Category Archives: Travel

The Grand Tour of Great Britain

Cover - capture

I recently received news from HV Morton Society member, Paul G, that he had managed to acquire a copy of the Strand Magazine of September 1930 (volume LXXX No 476) from an online seller. I hadn’t come across this edition before so I was delighted to be able to read pages 204 to 211, which featured an article by HV Morton, The Grand Tour of Great Britain.

It is very much of its time of course and not, perhaps, Morton’s finest work – from reading it he obviously feels constrained by the title brief and the limited word-length (he even describes as “exasperating” in the article itself!) but he does manage a helter-skelter summary of his British travel books as the reader is hauled at lightning speed from destination to destination across the country. This idea of summarising highlights from his travels was later developed in a less frenetic way in the 1970’s with the series of illustrated large format books, “HV Morton’s England”, “HV Morton’s Scotland” and so on.

I have included the text of the article below. The cover picture above is, in my humble opinion, quite magnificent! The rest of the pictures are contemporary.

§

The Grand Tour of Great Britain

by

HV Morton

Through his books and articles, Mr, H. V. Morton has been the means of introducing tens of thousands of strangers, and thousands of natives, to the peculiar fascinations of travel in Britain and Ireland. In this article he has summarized for the benefit of the intending tourist his impressions of those places that no intelligent traveller can afford to miss.

I.

ONE of the healthiest tendencies of this age is the interest which men and women in Great Britain are taking in the history, the archaeology, and the scenery of their own land. The cheap motor-car and the excellent road transport services which have developed since the War are largely responsible. Go where you like to-day and you will encounter people who are exploring their own country with an intelligent zest which previous generations reserved for France, Italy, and Switzerland.

I receive letters from every part of the world asking if I will outline the perfect tour of Great Britain. I welcome those from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, but I rather regret those from people living in this country. It seems to me so strange, that- anyone should deny himself the exquisite pleasure of taking a map and a guide-book and plotting his own route. But the fact remains that thousands of would-be explorers lack the initiative to dive off into England and find their own way, therefore some guidance, it seems, is essential.

Your perfect tour of Great Britain begins at home in an arm-chair with a book like G. M. Trevelyan’s “ History of England.” You cannot appreciate England until yon have brushed up your history. You should follow this with a popular book on geology.

The structure of the earth has determined the events of history; it has also affected the appearance of the landscape. If everyone who travels in England studied geology and realized how perfect is the native architecture, and how it varies from formation to formation, public opinion might perhaps be strong enough to prevent reckless and apparently- uneducated architects from planting timber buildings in stone country and stone buildings in timber country. They do even worse things than this !

I consider that a tour of any country should begin from its capital: London, Edinburgh, and Dublin, in the present instance. I would send my traveller from London to Dover. These white cliffs are the first glimpse of England in history. I would let him find his way, preferably via Rye and Winchelsea, to Winchester. I would like him then to explore the New Forest. He might stay at Brockenhurst or Beaulieu, or, if he does not mind modest accommodation, in that queer, haunted village overlooking Beaulieu River, Bucklers Hard. There they used to build wooden warships. The slipways are rotting and the wide village street ends as if cut with a knife. Only a few cottagers now live in a place which two centuries ago attempted to challenge the supremacy of Portsmouth.

The motorist should run down to Christchurch and Bournemouth from the New Forest and then go north to Salisbury. Every cathedral in England has one supreme feature. Salisbury’s pride is its spire. Stonehenge is only a few miles away. It is well worth while to get up in the early dawn to see Stonehenge.

IMG_6836 modA Portland Quarry – now abandoned

Now the road goes west into Dorset. Weymouth is still a Georgian watering place. The traveller will say—as everyone says in sunny weather—that the bay is rather like that of Naples. But no one should go to Weymouth and leave the Isle of Portland unvisited. This great stone quarry from which all Wren’s City churches were hewn has provided material for many of the greatest buildings in the world. It is fascinating to wander beside the sea in those colossal excavations from which St. Paul’s Cathedral was taken. You will discover two pillars overgrown with brambles which for some reason or other never found their way to Ludgate Hill. And in another quarry they will show you a long trough. The great stone hewn from this quarry is now the Cenotaph.

The traveller will now take the road into the glorious county of Devon. He will admire Torquay with its red soil and go on to Plymouth. Plymouth, especially its fish market and the Barbican, will repay any amount of loitering; and at dusk there is only one place to go—the finest promenade in Europe, Plymouth Hoe.

The change from Devon into Cornwall is one of the remarkable experiences in a country which is full of quick changes in atmosphere. Cornwall is Celtic. It looks like it and sounds like it. Round Falmouth and St. Mawes are some of the most glorious villages in the country. Land’s End is a fascinating place. I would like my traveller to see it on a day of sea mist when the minute-gun is booming in the greyness and the waves are breaking in white foam over the sharp, black rocks. The run up the west coast of Cornwall is enchanting. Everyone should see Tintagel. It is one of the most romantic names on the map of England, and if you climb up to Arthur’s Castle at evening by yourself and hear no sound but sheep cropping grass on the queerly-shaped mounds you will not have travelled in vain.

Once more comes Devon with its varied fields and its cosy villages : Clovelly perched on its cliffs ; Bideford, Barnstaple ; Lynton and Lynmouth (which, like Clovelly, are professional beauties), and then that magnificent few miles beside the sea over the cliffs to Porlock.

Wells snipCathedral Close, Wells

Wells, Bath, and Bristol should be explored. Wells is in many ways one of the most fascinating cathedral cities in the country, Bath is a delightful quiet old lady with, it is difficult to realize, a past, and Bristol is a city in which any man with an eye for history could spend weeks.

Now come those three lovely sisters among English counties : Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, and Herefordshire. Their three cathedrals should be studied. Cheltenham, Stratford-on-Avon, and Coventry are not far off. If you want an amusing experience, go to Droitwich and try to establish your balance in that salt brine which turns the human body into cork. You can sit upright in this water and paddle round with your hands.

From Hereford go to Ludlow and Shrewsbury and enjoy the still faintly war-like atmosphere of the Marches. There is something about this district rather like that of the Scottish Border. Then Chester with its wall, and northward to Lancaster and the Lake District. The traveller now finds himself in wild and beautiful country. The softness of Devon and Somerset seems like a dream. He becomes conscious that Scotland is over the sky-line.

Now comes the Roman Wall. The eighty miles from Carlisle across England to Newcastle are among the most fascinating and romantic in England. Midway is Chesters, with its Roman Cavalry station. You can see the marks of the chariot wheels on the stones. You should leave the road and follow the great wall of Hadrian for miles. It runs on straight as a sword, the northern boundary of the ancient world.

Newcastle will perhaps not hold the traveller for long, although its Norman castle is interesting and not as well known as it should be. Durham is the city ! The first sight of Durham Cathedral on its hill is one of the unforgettable things in England. This cathedral is almost too good to be true. It is one of the grandest Norman monuments in the world.
Now follows a district which is as full of beauty and interest as the West Country and the green Midlands. It is the splendid county of Yorkshire, a country in itself, a great area which combines every characteristic of English scenery, from the flat plain of York, which reminds you of Herefordshire lowlands, to the high cliffs of Flamborough, which remind you of Cornwall. You come south from Durham to Ripon, where they have been blowing a horn in the market-place at curfew-time since Saxon days, and to Harrogate, the brightest and most cheerful of all spas. To the west you have the glories of Wharfedale and to the east the wildness of the moors leading to pretty Whitby and prosperous Scarborough. You have the superb abbeys of Fountains, Rievaulx, and Jervaulx. But the greatest glory of the North is the City of York. Here a man can idle weeks away and find some new beauty every hour.

