APRIL 2 – JUNE 14 1982
This is the story of how the war developed. These extracts from my diary will, I hope, give you an idea of the facts as they unfolded, together with the daily round of ordinary events that carried on as usual.
We listened to the nightly bulletins to learn what was going on far away across the Atlantic Ocean. The first reference to the coming conflict came at lunch time on Saturday the 3rd April:
We had corned beef for lunch; I was deeply suspicious that it came from Argentina. That evening I was anxiously watching TV to learn what was happening; I continued to follow the news closely through the following weeks. On Thursday I watched Question Time, which in those days was still hosted by the bow tie wearing Robin Day; there is no doubt what was on everybody’s mind. The spring proceeded nonetheless; the sloes were beginning to blossom on Alderford Common.
With incredible speed a Task Force of 100 ships was assembled at Portsmouth and was ready to sail by the 5th of April. There had been no contingency planning before the invasion; everybody thought such a thing against British Territory impossible. After the initial flurry of activity there was a lull while the Task Force made its way across the equator and into the South Atlantic. My diary concentrated on other things, notably the week’s performance I was giving playing the double bass in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe. My friend Bill came down to the Saturday performance and recorded it on his little tape machine.
On St George’s Day I drove to Oxford, where I took my landlady from my student days out to a meal at the Cherwell Boat House, a rather superior restaurant. I must have been feeling well off, because I spent £25 on the meal for two. This was a sum that I would feel a little excessive, even today more than thirty years later! Penelope enjoyed it anyway. The next day I joined a meeting of the Recorder Society (of which I was a member) at Magdalen College and played (so I said at the time anyway) rather well! Back at Penelope’s house we continued to listen to the news, and it was on Sunday the 25th April that we heard of the outbreak of fighting on South Georgia. I had earlier been enjoying the Botanical Gardens by the river Cherwell, and had a drink at the Welsh Pony in George Street. This had been my favourite pub as a student, and in 1982 it was still open (it has long gone now). In the evening Penelope, Ian (her fiancé) and I pored over the atlas to discover more about South Georgia. I learned that Ian and Penelope had been a couple for eight years. Ian, who is disabled, works for British Aerospace. He lives in Stevenage, so theirs is long distance relationship during the week. They get together at weekends.
On Monday I returned to Norfolk. The windscreen of my car already had a crack in it, but at Thetford a pheasant crashed into the car, which made the crack much worse. Back in Norwich I had fish and chips for supper with my sister Tiggy. The primroses were out, and the cuckoo was singing; in the South Atlantic winter was coming. On Saturday May 1st things were beginning to happen, as the Task Force approach the islands: We saw the News to keep up with developments in the Falklands. During the next few days the TV was full of updates. On the 4th of May I saw the News, which was rather bad (this was following the sinking of the General Belgrano, the Argentine battleship). The sinking of HMS Sheffield followed shortly afterwards.
The Government spokesman was a man called Ian Macdonald, and he gave daily updates on the BBC; the eyes of the nation were glued to him. My sister Tiggy and I drove up to Yorkshire with our dogs to spend a few days in Bill’s house near Whitby. (Bill was manager of Whitby hospital.) Naturally we had to visit the North Yorkshire Moors Railway while we were there, and an evening was spent at the Spa Theatre in Scarborough. It is rather strange how serious things were going on across the world while we were enjoying ourselves in the British summer.
Victory for Britain came in the middle of June. The Falklands War demonstrated among other things the great abilities of the Harrier jump jet, without which we would have struggled. The war provided the Vulcan, the last of the three V bombers to remain in front line service, with its only taste of real conflict. Mrs Thatcher, who had been far from popular in the months leading up to the Argentine invasion, drew huge and approving crowds in the aftermath of victory. Following a successful war, for the outbreak of which the UK was in no way to blame, the outcome of the 1983 general election was never in doubt. It was of course a Tory landslide.
The liner Uganda was converted from a cruise ship (taking schoolchildren on education voyages) to a Hospital Ship, for dispatch to the South Atlantic. Like all the work needed to prepare for the distant conflict, this was done in record time. That summer, when she returned to the UK to a hero’s welcome, she was again fitted out as a school cruise ship in September. After just two months she was chartered as a supply ship for the Falkland Islands. When her charter ran out she was taken to Taiwan for breaking up. My friend Bill Wragge (who we had visited in Yorkshire in the summer of 1982) is a long-standing member of the World Ship Society, and members contributed to the definitive history of the ship. The book was published twenty years ago. Bill contributed the chapter on her time as hospital ship.
It was the Falklands War that persuaded me to join the TA, but that is another story, which I have already told. Click here to read of my time as a private in the RAMC(V).
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE 1980s
Expertise is an essential ingredient of successful industry, and indeed of life itself. Who would want a house built by amateur bricklayers and clueless electricians? It wouldn’t just be uncomfortable, it would be positively dangerous. If everybody accepts these experts in manual employment, what is the problem with experts in more intellectual positions?
There clearly is a problem, and to see where it lies one only has to look at the dire warnings from almost all experts of the immediate consequences of a vote to leave the European Union last year. Compare these predictions with the actual result, the pretty even tenor of the economy since June 23rd. Incidentally, it is no good saying that the economy was only saved by the prompt action of the Bank of England in taking emergency measures; the experts should surely have included factors like this before making their predictions.
They clearly got it wrong, but this does not mean that those like the Governor of the Bank of England are not experts. I say this not only because Mark Carney is a member of my old college (and therefore highly intelligent?). If I were by some impossible circumstances responsible for managing a minor branch of a provincial bank I would cause mayhem by my complete lack of expertise in financial affairs. Unlike me, Mark Carney (the Governor) is an expert at managing money, but he is certainly not an expert at predicting the future. Who is? We no longer believe in the prophetic ability of seers and soothsayers, so it is rather perverse to believe in economists’ ability to foresee events.
