Holy Cross 150 – A review of the recently published book about Kenmare parish church

Bobby bought me a selection of books for Christmas, chiefly second-hand ones from the charity shop in the Supervalu shopping centre in Kenmare – KLAWS :- Kenmare & Locality Animal Welfare Society.
KLAWS do an amazing job, with a considerable amount of help from the Kenmare Veterinary Centre; to spay or neuter feral cats and find homes for stray, abandoned or uncared for dogs.
He also bought me, from Donovan’s; delightful little newsagent and shop, old-fashioned in character, on Main Street; a brand spanking new book! “Holy Cross Church Kenmare 150 1864-2014 – A Social & Local History” compiled by the Holy Cross 150 History Group.
I am not a regular church goer, having been excommunicated for most of my adult life: I will keep “living in sin with married men” (as there is no such thing as divorce in the RC church, Bobby, my husband, whose first wife left him over two decades ago, is still considered married to her!)I do, of course, attend weddings and funerals, but I don’t “receive” (Communion). But I have had occasion to get to know, a little, the present PP Fr Tom Crean (in organising the funeral arrangements for Bobby’s late and very dear mother, Francie), and I found him a most excellent man, open and generous of spirit, friendly and willing to go the extra mile to help others.
His panegyric delivered at the Requiem Mass of a dear old friend, Florry O’Sullivan “Pendy” displayed an intimate understanding of the deceased; his words so true, so relevant, and thus so moving.
On the face of it, a book written to celebrate 150 years since the building of a parish church might not sound all that interesting, especially when one doesn’t attend that church. This could not be further from the truth!
The book is fascinating. A truly remarkable collection of local history both documented and passed down orally through the ages.
A clue to just how relevant and interesting the book is can be surmised from its title; anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of Irish history would recognise immediately that it will take the reader back to that blackest of times: the Great Famine; Sometimes known as the “Potato Famine” which is a gross over-simplification of the complex “perfect storm” of conditions which actually caused the famine when the potato crop failed. (Much of the problem faced by Ireland can be traced back to the Act of Union in 1801 and the Penal Laws of the 17th & 18th Centuries which prevented Catholics (the vast majority; over 80% of the population) from purchasing or leasing land, voting, holding office, being educated, entering a profession, or even living within 5 miles of a “corporate town”. Many of these laws were removed by 1793 and in 1829 the Act of Emancipation gave Catholics back their rights, but the damage had been done. The clock could not be put back so easily. Land was still owned by “Absentee Landowners; English Aristocracy who seldom visited Ireland and who instead appointed infamous “middlemen”; Agents who collected rent on their behalf and who divided up the land into ever smaller pieces so as to exact the maximum rental income until the small parcels were so wholly inadequate to support or feed the cotter who rented it.
It is a sobering, and shameful fact, that while the country starved to death in their millions, approximately 30 – 50 shiploads of food left Ireland destined to feed the burgeoning English population.
The bounty from the sale of these goods went to these absentee Landlords whose chief, if not sole, residence was England.
It is hard to know which had a worse affect on the people of Ireland: the Corn Laws which held back the sale of cheap imported grain from the New World by enforcing heavy levies on them and ensuring the English Corn Growers maintained their income; or the repeal of same which resulted in shipments of inedible yellow meal flooding into Ireland as a last ditch attempt to feed the starving masses. There were no mills in Ireland equipped to grind these stone-hard maize kernels which needed to be cooked twice before it could safely be eaten).

The church itself is a very fine one, built in the Gothic style, with beautifully worked stained glass windows, a ceiling of wooden carved angels, graceful columns and intricate reredos etc etc etc.

But what I didn’t know was that it was built by the PP at the time of the Famine, Father John O’Sullivan. Not ONE penny of the cost was put onto the impoverished parishioners. Through his own extraordinary efforts he accrued ALL the money; a not inconsiderable sum: £15,000 (which sum includes the cost of the adjoining convent and school) himself. Much of this sum was expended on wages and was paid to the very people who would benefit from its completion; providing them with badly needed employment for two years.
Fr. John was a man of vision. And energy. Although he came from a fairly unextraordinary background; in fact, depending on what you measure his childhood against, one might even say he came from a rather disadvantaged one.

