«WEM’s memoirs WEM’s memoirs 2 WEM’s memoirs 1 Chapter 1 Who wants to read the memoirs of Bill Miall? Nobody? Well then, nobody needs to read ...»
WEM’s memoirs 2
WEM’s memoirs 1
Who wants to read the memoirs of Bill Miall? Nobody? Well then, nobody needs
to read any further than this. But just in case there might be someone interested
let me make it quite clear that this is only intended for family use. It may never get
beyond chapter 1!
I was born on October 10th, 1917 in the home of William Littleboy, an elderly
and very worthy Quaker who lived in Selly Oak, Birmingham. My mother had gone there to get away from the air-raids - Zeppelin raids actually - in London. The family home at the time was in Corringham Rd in Hampstead though I have no memories of it. I suppose I was named after William Littleboy. He had befriended Mother when she had been attending some sort of course at Woodbrooke, a college run by the Society of Friends. My middle name is Einar, after Mother's brother who had just been killed in the war; Einar is a fairly common Scandinavian name but I have no idea why that uncle was given a Scandinavian name.
My father, Rowland Miall, was the fifth and youngest child of Louis Compton Miall and was born in 1879 in Bradford. L.C.M. must have been quite a character.
He was a naturalist with particular interests in geology, I think, but when the chair of biology was advertised at the Yorkshire College (as it was in those days) he applied for it and was appointed despite having no paper qualification for that kind of an academic post.
L. C. Miall finished up with an FRS and a great reputation as an educationalist.
Between the time when he got the chair and the time when he actually started work he had to learn some zoology and he learnt his mammalian anatomy by dissecting an elephant which had been part of a visiting circus in Leeds. (This was confirmed years later when our son Chris was thinking about a job in the department of Zoology at Leeds University and went there for an interview. L.C.M.
and the elephant story were well known! In fact they were better known to those in the department than they were at that time to Chris!).
I don't have any memory of my grandfather though I was 3½ at the time of his death. He had retired and he and his wife, Emily, who died two or three years earlier, had moved from Yorkshire to Letchworth. L.C.M. and his wife were keen linguists and I was told that after retirement they used to correspond with their friends in Latin. While living in Leeds they had a cottage in the village of Buckden in Wharfedale and my father's love of the Yorkshire dales, which he passed on to the next generation, stemmed from the weekends that he and his friends had at that cottage. It must have been at one of those weekends that he met my mother, Sara Grace Dixon, who was the sixth of eight children of George Dixon and Martha Ann, his wife (nee Newton). The Dixons were another Yorkshire family.
Mother was born at White House, Great Ayton.
expensive tastes, he sent most of them to Quaker boarding schools, he had a game leg (I believe due to polio), and earned his living as a land-agent and surveyor. But he was able to afford to live in large and rather nice homes. (I learnt this year that he had rented White House, not owned it, and maybe this was true of Howe End, too).
My mother and father were married at the Friends Meeting House at Colthouse, near Hawkshead in September 1911. Leonard, my elder brother was born in November, 1914. I came in October, 1917 and Nan was born in April 1920. My first memories date from the time the family lived in Wendover, in Buckinghamshire. Dad had joined a firm of scientific instrument makers, C.F.
Casella and Company in London, and used to commute daily from Wendover. My maternal grandparents had moved in with us too, and they both died there: my grandmother in 1922, and my grandfather the following year.
By 1923 we had moved from Wendover, via Caterham, where we stayed a few weeks with relatives, to Welwyn Garden City, in Hertfordshire. This was in the very early days of Welwyn and it was probably an exciting and interesting place.
Letchworth had been the first garden city, and Welwyn was the second. I suppose it attracted some enterprising families. There were several families whose parents were close friends of my mother and dad. Three families who we knew well in those days were the Dawsons, the Reisses, and the Herons. Their kids were our contemporaries, more or less.
Dick Dawson, the eldest child of the Dawsons was a very good-looking chap and was engaged to, or a close friend of a budding film star, Dinah Sheridan. He became a plastic surgeon in the early days of that specialty. His sister Ruth was a close friend of Archie Cochrane: they had met just before the Second World War and I believe Ruth was hoping the relationship would lead to marriage when Archie returned after the war. Archie Cochrane looms large in later parts of this story. The younger sister, Mollie, became a close friend of my aunt, Mollie Dixon.
