Tag Archives: London

Trooping the Colour, by Kenneth Fields

London Year, A (from Kenneth 6-6-15)

… the big piebald drum horse…

Today, the 13th June, London celebrates The Queen’s official birthday with that much-loved military parade and march past of Trooping the Colour.  It is an annual event that has taken place in the city since 1820 and whose history stretches back to about 1700.

H.V. Morton wrote about the ceremony in 1926 in “The London Year” and in June 1929 he wrote the following feature for the Daily Express. At this time the nation was anxious about the declining health of King George V who was too ill to attend the ceremony:

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THE UNSEEN PRESENCE OF THE KING

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MOVING SCENE AT THE TROOPING OF THE COLOUR

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AND A COMEDY

By H, V. MORTON.

When I was walking up the Mall yesterday to see the ceremony of Trooping the Colour, I heard a woman scream. This is, of course, the most arresting sound in Nature.

Down the Mall, hell for leather came a Guard’s officer mounted on what appeared to be a likely Derby winner. His bearskin was over one eye, and his chin strap over the other. He had long ceased to say with Jorrocks, “Come up you ugly brute!” and was doing the only possible thing a man can do on a runaway horse – holding on and retaining his stirrups.

How cruel is human nature! A smile passed over the faces of his Majesty’s Guards. They blew bearskin out of their eyes and winked gravely. The public were more sympathetic: they seemed to know that this sort of thing happens now and then even to mounted officers. All save the inevitable London wit who clapped his hands and shouted: “Now then ‘Unter’s Moon, where are you a-goin’ to?

LORD LONSDALE

A little higher up the Mall I saw Lord Lonsdale, buttoned into a tight frocked coat and looking like one of the last great Victorians, as he smoked one of his inimitable cigars on the roof of his house in Carlton-House terrace. Two Cockneys below gazed up at him curiously:

E’s got a jolly face, aint e?” said one of them.

And now for the parade…

Against the perfect background of the Horse Guards the Household Troops stand ready to give their ancient birthday gift to the King. The Foot Guards stand in double lines in two blocks, one facing the Horse Guards and the other at right angles facing south. The massed bands face the Admiralty. In a corner, with their tails to the discreet little back-garden of No 10, Downing Street, are the band and two troops of Household Cavalry: the sun on their breastplates.

The Duke of Connaught, upright in the saddle, as a man of fifty, rides on the parade ground with the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, and Lord Lascelles. Behind come generals, state officials and the military attaches of foreign powers. The women admire the supposed Italian with blue feathers in his helmet and a sash to match. The ceremony begins.

You will read that the King was absent. This is not so. The King was present in the thoughts of every man and woman.

MASSED BANDS

Now the massed bands march and counter march. The four drum majors swagger in front in their gold-laced coats and black velvet caps. There is the “ruff of a drum.” The escort for the Colour moves out. The ensign receives the Colour. The troops salute it and come to attention. Then the Colour is trooped, that is to say it is borne at the slow march all along the lines, while the band plays “The British Grenadiers.

Then the march past. It is a magnificent sight. The Foot Guards pass in slow, then in quick time. There is the rum-tumming of cavalry drums, and the big piebald drum horse, whose reins are attached to his rider’s boots, moves out massively and leads the jingling march past of the cavalry.

The Duke of Connaught, with the princes a pace behind him, takes the salute beneath the arch of the Horse Guards. The troops reform. They present arms in three crisp movements and the bands play “God Save the King.

It is the most emotional “trooping” the Colour has ever known. Everyone is thinking not of the gorgeous military show, but of the sick-bed in Windsor Castle. And as the troops march down the Mall towards Buckingham Palace a royal salute cracks out from Hyde Park and the church bells ring.

I heard a woman say: “When I saw that picture of him in the ambulance – you know when they took him down to Bognor – well. I couldn’t help crying. The King. Somehow you don’t think of the King being ill – do you?

Beneath all the pomp and splendour of an official birthday London remembered not the Field-Marshall’s uniforms but the sick bed, not the monarch but the man.

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U.S. WARSHIP’S TRIBUTE

Warships were dressed in all naval stations at home and overseas in honour of the King’s birthday. Salutes were fired in garrison towns and in most places the troops were given leave for the rest of the day. Among the ships dressed at Plymouth was the U.S. flagship Raleigh.

Church bells were rung and flags flown in practically every town of the Empire and a torrent of messages of congratulations was sent to Windsor Castle. The King sent a message of thanks for the greetings of the citizen’s of London, which he received through the Lord Mayor, Sir Kynaston Studd.

