THE JOHN MEADE FALKNER SOCIETY
Founded 8th May 1999
NEWSLETTER No. 20
3rd January 2006
Major William Peter Mead
The Society has recently lost another fine member with the death of Peter on 3 November, aged 89. He was the only son of George Gaskell Mead and his grandfather was an Admiral in the Navy. He was educated (like JMF) at Weymouth College. He played rugby for the college, Weymouth RFC and the Army. He also played cricket for the Dorset Rangers and Hampshire Hoggets. He saw active service in the War in Palestine, Malta and Burma. His father and Tom Falkner were first cousins.
He joined the Society in April 2001, attending the unveiling of the plaque to JMF at Old Fleet Church. In July 2002, the Society’s Journal No. 3 carried an article by Peter on the Mead, Mobbs and Gaskell families, forebears of JMF and Peter himself. We shall miss him and send his family our sincere condolences.
Since the last Newsletter in July, the Society has welcomed seven more members.
Peg Cummings, Veronica Watts , Anthony Seymour, Richard Marriott, Robin Davies, Chauncey Howell and John Middleton.
Paid up membership now stands at fifty-four.
In mid August I had an e-mail from a Bob Blandamer, with some very interesting information about his grandfather - also Robert, but known as ‘Pop’. The latter worked for most of his life as the (possibly) Head Gardener for a well-to-do legal practitioner in a big house at Forston, a few miles from Dorchester. He retired to 27, South Walks in Dorchester and died around 1955. He was one ofthree childrenwho probably knew JMF.
Edward Stone (to whom Falkner owed so much and who was the recipient of the letters from JMF printed in the most recent Journal) lodged with the older Robert’s grandparents and was treated almost as a family member.
Bob, who enjoyed reading Moonfleet as a student, argues that “I am - at the moment - the last Robert Blandamer of a line that might go back five or six generations, so am perhaps the most ‘direct’ relation to those Blandamers that might have been the inspiration for JMF. Bearing in mind that my work as a Human Resources Consultant often causes me to ‘terminate’ staff, perhaps I have inherited something of Lord Blandamer!”
(I wonder if Bob wears a green coat? Ed.)
Northern Echo Supplement
Roger Norris sent me an article, dated 9 August, on Jesmond Dene House, now an hotel. The writer, Sarah French, waxed lyrical about its past: “the mansion... once rang to the sound of clinking glasses and cutlery on china as one of the grandest settings for parties the city could boast”. Originally built in 1822 as a family home for a Newcastle physician and former city mayor, Thomas Emerson Headlam, it was bought in 1871 by Captain Andrew Noble. It was here that JMF, “in the bosom of a fair-sized, close-knit, talented, congenial though sometimes hyperactive family” (Ken Warren), spent his first years in the North. The Nobles continued to live there until 1930. Since then the house has been a secretarial college, a civil defence HQ, a seminary and a residential school for girls with special needs. The article trumpets its latest reincarnation: “Its £7 million revival will see its reputation for hospitality restored but in the most modern sense.” Knowing JMF’s opinion about modernity, I doubt if he would be enamoured.
The Lost Stradivarius
I have tracked down information about the T.V. version of The Lost Stradivarius, produced by Jonathan Alwyn and directed by Bill Bain, and broadcast in 1955 on ITV.
It ran for 50 minutes and heading the cast, as Sir John Maltravers, was Jeremy Brett (more widely known for his later portrayal of Sherlock Holmes). Others in the cast included David Buck, as the Host; Edward Brayshaw, Patricia Garwood, Joyce Heron and Angela Morant.
I suppose it is too much to hope that a recording survives of the broadcast. I do have a sound cassette recording of the same novel in the Saturday Playhouse series on the radio, where Paul Rhys starred as John Maltravers “in this Gothic horror story”. Patience Tomlinson played Sophia; Colleen Prendergast played Constance; and Joanna David played Mrs. Temple.
In his City and Suburban piece for the Spectator on 1 June, 1956, John Betjeman praised JMF:
“We had the Athanasian Creed in church last Sunday; I hope you did. Trinity Sunday is to me a sort of end-of-term concert after the excitements of the Church’s Year, and I am reminded of a beautiful poem of J. Meade Falkner beginning:
We have done with dogma and divinity,
Easter and Whitsun past.
