporateBody
associatedWith Sherman, William David. person
associatedWith Weller, M. J. (Michael John) person
Place Name Admin Code Country
England, North East
Social Life and Customs
English language--Dialects--England
Traditional medicine--England--History--To 1500
Prisons discipline--Great Britain
Community power--Great Britain
Prisons and race relations--Great Britain
English language--Old English, ca. 450-1100
Small presses
English literature--Old English, ca. 450-1100
Ghost stories, English--History and criticism
Concrete poetry
Prisons--Great Britain
Dream of the rood
North East--Dictionaries
Local and regional action
Poetry in Old English Translations
Coal miners--England, North East--Language
British poetry revival
English poetry--20th century
Small presses--England--History--20th century
Book design
Exeter book
English essays--20th century


Birth 1948-08-20

Death 2007-09-13



Ark ID: w6931d4s

SNAC ID: 43648395