Never mind the Festival of Britain – let’s go to Kew instead! International relations; two influential Peter Symonds masters; a welter of moths; the legend of the slim Mr Barry and the Bearded Giant; the evil of Death Duties; tennis at Castle Malwood and tennis at Wimbledon.
Gran, visiting Adrian’s mother, writes on June 6th 1951:
The afternoon was beautifully warm and sunny and far too nice to be wasted at the crowded Festival in London as had been in our minds previous to my arrival in Kingston, so we were both agreed when mum suggested a visit to Kew instead.
At Kew, they watch a family of Greylag Geese and converse with their “keeper”. “Incidentally, this man”, Gran says:
…told us that his family had been bird-keepers at Kew for over a hundred years and his son had just started at the same work. He was most interesting and told us that they were trying to replace some of the birds lost during the war but so far had been unable to do so, though Peter Scott had helped them with some from his collection.
And she recounts the following, witnessed there:
A pleasing picture, and one which made one long for true international friendship, was that of a young Chinese student playing football with a very small, rather unsteady, English boy. The Chinee [sic], with a friend, had watched the child for a long time and then, unable to resist the temptation, removed his coat and played with him. Before long he was joined by his friend, and the youngster laughed with delight. The student remarked to me, “Isn’t he a grand boy?” I wondered where were his people, and why could not all nations forget racial, colour and political differences and give and accept spontaneous friendship as has this child and the strangers in our land.
Well, Kew was always going to be available for a visit – I think Gran missed a trick by choosing not to go to the short-lived and historic Festival of Britain. The train journey back to Eastleigh, she tells us, was uneventful, “at least from a nature standpoint, for a Canadian girl over here for the Festival, talked to me for the greater part of the journey”. On the same day, Gran writes that two of Dad’s friends, “masters from Peter Symonds School… both extremely keen naturalists”, came in the evening to see the Pyrola minor (Wintergreen) in flower in the wood by Oakwood Road.
Dad adds more detail about these two influential and and well-remembered masters, saying that these were “George (Tom) Pierce and Raymond (Pongo) Cox; the former my first Form Master, and Pongo my Higher School Cert. (as it was then) teacher in Botany and Zoology”.
Gran is up early the next morning, June 9th, travelling by coach to play tennis at Wembley, noting in great detail every flower she identifies through the window, but saying nothing about the game! She gets back to The Ridge in the small hours next day, finding Dad at his moth trap, and she enthuses:
What a sight met my eyes! Moths everywhere – on the ground, the sheet beneath the lamp, on the tree-trunks and the tripod supporting the light…In spite of my extreme weariness I was thrilled and felt loth to move away.
And she lists the species and numbers of each. On the morning of the 10th:
I was wakened at nine o’clock by Jock trying to get in the back door. I called to her, tumbled out of bed to let her in and by the time I had dressed, she, bless her, had the breakfast under way and the day began!
That afternoon is taken up with an excursion to the downs and other local sites, “with the Fowler family to help Diana find wild flowers to record for a final flourish to her nature diary”. They record a long list of plant and other species, including that “Peewits were flying and walking about in the pastureland”, Larks and Yellowhammers were also in high numbers, and, she says, “Diana found a Chaffinch’s nest with three eggs…White Helleborines were particularly fine under the beeches…”
Gran recounts an amusing story the following evening. She tells us:
Hugh Robinson, returned from Ireland, came to give an account of the trip, in which several new species of micro-lepidoptera were found and told us of an amusing legend which has grown up at Ballyvaughan since their last visit. It is the legend of the slim Mr Barry, who threw a stone further than the Bearded Giant! This all arose because whilst they were waiting to leave last year, Peter Robinson [Hugh’s brother], the Bearded Giant, challenged Barry to a stone-throwing match. There is a pier at Ballyvaughan, and beyond it a small island of rock in the sea. According to the legend, the Bearded Giant threw his stone with all his might and it fell between the pier and the rock. Along came the slender Mr Barry and, with a delicate flick, flung his stone away over the island. Now all the boys of Ballyvaughan are trying to do likewise but so far none has succeeded!
Hugh also gives Gran some advice on the correct care of her Maidenhair Fern, brought over by Dad from The Burren, and on the strength of this she has bought a mixture of limestone grit and peat, and re-potted the plant, which has recently put out new shoots.