The traveller now goes south to Lincoln and to the strange, attractive lowlands of the Wash. Here he might be in Holland. Boston, with its famous “ Stump,” looks as if it had been blown over from the Continent. Then come Peterborough, King’s Lynn, Wells-next-the-Sea, Cley—those wonderful little stranded sea-coast towns from which the sea has retreated—and that beautiful and neglected cathedral city, Norwich. East Anglia is another of those districts in England which the traveller groups in his mind as an area distinct and remarkable as the West Country, the Lakes, the Midlands, and the North. It has a character of its own. It is gentle, flat country full of a quiet charm.

Ely, Cambridge, Colchester, and the Constable Country, and then back to London. That is the brief outline of a tour which should serve very well as a beginning. It should at least enable a traveller to focus the country in his mind. It will certainly whet his appetite and provide him with sufficient hobbies to last more than one lifetime !

II.

Scotland, is an easy country to tour. I like to enter Scotland on the east Border at Carter Bar and move up to Edinburgh through that part of the Lowlands associated for ever with Walter Scott. You have here a group of ruins equivalent to the abbeys of Yorkshire—Jedburgh, Kelso, and Melrose. Near Melrose is Abbotsford.

It is exasperating to be forced to dismiss Edinburgh in a phrase. Here is a city of cities. It sits on its rock like an armoured knight. Old Edinburgh is mediaeval; New Edinburgh is stylishly Georgian. Holyrood is full of memories of Mary Queen of Scots and Prince Charles Edward; the Castle has its roots far deeper in Scotland’s history.

From Edinburgh the traveller should go north to Stirling. The view from the ramparts of Stirling Castle towards the Highlands is one of the supreme views in Great Britain. The route now runs through Dunfermline into the distinct little “ Kingdom ” of-Fife : St. Andrews, which I suppose all golfers-must see, Perth, a fascinating city, and. then a grand good-bye to flat country and a climb up from Blairgowrie over the Devil’s Elbow to the picture-postcard Highlands of Braemar, Balmoral; Ballater, to Aberdeen.

A glorious day’s motoring is that from Aberdeen to Inverness via Elgin and Nairn. Inverness is, in its unique way, as striking as Edinburgh. You are in the capital of Gaelic Scotland and you are reminded of this at every corner. From the castle ramparts at evening you look south-west into a magic land of blue mountains and silver lochs.

I think the journey beside the so-called Caledonian Canal is one of .the finest in Europe. Half-way is Fort Augustus, which was built in the eighteenth century to subdue the last wild men of Europe, the Highlanders, and at the end of the journey is that delightful Highland town Fort William, with Ben Nevis towering up behind it. I would like my traveller to climb the Ben as I did once, on a brilliant autumn day which gradually grew colder and colder until at the top I entered a snowstorm that chilled the very marrow in my bones.

IMG_3866 crop smallBen Nevis

From Fort William to the west is that wonderful country of stern mountain and loch associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie. It leads to the Kyle of Lochalsh and a little boat to Skye. This island is enchanted. It would be a tragedy to visit Scotland and fail to see the Coolins, the, strangest mountains in Europe, or Glen Sligachan, that leads, over miles of barren country to Loch Coruisk, which on a sombre day is like an overture by Wagner.

Returning to the mainland, the route now runs from Fort William through the gloomy pass of Glencoe to Oban and Inveraray. Then come Loch Lomond and Glasgow. Everyone should hire a boat and sail up the Clyde from, say, Greenock. South of Glasgow, balancing the Scott country of the east Border, is that district sacred to Burns—Ayr, Dumfries, and then, over the Border, Carlisle.

This is a tour that may help those who are visiting Scotland for the first time. I could amplify it enormously. I hope that if anyone follows it he will depart from the route as often as possible and make his own discoveries, especially from Inverness and the Kyle of Lochalsh.

III.

Ireland, like Scotland, is easy to see. The high lands are round the coast and the centre of the country is a huge and difficult bog. When the traveller has enjoyed the peculiar charm, of Dublin I suggest that he should work to the south through Tipperary. He should make for Cashel with its supreme ruins. Cormac’s Chapel is the most beautiful Gaelic ruin in the world.

He should then go to Cork, kiss the Blarney Stone, and stay at Glengariff, which is an Irish Riviera. The whole of Kerry is steeped in a melancholy beauty. It is a place of wild, barren hills and incredibly beautiful coast scenery. Killamey is, of course, an inevitable destination. The lakes are magnificent and the country round about is supreme of its kind. A place slightly off the beaten track is Valentia. In good weather it is a journey well worth taking.

But the part of Ireland which fascinates me is Connemara. If the traveller goes north from Killarney through Limerick to Galway he will enter a country as primitive as any in Europe. This is the Gaelic Ireland of literature. This is the Ireland of the Gaelic League, Synge, Yeats, and “ A. E.” When you take the road north from Galway the modern world seems to have come to an end. Barefoot girls in scarlet petticoats sit sideways on diminutive donkeys. There is the reek of peat in the air. Peasants, many of whom speak only the Gaelic, rake up the seaweed and spread it on their potato patches. The fishermen go out to sea in coracles as primitive as those of the ancient Britons. These queer craft—skins stretched over a framework—are to be seen tilted against the white walls of the little cabins.

The traveller who wishes to enjoy this primitive country should stay for some time at Clifden before moving on to the slightly more sophisticated county of Mayo, where at Mallaranny he will encounter one of the incredible views in Great Britain. On certain days the mountains of the west coast are washed in an indescribable colour known as “ Atlantic blue.” You see this colour sometimes on the west coast of Scotland, but never in my experience is it so wonderful as in Mayo. Connected with the mainland by a small bridge is the Isle of Achill, where the dogs still go mad at the sight and sound of a motor-car. Here life is as primitive as in Connemara. Every young person in Achill goes off in the season to pull potatoes in Scotland or the North of England.

The route then takes the traveller northward through Sligo into Donegal. Then come Londonderry and the Ulster border. Ulster might be Scotland. The great sight is, of course, the Giant’s Causeway. Belfast should be visited and compared with Dublin. It is difficult to imagine two cities more widely different from one another. Southward the road takes one over the boundary into the Free State. There is the town of Drogheda and, eventually, Dublin.

This circuit of Ireland is a simple tour. I think anyone who makes it will agree with me that Kerry and Connemara are the districts that remain for ever in the memory. Here you have a mediaeval point of view and a way of life that has not changed in its essentials from, the life of our tribal ancestors.

Originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.238 on 1st June 2019

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The BBC Listener Magazine, 7th June 1945

This article was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.247, 8 December 2019

The BBC’s Listener magazine was published weekly from the 16th January 1929 and was described by the Guardian as one of the most distinguished publications in British journalism. It was intended to expand on the topics of various BBC broadcasts in a way that wasn’t possible in the programmes themselves or in the BBC’s listings magazine, the Radio Times. In its early days it was an eclectic publication which reflected the BBC’s cultural ideals but changes in society were mirrored by a change in editorial policy as ownership of the magazine was taken out of the BBC’s hands in the late 1980’s. As a result of this change and increasing competition the publication ceased production in 1991, after a total of 3,197 issues.

