Obituary: Poet Peter Scupham dies aged 89 at historic Norfolk home

Margaret and Peter Scupham in South Burlingham

Margaret Steward and her husband Peter Scupham who have spent the past 30 years restoring their home in South Burlingham - Credit: Archant

The poet Peter Scupham has died at the age of 89 at his home in Norfolk. 

Known for his “deftly formal, humane, richly textured and deeply civilized” poetry, he has published more than 10 collections since 1972.

He was also the co-founder of the Mandeville Press and ran Mermaid Books, a second-hand book business in South Burlingham, near Acle. 

Jazmine Linklater, marketing and events manager at his publishers Carcanet Press, said: “Peter was a dear friend who published many collections with us, including his Collected Poems in 2022, followed by Borrowed Landscapes in 2011.  

“His final collection, Invitation to View, is forthcoming on July 28, 2022. It was with relief that we delivered finished copies of the new book to him shortly before his death.

“Peter’s death is a great loss for all at Carcanet, and the poetry community at large. He will be remembered for his poetic energy and trademark wit, which were bright until the end.” 

Margaret and Peter Scupham who have spent the past 25 years restoring the Old Hall, South Burlingham

Margaret and Peter Scupham who have spent the past 25 years restoring the Old Hall, South Burlingham. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

The collection focuses on Mr Scupham and his second wife Margaret Stewart’s home at Old Hall in South Burlingham. 

The couple bought the house when it was a semi-derelict and ramshackle Tudor property perched - as Mr Scupham once described - “in long grass on the edge of nowhere”.

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The couple spent more than 25 years restoring the building and eventually opened it up under a scheme called Invitation to View, allowing it to become a gathering place for poets with summer Shakespeare performances and poetry picnics.

His last poems consider future visitors to the 400-year-old house long after he and Ms Stewart leave it behind.

Margaret and Peter Scupham who have spent the past 25 years restoring the Old Hall, South Burlingham

Margaret and Peter Scupham who have spent the past 25 years restoring the Old Hall, South Burlingham. Margaret looking at the Tudor hunting scenes in the attic room. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2015

Mr Scupham was born in Liverpool in 1933 and educated at the Perse, Cambridge, and St George's in Harpenden, Hertfordshire.   

After National Service with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, he studied at Emmanuel College, also in Cambridge, and went on to teach at Skegness Grammar School before becoming head of English at St Christopher School in Letchworth, Hertfordshire. 

He first married Carola Nance Braunholtz, the daughter of Hermann Braunholtz CBE, keeper of the ethnographical collections at the British Museum in London. Together they had four children. 

With fellow poet John Mole, Mr Scupham founded the Mandeville Press, a small press that used traditional letterpress methods of printing.

It produced handset editions of works by Geoffrey Grigson, Anthony Hecht, John Fuller, K. W. Gransden, and many others. Its archive is now in the British Library.  

For many years, he also ran the antiquarian book business, Mermaid Books, with Ms Steward, specialising in English Literature and trading by printed catalogue. 

He received a Cholmondeley Award in 1996, in recognition of his achievement and distinction as a poet. He was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

British poet Peter Scupham has died aged at the age of 89

British poet Peter Scupham has died aged at the age of 89 - Credit: Supplied

Michael Schmidt, founder and managing director of Carcanet Press, paid tribute to Mr Scupham. He said: “Few poets in my experience are as generous, as cheerful, and as formally inventive and accomplished as Peter.

“As he lay preparing for death, I asked him to record some of his new poems, from his last book Invitation to View. He roused himself and, with his usual smiling precision of voice, read them.

“Margaret recorded them for all time on her telephone and they will soon be shared with the world, along with a fine tribute by John Mole.” 

The cover of Invitation to View by Peter Scupham

The cover of Invitation to View by Peter Scupham - Credit: Carcanet Press Ltd

Ms Stewart, an artist, playwright, drama producer and teacher, added: “Peter died early [in the] afternoon. Very quietly, with the sunshine pouring through the open French windows. His son and partner and myself were with him.

“It was as if he saw his book into publication, thanks to [Carcanet’s] amazing turn of speed, and was then happy to let go. We read from the book as he lay there, as well as playing him his favourite Fats Waller.”   

Mr Scupham died from kidney failure on Saturday, June 11, at his home in Norfolk aged 89.