Dad is running his moth trap on an almost nightly basis during June and with regard to Gran’s excited descriptions of the results, quite amazing by today’s standards, I am spoiled for choice. This short piece will do for now:
June 15th was nearly two hours old when we eventually dragged ourselves away from the lamp and retired, very belatedly to bed. But what a night of beauty and wonder! Never have I seen so many moths assembled in one place and what a joy it was to have the lovely creatures clinging to my fingers and to be able to watch them at leisure.
She names the many species attracted and their typical behaviours at the light, noting, …”the best visitor was, perhaps, a Scarce Merveille du Jour, the first to come to light though we have, on occasions in past years, found one or two at rest on oak trees…”.
On the evening of the next day Gran leads the Southampton Natural History Society for a ramble through Cranbury Park. Many items of natural history interest, familiar to Gran of course, are seen and at the end she writes that “we had been a long walk and some of the older members of the party confessed to feeling rather tired but deeply satisfied with the beauties of Cranbury Park”.
There is tennis again on June 17th, though she writes nothing of it, concentrating entirely on the venue:
We went to Minstead this afternoon to play in a tennis match, and it proved to be a very enjoyable outing. The match took place at Castle Malwood, once the home of the late Dan Hanbury, and now, unhappily, the property of the Southern Electricity Board, who have their offices in the lovely house. The once magnificent gardens were a sad sight indeed, derelict and neglected except for those immediately surrounding the house and tennis courts, which were about the finest on which I have ever played, and which, during Dan Hanbury’s days, previous to the war, were graced by the appearance of many of the world’s best tennis players. The hard courts were in the most derelict part of the grounds, unkempt and full of seedling sycamores…
How desperately tragic it is that present day taxation makes it impossible for the descendants of the owners of these stately old homes to keep them going and, on the death of those to whom they must have been immeasurably dear, that they have to be sold to meet the death-duties. I feel that it is so unutterably wrong, for these people and these places are the very backbone of England. Specially do I deplore it when, as in the case of Dan Hanbury, I know from personal experience how fine and kind a real gentleman he was.
In the garden of The Ridge on the 23rd, Gran records some interesting Tit behaviour:
I was interested to see a Cole-tit [she still spells it this way], which was eating fat from the food basket, feed one of the Great Tit youngsters. It accepted the food as from its own parent, but the adult Great Tit resented it and drove the Cole-tit away.
A week later there is further tennis but this time Gran is not playing. She writes:
The afternoon was cloudy, cold and unattractive but at least it did not rain and I pictured Jane thoroughly enjoying herself at the World Tennis Championships at Wimbledon. It was disappointing to hear on the wireless that rain stopped play…I have promised to go with her on Monday next.
On June 28th:
Having received a frantic S.O.S. from a friend imploring me to go and help her out in her garden, I went this morning to Poles Lane, where she has a farm, though it was in her private garden that she wanted my help. My job was to weed a newly-sown lawn in which the fine grass was almost completely hidden by the luxuriant growth of thistles, poppies, mayweed, campions, bindweed and innumerable smaller weeds such as dandelions, madder and such.
The farm is called Four Dell Farm, and this appears to be the first of many mornings spent working there. On this day, she finds the work warm, pleasant and peaceful, birds singing and:
… the creaking call of Partridges. Cows lowed and chickens cackled, and occasionally the contented, somnolent grunt of a fat pig could be heard. The old spaniel, Wendy, after making a fearful hullabaloo on my arrival, had now attached herself to me and lay down close to me as I wrestled with thistle and dock.
And now it’s time to give a longer example of Gran’s description of a night’s moth-trapping in the garden of The Ridge in those days. For me, it’s highly evocative: the moths’ English names; the hiss of the Tilly Lamp; the visible world reduced to the range of the mercury vapour glow, and the whirring of wings past the ears as moths come in. It’s June 28th, and Dad has a new moth trap. Gran cycles home in the drizzle from a meeting of the SNHS, arriving at about ten o’clock:
…to find Barry in the garden with his lamp. I decided to stay up with him for a time and, truly, it was an amazing sight, about fifty different species being attracted, with some varieties, and in varying numbers. A Lobster moth was the first to come, and, though it was raining, and the specimens only coming in occasionally at first, the place was later alive with soft, fluttering wings and light, thudding bodies. Pale Tussocks, a Large Yellow Underwing, Silver Y, Flames, one Broad-barred White, numerous Peppered Moths, including one melanic, one Engrailed Clay, Shears, and three Figure of Eighty. Miller and Bright-line Brown-eye were the next in, followed by the first Hawk, a Pine. It must be noted that almost all the moths remain at rest on the tripod, sheet, trees etc., within the light’s beam, so that with so many about it was a spectacular sight. They were coming in rapidly now, towards midnight, Lesser Swallow Prominent, Sandy Carpet, Scorched Wings, Daggers, Pale Oak Beauty, two Blotched Emeralds, Pale-shouldered Brocade, Poplar Grey, White Ermines, Angleshades and Peach Blossom.