This article was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.185

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Call me a cab

In Search of London 2008

While reading HV Morton’s 1951 “In Search of London”, reader Peter Dron came across this quote in section 6 of chapter 10:

The men who drive the taxi-cabs of London are naturally a race apart. I have known them, and have admired many of them, for years. Some of the old stagers used to drive horse cabs, but that generation is now vanishing…

The other day I struck an old driver who might have been a thin relative of Bairnsfather’s “Old Bill”. I sat looking at the nape of his aged neck, his greying hair, the way he dodged in and out of the traffic and wondering what age he was. When we parted I gave him an unusually large tip because I liked him and because he was old. He looked at the money in the palm of his hand, smiled and winked at me and said:

“Thank yer Guv’nor. Don’t often meet a toff these days, and that’s a fact!”

What a strange conversational throw back to a dead age! He remembered the age of “toffs”, “swells” and “nobs”.

“You see this ‘ere,” he said, still gazing at the money. Do you know what I’d rather ‘ave than this ‘ere? I’ll tell yer… a blinkin’ fat rump steak and a pint o’ porter.”

He then leaned towards me and deplored the age in wich we live. He was an old snob. He loved toffs. He liked “a gentleman”. You could always tell a “real gentleman” from the other kind. Not ‘arf you couldn’t! But nowadays, driving a “keb” in London, blimey what a queer collection of odds and ends you meet. Not ‘arf you didn’t! But in the old days… Ah, the old days, when you could get a rump steak and a pint o’ porter… them was the days, guv’nor, them was the days, and we shan’t see them again. Not ‘arf we shan’t…

And away he went.

Peter was reminded of an article he had written for the Telegraph in 2001 about the London taxi (the TX1 apparently) and, in particuar, those mysterious little green huts which act like docking stations – little taxi Shangri-Las – across London where black cabs and their drivers congregate to be among their own kind for a while, out of the public eye. Had his wish been granted, it is likely that Morton’s driver would have enjoyed his “blinkin’ fat rump steak and a pint o’ porter” in one of these.

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Peter informs us they are something of an endangered species, with considerable provenance and great historical and cultural significance; while at the same time possessing a rather amusing air of having been dropped down, more or less at random, from somewhere above, just like Dr Who’s police box.

They are certainly captivating and when I came across one during a recent family visit to the capital something told me I had to photograph it, and I’m glad I did. Having read Peter’s article I heartily agree with him – it’s rather splendid and surprising that so many of those cabmen’s huts have somehow survived wars and ‘planners’ – not ‘arf it ain’t!

Niall Taylor 20 May 2014

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HV Morton on London

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“So when I ask myself why I love London I realise I appreciate that which is London – a thing very like family tradition for which we in our turn are responsible to posterity – and I realise that I am every day of my life thrilled, puzzled, charmed and amused by that flood tide of common humanity flowing through London as it has surged through every great city in the history of civillisation. Here is every human emotion. Here in this splendid theatre the comedy and the tragedy of the human heart are acted day and night.”

HV Morton, 1926

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November 28, 2013 · 10:49 am

The Ultimate Peace Symbol

Originally distributed as HVM Society Snippet – No.159

PoppyDear Fellow Mortonites,

The first flower to regrow in soil disturbed by battle is the red corn poppy. This was initially remarked upon during the Napoleonic wars. Later, following the First World War, these bright little flowers were again the first to be seen as the torn, bare earth of no man’s land slowly began to transform back into pasture which, to this day, still carries the deep scars of combat. In 1921 the poppy was adopted as a symbol to commemorate soldiers who have died in war.

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The Cenotaph, by AE Horne from Morton’s 1926 “The London Year”

In his 1926 “The London Year”, a mere eight years after the end of the Great War, HV Morton described, in moving tones, the Armistice Day ceremony taking place around the newly erected Cenotaph, and the two minute silence that followed the laying of the wreaths:

Now London is hushed. The roar from Charing Cross dies away. Only the jingle of a horse’s bit breaks the silence of a people frozen in memory. Three white gulls fly over from the Thames, circle above the Cenotaph, and go. In Whitehall you feel the silence and the prayer ; for men and women are praying. It is not right to look. It is too sacred. The old memories well up in the heart, the old aches, the great joys, the misery, the gallantry, the laughter, and the tears.

How long two minutes can be! How much can be remembered! How little can a few years touch those things that go right down into the heart. I would not dare to look into a woman’s mind at this time—those women with medals! I would not care to imagine their thoughts ; but the young men— ah! in two minutes how many voices call to us, how many faces we remember, how many friendships, how many are the splendid loyalties of those “unhappy far-off times….”

Today, Monday 11th November is Remembrance Day, marking the 95th anniversary of the end of the First World War. The wearing of the poppy, or the laying of a wreath, on this day has nothing to do with politics, or with glorification and everything to do with gratitude, honour and respect and the determined hope that by remembering the past with all its horrors, we can perhaps be spared a repetition of it. The poppy is the ultimate peace symbol, pure and simple.