In the summer of 1945, shortly after Germany’s surrender at the end of the second world war in Europe, the 7th of June edition of The Listener was delivered to the MacKenzie household at number nine (price threepence). I have no idea who the MacKenzie family were or in which street number nine was but I am forever grateful to them as, nearly 65 years later, their extremely well preserved copy of volume 33, number 856, found its way to me in Glastonbury (price – a lot more than threepence), complete with their name and number written in pencil at the top right corner of the cover.

As if to illustrate how little some things have changed, the first article of this edition (on page 619) is entitled The Levant: its People and their Problems. Section one, The Place, is written by popular travel writer of the time and recognised authority on the region in question, HV Morton.

It is perhaps not one of HVM’s finest pieces of writing but nevertheless it is fascinating to see him simply as part of popular culture, someone who had done so much to bring the countries under discussion to the attention of readers in Britain and the US, commenting on the affairs of the day in the same way that others, including Stephen Fry and Ian Hislop, would do in later editions. Of course, Morton had recently also contributed to the allied war effort in the middle east and North Africa by publishing his condensed (“light enough to be carried in a haversack”) volume “Middle East” and later another similar paperback version, “Travels in Palestine and Syria” which was specifically intended for issue to the troops in that region.

The cover of Morton’s “Middle East” depicting a window overlooking Aleppo.

I have included the text below for your interest along with a few pictures and advertisments from the magazine which give a feel for the time it was written as well as adding to the enjoyment of looking back at history in this way!

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The Levant: its People and their Problems
I—The Place
By H. V. MORTON
(from: The Listener vol. 33, no. 856, 7th June 1945)

SYRIA and Palestine are, geographically speaking, one. Syria is the north; Palestine is the south. They are much the same to look at; a thick central spine of barren mountains sloping away on the east to a vast desert and on the west to fertile plains washed by the waves of the Mediterranean Sea. Syria is much larger than Palestine (which is only a little narrow strip of a country), but the greater part of Syria is desert stretching eastwards for about two hundred miles to the Euphrates and Iraq.

When you leave Galilee and start to climb up the Syrian frontier you see ahead of you a grand mass of mountains topped by Mount Hermon wearing a white cap of snow. This mountain dominates the whole country and snow lies on it all the year round. At the frontier you see a little stream tumbling out of a cavern. This is the eastern source of the Jordan, which flows south through Palestine into the Dead Sea. And when you cross the frontier you are in Colonial France.

Now history. Syria has always been the trackway for migrations and for every conqueror who has ever broken loose. The Egyptian Pharaohs marched across it from the south; the Babylonians and the Assyrians from the east; Alexander the Great came across it from the north. So did the Romans, the Crusaders and the Turks. This means that Syria is scattered with the most wonderful collection of ruins you could find anywhere, from vast temples like Baalbek and complete ruined cities like Palmyra, to the superb castles which the Crusaders built on the tops of the mountains. And they built them as if to last for ever.

Palestine is the land of the Gospel; Syria is the land of the primitive Church. St. Paul was converted on the road to Damascus. He gained new vision in the Street called Straight, which is still to be seen in that city. The Church that was at Antioch was the first missionary Church (by the way Antioch is now part of Turkey but geographically and historically it is Syria). Another wonderful sight in Syria is about a dozen complete desolate Byzantium cities lying out in the sand. And there is the lovely ruined Church of Kalaat Semain built round the pillar on the top of which St. Simon Stylites spent his life. Syria was the home of those strange early ascetics—the Pillar Saints.

Now the towns: what are they like—Beirut is the great port. It is a large white city on a fine bay, with the Lebanon rising at the back. Damascus: a city of minarets and domes in the middle of a large flat orchard, sometimes ablaze with apricot blossom. Commerce and bargaining are in the very air. You have only to admire a carpet in the bazaar to find it in your bedroom on approval when you get back to the hotel. Aleppo: a lovely Arab city with a bright little chromium-plated French town built round it. But go into the dark covered bazaars of Aleppo and you slip into the Arabian Nights. In the plain of Aleppo are clusters of strange Arab villages. Each house is a mud cone painted white. The villages look like clusters of fifty or a hundred eggs in an egg-rack—if you can imagine such a sight. When a polite Arab invites you inside to drink a cup of coffee you discover that these mud houses are as clean as a Dutch dresser. Homs and Hama are two purely Arab towns on the railway. They are always full of camels and donkeys and street markets. They smell of the Eastern Desert. Then there is Tripoli, a big port north of Beirut and Lattaqieh (where the tobacco comes from) and Tyre and Sidon.

One leaves Syria with an impression of great brown mountains, vast sandy deserts, sunny orange-groves near the sea, old gentlemen in Turkish fezes smoking hookahs under palm trees, silent, dead cities, ruined temples built of the most lovely honey-coloured stone, minarets, domes, and busy cities full of life and colour.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor

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Great British Car Journeys

A30 in 1928

An aerial view of the A30, in 1928, much as Morton would have known it.

An HV Morton Society member from Warwickshire, England, wrote to me a couple of days ago to let me know about a television programme which mentions HV Morton and, especially since my wife had also spotted it, I thought I would spread the word!

The programme is Great British Car Journeys and stars Peter Davison and Christopher Timothy, two old actor friends and veterans of one of my favourite TV drama series, All Creatures Great and Small (the story of James Herriot as a young veterinary surgeon in the north of England).

Great British Car Journeys is broadcast in the UK by Channel Four Television and the second episode (the one in question) is an English road-trip, undertaken in Davison’s rather classy Morgan car, travelling from Central London to Land’s End in Cornwall on what used to be known as the Great South West Road or London Road, depending I imagine on which direction you were travelling but, since 1920, has been known rather more prosaically simply as the A30.

In Search of England folio soc small

The cover of the Folio Society edition of “In Search of England

The two travellers stop, as Morton did, at the Warren Inn en route, at which point Peter Davison, who is seen clutching the Folio Society edition of “In Search of England“, reads the section from Morton’s work which refers to the legendary fire at the Warren Inn. This fire, when Morton was writing, had supposedly been lit contiuously for one hundred years. The present landlord told the same story, meaning the fire has now been lit continuously for nearly two hundred years. One can only wonder how they manage to sweep the chimney without serious burns!

Warren-House small

The Warren Inn (photo courtesy of MG)

On their journey they manage to recreate (rather erratically) the first ever motor vehicle journey in England which took place in 1895 (three years after Morton’s birth!) and which was closely followed by the very first motoring offence as the new car immediately smashed the then national speed limit of 4 miles per hour! The viewer is also treated during the episode to many delightful photographs and videos of motoring in England in the 1920s and 30s which give a real impression of the sort of scenes that Morton must have witnessed while on the road as he travelled the length and breadth of Great Britain in the interwar years.

Information regarding the series can be found on the Internet Movie Data Base. The programme itself is available to watch online for the next few weeks, but I have a feeling this may only be available to UK residents.

I’ve watched it twice already!

