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Tuesday, 6 December 2011
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Friday, 2 December 2011
Reginald Alfred 'Reg' Varney was an English actor, most notable for his role as a cheerful Cockney bus driver in the 1970s TV sitcom On the Buses.
For ten years he lived at Dark Lane House on picturesque Dark Lane in Budleigh Salterton, seen above. Millions of television viewers remember him with affection. He has been described as belonging to the old school of comedians, with his dislike of much contemporary television and his pride in never using swear words to get a laugh.
Varney was born on 11 July 1916 in Canning Town, which was then part of Essex but is now part of East London. His father worked in a rubber factory in Silvertown and he was one of five children who grew up in Addington Road, Canning Town. He was educated at the nearby Star Lane Primary School in West Ham and after leaving school at 14, he worked as a messenger boy at the Regent Palace Hotel, pictured above.
Above right: A Windmill Theatre poster. The first 'Revudeville' act opened in 1932. The shows only became profitable when the Lord Chamberlain, in his position as the censor for all theatrical performances in
Varney took piano lessons as a child and was good enough to find employment as a part-time piano player. His first paid engagement was at Plumstead Radical Club in Woolwich, singing and playing the accordion, for which he was paid eight shillings and sixpence (42½p). He also played in working men's clubs, pubs and ABC cinemas, and later sang with big bands of the time. He and his mother decided that show business was the career for him, and he gave up his day jobs. For a time he worked as the resident pianist at the Windmill Theatre in Soho with its all-nude revues.
During World War II, he joined the Royal Engineers, but continued performing as an army entertainer, touring the Far East for a time. After being demobbed, he starred on stage in the late 1940s in a comic revue entitled Gaytime. His partner in the double act was Benny Hill. He then went on to become an all-round entertainer, working his way around the music halls.
In 1961, Varney was given the role of the clothing cutter and foreman Reg Turner in the popular television sitcom, The Rag Trade, which made him a household name. The cast included rising stars like Barbara Windsor, Miriam Karlin and Sheila Hancock, along with established film actors such as Peter Jones and Esme Cannon.
Also around this time he starred in a show for BBC TV called The Seven Faces of Reg Varney where he performed seven different characters in front of an audience at the Shepherd's Bush Theatre in London. Varney rushed about at a frantic pace on stage as he changed clothes between characters. After that followed another comedy role in Beggar My Neighbour; this also starred Pat Coombs, June Whitfield, and Peter Jones. Pat Coombs played the wife of Varney's character and she would later appear in the On the Buses movie. The series ran from March 1967 to March 1968 (24 episodes of 30 minutes' duration) and a short special was shown as part of Christmas Night with the Stars on 25 December 1967.
On 27 June 1967, the world's first voucher based cash dispensing machine was installed at the Enfield Town branch of Barclays Bank. Varney lived in Enfield at the time and for publicity purposes he was photographed making the first withdrawal from the machine.
In 1968 he appeared in a TV play The Best Pair of Legs in the Business, playing the role of 'Sherry' Sheridan the drag artist-cum-compère past his prime at a caravan holiday site. Unusually for Varney it was a part marked by pathos rather than comedy and drew praise from writers including John Osborne and Harold Pinter, proof that he had considerable talent as a straight actor. It's been said that such a role would have puzzled his fans but for his most devoted admirers this is hardly true. "An entertainer at the end of his career but who tries to kid himself he can return to the big time," is how the On the Buses Fan Club sees the play. "It is about how his life revolves around the need to perform even though it is a dreary caravan park. It is about having hope when there is no hope. A sad comedy that sees Reg Varney giving a brilliant performance."
Varney's greatest success was in the sitcom On the Buses which was written by Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe, who had also written The Rag Trade. The series ran for 76 episodes from February 1969 to May 1973. Varney played the lead role of bus driver Stan Butler, a long-suffering but loyal man who never has much luck where romance is concerned and is always pitting his wits against Blakey, the neurotic bus inspector with the Luxton & District Traction Company.
Varney took his acting seriously. In his autobiography, The Little Clown he describes one humiliating episode early in his career which he blames on the applause and flattery that he had enjoyed and which had made him "self-opinionated, smug, cocky and swollen-headed". A moment of truth came at a club in Kennington when the audience greeted in silence his over-confident rendition of 'Chapel in the Moonlight', a song of which he had failed to learn the words.
