The John Meade Falkner Society
Founded 8th May 1999
Newsletter No. 16 22 July 2004
Whilst looking for illustrations to accompany Ken Warren’s article in the accompanying Journal, I came across The Berks, Bucks & Oxon Archaeological Journal Volume V No. 3 for October 1899. There is an unsigned review of JMF’s History of Oxfordshire:
“Mr. Elliott Stock has added another volume to his series of County Histories, and he has entrusted ‘Oxfordshire’ to the hands of Mr. Falkner, the Editor of Murray’s Handbook of that county. The author has an intimate personal knowledge of the towns and villages which he describes, and moreover tells his story in a clear and entertaining style. It would be a difficult task to write a dull book about Oxfordshire, replete as it is with the associations of every interesting period of English history; moreover, there is the University with its absorbingly interesting annals which have furnished Mr. Falkner with the subject for many a stirring page..... But Mr. Falkner has not confined himself to the city and University of Oxford, he has shown how totally mistaken were those University men who used at one time to declare that there was nothing worth seeing near Oxford....” The reviewer ends by remarking on how long the cause of the Stuarts continued to find supporters at Oxford and that “however mistaken the Stuart cause may have been, its romance is undeniable, and to linger over it in company with Mr. Falkner for a few hours is a pleasant recreation”.
MEADE FALKNER AND BEVERLEY MINSTER
In our Newsletter No. 3 (8 May 2000), I made a brief reference to a letter containing reminiscences from a Mrs. Morley, who, with her husband, had known JMF for over thirty years. George Ramsden, of Stone Trough Books (and a member of our Society) had it for sale in his 1994 Catalogue. On sorting through my files, I now find I have a photocopy of the letter, which some kind person must have sent me. I feel it is worth quoting in full.
Sept. 3rd. 11, North Bar Without, Beverley
To Sir Hugh Walpole
As I am in the habit of reading your articles on books in “The Sketch”, I was deeply interested when you mentioned “The Nebuly Coat” by Meade Falkner, and thrilled by your short description of him yesterday. He was a great friend of ours for more than thirty years, and during the Great War, when he was Managing Director of the big Elswick works at Newcastle (a most arduous and anxious position) he came often to Beverley for a few quiet hours. He was a great traveller, and an authority on Churches in all parts of the world, but he loved Beverley Minster. He used to go and sit there on a week day morning and once he said to me “I come here for rest and refreshment for my soul. In all Europe there is no more perfect harmony in architecture than here in Beverley Minster, and I pay tribute to the power of God, and the inspiration of the workmen of bygone centuries”. He sent me a copy of “The Nebuly Coat” with “from the Writer” in his rather cramped handwriting. The first time I read it I enjoyed it, but the second reading, a year or two after, amazed me. I could hardly put the book down, and yet regretted that I must come to the end. He told me he much regretted his youthful folly in writing “The Lost Stradivarius” and that he would destroy all copies if it were in his power. He was a great linguist, and always carried a small Dictionary of some foreign language in his pocket. My husband and I were very grieved when we read the long obituary notice of his death in the Times, and realized that we should never again see this big kindly giant (he was nearly seven foot I think) whose position in life was so different to our own, yet made us feel that we were friends indeed.....
Yours very sincerely
(Mrs) Grace Morley.
Quite apart from ruminating over the fascinating throwaway line about The Lost Stradivarius, I was amazed to find, when looking through one of my copies of The Nebuly Coat, that I had the very book mentioned in the passage above as, sure enough, there was the “rather cramped handwriting” on the inside of the front cover. .
OUR NEW WEBSITE
Robert Wilson, JMF’s great nephew, has been of immense help to the Society from its foundation. He readily agreed to ‘host’ the Newsletters on his own home pages, which included some excellent material on JMF. Unfortunately, Robert has not enjoyed good health recently and it has become increasingly unfair to burden him with this extra work. I would like to pay a sincere tribute to Robert for his support. A friend of mine, Malcolm Talbot, has kindly helped me set up an entirely fresh site, using some of Robert’s invaluable material. The new site can be found on www.johnmeadefalknersociety.co.uk - only by typing it in to your own address panel. It is not, as yet, available through search engines, although I can get it through Google. If you can successfully download it, please feel free to offer (constructive) criticism.
I am afraid, all other avenues having failed, I am going to have to get someone to retype over seventy pages of the Poems. I aim to get this done by early Autumn and then hand them over to Michael Daniell. Apologies again.
JOURNAL No. 5
Enclosed with this Newsletter is our fifth Journal. My sincere thanks to all the contributors. I do hope this inspires those who have not yet contributed to take up the pen and previous contributors to send in yet more of their wisdom. The Journal provides the oxygen for the Society.
AN OBSERVATION ON LITERARY SOCIETIES
Our Society belongs to the Alliance of Literary Societies and I regularly visit its web site to peruse other societies’ material. One such organisation is the Mark Rutherford Society, which aims to “unite all those who appreciate the work of Mark Rutherford”, whose real name was William Hale White. Tucked in amongst some very interesting web pages are Rutherford’s observations on his visit to a meeting of the Wordsworth Society, which he included in his London Letter, written for The Scotsman for 13 May, 1882: “I duly attended the meeting of the Wordsworth Society, and must confess I was more than ever convinced of the folly of these assemblies. All the papers are read, and what purpose can be served by sitting and listening to people reading for hours documents which are going to be printed, I cannot imagine.