He was born in Tralee in 1807. His father was a painter, but a man of “uncommon talent” who was “addicted” to reading and possessed a good library. He died when John was 6 ½, the oldest of 3 children. John’s mother, now widowed and unable to meet his School fees, intended him to go into his Uncle Stephen Walsh’s cabinet-making business, but fortunately for all of us, he had eminent connections who recognised his advanced Latin learning even at that age. One such connection was “The Liberator” Daniel O’Connell, who pleaded with the widow not to take him out of school and bind him to his Uncle’s business, and offered instead to pay his school fees. However, his School Master, Bob Slater “one of the most beautiful scholars that ever taught in Kerry” would not hear of taking a single penny for his education. He continued to excel in his studies and went on to further education, always attracting generous benefactors, keen to support him in his ambition to become a priest.
His conduct during and after the Famine can only be described as extraordinary. For example; Mr. Hickson, a “particular friend” of Fr. John’s from his first curacy in Dingle some years earlier, and who was Lord Landsdowne’s Agent, collected £50 and gave it to the priest for the purpose of distributing it amongst the poor. The priest however had other ideas and instead sent to Skibbereen for a cargo of potatoes which he then SOLD to the people and then ordered more. In this way he distributed about £1000 worth of potatoes “and all parties acknowledged in the end that more good was done by that management than would have been done if the £50 had been distributed at once.” This account is on record and was part of Fr. O’Sullivan’s evidence given to the House of Commons Select Committee (Report into Poor Laws (Ireland)1849).
He continued in this manner, importing £8000 worth of food from an initial sum of £200.
I cannot help thinking of the “Loaves and the Fishes” when I think of how he stretched what he was given and fed so many.
Interestingly too, whilst being questioned by the Select Committee he raised the subject of “dietary” provided at the Workhouse. He visited two Workhouses in England; one in Stafford and the other at St. George Hanover Square. Here he begged a copy of the dietary so as to compare it with what the paupers in Kenmare were expected to live on. The Committee, in a vain attempt to dodge the bullet enquired as to whether he had made a similar comparison with other Workhouses in Ireland, but he was not to be fobbed off and retorted “No; but I take it that Irish paupers ought to be fed as well as English every day in the year”
The “Extracts From The Minutes Of The Meetings Of Kenmare Union Board Of Guardians” in the book make truly harrowing reading.
The Workhouse was built to house 250 people, and the nearby Fever Hospital which still stands intended for 40. At its peak there were almost 3000 paupers in total; men, women and children: being fed at the Workhouse, though only the women slept there. Several other auxiliary buildings were rented or built in order to house the men and children. There are appalling accounts of brutality too and God only knows what the children were subjected to in their hopelessly inadequate and utterly inappropriate accommodation. There are accounts of one six year old boy falling to his death from an upstairs window during the night and another whose body showed suspicious markings, evidently sustained by the most violent of assaults.
The Minutes list each week’s toll of paupers who had died, who were admitted or turned away (who very often fell down dead on the roadside on their journey home to the hovel they came from).
Details of numbers of coffins contracted from various suppliers are given, but this soon became hopelessly impractical and they ultimately resorted to mass graves, dozens of bodies, their skeletal remains intertwined, tumbled into vast pits.
Famine Fever, Relapsing Fever, Cholera, Dysentery, typhus, smallpox and ultimately, starvation took the lives of some 5000 souls during the Great Famine from the Kenmare area alone. A further 5000 were forced to emigrate to America, Canada and Australia.
The Medical Officer, Dr. Tom Taylor, whose anguish can be felt from these minutes, as he struggles against hopeless odds to improve the plight of those patients with fever, succumbed to fever himself after nearly three years of daily attendance. One feels that he knew this would be his fate. We hear from his accounts that the South-facing windows of the fever hospital letting in water which flooded the building, saturating the sparse straw on which these wretched people were bedded down. There was never sufficient turf to keep fires burning to relieve their suffering and coal could not be purchased. He constantly battles against the habitual practice of administering coffee to patients in place of milk, noting “nothing could be more improper or cruel as the patients are tormented with thirst which coffee will not quench as such a drink retards recovery and promotes a fatal termination”. There are accounts of “Daniel Hegarty aged 2 and Peter Sullivan aged 3” receiving coffee in the evening instead of milk and “Florence Sullivan born in the House on the 9th inst (December 1846), his mother having no suck, received coffee instead of milk and perished in 7 days”. To our modern eyes it seems inconceivable that anyone would think it appropriate to offer a newborn infant coffee without knowing what the consequences would be. It seems extraordinary that the child survived as long as he did.
The “dietary” was carefully allocated according to the conditions of the “pauper”; a working male (who would be breaking up limestone rock for eight hours a day) was given a breakfast of 8oz of “Indian Meal” made into a “stirabout”, 1oz of sugar. For Dinner 14oz cheap bread, 2oz oatmeal “made into a soup” (the other ingredients of this “soup” being water, salt and pepper!)
Able-bodied working females: Breakfast 7oz Indian Meal made into a stirabout, 1oz sugar. Dinner: 12oz cheap bread, 1 ½ oz oatmeal made into soup.
Aged and infirm persons and adults of either sex not working: Breakfast 6 oz of Indian Meal made into a stirabout, 1 oz sugar. Dinner: 10oz cheap bread 1 ½ oz oatmeal made into a soup.
Boys and Girls above 9 and under 15: Breakfast: 5 oz Indian Meal made into a stirabout, ½ pint of milk. Dinner: 8oz cheap bread 1oz oatmeal made into a soup + 4oz bread.
Children above 5 and under 9: Breakfast: 4oz Indian Meal made into a stirabout, ½ pint milk. Dinner: 6oz cheap bread 1oz oatmeal made into soup + 4 oz bread.
Children above 2 and under 5: Breakfast: 3 oz Indian Meal made into a stirabout, ½ pint of milk. Dinner: 6oz cheap bread 1oz oatmeal made into soup + 4oz bread.
Infants under 2: 8oz white bread and 1 pint of milk daily.

As we know from the records, fresh milk was increasingly difficult if not impossible to obtain and the children were often given coffee instead, to the dismay of Dr. Taylor.