To take another example; which economists predicted the financial crisis of 2008? They may have produced interesting theories to explain it in retrospect, and that is where their expertise lies. The trouble is that they think they can project their theories into the future. However accurate these theories appear to be, the nature of the subject changes over time. Unlike an expert chemist, who can with absolute certainty make a prediction that a given reaction will produce a given result, this is not true of economists, however much they would like this to be so. In the social sciences like economics this kind of certainty is impossible. People are not chemicals, and will always change in all sorts of unexpected directions.
The problem is the experts’ hubris. They like to think they can do what they can never do, and when they fail they bring experts in general into disrepute. We, the public, are almost as much to blame as the experts; if they had been right about Vote Leave (and they could have been) we would look concerned and say that we should have listened to the experts; but what I have said about predicting the future would still have been true.
There is far too much futurology about today. The newspapers, instead of reporting things which happened yesterday, are full of speculation about what is going to happen tomorrow. When (or sometimes if) the event does happen, these predictions are often hugely wide of the mark. The journalists never learn from their mistakes; they have already moved on the next future event. It would be much more sensible to give due consideration to events that have already occurred.
It is important to recognise what experts can and cannot do. I will leave the expert painter and carpenter to one side for now, and concentrate on the academic expert. Experts are not always right, even when considering the past let alone the future. They may claim a superior understanding over that of non-experts, but they should not assert omniscience. They should above all not claim to be able to predict the course of the future. Some events may be easier to foresee than others, but with anything that is not immutably fixed luck rather than judgement determines the outcome.
My Great Aunt Ruth was born in 1890, to a warrener whose job it was to harvest the rabbits on Jeremiah James Colman’s estate. It was a very ordinary job in which Phipp Peachey, my great-grandfather, disgraced himself by selling rabbits under the counter to the local butcher. This was a serious thing to have done, but he kept his job; however he was no longer allowed to wear the Colman livery. This was apparently a great ignominy for him.
Ruth Peachey was educated at the local village school in Trowse. When she had finished her schooling she was retained as a pupil teacher, which was still how new teachers were trained in the early years of the twentieth century. This was quite a step up for a warreners daughter, but she was not the first of her family to go down this route. Her eldest sister Thurza had already qualified as a teacher. Another Trowse born youngster was called Bertie Hardy, the son of a bricklayer. Three years older than Ruth, he had already qualified as a teacher.
Bertie and Ruth were married in 1912. When the First World War broke out Bertie joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as a private. He went on to become a sergeant. I do not know how good he was at the language when he arrived in France, but he obviously took full advantage of living among foreigners to improve his linguistic skill. After returning from the front he secured a job teaching French at the City of Norwich School. This was established in 1910 by Norwich City Council as a boys’ secondary school, to be built at Eaton on the edge of town. The most intelligent boys from the City’s Primary Schools were awarded scholarships, to be educated until the age of sixteen. The CNS, together with the Blyth School for girls, were in fact Grammar Schools, although most such schools were set up following the 1944 Education Act.
Ruth was very interested in politics and was a member of the Independent Labour Party. She was proud to call herself a Socialist, and once she was elected to the council she rose rapidly through the ranks. During the Second World War she established MAGNA (Mutual Aid Good Neighbour Association), a voluntary group that supported the vulnerable. In 1950 she was appointed Lord Mayor. For her inauguration she revived the Civic Coach, pulled by two dray horses from Steward and Paterson’s brewery. The coach had been in storage since before the war.
As her Lady Mayoress Ruth had her daughter Marion. How Ruth’s husband would have been described had he wished to fill the position I do not know; her predecessors as female Mayors were spinsters, so the problem had not arisen. As it was Bertie was more than happy to remain in the background. An only child, Marion was a graduate of Oxford University. Like her father she had studied French. All this was a long way from laying bricks and catching rabbits in the Norfolk countryside.
Aunt Ruth retained a great interest in politics, and she lived into the era of Margaret Thatcher. In spite of their very different political backgrounds, she was enchanted by the prospect of a female politician rising to the very highest power in the land. ‘Mark my words,’ she predicted, ‘she will be a great prime minister’.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIA
I did most of my travelling by bus when I was really young; from the age of five until I was ten I went to school eleven miles away every day. It is true that often I was taken there in the morning by my father in his car before he went to work, but I came home by bus. Sometimes my mother came to travel home with me (especially when I was five), but mostly I travelled alone (with some school friends). I may be wrong, but I cannot imagine a six-year-old being expected to make his way home alone by bus today. Even an eight-year-old would be shepherded home by his mother, even if it was only a street or two away. Yet we saw nothing unusual about this unaccompanied travel in 1955; youngsters were not regarded as being in constant danger from ill-intentioned adults or natural disasters. How things have completely changed in couple of generations, and not wholly for the better. From the age of ten I was at boarding school, so the business of getting to school did not apply; I was already at school when I woke up in the morning.
My next experience of using the bus was as a student at university. In less than a decade the nature of bus travel had changed completely to more or less its modern version. The old kind of buses, as shown the illusration above, had gone; no longer were there bus conductors – only in London, where the Routemaster held sway for decades, were they still employed. Everywhere else, by the end of the 1960s, the front entry bus allowed the driver to take your fare, so there was no need for a conductor. Also, the entrance was now controlled by a door, which went some way to making winter journeys a warmer experience. On the other hand the corresponding lack of fresh air made coughs and sneezes (those other features of winter journeys ) more infectious.
Apart from these two periods of my life I have done most of my travelling by other means. Once I could ride one, a bicycle was my main means of transport when I was a teenager. After that I was a car driver – railway travel hardly featured; it was not that I did not like trains, but by then they did not go where I was going. All the branch lines that I would have used had closed.
