Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Right Royal Confusion

George V coronationGeorge V’s impressive coronation portrait
(picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

Some time ago I received the following email from journalist and editor, Peter Dron, a regular reader of the HV Morton blog, who has a real eye for literary detail:

Hello Mr Taylor,

I am reading a 2006 edition of “In Search of England” and I am puzzled by a passage in Chapter Ten, in which Morton stops at Oakham Castle in Rutland. He is referring to the tradition which obliges members of the nobility passing through the town to pay a “tax” of a horseshoe. Various kings and queens were among those who had paid this tribute:

The tragedy of Oakham Castle is that King George V never paid the tax.

“’If only we could have got him!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! When the King came here, as Prince of Wales, he looked round and said, “Where’s Father’s!”’”

This book was supposedly published in 1927, when of course George V was King and the Prince of Wales was that buffoon who later became the Duke of Windsor. Can you cast any light on this mystery?

With best wishes,

Peter Dron

As always with matters-royal, I feel confusion about dates, especially at that difficult time for the nation. So I reminded myself, courtesy of Wikipedia, that George V ruled from 1910 to 1936 (having succeeded Edward VII). He himself, was succeeded by his son, Edward VIII (formerly Prince of Wales – the buffon!), who ruled from 20 January 1936 to 11 December 1936. Following his abdication he was succeeded by his brother, George VI, (formerly Duke of York) who ruled from 11 December 1936 to 6 February 1952.

Given that many of the sections in “In Search of England” were originally written as newspaper columns prior to 1927 (when the book was published) but none would have been published any later; the passage quoted seems to make for strange reading.

Edward VIII 1932The future Edward VIII in 1932
(picture courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Prince of Wales, who became the king mentioned in the excerpt can’t have been either Edward VIII or George VI as these both came to the throne after 1927 (and anyway, George VI was never Prince of Wales)

So that leaves us with George V himself, who would have been king during the writing of all the sections of the book and had been Prince of Wales from 1901 to 1910. I wondered whether HVM could have been referring to George V in both sentences, thus:

‘If only we could have got him [i.e. George V]!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! When the King [i.e. George V again] came here, as Prince of Wales [between 1901 and 1910], he looked round and said, “Where’s Father’s! [i.e. Edward VII]”’”

That explanation would certainly be factually possible but it is clumsy, and spoils the sense and flow of the paragraph and would suggest that both George V and his father Edward VII both managed to avoid the “tax”.

Alternatively, could this have been a tall tale from a wily caretaker spinning a plausible-sounding story to the tourists over the years in return for acclaim (and the occasional tip!). Another, more mundane, possibility was this might simply have been an error, in a rather complicated passage, which was never corrected.

I love a mystery, so I dug out some of my various editions of “In Search of England” and had a look. And pretty soon my search bore fruit!

In Search of England 1965 smallThe cover of the 1965 edition of “In Search of England

I compared the relevant passage in both a 1927 edition and a 1965 edition (ironically using a horseshoe as a paperweight) and they read as follows (with my annotations):

The 1965 edition reads as Peter’s original quote:

“’If only we could have got him [George V]!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! When the King [Edward VIII] came here, as Prince of Wales, he looked around and said “where’s father’s [George V]?”’”

Whereas the original, 1927, edition reads:

“’If only we could get him [George V]!’ said the caretaker to me. ‘I believe he passed through on the railway once; but that doesn’t count! As soon as the Prince of Wales [the future Edward VIII] came in here he looked round and said “where’s father’s [George V]?”’ We want a shoe from the King very badly, and we haven’t lost hope!

At last I could relax! It seems that HVM (or, more likely, an editor) went back, some time during the brief reign of Edward VIII, and changed the passage in question to fit the prevailing position. The removal of the last sentence “We want a shoe from the King very badly, and we haven’t lost hope!” is interesting in its own right – was this done at the same time, or after the abdication when its meaning and interpretation would have become so complicated (was it Edward VIII or the (by then) late George V to which it referred?) as to make it hardly worth the bother?

The editor in question obviously didn’t consider how confusing this would make the reading of the passage to future generations who otherwise might have been perfectly happy with it, knowing when the book was published!

Members may be interested to read another HVM blog article, “Call me a cab”, inspired by Peter Dron, about a little known piece of London architectural heritage.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

This article was originally circulated as HVM Literary Notes – No.126 on 20 July 2014

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Camera Obscura Still in Use in 1939!

I saw Two Englands small

HVM Society member Stan White hails from Ontario, Canada. Stan is a published poet and a well known professional photographer, specialising in stereo photography; he has written past bulletins on the subject of HV Morton’s keen interest in photography.

So, recently, when Stan sent me the following email, on a closely related subject, it caught my eye and, after a bit of transcription and (strictly amateur) photo-manipulation, I have put it together in a suitable form for sharing with the rest of the Society.

HV Morton made many contributions to the war effort on the Home Front during the Second World War – as well as serving in the Home Guard, he covered stories of the blitz in his columns at the time and wrote his only work of fiction, “I James Blunt” (1942), for no financial reward, as a warning to the nation about complacency in the face of the Nazi threat; earning the personal thanks of Prime Minister Winston Churchill as a result.