The long, long Sundays after Trinity
Are with us at last;
The passionless Sundays after Trinity.
Neither feast-day nor fast.
His poems may still be bought at a certain bookshop in London at their original published price of half a crown, but it is a secret I intend to keep for friends and his admirers and not to be divulged to the trade.”
(P.S. As I understand it, they still can!)
“M. M. S-C. from the writer J.M.F.”
Some years ago,I purchased a copy of JMF’s Bath: In History and Social Tradition. On its front end-paper was the inscription detailed above. I had quite forgotten this until August of this year, when George Woodman sent me a photocopy of another inscription - in JMF’s A History of Oxfordshire
H. Smith Carington
urbis Oxoniae cultori
et Oxoniensium patri
d: d: auctor. Non: Aug: 1899
Below this was the bookplate of Herbert Hanbury Smith-Carington. George also kindly provided me with the relevant extract from Burke’s Landed Gentry which shows Smith-Carington to have been lord of the manor of Ashby Folville in Leicestershire, and High Sheriff of that county in 1910.
Smith-Carington was very much involved in the civic life of Manchester and was also a director of Armstrong Whitworth, which is presumably where he got to know JMF. His daughter was Mary Morton Smith-Carington - so I had found, thanks to George, my dedicatee. Interestingly, Mary, who was born on 16 September 1892, married Alfred Whitworth.
Another book from JMF’s Library
In the Society Journal Number 5 (July 2004), John Coulter stressed that the Sotheby’s Catalogue, which detailed some 600 works from JMF’s library, was certainly not the full total of his collection. A book has just been added to our library which proves this.
It is Liturgica Historica: Papers on the Liturgy and Religious Life of the Western Church by Edmund Bishop (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1918). On the front end paper is written in pencil “John Meade Falkner. Elswick Works. Newcastle-upon-Tyne”. Below is the book plate of the Durham Dean & Chapter Library “Bibliotheca Eccles. Cathedralis” with, I hasten to add, a withdrawn stamp. At the bottom of the page is a printed slip “Ex Dono: John Meade Falkner” and, in ink, Sept. 1932. The fact that the donation has a printed slip suggests that it was by no means the only gift to the Library - a mere month or two after his death and well before the Sotheby’s Sale in December. A good research project for a Society member would be to peruse front end papers of books in the Cathedral Library for further JMF material.
Down Elswick Slipways- D Keys and K Smith
Although it was published in 1996, it is only recently that I came across this fascinating booklet. Published by the Newcastle City Libraries (reprinted in 1999 ISBN 1 85795 037 2), the sub heading is Armstrong’s Ships and People 1884-1918, thus encompassing the very period JMF was most active in the company.
Chapters include A Shipyard at Elswick, Workers and Dignitaries, Warships for Japan, World War I and After. Although JMF is not specifically mentioned, it is a valuable picture of the milieu in which he worked.
The Early History of Elswick
Is the title of a small book published in 1909 by Alfred Cochrane. It contains a lecture he gave to the Elswick Foremen and Draughtsmen’s Association on 21st. January of that year and is well illustrated. It is an invaluable account of the great firm JMF worked for. The copy now in our Library was a presentation one, signed by Ethel Cochrane on 19th October 1915.
John Meade Falkner in Durham (1899-1932): A Perspective on a small cathedral city - Kenneth Warren
This pamphlet (reproduced in Journal No.4) contains The Durham Cathedral Lecture for 1989 and was delivered in the Prior’s Hall at Durham on 23 February. Thanks to the kindness of Roger Norris, I now have three copies of this out-of-print booklet for sale, at £5.00 each. First three cheques get them!
The Collected Poems
Over 150 copies have now been sold and the whole enterprise is in profit. The first ten have been bound in a very limited edition and there are four available for sale on a first come first served basis. The cost is £30 + £1.24 p. & p. Quite apart from the satisfaction of owning one, these will greatly increase in value over the years on account of their rarity. Please contact me first before sending any money.