June 29th: Still out with the lamp when the new day commenced, and still the moths came pouring in. Pebbled Hook-tips, Dark Arches, Setaceous Hebrew Characters, Great Oak Beauty and Spectacle. There must have been more than a dozen Elephant Hawks, and so great was the turmoil that it was difficult to note fresh arrivals. But suddenly Barry cried out, “Silvery Arches!” which was the first he had ever seen, and soon afterwards, more excitement – a melanic Lobster, also the first. We kept meaning to give up but then something else came in – Peacock Moth, Eyed Hawk, Light Emerald, Mottled Beauty, Shark, Lychnis, Burnished Brass, Fanfoot. At last, just before one o’clock, we gave up and reluctantly came indoors.
Referring to the Silvery Arches, Dad tells me, “this remains the only one I ever saw in Hampshire, although it was common around Esher in Surrey, where one could find larvae in numbers on small birches after dark, and evidently locally frequent in NE Hampshire”. He still has the list of the sixty-one species that came to the light that night long ago.
An unforgettable day, its pleasure for me for once not wholly connected with natural history. Thanks to Jane, who insisted, I realised a wish that I have cherished for thirty years and visited Wimbledon for the World Championships.
These championships were more accurately called “The 1951 Wimbledon Championships”, held at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Gran and Jane catch the 6.30 bus to Eastleigh, for the London train.
I pass hurriedly over the noise and bustle of dingy Waterloo and hasten on to Wimbledon, where, after queuing outside the station for special buses, we reached the tennis ground just before half-past nine. As the gates were not opened until twelve o’clock, this entailed another long wait in a queue. It was not as tiring or boring as it sounds, for we were able to hire stools for one shilling…
We were entertained during the waiting time by various musicians – one or two accordionists, a trumpeter and a trombonist. One of the former was accompanied by a small grey Spider Monkey, wearing a plaid jacket. It was absurdly human in its actions, trotting along beside the man and peering, like an inquisitive child, through the bars of the gate leading into the car park. When the owner held out his arm, the monkey scrambled up and sat on his shoulder. It was a fascinating little creature.
Soon we were within the gates, within the sacred precincts of Wimbledon. Someone started to run – we all ran, like a lot of silly sheep, although Jane said there was no need since we had to run into divided lanes and would have to stop at the turnstiles! Nevertheless, we ran – and nearly fell over each other as the leaders came to an abrupt stop at the turnstiles. Once through, there was another rush to the various courts to take up postions to watch our favourite players. Jane and I made a beeline for the famous Centre Court, standing-room only…
Play did not commence until two o’clock, so we sat on the ground and ate our lunch, interrupted now and again by the stewards asking everyone to stand up in order to see if any more people could possibly be packed in. By the time play started, we were wedged in like sardines in a tin. The sun poured down and excitement rose to fever pitch. But apart from my having to sit on the ground among pounding feet (some of which, I noticed, had unobtrusively been slipped out of now too-tight shoes) we managed to remain until half-past five when thirst drove us to seek refreshment.
After gulping down two glasses of orangeade, we went to Court No 2, saw two good matches and then looked over the wall to Court 3, where we were lucky enough to see another first-class pair playing, as Centre Court was occupied beyond the time anticipated. At a quarter-past eight, Jane and I had to tear ourselves away or miss the last train from Waterloo and arrive home with the milk.
Not a word about the matches themselves, nor of the players involved!
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 1)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 2)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 3)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 4)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 5)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 6)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 7)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 8)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 9)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 10)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 11)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 12)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 13)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 14)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 15)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 16)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 17)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 18)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 19)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 20)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 21)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 22)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 23)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 24)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 25)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 26)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 27)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 28)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 29)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 30)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 31)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 32)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 33)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 34)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 35)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 36)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 37)
- Forty Years in Chandler’s Ford – a Journal (Part 38)