With The Rag Trade he had been aware that he was the only cast member without West End experience and worked hard to remedy any deficiencies. For On the Buses he went as far as taking bus-driving lessons and gained an HGV licence so that he could be filmed actually driving a bus on the open road. It was also a testament to his acting abilities that he was able to play so convincingly the role of the somewhat immature Stan Butler while in his mid-fifties.
There were also three spin-off movies made, On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972), and Holiday on the Buses (1973). Varney was 53 when the series started, although his character, who lived at home and was often trying to attract women, seemed to be in his mid-thirties. Stephen Lewis, who played Inspector Cyril 'Blakey' Blake in the series, was actually 20 years younger than Varney, who, by the time On the Buses ended, was 57.
The show was a hit both in the UK and abroad, being shown in 35 countries. At its height it boasted 16 million viewers. But Varney left part-way through the final seventh series as he felt the series had run its course and was beginning to decline in standard.
Reg always enjoyed acting in films. His first film role had been with Margaret Rutherford in Miss Robin Hood (1952) and he had also appeared in comic roles in films including Joey Boy (1965) and as Gilbert in The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery (1966). Films in which he now appeared included Go for a Take (1972) and The Best Pair of Legs in the Business (1972), a film version of the 1968 play. In spite of the praise that he earned for his performance as 'Sherry' the film was not properly marketed and flopped. This was followed by Down the Gate (1975-76), in which he played the Billingsgate fish porter Reg Furnell, but it was not a great success. He was also in the remake of the film The Plank (1979).
From April to June 1969 Varney co-starred with Scottish entertainer Billy Raymond in 15 episodes of Australia's Channel O TV entertainment series Rose and Crown before returning to appear in yet another On the Buses series.
He also made six hour-long spectaculars called The Other Reg Varney, and later his cabaret act toured Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In 1988, On the Buses went on to the stage and again Varney went to Australia to play Stan.
During the 1990s, Varney was forced to retire because of health problems. He had had a heart attack in 1965 and in 1981 he had suffered a more severe one. Subsequently he divided his time between his home in a small village near Dartmouth and a villa in Malta.
Varney moved to East Devon in the late 1990s. A former resident of Dark Lane remembers him at a party where he was in his element, surrounded by admiring females. But he was devoted to his wife during their 63 years of marriage and much of his time in Budleigh was spent caring for her when she became ill.
He was a talented artist, having learnt to paint during his convalescence, and enjoyed painting landscapes in oils like the one shown here; there were several exhibitions of his work locally.
His autobiography, The Little Clown, was published in 1990 and is described as "touching" and "honest" for its insight into his early acting background.
He made two brief comebacks, in the 'Tonight at 8.30' play Red Peppers (1991), and Marital Bliss (1995), in 'Paul Merton's Life of Comedy' series. He lived alone following the death at the age of 87 of his wife Lilian in Budleigh Salterton in 2002. Her grave is in St Peter's Burial Ground.
Varney died aged 92 in Pinewood Nursing Home in Budleigh Salterton, Devon, on 16 November 2008, after suffering a chest infection. His ashes were scattered by private arrangement with his family. He was survived by his daughter Jeanne Marley along with two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Reg Varney's contribution to British TV and film comedy will be remembered for generations to come, with admirers joining sites such as the On the Buses Fan Club and http://www.onthebuses.net/forum/ There will no doubt be a further revival of interest in his career with the forthcoming centenary of his birth.
Picture credits: http://www.southallfilmstudios.com/
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Sunday, 20 November 2011
Above: Stuart Hibberd's memoirs, published in 1950 as This - is London...
Stuart Hibberd was one of the best known voices on radio in the early days of the BBC. He joined the Corporation in 1924 and was its chief announcer until his retirement in 1951. He settled in Budleigh Salterton, living in Westfield Road.
Stuart Hibberd was born on 5 September 1893 in Broadstone, East Dorset, and educated at Weymouth College from where he won a choral scholarship to St. John’s College, Cambridge. He was always proud of his West Country roots and remained as Vice President of the Society of Dorset Men until the end of his life.