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

This article was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.235 on the 14th February 2019

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Stephen Twist’s travels with Morton

Blog pic

HV Morton Society member, Stephen Twist, a self-confessed travelling, tango dancing barrister, is on a mission. He is setting out in his Auto-Trail Tracker (or Cosmic Campervan as he describes it) to retrace the Scottish journeys of HV Morton. En route he will be compiling a blog of his experiences as he describes “that which has changed in the invervening years since 1928, and those things that have remained the same“.

He has already reached Galloway and the World’s End, so if you don’t want to miss any of his adventures make sure and pay him a visit, sign on for updates, and leave a message of encouragement while you’re there!

Niall Taylor

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A meditation on Morton – and Bill Bryson, by Elisabeth Bibbings

More notes from a small island

Over Christmas, I was given the latest book by the wonderful Bill Bryson. “The Road to Little Dribbling – More Notes from a Small Island” celebrates both the 20-year anniversary of his first British book (“Notes from a Small Island”) and the fact that he has just been made a British Citizen (about time too, he’s been an honorary Englishman for years in my book).

However, this time, though I kept annoying my husband by giggling helplessly while reading in bed, and though I gave Mr. Bryson a full 5-stars on my Goodreads review (www.goodreads.com for every bibliophile), I didn’t quite agree with him all the time.

Witness the following quote, from his Dartmoor visit:

‘I had just finished reading “In Search of England” by H.V. Morton, which is always described as a classic, presumably by people who have never read it because it is actually quite dreadful. It was written in 1927 and consists largely of Morton motoring around England and slowing down every twenty miles to ask directions of a besmocked bumpkin standing at the roadside. In every village he went to, Morton found a man with a funny accent and f***-all to do, and had a conversation with him. . .

‘The impression you get from ISO England is that England is a cheerful, friendly place, peopled with lovable halfwits with comic accents, so it is a little ironic that the book is so often cited as capturing the essence of the nation. An even greater irony is that Morton eventually soured on England because it wasn’t fascist enough for him [ouch, and not true – Ed]. He moved to South Africa in 1947 and lived the last thirty-two years of his life there, forgotten by the world but happy to have servants he could shout at.’

Well, you can’t win ‘em all! Perhaps someone could write officially on behalf of the society to Mr. Bryson and put him right about HVM’s reasons for leaving England? Actually, the thought that there really was an H.V. Morton Society would probably call forth another rant, like the one about the ‘Water Tower Appreciation Society, a Society for Clay Pipe Research, a Pillbox Study Group, a Ghost Sign Society and a Roundabout Appreciation Society’, which features earlier in the book.

Anyway, why was Morton so inclined to write about ‘England as a cheerful, friendly place, peopled with lovable halfwits’? For an answer to that, I turned to a rather more gritty book, which I also enjoyed just after Christmas. “H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald, a falconer, describes her relationship with her goshawk Mabel, and how Mabel helped her overcome her grief after losing her father. To really appreciate this book, one needs to have read “The Sword in the Stone” by T.H. White, another amateur falconer, who Macdonald consistently refers to, comparing his clumsy attempts at training a goshawk with her own.

T.H. White was a contemporary of Morton, and Macdonald explains that during the ‘20s and ‘30s (when Morton was writing his travelogues), there was a great movement of people wanting to go back to the land, back to their roots. There were lots of events like midnight rambles and excursions deep into the countryside, and a great revival of country arts and crafts as people sought to forget the Great War and rediscover their national identity after the bloodbath which had decimated the nation. It struck me, reading this, that that is the background from which all Morton’s travel books that we love so much (even if Mr. Bryson doesn’t) have sprung. Nearly a century ago, Morton was capturing the feelings of the age – that Great Britain was still great, and its countryside and its characters were why people had fought and died. Nowhere is that more evident for me, than in the poignant first half of his 1939 “I Saw Two Englands”, when he realises that the England he loves so much is under threat in an even worse way than from the First World War.

So there you go, Mr. Bryson – Morton was a man of his time and upbringing, just as you are a product of yours. He may wax more lyrical than your bluff style, but one thing is true – he loved England in his own way just as much as you do.

‘I have said it many times before, but it really cannot be stated too often: there isn’t a landscape in the world that is more artfully worked, more lovely to behold, more comfortable to be in, than the countryside of Great Britain. It is the world’s largest park, its most perfect accidental garden. I think it may be the British nation’s most glorious achievement.’ (“The Road to Little Dribbling”, p. 381).

I’m sure Morton couldn’t have agreed more.

Elisabeth Bibbings

Originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.198, 20 February 2016

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The Father of the Dog

A vocation as a veterinary surgeon has its fair share of highs and lows. It is a privilege to be able to assist animals and those who care for them but there are also those occasions when sadly the time comes when it is no longer possible to do more. At this point it is both a blessing and a painful duty sometimes to be able to offer help by means of a final act of kindness.

Here is an account by HV Morton of just such a heart rending situation as he illustrates both the pleasure and the pain which we willingly enjoy and endure when we take an animal into our hearts.

It is from Chapter 8 of “In The Steps of the Master”, first published in 1934. Early in the chapter Morton describes how he came across a dog, a Saluki, lying in the dust in the village of Banias, dying of hunger. Unable to walk, she was covered in flies. Morton writes “… her eyes were lost in a world of unutterable pain… I had never in my life seen an animal in such a ghastly condition”.

Angered and profoundly moved but unable to help her himself Morton instead prevails upon “a nice, gentle Arab in an old suit of khaki” whose job it was to sweep out the shrine at El Kedir, and gives him ten shillings to look after the dog and try to restore her to health. He promises to return then departs to continue his travels with mixed feelings as to whether he has acted for the best.

Sometime later, having thought of the starving Saluki of Banias every day since, to the bewilderment of his driver, he disrupts his intended route and makes a return visit, desperate for news of her:

In the Steps of the Master

… as soon as I appeared the whole village gathered round, but not with the grim, hard expression which terrifies nervous tourists: they were all laughing and smiling, and a cry went up “Abu kelb, Abu kelb!” which means “Father of the dog.”

The Arab is a great hand-shaker. I went round the group shaking hands, telling the driver to ask them how the dog was.

“Come and see, O Abu Kelb!” was the reply.

And a crowd of bare-legged little children went running up between the mud walls announcing the great and spectacular news that “Abu kelb, the father of the dog,” had returned.

I was led to the squalid little hovel behind the mud walls. The crowd was so great that we had to shut the gate, but the children climbed up on the wall to watch. A white mare was tethered in the yard. A douanier, whom I had not seen before, came out of the house, dressed in a pair of khaki breeches and a grey army shirt. He shook me warmly by the hand, explaining in French that he was a lodger in the house, but had unfortunately been out on duty when I had been there before. Now, however, how happy he was to make my acquaintance! How glad he was that I had come back…

All the time the douanier bubbled with affability and I gazed round for the dog, but could not see her. My heart sank. So she was dead! Perhaps it was just as well. But I was too familiar with the habits of the Arabs to ask any questions. All would be known in time.

The douanier, it appeared, was an Armenian from Aleppo. He had a great affection for England. He had learnt English from a priest at a mission school in Aleppo. Ah, if some day he could go to London! He would like that very much… So he rattled on. Then the crowd parted and the man who sweeps out the shrine of El Kedir came up with the Saluki.