Tyne Cot war cemetery, Belgium

Tyne Cot cemetery, Belgium

Langemark war cemetery, Belgium

Langemark cemetery, Belgium

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
11 November 2013

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A few Morton Connections

I had just sat down to enjoy a delicious “Pizzetta” from the Glastonbury market, accompanied by a pickled gherkin and a handful of Greek olives, all washed down with a glass of Coolwater Bay Sauvignon Blanc when an excited squeak from the other-half announced that she had stumbled across another HV Morton-related link while surfing the information superhighway.

I say “excited squeak” – it was more of an “oh no, not again“-type expostulation to be quite frank. I’m afraid the dearly-belovéd doesn’t entirely share her patriarch’s passion for all things Morton – a failing of which I am happily tolerant; it takes all sorts to make a world after all and it behooves a good Mortonite to be forgiving of another’s shortcomings.

In Search of England 1952 edn

As it happens I already had in mind a post to air a few of the various connections I have come across recently concerning Morton, the vast number of which are a testament to his phenomenal popularity during the early and mid-20th century. An author, born some 120 years, ago who still regularly crops up on random internet searches has clearly had a tremendous impact on popular culture at some point.

What Alison had discovered was a brief but very significant reference to Morton’s “In Search of England”, the 1927 publication that arguably ushered in the period of his greatest popularity. The link is on a blog, entitled “Socks for the Boys!” by historian and author Alison Twells, featuring a series of excerpts from the diaries of the writer’s Aunt Norah who lived from 1925 to 2009.

The material on the blog gives a fascinating insight into the concerns, fears and everyday events of Norah’s life. Particularly interesting for me was the entry on the page with the heading “Hitler Trouble“, written when Norah was just 14 years old (by my calculation), which begins “31st August 1939: Ma & I went down for tea to Helen’s. Came back early. Went down to Hills & post. Started to read ‘In Search of England’ by HV Morton. Cold. Hitler trouble.

If you have an eye for detail you will not be surprised to realise that what comes next is not this young girl’s impressions of Morton’s travelogue; her reading is interrupted in no uncertain manner by the outbreak of the Second World War, as Hitler invades Poland, and Britain declares war on Germany over the course of the next three days. The day after war is declared Norah’s diary records the sinking of the passenger ship Athenia and ends simply with the comment “sunny“.

Alison Twells’s intention is to eventually publish a book based on her aunt’s diaries and I wish her the best of luck. If her blog is anything to go by this will be a worthy and enlightening project.

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HV Morton's London

I have no idea what the connection Morton has with hosiery but, after “Socks for the Boys!“, the second website on my list is called “Sockless musings from London“. The blog entry announces a “One a day audio challenge” and goes on to review “HV Morton’s London“, a compilation of his three earlier books “The Heart of London“, “The Spell of London“, and “The Nights of London“.

The reviewer, a Canadian writer who goes by the name of “Sockless“, obviously likes the book quite a bit judging by her comments, and reports it is her intention to share this out-of-print work by posting a section from it online every day for a year.

Sadly however, this is the only post on the blog, her project remains unrealised, and my comment about it remains unanswered. This is a great pity – if you are still out there Sockless I hope everything is OK and that you might return to your challenge at some point in the future.

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The final entry today (I think I’ve gone on quite long enough, don’t you!) is a bit of an oddity that I have sat on for some years. It is part of the Hackney Podcast, a series of recordings about the East End London Borough of Hackney. Hackney Podcast volume 18 is a wonderfully atmospheric soundscape, based around readings from “HV Morton’s London” interspersed with selections of street sounds and general goings-on over a 24 hour period, including disoriented clubbers, partying squatters, late night booksellers and market traders opening up for the day. There are also other historical and contextual readings about the area.

Whoever thought of doing this must have quite a vision – the works of HV Morton and the hustle of the modern-day east end wouldn’t necessarily be the most obvious things to put alongside one another but the melange really works and provides a real insight into what it must have been like for Morton as a young  journalist wandering the streets looking for people to talk to and places to see, to use as material for his newspaper column.

After listening to the full 30 minutes of this haunting work,  you are left with the impression that actually, despite superficial differences, Morton himself might well have recognised many of the kinds of people featured in the production and would have discovered much useful material for “HV Morton’s 21st Century London“!

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

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Illustrated Magazine’s “Coronation Record Number”

Illustrated Coronation issue

There have been 38 coronations in England since William the Conqueror of Normandy was first crowned at Westminster on Christmas day, 1066. Today marks the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second in 1953 following the sadly premature death of her father, King George VI.

On 13th June, 1953, Illustrated Magazine produced a special souvenir edition for the Coronation (a “Coronation Record Number”) to provide, in the words of the editorial, “a full pictorial record of the epic day on which the Queen dedicated herself to the service of God and of her peoples” in the hope that it would “perpetuate for you and your children the memory of June 2, 1953”.

