|Honor Balfour's Oxford|
ago than it is comfortable to remember, I wrote a history of the Oxford
University Liberal Club and its successors. I was lucky enough
to uncover a number of informants who told me about the Club's past,
but there remained a number of yawning gaps. One of these was
that I knew next to nothing about Honor Balfour. She was mentioned as
the Club’s President in the early 1930s - the first woman to be
charge of any political society - and was an honorary Vice-President
until 1956. I also knew she’d become a journalist, but that was all. It
was a former Secretary of FOULD, Mark Egan, who visited Miss Balfour in
the course of his researches into the inter-War Liberal Party, and,
now armed with her address, I was also able to visit her in the lovely
Gloucestershire village of Windrush and chat about her memories of the
Oxford and Liberalism, in the summer of 1998.|
Honor Balfour was born in Liverpool in 1912, and died in 2001.
parents were both of very modest, humble origin, and they were both
Conservatives, so I was brought up with a Conservative background.
My father was killed in the First World War in 1918, when I was a small
child. And we really hadn’t got two pennies to rub together.
I was an only child, and my mother was left to bring me up on her own.
In those days we didn’t have the help that people have these
days; and all this talk about unmarried mothers, or single mothers,
seems to me over the top a bit, because there were so many war-widows
in those days, with no help whatsoever. I think I was allowed about 10
shillings a week by way of wartime pension, and I was left to
be brought up on that, and it was pretty meagre. We didn’t have any
scholarships or anything, but I was determined I was going to go to
...I haven’t the faintest idea why. I’d always sort of felt I wanted to
go to Oxford ...I’d taken matric., as we used to call it -'O’ levels
now -when I was 14, and what they call ‘A’ levels now but was then
Higher School, when I was 16. Oxford didn’t like to have women
until they were 18 in those days; besides, I hadn’t got any money. I’d
always been interested in music so I put myself through some music
examinations, and got my qualifications, and for two years I taught
music, and every penny was put away. Together with my mother’s
savings, that’s what saw me through Oxford, and the Officer’s Families
Fund, which my mother applied to. She was never given to charity
of any sort, but she’d heard of this Officer’s Families Fund, and she
said, surely to goodness that must be intended for daughters of
who’ve been killed in the war, and she applied to them, and I think I
got about £100 a year, which was a lot of money in those days.
school I went to, Blackburn House High School for Girls, right opposite
the Liverpool Institute (which in later years became famous because
it was the Beatles’ school, I think it’s now an art college or
something), only prepared you for the northern universities and I had nobody
to prepare me for Oxford, so my history teacher invigilated and I took
the examinations privately and just sat in a room all by myself,
and she very kindly sat there while I wrote my papers. That was how I
got to Oxford. Grace Hadow was then the Principal of what was
called the Society of Oxford Home Students, which hadn’t acquired
college status, but it was the spearhead of women’s education in Oxford,
though Lady Margaret Hall and one or two others became colleges earlier
on. One or two very forward-looking [dons] , Professor T.H. Green and his wife and one or two other elderly gents of that type,
opened up their homes and took women students, and they became ‘Home
Students’, but were trained to University standards. By the time I got
there, at least they were admitted to University exams, but we were
not allowed to be a collegiate body, we were still a ‘society’. And
Grace Hadow was the Principal. I remember sitting outside her room waiting
for my interview, flanked on both sides by girls from Cheltenham
Ladies’ College, and, although that to me was rather grand, they were
not as sophisticated, if I can put it in that way, as I; although I
came from a northern area, at least I’d been standing on my own feet for
a while. I’d spent a year studying Sociology at Liverpool University;
and because of being an only child my mother being interested in social
affairs and music, I used to get taken to all the concerts at the
Liverpool Playhouse (my uncle was conductor there) and that kind of thing.