The Poor Relief (Ireland) Bill granting outdoor relief and establishing soup kitchens became law in 1847. But if his miserable plot exceeded 1 rood (¼ acre) by so much as a single foot, he and his family were put out of the reach of any relief. If a pauper, whose rated value was less than £5 wished to emigrate, his landlord had to facilitate him, foregoing any rent and providing two thirds of the fair, provided he first “sack” or “tumble” his home to prevent any other unfortunate from squatting in it.
These dwellings are described as being little more than a pile of stones. They had a doorway but no door, windows without glazing; nothing in fact to keep out the worst excesses of weather. The roof was a sort of thatch made from “finán” (a seasonal summer grass which grows on bogland in tufts and turns to a thin, pale straw colour in autumn). There was scarce enough room to stand up inside and the hovel had no chimney. There were no separate sleeping apartments within and scarcely enough straw to supply them with a bed. Very few had any other coverings such as a blanket. Their clothing was described by many different accounts as rags; threadbare and literally falling to pieces as they wore them. Some were in such a condition as they scarcely covered them decently. Hardly any had shoes of any kind or even stockinged feet.

Some of the auxiliary buildings where the excess persons slept were as far as two miles away. This meant that they had to walk, in all weathers, to the Workhouse for their meagre meals. If the weather was bad, their rags gave them little protection and by the time they’d finished their journey they were “wet right through to the skin of their emaciated bodies”.

For some it would be their last journey and many, as previously stated, died along the roadside.

Fr. John O’Sullivan loved these people. He strived tirelessly for them. He wrote reams of letters appealing for help in every possible quarter, befriended wealthy benefactors, sympathetic to their cause and practically turned himself into a grain merchant on their behalf.
He built them a Convent and induced an order of nuns; the Poor Clares; to come to Kenmare (from Derry). It was his vision that the nuns would clothe and feed the poorest of the children and provide an education for them.
They learned lace making and were so successful at it that in the 19th Century Kenmare lace was famous around the world and provided employment and an income for impoverished girls.
Over 200 children were given a hot breakfast of porridge by the nuns, and bread for lunch. Fr. John bought flannel and tweed and the nuns made them clothes.
The nuns observed that the children, “so unused to eating meat, upon being offered it found it revolted them and they were quite unable to eat it”.
Even after his death, Fr. John’s care of his flock continued: In his Will he “bequeathed £300 from his Life Insurance together with £400 in the Funds and about £200 in Provincial Bank and in house to the Bishop, to place it in Funds and apply the interest of it annually to the clothing of the most distressed children attending the schools”. He observed “The interest of £800 will make a good many poor creatures comfortable every year…..”

NB Despite having written to the PP Fr Tom Crean, asking permission from him and the group to quote extracts  from this book, after several weeks my letter remains unanswered. Therefore, If anyone from the said group wishes to complain of my use of extracts, please do so via this blog and I will remove them.

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Scotland’s People dot Org dot UK Website is in want of improvement!

The other day I had an email from scotlandspeople.gov.uk asking me if I would take part in a survey, as they wanted feedback in order to find ways of improving their ancestry website and giving people what they want!

I was delighted to be asked and thought this would be my opportunity to give them my list of niggles; my “constructive criticism” and help them to improve their site!

The survey was pretty useless!

It gave no opportunity for the filler-inner to make recommendations and asked very few questions, offering the options of ticking from a range “Very Poor” to “Excellent” or something of that ilk.

So, in the vain hope that someone from Scotlandspeople.gov.uk may stumble across my blog, HERE are my “issues”:

No.1 Why does the website INSIST on signing me out after every session? Neither Ancestry.co.uk nor findmypast.co.uk do this. It is irritating to have to keep signing back in, even after only a couple of hours or a few minutes!

No.2 What IS the point of a “User Name”? It’s just one more thing to remember! My email address ought to do! User names as I understand it are to provide a degree of anonymity on a public forum for instance and really quite unnecessary on a site where I am only (desperately trying) to do ancestry research!

No.3 “Credits”!! Buying Credits is maddening; especially as they diminish at an alarming rate! Why oh WHY can’t they have a subscription service like any other ancestry research website; or at least offer the option of one! Also within the “Credits” system, whoever heard of having ABSOLUTELY NO concessionary price! If you buy 30 Credits (and believe me that will get you nowhere) they cost £7 and if you buy 300 Credits they will cost you a whopping £70! whoever heard of “buying in bulk” without SOME discount? What a complete rip-off!

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4. Searching the records can be annoying too as the Parish records are split up into religions! Protestants in one section and Catholics in another! So sometimes one has to search in both places which, obviously, runs through the “credits” like wildfire! I think ALL parish records should be accessed in ONE search.

5. Having conducted a search, which can be quite vexing as the algorithms (if that’s the right word) used by the website don’t predict anything, therefore if, for instance “mother’s maiden name” ISN’T on YOUR particular record, you have to de-select it from the search criteria! This seems idiotic and it should not be beyond the wit of man (or the programmer) to search ALL records, regardless of there being a mother’s maiden name on the document!

When you have at last, by a process of narrowing or broadening your search criteria (based largely on your experience with the inadequacies of the website’s search methods), been given a total number of “matches”, you are then informed that in order to see the list you will have to pay 1 Credit per page (which seems unnecessarily mean). OBVIOUSLY you are going to press the pay to view button because you went on their website to FIND INFORMATION!! And then ANOTHER pop up comes up with “Are You Sure? This will cost you 1 credit! Yes or no?” For HEAVEN’s sake! What IS the point of asking you this question twice? I have already said I want to view the list!!