On the outbreak of war in 1914 he joined the Dorset Regiment, serving with distinction in the Gallipoli campaign and also with the army in India, where he gained the rank of Captain.
In 1923, he married Alice Chichester, a cousin of the future round-the-world sailor Sir Francis Chichester (1901-72). From a military family, she was the daughter of Lt Col Gerard Chichester, who had gained the rank of Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel in the service of the 4th Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment. An uncle was Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Chichester, 9th baronet.
The following year he joined the BBC at its headquarters at 2 Savoy Hill next to London's Savoy Hotel, having seen a newspaper advertisement for an announcer. His impeccable enunciation and received pronunciation were clear factors in his favour. The Corporation was just two years old and had recently moved from its previous base at Marconi House at the junction of the Strand and Aldwych.
It was at a time when broadcasting was in its infancy, buoyed up with enthusiasm for a new art. Stuart Hibberd recalled the mood in his memoirs: "The three things that impressed me most, as a newcomer, were the general atmosphere of friendliness, the way I was at once made to feel at home - one of a family as it were - and the all pervading pioneering spirit, which seemed to proclaim from the house-tops, 'Here's a wonderful worthwhile job. Nothing matters more than broadcasting, unless it is still better and more extensive broadcasting.'"
He became one of the BBC's first professional announcers: reading the news, as well as presenting talks and concerts and talks. Along with other broadcasting pioneers he was responsible for laying down ground rules to develop the special technique of preparing scripts written for the ear rather than for the eye. Shorter, less complicated sentences and the use of colloquial English became prerequisites.
Other rules were introduced which have been long since abandoned. From 1926 until September 1939, dinner-jackets were prescribed as standard for radio announcers when on duty in the evenings even though the audience could not see them. Stuart Hibberd recalled in his memoirs how he accepted such rulings.
"Personally, I have always thought it only right and proper that announcers should wear evening dress on duty. After all, announcing is a serious, if new, profession, and the wearing of evening dress is an act of courtesy to the artists, many of whom will almost certainly be similarly dressed if they are taking part in a programme from 8 p.m. onwards." He did admit: "It is not ideal kit in which to read the News... and I remember that more than once the engineers said that my shirt-front creaked during the reading of the bulletin."
Above: Stuart Hibberd's fame as a radio announcer secured him a place in the gallery of celebrities published on cigarette cards by W.D. & H.O. Wills
He became the BBC’s Chief Announcer, a post that he held for 25 years. During that time his voice became familiar to millions as he announced events of national importance. He was famous for the pause which marked the opening words of his news bulletins: "This - is London."
The ten-day General Strike of 1926 was one of the first of such critical events that confronted broadcasters, not least because the public relied solely on the BBC for news of the events, newspaper production having stopped. On Government orders the Corporation's Savoy Hill headquarters was placed under police guard to ensure that broadcasting continued.
In 1932 the BBC moved to Broadcasting House in London's Portland Place. It was Stuart Hibberd who read the first news bulletin to be transmitted from the building. Three years later he was appointed MBE for his services to radio.
One of his most memorable bulletins was when he announced the impending death of King George V on 20 January 1936 with the words "The King's life is moving peacefully towards its close."
The events of World War Two were to make the voices of wartime broadcasters like Alvar Liddell, Frank Phillips and John Snagge even more familiar. This was especially so as the peacetime practice of guarding newsreaders' anonymity had suddenly been abandoned. The BBC Handbook of 1941 stated: "The reason for this is not a hankering after self-advertisment - although at first some listeners unfairly took it to be so; in wartime listeners must be able to recognise instantly the authentic voice of British broadcasting and then, in any possible emergency, they will be on their guard against some lying imitation by the voice of the enemy."
Another change came about when in 1940 the BBC transferred to Bristol but this was a temporary measure and the Corporation staff returned to London in July 1942. Stuart Hibberd's bulletin of 1 May 1945 announcing Hitler's death was a much remembered moment of this period.
From 1949 he presented The Silver Lining, a Thursday afternoon programme aimed at disabled and housebound people. He also produced talking books for the National Institute for the Blind. After his retirement as chief announcer in 1951 he continued to present The Silver Lining until the programme ended its run in 1964.
