G K Chesterton
The London branch of the Catholic Writers’ Guild – known as The Keys - was formed in the early 1930s by the Catholic writer G.K.Chesterton and members of his staff at his magazine G.K.‘s Weekly.
The Guild was set up to provide mutual help, encouragement and support for Catholic writers and journalists and to host talks and lectures on subjects of interest.
By the time of the Second World War, there were Guild branches in several major cities. Only the Manchester branch still exists. There was also a separate group for female writers and journalists, known as ‘The Quills’. This later merged with the guild
The Keys has met in numerous places in London over the years, mostly around Fleet Street, the historic home of the British newspaper industry. It originally met in the pubs surrounding Fleet Street, before moving in the late 1970’s to the then Westminster Cathedral Conference Centre (now the St. Paul’s Multimedia Bookshop).
In the 1980’s the Guild moved to St. Etheldreda’s Church, Ely Place, just off Holborn Circus, where it had traditionally met for Mass before the meetings. The Guild at that time was under the care of Fr Kit Cunningham. About six years ago the Keys moved to its present home at St Mary Moorfields, the Catholic Church for the City of London.
The position of Master of the Guild has been held by, among others, journalist and publisher Kevin Grant; Catholic Herald editor Frances Gumley; Uvedale Tristram, who worked as a journalist in Africa; publisher Anthony Baird Smith; novelist Piers Paul Read; publisher Antony Tyler OBE; journalist Melanie McDonagh. The current Master is the well known journalist Mary Kenny.
In recent years, speakers at Guild meetings have included Eamon Duffy, A.N.Wilson, Richard Ingrams, Rosemary Hill, Ruth Kelly and James McMillan, David Quinn, Bryan Appleyard, Denis Sewell, Marina Warner, Jimmy Burns and many others.
By tradition, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster is always President of The Keys. Cardinal Basil Hume addressed the Keys in one of his last major public engagements before his final illness.
Among distinguished members of The Keys can be noted a former ambassador, Sir Geoffrey Jackson, whose book recounting his experience held hostage by terrorists had made him a national figure.
In 1999, the Keys launched the Catholic Young Writer of the Year Award. The first winner was Daniel Coughlan of the Cardinal Hinsley High School. The award is made at one of the monthly meetings. Traditionally members have offered their recent publications as part of the prize.