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Honor Balfour's Oxford

Longer 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 in 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.

'My 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 Oxford ...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 officers 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.

‘The 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 into College.

'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.

'No 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.

'My 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
and 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?

1931 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?

How 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.

Very 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?

Well, 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. ..

Then 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 Harry 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.

Quite 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
realised 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 together, 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 guilty 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.

Yes, 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?

We 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 Banbury 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?

Well, 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?

No, 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! Anyway, 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,
really, 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 situation’, 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 vicarage 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.

Well, 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?

Oh, 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 Basque children!

It 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.

Oh, 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?

There 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?

The 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 afterwards. 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 people 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, and 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?

Well, 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?

Well, 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!
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