6. So, you have paid your 1 credit and are now looking at a page full of possible matches. Suppose you are looking for one John Grant, and there are 15 or 20 on the screen. It would be helpful if, as on Ancestry.co.uk, if you hovered the mouse over one of them it then gave you a glimpse; a pop-up, of other household members for instance. Instead it gives you NO information that helps you in any way to decide which one of these John Grants you should spend a further 5 credits on in order to see the actual document. This is especially annoying on census records, but can also be frustrating on marriage records etc. If a pop-up glimpse is too hard to deliver, how about adding something more helpful on the list itself? I have used up a whole heap of credits having to view each and every one of my “matches” because their summary is so unhelpful!

7. The quality of the image itself is poor. When these records were scanned originally, they must have been done on a rather low resolution, because they are dreadfully hard to read. Zooming in actually only makes them harder to read as they become patchy and more faint.

8. I have found it impossible to either “Save” the image to my computer or “Print” (as a pdf) and have found the only way I can keep a copy of the document that has cost me so much is to take a screenshot!

9. Because the image quality IS so poor, it would be nice if they offered a transcription of the record as they do on both Findmypast.co.uk and ancestry.co.uk

So there we have it! Actually only 9 things wrong with their website!

In their PLUS column, there are a lot of records available and they are hugely helpful. For instance, some of the parish records are amazingly helpful. Take a death record for example. It not only gives the name, age, address and profession of the deceased, but the cause of death in quite some detail as well as the spouses name and the parents names!

I only wish it wasn’t such a battle to find them and that it didn’t leave me feeling I have been fleeced!

In a nutshell then I should like them to leave me signed in, pay an annual subscription, show me more of the information from the matches to help me choose, have better quality images and a transcription of same.

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Peter Grant – His Music Brought To Life

Recently, my good friends Jack & Mary were down from Wicklow for their annual mini-break here in Kerry, and as we sat in front of the 1950s Rayburn, drinking pot after pot of tea (loose, PG Tips, naturally!), and eating slice after slice of Harrington’s absolutely delicious traditional Irish Halloween Barm Brack (with lashings of Kerry Gold butter and perhaps a spoon or two of marmalade), we chatted about this and that, and it wasn’t long before my recent preoccupation with Peter Grant came to the fore. Mary was fascinated with Peter’s story, and I showed her the precious little scrap of manuscript paper, upon which he had written for my mother, who he called “Yolanda” (her middle name) a “Sketch – An Air (to be varied)” . A note at the end reads: “Yolanda, this is the sketch, it’s far more like one than a finished work on clean manuscript paper. The little tune is almost like a folk tune. It’s very crude at the moment but in the completed work it should be better. As you know it is for orchestra. The tune calls for the oboe and the rest of it for low sustained strings. It will commemorate a memorable evening with Mozart and other things. Peter” . It must have been written when they were “dating” (for want of a more suitable word), when she first moved to London to pursue a career as a ballet dancer, and before they got married, in 1937.

I was explaining to Mary my life-long fascination with Peter Grant, telling her how, when I was about 12, my sister Claire and I went (very shamefully!) rooting through my mother’s old trunks; full of her old diaries, school work, photos and all sorts: all jumbled up, but having somehow survived countless house-moves. We found, what we first thought were our mother’s school books, as she had always told us her maiden name was Grant. But we realised the dates were wrong and they had to have belonged to our oldest half-sibling, also called Rosemary (but more often known by her nickname “Reddy); who very sadly died a few years ago.

We had already figured out that she had been married before, as two other half-siblings were called Pawle, but it was quite a revelation to learn that their was an earlier husband!

We found, during this outrageous prying into mother’s private things, the manuscript, and jumped to the conclusion that Reddy’s father must have been called Peter Grant.

In the last few years I have been going through box after box of these old papers, photos and documents; brought over to me several at a time by my sister Susan. I have been carefully sorting them and scanning them, so that we can all have a copy of everything.

Simultaneously, I have been doing a lot of research on Ancestry.co.uk and other such websites and gradually, but by bit, I have turned an imagined figure, Peter Grant, into a real human being, with a story: a rather sad one in many ways.

In one of Susan’s boxes, we found photos of Peter (which were later confirmed as him by a man and fellow Folk Music collector, Reg Hall, who contacted me via my blog and since met me in London and told me all he knew of Peter and Peter’s character)

Another contained a photo of mother as a very young bride.

I had failed to find a record of their marriage on Ancestry, but after studying the photo it dawned on me that they might have married in Scotland, so I joined Scotlandspeople.gov.uk and bingo!

So we were right! Our mother’s first husband was indeed called Peter Grant!

I have written extensively about him on earlier blogs, if you wish to learn more about him, but the purpose of THIS blog post is to tell you the most exciting news:

Mary took a copy of the manuscript to her friend Harry who put it onto his Apple Desktop and using his Sibelius software, rewrote it, in its exact form, for oboe and strings (violin, viola, ‘cello and double bass)!

Peter to Yolanda3 and 4 Peter to Yolanda 1 and 2

He also printed out the brand new, professional-looking “clean manuscript” version!

Sketch - to be varied

Sketch – to be varied

Peter Grant - An Air (1)b

Mary and Harry, as my niece Danu put it, “are my new heroes”

I’m afraid WordPress won’t allow me to share it here as either an M4A, or the converted file, MWA so, here it is (short version, hastily and clumsily done, the music ends rather abruptly when the photos come to an end):

Or the longer version; and I recommend this one, because his air does require listening to a few times to fully appreciate it:

And also there are extra photographs, pertinent to Peter’s life story, in order of events, which will help you to fully absorb the spirit of this long-forgotten man, who was once so special to my mother, and because of this has always had a place in my heart.

