Spirit of Birkenhead Institute

Pupils' and Staff Memories of Birkenhead Institute Grammar School


Dean Johnson is a former pupil of Birkenhead Institute, and has created a special musical tribute to Wilfred Owen. Dean has kindly sent in a letter he received from Peter Owen, William Owen's nephew, which is complimenting Dean on his work. A copy is shown below:-

Dear Dean

I am fairly sure that Wilfred did not write his poems with any thought that they would be used as contempory lyrics. That you have achieved this is a tribute to both you and Wilfred.  I have listened, at last, my apologies for the delay, several times and each time your singing of the poems and the melody works itself into and under my skin.

I should not be surprised that poetry can become a song.  A poem is indeed a song. Certainly Professor Jon Stallworthy the first biographer of Wilfred and a poet wrote an autobiography that he called ‘The Singing School’

I also find it extraordinary  (in the English sense) that you went to the Birkenhead Institute, quite eerie.  We do have a book of nursery rhymes that was awarded to Wilfred as a prize at the institute. In it there was a drawing of my father by Wilfred.  I shall send you a copy by post, it is a good likeness and one of Wilfred’s better drawings.

I listened to Bullets and Daffodils on the way back from the Foresters House at Ors.  The commune of ors are turning it into a cultural centre with the emphasis on, of course, Wilfred.  The cellar from which he wrote his last letter is the same as it was then.  You can imagine 12-15 people crammed into it, very friendly as Wilfred wrote.

I enjoyed your music and your singing of Wilfred’s poems.  It is I understand supposed to be difficult to put poems to music but it does not seem you found it a problem.  The Send Off is a poem I particularly like and comes across very well.

There are a couple of ‘things’ I question.  One is your description of Birkenhead and the Owen family being impoverished and living in a slum.  This is largely Harold’s memory and when we where up in Birkenhead several years ago we were taken to task by several inhabitants who told us that it was a decent working class neighbourhood the Owens had lived in.  There was not a lot of money around but I do not believe they suffered too much.  The other point is when you use the word catacomb which to me means a tomb.  The cellar was, in fact, a place where Wilfred had a jolly time. And I am sure did not regard it as a tomb.

Bullets and Daffodils is and has a good contempary way of introducing people of all ages, but particularly the younger to Wilfred’s poetry.  It is also very pleasing to learn from Yvonne that you had success in Oswestry and, I hope, Shrewsbury. Thanks for the display boards.

You will I hope forgive me if I call ‘ I will fight for you’ a catchy song but I do.  My singing is known to be terrible but sing along to it I do.

I look forward to meeting you sometime.

My best wishes

Peter Owen

Very many thanks to Dean for this interesting and positive letter from Peter Owen. 

Below is a link which Dean has also kindly sent in, which relates to Wilfred Owen's high regard in Oswestry, where Dean recently performed some of his musical tribute to Wilfred:-



Here is a blog by Sally Ronchetti about Dean Johnson's invitation to the BIOB Annual Dinner, 2010, held at Caldy Golf Club on October 1st, 2010:-

It was with an intrepid and slightly nervous air that Dean walked though the doors of the Caldy Golf Club in the Wiral. Uncomfortably dressed in suit and tie he walked into the venue of  Dean's and Wilfred's old 'alma mata' the Birkenhead Institute Old Boys Annual Dinner 2010.

He had been invited because they had heard favourable rumours of Dean's new musical project 'Bullets and Daffodils',  and were intrigued to know more of what Dean was planning to do with their beloved 'Old Boy' Wilfred.

Dean needn't have worried, he was warmly greeted and made to feel very welcome, and was soon fully ensconsed in conversation with many interesting men who had plenty a tale to tell about the old days and even more historical tales concerning Wilfred.

Dean gave a small speech explaining the concept about 'Bullets and Daffodils 'and even cheekily cracking a joke or two about for once being one of the youngest people in the room and maybe some of the diners may have recognised his 'backside' more than his face.  (Refering to many trips to the headmaster's office while Dean was at the Institute).

Birkenhead has been sadly neglected in the telling of Wilfred's story to date.  It is often dismissed as a down-trodden time for the Owen family who history would have us believe lived in less than favourable circumstances.  In the coming months Dean hopes to set the record straight and bring Birkenhead out of the shadows in into the light in the marvelous retelling of the story of Wilfred Owen through music and poetry.