The Reiss family were an interesting lot. Richard, the eldest, joined the Friends Ambulance Unit during the war, (I can't remember what he did later). Stephen ran the Aldeburgh festival. Delia married Patrick Heron, Rosalind read medicine but I don't know what happened to her and Bernard, the youngest also read medicine and was the tutor for general practice at Cambridge University.
The Herons were a very artistic family. Tom Heron, the dad, started and directed a factory printing beautiful silks - Cresta Silks - many of the designs for which were the work of his eldest son Patrick, who was then probably still a teenager, Tom was also something of a poet. Eulalie, the mum, was also artistic.
Patrick Heron became one of the best known of modern artists. Mike also joined the Friends Ambulance Unit (the FAU) and later became a monk. Joanna became a good friend of ours when we moved up to Staveley, and Giles, who is now a liberal councillor living near Whitby, I don't know.
The Herons and the Dawsons, and I think occasionally the Reisses had holidays at Rose Castle. Rose Castle also looms large in the later part of this story.
WEM’s memoirs 3 Welwyn attracted some of our relatives, too. My mother's sister Edith, better known to us as Tots, and Mother's brother Hugh, and their families, came to live there. About 1925 we moved house from a 3-bedroomed semi-det in Dellcott Close to a 5-bedroomed detached house in Parkway and then moved again from Welwyn Garden City to a village called Tewin in 1935.
The home at Tewin was a delight. Three households in the garden city, the Crowleys, the Kemps, and ourselves had decided to share a 1½ acre plot called Sewells Orchard, in open country outside the village. We were all friends, big F and little f. Ralph and Muriel Crowley were to have the middle part of the plot, and would share it with their architect daughter, Mary. Elfrida, another daughter who was married to another architect, Cecil Kemp, would have the lower part of the plot and we would have the upper part. The two architects collaborated together to produce three rather similar and very modern houses which attracted a good deal of architectural attention and comment. Groups of architectural students would sometimes turn up on Sunday mornings and hope to be shown around.
But this is getting out of order. While we were living in Dellcott Close Leonard and I went to the nearest school, Handside. Nan went to a Montessori nursery school where our aunt, Mollie, taught. I don't remember anything much of Handside except that we walked there everyday. When the family moved to Parkway, there was a prep school that was within spitting distance and I went there for a while, but by then I must have been about ten and at eleven I was packed off to Ackworth, a Quaker boarding school near Pontefract in Yorkshire.
Leonard had already started there. From my point of view Ackworth was a bit of a disaster. I seem to have spent most of my time in the sick-bay with one cold after another. Ackworth was a pretty cold and bleak place and I suppose I wasn't as tough then as I became later. At any rate my parents must have realised that it didn't suit me and after only a year there I went on to the Downs School at Colwall, near Malvern. I acquired two pieces of information while at Ackworth. The first was that not all French verbs when declined have present tenses that end in..s,..s,..t as I thought. The other bit of information was really advice from Leonard. I remember him telling me that if I wanted to pee in the bath it was better to wash my face first. Useful advice for a ten year-old and advice which I have been following ever since.
The Downs was quite a small prep school at the foot of the Malvern Hills, on the Herefordshire side; I suppose it had under a hundred boys there in my day. It wasn't a Quaker school - in as much as it didn't belong to the Society of Friends but the headmaster then was Geoffrey Hoyland, who was a Friend and his wife was a Cadbury, Dorothea. The school itself was situated in extensive grounds. It had its own wood where there were badger sets; there was a stream running through one of its fields and the stream needed damming up by small boys; there were moles in the fields which had to be trapped and there were trees which needed tree-houses; and there was a narrow gauge steam railway which could take about twenty boys at a time but was only to be driven by the head!
slept out of doors all the year round in rotatable 'summer houses': we were provided with waterproof covers for our beds and I remember waking often to find an inch of snow on my bed. The teaching at the Downs must have been pretty good. Fred Sanger, who was at the school when I was there, went on to get two Nobel prizes for his work in molecular medicine. I remember him as a small boy who spent a lot of his time catching and skinning moles. Another contemporary was Lawrence Gowing who was then a rather gawky boy with a dreadful stutter, a good painter who was encouraged by the art master, Maurice Baring, and who later was elected President of the Royal Academy. Not all Old Downians were as successful!