Thank goodness it was decided to call the enterprise Collected Poems, without the definite article. Soon after publication, Frances Austin-Jones, a Society member, e-mailed me with a literary bombshell. I quote: “Another thing I have found among Bernard’s [Jones] papers is a sheaf of poems of JMF.. [which] include on my count 18 poems that are not in the published volume.”
After several more e-mails and printouts, I had whittled these extra poems down to 17 ! They are almost certainly by JMF, including titles such as Ballade of Astrology, Ballade of the Philistine, Villa Adriana, ‘Twixt Deal and Dover, Last Ballade of Burford and Returning to London. The last named, on returning from Somerset to the Great Wen, is a worthy addition to the canon. After consultation with a few other members, I have decided to print them, but in the same format as the Journal. Hopefully, More Collected Poems will be available sometime in the first half of 2006. Watch this space!
Christopher Howse in his review of the Collected Poems (The Spectator 13 August 2005) ended by saying “no one captivated by the larger enigmas of John Meade Falkner will want to be without his poems”. There are still a few members who have not purchased a copy yet - I do hope they have been saving up to send for one; if not for themselves, then for their nearest and dearest.
Unfortunately, a few errors were not spotted. Viz.:
page 29 last stanza, 3rd line: “Our” not “Out”
page 36 4th stanza, last line: “triclinium” not “tricinium”
page 61 1st stanza, 2nd line: “heed” not “head”
page 61 2nd stanza, 1st line: “hear” not “here”
page 61 2nd stanza, 3rd line: “There” not “Thee”
page 61 3rd stanza, 1st line: “There” not “Thee”
page 62 1st stanza, 3rd line: “this” not “his”
The 9 June 1994 issue of Country Life contained a full page article by David Edelsten “on the trail of a classic children’s novel” - Moonfleet. Starting at the Moonfleet Hotel it takes you along the shoreline to the old church and back along the lane to the hotel. “It is a two-hour walk at most”
A Rolling Stone....?
The science and psychology of the hunch have not received the study that they deserve - perhaps because such a branch of the imagination defies reduction to any such formulae. A wild goose chase can prove a revelation - or be the fool’s errand that everybody else confidently predicted.
Kenneth Hillier’s discussion of the letters which Falkner wrote to his former tutor Edward Stone bring this to mind - and, in the process, prompt me to add another letter to that sequence. It is perhaps the most remarkable of them all.
In wondering whether there had been any such correspondence (probable) and where it might now be, I had spoken with Humphrey Stone, the well- known designer of elegant books, a man for whom the right typeface is essential to the work in question. He told me that he did indeed have a collection of family papers and that, classic-fashion, these were in a room above a barn, where, who knows, perhaps the most diligent students of these had been generations of mice.
And so, heart held high as dawn broke, I motored across country, and, later that day, began to shift bales of papers which, when written, were doubtless of paramount importance to those wielding the pen, but, try as I might, it was hard to feel enthused by such chronicles. There was nothing that had any bearing on Falkner, the school, the Dorset neighbourhoods of the 1860s. And so, as dusk descended, I was left to console myself with the thought that had I not waded through all this lot I should have ever wondered whether... and then, right then, in one of those miraculous moments which make one wonder whether there is a Supreme Being who derives sport from leading on those in quest of old papers, I glimpsed the unique handwriting of John Meade Falkner.
Here was a letter, or, as it turned out, a substantial fragment. After avidly reading it, trying not do so too quickly, savouring the moment, I was all the more diligent in looking at every sheet that surfaced - but, no, there were none of the missing pages to be found, still less any other letters.
One should not be greedy, for, even if one can reduce such a quest to the banal parameters of a time-and-motion study, this day’s labour was paid in gold coins. Here was a letter as extraordinary as the one a few years later in which, positively Joycean, Falkner tells Lord Rendel in detail about the operation which had prevented him from attending to Armstrong-Whitworth business.