I am writing my mother’s biography, in the form of a novel, so that I may have the creative freedom to fill in the gaps, where it is impossible to ever find out what actually occurred. I am shamelessly borrowing this style from my gorgeous Trinidadian cousin, Lawrence Scott; my inspiration to (try) and become a writer!

Peter Grant will be given a large chunk of my book!

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Peter Grant Remembered

Peter William Grant was born in Doncaster, Yorkshire, on 10th May 1916. His father was a travelling clothier or draper from Inchture, near Dundee in Forfarshire called William George Grant (1878–1951) and his mother was Harriet Jones from Doncaster (1877-1945).

His father’s Army records from the First World War, give his address as 30 Beechfield Road, Doncaster, a street lined on either side with terraced houses, opening out onto countryside at the far end. They had moved to 155 Beckett Road,Wheatley, Doncaster by the time he attended College in London. Beckett Street (as it is now called) appears to be a pleasant, leafy suburb, consisting of red-brick terraced houses with small private gardens.

It is likely that he may have known Olive Zorian, who like him, was born in Doncaster in 1916. Although once a very well known violin soloist, her ‘fame’ has been somewhat overshadowed by that of her more famous husband, John Amis, and unfortunately almost all internet searches that mention Olive are as an aside, in a piece actually about him. There are a few references to her in The History of the Royal Manchester College of Music, 1893-1972, By Michael Kennedy, and I believe Polam Hall (boarding school) in Darlington, where she attended school, published her obituary in 1965 – or the following year – in their O.S. Journal. After attending the Royal College of Music, Manchester, Olive Zorian went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Olive was certainly a good friend of Rosemary Clegg’s (who also went to Polam).

Peter Grant attended the Royal College of Music in London. From September 1935, he studied Piano, under the tutelage of John St. Oswald Dykes and Arthur Alexander, and in 1936, continued his studies at RCM, where, under the tutelage of R.A. Ebdon he studied Music Theory and under Gordon Jacob: Music Composition.

It would appear that he and his first love, “Yolanda” (Rosemary Yolanda Clegg) – very likely introduced by mutual friend Olive Zorian – may have eloped to Scotland, where, at 23 Melville Street, in Edinburgh’s Haymarket District they could marry without parental consent, on 18th September 1937. The witnesses whose names appear on the marriage register are one William Sneddon and one Georgina Neal Watt or MacDonald of 7a Northumberland Street, Edinburgh. Interestingly, Peter gives this same address as his own current one (though giving his usual address as 11 Stanley Mansions, Park Walk, Chelsea; a block away from that of his young wife; a Ballet Dancer, living at 86 Beaufort Street, Chelsea. It seems likely that Peter knew the witnesses; in order for him to have been staying with them. Perhaps they were relations: his grandfather, Peter Grant, came from Edinburgh, and he may well have had cousins, aunts or uncles, living there at that time.

She knew him whilst either still at school, or very shortly afterwards and had a childish infatuation for him; drawn to his sweet disposition, above average intellect and enormous musical talent no doubt. She wrote in the back of one of her school exercise books, under the heading “Confessions” – a list of things she liked: Favourite Names: Peter, Michael, Rosemary, Virginia, Ann, Favourite Authors: Peter Grant, Favourite Composers: Beethoven, Bach, Sibelius, Delius, Mozart, Boradin, Stravinsky, Glazunov, Moussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakow, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikowski, Manuel de Falla, Ravell, etc etc!!! Favourite Piece of Music: Pantomime, (El Amor Brujo, de Falla), Favourite Book: Winnie the Pooh, Favourite dance: Rumba, Favourite Rhythms: Bolero, Tango, Favourite Film Stars …and here a long list follows! (She also wrote a list of things she didn’t like, but that is for another time!)

During their courtship he would have taken his young lady out to the cinema, to see the latest movies, to dinner – perhaps to her favourite restaurant: “España” on Waldour Street; “In the heart of London’s Theatreland”, to the theatre to see a play, or to the ballet – perhaps he even saw her dance – and to listen to music.
What inspiration, what energy and drive, what feeling of invincibility must he have felt in the first throes of love? So inspired was he by his sweet, adoring, beautiful, clever, talented, musical girl, that he wrote and devoted a piece of music especially for her …….“Yolanda, this is the sketch, it’s far more like one than a finished work on clean manuscript paper. The little tune is almost like a folk tune. It’s very crude at the moment but in the completed work it should be better. As you know it is for orchestra. The tune calls for the oboe and the rest of it for low sustained strings. It will commemorate a memorable evening with Mozart and other things. Peter”

Peter to Yolanda 1 and 2Peter to Yolanda3 and 4

He went on to further study at the Royal Academy of Music; although it may not have been as a full-time student. The Royal Academy has as yet been unable to find records pertaining to him, but they have stressed this does not mean he didn’t attend there. We do know however, that he was training to be a Concert Pianist, so the RAM seems the most likely of the ‘Conservatoires’.

Peter Grant possibly (6)

After they were married, the couple moved to 39, Lower Richmond Road in Putney. From their front doorstep they could see the Thames, with busy boats passing by, and on the bank sits the Duke’s Head public house, directly opposite them. There was a back garden where they planted flowers and played with their Staffordshire bull terrier and a tiny black kitten.

Peter Grant possibly (2)autocorrected & painted

Peter Grant possibly (5)autocorrected

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He can be found in 1938, on the Electoral Register, at this address, and in 1939 he is listed in the London Telephone directory: Putney 5332.

