On the trail of a would-be concert pianist and writer: Peter Grant continued

Following my earlier blog about Peter Grant, I have continued delving and made a few more discoveries about him. I was contacted by the eminent musician and musical archivist who has done such an extraordinary amount of work to preserve the traditional music of the “London Irish” and traditional Irish Music generally: Reg Hall. You can ‘Google’ Reg and if you do so you will see he has featured on Irish television, TG4, the Gaelic speaking channel, from whom he has won awards for his extraordinary work in this field.

Anyway, Reg was able to confirm that the photographs my sister turned up of a young man in uniform were indeed of Peter Grant. They were also obviously taken at the back of the same house; 39 Lower Richmond Road, where he and my mother lived in Putney when they were married, and when my late half-sister Rosie “Reddy” was born.

My sister, my niece and I visited London in late August and took photos of the property. Unfortunately it was impossible to get around the back, but we could easily see the “L” shape of the building and the zinc roof of the shed (which obscured our entry). From the doorstep of their home, they would have had a wonderful view of the Thames, and a fine old pub “The Duke’s head” is just across the road; I think it is safe to say that this would have been their “local”.

Reg Hall also very kindly gave me a photo of Peter Grant in his later years, at the time he was married to Evelyn Honour Lucille Gilliat-Smith! This was when he was living at Barn Cottage in West Hoathley, West Sussex. I also learnt from Reg that Barn Cottage had been built by the Ursula Ridley. The Ridley’s were the “Lords of the Manor” in Hoathly and owned the whole village! Barn Cottage has changed now out of all recognition, but it was in their time a most interesting building, incorporating different architectural styles, the names of which I cannot draw to mind at present.

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

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

Peter’s house was crammed full of books and the shelves revealed he had more than a passing interest in psychiatry.

Peter’s grand-daughter, my niece, Louise, visited West Hoathly earlier this year and met two ladies who remember Peter. They very kindly gave her a collection of “Country Living” magazines featuring articles by Peter Grant; so at least one of his ambitions was materialised (He had wished to become a writer).

Peter’s War Records and his Death Certificate both say that he was a Paraplegic. Reg was able to elaborate on this injury sustained during the North African campaign; Peter received a bullet in the spine from a German aircraft.

I take solace from knowing that Peter, despite being a paraplegic, was somehow able to get about with the aid of a stick. I know (from Reg) that he spent years as an out-patient at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital; internationally recognised as a centre of excellence for spinal cord injuries.

I also know from Reg that Peter suffered permanent and agonising pain, but that he bore this with tremendous fortitude, always “keeping the bright side out” and remained cheerful and good-humoured nevertheless.

This morning I noticed from the Marriage Registry entry at the time he married my mother, that as well as giving his address at the time of 11 Stanley Studios, Park Walk, Chelsea, he also gave a “presently residing at” address of 7c Northumberland Street, Edinburgh. What I hadn’t noticed until today was that this is the same address as that of the two Witnesses; “Georgina Neal Watt or MacDonald” and “William Sneddon”. I hope that I can learn more about these two names, as they must have been known to Peter, surely, if he was residing with them. Perhaps they were relatives? Peter’s father came from Scotland (though he himself was born and brought up in Doncaster).

I shall continue to plough on until I have discovered all there is to know of Peter and I hope that in doing so he will not be forgotten.

I forgot to mention that before he was drafted into the army and sent off to become ‘canon fodder’ he had been studying at the Royal College of Music in London. He attended there for two years and was training to be a Concert Pianist. What folly it is to send men such as Peter; musical, literary characters, to fight as foot soldiers in a stupid, bloody war. Surely a gentle, sensitive man such as him should never be forced into such a position?

If you are reading this and have any information about Peter, however small or insignificant, I should be most grateful if you contacted me as every tiny scrap of information helps to build a clearer picture of this sweet, tragic figure.

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