Bus tickets are not cheap, and I feel sorry for those young people (who on account of their youth do not qualify for the minimum wage) who have to spend so much of their meagre pay on the daily commute to work. With the free bus pass it is another matter; it opens up the world to the nation’s old folk. They have to make their way to the bus stop it is true, and they have wait for the bus, but then they can relax. There is no hurry to get to work for the retired, and nothing to pay. Free bus passes are in fact nothing of the sort; it is just that the ticket is paid for by the local authority rather than by the traveller. It is the bus companies who really benefit; instead of running buses throughout the day nearly empty, they are now filled with pensioners using their bus passes. It was a brilliant idea by somebody, a way of getting something in return for subsiding the bus companies. Few people appreciate that it is these commercial concerns who get the money, not the pensioners. They merely take advantage of off-peak transport. Politicians, who ought to know better, purse their lips at all the wealthy pensioners who are swanning about at other people’s expense. Would they prefer that these bus routes were simply scrapped, or that the subsidies were paid directly to the bus companies with no pensioners benefiting? For they are the only two other alternatives for uneconomic bus routes.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
THE SQUIRES OF TAVERHAM, 1623-1920
I must warn you that there are many convoluted personal relationships in the following article. Do not worry if you are sometimes a little confused about the various people and their family connections involved. Perplexed? – you are not alone! I hope the eventual picture that emerges is worth it.
The land in Taverham had belonged to the church before the Reformation, partly to the Priory of St Faith in Horsham and part to the Priory of the Holy Cross in Norwich. It was transferred to the Crown under Henry VIII, and in 1563 a 99 year lease was granted to Henry Richers, Lord of the Manor of Swannington, a couple of miles away from Taverham. The remainder of the lease was granted to Augustine Sotherton in 1623, and he or his descendants converted this to a more secure form of tenure known as copyhold. Copyhold was finally abolished in favour of freehold in 1922. The process of securing land rights has been going on for hundreds of years, and has largely been responsible for creating the legal profession in England.
Augustine Sotherton was born in about 1597; some sources place his birth three years earlier. The family came originally from a village of that name in East Suffolk. By the end of the 15th century the Sothertons were successful grocers in Norwich, and by the mid-16th century they were heavily involved in civic affairs. Members of the family served as Mayor, High Sheriff of Norfolk and as an MP. The Sotherton family were by then living in Strangers Hall in Norwich; their Coat of Arms and merchant mark may still be seen prominently displayed around the house. Upon his death early in the 17th century hi father left £6000 to his son Austin (Augustine). This was a huge sum, equivalent to many millions in today’s money.
The year 1623 was an eventful one for Augustine Sotherton; on May 15th he had married the heiress to the Shernborne family fortunes. She was a young lady called Mary. The wedding took place in St Sepulchre’s church in London, where she had been living since being orphaned twelve years before. The Shernbornes or Sharnbornes could trace their pedigree back to the reign of Edward II and, although not aristocrats, they were truly one of the oldest and most respected families in Norfolk. Aa an only child Mary was the last of the line. Shernborne, which gives the family its name and where they had lived for most of their long history, is a village between Sandringham and Snettisham, just to the east of Ingoldisthorpe. Not only getting married in 1623, Augustine acquired a landed estate in the same year, and on August 8th he was knighted. Perhaps these events are all related; already a rich man, the sudden increase in wealth following his marriage enabled the purchase of the Taverham estate, and maybe the grant of a knighthood was partly in recognition of his wife’s distinguished heritage. Certainly he left the grocery trade behind; from now on this branch of the family would be Country Gentlemen.
We can gather a little more about Mary Shernborne from the marriage register: “15 May 1623. Augustine Sotherton, Esq., Bachelor, 26, his parents dead, & Mary Sherborne, of St Sepulchre’s, London, Spinster, 20, dau. of Francis Sherborne, Esq., decd about 12 years since, since when she hath been trained up & remained with Mrs Mary Colt, Widow, of Colts Hall in Suffolk, her grandmother, who consents, as well as Edward Elrington, Esq., of St Sepulchre’s, in whose custody she now is; at St Bennet’s or St Peter’s, Paul’s Wharf, London.” [She signs the document “Mary Sharnbourn” in a firm hand.] In the Vicar-General’s Book her father is called Francis “of Sherborne, co. Suffolk.” The record is wrong in respect of the county, as Shernborne (or “Sharnbourne”) is in fact in Norfolk, as is her grandmother’s birthplace, Colts Hall. This is a few miles away in the village of Shouldham. Mary’s paternal grandmother remarried after Mary’s grandfather’s death, to a John Stubbs. He had his right hand cut off for writing a pamphlet criticising Queen Elizabeth’s romantic attachment to the Catholic Duke of Anjou.
Augustine Sotherton had at least two children; Thomas, born sometime after 1625, and Mary, born in 1628. She was baptised at Drayton rather than at Taverham, and as there was probably as yet no Hall in Taveram they mat well have been living in Drayton. Augustine died in 1649, and his son and heir Thomas was, in 1669, married to Elizabeth Barwick, daughter of a Norwich attorney. According to the Archdeacon’s transcripts from the Taverham parish register (the original now lost) the next Sotherton was another Thomas, born in 1677. He was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth (née Barwick). This Thomas was married to Elizabeth Branthwait, who was the granddaughter of Francis Bacon, the eminent judge who is buried in a magnificent tomb in St Gregory’s church in Norwich. You may read more of Francis Bacon in my account of the Longe family, to whom he was also related. Elizabeth Branthwait came from a family of family of lawyers who had bought Hethel Hall in the 17th century.
It was in 1701, during the marriage of Thomas Sotherton and Elizabeth Barwick, that the watermill on the river Wensum at Taverham was converted from a fulling mill (for the treatment of woollen cloth) to a paper mill. Thomas must have had prominent businessman friends in Norwich who persuaded him to promote the printing industry locally. This mill was described as ‘producing paper suitable for printing’ when it opened, but as there were no printers working in Norwich in 1700, the city fathers were obviously keen attract some. This they soon achieved, and by 1710 there were several, all using Taverham paper. This proliferation of printers in the city led to the production of the Norwich Post, the first provincial newspaper in England, and this was followed by several other weekly journals.