Mr. Browning was present, and there was a touch of irony in his silence, whilst half-a-dozen persons, whose names we hardly knew were discoursing on matters indifferent, including what had been picked up from the old butcher boy whom Wordsworth honoured with their orders for mutton or beef. If butcher boys find their observations upon the families whose areas they visit are saleable in literature we shall have some remarkable discoveries. While the butcher boy’s revelations were being promulgated, Mr. Browning, as I have said, was dumb.
If he would but have told us what were his thoughts of Wordsworth, I should not have grudged the loss of time. I very much doubt whether these new-fangled personal societies are not the cause of much harm, and whether they really promote genuine sympathy with and love of their centre. That they provoke an immensity of vanity is only too obvious.”
[Of course, the John Meade Falkner Society will only promulgate and promote worthwhile observations, even though we must still be regarded as “new-fangled”. However, we duly note Rutherford’s strictures.]
THE FALKNER WALK
One day, when John Meade Falkner was not quite nine years old, he walked from his home, West Walks House in Dorchester, over the Ridgeway to Weymouth to visit his aunts. Over the next couple of years he walked to Weymouth several times, choosing a 9-mile cross-country route through Came. I have retraced his steps and recom mend this route to all JMF enthusiasts who are keen walkers.
The most complicated part is leaving modern-day Dorchester with all its new estates. Start at the house in West Walks. These tree-lined avenues mark where the old Roman town walls used to be. Go south, turning left into Bowling Alley Walk. At junction, take Prince of Wales Road as far as the lights. Turn right into Culliford Road, crossing railway bridge. At the end of Culliford Road, bear left into Lucetta Lane. Pass St Mary’s School on left, and continue directly ahead on path until you reach Armada Way. Turn right out of Armada Way into Balmoral Crescent. At the bottom where it meets Buckingham Way, to the left of No. 41 directly opposite, the footpath begins.
This designated path takes us across the by-pass where there is much fast-moving traffic and care is needed. On the far side, continue over stile, and straight across field. This path is overgrown, but passable. Continue up slope, through gate and into wood. After the wood, Came House, where the exiled Napoleon III stayed for a time, is visible to the right. Continue down slope to where country lane intersects.
Though it is not part of this walk, a quarter of a mile to the left lies Came Rectory where Dorset’s great dialect poet, the Reverend William Barnes, lived. This is of interest because, as a boy, John used to play with other children there. Barnes, who favoured the Saxonizing of the English language, delighted in inventing word games for children, and it is recorded that John was particularly good at these. In addition, the first time John saw croquet played was on the Rectory lawn.
At the intersection go straight ahead until, just before Came House, there is a signpost indicating Came Down. Before taking this, many will enjoy a slight detour to see Winterbourne Came church and the churchyard where William Barnes is buried. There is also a better view of the house. In the short time John was at Dorchester Grammar School, he was friendly with a boy called Prévost whose family rented Came House from the Damers, and John used to visit here as well.
Return to signpost and take path, bearing right around farm dwellings. Follow all signposts for Came Down. One mile further on lies Cripton Cottage. Continue in same direction up slope, passing copse on right. On reaching wood, turn left, following signpost indication to Culliford Tree. Go through metal gate and turn right. Continue, reaching Culliford Tree just before road junction.
Falkner remembered this spot clearly. There are as many as nine ancient barrows on this Ridgeway site. Culliford Tree is the large barrow on your immediate right, still densely covered in beeches just as John described it. He wrote that country people knew it as Gulliver’s Tree in the same quaint way that Maumbury Rings in Dorchester was called Memory Rings.
Turn left at junction; continue 400 yards. Take Ridgeway track on right, passing under power lines. At Broadmayne signpost make hairpin turn to right, pass through gate, and immediately turn left, following sign to Sutton Poyntz. From this spot, on a clear day, there are the most wonderful views of Weymouth and Portland, the ‘Gibraltar of Wessex’. Descend hill to Sutton Poyntz where The Springhead Pub serves good beer, something we can enjoy, though denied to John.
Pause by the mill pond in one of the most delightful villages in Dorset. This was almost certainly the setting which inspired Thomas Hardy when he wrote The Trumpet Major. From the pub garden, you may see the giant image of George III astride his horse which, in the novel, the dragoons carve into the hillside.
Continue south through village. Cross A535 main road and follow sign to church almost opposite. It is worth visiting this churchyard as members of the Mead and Falkner families are buried here. Continue south, entering holiday home park which is a right of way. Follow signs to the beach. Eventually turn right and cross over Jordan Brook, a stream fondly remembered by Falkner as being the route he and his friends took to the beach. Happily, he cannot see it now. If we turn a blind eye to the development of the area, and take the first possible left on the beach, we can comfortably walk along the sand for half a mile before reaching a footpath adjacent to the road. Take this.
There is still over a mile to go, but it is all flat. Continue around Weymouth Bay until you reach Brunswick Terrace, known as Brunswick Buildings in Falkner’s time when the marked the limit of the town. No. 5, now Hamilton’s coffee shop and restaurant (highly recommended) is where John’s aunts - Ellen, Lucy and Charlotte - lived. They must have been fairly surprised the first time this lad turned up alone and unannounced. It was a notable achievement for a boy who was always considered ‘delicate’ by his parents.
[This walk was completed by Peter Davey and Roy Trott on 2 June 2004. It took 4 hours. OS Landranger Map 194 is useful and boots are recommended. We left the car in Dorchester and took a train from back from Weymouth]
Greenmantle, Main Street, Kings Newton, Melbourne
Derbyshire. DE73 1BX
N. B. My new e-mail address