So I was pretty well versed for the age of 17 or 18 in things of that
nature, and instead of being terrified of Miss Hadow we had a very
pleasant conversation on the grounds of music and so on. She was
interested to know how very often I’d be late at school in the morning
because I’d been wandering along the docks talking to the dockyard
workers over their mugs of cocoa, in what used to be known as
cocoa rooms, when they’d come in from the cold and wet and misty
Merseyside dockland, and they’d been waiting there in what they used
to call stands, waiting to be given a job for the day. When they were
not picked by the fellow who was collecting his men, they would have
to decide whether the odd 2p in their pockets was going to buy them a
mug of cocoa, or whether they would pay for a tram to take them
back home. And those who decided on the mug of cocoa would have to walk
through the wet, misty morning to get themselves back home,
maybe a couple of miles or so. Things were really, really hard, and the
people were really, really poor. And I myself have seen children
not only without shoes, but without any pants or anything, scrawling up
and down the squalid slums that I would have to walk through
to get to school in the morning, and I would see what poverty really
was. That was what really got me interested in social affairs, those
early days. I must have been 12 or 14, and if I was late for school and
missed prayers, I’d have to present myself with my apologies to
the headmistress and she’d say, ‘what is it this time?’, and I’d tell
her, and she’d be very interested but a little puzzled. Anyway, Miss Hadow
was very patient and I think rather interested in this oddity, as she
took me, and looking back at St Anne’s I think that’s really the spirit
of the College. To this day they have very forward-looking Principals -
Ruth Deech, for instance, is a very forward-looking woman: she
would have been interested in a girl in those circumstances. I think
she would have done the same as Grace Hadow, and St Anne’s has got
that sort of spirit, that it picks up on what it thinks are interesting
people who are interested in social affairs, and I think that got me
'Some of my earliest memories are of
trotting along to the polling booths and watching my mother put her
cross against the Conservative. At school I put up for a
local election and I put up as a Conservative candidate and I thought
I’d better know, when I held my meetings in school, what
the opposition were going to hurl at me. So I took the precaution of
collecting the literature from both the Labour Party and the Liberal
Party HQ in Liverpool, and when I read the Liberal literature I thought
‘this is rather good’, and when I read the Labour Party literature
I thought ‘I like the spirit of this, but I think it’s a lot of tosh’.
And I was sold on the Liberal literature by the time polling day came.
Anyway, I was voted in, not that it did much good, but from that moment
on I had become a Liberal, and it was solely on the Liberal policy
of the day. It appealed to that sort of social conscience I suppose I’d
developed with these experiences I’d had with the dockers in the raw and ready Liverpool.
Liverpool politics has always had a religious tinge to it, but that doesn’t seem to have played any part with you.
part whatsoever. On July 12th, Orangeman’s Day, we were always given a
holiday from school, because the few times we did experience
it, traffic would be held up with the rival marches and occasional
battles in the streets. So I was aware of the religious element in
Liverpool, rather like Northern Ireland has been ever since, but it
played no part in my sort of politics at all.
mother and I came up to Oxford and interviewed the College Secretary at
what is now St Anne’s, and I hated the idea of a segregated all-women’s
college. I’d been to an all-girls’ school, but I didn’t want to go to
an all-women’s college, I hated that idea. My mother had decided
she would move from Liverpool to Oxford, and working with St Anne’s and
living at home I had much greater freedom from the very
rigid College rules. I didn’t want to have to work under those
restrictions. If I wanted to go to London to a theatre, I was free to
do so because I was living at home; whereas if I’d been in
College, I would have been prevented from doing that sort of thing. I’d
have had to report in if I was going to be out after 9 or
10 o’clock at night: there were very rigid rules in those days. I
remember some years ago, the then Principal of St Anne’s
asked me if I would address the undergraduates’ dinner ...And I
realised when I came to make a few notes for the speech
that it was probably then 50 years since I’d been an undergraduate.
Sounds horrible, but 50 years can go very quickly. And I fortunately
had some of the early literature, which I’d popped into a file. I
fished it out, and there were the rules and regulations; in statu
so on, and I cast an eye through these, and on a certain page it said
‘Undergraduates will not be permitted to go ...’ and there was
a list of places; and there was a list of places they were allowed to
go, such as Weeks’s cafe and the Cadena cafe, and the Randolph Hotel;
and on the same page for the current year, 50 years later, there was a
list, ‘In case of need, the following are the local VD clinics’. It was rather indicative of the changes.