Meanwhile, here is some background to this 1899 letter. Events had been such that Edward Stone no longer ran the school, Stonehouse, which he had started after teaching at Eton. In 1891, his wife Lily had returned to Stonehouse after years in London where she had read hard and a quest for spiritual guidance had taken her to Farm Street. The result was well-nigh miraculous, or, as Stone put it in his diary, ‘dies memorabilis’. Whatever Stone’s shock at his wife’s conversion to Catholicism, he was soon distracted from any fear that she might entice others. He had a severe problem with the drains. No sooner was this remedied than she fell prey to a serious illness, the operation for which proved an unexpected success - at the very moment that one of the staff died from pneumonia and a pupil from acute meningitis. Undaunted, Stonehouse continued with the school for another five years. When the Stones eventually left, Lily presented her husband with another child, and he might reasonably have wondered whose it was: seven weeks old, little Nelly’s real mother had died in giving birth and the father was now in an asylum. A faint shadow passed over Edward’s face, and passed in a moment when he realised what this child meant to his wife. The little girl’s weakness was her strength. They all moved to Hillingdon, from which Edward, increasingly deaf, took tricycle rides unfazed by many a tumble and the loss of his spectacles in the deep ditches which were once a feature of that area. ‘He was never such a darling as he is now, believe me’, said Lily. The place became too much for them. As happens to so many people in life, either on the way up or the way down, they then took a mansion flat overlooking Battersea Park.. Edward, disliking the place, tricycled to Eton as often as he could. He bloomed, the classics which he had attempted to dim into so many pupils’ brains were now his alone, an inspiration for many a prize-winning Latin verse in the Westminster Review’s weekly competition. And so his life had seemed set to continue, until he returned to Battersea on the evening of St. Michael and All the Angels, 29th September 1898, to find one of his daughters, Faith playing the piano in an attempt to wake Lily who had felt tired after cooking: the music had no charms to do so: mother, wife was dead.
Stone’s life changed again. He had sought Charles Hawtrey’s help in putting Faith on the stage (she married Compton Mackenzie) and he took equal delight in Lucy’s part in the first all-female Shinner Quarter, but, for himself, he now preferred the tranquility of life at Helensbourne, near Abingdon, before deciding to move in with one of his sons at Radley College.
And so now, in 1899, some thirteen months after this widowing, Stone heard from Falkner about a turn to his own life. Falkner’s letter, from the Hotel Stephanie in Baden-Baden, contained surprising news. It is characteristic of Falkner that, even in these circumstances, the question of books appears to take precedence over anything else that a fortifying stay in Baden-Baden might suggest: ‘we are to be married next week, but I have been so pressed by stress of business that I have had no time to make even personal preparations, and am relying on getting such elementary things as clothes and books when I get back to London on Tuesday.’
Which meant the tightest of schedules, for the wedding was set for the Wednesday. Meanwhile, as Falkner built up his energies, he told Stone that he had indeed ‘settled to marry at last, though I fear it is too late in some ways to make marriage all it should be for I am 41! Still I am looking forward to it much - I am marrying a lady called Evelyn Adye who is 12 years my junior. I have known her intimately for the last 10 years - and she is the sister of the wife of Armstrong our director, and so we have seen much of each other in the North.’
As I sat in the twilight above the barn, looking down at what Falkner had written in a warmer spot all those decades earlier, it was reasonable to infer that the marriage was not uppermost in his mind. Not only were the clothes yet to be purchased, but much of the letter to Stone concerns Baden-Baden: ‘a strange place to be stranded in on business is it not, but it is very pleasant. The sky is overcast continually with a high barometer & no rain. The air damp & filled with the subtle odours of the autumn woods, and there is the awful hush, and solemn stillness which I remember to have noticed once before in the Black Forest at this season.’ Naturally, it put him in the mind of Hauff’s ‘delightful & romantic tales, & Hoffmann with his wild supernaturalism’ In which mood the previous night, ‘I went over to Carlsruhe. It is a little Residential town with its Schloss, Schloss-Platz, Hof-Theater, Garten-Alle and all the other accessories of such places. But the Court has passed away and the life has gone out of the Schloss and its precincts. There are rows of characteristic houses, empty and un-lettable, for the life of the place has moved into business quarters. They always seem to me instinct with romance these little dead Court towns and I wonder more has not been made of them. The only live thing in the Schloss Quarter was the Hof-Theater, and there I went to hear Figaro¹s Hochzeit. The theatre has a fixed & very heavy Government subsidy. There was the best of music from an orchestra of 80: and the house full mostly with people who like myself had come over from Baden. It was a strange contrast to the loneliness & desertion of the Square outside.’