I could hardly believe my eyes. She could stand! Her hind legs trembled woefully and her tail, bare and mangy, was still well down. But her eyes had lost the fear of death, although they were still full of pain.

The Arab had made her a little coat from a pair of khaki trousers and he had bound up the wounds on her forelegs with pieces of rag. The Armenian explained that he had bathed her wounds with wine and oil the remedy which the Good Samaritan used on the wounded traveller.

The dog seemed to know in some way that I was the cause of her present well-being and she did something which completely finished me. She walked up to me and just rested her bruised muzzle on my knee. I decided at that moment that, grotesque and blown out with starvation as she was, wounded, mangy and sore, I would somehow take her home with me to England.

I thought how extraordinary it is that a show of interest and a little money can make so much difference to any living thing. The poor creature that a week ago had been stoned and kicked about was now a feature of the village. She was the protege of the rich, mad, Englishman.

I asked the Armenian what would happen if I did not take her away.

“This man,” he replied, pointing to the Arab; “will look after her as long as you pay, but when you stop paying he will turn her loose, because he is too poor to buy food for her.”

I told him of my intention of taking the dog to Jerusalem. He shook his head. The Palestine Customs would not allow her to enter in her present condition. But if I got an order from the Government? I suggested. Yes, it might be done.

So we agreed that they should continue the feeding and the bathing of the dog, and I handed out some more baksheesh.

“That is the name of the dog,” I explained. “I shall call her ‘Baksheesh’ ”

This was a joke that everybody understood!

I went off, promising that I would either call again at Banias or send someone in my name to take “Baksheesh” into Palestine. And as I went off I heard the children shout ing “Abu kelb!”

Weeks later I got a letter which read:

My dear friend, Mr. Morton, I am verry glade I get a great satisfaction by this relation which commenced with a dog. You can be able for its hospitality. I brought a big jar of sea water from Sidon by which I wash it evry day, morning and evening. Now it is better than bifore. I hope that we will not forget ourselves, and I am allways redy to execute your commissions. Excuse me for my mistakes, be cause the last war of Turkey in 1930 wich resulted after two years with all Christchen immegration has destroyed our futur and high life. God be with you till we meet.

JOHN.”

It was from the excellent Customs Officer at Banias. So he was bathing the dog with water from Sidon.

That sounded excellent.

In a few days I was able, through the kindness of the Palestine Government, to get poor “Baksheesh” through the Customs and into the kennels of the S.P.C.A. in Jerusalem, an organization that, although dying for lack of money, is striving hard to make the Arab understand that animals can feel and suffer.

The report was encouraging. I saw myself taking “Baksheesh” for walks in Hyde Park and for long tramps over the Sussex Downs. Then one day I received a letter saying that she was dead. She was too weak to stand treatment.

“Knowing how much you cared,” wrote Mrs. Reynolds, a member of the Society, “I have buried her in my own garden, where you can think of her sleeping among the rock flowers.”

When I was near Banias again I made a detour to thank John for all his kindness. The Arabs and the children crowded round my car with cries of “Abu kelb!” looking and peering into the car for “Baksheesh.” I told them she was dead.

“It is the will of Allah!” they said.

And they looked at me with the respectful sympathy due to any man who tries to defy the inscrutable will of God. Even John, the Good Samaritan, said it was a good thing, and that when I went to Aleppo he would give me two much finer dogs. Even he did not understand that the crucified eyes of poor “Baksheesh” had marked her out from all the other dogs upon this earth.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor,
Glastonbury, Somerset, England (Originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.217).

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Tut-ankh-amen’s Gold: Into the Land of Egypt

I hope you will forgive me when I say I am feeling a little pleased with myself at the moment. I have just managed to acquire one of the rarest examples of Mortoniana there is!

A large booklet in heavy-weight paper, its silvery front page bears the title ‘EGYPT‘, written in blue letters which are shaped from stylised papyrus bundles. The cover is enclosed between protective transparent sheets of blue plastic and the whole thing bound with spiral wire. It measures approximately 315 mm (12.5 inches) in height by 235 mm (9.5 inches) in width and comprises 31 unnumbered pages. From the style and content, it appears to be aimed at attracting tourists to that ancient land, particularly American, English and French tourists.

The first section is an introductory article by HV Morton entitled Tut-ankh-amen’s Gold: Into the Land of Egypt. This is laid out on four pages, each decorated on one margin with depictions of the art and heiroglyphs of Ancient Egypt in blue. The text is very similar to sections on pages 55 to 57 of Morton’s book “Middle East” (published by Methuen, London, on 5 June 1941).

Unfortunately, just to temper my joy, my newly acquired copy has obviously got a little damp at some point in the past – the metal binding has rusted and, most frustratingly, the pages of Morton’s article have stuck together in places and when pulled apart again some of the text has been lost.

However, nothing is too much trouble for the HVM Society so, looking for all the world like extreme archaeologist, Indiana Jones, (only without his rugged good looks and Hollywood lifestyle), I held the pages up to a strong light source and managed to peer through them, despite their thickness, in order to get an idea what the missing sections originally said. Eventually I was able to make a transcript of the piece for the archives.

The second section comprises ten poems by Ali Asir-El-Din interpersed with several stock photographs depicting Egyptian scenes (the photographs are by: M.C. Salisbury, G.W. Allan, Alban, Photo Kodak Egypt, H.J. Fresco, Royal Egyptian Air Force, and the Egyptian Museum Cairo).

I haven’t been able to find much about the poet, google is unusually tight-lipped about him. And, although I am no judge of poetry, the reason for this may be, at least from the examples published here, that he is no Shakespeare, in truth he may barely even be a McGonagall I’m afraid. Here’s an example:

BY THE NILE

The swiftly running river,
Moonbeams a-quiver
Within the trees

A white form, gowned and slender,
Eyes dark and tender,
And lips that please…

… and so on.

Drawing a (mystic) veil over this dodgy doggerel, the next section is a page of prose by a Claire Cowell (again, nothing seems to be available on the internet to suggest who Ms Cowell may have been), eulogizing the wonders of Ancient Egypt.

After this we have three illustrated maps depicting the course of the river Nile and the principal transport routes from Wady (now spelled Wadi) Halfa north, through Abu Simbel, Assuan, Thebes and Luxor to Cairo and the Nile Delta.

After a single page left blank for notes by the traveller the whole work is rounded off with a page of information for the benefit of the visitor: a list of routes by which to journey to Egypt, as well as exchange rates, hotels, taxis, hints concerning clothing considered suitable for the climate and a list of spots likely to be enjoyed by the tourist.

The booklet was designed and printed by Editions Mayeux, Paris and bound by Reliure Integrale Bree France et Etranger. In the opening article Morton mentions his witnessing of the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb fourteen years previously so, since he was sending despatches from the tomb-site to the Daily Express in February 1923, presumably the booklet was published around 1937, although no specific date is given on the booklet itself. Morton presented a number of on-board lectures for the Hellenic Travel Club from 1935 to 1939 on cruises to the Middle East and it is possible the booklet is associated with one of the tours.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England, 5 July 2017 (with gratetful thanks to Peter Devenish and O.H.)