The last of the Taverham Sothertons, yet another Thomas, was born in 1707 and died in 1778. It was during his lifetime that the Georgian mansion (which survived until 1858) was built. His only child Mary (1732- 1803) married a second cousin named Miles Branthwait (1728 – 1780) in 1753.
Miles Branthwait had been born at Kettlestone near Fakenham where his father was Rector. Before going up to Cambridge to read law the Rector’s son attended Gresham’s school in Holt. In fact in the eighteenth century the school was not called Gresham’s, but Holt Free Grammar School. He lived most of his married life at a rented property near Melton Constable, Gunthorpe Hall. The current Gunthorpe Hall was built after his time. He only lived in Taverham for two years before he suddenly died, probably of a heart attack. He was a JP, and from what we know of him, he was a rather bristly character; he told James Woodforde not to fish in his river, which went down rather badly with the Parson.
He was succeeded by his son Miles Sotherton Branthwait (born 1756), one of whose first actions was to commission the architect John Soane to design an elegant dining room for the hall. This squire in turn died (without issue) in 1807, aged 51. He had been a keen huntsman until failing health forced him to sell his hounds. Miles Sotherton Branthwait had taken the running of the paper mill into his own hands in the 1780s, employing the former proprietor of the business as his employee manager. He equipped the mill with brand new vats and formes. Upon the squire’s death in 1807 the mill was again let as an independent business, and the lease was taken by the editor of one of the local newspapers, the Norwich Mercury. He was a new broom in the paper trade and he swept away all recently installed but now obsolete equipment used for hand-made paper. Instead of these old-fashioned tools, in 1809 he installed a newly invented paper making machine called the Fourdrinier. Unfortunately the sudden increase in the amount of paper that the machinery could produce caused the bottom to fall out of the market for paper, and the mill was declared bankrupt in 1816.
Im 1807 Miles Sotherton Branthwait was succeeded by his nephew Nathaniel Micklethwait (1784 – 1856). On 22 Sept 1784 Nathaniel Micklethwait was baptised before dinner at Weston Longville rectory by Parson Woodforde. Of this he records it was a performance ‘I did not much like, but could not tell how to refuse…[the Micklethwaits] are the strangest kind of People I almost ever saw. Old Mrs Branthwait [née Mary Sotherton] was almost as strange and vulgar.’ We must not take Woodforde’s words at face value when there is another contemporary account which takes a very different tone in describing Mary Branthwait. In this passage Richard Gardiner, a local writer of political pamphlets, refers to her as ‘a worthy descendant of one of Norfolk’s most noble and venerable families, the Sharnbrokes’.
This Nathaniel was the first Micklethwait to be squire of Taverham but he was by no means the last. He was the son of Sarah, Miles Branthwait’s and Mary Sotherton’s eldest daughter. Sarah had married a Micklethwait (also called Nathaniel), but he died aged 26 in 1786, when his son was only two years old. Although the young Nathaniel Micklethwait had inherited the estate in 1807, on the death of Miles Sotherton Branthwait, he did not take up residence in Taverham until over 10 years later, when the dowager Elizabeth Branthwait (née Colborne, 1757-1832) moved to the West of England. She had been born in Chippenham and died in Leamington Spa. Even once he had moved from his home in Beeston St Andrew to Taverham he spent much of his time in London. He was twice married, first to a daughter of ord Waldegrave, and the second time to a daughter of the Earl of Stradbroke. He was moving up in the world, and he sent his son to Eton.
The mill had overcome its earlier difficulties and successfully traded throughout the 1820s, but the structure was becoming old and dilapidated, and by 1840 part of the roof had fallen in, resulting in the death of one of the workers. By the middle of the following decade production had ceased and the machinery was put up for sale. It was rescued from disaster by the arrival of the railway from London, which reached Norwich in 1845. This enabled the Times newspaper to use Taverham paper to produce the newspaper. The Delane family took over the mill, and the mill was rebuilt and re-equipped, ushering in the final chapter of the story of paper making in Taverham.
Nathaniel Micklethwaite died in 1856 and he was briefly succeeded by his eldest son, a Lt-Colonel in the Scots Fusilier Guards. He died within months of becoming squire of Taverham, aged 51. He was unmarried, and was succeeded by the next in line, his half brother The Revd John Nathaniel Mickletwait. He had been Lord of the Manor at Coltishall before inheriting Taverham Hall, and although a clergyman he had no parish duties of his own. It was under his auspices that the south aisle of Taverham church was built. The Revd John Nathaniel Micklethwait was obviously up to date in his reading, a he was in possession of a first edition of an Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. This novel has recently been sold at Sotheby’s for a staggering £163,000.
If Squire John Nathaniel Micklethwait is remembered today, it is for building the current Taverham Hall in 1858. His initials appear in many places around the property. He employed the Scottish architect David Brandon. John died in 1877 and the Hall was let to William Waring, a retired railway contractor. He had specialised in civil engineering projects like viaducts. These had been carried out across the world, in Sicily and Uganda, but also in the approaches to St Pancras Station.
One of John Micklethwait’s younger brothers, Sotherton Nathaniel Micklethwait, had distinguished himself by gaining a Cambridge University blue in cricket in 1843. He went on to serve for 40 years as Vicar of Hickling in Norfolk, where his family owned more land and where he received the living which was in his father’s gift. His elder brother, Henry Sharnbroke Nathaniel Micklethwait, who inherited the title of Lord of the Manor of Taverham from John Micklethwait in 1877, spent his latter years in London after a career in the Royal Navy. He never lived at the new Taverham Hall. He died in 1894.