Stuart Hibberd's retirement from radio was marked by his closedown "Good night everybody... goodnight." The characteristic pause, which also marked the start of his bulletins, was designed to give listeners the chance to say "Good night" in reply.
He and his wife Alice moved to Westfield House in Budleigh Salterton where he continued to be well known, popular and respected. In 1970 he was elected President of the Devonshire Association.
"People raised their hats to him as he passed in the street when I went to see him in Devon in the 1970s," recalled the broadcaster and journalist Roger George Clark. Alice died in 1977. They had no children.
In retirement his voice continued to be recognised during his readings of the Lesson in St Peter's Church. The local Baptist Church was also in his debt thanks to the proceeds from a lecture series which he donated to help with the purchase of a new Manse in Elmside. Westfield House, his former home in Budleigh, was replaced by flats. The building is now called Hibberd House.
An excellent biographical sketch of Stuart Hibberd by Dr Roger Lendon has been published by the Otter Valley Association's Ovapedia at http://www.ovapedia.org.uk/index.php?page=hibberd-andrew-stuart-1893-1983-budleigh-salterton-c20
Stuart Hibberd - This - is London...London, 1950
Tom Hickman - What did you do in the War, Auntie? The BBC at war 1939-45London, BBC Books, 1995
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Robert George Collier Proctor, bibliographer, was born in Budleigh Salterton. He is chiefly remembered for Proctor order, the method of organising incunabula - books printed before 1500 - first by country, then by town, and then by printer and edition. It was this method, used in his Index to the British Museum and Bodleian collections which earned for him the title of 'the great bibliographer.' In his short life he managed to revolutionise the study of 15th century printing.
He was born on 13 May 1868, the only child of Robert Proctor and Anne Tate. A Robert Proctor is recorded as living at 2 Lawn Villas in Morris and Co.'s Commercial Directory and Gazetteer of 1870. Although his father had poor health the family had private means and the young Robert Proctor grew up in a bookish environment. His father, educated at Eton and Charterhouse, had "imbibed a strong love of the classics" according to his British Museum colleague and biographer Alfred Pollard, and it seems that within the family "a book rather than a toy was always chosen when a present was offered."
His grandfather, also called Robert (1798-1875) had written a Narrative of a Journey across the Cordillera of the Andes, and of a Residence in Lima and other parts of Peru in the years 1823 and 1824, published in 1825. The author, while described in a review as providing "minute and interesting sketches, without affecting to color them by any beauty of language" was praised for the "clearness, simplicity and animation" which he brought to the work. The family had other interesting connections, the grandfather having married a sister of the Shakespearean scholar John Payne Collier (1789-1883) who in 1860 was exposed as a literary forger. An uncle by marriage was George Edmund Street (1824-81), an architect who designed the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
Robert George Proctor was educated at Daymond's, a preparatory school in Reading before going to Marlborough College, pictured above, at the age of 10. He stayed there for less than a year, partly owing to trouble with his eyes.
Above: The former Bath College. The building is now a hotel
Following his father's death in 1880, Mrs Proctor and her son moved from Budleigh in 1881 to settle at Bath. Here Proctor joined Bath College, a small public boys' school founded in 1879 by the Reverend Thomas William Dunn (1837-1930) who had previously been second master at Boston Grammar School and assistant master at Clifton College, Bristol. He had also been a Fellow and Dean of Peterhouse College, Cambridge in the mid-1860s.
The above photo is of William Dunn as an assistant master at Clifton College, soon after leaving Boston Grammar School.
The new headmaster was obviously someone to whom Proctor owed a great debt. Long after his days at Bath College he kept in touch with 'The Old Man' as he refers to him in his diary, calling on him in Cambridge in November 1899, and in the following year dedicating to him a monograph on Greek Printing in the Fifteenth Century.
A scholarly man, Dunn's writings included translating part of the late 15th century edition of De beatitudine claustrali (On the benefits of the monastic life) by the Dominican monk Engelbertus Cultrifex (1430-92). The work is prefaced by a short passage purporting to be by the theologian Peter of Blois (c.1130-1211) who became Archdeacon of Bath in 1176. Dunn is also recorded as having undertaken a translation of the Premediarum peccatorum, attributed to Peter of Blois, for the Rev. J.A. Giles (1808-84), a scholar of Anglo-Saxon history who was a Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Could it have been through Giles that Dunn obtained a place at the same College for his obviously brilliant pupil Proctor?