(This article was originaly distibuted as HVM Society Snippets – No.215)

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The secret portrait of Prince Charlie

IMG_3866 crop smallBen Nevis

In chapter eight of “In Search of Scotland” HV Morton takes his leave of Inverness to travel south-west, following the path of the Caledonian Canal, that majestic marriage of geology and human endeavour. He is en route to visit two towns whose names ring out like a clash of steel down the centuries from a most turbulent and bloody period of Scottish history – Fort Augustus and Fort William.

After spending a night of Jacobite revelry in Fort Augustus, his journey continues through what he describes as the “real” Highlands. “The heather” he writes, “was like spilt claret on the high, smooth slopes of the hills; the thick woods were stained with autumnal colour; there was a flash of lake water between the trees and the splash of mountain streams falling from the heights.

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The Commando Memorial, Spean Bridge

Finally, passing Spean Bridge (where now stands the Commando Memorial), Morton arrives at his destination, a settlement referred to, in their native tongue by the Highland Clans it was built to impress, simply as An Gearasdan – The Garrison.

Fort William crouches, with an air of pretending to be the end of the world at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest and most famous mountain in the British Isles…

Sadly, the original garrison has been completely obliterated by a now disused aluminium smelting plant.

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Glen Nevis

Morton makes the traditional pilgramage from the town, up Glen Nevis and finally up all 4,406 feet of the Ben itself, wearing town shoes which gradually disintegrate as his climb continues. Finally he returns to share the tale of his trek with fellow veterans of the hike, ensuring instant popularity by comparing Ben Nevis favourably to the Swiss Alps, the Libyan Hills of Egypt and the Aures Mountains in Africa.

The following day Morton sensibly decides to spend a quiet day in town – presumably after having bought some more shoes! His account of his visit to the West Highland Museum fascinated me so, when I was in Fort William with the family a few years ago, I made a point of visiting it.

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“The little West Highland Museum” as HVM describes it

Morton describes in some detail one of the highlights of the visit for me, the secret portrait of Prince Charlie. The “portrait”, from a period when allegiance to the Stuart cause was punishable by a quick death (if you were lucky), is painted on a wooden board which, according to the notes by the display cabinet, was further disguised by being used as a casual tray for drinks. Morton describes it as being “… daubed with paint in a half circle. It looks like the palette of a rather careless painter”.

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The painting is housed in a glass cabinet up some very creaky stairs on the first floor of the museum, and is unrecognisable as a picture, just as Morton reports, until it is viewed with a special cylindrical mirror made especially for the purpose and placed at the correct point on the board. It is not at all easy to get the correct angle and focus, but with patience finally the tiny picture can be seen by viewing the ‘blob’ as it is reflected in the mirror. With even more patience the Young Chevalier, in all his glory, can be photographed.

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Bonnie Charlie revealed!

One can just imagine the tray being brough forth during clandestine gatherings and, as HVM writes, “… you call to mind oak-panelled dining rooms and candles lit, a warm glow over family portraits, a guard over the door, and the company rising to lift their glasses to the cause that was fated to be lost”.

With warm wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

This post was originally circulated as HVM Society Snippets – No.183 on 9 May 2015

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Three books, two authors, two Englands

A comparison of the interwar travelogues of J.B. Priestley and H.V. Morton

Introduction:

What follows is a comparison of the accounts of different journeys around England, namely J. B. Priestley’s 1934 English Journey and H. V. Morton’s two “England” books, In Search of England (1927) and The Call of England (1928).

English Journey

H. V. Morton compiled his books from a series of articles he had written for the Daily Express newspaper between 1926 and 1928 of his impressions as he travelled around England in a small motor car. Each book is presented by and large as if it were one continuous journey. Morton’s declared intent was to encourage “an understanding love for the villages and country towns of England” in order to better preserve them for the future, although he admits concerns that this must be balanced against the “vulgarisation” of the countryside (iSoE p. viii). The books are light-hearted travelogues and generally politically neutral . Although suggestions of Morton’s personal views are apparent in the introductions, at no point do they intrude on the relaxed, amiable style of his narrator in the main text.

Priestley’s book was commissioned by his publisher, Gollancz and was an account of a journey which he conducted around England in late 1933, initially by motor coach but later by car and the occasional tram. Describing his mission, Priestley states “I am here, in a time of stress, to look at the face of England, however blank or bleak that face may chance to appear and to report truthfully what I see there” (EJ p. 61-62). As such, much of the book is overtly political and, rather than the reserved tones of Morton’s narrator, the reader experiences Priestley’s strongly held, personal views on much of what he encounters during his travels as he declares he is “here to tell the truth and not make up a Merrie England” (EJ p. 119). As journalist and author Andrew Marr puts it “Priestley wanted to rub the noses of Southern middle-class Britain in the reality of the other nation” (Marr, 2007, p. xxii).

Different Worlds:

As might be imagined, despite containing a few intriguing similarities, the two works are very different. This exercise is more though than simply a comparison of two authors, it is also a comparison of two Englands. The world of Morton’s ‘England’ books lacked things which would have been familiar to Priestley only eight years later, from Heinz Beans to Penicillin, from the Times crossword to equal suffrage, but what separated their two worlds so utterly and the reason such a comparison can never be entirely fair, was the devastation of the great depression of 1929. The Wall Street crash knocked the economic heart out of Britain’s industrial centres almost at a stroke, decimating production, ruining export markets and laying men off in their hundreds of thousands.

In Search of England 1952 edn

Morton’s essays were written in the twenties, before the crash, at a time when war-time restrictions were being lifted and when Britain was beginning to look forward to a prosperous future. They betray an airy optimism which is absent from Priestley’s account, written as it was at the height of the depression, by which time the world of Morton’s gently spoken narrator, with its bosky dells and winding village lanes had changed irrevocably. The statistics which Priestley himself employs in English Journey speak for themselves about the state of the economy of the time. In 1920 Britain was producing nearly 2 million tons of shipping but by the time Priestley came to write his travelogue that had been reduced by a brutal 90% to less than 2 hundred thousand tons (EJ p. 343). This led to massive hardship, not just in the ship building industry but in related industries too, mainly steel and coal production. Consequently the industrial towns and cities visited by Priestley were in an appalling state with unemployment reaching as high as 70% in places. This inevitably caused profound social changes and Priestley’s account of a Blackshirts’ rally, with its communist hecklers in Bristol is symbolic of the polarization of Britain and the rest of Europe along extremist political lines (EJ p. 29).

Morton of course would have been blissfully unaware of this impending disaster as he steered his slow and careful way around the highways and byways of England and this must be borne in mind when making a comparison. To be fair, following the depression Morton was fully aware of how the country had changed; when he was asked, in 1933, to reissue a book originally written in 1926 (A London Year) Morton was reluctant, pointing out that the first edition was “written during that brief waltz of wealth after the War” and expressing concern that a reissue might appear “quite out of touch with our times” (Morton, 2004).

Different Men:

Not every difference between the two works can be attributed simply to the times in which they were written of course. The difference between the authors themselves and how each one deals with the subjects of industry, wealth and social conditions is still an important factor. While life at the time of the writing of English Journey offered plenty of grist to the mill for the social commentator, Morton’s 1920’s England wasn’t entirely without its share of industrial unrest too. One has to look closely though to decipher where he has referred to arguably the most significant industrial relations event of the decade, the national strike of 1926. According to biographer Michael Bartholomew (2004, p. 95) the only mention it received in Morton’s work was a reference to the miners of Lancashire squatting on their haunches “like Arabs“. There is no hint that these disconsolate men are on strike and within a few lines Morton has breezed on and is sharing a joke with the reader about Wigan pier. It is hard to imagine Priestley being so cavalier if he had been writing about the same subject.