‘Instinct with romance these little dead Court towns.’ The phrase leapt out from others equally as succinct. Falkner - as his guides to Oxfordshire and Berkshire show - could capture a place in a phrase, and, take out ‘Court’, and there is the Cullerne of The Nebuly Coat.
But there was much more, which adds to Falkner’s love of music, indeed to the precedence which it took in his life, here remarking of Figaro’s marriage: ‘You know the opera well of course, every one does - but what rippling clear melodious music - how much he made out of how little. It fills me with an indescribable impression of Mozart himself to hear his music here in such congenial setting.’ So much so that, rather than hasten home for his own wedding, ‘I am stopping to hear the Zauberflöte on Sunday night.’ What can his bride-to-be have made of this? But, then, who can blame him? There were indeed to be ‘beautiful music, beautiful houses, early houses, ridiculously cheap prices, and no evening dress - what can one want more ... I should so much like to have a long talk with you on many things & men. But my life is such a ceaseless bustle & movement that opportunity always seems lacking. Therefore harden your heart & come up North and see us. You will like the quiet and old fashioned house, and find my wife the easiest of women to be got on with: she is thank God neither affected nor fashionable, but a sober minded & yet mirthful person, who takes pleasure in simple things.’
On Wednesday, October 18th, a week after the outbreak of the Boer War, Falkner and Evelyn Adye were married, near her family’s London home, at St. Saviour’s Church in St. George’s Square. It was reported in the Newcastle Daily Chronicle that Falkner was ‘the well-known and popular secretary’ at Armstrong’s and that the fully-choral service was conducted by the Rev Digby Ram, Prebendary of St Paul’s and cousin of the bride, who was assisted by the vicar, Henry Washington. ‘The bride, who was given away by her father, wore a white satin gown, draped with old Flemish point, the gift of Mr and Mrs Watson-Armstrong; corsage trimmed to match, and with sprays of orange blossom, tulie veil and small wreath of orange blossom, pearl and diamond pendant, the gift of Lord Armstrong [who also made a marriage settlement upon her], bouquet of hothouse flowers and white heather (the latter from Cragside). Her five youthful bridesmaids were: - Miss Freda Smith and Miss Watson-Armstrong (nieces of the bride), Miss Atkinson and Miss Rosamond Philips (cousins of the bride), and Miss Grace Meade (cousin of the bridegroom)’ All those whom one might expect were in the church: at the end of this lavishly-knighted list were Falkner’s two brothers. The guests then went to the Adyes’ for the reception before ‘later in the afternoon the happy couple left for Norfolk, where the honeymoon is to be spent’ - in church-touring and, as one learned from that Mozart-suffused letter written in Baden-Baden, reading Edward Stone’s new book, Florilegium Latinum, an anthology of poems translated into Latin.
It was an unlikely marriage, but there it was, and here is quite a glimpse of it. And then, a while after that barn rummage, Humphrey Stone told me that as a result of it he had, over dinner somewhere, casually mentioned the discovery to his cousin, Anthea. She immediately said that she had a batch of Falkner’s letters to Edward Stone - and had wondered whether anybody might be interested by them.
Interested! It was a rapid journey to her house, at Iver. Now beset by the M25 and a Heathrow flight-path or two, it had belonged to the publisher Martin Secker, whose son Adrian she had married (D. H. Lawrence had peered in at the infant’s cot, something of which Adrian had so often been told that he felt sure that he could remember that bearded figure above his smooth, new-born face). As we know, the rest of the letters are as fascinating as that harbinger which surfaced in that remote barn.
And so, in reflecting on all this, it is with the nagging thought that, sitting there quietly, unconsumed by flames, undisturbed by the waves of momentous world events of a hundred years and more, there are not only, somewhere, more letters to Stone but those to such people as Verral and Luxmoore. If they were returned to Falkner, it was of course his privilege to burn them - and ours to lament it. He was a great letter-writer .
Journal No. 7
I am now looking for articles for the next Journal. If possible, it would be helpful to have them on disc or as an attachment to an e-mail.
Greenmantle, Main Street, Kings Newton, Melbourne
Derbyshire. DE73 8BX