As a teacher Dunn seems to have been idolised by his charges judging by this Memorial Address given at Bath Abbey in 1932 by John Alfred Spender (1862-1942), journalist, author and uncle of the poet Stephen Spender. "He had none of the recognized marks of the trade - the starched dignity, the aloofness, the order-must-be-kept attitude which was thought proper in a headmaster in those days," wrote this former Bath College pupil. "Every hour spent in class with him was an adventure. No one knew, least of all he, where it might lead; he followed his thought with the flattering assumption that his boys could keep pace, though it took them from Greek grammar to the philosophy of Plato, and ended in a disquisition on the origin of species."
For Proctor, the future disciple of William Morris and yearner for a more egalitarian society, this teacher who treated his charges as equals must have made a deep impression. "He encouraged you to come out with your crudest thoughts, and suffered argument and even contradiction with a patience that bridged the gulf between boy and man, and made him the friend even more than the schoolmaster."
As for the headmaster's recollections of his former pupil, Dunn remembered him clearly as "born for out-of-the-way scholarly pursuits" and recalled the unusually large library of books which Proctor took with him when in October 1886 he entered Corpus Christi College, where he had gained an open scholarship to study the classics course, also known as 'Greats.'
His bookish inclinations became even more evident at University. Soon after arriving at Oxford he printed his own translation of Captivi, a comedy by Plautus, which was that year acted in Latin at Bath College. A fellow-undergraduate at Corpus, the historian J.G. Milne, also remembered Proctor's library, recalling how he soon got a footing in the literary group of the period, joining College societies like the Pelican Essay Club and co-founding an even more select group known as the Owlets, composed in equal proportions of dons and undergraduates, which met to read English plays or selections from English literature on alternate weeks.
He was remembered during his time at Oxford as following every type of antiquarian pursuit, from brass rubbing to war-gaming, and, while not physically gifted as a sportsman followed College rowing with enthusiasm.
His mother had moved from Bath to Oxford, where she took rooms in Walton Street, and during University holidays Proctor spent much time on walking tours with her, including trips to Scotland, Belgium and Norway. But bibliography soon became his main chosen pursuit. In his second year he was elected Junior Librarian and set about producing a catalogue of the College Library. Before he left Oxford he had made for his College a complete list of its incunabula and also of its English books printed before the close of the sixteenth century.
It was following a suggestion by Edward Gordon Duff (1863-1924), notable for producing from 1893-99 the first catalogue of the John Rylands Library in Manchester that Proctor wrote his first paper on a bibliographical topic, choosing as his subject Jan van Doesborgh (c.1508-30), the printer remarkable for the numerous books in English which were issued from the various presses of Antwerp. The paper appeared in the 1892 issue of The Library and subsequently in the second of the illustrated monographs of the Bibliographical Society.
Above: The Radcliffe Camera, part of Oxford University's Bodleian Library
Duff had been engaged in cataloguing incunabula at the Bodleian Library, but had only got to the end of letter J when he left Oxford. He was succeeded by Proctor who on a paid basis between February 1891 and September 1893 catalogued over 3,000 incunabula at the Bodleian, as well exploring New College Library where he made the discovery of some fragments on vellum of a previously unknown Caxton.
During his time at the Bodleian Proctor lived with his mother at a house at 10, St Margaret's Road, in Oxford. But 1893 saw him move to London, where on 16 October he took up the post of assistant in the printed books department at the British Museum. For five years Proctor and his mother rented a house in Pelham Road, Wimbledon.
By 1898 he had at last, by the use of nearly all his leisure for more than four years, completed his great work An Index to the Early Printed Books in the British Museum: from the invention of printing to the year MD, with notes of those in the Bodleian Library. It was published in four parts in an edition of 350 copies.
It was the bibliographer Henry Bradshaw (1831-86) who had pioneered the method of cataloguing books according to the printers, the centres in which they worked, and the centres and countries into which printing was gradually introduced.