Apart from the different agendas of the two authors the general tone, the literary style, of the two is poles apart. Priestley is determined to reject any hint of sentimentality, he even accuses Dickens of being a “sentimental caricaturist” (EJ p. 274) and despises what he refers to as the creators of ‘Merrie England’, “who brood and dream over… almost heartbreaking pieces of natural or architectural loveliness at the expense of a lot of poor devils toiling in the mud” (EJ pp. 398 and 119). Priestley’s views are opinionated, thought provoking and challenging. He is the stern moralist who knows what is best for the people and isn’t afraid to proclaim it, the voice of the reformer, the social engineer, the ‘man with the plan’.

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When it comes to the prevailing social conditions of the day, be it describing the base brutality of a Newcastle boxing ring, the deplorable conditions in the slums of Stockton on Tees or the unremitting, bleak despair of Tyneside, Priestley is at his finest. He pulls no punches as he ruthlessly exposes the full horror of the conditions which exist in mine, mill and shipyard within just a few hours of the capital. At a stroke he vapourises any convenient illusions about the working man which the wealthy classes of London and elsewhere might chose to maintain for their own peace of mind. Priestley is in search of the truth, he has no truck with peace of mind.

Morton on the other hand has a relaxed, languid style. He speaks with lyrical, almost poetic tones. He will seek out individuals and allow his story to be told through them and their experiences. His prose is intimate and personal, the reader feels as if they are being taken into Morton’s confidence as his narrative unfolds. As early as page one of The Call of England he is excitedly whispering to the reader about the joy he feels at the new adventure which lies ahead. His is the voice of the little person, he is the everyman; not the reformer, but the one who will be reformed. He is not blind to the hardships of the industrial cities, at one point comparing the recruitment of casual labour in the docks of Liverpool to a slave market, but by and large his aim is to entertain and tantalise the reader, not to dwell on uncomfortable topics. Morton is as anxious to please as Priestley is to confront.

This is not however, simply a case of one author nobly championing the working classes, while the other flits, magpie like (iSoE p. vii), from one glittering Arcadian jewel to another. In Morton’s writing he attempts at all times to be fair to his subjects and, by and large, if he can find nothing good to say about something then he will say nothing. While this means, at times, we find him glossing over some unpalatable truths it does mean that Morton’s style is more generous while Priestley sometimes accounts less well for himself, on occasion coming across as somewhat carping. He seems to find it difficult to give credit where credit is due, even when the subject is undeserving of his wrath. Consider for instance the two authors’ accounts of England’s second city, Birmingham.

Priestley described himself as a “grumbler” with a “Saurian eye” (Gray, 2000, p. 42) and perhaps this accounts for some of his remarks as he alternates between patronising and criticising Birmingham. Having initially hoped that the entire city (which he describes as “a dirty muddle“) had been “pulled down and carted away” (EJ p. 78) he takes a tour of the Corporation Art Gallery and Museum, courtesy of its director who is keen for Priestley to see the work of local craftsmen. In a few short paragraphs Priestley damns the work of aspiring young talent with extremely faint praise, describing them as “surprisingly good” and condemns locally designed silverware out of hand as “tasteless” although “admirably executed” following which he turns his back on the natives and proceeds to sing the praises of international painters for nearly two pages.

Morton, on the other hand, anxious perhaps to make amends for having ignored Birmingham in his first book, addresses the balance in the second by initially taking issue with a gloomy assessment of it (a “rotten hole“) from an inebriated commercial traveller on a train (both books make liberal use of the unfortunate commercial traveller as a foil in order to make many a point). He then goes on to announce his arrival at New Street station (having abandoned his car for once) with a light hearted paragraph on the city’s many achievements (“the city whose buttons hold up the trousers of the world“) before going on to praise its smartly turned out policemen and the classical columns of its town hall. Morton isn’t unaware of the less inspiring aspects of the city – its “drab uniformity” and “outer crust of ugliness“, but this is countered by reference to great camps of industry and praise for Birmingham’s successful commerce and the vigour and drive of its hard working people (CoE p. 175-179). Morton has an eye for the colour and vibrancy of the city which, even given the different times, seems to have escaped Priestley.

Both authors contrive to visit chocolate factories on their travels but while Morton (in York) is marvelling at the manufacturing process, expressing an interest in the colourful little hats and coats in the cloakroom and patronising his guide by complementing her on having a “pretty head full of statistics“, Priestley is agonising over whether the Cadbury plant at Bournville, which he acknowledges is providing its workers with some of the best conditions in the world, isn’t too paternalistic and, by offering its employees generous benefits both in and out of work, isn’t bringing about the beginning of the end of democracy. Priestley finally ends up apologising to Cadbury’s for his gloomy introspections at their expense!

Neither author appears entirely at ease in a crowd of strangers although here too they deal very differently with the subject. In Morton’s case in the crowded Manchester Royal Exchange (CoE p. 131) he positions himself in the strangers’ gallery high above the crowd (which he describes briefly as ‘the monster’) from where he picks out and follows a single individual as he weaves through the throng, in order to enlighten the reader – a cheerful little man who rubs his chin and makes a joke and who the narrator hopes is kind to his wife. Priestley by contrast has no time for such whimsical niceties and when visiting the crowds at Nottingham’s goose fair he appears striding, raptor-like through the multitude, his keen eye sparkling with disapproval. Priestley pulls no punches as he describes the scene of Wellsian horror around him with the unfortunate citizens of Nottingham reduced to “human geese“, the boys consigned to a “sub-human race” and the girls condemned as “slavering maenads“. Paradoxically, one of the few points in the book where Priestley appears happy is with a crowd of his peers at his regimental reunion, which he describes as a mass of “roaring masculinity“.

In other sections there are a few fascinating similarities to be found. Sweeping statements for instance are perhaps inevitable when undertaking the task of cataloguing an entire country but Morton’s description of Birmingham in his first book as “that monster” and Priestley’s description of Swindon as a “town for dingy dolls” built by social insects (EJ p. 38) probably did little to endear either author with their respective local readerships. Both being seasoned writers, they could turn their pens to a pithy, evocative phrase – Priestley describes the day he arrives at Southampton as being “as crisp as a good biscuit” (EJ pp. 12-13) and he portrays a budgerigar wonderfully as “flashing” about a room “like a handful of June sky” (EJ p. 127). Morton dreamily describes the distant ridges of the Yorkshire moors as being “as blue as hot house grapes” (CoE p. 88) while the ruined Abbey of Fountains is “like an old saint kneeling in a meadow” (CoE p. 68) and the road he comes to Manchester on is “as hard as the heart of a rich relation” (CoE p. 68). By contrast, as men of their age, both authors were capable of remarks which are jaw droppingly inappropriate to the modern ear – Morton merrily describes London as having “as many moods as a woman” (iSoE p. 51) and Priestley at one point opines to the horrified reader that he dislikes the ‘blues’ being sung in Blackpool as they concern the “woes of distant Negroes, probably reduced to such misery by too much gin or cocaine” (EJ p. 268).

