Museum Curator Western Development Museum Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
This is a brief summary of the four weeks Irene and I spent in England. We got back to Saskatoon May 23rd. We made the return flight by jet leaving the vast London airport at 1:00 p.m., and arrived at Saskatoon at 9:00 that same evening, going through seven time zones. It was four thousand miles in one day. It took me longer than that to ride the fifty miles from our ranch on Battle Creek to Maple by horseback a few years ago. It's a far cry from driving oxen in the homestead days. We are sold on flying by air.
We made our headquarters with our son Gordon, and his wife Marian, who were in England on a Sabbatical Year. This made about half the trip. We also stayed with my cousin Horace and his wife Winnifred. That made about the other half of the trip. Between the two of them we got to places the average tourist would never see. Gordon's boys and our niece Barbara who was in England with them just love their English Schools.
Gordon and his family were at Guildford and Horace at Canterbury in Kent county, known as the Garden of England, and the country is lovely. The people are wonderful too. There is no spirit of defeat in England. The spirit that carried them through the blitz is still there, and London, Canterbury, Guildford and Ramsgate give the impression of busy bustling times. I kept sending back little stories of our trip to our local Saskatoon daily and they printed most of them. I also did a 25 minute tape for the British Broadcasting Corporation in their enormous building and they sent me a cheque for ten guineas. That worked out at $26.60. Then, of course, there's the prestige! Since returning I have received several letters speaking very nicely about my two talks. Gordon and Marian head it and said I appeared very relaxed. And why not?
Although I knew about pounds, shillings and pence I never really got used to the currency. I simply paid what was asked and let it go at that. The weather was quite cold. They said it was the coldest May in 30 years. There was quite a bit of rain too. Fortunately I had some good heavy Saskatchewan clothing with me and wore the same clothes I wear in January in Saskatoon and wore a sweater under my suit coat most of the time. Meanwhile those English school kids, both boys and girls, were running around bare kneed and in light jackets. No wonder the English are a tough race brought up that way. And the mini girls seemed to thrive on cool weather. The girls' dresses were about two inches shorter than in Saskatoon. Its open season for girl watchers in England, land of the free and home of the brave, and engaging mini mini girls.
The roads around Canterbury and Guildford are narrow and winding and they post very few signs. When you do see a curve sign you can be sure that is it a right angle turn. The pedestrians seem to have very few rights. As a consequence they make their own rules and dash madly across the streets against the red lights and in the middle of blocks. Pedestrians are in two classes -the quick and the dead. If you are not quick you stand a good chance of being very dead. Kent is just full of old stone churches, many of them 500 or a thousand years old, or more. You feel a sense of awe gazing at the reclining figures of knights and saints, who made history and have been buried for hundreds of years. There is some talk of removing many of the illegible, leaning, and moss covered headstones and replacing them with brass plates and sowing the graves to roses. I much doubt if they will do it. We got to Fordwich where Gordon photographed me in the town stocks by the side of the 500 year old town hall. The heavy log got jammed and Gordon had to unlace his Dad's shoes and take them off before I could get out or I might be there yet! There was a Ducking Chair there by means of which disorderly women and shrewish wives could be slung out on a crane and ducked in the River Stour. Irene declined the honor but during Queen Elizabeth's Coronation festivities the vicar's daughter offered to be ducked and was nearly drowned before they got her out! The English are not a soft race.
Gordon had phoned in for supper reservations at Simpsons in the Strand. This is where the waiters push around little carts with big roasts of beef and mutton kept piping hot by little spirit lamps underneath. They carve off your meat right there, 'Would you like your meat rare, medium or well done, sir'. They have been doing this since the days of Charles Dickens or before. The bill for the four of us came to just under six pounds or about fifteen dollars for one of the best eating spots in London. The pound was worth about $2.50. You can get wine or spirits served at any eating place but no one seemed to over indulge. Its just the regular thing.
When we were drifting on the roads, Gordon's boys and I made little lists of the names of the pubs and some were both clever and interesting. I just didn't get time to do any real pub crawling. Had a light lunch with Marion and Irene at the Horse and Groom and had the best beef sandwiches I have ever eaten. When I left Canterbury it was a quiet Cathedral City in 1908. Now you take your life in your hands trying to cross the streets with a running stream of autos and double decker buses hell bent for any place. In a very narrow main street in Sandwich the double decker bus we were on met another. They casually ran up on the sidewalk to get by and this brought them into contact with the overhanging rooms overhead.
More than a paragraph should be devoted to the church edifices of England. Westminster Abbey and St. Pauls are most historic but other country churches are fascinating too. There was Saint Augustines at Brooklands, founded over a thousand years ago. An odd thing about this church is that the steeple which resembles three inverted cones piled one on top of the other, sits on the ground beside the church. One legend says that the architect who drew the plans ran out of paper and drew the steeple beside the church and the builders went ahead and built it that way. Another story says that the steeple blew down during the marriage of a confirmed old bachelor to a local spinster who was well stricken in years. St. Martha's Church just north of Guildford was in use, and overlooked Chaucers Pilgrims Way from Southampton to Canterbury, You have to struggle on foot up the hill the last quarter of a mile but once at the church there is a view of the lovely Surrey countryside of serene, unsurpassed breathtaking beauty. In all its loveliness one kept thinking of Churchill's boast, 'We will fight on the beaches, on the hills and in the streets'. Well, the English certainly had something worth fighting for. A visit to Nelson's flagship, The Victory, at Portsmouth and to Stonehenge was overwhelming in associations.
Many things stand out in memory. The pandemonium in Petticoat Lane during the Sunday morning market where the hawkers were selling everything from live chickens to underwear. A five piece orchestra added to the din, and they were collecting a lot of money. There was the quiet assurance from the lone unarmed constable that there was hardly any rough stuff, 'Oh they are all pretty well behaved sir'. There were the huge screaming jets taking off from the London airport every two or three minutes. Of Gordon and Marian driving us in a Rover car equipped with a left hand drive for use in Canada later. Driving on the left side of the road, with the onrushing traffic coming at you on right was at first a little unnerving. There were the Sunday afternoon orators in Hyde Park who are 'agin' everything, and the hecklers who were as smart, and as interesting as the speakers. Meanwhile the London bobbies, unarmed of course, quietly stroll around oblivious to it all. I found a visit to the Martyrs Memorial in Canterbury of deep interest. This is where, in the reign of Queen Mary, in 1555-1558, forty-one Kentish Martyrs were burned at the stake. Of these, ten were women, two of them sisters and one the widow of a man who had previously burned there. My ancestor Bishop Hopper was one of the martyrs.
England is just fine and the people are wonderful. It has the advantage for North Americans that we speak the same language. Irene and I would like to go back again in warmer weather and with plenty of time.