He was followed as the owner of the Taverham estate by his brother George, but none of these Micklethwait bothers had any children. Henry died unmarried and neither was George Micklethwait married when he died in 1901. The estate then passed to a grandson of Nathaniel Micklethwait (died 1856). Nathaniel Micklethwait’s daughter Sarah (1813-1869) had married John Mills of Roundwood in Hampshire. They were married in London in 1836, and he was the elder brother of Emma Mills, who became the wife of the Revd John Micklethwait. The son of John Mills and Sarah (neé Micklethwait), the Rev Edward Cecil Mills, inherited the property in Taverham after George’s death. He was the Rector of Barford in Warwickshire, and he may well not even have visited Norfolk. The Rev Mills died in 1908, when the estate was left to his son John Digby Mills. He used the Hall in Taverham to house his regiment, the Royal Warwickshires, in the First World War. After an army career he lived in Bisterne in the New Forest and became the local Tory MP from 1932 until 1945. The Hall was sold by John Mills in 1920 and was bought by the headmaster of the preparatory school at Roydon near Diss,. He was looking for larger premises for his expanding school. Taverham Hall School is still in possession of the hall.
TAVERHAM HALL, designed by the Architect David Brandon.
The Mills family are still in possession of Bisterne Manor in Hampshire.
Those who wish to learn the history of Taverham Hall School are referred to Where Elephants Nest (1996) by Peter Beer. A history of Taverham from early times to 1969 (1969) by Thomas Norgate has much useful much information, but it would be easier to follow if it contained footnotes. A 12 page pamphlet was produced on the occasion of the opening of the village hall in 1957. The Parish Registers, Taverham 1601-1837 (1986) transcribed by Judith Sims and indexed by Patrick Palgrave-Moore contains much useful information relevant to this article. There are references to the village in other books but as far as I am aware the above mentioned are the only books on Taverham.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA
Because (for me at least) hotels are visited when I am too far away from home to spend the night in my own bed, the hotels I have visited are far away from East Anglia. As far as possible we try to visit friends or relatives when we go away, or else hire a holiday cottage, but sometimes an hotel is inevitable. The most recent hotel we have been to was in Brussels last year; our visits to Europe have mostly involved hotels, although we rented a charming gîte in Dieppe a few yeas ago. Our trip to Holland last year was unusual in that we were entertained in the family home of our son’s girlfriend, who is Dutch. They have a 1960s house in Hilversum. We slept in their annex, which provided the best of both worlds; independence with close proximity to all facilities.
I cannot remember which hotel I visited first, but it was either in Windsor or in Oxford; in either case it was well before I was ten years old. The hotel in Windsor now goes by the name of the Sir Christopher Wren Hotel, on the grounds it was the home of the great architect; this is nonsense. It is a Georgian building, whig rules it out on at last two counts. Wren was nearly 90 when George the First came to the throne, and even if he had built the house at such an advanced age, his style was Baroque, and not the Palladian that we associate with Georgian architecture. Wren certainly lived for a time in Windsor, but the most you can claim is that the hotel may have replaced Wren’s house. In my day it went by the more modest title of The Old House.
The first Hotel I visited in Oxford is long gone, and I cannot now remember where it was. It went by the name of The Oxenforde, and the staff were all extremely polite (even deferential) and old. Years later my father took me to The Randolph, and this was by far the plushest hotel I have ever patronised. It was very different from the Holiday Inn in Oxford that I went to with my family about ten years ago, but as this was beside the Oxford United F C’s Kassam Stadium it was the best place that we could have chosen, as far as my son was concerned.
I must have visited Blandford Forum in the middle 1960s, with my sister Tiggie. The only thing about this hotel that I remember is eating coquilles St Jacques; they were delicious, although I don’t think I have ever eaten a scallop again. Coquilles St Jacques are scallops served on their shells with pommes duchesse (i.e mashed potatoes !) pipe round the edge.
Moving on, my first stay on my own at an hotel was when I went down to Weymouth en route to Guernsey. The only thing I remember about that occasion was going to a Church of England service. I must have been at loose end, because I do not usually do anything so religious when on holiday. The sermon was entirely devoted to the repugnance the vicar felt at the prospect of union with the Methodists – something that was then on the cards.
I tended not to stay in hotels in the 1970s because by then I had a dog. Although dogs are allowed in some hotels, they are an added complication when travelling, and that is trustful enough. Instead I tended to stay with friends who could put up with me and my dog. When I got married I no longer had Fido, but we soon had young children, which were even more of a tie. When we were married we stayed at an hotel in Woodbridge for our honeymoon, but after that our first visit as family of four was when we went up to London to see Cats. We spent the night.
I have visited many other hotels in my lifetime; the most exotic was the Hotel Beke in Budapest in 1965, during the height of the Cold War. It is still there under the same name but in very different circumstances. Every meal in Hungary was accompanied by a roll; there is nothing odd about that, but the plate also held a fresh gherkin at breakfast, lunch and dinner. No doubt this is still part of Hungarian cuisine. I also spent a few nights in an hotel in Prague, three years before the Prague Spring. This was the first time I had ever slept under a duvet; these were common in Europe – even Communist Europe – but quite unknown in England at the time.
FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST
J. R. R. Tolkein was still living when I was an undergraduate at Oxford, but he had retired to live in Bournemouth. Tolkien was still teaching at Oxford while my sister was at LMH reading English in the 1950s, but the Eagle and Child had long since ceased to be the meeting place of the Inklings. His youngest son Christopher, who later prepared the Silmarillion for publication, was still lecturing at New College however, and I attended a series of lectures he gave on the Vikings during my first year. Since then I have become very interested in the Vikings, but of course I have entirely forgotten what his lectures were about.
The Tolkien name was already world-famous well before I went up to university; in this article I intend to refer to those people who were then completely unknown to everyone (except to those who were undergraduates at Oxford in 1970), but who have subsequently become household names. Even back in 1969 most of the people I will mention were obviously going to be stars in the world of the media. This was because they were already columnists in the university organs such as Cherwell. There were many university rags at that time, most that lasted only a term or two.