On 27th June 1940, he was called up; drafted into the Territorial Army for the “duration of the Emergency” under the provisions of the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939. His unit was posted to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

On 5th June 1941, Peter and his wife had their first baby; Rosemary, born at the Brooklyn Nursing Home, 321 Upper Richmond Road, Putney, under the care of one Margaret E. Read. Peter registered his daughter’s birth, and gives his profession as ‘Author’, (as well as ‘Rifleman’ with the KRR, Serial number 6580801).

On 27th September that same year, he was sent with his battalion (2nd) to the North African/Middle Eastern campaign (M.E.F.)

The summary sheet pinned to the start of his records, shows him “Home” (in the UK where he was undergoing training – which he passed with flying colours his character is described as Very Good – Qualified etc”) from 27th June 1940 to 26th September 1941 (total 1 years 92 days), “M.E.F.” from 27th September 1941 to 23rd September 1942 (362 days) and a further period of 123 days is given from 24th September to 24th January 1943 (the date of his final discharge from the Army), giving a total service record of 2 years and 212 days.

His records state that he was ‘Wounded in Action’ on 30th May 1942. “GSW Spine” (Gun Shot Wound to the Spine)

He embarked on the Hospital Ship on 13th July 1942.

He was declared “Permanently unfit for any kind of Military Service” and Discharged on 24th January 1943.

Further records of Peter disappear for a time here, until he is mentioned in his mother’s Probate records, granted in September 1945, and he and his father inherit, jointly, her estate of £2099 2s 2d. Her address is given as The Nook, 6 St. Mary’s Road, Dunsville, near Doncaster, and her husband is named as “Draper” and her son “Author”. She died at Doncaster’s Royal Infirmary, on 20th April, 1945.

Evidence that his wife was still living at the marital home can be found from her personal letters, from where she was writing off for copies of photographs (for her portfolio), obtaining references from friends, attending auditions and seemingly doing all she could to find work (on the stage).

And we have no reason to think that Peter was not also living at this address at this time.

However, a troubled “Mollie” (her nickname that all her friends called her by) sought help from her friend, Olive:

OZ2

His wife’s adopted father, Joe Henry Clegg – with whom she enjoyed a loving father/daughter relationship (as can be evidenced by the warmth by which he addresses her in his letters) – gives her address as 39 Lower Richmond Road, Putney, W15 on 17th November 1944, when he signs his Will. (Although we cannot by any means take this as proof of her residency at that date, it seems a natural assumption to make that a man might know where his beloved daughter lives!)

In 1948 Peter married again on 21st December, in Marylebone, one Evelyn Honor Lucille Gilliat-Smith. The  registry entry gives his address as Barn Cottage, West Hoathly, West sussex (where we may suppose he and his father probably moved to sometime after his mother’s death in 1945). Evelyn had been a Special Operations Executive (Intelligence) during the war. She was born overseas, on 12th December 1912. Her address at the time of the marriage is given as 17 Highbourne House, Marylebone High Street, W1.

Records of Peter can again be found in the Telephone Directory from 1949 through to 1968, where he can be seen living at Barn Cottage, West Hoathly, West Sussex. (Telephone Sharpthorne 43)

Peter attended the internationally renowned Stoke Mandeville Hospital; pioneers in spinal cord injuries; for many years as an outpatient. Although he was in permanent, often agonising pain, he did manage to get around, albeit in an ungainly, twisted fashion, with the aid of a stick. His crippling disability prevented him from sleeping on a bed (he slept sitting in an armchair in his study, surrounded by his vast collection of books, or from playing the piano, as he could no longer sit at the instrument either comfortably or in the correct and required position.

Though he could no longer play himself, Peter devoted much of his time to the preservation and recording of ‘authentic’ “Folk” (Traditional) music, with such esteemed people as Mervyn Plunkett and Reg Hall, capturing for posterity such great players as Scan Tester. Some recordings were made at the local public house, The Cat Inn whilst others at Peter’s own home, Barn Cottage.

Peter Grant (extreme right-hand side of photo) West Hoathly

Peter Grant (extreme right-hand side of photo) West Hoathly

He collaborated, again along with Reg Hall and Mervyn Plunkett; on a publication called “Ethnic” (copies of this are held by the Oxford Reference Library). Their website offers the following brief description of this magazine: “A short-lived home-made periodical, subtitled ‘A Quarterly Survey of English Folk Music, Dance and Drama’ compiled and published by Mervyn Plunkett, Reg Hall and Peter Grant. The first issue was dated January 1959 and the fourth and last came in autumn the same year. In an aggressive style, Ethnic championed the collection and study of authentic traditional style and repertoire in contradistinction to what its editors saw as a burgeoning revival movement based on false principles, little knowledge and cosy middle-class fashion. The magazine included several important articles based on first-hand experience (such as one on May Day at Padstow in issue number three, and several on particular singers and musicians) and its criticisms are also useful for evidence of a critical time in the post-war development of folklore studies and the folk-song and dance revival”

Peter pursued a career in writing, or journalism. There are six surviving pieces written by him, mainly film reviews, spanning the period between November 1947 and March 1951 which appeared in the National Federation of Women’s Institute’s quarterly publication “Home & Country” (Home Counties Edition).

These articles are tremendously important to a biographer, as they give a real voice; an insight into the person behind them that we would not otherwise have had from the previously scant records and handful of photographs which remain.

