Jennifer Westwood (5 January 1940 – 12 May 2008) was a British author, broadcaster and folklorist with a particular interest in English Language, Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse; her first book, Mediaeval Tales, was published in 1968. She was an active committee member of The Folklore Society from 1987 until 2003, co-editing the society’s journal among other duties, and worked on programmes produced for BBC Radio 4 and the corporation’s Radio Norfolk. Commonly known as “Jen”, after her second marriage she also wrote books under the name of Jennifer Chandler.
Early life and family
Born Jennifer Beatrice Fulcher in Norton Subcourse, a small village in Norfolk, on 5 January 1940, Westwood’s father was employed as a bricklayer and her mother was a school teacher. Her primary school education was at Beccles in Suffolk, about eight miles (13 km) from her home, although she had been taught to read by the time she was three-years-old. She then attended Sir John Leman Grammar School, again in Beccles, where she went on to secure a place at St Anne’s College, Oxford, studying English and Anglo-Saxon Languages.
Following her marriage to Trevor Westwood, who was undertaking a course at Loughborough University in Sports Education, she attended Cambridge University studying Old Norse. She travelled to Iceland and Scandinavia to carry out research for her degree. In 1968 she was divorced from her first husband. Her second marriage was to a management consultant, Brian Chandler, with whom she had a son, Jonathan.
Westwood’s first book, Mediaeval Tales, was published; in 1968. Based on the stories she had researched while at Cambridge, the book was produced for the enjoyment of children. A compendium of adapted British medieval stories together with tales from the same era translated from French, Dr Jessie Roderick, the University of Maryland’s assistant Professor of Education, felt it would give children in Upper Elementary Schools a good foundation in the topic. Westwood went on to write several more books in the same genre as well as contributing to Rupert Bear Annuals. Writing in The Observer literary critic Naomi Lewis describes Westwood’s next book, Gilgamesh and Other Babylonian Tales, also published in 1968, as providing an “informing scholarly commentary”.
Westwood was a keen and meticulous researcher who produced many varied publications. Her 1985 book Albion: Guide to Legendary Britain was described by folklorist Jacqueline Simpson as the “first to tackle a representative cross-section [of legends] and offer a full, scholarly analysis of their sources and affiliations”, as well as being suitable for general readers and specialists. In later years Simpson frequently worked closely with Westwood, and she gave an indication of the methodology and aims the pair used when working together on their 2005 publication The Lore of the Land in her 2007 Katharine Briggs Memorial Lecture.
A series of guidebooks separated into county headings was produced between 1989 and 1992. Westwood contributed three volumes: Gothick Hertfordshire; Gothick Norfolk; and Gothick Cornwall. Juliette Wood, an academic and fellow folklorist, highlighted the sound research undertaken, and considered that the guides provided a happy medium by appealing to readers with a general interest in folklore as well as those seeking a more scholastic approach. During May 1996 Westwood attended the pilgrimage at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer; six months later she returned for the October pilgrimage, having written the 200-page book Sacred Journeys: An Illustrated Guide to Pilgrimages Around the World in the interim.
Westwood became an active member of The Folklore Society committee in 1987. Some of the various duties she undertook included acting as publications officer, co-editor of the journal Folklore and the editing of FLS Books. In 2008 the society awarded her the Coote Lake medal in recognition of her “outstanding research and scholarship”. Only awarded occasionally, previous recipients include the folklorists Iona and Peter Opie, E. O. James and M. M. Banks.
An eloquent, accomplished and knowledgeable speaker, Westwood worked on programmes such as Land Lines produced for BBC Radio 4 and the corporation’s Radio Norfolk.
In 1998 Westwood was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she continued with her committee work until 2003. She died on 12 May 2008.
Gilgamesh and Other Babylonian Tales (Heroic retellings from history and legend) (1968) ISBN 978-0370011097
Isle of Gramarye: An Anthology of the Poetry of Magic (1970) ISBN 978-0246973573
Tales and Legends (1971) ISBN 978-0698201385
Stories of Charlemagne (1972) ISBN 978-0370012667
Alfred the Great (Wayland kings and queens) (1978) ISBN 978-0853404200
Albion: Guide to Legendary Britain (Hardback 1985) (Paperback 1995 ISBN 978-0586084168)
Going to Squintum’s: A Foxy Folk Tale (1985)
Gothick Hertfordshire (1989) ISBN 978-0747800415
Gothick Norfolk (1989) ISBN 978-0747800422
Gothick Cornwall (1992) ISBN 978-0747801849
Sacred Journeys: An Illustrated Guide to Pilgrimages Around the World (1997) ISBN 978-0805048452
Mysteries: Lost Atlantis (Mysteries of the Ancient World) (1997) ISBN 978-0297823056
Sacred Journeys: Paths for the New Pilgrim with Martin Palmer (2000) ISBN 978-1856750042
The Atlas of Legendary Places with James Harpur (2001) ISBN 978-1568521503
On Pilgrimage: Sacred Journeys Around the World (2003) ISBN 978-1587680151
The Lore of the Land: A Guide to England’s Legends, from Spring-heeled Jack to the Witches of Warboys with Jacqueline Simpson (2005) ISBN 978-0141007113
The Penguin Book of Ghosts: Haunted England with Jacqueline Simpson (2008) ISBN 978-1846141010
The Lore of Scotland: A guide to Scottish legends with Sophia Kingshill (2009) ISBN 978-1905211623