Which year were you up? Did St Anne’s have its own buildings then?
to 1934. They were in a place called no.1 Jowett Walk, opposite
Manchester College in Mansfield Road, and we had a JCR there, and a library,
dons’ teaching rooms and so on, and then we had one more move until we
moved to where we are now, to which we have added and added and added.
What sort of building was that?
can I describe it? it was built of rather grubby stone, if I remember
rightly. It looked as though it had been a large suburban house, added
to. We had quite a large room for the JCR; we had a kitchen, we could
have snacks in the JCR, but there was no dining room. Undergraduates
were billetted out with what were known as hostesses, in the line of
the original Professor Green, who opened up their homes.
My mother (we lived at 88 Banbury Road in those days) opened up her
home, and we had three undergraduates, because we had spare
bedrooms, and she thought, well, it was doing a good effort. They
didn’t pay very mum, about four guineas a week inclusive of all their
food, including dinner at night, so you didn’t make money on it. But
she thought it was a service to College. College was pretty rigid as to
who they would take -they took her because she had a daughter who was
an undergraduate, and she was of unblemished character. There
were several hostesses, mainly in North Oxford, and there were one or
two hostels. Springfield St Mary in Banbury Road, which is now
part of College, was run by Anglican nuns, dear sweet creatures ...and
then there was St Frideswide’s, which was the opposite number for
the Roman Catholics. We didn’t have chapel or anything like that; we
were a mixed bunch of all kinds of religions. There were two Turkish
girls there, I remember, it was very unusual, and we had several Indian
girls, and one or two Chinese, and quite a number of Jewish girls.
We were a good mixed bunch. I can’t really remember whether there were
100 or 200. It wasn’t thousands. But it was mostly those people
who didn’t want to live a regulated life in College. The sisters Ruth
and Violet Butler were Vice-Principal and Fellow in charge of sociology
and economics, and they were the famous Butler family of which David
Butler is an offshoot. There were several other quite distinguished dons, but it was all done very much on a shoestring.
Presumably it was very informal, not like the traditional Oxford colleges.
informal, which appealed to me. I’m all for tradition, but not for
formality, if you know what I mean - I don’t mind acceding to the occasional tradition.
Did you settle in reasonably quickly?
yes, I was living at home. I went to my tutorials, and I went down to
College and worked in the library; and of course I had access to the
Bodleian and the Radcliffe Camera. I spent many hours in the Radcliffe
Camera, and for years after that, in my own head at a few minutes past
nine I heard Tom, just as I used to when I was there, and it went on
even during the War. Extraordinary.
Having come to Oxford with your opinions already foursquare Liberal. ..
I found no Liberalism in Oxford; I couldn’t find any Liberals at all. I
suppose there must have been something, but I can’t remember. Anyway
a few of us got together and we formed the OULC. In ‘31, that was the
year of the National Government, and it was the absolute nadir
of the Liberal Party. I do remember going to debates in the Union,
because I had a lot of boyfriends and they were always giving me
tickets for the Union debates, on Thursday night (or was it Tuesday, 1
can’t remember). And I remember Michael Foot as an undergraduate,
for instance, rasping away and stabbing his finger, as he still does,
and castigating his father who was then a member of the National
Government, as a Liberal. They were the days of the means test and that
sort of thing, and of course we all got very hot under the collar,
and the days of the hunger marches; it was a left-of-centre sort of
period. We didn’t know quite where we were, because it was the nadir,
as I say, on account of the National Government, of the Labour and
particularly the Liberal Party. But I can’t really remember without any
records ... I do remember one or two of the people who were on my
Committee; Geoffrey Parish was on my Committee, he became a parson,
a vicar. And there was another fellow called Archie White, and he was
killed on D-Day-plus-One. You know, a lot of them just died off
like that, quite young men. Of course, 1934-6 was the Spanish civil war
period, and we used to go to meetings in Ruskin College to collect
money for the children of the Republicans, and I remember once getting
to my College pigeonhole, and there was a Communist Party card
-apparently I’d paid a shilling thinking it was for canned milk for the
children, and it was a subscription to the Communist Party! I told
Luce [1898-1967, founder, publisher and editor of Time] this once and
he was shocked, he said ‘Hey, kiddo, you don’t mean to say that I’m
employing a Commie!’ - it was the time of the McCarthy scare, although
Luce was anti-McCarthy.