Dean would like to thank the Old Birkonians once again for inviting him to their Annual Dinner.  He was honoured to attend and had an amazing night.

Sally Ronchetti

Many thanks to Dean for including the above blog on this site.  I have mentioned to Dean that Old Boys of the B.I. are actually Old Instonians! (Editor).



Above are some very exciting items sent in by Dean Johnson about his "Bullets and Daffodils" music tribute to Wilfred Owen. Firstly, there is a letter from David Cameron, thanking Dean for sending him a copy of his Bullets and Daffodils CD.  Secondly, there is a flyer about Dean's project at Birkenhead Library on 10th November, and finally, a portrait of Wilfred Owen which Dean has commissioned.

I would like to thanks Dean for these special items, which I am very pleased to include on this site.


Dean Johnson with Christoper Timothy, who is narrating Dean's "Bullets and Daffodils" tribute to Wilfred Owen. Very many thanks to Dean for this picture.


Please see below a link to the Wirral Globe article about Dean Johnson's tribute to Wilfred Owen, and also a picture of the Wilfred Owen display at Birkenhead Central Library, which Dean has very kindly sent in to the site:-



Dean Johnson has asked me to add the following request for premises for a Wilfred Owen centre. If any BIOBs know of anywhere, can you please contact Dean on the number shown below:-

"I think the events proved that there is interest in Wilfred Owen in the borough but I think his profile could be much bigger, I am going to try and establish a centre where I could house the Wilfred Owen story, the libraries don't have the time to give the info to various details of Wilfred's birkenhead years, I don't know if any of the old boys who visit your website have any premises with a spare room to convert to the WO centre or have an empty place somewhere that could be spruced up , it may be a long shot but could you post something on the site and ask them to give me a call on 07944 398 794"


Former B.I. pupil Dean Johnson is performing his special tribute to Wilfred Owen at Christ Church, Oxton, where Wilfred attended Sunday School:-

Wilfred returns to Christ Church.

Christ Church in Oxton where Wilfred Owen attended Sunday school is to play host to the musical based on his life.

A special Christmas version of Dean Johnson’s acclaimed commemoration ‘Bullets and Daffodils’ takes place on Wednesday 15th December at 7.30pm.

This production that features the voice of Christopher Timothy, is entitled ‘Bullets and Bunting, Christmas In The Trenches’. Carols will be added to the score for this one off performance in the very room that Wilfred attended Sunday school.

Following the Wirral premier at the borough’s libraries, Dean says “Singing at a venue that Wilfred loved and spent time in feels like a pilgrimage.”

Performance at Christ Church Hall, Bessborough Road Oxton starts at 7.30pm, doors open at 7.00pm. Admission £3.00 which includes mince pies and a hot drink is payable on the door.

Many thanks to Dean for the above information.


The following article is courtesy of the Wirral Globe, from January, 2011. Many thanks to Dean Johnson for this article:-

A WIRRAL musician is set to release his debut single from a musical about First World War poet Wilfred Owen.

Written by Dean Johnson, The Wilfred Owen Story Part 1 (Welcome To Birkenhead) is taken from his play, Bullets and Daffodils, which chronicles the life of one-time Wirral resident Wilfred, who was killed in action at the end of the First World War.

Featured in the recording is actor Christopher Timothy, who played vet James Herriot in the BBC drama All Creatures & Small.

Dean told the Globe: "I can't remember hearing Birkenhead mentioned in a record before, so I think this is a good chance to get Birkenhead on the airwaves. It's a very upbeat tune. It's got a nice beat to it, so hopefully it will inform as well as entertain.

"The boss of 360 degree records was at Warner Brothers for 20 years, so I'm confident he knows how to market and promote records. I think this record is in good hands."

"The play, which deals with Wilfred Owen's life before and during the conflict, was premiered at Birkenhead Central Library on November 10 and staged at Earlston Library in Wallasey on Armistice Day.

The debut single has been praised by music critic and television scriptwriter David Quantick, who said: "Once again Dean Johnson defies the norm and produces strange but strangely familiar music, all beauty and brains."

Coinciding with the release of the CD is the first issue of an e-magazine Voices, which welcomes writers,poets, musicians and film-makers to use their own voices in the same spirit as Wilfred Owen used his.

The magazine is available on www.wilfredowenstory.com, a website specially created by Dean.