I was at the Downs for a couple of years, from twelve to fourteen, and then went on to join Leonard who by then had moved on from Ackworth to Bootham in York.
Although I wasn't at all academic I thoroughly enjoyed my schooldays there. One of my school reports from Donald Gray, the head, was 'Happy, friendly, noisy and untidy'! I was much more interested in sports than in schoolwork but Bootham used to pride itself on its emphasis on hobbies and non-curricular activities and in those respects I suppose I might have benefited.
I made some good friends at Bootham. My closest friend was Ted Branson, the son of a judge. Ted was equally unacademic and equally keen on sports. He broke just about all the school records for swimming. I used to visit the Branson home in Frimley Green during the holidays, sometimes, and I remember that on one occasion I arrived there on my motorbike with my clothes in a rucksack and was shown to my room by a butler! This wasn't as off-putting as the fact that when I returned to the room I found that my rucksack had been carefully unpacked for me. We weren't in the same social class as the Bransons! I last saw Ted in Cairo, during the war but I have seen more recent photographs of him. His son Richard Branson is better known. Ted went on from Bootham to Cambridge, read law and was called to the bar and finished up as a judge, like his father. Another close friend was Mike Rowntree, one of the sons of Chocolate Jumbo as Arnold Rowntree was called by Bootham boys. Mike was one of the founders and later the Chairman of Oxfam. He was at one time the managing director of the Oxford Mail. Mike and I were later together in the first party of the FAU. Other Bootham friends were Bryan Cranstone, who became the head of one section of the British Museum, and Kenneth Cadbury, who went into the Post Office but the school was full of nice chaps and some of them, like Alan Greenwood and Martin Lidbetter, I only really got to know years after leaving school.
There isn't much to brag about in my academic record at Bootham but I was captain of the school soccer team, captain of tennis, won the school fives tournament, and was the champion diver for all the five years I was there! I was also a reeve (a prefect); Leonard did better. He became the headboy and got into Cambridge. Nan's education included a year or two at Hitchin Girls Grammar School, some time at Godstowe, a girls' prep school in High Wycombe, and thence to the Mount, sister school to Bootham and also in York. Nan and I overlapped for a couple of years in York.
again to the village of Lastingham on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors so the family home was in Yorkshire again. York was a lovely place to be at school;
Bootham itself was near enough to York Minster to be influenced by the sight and sound of it. I guess living in its shadow, more or less, for five years leaves a permanent impression. But we also had several family holidays in Yorkshire.
One of them was in Hawkswick in Littondale where my aunt Winifred had a cottage. Winifred was my father's older sister and was the widow of Harold Wager.
Harold's sister-in-law had died early and he and Winifred more or less adopted the four children, or at any rate were closely concerned with their upbringing during their schooldays. One of the boys, Lawrence Wager, was at Hawkswick during that holiday. I think he must have been a Cambridge undergraduate at the time.
Lawrence was a terrific rock climber and I still have a vivid memory of seeing him shin up a niche between two cottages largely with the use of his elbows!
Lawrence Wager became rather a hero of mine. He was President of the Mountaining Club at Cambridge and went on expeditions to Greenland with Gino Watkins and again with his brother Harold and their two wives. He also was on the 1933 Everest expedition and for a long time was the chap who had been highest up Everest without Oxygen. We named our youngest son partly after Lawrence Wager. He was a geologist and held the chair of geology at Reading before being appointed to the Regius chair at Oxford. George Pickering was his best man and was influential in advising that Lawrence was O.K. to be included in the Everest team despite having a cardiac murmur. (George Pickering was the Professor of Medicine at St Mary's and I did his house job. He's bound to figure in this account a bit later).