So there was this little group of you almost on your own.
a small group, yes. And in 1935 I’d not long been down from Oxford, and
my mother was still living at 88 Banbury Road, and I’d determined to be
a journalist. And of course I immediately thought the Editor of The Times would go down on his bended knee and ask me to
write his leaders for him. I soon realised that wasn’t how things
happened. And I started writing round to editors. The editor of the Daily Mail said
to me, ‘May I give you a word of advice, Miss Balfour? When you write
to the next editor asking for an interview or a job, do not tell
him that you have been to Oxford. There’s a great resentment, not only
against women in journalism, but against Oxford and Cambridge in
journalism. There are too many of the old school still here, and they
resent these youngsters coming up.’ That was quite revealing at the
time. Therefore I got myself a piecemeal job as music critic of the Oxford Mail, at a penny a line plus free tickets for the concerts. If you had
60 lines, that was 5/-, and if you’d had three or four times a week,
that wasn’t bad and left you time in between for freelance work. It was
a difficult life but not an unpleasant one. So I was therefore still in
Oxford for a year or so ‘til I decided to move to London, because I
you can’t get a job unless you’re on the spot. And when I got to
London, it must have been about ‘35, and in 1945 at the end of the war,
I remember being in the Members’ Lobby of the House of Commons, and all
my chums from 1935 would come up and say ‘Hello, Honor,
it doesn’t seem like ten years, does it?’. And in the meantime they’d
all been on the fighting front, and I’d been doing this, that and the
other in industry, wartime correspondent and all that kind of thing,
we’d all had a completely different kind of life. There were Tory MPs,
but most of them were Labour MPs, and all the Labour people said, ‘If
only you’d joined the Labour Party you’d’ve been in here with us’.
And one little fellow would come toddling across with a moustache and a
kiss-curl on his forehead and say ‘Hello, Honor’, and I didn’t know
who he was. A couple of years later the day came when this little
fellow, RH Wilson his name was, became President of the Board of Trade,
the youngest President at the age of 31, and I thought, RH Wilson? It
still didn’t ring a bell, and I couldn’t think who he was. Then there
was a chap called Michael Balfour, who used to be a don, I think at
Queen’s College, when I was an undergraduate. I knew him slightly
then. He was seconded, as so many young dons were, to Whitehall,
because apparently he was fluent in German and an expert in German
politics, so he was seconded into a backroom job on anti-Nazi
propaganda and so on. And we lost touch with each other for a bit, but
then picked up the threads again. He was drafted into the Board of
Trade as an Information Officer ...He and I would occasionally dine
and on one occasion he said ‘Why don’t we take the President to
dinner?’ I said, ‘What a good idea’. I remember it was the Connaught
in Berkeley Square. And during dinner, Michael said ‘Whoever would have
thought I’d be calling you Mr President? It doesn’t seem
very long since you were an undergraduate pupil of mine.’ And Harold
looked at me, for Harold it was, and said ‘It doesn’t seem all that
long since I used to call you Madam President, does it?’, and it
suddenly clicked, he had been College Secretary for Jesus. I felt so
that I hadn’t been able to place him that I had to, say something, and
he said, ‘Well, it is all that time Harold. I hope you’re comfortable
where you are, on your Labour benches.’ And he looked at me with his
pale blue eyes and said ‘Look where I am, and look where
you are’ - and, do you know, that gave me a clue, and from that day on,
whenever there was a query as to which way Harold was going
to jump, I used to say ‘Look where I am, and look where you are’, and I
was always right in the decision. It’s quite interesting, isn’t it?