Libby Purves was at St Anne’s in the days before all the colleges became co-educational, as they were by the 21st century when my son went up to the college. Libby was a regular writer in 1970, who we all followed on a weekly basis, and she is still a regular broadcaster nearly 50 years later, together with her husband Paul Heiney; but she came second in importance to Gyles Brandreth. He was a real star from the start. His journal was another long-running university periodical named Isis. He was also President of the Oxford Union in 1970. Gyles has been principally a journalist all his life, but he was for a period in the 1990s a Tory MP. Another even more prominent Tory parliamentarian has been Ann Widdecombe, but although she too was a contemporary of mine I did not come across name her during my Oxford years. She obviously did not write for the student press.
I could write of various youthful indiscretions of these now-famous writers, but on these matters I will remain mute. The children’s poet Michael Rosen was another well-known character during my student days, but more for his politics than for his verse. Whatever out later political affiliations, we were all at the time rather left of centre. I cannot remember Michael Rosen writing in Cherwell or Isis, only for a piece of rather amusing but slightly rude graffiti he chalked on Balliol wall in Broad Street. He may not have written in the student press, but he was certainly written about in it.
Another writer was the late Christopher Hitchens. His politics were very left-wing then and he remained a strong atheist until his death. His 21st century conversion to American Foreign Policy (although not to President Clinton, another Oxford contemporary) was certainly something that I would not have anticipated from his university days. I have never been a Trotskyist as Hitchens was, but my left-wing opinions had been quite marked. I had however already begun to grow out of such juvenile attitudes by the time I left university; it is a puzzle to me how many of my fellow baby-boomers have never abandoned their childish political and musical tastes. Christopher Hitchens was another personality who was obviously going places, even in his student days. I remember squeezing into a pub near the Examination Schools on Oxford High Street during Finals in 1971. He was there with a voluptuous young lady, a fellow-student who was bursting out of her sub-fusc. He was always keen on the delights of the flesh.
MEMORIES OF OXFORD
I must have been well under ten years old, and I can remember very little about my first visit to Cambridge. But I do recall the water channels that run either side of the road outside the Fitzwilliam Museum – this is just the sort of unusual feature that appeals to a young boy. I saw these channels again when I returned to Cambridge recently.
Molly and I went by train on the first day of the year when you could say that spring had really arrived. We caught the 9.40 to Cambridge after being taken to the station by our daughter Polly. The train’s first stop was at Wymondham, that pretty award-winning station. I had intended to doze on the outward journey, so as to be fresh for exploring the university town, but there was too much to see.
The train arrived on time at Cambridge station where my friend Bill was there to greet us. My cousin William had driven up from Knebworth with Bill and he drove all four of us the Fitzwilliam Museum. William is very knowledgable about the town as he read history at Selwyn College in the early 1980s. At the Fitzwilliam we spent over an hour looking round the exhibits, starting with the armour and moving on through the pottery to the Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities. As this is one of the best collections in the country all the exhibits were of the highest quality. Molly, Peter, Polly and me had been there last to see the Macclesfield Psalter, that misleadingly termed example of the East Anglian School of manuscript illumination. Entrance to the Museum was free, which cannot be said of many of the attractions of Cambridge.
To eat William took us to the Eagle pub in the centre of town. When first built in the 17th century this was called the Eagle and Child (as the pub in Oxford still is). This is near to the original site of the Cavendish Laboratory and Watson and Crick would frequent the pub in the early 1950s. This was while they were working on the double helix that we now know as DNA. The brewers Greene King (who manage the pub on behalf of the college which owns it) produce an ale called Eagle DNA. William had a drink of DNA with his meal.
We went round the chapel at King’s, where I had last been in 1972 to hear the Allegri Miserere for the first time. There was an interesting display on the building of the chapel which was started under Henry VI and completed under Henry VIII. King’s College Chapel was very much a royal project in spite of the different houses involved (Lancastrian, Yorkist and Tudor), and it is built on a suitably impressive scale. Next we perambulated the court at Trinity and the chapel there, where the ante-chapel has a fine collection of statues of notable alumni of the college, including Sir Isaac Newton and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
We were due to catch the train back to Norwich at 4.12 p.m., and were taken back to the station with about ten minutes to spare. The train home was equally punctual, but this time I did doze on the odd occasion. I do not remember stopping at Brandon, so I may have dropped off as we passed through Suffolk. The sun had gone in by the time we got off the train in Norwich and there was a chilly breeze but the whole time we spent in Cambridge was perfect spring weather.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
It was in February that my father had his first coronary. It happened on a Sunday, after lunch, when I was home for the day from boarding school. My father suddenly had to lie down. If this happened today we would call the ambulance, but in those days you called the doctor to any emergency, day or night, weekends included, and he always came. The doctor, on learning that my father had never had mumps as a child, diagnosed this as the cause of his illness. Obviously my father could not drive me back to boarding school that Sunday evening, but my Aunty Olive stepped into the breach. My mother had already had a stroke a couple of years earlier and this left her with a slight difficulty in walking but her arm was not affected. So by their late fifties both my parents had serious health problems.
My father stayed in bed for a fortnight with “mumps” before he was finally diagnosed as having suffered a heart attack. By then there was little point in sending him to hospital as he had plainly survived the immediate effects. At least he could then be put on the correct medication, which consisted of warfarin and little else. This effective drug against thrombosis had been introduced in 1948 as a rat poison! It is still used for some coronary conditions.
While he was laid up in bed he had plenty of time on his hands, and he spent some of it writing an article for a competition the Optician magazine was running. He was gratified to win the prize of £100 which, in 1967, was worth a great deal more than it is today. This helped his finances too, as he was not earning while not working. However he gave away the proceeds several times over.
He stayed at home until Easter, and just before he returned to work the family went to Itteringham mill near Aylsham which in those days was open as a tea room. It was run by Derek Neville, the nature poet. We also went to Mannington Hall near Holt which was not normally open to the public, but was having an open day. The gardens are now a popular attraction, but the house is still only occasionally open to the public. I have not been back there since 1967.