Conclusion:

In the final conclusion the difference between the works is the difference between poetry and prose, documentary and drama; Priestley is Britten’s ‘Peter Grimes‘ while Morton is Eric Coates’s ‘Fresh Morning‘. Priestley’s work is powerful and intended to shock, Morton’s is gentle and intended to entertain; both are meant to inform. Each vividly captures the prevailing mood of their times, one looking back from a period of prosperity to a peaceful, halcyon England as it was before the carnage of the Great War, the other struggling to come to terms with the grim realities of the modern world in a time of great hardship. Priestley certainly gave the people what they needed to hear but Morton perhaps gave them what they wanted to hear.

Both men had a deep love for their country, despite having different stories to tell, and both would probably have been happy to have been described, as Priestley describes himself in his closing chapter, as ‘Little Englanders’. Both give a rounded view of England, despite their declared prejudices, with Priestley, while claiming to despise ‘Merrie England‘ and its creators never the less finding his own version of Arcadia walking with friends on his beloved Yorkshire moors (while managing to stay in character by sniping at unsuspecting cyclists). Morton too, despite initially devoting a mere seven paragraphs in In Search of England to what he described as the “monster” towns and cities of the North where the only good thing he has to say about them is that, compared with the surrounding greenery, they aren’t that big, by the time he comes to compile The Call of England a year later, has come to respect the power and productivity, vigour and vitality of England’s industrial heartland.

Finally:

Priestley’s English Journey is credited with influencing George Orwell’s 1937 work, the definitive Road to Wigan Pier, itself a no holds barred account of despair in the industrial towns of England. What influenced Priestley in his work is interesting to speculate. Almost certainly he would have known of and probably read Morton’s ‘England’ books, they were among the most popular books of their genre at the time, and this may well account for some of his antipathy to ‘Merrie England’ – Morton certainly does his fair share of the brooding and dreaming over “architectural and natural loveliness” which Priestley so detests. There was also another, less well known work however, published by the Labour Party the year before English Journey, to which Priestley might well have had access while preparing his work and which could conceivably have had some influence. It too is a frank and disturbing account of life in six English industrial cities at the height of the great depression. Its author also expresses outrage at the condition of the slums which he visits and castigates landlords for their role in creating such horrors. He argues passionately for state intervention to alleviate the suffering which he so vividly depicts. In tone and spirit it is not that far removed from Priestley’s English Journey. Its title is What I Saw in the Slums; the author is H. V. Morton and ‘Merrie England‘ is nowhere to be seen.

References:

Bartholomew, M., (2004) In Search of H.V. Morton, London, Methuen
Gray, D., (2000) J.B. Priestley (Sutton pocket biographies), Stroud, Sutton publishing
Marr, A., (2007) A History of Modern Britain, (paperback edn., 2008), London, Pan Macmillan
Morton, H.V., (1927) In Search of England, (2nd edn., 1927) London, Methuen
Morton, H.V., (1928) The Call of England, (14th edn., 1941) London, Methuen
Morton, H.V., (2004) in Devenish, P., Ann’s done it again!: HV Morton Society Collectors’ Note No.5 [online]
Priestley, J.B., (1934) English Journey London, Heinmann, Gollancz

This article originally appeared in the Albion Magazine Online.

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“I Saw Two Englands” – then and now

One of my favourite of Morton’s works is his “I Saw Two Englands”. Originally published in 1943 this was a record of the Two Englands witnessed by Morton on his travels around the country before and after the start of World War II.

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Setting out on 15th May 1939, at a time when, according to Morton, “… the laurel wreath [Prime Minister] Chamberlain had worn since Munich was becoming rather shabby” and it was widely recognised armed conflict with Germany was inevitable, Morton devotes the first half of his book to an account of a nation on the eve of war. The second half is set after the start of hostilities, beginning on October 17th of the same year and continues the tour, with the country still presided over by its ineffectual leader as the war machine gathered pace and an incredulous England was beginning to unite in the face of adversity.

Morton describes the grim, calm determination of a nation which has been brought to the brink but isn’t yet sure of what to expect. His closing paragraph summarises the prevailing mood during the so-called ‘phoney war’, as he finally sets out for home at the end of November:

So upon a winter’s day I returned from my journey through war-time England, vaguely disturbed by the apathy of a nation that lacked a leader, a nation that was not even half at war, a nation sound as a bell, loyal and determined, war-like but not military, a nation waiting, almost pathetically, for something — anything — to happen“.

This appraisal is followed by a postscript written twelve months after the start of his journey which describes how things have indeed begun to happen, with a vengance. Dunkirk, the blitz, the Battle of Britain have all galvanised the nation to action and life on the home front has changed almost, but not quite, beyond recognition. Morton describes English villages reverting to their war-like pasts, as in mediaeval or even Anglo-Saxon times, “… ordinary men have run to arms in order to defend their homes“. This included Morton himself who in the final pages stands watch from the church tower in Binstead village where he commands a Home Guard unit.

War, says Morton, “… has brought us face to face with the fact that we love our country well enough to die for her“.

I saw Two Englands illus Tommy ChandlerThe cover of the 1989 edition

Some time ago a fellow member of the HV Morton Society drew my attention to a special edition of “I Saw Two Englands”. This was published, twenty-seven years ago now, to mark the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II and is presented in a lavish, full colour, large format volume. The work has been revisited and photographed by Tommy Candler, and it was suggested that as the original book purports to show how England was just before the War in case it changed utterly and also to portray it in a state of readiness for war, the photographs add a valuable extra dimension by showing how it is has managed to stay the same.

Bunyan barnJohn Bunyan’s Barn, near Bedford, photographed by Morton (left) and Candler (right)
I saw the Moot Hall on the village green where Bunyan danced so sinfully

Candler is a superb photographer and her compositions illustrate Morton’s prose perfectly. Through her eyes we are treated to a contemporary view of much of what, half a century before, HVM had described and had been illustrated by the photographs in the original, allowing the reader to compare then with now.

CrookmakerThe crookmaker of Pyecombe photographed by HV Morton.
His art now employed for decorative purposes in the later photograph by Candler.

Candler also selects archive pictures for the later sections and we become privy to scenes which would not have been permitted in the original but were detailed in the text as Morton portrayed a nation gearing up for defence. A tank factory, groups of German POW’s (according to Morton they were, despite having launched torpedoes against our ships, “average looking fellows”) and a flight of Wellington bombers (likened by HVM during their construction to living creatures with veins and arteries of red, white, yellow and green cables) making a banking turn over rural England are all brought to life, adding extra an extra depth.

img216A tank factory somewhere in England.
Bending over their machines the men might have been pupils in some gigantic technical school

The 1989 edition of “I Saw Two Englands” is readily available second-hand at heart-breakingly modest cost and is well worth keeping an eye out for. It would make a handsome edition to any collection of Mortoniana and is of course, well on the way to becoming an historical arefact itself!

For further reading there is a contemporary review entitled In Search of the Real England by R. Ellis Roberts in The Saturday Review of May 1st, 1943. Another review can be found on the worthwhile books blog whose motto is “Keep calm and read classics“.

With best wishes,
Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

This article was originally distributed on 9 January 2016 as: HVM Society Snippets – No.196.

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