Proctor's genius was in using his extraordinary eye and memory for typefaces to apply this approach to the incunabula of the British Museum. By listing and describing every known type used by each printer, he showed how printing technology had developed throughout Europe. His efforts allowed the many books printed with no named place or printer in the period up to 1500 to be ranged with those books whose origin is explicitly stated. Thanks to his efforts the British Museum came to be seen as a world leader in bibliography since his help was sought, almost daily, by students in every part of Europe and also in the United States.
Indeed the Bradshaw-Proctor approach was soon applied to collections anywhere in the world. It lay behind the 1908 publication by the British Museum of its official Catalogue of Books Printed in the Fifteenth Century Now in the British Museum which listed more than 10,400 separate editions.
In 1898 Proctor and his mother moved to Oxshott, Surrey, where they had built themselves a house. By subsequent purchases nearly two acres of land were added to this. Proctor seems to have enjoyed the life of physical exertion which the cultivation of his domain involved, including growing large numbers of fruit trees. The garden features prominently in his diaries. Sometimes he would walk to work at the British Museum through the Surrey countryside, arriving as late as 11.00 am but putting in a full day's labour.
His diaries, started in 1899, are in the British Library. There were originally four volumes but volume 3 has been lost. The diaries discuss his work as a bibliographer but also give an insight into his home life with his mother. They reveal him through his views on current affairs to be something of a radical.
Above: William Morris in 1890
While at Oxford Proctor had become acquainted with the writings of William Morris (1834-96) and John Ruskin (1819-1900), and he soon came to take an interest in their political and economic ideas. He first met Morris in 1894, becoming a fanatical admirer and collecting books and ephemera from the Kelmscott Press, the private press that Morris had established at Hammersmith in 1891 with the aim of proving that the high standards of book production the past could be repeated - even surpassed - in the present. Medieval in design, the books produced by the Kelmscott Press were modelled on the incunabula of the 15th century. It was this admiration for Morris that in 1900 led Proctor to publish The printing of Greek in the fifteenth century.
This was followed by the experiments in Greek printing. In 1903 Proctor was involved in the development of a new type face for printing Greek, based on that used by the Spanish printer Arnaldo Guilen de Brocar in 1514 at Alcalá, near Madrid. The new font was known as Otter, based on Proctor's own family crest, and resulted in the fine edition of Aeschylus' Oresteia printed at the Chiswick Press in 1904.
Shown above is William Morris' design 'Brother Rabbit.' This particular design is used to decorate the cover of Dr John Bowman's edition of Proctor's diaries
An enthusiast for using Morris fabrics in his own home, Proctor was also inspired to support his aesthetic ideas. His name appears in an 1897 list of members of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, a group founded by Morris twenty years earlier in 1877. Known in Proctor's time as 'Anti-Scrape' the group had been founded to oppose the practice adopted by many Victorian architects of scraping off the old plaster of medieval buildings. The group was joined in 1889 by the architect Ernest Gimson (1864-1919), another admirer of William Morris who has an interesting connection with Budleigh. For it was Gimson who designed the house known as Coxen, off Dalditch Lane in Knowle, pictured below and mentioned elsewhere in these pages at http://budleighbrewsterunited.blogspot.com/2009/06/over-pebbles-and-far-away-knowle-east.html
Gimson had attended a lecture on 'Art and Socialism' at the Leicester Secular Society given by Morris. In 1893 he moved to the rural region of the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire “to live near to nature.” The use of Devon cob, an eco-friendly material, in Coxen’s construction is characteristic of his work.
From May 1900 Proctor began to attend the weekly committees of the 'Anti-Scrape,' occasions which were made all the more enjoyable by suppers which followed at Gatti's, an Italian eating house in the Strand. http://gimson.leicester.gov.uk/gimsonpage/gimson-and-the-arts-crafts-movement/spab-or-anti-scrape/ It is highly likely that Proctor would have met Gimson, who would go on to design in 1911 this Arts and Crafts Movement-inspired house now listed as Grade II* only a few miles from the former's birthplace. For more information about Gimson click on http://www.owlpen.com/gimson.shtml
The Lawn, next to St Peter's Church, Budleigh Salterton
It is curious to note that by a strange quirk of fate, the house in which Proctor was born would eventually be transformed by the same Arts and Crafts movement into the brick and tiled Lawn Terrace that we see today. But that aping of medieval architecture would not take place until 1935.