His background was almost a traditional Liberal one.
his father was a Lloyd George Liberal. Anyway, we wander. Archie
Sinclair was leader of the Party. He was a dapper fellow, but he was
no political leader. I’ve got pictures of when he came to address the
annual Liberal Club dinner, which we did in grand style at the Randolph,
I think it was 12/6 a head (about 65 pence today). And then, when
Clement Davies took over - Sinclair was at least charming. (but
a bit of a twit) , but I found Clem so boring, and I lost interest. By
the 1950s I’d decided I was not going to fight another election, but still
didn’t want to join the Labour Party for the reasons which I’d always
had. I didn’t believe in nationalisation as a principle - I’d be prepared
to use it in case of need, but not in principle; I didn’t believe in
overbearing trade unionism the way I believed in the principle of trade
unionism; they were all the basic Liberal principles. Hugh Gaitskell
and Dora would say, ‘Come to lunch with us at Bertorelli’s’ in Old Compton
Street, and Hugh would do his best to make me join the Labour Party.
He’d say ‘It’s people like you in the Liberal Party who are
undermining us’, so I’d say, ‘Well, it’s people like you who are undermining us!’, for that matter.
How long were you President of the Club?
only had a term each. I can’t remember who took over after me. There
was Michael Foot, and Muir Hunter - he was a great old Liberal, at
Christ Church - he was Treasurer when I was President. His mother used
to take over his quite big, elegant room in Christ Church, and you’d
go to visit to organise some Liberal meeting, and she would be there
typing her latest romantic novel, looking the very last word in
romantic novelists, a large lady with bushy black eyebrows and a deep basso profundo voice.
She’d say ‘Oh, you want Muir, do you?’ Her name
was Bluebell. Bluebell Hunter! Muir is now a QC and of course an
elderly gent. He and Michael Foot used to come and visit us at 88
Road, and then all of a sudden they stopped. My mother said. ‘What’s
happened to Michael and Muir?’ They’d both joined the Labour
Party! They were rather ashamed of themselves. I think. Frank Byers
used to come and visit; he was a couple of years younger than me,
and he began to pick up the threads of the Liberal Party. He was a live
wire and came from the North, near Manchester. He and his parents
were very down-to-earth Lancastrians. He had two sisters, one married a
Pole, and Mrs Byers used to say, ‘By, I don’t know why our
Nora’s got to go marrying one of those bloody fellers. They can’t even
speak the King’s English, it’s just like chewing a blanket!’ Frank was
a great old Liberal, and he really started picking things up, but that
was a year or two after I came down. ...We could barely keep things
ticking over, really. We had no money, and there were very few of us.
I’m not sure we did much good to the Club.
What was going on in the town politically?
when I came down there was a man called Ernest White, I think he was an
accountant. He was a Liberal. There were several Liberals in
the town, but the organisation was nil. We tried to revive it, and I
became Hon. Secretary. Ernest White was Hon. Treasurer. Nathaniel Micklem,
who was then Principal of Mansfield and one of our Presidents for the
OU Liberal Club, he became Chairman. Then there was Patrick
Early, who lived in Witney, of the family who ran the 300-year-old
Earlywarm Blankets of Witney. He was a dear friend of mine. Patrick
was about 3 years older than I was. He’d been at Oxford, but was more
interested in the Oxford University Flying Club than in Liberalism
when he was at Oxford. I remember him saying to my mother, ‘Have you
ever flown over the Eights, Mrs Balfour?’ Funny what phrases
stick in your mind! Patrick became the Liberal candidate for North
Oxfordshire, and so he and I linked up quite a bit when I was Secretary of the town Liberals.
Was that when you were still an undergraduate?