1967 was the year when I took my A levels, so for the first few weeks of the summer holiday I was on tenterhooks, awaiting the postman with my results. My grade for art wasn’t very good, indeed it was downright bad – a D; so my dreams of going to the Slade or indeed any art school were dashed. History was somewhat better as I got a B grade for that. English was my best subject and I got an ‘A’ grade despite only answering one of the three sections of the exam paper. This was divided into Poetry, Drama and Novels but nowhere did it say that you had to answer a question from each. I did all my answers on poetry. Mr Coleridge (my English master), when I told him what I had done, shook his head and said I should have done one on each. Nonetheless I got the top grade so he need not have worried.
Even in spite of my good marks I was still turned down to read English at Hull, which was one of the universities on my application form. At the time the poet Philip Larkin was the librarian there and this is what had attracted me to the university. I can only think that this rejection was pique on the part of the university as I had put them last of my six choices on the UCCA form, the predecessor of UCAS. All my other applications were to read history, and that too may have had a bearing on my abject failure at Hull. First art school and then Hull University; I wasn’t doing very well. Fortunately everywhere else accepted me. I can recall LSE among the others I applied to, and something tells that another may have been Bristol.
My top choice had been Oxford and, luckily for me, at that time they took no notice of your A level grades. I do not think that D, B and A would be a suitable batch of results for even a second tier university today, which all seem to demand straight ‘A’ grades. In 1967 Oxford and Cambridge based their selection solely on your performance in the Entrance Exam, which you took at the beginning of the following December and, if you passed that hurdle, it all depended on your interview which took place shortly before Christmas.
Why did I choose History? It was all down to David Gregory. I was really enamoured of English. I was not particularly looking forward to doing Anglo-Saxon which was still a compulsory part of the Oxford English course, but I still intended to pursue English at university. However my teacher David Gregory convinced me to read history instead and even recommended that I apply to St Peter’s College at Oxford. He himself had read history at Lincoln College a few years earlier. I am so glad that I followed his advice on both counts. I got a place to read history at St Peter’s and this led to a marvellous three years, some of it even spent studying!
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
(The following piece was written in 1967 [apart from the notes in square brackets], which accounts for a slightly immature style. The photo I took from the cupola on top of the Sheldonian Theatre during my last term at Oxford. It was a different age; single sex colleges and 11 o’clock lock down for a start. Nearly all undergraduates were minors, as in 1967 the age of majority was still 21. Nobody had to pay a penny; your grant covered all your living expenses as well as university fees and left you some pocket-money too. Because we were so well provided for we did not have to think of money at all. There was none of this concentration on future earning potential that you get today, which I regard as a regrettable feature of modern university life. The Oxbridge entrance exam was still the way into those two universities. They ignored your A level results almost entirely. The entrance exam was held in late November which is why interviews were held just before Christmas.
Oxford and Cambridge were more socially diverse then than they have subsequently become. My best friend at college was the son of a welder from Runcorn, and you couldn’t get more working class than that. The dominance of the privately educated in the elite universities is a fact, despite their best efforts to redress the balance, but it is not the universities’ fault. It has been brought about by the destruction of the grammar schools. The undoubted social inclusiveness of the comprehensive system has been bought at the expense of the bright state educated children who have found it much harder to do well. )
Wednesday Dec 13th, 1967. Caught the bus from outside Farfield about 8.20. Reached Sheringham to find that the next train to Norwich left at 10.25, so I went to see the sea. There were men with adzes -I think that they were adzes- were chopping away at piles for the sea defences, the groynes or breakwaters. The tide was out and there was a morning mist. At the new train station in Sheringham there was a distressing number of turds on the track.
I had a peep or two at the at the North Norfolk Railway’s stock in the old station. All of it was there, the B12, the two diesel railcars (they looked in very good condition) the J 15 and Gresley Quads. The J15 has had the cladding replaced and has an undercoat of blue on. There is lot still to be done before anything is open to the public. In Sheringham I bought Trevellyan’s Short History of England at Bertram Watts’ bookshop and had breakfast (which I had missed at school) of sausage egg and chips at the Go-Go café.
I left on the warm train and chugged into Norwich at 11.15. I booked a three-day return to London and got on the mainline train. I considered the Times crossword and got 2 clues. Also The Spectator (articles about foot and mouth etc) and got 3 clues in that crossword. I had a snack in the buffet car between Colchester and London. We arrived about 20 minutes to 2. I thought that the train from Paddington left at 2.15. I got on what thought was the Circle line but it was the Metropolitan, going south! Then got on the Circle going in the right direction.
Got to Paddington to find the train was leaving at 3.15, an hour later. I booked a 3 day return to Oxford. Had lunch. I boarded the train, which was leaving from platform 4 not 2 as I had been told, and was lucky to get what must have been about the last free seat. All around me were ex-schoolboys reading books with titles like ‘The Practice of History’. Opposite me was an Etonian, rather a floppy sort of character and heavily accented but a very fluent speaker; a lanky fingered, bejowled and spotty caricature of an Eton boy I decided.
Arrived in Oxford at 4.28 and had time to buy this book after having found Pot Hall [St Peter’s College]. I went off to buy this note-book among other things and was met outside Woolworths (where this book came from) by Sinclair, Keyworth and Lees. [Keyworth and Lees were up with me for interview; Sinclair was a former Gresham’s pupil who was doing post-graduate work at Nuffield College. Now Emeritus Professor of Economics at Birmingham University.] Sinclair was taking them to tea at the Oxford Union and he invited me too. We talked there until half past five, when I had to leave to check in at college.
Dinner was at 7, not much of an improvement on school dinners but it had an extra course. Tomato soup; pork with apple sauce and roast ’taters, Brussels sprouts; trifle. Then went out for drinks. Had many ‘memorable thoughts’ which escape me! I phoned Mum and Dad and got into confusion unlimited with the operator. I gathered enough change to phone Jonny [Jonathan Royds-Jones], and Roger and Charles [the Marshall twins; all three my friends at Farfield] were there too. When I got back the college door was closed but not locked, so I did not have to climb in – though that would have been an experience. (This was at 10.40.) I saw lots of colleges in the dark; tomorrow in daylight? Tomorrow I get an interview at 10.30. I hope I will wake up in time for breakfast at 8.15. It now 11.15 p.m. the previous night. There was more, much more that I intended to record like the drops of moisture on the roof of the gents, the hot dog costing 1/4d for which I handed the fellow only 1d; the nature of J. E Corran (my room holder); the multitude of student magazines -ISIS, OXY-MORON, THE OXFORD FREE PRESS, COVER- to name only the readily memorable.