It was also in the early 1900s that Proctor began studying in the original the Icelandic Sagas, many of which Morris had helped to translate. This new interest resulted shortly before his death in the publication through the Chiswick Press in 1903 of a version of Laxdæla saga, translated as The Story of the Laxdalers.
The socialist ideas expounded by Morris found a willing disciple in Proctor. According to his friend the historian J.G. Milne already quoted by Alfred Pollard in the collection of Bibliographical Essays printed for the Proctor Memorial Fund in 1905, he "was constantly thinking out schemes for the improvement of life and its conditions; he was always ready to hear and inquire about the circumstances of the 'East-Enders' amongst whom I work, and to suggest solutions for the problems arising there. The enthusiasm of humanity was the real ruling force of his character."
No doubt he continued to discuss these radical ideas with Emery Walker (1851-1933) and Sydney Cockerell (1867-1962), friends who had worked with Morris in the book publishing business and who visited Proctor frequently at Oxshott. In 1901 he was honoured by the request to become one of the trustees of the Morris estate.
Above: Queen Victoria, a symbol of much that Proctor disliked about the society of his time
Throughout his diaries he is fiercely opposed to the Boer war, celebrating Boer rather than British victories. A fervent anti-monarchist he rejoices at the death of any member of a royal family. On 19 January 1901, a few days before the death of Queen Victoria on the 22nd, he notes "The old Washerwoman of Windsor reported to be kicking the bucket - à la bonne heure!"
Proctor's diaries refer constantly to the long walking tours, generally with his mother which he had enjoyed since his student days. Though in her seventies she continued to accompany him.
This water colour painting by Arthur Wyatt Edgell shows Budleigh Salterton's Steamer Steps and the coast path from Exmouth in 1868, the year of Proctor's birth
In October 1902 the pair took the train to Exmouth and then took to the coast path to Budleigh. "A warm hazy calm morning, the sea like glass," he notes. "It was a very pleasant walk along the cliffs. At Straight Point I turned aside & had a dip off the rocks; the water was as warm as in summer. Then we went on by the Beacon to B-S, came in down along the cliff to the Parade, & then up the street to 'Station Road' once Moor Lane.
Revisiting his childhood haunts he commented: "Less change than we expected, but a smartening up generally, & a disappearance of many old names. The house in Lawn Villas is now a milliner's shop." Various old acquaintances and neighbours remembered them: Mrs Webber, of Prospect House off Chapel Hill; the Mercers, of Lydney House, East Terrace, who gave them tea; and the Bakers, of The Lawn, whom he describes as "dull."
After a twilight walk to Sherbrooke Hill the pair returned to the Rolle Arms, the hotel in the centre of Budleigh where they had taken rooms, now sadly demolished. "There being no Sunday trains I had to carry the bag all day," notes Proctor. He mentions their "most delightful walk" to Sidmouth via the Otter bridge and Ladram. Understandably, after a further tramp as far as Branscombe, and then on to Beer, he described his mother as "completely done."
In the early summer of 1903 the two went together to Corsica and Florence. For the later walking tour in the Austrian Alps, Proctor started by himself on the evening of 29 August. His whole trip was planned to last only just three weeks, and he was due back at the British Museum on 22 September. His mother, concerned that she had not heard from him, prompted a search of the region by the Austrian police, but no body was ever recovered and it was presumed that he had died in the mountains after losing his footing.
He was 35 years old, but it was said of him that in that short time he had achieved a lifetime's work.
"He was perhaps one of those lucky people for whom his work was his life," writes his editor John Bowman. And yet the question of how long Proctor could have maintained such a work rate inevitably arises. Alfred Pollard had doubts, as he writes in the memorial volume. "His eager, untiring energies could not long have survived the rate at which they were burning away, and he himself had calmly faced the certainty that he could only hope for a few more years of effective eyesight."