This special edition featured contributions from authors including Sir Compton Mackenzie – “Words from the Heart” – and HV Morton – “A Queen’s Glory Outshines All” – the text of which was transcribed by Kenneth Fields on 2nd June 2011 and can be read in full here: http://www.hvmorton.co.uk/hvmsoc/LN99-101.html#LN100.

Morton’s article begins:

“My seat in Westminster Abbey gave me a perfect view of the objects I wished to see: the Coronation Chair, the Throne, the Chair of Estate and the Royal Box behind it. Nothing else mattered. It was upon that floodlit space before the High Altar, covered with a golden carpet, that the Queen would be anointed and crowned.”

IMG_2781 crop smallWith hints of the central portion of “In Search of London” from two years earlier, and its detailed description of the history and origins of Westminster Abbey, Morton takes us in a broad sweep from the Plantagenets, through St. Edward the Confessor and Henry III, to the present day. With his love of the linguistic, he points out that the ancient word for “Coronation” was the “hallowing, or the making holy, of the monarch”. As the piece continues, he harks back to the Coronation of this new Queen’s father, on 12 May 1937 which he also witnessed, and reported on for the Daily Herald.

The Coronation is, at heart, a communion service and Morton acknowledges this in the closing paragraph of his carefully crafted article as he notes simply:

“Kneeling side by side, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh took Holy Communion. Then, to a great pealing of bells and the sound of cheering, with the music playing and the trumpets blowing, Queen Elizabeth II went out from her hallowing, the Crown upon her head and the sceptres in her hands.”

Measuring 13.5 by 10 inches, the magazine is an evocative time capsule, capturing the feelings and aspirations of the time, both in the reverential tone of the articles and in the multitude of advertisements it features. Everything from rainwear, Ovaltine, bicycles and Bird’s Custard is promoted with a respctful Coronation theme.

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There is even a small advert for “Cuxsome, Gerrard & Co. ltd, Carnation Corn Pads” – for people suffering after standing for hours in the crowds perhaps – and for “glorious” Agfacolour film – just incase anyone was less than satisfied with mere black and white for this special occasion. My favourite is this full colour cartoon from the brewers of Double Diamond beer. Their well known slogan “A Double Diamond works wonders” is wonderfully borne out as a patriotic gentleman is elevated above the cheering crowds atop a teetering tower of beer bottles.

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Other slogans in this edition have fared less well with the vagiaries of time and an evolving language. One wonders just when it dawned on Mars, the manufacturers of Spangles boiled sweets, that the, then innocent and charming, phrase “Spangles, the sweet way to go gay” had finally run its course and become a less than effective means of enticing children to part with precious pocket-money!

The editorial, with justifiable pride, makes considerable mention of the many photographers who contributed to this important edition. The highlight however, (apart from possibly the cover photograph) surely has to be this central photograph, the first one ever published of the coronation in colour, taken by James Jarche who also contributed many photographs to Morton’s books and articles over the years.

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This sought-after and delightful magazine is well worth keeping a look out for. It is occasionally seen on the web pages of second-hand book sellers for reasonable cost and would make an important addition to anyone’s collection of Mortoniana.

A BBC article on the anniversary of the Coronation can be read here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22729342 and a selection of photographs of the day taken by the Magnum Photos agency can be seen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-22709637 (they feature Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall who crossed the pond for the occasion and some appalling weather).

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
2 June 2013

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Merry Christmas!

Originally distributed as HVM Society Membership Notice 2012-12-24

Just a short note, dashed off between rain, floods and disastrous mince pies, to wish all admirers of HV Morton and book fans generally, wherever you are and of whatever religious persuasion you may be, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I tried hard to find a suitable quote from HVM about Christmas or winter, but couldn’t find anything which struck quite the right note. I did however come across this celebration, by Morton, of  the “bookmen” – which is to say “the book readers, the book hunters, the book tasters, the book maniacs…” who haunt the bookshops of the bustling Charing Cross Road, London – that captured the mood and I thought might be appreciated by librarious persons during the festive season:

“Lost to the world that touches their elbows as they stand there, the bookmen pry and pore into the books, looking and seeking and sometimes even finding. I love to remember the hours I have spent there, perhaps on spring mornings, sometimes in winter, oblivious of cold feet, when the shop doors open to the warning ping of a little bell, and often in the evening when the lamps have been lighted and the titles shine out splendidly in gold, behind the plate-glass windows.”

from “In Search of London”, 1951, chpt 10

Finally, anyone who, like me, will be raising a glass of  the old uisge beatha at the turn of the year can take comfort in the knowledge that, according to this web-site, the top three books to read while drinking whisky are all by HV Morton.

Sláinte mhaith!

With seasonal best wishes,

Niall Taylor
24 December 2012

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