I had intended to comment on my next door neighbour, the fencer; the porter; my phone call which cost 2/6 – but I have already commented on that, haven’t I? And various travelling thoughts like the maintenance of cottages, the shabby state of the railways, the ban on racing because of foot and mouth and the restrictions we should be prepared to face because of such like disasters. Other interesting things – Britain’s trade gap; seems very unimportant.
Thursday December 14th
Awoken at 7.30, got up at 7.45, breakfast at 8.15 (egg, beans and bacon), snoozed till 10.20. Went for interview (should have been 10.30 but was 10.45), Very pleasant – had Eric Smith (History Tutor) and the Master [Thornton-Duesbury –T.-D.- the Master from 1940, after C. M. Chavasse, the college’s first master; it was his final year]. The room was warm. Then went Christmas shopping in lots of lovely bookshops; Oxford’s the place for books. Now there is lunch at 1 o’clock in Hall, it is upstairs, oak panelled. The residents rooms are furnished, doored, skirting boarded and picture railed in light oak.
We had sausage and mash, cauliflower cheese and ginger pudding. In the corridor I heard two dons discussing wines for dinner. Did I say I had bought books for Christmas presents? I am beginning to wonder about suitability – they’re books I like but will sister Tig like Archy and Mehitabel or my cousin Jill the Wonderful O? In the afternoon I sat by the fire in the JCR till past 3. It is early closing day in Oxford and I couldn’t get any Aspros for my headache. I had no more to eat till dinner (at 7). It was vegetable soup, steak and kidney pie with carrots and mash and cold caramel. I can definitely say that tonight’s meal was the best yet.
I rang home at 10.30. I am leaving tomorrow. Parkhurst from Mill Hill school said that he has to stay for a further interview. Hard luck on him – he won’t leave London for Southampton till 7 p.m. Still I am off now. It’s been quite a long stay in Oxford for under ten minutes of interview and I wouldn’t want to wait any longer. TD the Master with his bald head and white frieze of hair, dog collar and benign look is just right for the part. The poor old dons are kept busy at interview time – busier at least than I have been.
I am going to be very tired tomorrow when we are going to Bernard Sankey in Hunworth for dinner [i.e back in Norfolk]. Bernard Sankey was our housemaster at Farfield when we first arrived and wants to entertain the leavers. Well that’s about that for today. At least I know now, and didn’t yesterday, that I will be woken up for breakfast. I think otherwise I would never wake up at all. What will it be like to be back at school for another two nights after this? The old path to the Sanatorium [where my friend was Prefect in charge of Farfield’s annexe] and seeing Bill again, and W.O.T. [W. O. Thomas, the housemaster who followed Bernard Sankey].
After these last few days, essentially post-school days, it will be like going back into the past. The pubs, the ex-schoolboy comrades, and other things have all conspired to make me no longer a schoolboy at heart. I act as if I am never going back. But I am.
In one way though school is freer than life here (my short life here). I can go out and come back well after 12 and think nothing of it. Here the door is locked at 11. I’m leaving school. I couldn’t go back for two more terms, although I think [tutor] Smith would like it if I were to learn some Latin. If I could say that it would improve my chances I feel sure I would take lessons. I am confused at the moment as to whether I want to come here or not. Last night I had this vision of a lighted entrance to a tower, dark buildings a romantic setting and I thought ‘Yes’. But now would I rather go to L.S.E.? [I already had a place at L.S.E.] I’d like it there I’m sure, although in London yesterday I swore that I would always remain a provincial.
Does J. E. Corran [the resident of the room I was in] keep an animal in that locked cupboard? For two nights I have heard scratchings there. I wonder. The Bronco paper in the lavatories is pink at St Peter’s. WHY did they put pegs on the OUTSIDE of the door? This little pad reminds me of one I kept in Czechoslovakia. These memorable periods of life need to be recorded – the memory needs to be jogged. Anyway I have been making myself remember St Peter’s in case I ever come here again. In the past I have always found one’s first impression of a place is unrecognizable by the time of the second. Am I grown up enough now for this to have changed? Surely three days is long enough to get to know one staircase, two trees, some tufty grass and an old Georgian gate house?
St Peter’s College is next door to a girls school, a fact that caused me some concern when I was trying to find the place. The girls have a blue painted bike sheds and there is a lot of weaving on looms going on, the girls shuttling about like nobody’ business. I almost walked into the building on Wednesday thinking it was St Peter’s –it is a stone building and looks rather university-like and the lights were out. Today I can see the weavers at their looms. [Now in 2014 it really IS a part of St Peter’s College.]
If I do get in I will look on these jottings with a charmed but derisory affection – but how will I look at them if I don’t?
Friday December 15th.
Woken later – 7.40, up at 8 o’clock, breakfast at 8.15 of porridge, scrambled egg. I went to the buttery to pay for my drinks at the bar. I had already packed. I walked to the station and got on the train at 8.55. I got to the station as the train did, and got on about 30 seconds before it left. I didn’t hurry, the train and I just happened to coincide. I got in to Paddington about 10, took the tube straight to Liverpool Street where a train to Norwich was standing at the station. I got straight on and it left at 10.30; this time there was about 5 minutes to spare. What a day – everything going right so far, though it could have been a two-hour train; as it is we on a 2½ hr train – we’re an hour out of London and still only at Colchester. I haven’t had a chance to buy a paper yet but I have plenty to read and this to write. Two and a half hours ago I was in Oxford – not bad.
I have just been for a snack at the buffet car. Archy’s Life of Mehitabel is a bit repetitive.