Peter died of a heart attack on 23rd April, 1980 at Cuckfield Hospital in Sussex.

There is a thriving local community in Hoathly as can be seen from this extract taken from a correspondence a few years ago: “I am the Archivist for the local History Archive and also a Jazz collector. The latter is important because when Peter’s second wife Evelyn moved out of Barn Cottage into a residential home, she gave me a stack of reel-to-reel recordings of jazz records which Peter had made in the 1950s. One of these contains Peter and others discussing jazz with some of the other local folk and jazz enthusiasts. I do also have some information about folk recordings made locally.”

It is a tragedy that Peter was denied, through circumstances about which we know nothing, the opportunity to have a relationship; or indeed any contact at all; with his daughter, Rosemary.

It would seem – no doubt in an ill-conceived notion that it was “best for the child”; that he may have been asked; and duly agreed; to keep out of her life. It would not be difficult to persuade a man in his position that a fitter, stronger, younger, more able-bodied man could better provide for the child.

But it remains a great pity that his identity was kept from her and that by extension he never met, nor we may suppose knew of, the existence of his two grandchildren Louise and Scott.

Rest in Peace Peter Grant. You are not forgotten.

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Theatre Street – by Peter Grant

Theatre Street – by Peter Grant.

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Theatre Street – by Peter Grant

Theatre Street

HOLLYWOOD has always excelled in those acid films that eat away at least something of the glamour of institutions which at other times they have asked us to admire – American politics, Big Business, even Hollywood itself. This last was recently taken apart in the Gloria Swanson film, Sunset Boulevard; and now, with All About Eve (script and direction: Joseph Mankiewicz), a similar dismantling takes place among the emotions, ambitions and vanities of that suffocating little alley – Theatre Street. And this film is not, as one might have thought, about a wide-eyed young actress desperately struggling to the top through the hazards of recurring amorous crises and leering producers; but about a brilliant though ageing star of the theatre, Margo Channing, who realizing for the first time what life will be like after the glory has departed, is beginning to lose her self-confidence. Into her life comes Eve, a lovely stage-struck young girl, with, so it seems, a tragic past; and Margo, to help her, employs her as a secretary. But Eve becomes rather more a reflection than a secretary … and to tell you more might spoil the film.
Admittedly it is hard to believe this story, which I must keep from you, but it’s nevertheless interesting and gripping; and the clever dialogue reflects plenty about life in the cut-throat circles of this vain, tight little theatre world. We meet Addison De Witt, an unpleasant but fascinating dramatic critic, clever enough even to scotch the plans of the villain of the piece – an unscrupulous actress whom Margo advises to put her Sarah Siddons awards where her heart should be. George Sanders – always happiest at his most offensive – plays this offensive fellow, who has neither award nor heart, to the life. And there’s Margo herself, witty, jagged, bitter, but as least generous and grown-up. This part is especially convincing because Bette Davis – a compelling and dazzling actress herself – plays it perfectly. Anne Baxter is just right for Eve, and I liked Gary Merrill as Bill, the theatrical producer. The film is considerably more talkie than movie but because the talkie is so good I’ll overlook the lack of movie.

All About Eve

That the part of Eve is as unbelievable as the story detracted little from my enjoyment of All About Eve; though without the character of Margo it would have been altogether too much of an orgy of malice. It is Margo – and Bette Davis, of course – who gives it proportion. And if it doesn’t give us anything like the last word on Theatre Street we certainly have a striking view of the vanity, ambition run to seed, brilliance and even humanity that one often finds in these highly competitive circles. You must leave your children at home and see the film from the beginning, and if anyone tries to tell you the story beforehand, don’t listen.

We know well enough by now that the human characters in Disney’s fairy-story cartoons don’t come to life in the brilliant way of the animals; but I think we should make allowances for them, as an experiment. In his new Cinderella, though the Prince is lifeless, Cinderella herself seems to be an advance on Snow White; though no-one would pretend that the animals haven’t the best of it, especially Cinderella’s friends, the mice, who call her most engagingly, “Cinderelly”. There’s less music than usual in this cartoon; but as it would, undoubtedly have sprung from modern dance music, which doesn’t match Disney’s work, I wasn’t sorry. The prettiest scene, when the colour’s at its best, is Cinderella’s drive in her pumpkin coach to the Ball. The film is obviously ideal for all children and most grown-ups.

There is a superficial resemblance between Crisis (Director: Richard Brooks) and the recent State Secret, for both films show the predicament of a doctor forced to operate on a dictator. But while State Secret was a comedy-thriller, Crisis is serious. The plum of the film is the portrait, by Jose Ferrer, of the dictator – excitable, handsome, cynical, greedy for power. And the direction is good, particularly in the crowd scenes, and in atmosphere. For example, the closeness to death of the dictator – from his political enemies without, from his brain tumour within – was extraordinarily well brought out. The film dwells too long on operating theatre procedure, but one must admit that the point – the dictator’s very natural fear of the knife getting the better of his conception of himself as a superman – is equally well made.
Crisis lasts long enough for us to witness the threatened revolution, and leaves us with the easy message that this will establish a tyranny just as bad as the other. Nevertheless, the power of the central situation is undeniable, and Crisis is well worth seeing. But don’t go if you only want pleasant entertainment.
PETER GRANT

H&C6

This article was first published in March 1951 for the Federation of the Women’s Institute magazine “Home & Country”, Home Counties Edition, Volume 33, Number 3, and priced threepence.
Peter’s piece appears on page 77.