I’d gone down. I had to establish myself journalistically, and when we
moved to London I had to give it up. But Patrick and I ran a home
for 50 Basque children at Aston Bampton. I was having lunch one day
with Lady Mary Murray. ...She was a Liberal and a T.T. and anti-war,
and she used to trudge round wherever she was canvassing, in dirndle
skirt, sandal shoes and three pockets slung round her waist, one
full of Liberal literature, one full of T. T. literature, and one full
of anti-war literature: if she couldn’t flog one she’d flog the other!
her husband was Professor Gilbert Murray, and they lived up at Boars
Hill, and I’d been lunching with them one day, and over coffee,
which she used to serve from a huge percolator which stood in the
hearth in the drawing room, the phone rang and it was Wilfrid Roberts,
who was her nephew. He was then an MP, and I knew Wilfrid as he used to
come and speak for me when I was an undergraduate.
Wilfrid said ‘Dear Aunt Mary, can you take 50 Basque children who will
arrive the day after tomorrow?’ And she said, ‘Oh,
Wilfrid, no I couldn’t. It’s no use asking Gilbert, I know he’ll say
no. We’ve got nowhere to put 50! Wait a minute, I’ll ask Honor, she’s
here. Honor, can you take 50 Basque children?’ Well, of course at that
age you’re carried away by your ambitions and illusions and so on,
and I said, ‘Let me think’. I didn’t have a car and I had to get back
home by bus, and then I phoned Patrick and said ‘Patrick, this is the
and explained it to him. ‘Has your father got a couple of empty
warehouses with loos that we can put beds in for 50 Basque children?
They’re due to arrive tomorrow.’ And he said ‘But I thought you were
fighting a by-election in East Oxford!’ ‘Yes, I am!’ (there was
a by-election for the City Council). He said, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’
At 10 o’clock he rang me up again. He had found a house, an old
at Aston Bampton just outside of Witney, and his father had corralled
the local Toc-H and some similar sorts of organisations. They consisted
of builders and electricians, and he turned them all in. And Mrs
Dalglish, who was the wife of the Witney coroner and a do-gooder all
round, had corralled his sisters and a few other people, and they’d all
gone in with buckets and scrubbing brushes, and the place would be
ready with 50-odd beds which his father was providing, by the next day.
Meanwhile, I had my eve-of-poll meetings, and Patrick was coming
to help me because he had a car. ...The 50 children and their teachers
arrived by train and they were met by buses which we laid on. That
was what one could do in those days, with a bit of effort, in twenty-
four hours. Meanwhile, my mother had had a brilliant idea. She said,
‘Why don’t you ring round all the domestic bursars of all the colleges,
and see if they can spare you any pots and pans and plates and dishes’.
Charles Fenbyl, who was also a Liberal and then the editor of the Oxford Mail, I got him in his car to go round and collect all these things.
It was summer, and I rang all my Liberal and Quaker friends up and down
Banbury Road and Boars Hill, and got all their apples and vegetables and loaded them into Charles’s car.
That’s brilliant, because it shows the networks that there were.
you had all these people, Quakers ...and there were some Catholics in
it too, because these children were all either Catholics or Commies,
and we had an awful row with the local Catholic priest because we found
that he was distributing sweets to the children to get them
to go to Mass, and we said that’s not on, so we stopped that nonsense.
Give them sweets if you like, but not for that purpose! If they want
to be little Commies, they can be little Commies, they’ve got to learn
their manners another way!
So the City Party was quite active?
Well, in this sort of way, but it wasn’t so active in putting up candidates.
So were you winning elections?
well, I didn’t win my election. I put up as a Liberal candidate, and it
was very funny, because Frank Pakenham as then was, Lord Longford
as now is, he was then quite a youngish man and a don at Christ Church,
and Dick Crossman was a don at New College, and they were
both on the City Council as Labour Councillors, and they were both my
friends, and they said, ‘No, no, no, we’re not going to put up a Labour
candidate, we want you on the Council’. So they came and supported me.
Somewhere I’ve got a picture of Dick Crossman standing
on somebody’s kitchen chair at the end of a street in Cowley with a
makeshift placard round his waist saying ‘Vote for Honor Balfour’!