Bath Central Library Catalogue
Bowman, J.H. (ed.) - A Critical Edition of the Private Diaries of Robert Proctor The Life of a Librarian at the British Museum
The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston Queenston Lampeter 2010
Morris and Co.'s Commercial Directory and Gazetteer. 1870
Spender, John Alfred - Men and Things, 1937 (Cassell and Company)
Pollard, Alfred W. (ed.) - Proctor, Robert: Bibliographical Essays
For the Donors and Subscribers to the Proctor Memorial Fund. MDCCCV Printed at the Chiswick Press, London, 1905
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Monday, 14 November 2011
There's always something going on in Budleigh Salterton in spite of what some meanies say. 'Sponge throwing'? Why not? We'd heard it was a charity event involving local dignitaries, and there was even a rumour that one of them would be getting a soaking, standing in the stocks and wearing his regalia.
It was all happening in a local resident's garden with an exhibition set up in a marquee, and bizarrely the day's theme was sponges. Anyway off we went and sure enough there was the dignitary looking pretty wet and bedraggled but smiling away, calling out between sponges "It's all in a good cause! Come on, sponge my face!" Very sporting of him we thought.
Henry John Carter was his name as you can see from the blue plaque on the cottage wall, and he turned out to be Budleigh's only home-grown Fellow of the Royal Society, having been born in the town on this very day, 18 August, two hundred years ago and coming back to settle down here when he retired.
In fact Henry Carter had gained the letters FRS after his name for the work that he'd done in geology during his time as a doctor with the Army in
Living on the coast in retirement allowed him to carry on spongiologising even on Budleigh beach: in an article published in 1874 he noted a variety of Esperia aegagropila "growing in small patches scantily on the rocks (at Budleigh-Salterton) towards low-water mark."
Now I'd always thought that sponges are rather uninteresting things, just sitting there on the sea bed like seaweed or any other type of marine plant but not doing very much apart from swallowing and regurgitating sea water. But it turns out that they're animals, and there are between 5,000 and 10,000 different species. There are even 150 freshwater species. They also have a quite special sex life, being hermaphrodites, and they come in different shapes and sizes with the tallest reaching two metres in height.
It may look like something the dog sicked up, but it's has been shown to produce a wide variety of isomalabaricanes, a type of triterpene molecules with notable cytotoxic activity towards certain cancer cell lines.
Sorry, I'm just showing off. I haven't a clue what all those words mean, but they looked pretty impressive in the marquee display.
But it's true that that sponges collected from rock pools by a team from the Welsh School of Pharmacy in south
That was when the event organisers had approached Peter MacDonald, Head of Sustainability at the National Fish Board. As he's the son of a much respected Budleigh resident it seemed quite appropriate and apparently he gave them some useful advice. They'd also had help from a big marine laboratory based in
There was an
interesting timeline chart showing Henry Carter's achievements throughout his
life. Two years after retiring to Budleigh he married Anne Doyle from
But it wasn't just posters and pictures inside the marquee. One wall of the main exhibition was taken up by a gigantic aquarium-full of sponges and other odd-looking marine creatures. A local museum's Natural History section had also helped out by providing marine specimens.
As it was tea-time we stayed on to watch the sponge cake competition. Not a judging of the best sponge cake but a contest to guess the weight of the biggest sponge-cake I've ever seen. This was a great crowd-puller, almost more popular than the sponge-throwing and people were buying tickets at £1 a go. The top prize for the nearest guess to the correct weight was a day with the celebrity cook working with him in his famous West Country restaurant. I bought a fiver's worth, guessing that the cake was about 30 kilos. I was also hoping that I might get the chance to really explain about the blog and how absolutely everyone should read it.
Clearly I'd under-estimated because the day ended with a speech from the nice celebrity cook asking us to eat more fish with strange names and giving the news that the gigantic sponge-cake had weighed in at 54 kilos.
The organisers had managed to get the day sponsored by a rather well-known supermarket chain which had opened a branch in the area. With its help and with a lot of hard work on the part of everyone involved a large cheque was sent off to the Marine Conservation Society. I hope it's been used to save a few more whales and coral reefs.
If Henry Carter's spirit is up there swimming around in a heavenly waterworld being sponged gently by Joyce Dennys-type mermaids I'm sure he'd have been tickled and touched by the way that Budleigh Salterton had remembered his life and achievements.
I'm sure also that he'd have approved this gesture on the part of a small coastal town to acknowledge the debt that it's owed to the sea for its livelihood over so many centuries.
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