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A Musical Revolution – by Peter Grant

A MUSICAL REVOLUTION

The power of music to stimulate emotion, to excite, and to relate together people, emotions and memories, has been used in cinema since the first battered piano, tinkling in a stuffy hall, put some life into the first jerky love-scene, or imitated galloping horses with hurry music. But even after the talkies came, commercial film producers went on using the same old mood music of the silent days – a wash of emotional tunes from operas, light music and familiar classics, sometimes supporting the film, more often flooding uselessly among the dialogue. For audiences, such music became a bad habit, without which they might have felt lonely. They hardly realized that because it was not original it often bore associations at odds with the film. We have seen murder accompanied by Wagner’s Good Friday music from Parsifal. But nothing so comically unsuitable could happen now; for within the last dozen years a new kind of music has appeared, composed expressly for films as a servant of the story.
The new film composers discovered (the greatest non-commercial directors had known the facts ten years earlier) that film music must suit the film – that Beethoven at the wrong moment is bad, a shoddy tune at the right moment good. Also they found that the picture always comes first, and then the dialogue, which music should never muffle: the old-time music arrangers were only happy when their musical sauce smothered every foot of film! And lastly they found that because music is one unreal element within a mainly realistic art, to use it clumsily is intolerable. There is a good example of the clumsy use of music in Scott of the Antarctic. Here its sudden intrusion, to underline the disappointment of Scott and his friends on seeing Amundsen’s victorious flag, is so theatrical that we, instead of being stunned by the drama, become aware of the orchestra, of men with violins and ‘cellos; and the sense of reality- the hall-mark of everyday cinema- goes.
The emotional power of music, properly used, can heighten an already emotional scene and give wings to feelings which if spoken might be comic or boring. It can also create a contrasting mood to a scene. Thus in Western Approaches, Clifton Parker’s sombre opening music is truer of the general mood of the film than the unjustified cheerfulness of the characters. But too often directors, even to-day, instead of creating atmosphere with music straight off, distract us with some pointless fanfare or march.
The power of music to relate emotions and people is crudely turned to account in the “theme song” and the “signature tune”, an early example of the last being the sprightly “cuckoo” march which always announces the arrival of Laurel and Hardy. Far less simple is the use of distinctive musical figures – wisps of tunes or progressions of chords – which being brief, seldom get out of hand. Such figures, if we really listen to them, often reveal aspects of character we might otherwise miss. An example of a “theme song” which really tells us something is to be found in the French film Un Carnet de Bal (The Dance Programme), in which a romantic waltz is related to a woman’s longing to recapture her youth; and gradually, with her disillusion, the waltz changes, becoming in the most frightful scene, frightful itself. When music and drama are related like this the film gains strength and becomes a unity; but themes are often wasted, a recent misuse being Bax’s Oliver theme from Oliver Twist, which neither increases dramatic tension nor underlines Oliver’s emotions.
Rhythm, the physically exciting aspect of music, is used nowadays with far more discretion and care than formerly. Rhythmic music can imitate the rhythm of the actual photographic shots; indeed, sometimes the music is composed first and the separate shots edited to match it. In cartoons this is fairly common, but it does sometimes happen in ordinary feature films, usually as a cynical comment: we all know how a pompous fool can be made to look silly if some cheeky bassoon imitates the rhythm of his walk. More often, however, we find the music taking over the rhythms of natural sounds – a train or dynamo. Clifton Parker in Western Approaches suggests in this way the mystery of New York harbour at dawn: the orchestral instruments and the hooters and sirens of the ships mingle so closely that you can hardly tell one from the other.
The new film music is more successful than the old business it is usually appropriate, discreet and brief. More has been done with it that I have been able to mention, and much more can be done. However, it is remarkable that within a dozen or so years, from being a prominent member of the cinema awkward squad it has become a reasonably smart recruit
PETER GRANT

OUTSIDE AND INSIDE

Ealing studios’ third comedy of recent weeks, Whisky Galore, is about a wartime whisky drought in a Hebridean island, and the struggle between authority and the islanders when a ship carrying 50,000 cases of the stuff is conveniently wrecked off the shore. And on the Sabbath too – which gives the authorities an unfair start; for the islanders, to a man, respect the Sabbath. The photography is sometimes lovely, the acting fair, the humour boisterous. The main joke, however, is too long, the cutting (the progression from shot to shot) often weak, and the lighting often bad, and the music rowdy. But the film is entertaining and fresh. Now Barabbas is about men in prison. Some of the characters are, perhaps, types, and the flashbacks showing us how they came to be in jail, unavoidably clumsy. But the camera really does create a closed-in atmosphere. Richard Burton, as a political prisoner, and the negro*, Glyn Larson, are both excellent. The best thing about Whisky Galore is that it takes us outside the studio, and about Barabbas, that though it takes place inside a studio, its background, the prison, is convincing. Moreover, it isn’t a depressing film; so if it comes your way, try it.
P.G.

H&C5

This article was first published in September 1949 for the Federation of the Women’s Institute magazine “Home & Country”, Home Counties Edition, Volume 31, Number 9, and priced threepence.
Peter’s piece appears on page 193 & 197

*I am aware that the word “negro” is considered offensive to some, for which I apologise. It appears here in an historical context – pre 1966 – It is present in the original text, which I have typed out faithfully, from 1949.

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