Harry Chambers was born on 15 July 1937. He spent the first half of his childhood years in Eastwood in Nottinghamshire, D.H. Lawrence country, moving with his family to South Yorkshire on VE day. After undertaking National Service, he graduated from Liverpool University with a degree in English Language and Literature. Whilst at university Chambers founded the journal Phoenix (1959), initially as a broader literary magazine and later specialising in poetry.
Harry embarked on a career teaching English Literature at his old school near Doncaster where he helped produce plays and edit school magazines. After only two years he moved to a lectureship at Stranmillis College in Belfast at a time of a great upsurge, a renaissance, of Irish poetry. The friendships he forged there with rising young poets had a huge influence on him.
He moved away from the civil strife of Belfast to a Lectureship at Didsbury College of Education in Manchester. His main teaching interests were poetry, drama, children's literature and detective fiction. It was here that an offshoot of Phoenix emerged in 1969 with Phoenix Pamphlet Poets a successful new format which gave more space to individual poets including issues featuring the Irish poets Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon and Jimmy Simmons. The last of the old Phoenix was published from Manchester in 1975. It was in Manchester too that he found the name and the concept of his new press Peterloo Poets.
When Didsbury College merged with the local Polytechnic, Harry Chambers saw the redundancies on offer as a chance to focus full time on his new Peterloo imprint. In 1976 he took the huge step of leaving a salaried job and moving with his family to Cornwall where he ran the press initially from their home in Treovis near Liskeard with funding provided by the Arts Council and support from his wife Lynn. Harry continued to work as an examiner at all levels in English Literature as well as teaching drama and poetry modules for the Open University, but his main work was developing the press. In 1980 Lynn became a full-time administrator for Peterloo Poets until her death in 2000.
Harry Chambers was a very active publishing director and was involved in all aspects and stages of the publishing process, including typography and design. Manuscripts were commissioned and solicited by Peterloo Poets but over 1000 unsolicited manuscripts were also received each year and Chambers had exclusive control over selecting volumes for publication. He also edited and contributed features to the annual Peterloo house journal, Poetry Matters (1983-92) and produced special editions celebrating the works of Charles Causley and Philip Larkin.
During its 37 years, Peterloo Poets published the work of 131 different poets and 240 different volumes of poetry. Peterloo Poets also organised an Annual International Poetry Competition, annual Poetry for Schools events and workshops and an International Poetry Festival. For the last 12 years, the organisation operated from the refurbished Old Chapel in Calstock.
He retired as Publishing Director of Peterloo in 2009, but continued to take an active interest in the world of poetry, while health allowed, when he moved to York. His achievements were recognised in 2010 with an MBE for Services to Poetry. Harry Chambers was also an honorary Chairperson of the Charles Causley Poetry Society. Harry Chambers died in York on 14 September 2012.
More information about the press can be found in the 2009 monograph by John Lucas 'Harry Chambers and Peterloo Poets: 37 years of Poetry Publishing'.
For more information relating to Phoenix Poets, please see U DP162.