Other war-related works from Morton included “Atlantic Meeting” (1943), “Travel in Wartime” (1940) and – the subject of Stan’s article – “I Saw Two Englands” (1942).

— § —

Good morning Niall,

As you know, I am a retired photographer. This year is the 40th anniversary of Photographic Historical Society of Canada and I have a great stack of its magazine Photographic Canadiana, for which, over the years I have written articles on the history of photography and, in fact, still do.

For a while I did a column for it called oddities. My objective was to find tidbits of information relating to the history of photography. Lo and behold, when I was looking through the mags recently I came across this item that I had written back in 1995, long before I had an interest in HVM and which I had completely forgotten about.

Take care,

Stan

from Photographic Canadiana 21-1 May – June 1995

Camera Obscura - Stan White - pic 2

When this column first appeared reporting interesting tid-bits of photographica from non-photographic books, it was expected that there might be the occasional item but so far, we have had three items in almost as many months.

The following is gleaned from “I Saw Two Englands” by HV Morton, published in 1943 by Methuen & Co. ltd., London, and Reginald Saunders, Toronto.

Morton toured England in early and late 1939. On his second tour, shortly after the beginning of the war he gave an account of a visit to the Royal Air Force Flying Training School. The following is an account of a method of training bomb-aimers:

“Another ingenious invention is the camera obscura hut, which tells the instructor whether a man in a bomber several thousand feet above him, has, in theory, bombed the hut. The place is dark save for a circle of light reflected (projected) upon a table through a lens in the roof. A spot in the centre on the table represents the hut.

When an aeroplane is flying overhead you can watch its shadow (image) slowly cross the table, as it is reflected (projected) by the lens. As it nears the centre a tiny white flash is seen, which is really the firing of a magnesium bulb in the aeroplane. This represents the bomb, or rather the exact moment at which the bomber pressed the bomb-release.

“The instant the flash is seen, it is plotted on the table. It is a simple matter to allow for the time taken for the bomb to drop according to the height of the plane, the angle at which it falls, according to the speed and wind, and this shows you how near, or how far, the bomber was from his target.

(words in brackets are mine – SW)

This article was originally distributes as HVM Society Snippets – No.165;
29 March 2014

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“Vignettes of Childhood and other poems” – a review

There is a slight departure from the subject of HV Morton in today’s post but one which, I hope you will agree, is very much in the spirit of the great man.

Vignetes of Childhood

HV Morton Society member, Michael Thurstan Bassett is a man of many talents – poet, musician and artist. We have all enjoyed his work in the past as he has contributed several of his poems as society bulletins over the years, including this one, now available on the blog. So, you can imagine my delight when I heard he has just had a series of his poems published by Harvest Road Books of New Zealand, under the title “Vignettes of Childhood and other poems”.

When my copy arrived I was keen to see how his other works would compare with those I had already seen, and I wasn’t disappointed!

The anthology is in five sections with the first, Vignettes of Childhood, being a narrative of autobiographical accounts beginning with a small boy’s fascination with war and combat, irresistible when brought to his very doorstep during a childhood spent during World War II on the Isle of Wight. Mike was an eye-witness to the Battle of Britain and the later massing of the fleet prior to the D-day landings and these historical events are captured with evocative immediacy in Mike’s carefully chosen words. Then, from the immediate post-war years there are accounts of a period spent in post-war Germany with all the destruction and horrors witnessed there, before a blissful celebration of homecoming in Vignettes of Childhood V and the final, unfinished, leaving of the homeland for foreign shores. This section is a moving anthem to England and to times past. The final installment is set more than half a century after the first, as the author looks back, contemplating those “precious days”, yet ending with an optimistic note – although we seem forever destined to seek the unattainable, we will encounter beauty and grandeur on the way.

REMBRANDT modifiedMike is also a talented artist – dare one hope the second edition
of “Vignettes of Childhood…” might feature
some of his
artwork, such as this one; an homage to Rembrandt.

Later sections, more philosophical in nature, deal with a number of elemental subjects – gods, dreams, love, homecomings and departures but most of all with the spirit of man which can, perhaps, be seen as the overarching theme of this volume. Mike’s style has a deceptive simplicity, making it very accessible (a bit like HVM!), but like all good writers, contained within it are hidden depths, to be found if the reader cares to look.

Several gems are particularly memorable. There is the touching symmetry of The Lesson of Life (which quite brought a tear to my eye!), the uplifting optimism, despite all that life throws at us, of Credo, and the hopefulness of Orphic Mysteries. We are treated to a little of Mike’s subtle wit with the gently provocative Lunar Landing, as he has a dig at the demystifying of the world around us in the name of progress, and Martha and Mary – a treatise on two of the most iconic women in the Bible, which has much to say about the world today.

Many of the verses in this excellent collection display a wistful longing which is dealt with most movingly – a yearning for home, and for a bygone age – but throughout this is tempered by a more upbeat, positive tone, as in this quote, from the poem, Life’s Tarnished Cup:

For the healthy need no doctors,
And the happy need no priests:
Give man but power and freedom –
What need of sacred Feasts?

All in all this is a highly recommended volume, just the sort of thing to relax with and contemplate, feet up infront of a blazing fire, glass of robust single malt in hand! And I’m looking forward to doing just that this Winter, as I read, once again, this trove of literary treasure from a modest man of great talent.

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

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