Sunday 26 March 2023

In Search of England

Henry Canova Vollam Morton, better known as H.V. Morton, followed his father into the journalism world.  However, he became better known for his many, many travel books which covered many parts of the world.
Morton moved to London and was fortunate to be the only journalist around when Tutankhamen's tomb was opened in 1923.  A 'scoop' if ever there was one.  I have a vague idea there was some trickery involved in this, but I may be wrong and hove not got time to investigate more.  This deed made his name and travel writing became his game.  The 'Daily Express,' for whom he worked, were happy to offer his many journeys around London, which he made into book form.  And he was to continue this type of work, mostly on London, for years.  It was common in days past for the papers to offers such 'features,' unlike today where celebrities and half truths dominate.
During 1926 H.V. travelled around England in a small 'Bullnose Morris' car.  His task was to discover the England of the day, eight years after the Great War.  At this time few could afford a car, unemployment was rife.  Indeed my father had enlisted in the Kings Own Scottish Borderers the year before because work was difficult to find.  The sight of rural England was unknown to the majority, a day holiday might mean a trip by rail or bus to the seaside, or a long walk there and back, the whole village or district marching together on a rare day out.  The sight of an educated man in a car 'from London,' might well have impressed, or not so much behind his back, the rural people.  Indeed in Norfolk he meets one local more than unwilling to divulge much but weary contempt.  
Life may be different today.
The idea is simple, he drives out of London, stops at an appropriate spot, describes what he sees and moves on.  His writing is at times very descriptive, involving present situations, history and fables from the people in residence.  This is usually excellent, occasionally, where he imagines the ghosts of times past a bot wearing, as this appears more to entice newspaper readers than describe a historical event.  On the other hand however. it works very well.
Beginning in the south west and heading north via Stonehenge, where the American visitors apparently dominate, blocking the roads with their 'charabancs.'  From Cornwall to Gloucester, visiting cathedrals, castles, Inns where he can remain overnight, including one pub where the fire in the main room has been continuous for over 200 years, and on to the Lake district.  Hadrian's Wall, York and into Lincolnshire, making a special effort to visit Rutland, wherever that was, and into Norfolk.  
Stratford is not forgotten, he was born in Warwickshire, his father editing the 'Birmingham Mail,' and he once again discovers how charabancs full of visitors, often American, destroy the very towns they wish to visit.  This remember, was 1926!
1926,a mere 97 years ago, and the changes in the UK since then are made clear through this book.  The roads are narrow, little traffic, the rise of the charabanc and tourism for the middle classes and Americans.  Many Morton meets appear to imply life is changing, and not for the better.  The 'it was better in my day' attitude is not new.  H.V. fills the pages with his somewhat sentimental, sorry, patriotic, love of 'England.'  This is not a love I can share.  One reason being it represents an attitude from a different age, an age that had just lost sons in the war, and occasionally this is mentioned by those around the author, an age that wishes to believe the loss was worth it, especially while the nation was bankrupt and life had not returned to how it was.  Indeed, women who moved to towns and cities returned with skirts up to their knees, amongst other changes.  Morton manages to notice almost all the women he passes.   The patriotism and deep feeling for an England that never existed runs through this book.  People are always looking for the time when things were better in the past, or when the nation was more powerful, richer, better.  All such dreams are just that, dreams.  
For those who wish to see an England in 1926 I recommend this book.  His writing is always good, and he does describe both fantasy and reality as he found it very well.  Those who know the places he passes through will quickly note how this England of today is not the England of 1926.  Well worth a read.


the fly in the web said...

I don't have his books about England, more's the pity.
He seemsto have been a rum cuss,but his writing is superb to judge by his books on foreign climes.

Adullamite said...

Fly, His writing is good. However, he reflects the attitudes of many of his day, English superiority, foreign natives less able, and a conservative control a good one for society. However, he never offered such views in a meaningful way. He never wrote about politics at any time. He did get a lot of women mind..

Kay G. said...

It's funny but I am thinking of how different England is now than when I visited it for the first time in 1981. Many of the products for sale were made in the UK. In Eastbourne, I could see many people on bicycles, and some were even on horseback! The buses were packed and while there were cars about, it was not that common for most people to have them. My English mother in law always wore a skirt and blouse even indoors as she was doing housework! AND it was the 80's, so the music was good!

Jenny Woolf said...

I haven't read his books for years. They irritated the heck out of me in my twenties. I remember them as anodyne. Still I might well see themdifferently now I am an old fogey.

Adullamite said...

Kay, Time does not stand still, things constantly change. Not always for the better.

Jenny, I think he would annoy today if we met him right enough. Anodyne, maybe, but he was writing for a newspaper just after the war, and considering his readers.