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Grantham's inspirational women: 'Stories nourish the soul and spark imagination'

Since we began our series on inspirational women in and around Grantham, there has always been one special lady that knew we needed to speak to.

Known to many as Grantham’s very own traditional story teller, Betty Elmer has spent years telling her tales to generations of children.

Born in Liverpool, the 85-year-old grandmother was named after film star Betty Boop, which her mum watched at cinema while she was pregnant, and has definitely gone on to make her mark on the people of Grantham.

We caught up with Betty at her home in Gladstone Terrace, Grantham, this week, where we found her surrounded by her vast collection of books, which take pride of place on almost every shelf.

Betty Elmer (12655418)
Betty Elmer (12655418)

What are your earliest memories?

Well I was born in Anfield, Liverpool. I was a very much loved only child who was surrounded by my family. We all lived on one street - it was a bit like Coronation Street and I loved it. But it was not always a happy time. My three-week- old baby cousin was tragically killed in the May Blitz in 1941 and I was evacuated along with my mum, auntie and another cousin to a cottage in North Wales.

When I left school, I worked in the city for a cosmetics firm before moving to Amersham where I met and married my husband who was a teacher.

The couple went on to have two sons and two daughters and moved to Grantham in 1965. When the marriage broke down, Betty needed a way to support her family.

Betty Elmer with David Burling, chair of Grantham Museum and Claire Saunders, Heritage regeneration officer at InvestSK. (12218808)
Betty Elmer with David Burling, chair of Grantham Museum and Claire Saunders, Heritage regeneration officer at InvestSK. (12218808)

What did you do next?

I did everything that was legal, decent and honest to support my children who I love dearly. I started volunteering at Manthorpe playgroup but I had to give it up when I moved across town as I couldn’t drive. I missed it so much that I got permission to start my own playgroup at the old swimming pool in Union Street and it was then that my passion for storytelling really started to emerge.

We would always wind the morning down with a story. I wanted the children to feel included and so I would often use props to make the characters come to life.

Betty was invited to hold storytelling sessions at Grantham Library and eventually became a permanent member of staff. A few years later, she took part in the Word of Mouth festival back in Liverpool and it wasn’t long until she had made a lasting impression there too.

I was only meant to be telling stories for a single morning but ended up staying the entire week but on the back of this, I wrote my first book, The Liver Bird, which was published in 1990.

Betty went on to have more books published including The Railway Story and a three part trilogy titled The Chronicle of Wulf and Bron the Brave, all of which are available to purchase on Amazon.

Did you continue storytelling when you retired?

Yes of course. When I retired in 1998 I became involved with Gravity FM. I also started telling stories at Belvoir Castle where I told the stories of the paintings in the Gallery and eventually became part of the historical reenactment team. Over the years I have been invited to tell stories in hundreds of schools, museums and galleries.

Grantham Museum has also just launched the Betty Elmer Archive, a podcast bringing to life many of my stories about the ordinary and extraordinary people of Grantham.

Why do you like books so much?

I love everything including the look, feel and smell. Books are friends.

A good story nourishes your soul and fires up the imagination.

Betty Elmer. (12218806)
Betty Elmer. (12218806)


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