We were all very Libby-Labby in those days. [But] I was never very
interested in local government. I was more interested in housing the
would be interesting to talk about life generally as a student in
Oxford. I gather there were a lot of restrictions on what you could do.
you weren’t allowed to have a man in your room. If you wanted a tea
party you had to tell your tutor who you were having. I wasn’t going
to have all of that stuff and nonsense! Weeks’s cafe used to sell
delicious petits-fours, and you could buy pound boxes. All my
undergraduate friends knew my mother used to make raspberry jam
sandwiches at their special request. Now, Jimmy Brown, he was President
of the Union at one time - he was a great Liberal, his father was a
judge in Northern Ireland and he became a judge in Northern Ireland,
too - he used to come sailing up the stairs to the drawing room on the
first floor, ‘Oh dear Mrs Balfour, have you got any of your delicious
raspberry jam sandwiches?’ She used to say, ‘Jimmy, I didn’t know you
were corning. I’ll make you some’. But it was quite a mecca,
you see, my house. They’d sprawl around the carpet munching these
petits-fours, and she’d come in with jugs of coffee and so on, it was
quite a little local club, informally.
Was it a typical North Oxford Victorian house?
Typical, North Oxford, tall house, yes.
What other places did you go to?
were various places. There was a place over Baker’s where you could get
cheap snacks, suppers, that was permissible. There were quite
a lot of places that were permissible. Of course, there are so many
more cafes and restaurants in Oxford now than there were then.
I’ve heard people mention the Cadena. Where was that?
Cadena was halfway along Cornmarket. It was on the right, and Weeks’s
Cafe was on the left. And then of course there was a lovely hotel
called the Clarendon which was halfway along on the right-hand side
where Woolworth’s now is. We used to have a lot of our Liberal meetings
there, and a lot of our little dinner parties, and then after our
meetings elsewhere we’d go round there for coffee or something
It was a great centre. It was an old coaching inn, going back to
Georgian days. It was a lovely old hotel, I don’t know who owned
it. Woolworth’s wanted it when they started to ruin Cornmarket. The
planning application was turned down two or three times, and it
finally went to what we would now call the Minister of Town &
Country Planning, who happened to be Harold MacMillan, and of all
he let them have their way, and the old Clarendon was pulled down and
Woolworth’s was put up. And, blow me, if a little while after that
Harold MacMillan didn’t have the audacity to put up for Chancellor! So
I took my MA, and I came down and voted agin him! Wasn’t he a
beast? I’ll never forgive him for that. And that was the beginning of
the breakdown of Cornmarket which used to be a lovely little street,
now, of course, it’s become like any other high street anywhere. Why
couldn’t he have said, ‘Woolworth’s, take your store out to Cowley’,
and all the shops could have gone to Cowley and people could have saved
their bus fare into Oxford.
You mentioned coming out on trips to Burford. Was that popular?
there was a bus straight out to Burford. I don’t know if it was
particularly popular, but some of us got to know the Cotswolds on those
daytrips. Later, I used to lecture for the WEA and that took me to a
lot of the towns and villages. Dick Crossman and Frank Pakenham also
lectured for the WEA, they did politics and I did music. The WEA was
then centred in Wellington Square, Extramural Studies, it’s been developed
but then it was quite modest. A fellow who lived in Portland Road -he
had a little allotment just off Portland Road -was the Secretary
and heard that I was interested in music. He said they’d had several
requests for a music lecturer, and might I be interested, and I thought
I might be. I was interested in the WEA anyway. So I became their music
lecturer until I went to London. It was quite interesting, because
we had to go to all these villages, and most of the meetings were held
in village schools with big, bulky farmers sitting at these children’s
desks, and eighteen or twenty people from a tiny little village would
all come with their notebooks diligently, hail, rain or snow and all
the winters. I therefore got round a lot of these villages that I
wouldn’t have known otherwise. And they were a faithful following. It
was a wonderful institution. And then I got to know Sandy
Lindsay, who was then the Master of Balliol and of course the founder
of the WEA
and of Keil University. He was a splendid fellow. He later fought the famous Oxford by-election in 1938. ...
What was the work situation like? Was it as pressurised as it seems to be today?
I think if you liked to let pressure get the better of you, you could,
but I’m afraid I did far too much outside. Still, I’d do it all again!