Dean, who attended the same school as Wilfred - Birkenhead Institute - continued: "It's all part of my campaign to get Wilfred's name up on a bigger stage. I suppose, in a way, I’ve championed Wilfred Owen since leaving school.

"The website is a notice board for anything anybody wants to say about Wilfred and his influence upon them. I want to use his story to lift people.

"We all know the images of the First World War, but if you read Wilfred's letters, you will see how positive he was about the future.

"When the going got tough, he turned his life around and got something positive out of the situation he was in."

The website is supported by Wirral's mayor, Cllr Alan Jennings, who features in the magazine’s next issue.

Cllr Jennings, a keen poet, has pledged to support Dean in raising Wilfred’s profile in Wirral.

He told the Globe: "I was delighted to meet Dean and find out more about all he is doing to raise the profile of Wilfred Owen in Wirral.

"I don't think that many people realise that Wilfred Owen spent his formative years in Birkenhead and this is something that Wirral should be extremely proud of.

"His poetry about the horrors of war is very moving and means a lot to me personally, having had the honour of meeting local people who have made huge sacrifices for our country in wars past and present.

"The work of Wilfred Owen is very pertinent to the experiences of many men, women and families and I am happy to support any efforts to boost his legacy here in Wirral."


Dean Johnson, former B.I. pupil and Wirral musician,  has provided me with some exciting news about a permanent home for the exhibition of Wilfred Owen, which will now be at 34, Argyle Street, Birkenhead. Please see the information below:-

A permanent commemoration and exhibition of the life and work of Wilfred Owen comes a step nearer to reality with an offer from The Wirral Methodist Housing Association of a property in Argyle Street, Central Birkenhead.

Number 34 Argyle Street is on all the towns main bus routes and is 2 minutes from Hamilton Square Station (formerly Woodside Central, where Wilfred’s father Tom worked as station master).

The Wilfred Owen Story and Gallery will house memorabilia and artefacts, and feature an interactive timeline of Owen’s life; in particular his formative years in Birkenhead and as a pupil of The Birkenhead institute.

The gallery will host regular art shows and poetry and musical performances, whilst selling independently published creative writing. It aims to inspire individuals to use their voice to the same degree as the iconic poet used his

Wilfred's childhood friend A S Paton wrote, “On Saturday mornings our form had a regular period at Argyle Street Swimming Baths, where we both learned to swim.”'  So as well as serving a much needed cultural need, the Gallery has specific historic relevance to the person it honours.

The paperwork completing this wonderful opportunity, made possible by the generosity and artistic foresight of the Methodist Housing Association should be signed over the next few days.

The picture shows an artist's view of what the gallery could look like once finished. The picture on the right is of Argyle Street Theatre at the turn of the 20th Century. It was situated opposite 34 Argyle Street, and shows what the area would have looked like in Wilfred's time.


Dean Johnson at the new Wilfred Owen Centre in Birkenhead.


You are invited to a very special gala performance of Bullets And Daffodils (The Wilfred Owen Story) by Dean Johnson and narrated by John Gorman, to be performed in the beautiful surroundings of The Wolf Room, Eaton Park, Chester, by kind permission of Their Graces The Duke And Duchess Of Westminster, and in the presence of The Lord Mayor Of Wirral.
Commencing at 3pm on Tuesday 22 March 2011, the event is in aid of the Help For Heroes charity, of which The Duke is the patron,
Such is the prestige of this strictly private and unique event, that a donation of £15.00 is requested. We hope that this request does not deter you from attending, as you are very welcome, and you presence would be much appreciated,
Please would you kindly reply to this email, stating your intention whether to attend or not. If you will be joining us, please additionally RSVP with your address to:-
The Wilfred Owen Story And Gallery

34 Argyle Street

CH41 6AE

We will have pleasure in forwarding your tickets

Kindest regards
Dean Johnson


Please see above a special invitation to this event on 22nd March, 2011. If anyone is interested, please let Dean know as per the above.


The new Wilfred Owen Gallery opened on 18th March, 2011, with a huge success! Many congratulations to Dean Johnson on this achievement!

Pictures from the event can be seen below:-


Due to the popularity of the current Wilfred Owen and the Spirit of Birkenhead Institute exhibition, the WOS Gallery will be open this Saturday, 16 July, from 11:00 to 14:00.  

The display has also been extended until Friday 12 August, 2011

Please note the above extension to Dean's exhibition to 12th August: It is well worth a visit!