Eddie Linden

Born: May 5, 1935;

Died: November 19, 2023

Eddie Linden, who has died aged 88, published the widely admired poetry magazine Aquarius and became a respected figure in the literary world.

A contemporary of the late Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament activists Bruce Kent and Pat Arrowsmith, Linden marched to Aldermaston in 1962 and was a lifelong left-winger. When Boris Johnson made a mayoral election campaign visit to Maida Vale in west London in 2012, Johnson saw Linden and said, “you’ll be voting Conservative, won’t you?” He was swiftly admonished by Linden, who retorted: “you’re a buffoon!” Linden informed Johnson that he had never voted Conservative in his life.

Eddie Linden was born in Motherwell, the illegitimate son of Irish immigrant parents Elizabeth Glackin, a domestic servant from Tyrone, and Joseph Watters, a bricklayers’ labourer from Armagh, whose relationship had not lasted. Linden’s birth mother had her son adopted by her sister-in-law’s brother, Edward, a miner, in the days when illegitimacy carried a social stigma.

Although Linden was named John Edward Glackin on his birth certificate, he was known as Eddie Linden after his adoption. Raised as a Catholic in Bellshill, he was educated at Holy Family School in Mossend and St Patrick's School in New Stevenston. Aged eight, his world fell apart when his adoptive mother, Mary Glenn, died from blood poisoning.

When he was 10, Linden’s adoptive father married Joan Kelly, a Scottish Presbyterian, and Linden subsequently learnt that the woman he thought was his “auntie” was actually his biological mother. Kelly had Linden put in Smyllum Park, a Lanark orphanage run by Catholic nuns.

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Linden left school at 14 without any qualifications and barely able to write. The following year, his biological mother died from colon cancer. He never knew his birth father. After leaving school, Linden worked in a coal mine, a steel mill, and as a ticket collector at Hamilton West railway station.

Aged 16, Linden became interested in politics, originally joining the Independent Labour Party, before becoming a member of the Young Communist League. He later went to London as the branch delegate of his British Rail union for a Communist Party meeting, and the trip convinced him to transfer his job to the capital.

Linden began to sell the Catholic Labour newspaper on the streets, and write articles for it. He had become preoccupied with the threat of the bomb, and in September 1959, announced the formation of the Catholic Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, of which he was secretary. Within a year, it had 800 members. The group took part in an Aldermaston march, and joined a demonstration headed for Holy Loch in Scotland, where the Polaris missiles were based. By this point, he had realised he was not a Communist, and later joined the Labour Party.

At a time when sex between men was illegal, Linden struggled to reconcile his faith with his nascent sexuality. In a failed attempt to “cure” his homosexuality, he went into the Anderson Hospital in Battle, Sussex.

With the help of friends, he won a scholarship to Plater College, a “working man’s” establishment linked to the University of Oxford. However, Linden struggled there, and was admitted to the nearby Warneford Hospital, suffering from a breakdown.

Linden had a fraught relationship with the Catholic Church. In August 1968, he protested against the Pope’s rejection of contraception outside Westminster Cathedral. In clashes which made the front pages of national newspapers, Linden opposed the sacking of priests who disagreed with the Pope.

In the late 1960s, Linden became acquainted with the poet John Heath-Stubbs, and developed an interest in poetry. He moved from Hampstead to Maida Vale, where he would live for over 50 years, and began to organise poetry readings at the Lamb and Flag pub in Covent Garden. These readings in turn inspired him to start his own poetry magazine, Aquarius, in 1969. The first issue featured contributions from such noted poets as George Barker and Stevie Smith.

A financial gift from the playwright Harold Pinter had helped Aquarius get off the ground. It was the only magazine in which he would allow his poems to be published, and the character of Spooner in Pinter’s play No Man’s Land was said to be based on Linden.

John Betjeman donated to “good old Aquarius” annually, Auberon Waugh said it was the best poetry magazine in Britain, and among its readers were Conservative Home Secretary Kenneth Baker. Linden, who published the magazine on a shoestring budget from his bedsit, was later aided by an Arts Council grant, following a question in Parliament.

The magazine published work by such luminaries as Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes; among the 26 issues of Aquarius were themed Irish, Scottish, Australian and Canadian editions. Others focused on a particular poet, while a 1992 special edition on contemporary women’s writing featured Jackie Kay, Carol Ann Duffy and Fay Weldon.

In 1979, a biography, Who is Eddie Linden, by Sebastian Barker, inspired a return visit to his home town for Linden which was broadcast on BBC Scotland. A collection of Linden’s poems, City of Razors, was published the following year, the title piece describing the sectarian violence of post-war Glasgow. Linden gave readings of his poetry on radio, television and in person in Paris and New York. He was elected to the Executive Council of The Poetry Society in 1990.

The title of Linden’s biography gave rise to a 1995 play of the same name, which starred Michael Deacon as Linden, alongside Dallas Campbell as an aspiring young poet. The play had a successful run at The Old Red Lion in Islington, north London.

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The last issue of Aquarius came out in 2002. A tribute book, Eddie’s Own Aquarius, was published in 2005, marking his 70th birthday. Among those contributing were Roger McGough, Labour MP Clare Short and Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. A second volume of Linden’s poetry, A Thorn in the Flesh, was published in 2011.

In 2020, Linden was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and in 2021, he moved to Beachcroft House, a care home on Shirland Road in Maida Vale, where he remained until his death.

Eddie Linden never married or had a long-term partner.